When a social media post announced the impending closure of Fowler’s Live on October 3rd, the outpouring of love for the beloved music venue left operator Peter Darwin staggered.
“The support we’ve received has been unbelievable,” he said. “We had thousands of comments and messages on there. The overwhelming reaction was that people felt safe here, they enjoyed the community, and they felt that it had a genuine family feel. For a couple of days there I was really quite gobsmacked and found it difficult reading a lot of the heartfelt comments and feeling the love for the place.”
After 15 years spent fighting government red tape and upheaval to keep the 500-capacity venue afloat, Peter finally had to admit defeat when Arts SA announced they would be seeking to expand the use of the space at a significantly increased rent.
“Essentially, for that entire period we’ve only had two-year leases or occasionally a little bit longer,” Peter said. “There have been probably two other occasions when government policy was looking to revert the space into theatre or general art space, and on both those occasions that changed again. They then advised on September 30th that there was another operator coming in and we wouldn’t be able to continue. Clearly I’m unhappy about the situation, but I also am a realist in that I’ve known that, ever since I’ve took the place on with two-year leases, it was clear that it was going to end. To get to 15 years of operation and not be bankrupt is a reasonable achievement.”
The venue is well known as a national touring spot and as a place for local bands to cut their teeth, and leaves behind countless memories for those who have passed through its doors. While Peter could probably tell stories about the venue for days, two in particular stand out.
“We had the Mark of Cain, obviously a great Adelaide heavy-rock band, playing here one night some years ago on a stinking hot Adelaide summer night. It was about 42 degrees outside and must have been 60 inside by the time we had 500 people under the hot lights. It was just one of those nights when 500 people were operating as one person, rocking out to the band. Everyone was dripping in sweat, the place stank, and we were handing out water everywhere – it is still so clear in my mind.”
“Another time, [Californian punk band] Unwritten Law had played a gig here that night and some of Keith Urban’s crew and band came back to the venue, and the Unwritten Law guys were hanging out having a beer. For the next two hours, there was this bunch of punk guys drooling over the experiences, the stories and the knowledge of the crew and musicians of the Keith Urban band. The monitor engineer had been around for about 30 years and was reeling off stories. These guys were just beside themselves with the experiences and stories. You would not think those two groups of people would any recognition of each other at all.”
While the Fowler’s Live community is left with only memories, Arts SA has announced that Five Four Entertainment bid successfully for the lease, and aim to operate it as a live music and arts venue from January.
Peter, who will keep busy with the upcoming Keith Urban tour and looking after live music for the Adelaide 500, among other things, reluctantly admitted he can look back with pride.
“I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity and proud of what we’ve achieved,” he said. “Somehow I managed to make things go from A to B without fucking up. I just hope the new tenants keep a strong, original live music content here.”