JUST the mention of Apollo Stadium to almost anyone who lived in Adelaide in the 1970s will have them reeling off the international musical superstars they saw perform there over the decade.
Some of the biggest names on the planet strutted their stuff to sellout audiences on the makeshift stage in a building originally designed as a basketball stadium.
Until 1969, Centennial Hall at the Wayville showgrounds had been our city’s main entertainment venue, but the new Richmond location offered better acoustics, a larger capacity of up to 4000 seats, some tiered seating arrangements and much easier car parking. The stadium was built and opened in the same year Neil Armstrong stepped from Apollo 13 on to the surface of the moon, and the structure was named in tribute to that momentous event. It was also Adelaide’s major basketball arena and the home court of the National Basketball League, including the Adelaide 36ers.
But most people remember it more as a concert venue that hosted some of the greatest musical talent the world had to offer. There is some debate now about which artist starred in the very first concert at the new centre.
What is known, though, is The Kinks were definitely among the first, along with gigs by Jerry Lee Lewis and jazz legend Louis Armstrong.
Other major names in the early ’70s included a memorable performance by Creedence Clearwater Revival and concerts from Black Sabbath and Status Quo.
But it was far from being the perfect venue. Dave Carey says his uncle was involved in basketball back then, and running certain aspects of Apollo Stadium. “He was, and still is, a pretty old-school kind of guy and much preferred craft fairs to the likes of Queen, who he described as ‘animals’,” Dave says. “Apparently they urinated in the corner of the ‘green room’. He told me, however, that there were no separate toilets for the artists and they were forced to use the public toilets.
“Can you imagine a mid-1970s Freddie Mercury getting to and from the toilet unscathed with 4000 Queen fans?”
Concert tickets then were generally around the $6 to $8 range – not a small amount at the time. Bronny Townley felt the worst thing was the added expense of getting to and from the concerts “In those days, public transport didn’t go beyond 10.30pm and when you had to catch more than one bus, there was little choice but to drive a car or catch a lift with neighbours,’’ she says “It was almost impossible to park on a side street, so on top of the price of the tickets, there was the $10 cost of parking”
Not all concerts were an outstanding success, though, as Lance Sturtzel recalls. “I saw Dionne Warwick there in the ’ 70s some time, I think on her first ever trip to Adelaide,’’ he says.
“She only had a three or four-piece band behind her and sadly only a third-full audience. She seemed decidedly unhappy at not having a full house (which she definitely deserved to have) and her performance showed that. She was on stage for just over an hour and that was it. She refused to come back for an encore, even though the audience clapped for almost five minutes, hoping to get her back out again but she refused. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of respect for her that night, after treasuring every one of her hits and albums since 1963. I never bought another one of her records from that day on.”
I also recall a Joe Cocker concert that ended rather abruptly when Joe passed out on stage after about the first three songs. It seems funny now but I remember there were some very unhappy fans milling about after the concert, some demanding their money back. Joe was OK, had a bit too much of what he was on or taking or sniffing at the time but he lost a lot of fans that night.
The Apollo Stadium continued as our biggest concert venue throughout the 1980s antil the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, with seating for up to 12,000, built at a cost of $44 million and opened by Premier John Bannon on July 20, 1991.
A year later, the 36ers opened the Clipsal Powerhouse stadium in Findon with 8000 seats – and Apollo Stadium was no longer required. It became a church for a while but was sold and demolished and the area was redeveloped for housing.
As far as I’m aware, nothing remains of the once popular entertainment venue. Apollo Stadium is only a memory these days, but still looms large as the place where we experienced some of the greatest artists of our generation and listened to some of the greatest music ever made.