When Rock’n’Roll left the Gold Coast

In a time before technology impinged on so many lives, people needed live music. Real music. Raw. Loud amps, dry ice and power chords. Back in the day you could watch real musicians, musicians whose surname might have been Kilmister, Lynnot, Hutchence or Ramone.

Gather round and come in close as I tell a tale, a story inspired by events that occurred on a slice of Palm Beach, next to Tallebudgera Creek. Today it’s a carpark, back then it was The Playroom, a Gold Coast live music icon. I’m here to honour the memory of this grand venue, a place I spent many nights living large and helping to create a legend.   

It’s been close to 20 years since I was played and even longer since the chrome tuning pegs atop my neck reflected the greens, blues and reds of the stage lights that turned The Playroom into the Gold Coast’s live music Mecca. 

They accused us of corrupting the Gold Coast’s youth, of leading the vulnerable astray through sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. But we were far more than that… those four walls, a bar and a stage catered to some of the greatest musicians that ever performed on Australian shores. Rock stars… Gods for an evening, inspiring untold hands to pick up an instrument and create something meaningful.

Meaning. The quest for purpose. My six strings, pickups and slender body avowed my destiny from the moment I was created on the factory floor. I’ve been sanctified and glorified, but now I sit in a case under an old fella’s bed.  

I was tuned, buffed and adjusted to perfection in the hands of a gifted tech or stage hand. There were many nights that I brought that room to life. To the musicians that played me, the many excellent guitarists who stepped onto The Playrooms stage I was more than an instrument, I was a friend and confidant helping them to reach the heights of their expression.  

The fallen, I think of them often. We sailed close to the sun many times in that grand room. Icarus reimagined. Some just don’t listen to the sage advice of the seasoned. The roadies for example, forever berating a younger musician or punter who went too far. One chemical or drink too many, a buzz could turn into a nightmare.

One day it was all over. Lights and rigging were dismantled, the P.A. pulled apart, the bar cleared of grog and punters told to find somewhere else. Bass guitars and a combination of chords were swapped for the din of industry and destruction. Sunlight reached patches of ground that were once bathed in a kaleidoscope of stage light, diesel exhaust fumes polluted the space where cigarette smoke mingled with perfume, aftershave and the unmistakable scent of valve amplifiers. 

I was permanently packed into my case the day The Playroom was demolished, green velvet nestled closely against my mahogany body. It sounds sensual. It isn’t. Vibrations still course through my layers of wood, steel and paint. The copper wire that acts as the conduit for an electrical current enriched with sound from the pick-up to the guitar cable still anticipates a buzz. Strings, soaked in the sweat of the last musician to play me are now rusted, flaking iron and littering my fretboard.

They say The Playroom’s liquor licence was a prize, a jewel that many wanted. Pokies had recently proliferated, and the Gold Coast’s entertainment landscape was changing. The people that once danced or cavorted to live music were now enraptured by a machine, a lifeless piece of technology with a gambolling screen.  

The site of The Playroom is still a hive of human activity; during the day families and tourists park their cars and walk to the creek, the beach or the recreation centre. At dusk, the time when The Playroom used to come to life, people go back to their homes or hotels. The carpark sits empty, the sounds of coastal wildlife and the beach swell.   

It might be gone, The Playroom, but echoes of its glorious past can still be heard. If you can get to that car park, then go late at night as there’s something I want you to do. 

Close your eyes and imagine for a moment.

Can you hear the rustle of trees near the creek? Is that the feint sound of a distant crowd asking for more?  

You feel the crunch of twigs and leaves underfoot? Is that a smashed beer glass dropped by an enthusiastic punter?

Can you sense the damp ocean air carried by the breeze? Or is that the dry ice of the smoke machine bathing a stage in mist?

Could the nocturnal bird call echoing around the carpark be a soaring vocal? Leading a verse into a chorus?

Close your eyes and take in this storied space, slice of Palm Beach next to Tallebudgera Creek where musicians whose surname was Kilmister, Lynnot, Hutchence and Ramone once played.

Andrew McKaysmith