Why rant when you can groove?

The members of the Primitive Methodist Church were an intriguing lot. A breakaway group from orthodox English Methodism they were founded in 1811 and by the 1870s found themselves active in Australia: encouraging lay participation in the church, preaching in the open air to ‘the ordinary people’ and showing sympathy with organised labour.

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In Newcastle they delivered lectures to coal mining townships in the Hunter Valley and supported the great maritime strike of 1890, which saw local coal miners refusing to dig coal which was going to supply power to non-union operated vessels. For this reason the Primitive Methodists were often known as ‘Christian Socialists’, or to their enemies, ‘the ranters’.

One of the churches they established in 1887 still stands in the West End. It has been owned by Suzie Darling and Paul Carruthers for 12 years, but in the last six months it has been re-born as a performance and arts space and christened the Unorthodox Church of Groove. The interior is now fitted out with funky vintage furniture, a rare Australian Beale grand piano, an in-house PA system which comes with its own sound and lighting technician.

Late last year Suzie and Paul launched the transformed church, by turning it into a nightclub styled on a 1920s-1930s prohibition-era style ‘speakeasy’. Over 60 people embraced the theme, arriving in costume and experiencing what those halcyon nights must have felt like as The Smokin’ Chops Jazz Quintet filled the space with hot jazz, Latin and swing. This one-night only event was such a success it proved the magic this unique space can weave.

More uniqueness is coming next month! On 1 February the intriguing musical act Nerds & Music will appear in a free concert. This duo/trio (and occasionally a four-piece) is made up of self-proclaimed geeks, Wayne Thomson and Clark Gormley. They deliver sweet satire, coated with savoury harmonies. Audiences are amazed by their weirdness, witticisms, wordplay and alliteration. In recent times Paul (Crackers) Carruthers has been drumming and adding additional vocal harmony with the band, together with Grant Fraser on guitar.

As well as the events Suzie and Paul produce The Unorthodox Church of Groove is now available for hire and as Newcastle’s most remarkable venue the range of possibilities is dizzying. For musicians of all genres it is the perfect recording/rehearsal space. Recently Grant Walmsley, formerly of legendary Newie band The Screaming Jets, used the venue for a 3-day recording and filming stint something he described as “his Abbey Road experience”.

For artists it could be an excellent exhibition space, for actors a stunning performance platform and an out-of-left-field venue for a wedding, birthday, or just a celebration to remember. It’s all happening just as Suzie and Paul planned “The idea is for the space to evolve. We are intrigued to see how people will use it and what will develop”.

The Unorthodox Church of Groove, 3 Tudor Street, Newcastle West, near Dairy Farmers corner. The church is hidden behind a façade; the entrance is via a door with a large no. 3 facing the street. To find out what is on at the UCoG follow them on Facebook, or to enquire about using the space phone 0401 342 030 or email: churchofgroove@gmail.com  

Kimberly O’Sullivan

Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: kimberly@netspace.net.au; 0413 250 155.

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4 responses to “Why rant when you can groove?

    • Thanks for the feedback 🙂 As to why the Church is still there from my research I found this info:

      Many years ago someone (don’t know who) built a big façade at the front of the church making it look like a regular building. Behind the façade is still the church. So you go in what looks like a normal building to find a church behind it. I don’t know why this was done. Does anyone have the answer to this. THANKS!

  1. Hi girls, I have the answer for you. The building was purchased from the Methodist Church (NSW) Property Trust in March 1974. The vendor was Kayles Properties Pty Ltd and I believe that it was some form of department store. At this time it had a modern 70’s facade built at the front and a floor was also built into the building with a stairwell at the front and back of the building. It also has an addition at the rear of the building. If you crawl through the manhole of the ceiling on the first floor you will witness the original cathedral ceiling made out of timber with some stenciling work

  2. Another good blog Kimberly. Deserves to be linked on the “Church’s” Facebook page. The photos will excite more interest. As for the Unorthodox Church of the Groove: an interesting thought-provoking name in itself: I attended a Speak Easy night there and can honestly say it is a genuinely cool venue. Ideal for any cabaret style, artistic and avante-garde event.The low lighting, quirky decor;talented musicians and (on the night I went) inventive outfits worn by the Speak Easy customers, made for a wonderful atmosphere!

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