Features

Things I Don?t Remember Clearly: Reflections On The Tote

The last night at The Tote was less about ?being there? as having been there before, writes ANDREW RAMADGE.

People keep asking what the last gig at The Tote was like. The best thing I’ve been able to come up with is: ?Exactly as you would have imagined.?

I mean, there’s only so many ways that it could have played out. Two dozen rock’n?roll bands, a few hundred punters, however many kegs, a whole lot of emotion and no tomorrow to worry about. How do you think it went?

But there’s another reason. Walking into The Tote on Monday – in fact, at any time last weekend – was to enter a spin of somewhat hazy memories. It was less about ?being there? as having been there before. The ghosts of late nights past come back to haunt.

For me, it was a trip back to my early 20s, back to being brilliantly stupid and excitable. A trip back to when I was trying to cut my teeth as a rock critic – and where better than The Tote? – back to when I felt free to write whatever the fuck I liked, without worrying if it was any good or not.

And it often wasn’t.

I remembered giving the Young Professionals a piece of my mind for spending too much time on their outfits and not enough on their songs, only to see the musicians cut the words out of Beat, piece by piece, and paste them back together to create a more favourable quote for their next gig flyer.

There’s something/ brilliant/ about/ Young Professionals/ It’s clear that/ the/ musical substance/ and/ lyrics/ are/ brilliant/ The audience swelled/ with/ slack-jawed adoration/ the girls have/ legs!?/ (and no-one would wish/ to dissuade them)/ – Andrew Ramadge

I saw it taped to the wall of a Collingwood shop, less than a block from The Tote, about a week later and laughed my arse off – first in disbelief and then in praise. I tore down a copy for myself. It now hangs on the wall of my study in Darlinghurst, next to a beautiful screen-printed flyer, number 20 of 56, for The Sensational Alex Jarvis Band.

I remember that night too. Bounding over to the side of the stage after the gig to get Alex to sign it. Standing with Jacob Pearce, who often played with Alex, giggling and shuffling from foot to foot while pretending to be star-struck groupies. We’re your biggest fans! He laughed. The routine was only half in jest.

the sensational ALEX JARVIS band/ album launch/ Black Cab/ Joel Silbersher/ Saturday 22nd October/ The Tote. Thank you Andy you are great. Alex

I think he drew a picture of a penis or something on Jacob’s.

They’d removed the pool table, and the tables and stools, from the front bar when I went on Monday. I felt stupid for not knowing when. Yesterday? This morning? A year ago? Who knows. It’d been a while since I came down for a visit.

When I went up to the Cobra Bar, I remembered seeing for the first time a bizarre pop group called Aleks And The Ramps. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor at the front of the crowd, less than an arm’s length away from the five musicians performing a choreographed dance routine in front of us.

It was packed full that night too, for a showcase for Cumbersome Records, who used to operate a small record store down the street. They had some great in-stores – like the time I watched post-rock band Laura play one of their best ever gigs to a crowd watching from the footpath, who filed into The Tote for a beer afterwards.

At the end of the set, a little drunk, I walked up to Aleks and asked if I could get his number. I was working on a new piece called [?Storytellers?](/articles/89703) that his songs would be perfect for. He gave me a copy of the EP and I reviewed it in the next issue of the magazine. One line in particular made my editor, Danny Bos, laugh.

?A fortnight before this was written, Aleks And The Ramps? performance in a cluttered bar above The Tote drew more of the magazine’s contributors than our last editorial meeting.? – Mess+Noise 07, May/June 2006

I never worked Aleks into Storytellers. Instead I wrote a story about The Ramps. It took me months. I was still writing it when I moved to Sydney. Storytellers still runs as a column on this website.

You know what my favourite moment of the last gig was? It was up there watching Spencer P Jones. I’d made it upstairs early, along with a dozen or so other people. A few minutes later, the first notes came through the speakers. I turned around and saw that the crowd was spiralling down the staircase. Fuck, they move quickly.

Towards the end of the set, Spencer started off on an epic guitar solo. The audience parted as much as possible to let Bruce Milne through to the front. He grabbed the musician and threw his arms around him and kissed him passionately on the cheek while he was playing.

Spencer smiled and then turned to the next person, this handsome Asian guy who’d spent the whole gig looking rapturously out of it, and moved right up close to him so they were leaning into each other’s face. He stayed there and finished the solo. It felt like it was 10 minutes long.

?My Pal? was a highlight as well, but you know that already.

And do you know what the worst thing about it all was? That the two people who I drank at The Tote with more often than anyone else couldn’t make it. Dan, who I watched play the last gig with one of his bands in the beer garden, and Troy, who, one sunny afternoon in the front bar, after I’d skipped out of uni early, pooled his last dollars with mine to buy a jug of beer and told me about a story he wanted to write on a band I’d never heard of called The Stickmen.

?Soon after this I went to The Tote, getting as intoxicated as $25 between two people will allow, before making a woefully uninformed decision to write a story about this Stickmen enigma?? – Mess+Noise 06, March/April 2006

I remember that I’d caught the number 86 tram from La Trobe to get there, and, at a guess, that it was a politics or English lecture I wagged. It was a beautiful day.

After everyone filed out of the band room following the last song, Milne got up on the front bar to call last drinks. That was my cue to leave. I wanted my last memory of The Tote to be of it full of people, not empty. I walked up to Brunswick Street, got a souvlaki, and went to crash on a friendly couch.

The next morning, on my way back to the airport, a guy stopped me on the tram.

?Excuse me,? he said, and I wondered if I’d stepped on his toe.
?Yeah??
He pointed to my T-shirt and opened his jacket to reveal a Tote badge.
?Did you go last night? I couldn’t get tickets.?
?Yeah. I came down from Sydney. I’m on my way back now.?
?Wow. How was it??
?Exactly as you would have imagined.?

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