Tucked away in the back of the upstairs bar at French’s, Dick Hughes would be playing stride and barrelhouse, a row of cider mugs clinking on top of his upright piano.
The punters’ shoes would make a constant quacking noise as they stuck to the cider-sodden carpet on the narrow groaning staircase that led down to the cellar level, where on Fridays it was traditionally the place to hear The Foreday Riders’ sweet harmonica blues, and had been for as long as anyone could remember.
On Wednesdays, Midnight Oil would Run By Night. Always free entry, on other nights you could walk in and catch Mental As Anything, Renee Geyer with Mother Earth, The Magnetics, or Jackie Orszaczky, fresh from Hungary, playing jazz-fusion with Syrius. Judy Bailey, Gillian Eastoe, Wendy Saddington and Venetta Fields would all play regular gigs there. Thursday evenings, however, was the night to squeeze your way down through the thick fug of smoke to see The Cyril B. Bunter Band blasting out blistering boogies and shuffles as sweat ran down the matt-black painted walls, the froth pit at the front throbbing with manic dancers.
It was a classic Sydney scene, but the true believers knew that to experience The Bunters in their own natural habitat, the only place to be was The Welcome Inn, the first bar up from the docks at the dirty end of Sussex Street. Known to the diehards as The Buncha. A fine stand-alone toilet-tile pub where the band could turn up and play LOUD, with no neighbours to complain.
For almost five years from 1972, every Friday and Saturday, The Bunters, lit only by a couple of lights, would crank out set after set of visceral, filthy, blues-drenched boogie, always with the little front bar packed fit-to-bust: Usually three or four hundred sweaty people squeezed into a room that comfortably held maybe a hundred heads. There was no stage, the band played on the floor hard up against the wall, eyeball-to-eyeball with the front row of fans just three feet away.