Stories of Our Town: The Castanet Club Story

Image of the members of the Castanet Club
The Castanet Club

The Castanet Club Story

A newspaper in Scotland once described The Castanet Club as:

“12 people playing tennis, all of them serving at once”

To witness a concert was to be bombarded with joy. This “joy” started an hour before the show, and stopped you getting any sleep hours after the show had finished.

Who Were the Castanet Club?

The Castanet Club were a group of local artists, actors and musicians who formed an “old school” vaudeville troupe in their hometown of Newcastle N.S.W.

It was more than a band, more than a club. It was an ethos, an art movement, a fashion movement, and a musical uprising.

In the golden age of Pub Rock, while INXS, Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil toured their biggest albums, the Castanet Club were also packing the Workers Club, The Palais, The Cambridge, The 16 footers and every other beer barn in Newcastle, and eventually Sydney.

 

Achievements

What they achieved in their 9 years would impact the landscape of Australian entertainment for the next 20 years.

The rise of Triple J, Sandman and Flacco, Young Einstein, Good News Week, Channel V, Play School, Sale of the Century, Full Frontal, Happy Feet, Roy and HG, Fast Forward, Kath and Kim, and even Mambo T-shirts are in some way connected to this remarkable group of humans.

Photograph depicting line up out the front of the Castanet Club, circa 1980s.
Lineup of “punters” waiting to enter The Castanet Club, circa 1980s, which was a building at the rear of the Clarendon Hotel, Hunter Street Newcastle.

My Personal Love

I personally fell in love with this band whilst underage drinking at 15.

For me Newcastle in the 80’s was grey and sooty. Stepping into that club was like stepping through a portal to 50’s Vegas, 60’s London, a school fete and all the television of my childhood.

It was, fluorescent, dark, witty, theatrical, generous, and joyously daggy.

The club itself seemed to be a place for anyone who felt “othered”, yet they could fill a pub full of Redheads and Surfers.

I proudly admit that the vision I had for my band Machine Gun Fellatio was 100% ripped off from The Castanet ethos (with just a little more nudity added).

The Making of the Castanets Stories of Our Town Film

To make this film after all this time and to hang out with the people I consider my heroes was beyond a labour of love; everybody wanted to get it right.

Sandman and Bowling Man

Steve Abbott (a.k.a. Johnny Goodman/Sandman) and Warren Coleman (a.k.a. Bowling Man) came from Sydney to my house, broke bread and left us in hysterics with their retelling of their time in the band.

Photographs of Steve Abbott, Warren Coleman and Glenn Dormand, then and now
Steve Abbott (Johnny Goodman/Sandman) and Warren Coleman (Bowling Man) with Chit Chat von Loopin Stab (Director) aka Glenn from Waratah. Then and Now.

Shirley Purvis

Other members opened their art filled houses to give us more of the story some like Angela Moore (Shirley Purvis) drove over 5hrs to let us capture her memories.

Michael Bell

We sat and drank coffee in artist Michael Bell’s studio while he recreated the iconic sign.

Jane Turner

Super fan Jane Turner (a.k.a. Kath from Kath & Kim) filmed her interview on her phone while in hotel quarantine after returning from Paris.

Rampaging Roy Slaven

We had to find a camera crew for John Doyle (a.k.a. Rampaging Roy Slaven) in his Local Government Area (LGA) to film him before he immersed himself in covering the Olympics.

Maynard

I had, what seemed, like 100 phone calls with Maynard from the band, deciphering what the thousands of the band’s personal photos meant.

Stephen Clark

Artist/writer Stephen Clark generously shared his resources from his amazing book he and Therese Kenyon had created.

Newcastle Museum

We worked closely with the Newcastle Museum who were planning an exhibition on the group, and also helped fund some of the film. When the initial funding ran out, the Port of Newcastle stepped up.

University Archives

Fans generously sent us their photos, while our friends at the University Archives (a.k.a. Special Collections, Auchmuty Library) tracked down lost news footage.

Photograph of Mikey Robbins with Glenn Dormand. Now and Then.
Mikey Robins (a.k.a. Elvis Presle) with Chit Chat von Loopin Stab (Director) aka Glenn from Waratah. Now and Then.

Life During Lockdown

During lockdown Tony Whittaker and I continued to edit via zoom. No one gave up, it was such a wild ride, through loads of adversity. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The Castanet Club Story is such an important story to this city and I’m so glad to add it to the Stories of Our Town series.

Regards

Chit Chat von Loopin Stab (Director) a.k.a. Glenn from Waratah

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Stories of Our Town Film Series


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