"Six o'clock I'm goin' down, coffee's hot and the toast is brown/Hey street sweeper, clear my way, Sweethearts' breakfast is the best in town"
It doesn't look very rock'n'roll to start at 5 or 6am but actually it couldn't be more rock and more Sydney. Especially Sydney in the 1970s when you could hear music every night of the week in every part of this city.
The gig finished hours ago, the drinking stopped a few hours after that, but you didn't go home and somehow ended up in Kings Cross. Inevitably.
Where else is open after all? Now you, a few roadies, some night shift nurses and that bloke who used to be in that band you saw play and thought was pretty cool are sitting in an all-night/early starter cafe like Sweethearts. Eating slowly and quietly.
The Cold Chisel song Breakfast At Sweethearts was called "the most immediately identifiable song about the Cross" by playwright and Cross-resident Louis Nowra. It also marked a turning point for one of the biggest, longest lasting (they toured again through 2015) and defiantly Australian bands: local imagery, not iconic American places, would define them.
Sweethearts is now a McDonald's and there is an unrelated rooftop bar called Sweethearts down the road a bit, but your tour starts here at 47 Darlinghurst Road.
A few minutes away, in the more salubrious enclave of Elizabeth Bay, you can take a quick walk past, acknowledging silently, the site of the once essential Sebel Townhouse. Now yet another apartment block at 21 Elizabeth Bay Road, this hotel likely was the site of more music industry excess than any other building in Sydney. Some of its secrets will never be revealed while ever the defamation laws apply.
The old school stars like Frank Sinatra stayed, Elton John (pictured below) had his wedding reception there, David Bowie held court and Elvis Costello got drunk inside, Duran Duran might run into the Harlem Globetrotters in the restaurant and outside, fans waited for a glimpse, a touch, an invitation.
To top it off, for the first decade of the ARIA Awards the after-after party was always at the Sebel and there was more bullshit talked and more lines done, into and beyond the wee small hours, than you can imagine.
You can clear the head after those excesses by heading down to the corner of New South Head Road and Neild Avenue where a plaque marks the spot where the Sydney Stadium stood before the Eastern Suburbs railway came through and school fields took over. What once had been a blood-stained boxing arena became the "big" venue and hosted the Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny O'Keefe and Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and, well, Cliff Richard.
A good distance stroll away, the modern, or modern-ish given it's been there in some form for many decades, version of the stadium is the Hordern Pavilion among what used to be the Royal Agricultural Society grounds. Thousand of artists have played here, from (yes, him again) Sinatra and Justin Timberlake to the DJs and happily grinning dancers at our equivalent of "warehouse parties" in the peak E years of the early '90s.
Perhaps though one of its most potent symbols is that this was the biggest of two shows Nirvana played in Australia when the Hordern and the surrounding RAS field and rooms hosted the first Big Day Out. The BDO would last more than 20 years and change the face of touring and of music itself in Australia.
A hike back to William Street will lead to the corner of William and Forbes where ABC housed the bastard child of its network, Double J, from 1975. In this ramshackle building, the steps outside often hosting streetwalkers and cops in equal numbers, George Wayne and Gayle Austin, Doug Mulray and Annette Shun Wah played new music, old music, weird music and so much Australian music that it became hard even for the commercial stations to ignore what was happening in the pubs and clubs.
A walk "across country" will take you to Oxford Street, the wellspring of underground rock in the '70s and independent scene in the 1980s. Start at the Paddington RSL, where the Triffids (pictured below) and Angelique Kidjo sweated it out in the often over-heated auditorium, and facing it across the busy street, Paddington Town Hall, where the Saints played and Radio Birdman would host intense punk happenings they'd been doing even before it was known as punk."
On the walk to the CBD you'll pass the Paddington Green hotel, now smarter looking than when it would accommodate the indie electronic/techno punks like Severed Heads, Scattered Order and The Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast or the hardline alternative sounds of X.
Crossing Taylor Square you throw a glance at Kinsellas, once and often again over the years a drinking room, a music room, a meeting room and a music room again, and take in the Oxford Hotel which once was called the Oxford Tavern.
The spiritual home of Radio Birdman (pictured below), the Oxford was unofficially called The Funhouse and was where you graduated to if you could make a go of it at French's Tavern (which spent some time as Betty's Soup Kitchen), a basement room that stank, often was overcrowded but gave space to bands with names like Smelly Tongues. A gem in other words.
Keep going into the CBD, up Elizabeth Street to Market Street. For almost three decades a building between the MLC Centre and Centrepoint Tower was the fulcrum of domestic rock. The Alberts studio was the playground of former Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young who produced, or opened their studios to, John Paul Young, Cheetah, the Angels, Rose Tattoo and just about every band with a guitar and a good supply of denim, especially in the 1970s.
Head on and left into George Street for a couple of blocks and you'll find the Metro, still the city's best mid size rock room and a rite of passage room for garage bands and Kasey Chambers (pictured below). It thrives a few doors up from a room called the Tivoli which had a short life at 654 George Street as a rock room offering a Sydney home to Melbourne's Hunters & Collectors and Do Re Mi and, for one night, the Mullanes playing their first and only Sydney show.
The next time those musicians were in town they had become Crowded House and were already looking like they were going to do pretty well.
Keep walking to Goulburn Street and you'll be passing a Chinese alternative medicine shop that sits above what used to be Chequers, the city's "sophisticated" club of the 1960s in particular. No, Sinatra didn't play there but his pal Sammy Davis jnr did, as did Shirley Bassey and a young Liza Minnelli who, it was said at the time, took then prime minister John Gorton backstage for a lengthy period. No doubt to discuss tax issues.
It is unlikely Gorton and Minnelli needed to get that rare Neu! album or would take the chance of stumbling across a weird piece of eastern European folk music or some obscure R&B single that might make the perfect sample.
But if they had they would have been advised to hit the southern end of Pitt Street which once housed Ashwoods and Lawson's, the biggest and best second-hand record stores at a time when you couldn't just get online and find any old record you read about.
Ashwoods has been recycled and replaced but Lawson's is still standing at 380 Pitt Street. The perfect place to see if somewhere in those racks are records or CDs from some of the people who played at the Sydney Stadium and Metro, partied at the Sebel or had that heart starter at Sweethearts.
"Paper bag, Brandivino/Dreams fly away as she pulls another cappuccino."
Originally published Sydney Morning Herald