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No more Elephant in the room as reborn pub honours music icon

Culture

As one of the world’s most revered music journalists, the late Ritchie Yorke spent decades rubbing shoulders with rock royalty, so it’s fitting that the regal Prince Consort Hotel in Fortitude Valley is paying tribute to his legacy by naming a music hub in his honour.

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The Prince Consort –  known until recently as the Elephant Hotel ­– has undergone extensive renovations and will be holding its official public reopening from 9pm Wednesday night.

The heritage-listed hotel, which was erected in 1888, is reverting to its original moniker and in addition to the main Prince Consort portion of the hotel downstairs, there will be an additional seven spaces – La La Land, 400 Rabbits Cantina, The Garden Bar, The Naughty Corner, The Bowie Rooms, Greaser and The Yorke Suites – that will each offer a different experience.

The Yorke Suites will be comprised of music industry offices and studios above La La Land – the former Foundry live music room in the upstairs area of the hotel.

La La Land, in the area that formerly housed The Foundry, is one of the Prince Consort Hotel’s new spaces. (Photo: Supplied)

“We haven’t started the construction of that area yet but when the Foundry launched five years ago, they took the initiative to set up some affordable office spaces upstairs,” Prince Consort culture and entertainment manager Michael Watt told InQueensland.

“You’ve got festival organisers, bands with recording studios, band agents and management, entertainment industry legal workers and entertainment industry accountants, so it’s a bit of an ecosystem of its own happening there.

“We’re looking to embrace that and what it means to the Valley and obviously to the local music industry and want to build on that and improve it and – like the rest of the venue’s refurbishment – make it a more comfortable space.”

Yorke’s widow Minnie Yorke said it was a fitting tribute to her late husband, telling InQueensland it was her “mission to make sure Ritchie’s name is marked in the musical history of Brisbane”.

“Michael’s known and understood my mission and given me this wonderful opportunity to pay homage to Ritchie in a very appropriate place,” Minnie said.

“Not too many people knew he was actually a Brisbane boy … he didn’t really talk about the extent of his life.”

Brisbane-born Yorke, who passed away in 2017, had a long and storied career as a music journalist, broadcaster, author and band manager – in Australia and abroad.

Yorke was appointed the first full-time columnist covering rock culture for Canadian national newspaper The Globe and Mail in the late 1960s and also had stints as Canadian editor of both Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines.

He returned to Brisbane in the 1980s, where he served as chief music writer for The Sunday Mail for more than 20 years before retiring in 2007, and also wrote biographies on iconic musical figures including Van Morrison: Into The Music and Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography.

Yorke also spent some of his early working life in the recording industry in the UK and US, was mentored by legendary record producer Jerry Wexler – who coined the term “rhythm and blues” – and was integral in signing and/or producing artists including Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, and Bob Dylan.

But he is perhaps best remembered for the vital role he played in helping organise John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 Montreal Bed-In protest. He was employed as their official peace envoy and travelled more than 83,000km around the globe to distribute and erect the famous “WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas From John and Yoko” posters in major cities throughout the world.

He also wrote Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy – John and Yoko’s Battle for Peace, in 2015, which was produced with the assistance of Ono, who also wrote the book’s preface.

Minnie said Ritchie has been described as “the Forrest Gump of the music business”.

“He was the journalist, he was the publicist he was the backstage go-to man – he covered all the bases, he did it all. He was there at the right time, often,” she said, adding that he was the first mainstream rock journalist to bestow critical praise on Led Zeppelin – whose first album had been derided by the likes of Rolling Stone – after Wexler sent him a white label first pressing of their self-titled record.

“He just fell in love with it and wrote about it and went on to say no, this is going to be the next big thing and [Led Zeppelin manager] Peter Grant really acknowledged that. He was very grateful to Ritchie and took him under his wing and he went on the road with them many times, and introduced shows.”

Watt, who was a friend of Yorke’s, said he was aware Minnie and the Ritchie Yorke Project – an organisation dedicated to preserving his legacy – had been lobbying to establish a permanent space in Brisbane to house her late husband’s extensive archives.

“We really should be doing anything we can help them stay here because they might end up somewhere else – in Melbourne or even over in Toronto, because I know there’s been a desire of some organisations over there – but I think it’s important it stays here because it’s a rich part of our music heritage,” Watt said.

“We thought this would be a great idea to create a bit of awareness about this desire and it was obviously important to us to kind of keep Ritchie’s memory alive, because he was a good friend to us but we also wanted to raise awareness to help the Ritchie Yorke Project achieve that outcome.”

Watt said the hotel has also applied for some funding to establish artists in residency, workshopping and mentoring programs with emerging artists to be held in the Yorke Suites.

Minnie said she was immediately on board when Watt contacted her.

“When Michael rang me, he said, ‘we want to bring the Prince of Peace into the Prince Consort Hotel’, and I loved it,” she said.

Minnie is still firmly focused on establishing a permanent home for Yorke’s archives and has suggested the Old Museum – where his memorial service was held in 2017 – as a possible site.

“That building really belongs to the people,” she said, saying Yorke’s collection could form part of a wider music industry museum in the under-utilised upstairs portion of the building, which is currently undergoing refurbishments of its own.

“In discussing that with a few people there is quite a big interest,” she said.

“ have mooted with Brisbane City Council and a few people that I would be happy to have Ritchie’s archives kick it all off.

“The desk that The Saints mixed [‘(I’m) Stranded’] on, that will come in, and there are several different things, where people have gone, ‘Yeah, well I’ve got this, I’ve got this, we can make this happen.’ That’s the bigger picture plan.”

For more information on the Prince Consort, visit the hotel’s website.

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