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Dave McCormack (r) and friend

Dave McCormack (r) and friends

Custard never made it in the UK (at least they never made it into Bruce or Fran’s headspace) but apparently there was a time when Dave McCormack played venues somewhat bigger and busier than the dining room of the Edinburgh Castle, in Brunswick. Apparently, he had a number of hits in the 90s and was a regular on radios across the land come Australia Day. Not anymore.

Instead, he wanders onstage in front of a few dozen people, a red velvet curtain, some wallpaper that’s seen off more appropriate decades and the sort of fake candle / chandelier-type light fittings your parents once thought added class to their family home back in the day.

At first, his uncontainable sense of humour – introducing and outtroducing his guitar solos, pausing midsong for comment, layering self-deprecation on self-deprecation – threatens to descend into end-of-the-pier parody. Thankfully, his joie de vivre, knack for a jaunty melody and witty way with words soon overrides any early misconceptions.

“Imagine how much better these songs would sound if he had a full band,” says Bruce’s companion – shortly after McCormack’s finished singing a number about sacking his band – revelling in a chance to see a performer he’d last watched as a 17-year-old.

Lo and behold, he invites a drummer and a couple of bassists from the audience onstage (consecutively, not concurrently) and they muddle their way through a few of Custard’s hits. Crowd participation ensues in the form of singing and clapping; one chap seated at a table in front of the stage is barely able to contain himself and spends much of the latter part of the gig on his feet punching the air as a one man moshpit.

McCormack, meanwhile, seems to be having a ball, even if an air of ruefulness punctuates everything – lyrics, demeanour, the acclaim – profusely thanking a friend for arranging the gig, which appears to have been set up at the last minute as he was passing through town (one can’t discount the possibility it was to raise the funds to get back to Brisbane).

But there’s something glorious about watching faded stars trying to keep their faint glow burning, fighting with humour and a reluctant acceptance against a dying of the light; not in the “Let’s reform a load of shit 80s bands and go on an arena tour for blue rinses and pot bellies” manner but in the “I’ll play any two bob hole just to keep on playing” sense (it’s working for Tim Rogers, after all, with people splurging $120 on this).

Talking of two bob holes, Bruce is rather enamoured with the Edinburgh Castle. On their first visit on Melbourne Cup Day, Fran won $77 on the sweepstake and they did their best to drink the pub dry of Little Creatures Pale. They failed (majestically) although were helped by the fact the staff had underestimated the thirst of their regulars over that weekend, which meant most of their interesting beers (3 Ravens, Buckley’s, Mountain Goat) had sold out by the big race day. They’ve now got far less interesting beers since doing a deal with the devil and replacing several with the likes of Carlton Premium Blonde (involuntary shudders again) although, to make Bruce feel at home, the Mountain Goat almost ran out.

With a large front bar where bands often play, a nice, big beer garden, the dining room-cum-venue for fallen 90s Triple J stars and auxilliary dining room where cards were being played – not to mention a table tennis table as well as a clientele that mixes the grungy with an element of Melbourne hipsterism, but without the “Look at me!” attitude found in many of the northern suburbs close to the city, it’s a great reason to head to the top end of Sydney Road (well, for those few for whom the Hustler strip club or the Lebanese pizzas aren’t reason enough already).

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