Our first episode is set in Amelia Shaw, a cocktail bar above The Retreat Hotel on Sydney Road. Our guest is the front man for Dirt Hand, Arun Roberts.
Arun Roberts is a softly, gently spoken musician, who plays on worn-in nylon strings. His delivery is slow, using volume and space to their full advantage. He’s also REAALLY tall, and at 5”2 I had to tip my head back to talk to him, standing up. It’s interesting that his height must often be the first impression people have of him. I wonder if that is what makes him seem so patient and gentle with others. Whatever the reason, he comes across to me as considered, measured, and kind. I love chatting with him about arrangements, recording difficulties, and song lyrics.
As well as fronting his own outfit, Dirt Hand, Roberts is a popular bass player with the legendary Ben Salter and the darling Gabriella Cohen. In a strange coincidence Cohen’s sister Sara Yael (Bonnie Love) featured in the first episode of our pilot season The Yarra Sessions. On tour with Gabriella, the dry, gentle giant was spotted by Gucci, collected from Mexico and flown to Florence to hit the catwalk.
No, really! He’s a Gucci model.
A scheduling issue meant filming had to be brought forward by two weeks, and while I was driving back from the other side of Sydney, Lachlan and Agostino organised for us to use Amelia Shaw. Thanks go to Lachlan Bryan (booker of The Retreat Hotel and also a songwriter) and Petria Falconer (bar manager) who made us welcome at very short notice.
Amelia Shaw is beautiful, and the staff put love and energy into making sure you have a good time. Incidentally, if you’re interested in the history of women and pubs in Australia, I can recommend a book called Beyond the Ladies Lounge: Australia’s First Female Publicans (2014) by Clare Wright. Perhaps you could read it at Amelia Shaw, sipping a cocktail in one of the 30’s style cane chairs.
Petria and I rave on endlessly about the bar’s fittings, the prohibition-era décor designed by Danielle Brustman, and the design of the rooms which can be booked singly or all together for parties of up to 120 people. There is way too much of our interview than AOQR had room for. I love her passion and her ready smile is infectious.
The images from this episode (featuring Danielle Brustman’s amazing décor in the background) formed the basis of our promotion, becoming the cover of this book, and the promotional poster for the series launch event.
Located upstairs at The Retreat, Amelia Shaw is named for the pub’s first licensee, reputed to be the first female publican in Melbourne. Rumour has it that Amelia’s pistol is still locked in the old safe, to which nobody has the combination. I wish I had more time to describe the rooms, the red pool table, the other clips shot there, the vintage 2D peep show…
‘This Song Is About Money’
Cinematic and original, Roberts’ song could easily be presented as a Noir film. It’s seedy, romantic, and so Melbourne. He sings with a slow, easy pace, and you need to settle back to listen.
‘Come Lay Down Beside Me’
by Georgia Spain
Roberts chose to cover Georgia Spain – painter, singer, and writer of deeply moving lyrics. I first saw her play at Port Fairy Festival. The original version is available on her 6 track release Precious Company.
‘The Hole In The Window’
A song inspired by a Faraday Street share-house in Carlton, where the top window above the landing went unrepaired for a year. This was first recorded by my good friend Damon Smith (Sun Rising, Quality Lightweights) for his web-series The Night Sky Is A Jewellery Store Window. Conceived around the same time as AOQR but realised much sooner, Smith’s series features one artist per episode singing an original song on his old guitar. Damon films, records and edits all the material himself, and has featured some truly excellent players including James Kenyon, Broads, and Charm of Finches.