The Closing of Smith’s Alternative Bookshop & an Interview with The Gypsy Scholars’ Conagh McMahon-Hogan

Earlier this year, we lost an outlet for the performance of original and unique work, and the dream of the classic hazy scene of sitting down to listen to something alive and new. The closing down of Smith’s Alternative Bookshop is a nail in the coffin of originality and different experience in Canberra’s music scene. What the sit-down jazz club offered was a supportive stage to the people practicing in their garages or basements and producing something a little bit different, wanting to communicate what they didn’t hear in the mainstream. The people who came to listen, while having the option to sit alone and watch YouTube or go through SoundCloud, came to connect and share with another person, ear to ear.

When asked how he felt about his experience performing at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop, singer-songwriter and member of up-and-coming, Canberra-based band The Gypsy Scholars, Conagh McMahon-Hogan could only recall the fond feelings and the “playful environment” of the club. He said that Smith’s set-up and their “scattering of audience members… [was] good, because as a performer, it offered a level of audience engagement and connectivity to the music”. The environment Smith’s provided was “less pressure… [it was] less ‘here’s a picture frame, stand up and watch’… [but more] opening the door for something new.”

Answering the question of “how important do you think small music clubs like Smiths are to the Canberra scene?” Conagh responded that the vision Smith’s had “to make money failed,” but it still provided “a stage to people who otherwise wouldn’t be given an opportunity”. The gradual decline of sit-down music clubs means less places to perform. There will “always be that space I hope”, Conagh says, they just “need something to pull [people] in”. Clearly, Smith’s missed out on the it-factor to keep itself interesting for the crowds, but without the ‘connecting memories’ of theirs and other’s “broadening boundaries”, the Canberra music scene could become “stale and stagnant… ‘cause we always need something new, man”.

We go to live shows is for the excitement, to witness another flesh and bone human create something that transcends the senses, and linger outside of what we know. In going to see an act, the current trend is to cough up the cash, and follow the crowd to a huge over-produced show, and although it’s probably better than listening at home, you’re still separated from the performer. Smith’s gave us a chance to listen and connect with an artist, as they performed new and different material, just for us, and we watched them shift as we reacted off each other. It’s a shame that Smiths is gone, and that there’s one less soldier fighting for local new experiences and sounds of the undiscovered artists.

Since publication, Smith’s Bookshop has announced it will not be closing.