Like a lot of business the impact of COVIDS-19 has been dire but fortunately the future of iconic live music venue The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, aka The Gov, has been secured thanks to a $300,000 grant from the South Australian Government.
For twenty seven years The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel has been the mainstay of live music in South Australia. It plays an integral role in the well being of South Australians, providing a musical hub for touring International, Interstate, and South Australian musicians and performers, as well as hosting many schools, disability groups, musical community groups and fostering the development of many young, local, up and coming musicians. There is no doubt that owner Mel Tonkin has had a few sleepless nights over recent months but is optimistic about the future.
When COVID-19 hit was this some of the hardest management decisions you have ever had to make?
We literally had to close over night and then it’s like sorry you don’t have a job any more. It was such a horrible thing to have to do. Everyone was in shock at that time and to be able to come back a month to six weeks later and say that thirty three of you are eligible for Job Keeper, we’re going to be able to give this to you. That was a really wonderful thing to be able to tell them. I was sorry for some of our staff who just missed out and that was difficult. I do feel for those people who had not been with us for long enough but fortunate that were able to give Job Keeper to those thirty three staff.
How close was The Gov to that tipping point where tough decisions about whether it is viable to continue needed to be made?
We thought we would be OK for three months and we thought at the beginning we would be shutting down for a period, maybe three or four months before we can re-open before going back to trading as usual. That’s what we thought right at the start before we realised the true impact of the virus. We didn’t realise what was happening and what the full impact of this would be. As time went on and as the bands had rescheduled, at last count of rescheduled there was one hundred and five bands in our venue that had outright cancelled or rescheduled plus we have cancelled live music in our front bar six nights a week. Initially, all the international bands rescheduled for early next year, from February onwards, and a lot bands that travel from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to Adelaide have rescheduled to later this year.
Now we have reached a point where we don’t know how long we’ll have the ban on mass gatherings. Bands that have rescheduled to September and October are now saying do we have to move our acts to next year. It is the unknown factor that makes it so hard. When we got to that point where we saw bands may even have to move again and will international acts be able to come in February, they may not, it maybe June or July, we realised this is going to be a longer recovery than we initially thought. That’s when we realised we would find it difficult to make our way through this without support.
As restrictions start to ease will that be a tough task balancing business viability against social distancing requirements and all the other hygiene protocols required in a Covid Safe Management Plan?
Things have certainly changed. The good thing about our venue is that it is a large space. We have some funding to live stream and what we are hoping to do, when we opened we looked at a cabaret style seated show, socially distanced initially for fifty people and now things are tracking well we have been able to increase that to one hundred people. It all hinges on what the government says we are allowed to do. People have said that they are prepared to pay a premium on an exclusive ticket so that it can work financially. The only way the band can get paid is through ticket sales and with some streaming funding we have we can pay the band, the sound tech, someone to film the show and top it up with ticket sales. Even then for us to make some money on a reduced crowd that really doesn’t go that far, it is not financially viable. We’ll have to carry it for a little while until we can keep increasing the numbers.
I don’t know when they will let us have eight hundred people in the room again. It could be a long time but what we may do is instead of a band playing to seven hundred and fifty people we may get to a point where they can do two shows in one day to three hundred and twenty five people. Maybe that could be something that could work.
Looking at disinfecting of the gear is very important and something we are looking at. Obviously we don’t want two people singing in to the same microphone, I’ve already spoken to Derringers in Adelaide about microphone tops that we can screw off the microphone guards and put a clean guard on for the next person to use. They can disinfect all the stands, leads and there will be a protocol put in to place to make sure everything that we do is considered and cleaned. We want people to have confidence when they step in to the venue that they know everything is disinfected, doors are swinging and that they don’t have to touch doors. Table service will happen so people don’t have to mill around the bar and that they can feel they are in a safe environment as well. The last thing anyone wants is to get the virus and that’s the last thing we want as well. Everything has to be re-thought that’s for sure.
Can you see things going back to how they once were?
I’d love to think that one day things can go back to how they were. I think about all those great festivals I’ve been to, mosh pits I have been in and to think that we could never do that again is heart breaking. I am an optimistic person and I hope we can get back to how it once was. If a vaccine is developed that will be the best news for everybody and that will be the thing that will help us. I think for a long time people are going to be very careful and considered about how they do things when they are out and about. I think over the next eighteen months that’s the world we will be living in.
It will be interesting to see how people will react to be able to go to shows after staying home for so long and adapting to other forms of entertainment?
There have been some absolutely fantastic shows through live streaming but you can’t beat the energy of sitting in front of a band and surrounded by other people, the vibration coming off the stage and the energy of the live event is incomparable to anything to what’s on screen.
What are the best way that Gov lovers can continue to support the venue?
We’re in the process of making up our first t-shirt. We have never had merchandise for The Gov. If people would buy a t-shirt that certainly help support us. Going forwards we want people to have confidence that if they do buy a ticket at The Gov for a show that they are showing their support with ongoing ticket buying. If the show for whatever reason cannot go ahead they will get a full refund on the ticket or if the show is rescheduled then the ticket will be carried over to that next show. We don’t want people to fear not to buy a ticket now because the show may not happen. That is the way of showing support going forwards.
We are hoping as restrictions ease to open up the venue to an exclusive number of people and that we will have lots of small shows that people can buy tickets for and come along to, buy a meal, buy a couple of drinks and enjoy a cabaret style performance. We want to thank everyone who has supported us and have signed the petition, come to shows in the past and sent their well wishes.
Interview By Rob Lyon
To find out what is happening and to buy tickets for shows at The Gov check out their gig guide.