When Pete Collins and Ben Dougherty decided to form a band, neither had much of an idea where the idea would lead. The initial concept was simply to get up and play and maybe release a record or two. Ten years later, and the Vegas Kings have achieved as much as they had ever comprehended – three albums, tours to Europe and a thriving community of supporters and contemporaries. And with that, it’s time for the Vegas Kings to bow out gracefully.
Vegas Kings were born out of the friendship between guitarists Pete Collins and Ben Dougherty. The pair moved from northern New South Wales to Brisbane to study, and after an epiphany at a Bluesfest watching RL Burnside and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Collins and Dougherty decided to form a band. “We watched RL Burnside and Jon Spencer, and thought it’d be pretty cool to start a band like that,” Collins recalls. “Ben taught me how to play guitar, so really the Vegas Kings comes down to the friendship between Ben and I,” he affirms.
With the addition of drummer Angus Chapman, Vegas Kings went on to release three excellent albums, tour Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe. And now, with Vegas Kings arguably at the peak of their powers, the band has decided to break up. The reason, it appears, is that Vegas Kings have achieved everything they notionally could have as a band.
“A lot of people have been asking what the highlight of our career has been, but it’s a pretty tough one to answer,” Collins ponders. “It’s easy to pick shows, but for me it’s about that we’ve been pretty lucky. We never thought we’d put out three LPs, or that we’d go tour overseas, or even that we’d meet some of our heroes.” Collins argues that Vegas Kings have never considered themselves a band with a mission either. “We’ve never been a goal-oriented band, but we’ve pretty well done everything we wanted to do – we feel that we’ve done everything we wanted a band to do.”
On the other side of the career coin, Collins says there have been lowlights, but nothing more than the odd dud show. “When you think of the worst show ever, then you tend to remember really particular things. Like on our last European tour we played this place in Germany, just near the Polish border. We played in this building adjacent to an old post office. No-one spoke English, and they didn’t play music between the sets, so it was pretty weird. We were talking afterwards about how bad a show it was, but equally it was memorable,” he grins.
The demise of The Vegas Kings will free Collins and Dougherty up to concentre on the Mere Noise label the duo established some years ago, initially to release Vegas Kings material. Over time Mere Noise has become one of Australia’s most significant contemporary independent labels. “Mere Noise has been a huge highlight as well,” Collins confirms. “When we started out we had a few labels approaching us, but we went with our own label.
“We were really lucky to get help from Loki (Lockwood head honcho of Spooky Records) – he really became our mentor with the label,” Collins explains. “When we got back to Brisbane we decided to release records from local bands that we really liked – like The Standing 8 Counts, who are a band that we absolutely loved. It was an honour to be able to release their compilation/best of record.”
Vegas Kings’ decision to break-up coincides with recent announcements that three Brisbane venues – The Hanger, Troubadour and Cubby House – are closing their doors to live music. Collins is philosophical about the announcements, but says it foreshadows a difficult time for the Brisbane music scene. “I think in the next 12 months we have a bit of a fight on our hands, especially with a few venues having closed down,” he admits.
“While there are reasons why those venues closed down – The Hanger has just got bigger and bigger, and because it’s not in entertainment precinct, the neighbours haven’t been as accommodating – at the same time there has been a bit of a backlash. There’s no priority for live music, and it tends to get lumped in with that late night, binge drinking scene.” Collins sees the future of the Brisbane live scene existing outside of Fortitude Valley. “I think stuff will start to happen outside of the valley,” he says.
But in the here and now, Vegas Kings are looking forward to their final trip to Melbourne, where they’ll be supported by old friends Digger And The Pussycats, Hits and Kids Of Zoo (ex-Specimens). “We’re playing with some of our favourite people,” Collin says. “We were lucky enough when we started out to meet guys like Fort Mary, Digger And The Pussycats, The Specimens and The Cants. So it’s great to be playing with Digger and Kids Of Zoo for our last Melbourne show.”
To celebrate the band’s last Melbourne show, Vegas Kings will also go as far down memory lane as their collective memories permit. “We’ve gone through our old CDs, and we’re re-learning songs from the first record. So we’ll see how we go there,” Collins laughs. VEGAS KINGS play their final Melbourne show – with Digger & The Pussycats, Kids Of Zoo and Hits – at Yah Yah’s this Friday November 12. Get along and farewell and one of the finest Australian bands of the past decade.