Played at the Fairgrounds Festival in Berry on Saturday. Damn it was a good event! A wonderful little show and a wonderful little festival. More extensive report coming … soon.
The beauty of this being a personal blog – and not a public forum – is I get to moderate comments. In that light, I can approve them as I wish and I can dismiss them as I wish. Basically, if anything I view as offensive is written in the hope of being controversial or personally offensive, I can and will immediately consign the message to the bin … with a corresponding “f^*k off” being uttered. It’s pretty simple, how this works…
By Adam Gibson
My father loved a punt. Every afternoon after primary school in the late 1970s, my brother and I would come home and he’d be perched at a bench in the kitchen, yellow foldout newspaper form guide in front of him, a transistor radio blasting beside him and the landline (remember them?) phone receiver in hand.
As I say in the song ‘On The Punt’ (by my band The Aerial Maps), he’d be regularly repeating his PhoneTAB number down the line to some mysterious operator – “This is 20791900, thank you” – as he placed bets on races being run across Australia. The names echoed in our childhood minds like mythical spaces where Things Happened and whiskery men and floral-dress women did things.
Eagle Farm, Flemington, Dapto, Kalgoorlie, Doomben, Wentworth Park, Rosehill, Broken Hill, Caufield, Morphetville…
This was Australia reduced to a fine essence, the high-pitched voices and razor-sharp accents of the racecallers forming a static-buzzed soundtrack across lino-floor kitchens and the hot leather seats of old primary coloured cars, when TV and movies from the rest of the world took weeks to filter through and small things from Norman Gunston to Auntie Jack seemed to matter.
And there seemed a related smallness to the betting world too – it didn’t seem like big business was involved and it didn’t feel like some grand fleecing of the masses was being played out. Dodgy small-time figures haunted dusty racetracks, a mate of someone’s dad was (allegedly) an SP bookie on the sly and my Dad betted in a few units each way – bets of a dollar or two which came out of the account which he topped up every few weeks and which mum tolerated in complete silence. The rose-coloured lens of nostalgia no doubt casts this world in an innocent light, but it did all seem to have a harmless air about it.
Sure, there’s no doubt that over the years my father lost more than he won and he was bailed out by mates on a couple of occasions when the demon of gambling took hold, but he mostly kept that demon in check and mostly knew his limits.
I shudder to think how Dad would control such a demon in Australia today, however. Turn on the TV, watch any sports show or live telecast, open the newspaper, look online at the most seemingly non-gambling connected site, and you are bombarded with gambling advertisements and inducements.
Betfair, Ladbrokes, SportsBET, TAB Sports, Centrebet, William Hill, UniBet, Bet365, AusBet, Luxbet, several more… It would be an overreach to say the list is “endless” but it’s not too much of an overreach.
It is a near-constant attack; an almost continual bombardment of odds and offers and hearty (mostly chubby, 30-something) men, mostly with beards in order fit the advertisers’ current designated zeitgeist view of “hip”, heartily living it up as they busily make betting the apparent centre of their universe.
The cool guy, the “winner”, is the one who’s just “cashed out on his multi”, who’s just used his perhaps ironically-named “smartphone” to “download the app” and place a bet, who’s sat on the couch and watched the cards fall in his favour (“high five!”). He will perhaps be shown dancing across a crowded bar, perhaps being cheered by his carefully casting-agent-selected “mates”, perhaps happily walking out of a pub with the swagger of a true hero.
And I thought somewhere in the Advertising Standards Board regulations there was a stipulation that ads couldn’t be shown to be “celebrating” gambling? Ah bugger it, who cares, hey? Let em go…
It’s got the stage now that, where once gambling occurred on the vague fringe of society most of the time (aside from the Melbourne Cup), it is now in the prime time centre of our lives. But I won’t say it’s hit “saturation” stage – I am certain they have more in store for us in future. But I feel this normalisation of betting is now reaching a devastating point. Kids are aware of such things as “odds” and they just think it’s part of the games being played and conversation about any sport – from surfing to golf to AFL and everything else – can very quickly move on to betting talk.
Two years ago Rugby League fans blew a collective kerpuffer valve when the weedy Tom Waterhouse appeared regularly before, during and after games on Channel 9 to offer his views on the game and talk about associated odds. He seemed to become a quasi commentator and his integration into the broadcast was just too jarring for the majority. “Who this hell is this twerp!?” essentially was the response.
In quick time, the chorus of disdain against him grew to a crescendo and he soon got the message and disappeared from screen (only, of course, to not long after sell his bookmaking business to UK giant William Hill and become their Australian CEO… Oh how the greased palms deal, hey?).
But during this season just past, mediocre ex first grade footballer Joel Caine, in between juggling his own actual footy commentating duties (no conflict of interest?), appeared with impervious regularity to do pretty much exactly what Waterhouse did – and barely anyone raised a peep. On he’d come, sprouting opinions about the current or upcoming game, attempting to lure us in with bonus offers and cash-back temptations. His footy credentials, such as they were, somehow meant he was okay to do this. There wasn’t a howl of protest. The greater public, it seemed, was now seemingly okay to just sit back and let it come at us. Maybe we’d just been worn down and given in?
And I guess the dam has broken on a wider level too. What was once a marginal activity – betting on general sports which people, ya know, once used to actually play, and maybe, erm, actually watch for the sake of the contest – has become a version of the norm.
You will be watching a gripping contest with friends at the local RSL, coinciding with the Friday night badge draw, and it soon becomes apparent that this mate has a “pick the score” or that mate has a “first try scorer”. Someone will say, “Canberra are paying such and such to beat the Bulldogs”, or “I wanna get on the Roosters to beat the Rabbitohs by 20”. It’s completely normal, nobody bats an eyelid.
Having seen the ill effects of gambling first-hand, it occurs to me that this “normalisation” can only serve to give those for whom gambling is a problem a sense of permission to keep on punting, ensconcing them a warm cocoon of camaraderie and connection. Everyone’s doing it, I’m sweet, it’s no dramas. Further, it almost certainly serves to open up the idea to other previous non-punters, bringing them into the game, so to speak, because, well, everyone does it, hey, it’s just normal.
You can always tell the industries which are awash with cash by the extent of their advertising. Witness insurance companies of all stripes – their advertising budgets are huge simply because they are milking millions off everyone’s self-fulfilling fear that they must be covered. Think of car advertising – you cannot go an ad break on Australian commercial TV without seeing a car ad. Ditto the big supermarket chains. And ditto betting agencies during certain programs. Their relentless advertising spend lays it bare – they are raking it in and they’re getting bigger and bigger all the time.
But the impact both on the sports themselves and the punter is apparently barely considered. The proven incidence of match-fixing is one obvious outcome of such betting, while the bank accounts of punters across the land are being siphoned like petrol out of an HR Holden back in the olden days.
But hang on a sec. Where’s the regulation for this? This seemingly unchecked explosion of betting agencies and associated advertising must be regulated in some ways, mustn’t it?
Well it appears to be … but one look at the Australian Wagering Council’s website probably gives a good indication of the rigour of this regulation. “The AWC is committed to ensuring that all forms of advertising by its members is undertaken in a socially responsible manner and accords with the promotion of responsible gambling and the need to protect the integrity of sport,” the website says.
So there it is … great. They will do a lot of the regulation themselves, thanks. This is no doubt part of the reason why, at the end of each ad or live gambling segment, the puppet presenter says, almost with a knowing smirk on his or her face, “But remember, gamble responsibly!”
I can hear the management of these betting companies laughing their heads off that that seems the extent of their social responsibility. “Hahaaaa, GAMBLE RESPONSIBLY!!! Yeah, good one.”
The thin end of the wedge is being slowly rammed in ever harder. The distinct line between betting, sport and/or entertainment is being ever eroded and I have no doubt that within the next few years we shall be seeing ever increasing integration of betting with general aspects of life. Money doesn’t feel real when it’s just represented by numbers on an iPhone app like points in a game.
But the point is, it is real money going out and it is real lives being affected.
“Gamble responsibly?” Haha, yeah right, good one! Just download the app and get amongst it, you loser.
Then there’s this I love…
I remember this night
I remember every step
I remember this time
I will never forget
Pic by Jo King.
Trying to clear my head, with this.
By Adam Gibson
It’s 3am when it hits. That end-of-the-world feeling. That feeling that everything you’ve done in life isn’t right and that everything you’re going to do henceforth is going to go down the wrong path, for sure. At 3am, on a humid Sydney night; at 3am, on a cold Paris night; at 3am, in Bondi, when the fireworks have not long finished banging and the world is telling you how “good” everything is. And, yet, you feel bereft.
It was on just such a pre-dawn morning about five years ago that just such a feeling swamped me like a groundswell set of waves on my home beach of Bondi. And it was on just such a 3am morning when I frantically searched my phone for someone to call who could, somehow, hopefully, help me through. Brother overseas, wrong time zone. Mother, up the road, don’t want to worry her. Childhood mate, newborn baby, can’t wake him. Who else to call? I scrolled down my phone to “S” … and found the necessary name – “Sambo”.
And so I called Sam de Brito and he answered and we talked. He wasn’t startled I’d rung; we just chatted as if it was any normal call. The problems of the world weren’t solved, nor were the ones in my life. But the fact is, he was there. And in those circumstances, that’s all that ultimately mattered.
I first met Sam when we were copyboys at News Ltd in 1989. We soon gained our journalism cadetships at News Ltd and proceeded to dive into the cut and thrust world of Sydney newspapers of the time. Sam was always a charming figure with a sweep of artfully tossed straight blond hair, sharp suits with pleated pants and narrow leather ties, Sam always having his top shirt button undone so his tie could hang in a decidedly louche fashion.
What was forged in that fire of midnight-to-dawn shifts, of chasing stories across Sydney, of late nights in smoky pubs watching long forgotten bands, was a deep friendship. A friendship based not just on the easy banter of young twentysomething talk of footy and women, but on a deeper level of human engagement. About philosophy and art and the argument about which was the best Pixies record. Sure we talked about footy and women too, but that was always secondary to the search for something. Something more interesting, something more important, something to make life worth it.
About a decade ago, I bumped into Sam at North Bondi, he having emerged from a run and a swim and me heading down to do just the same. I knew he’d been struggling to write the novel that he’d always wanted to write and after many many conversations about it, when he spoke of his struggle on this occasion, I sort of lost it at him.
He was torturing himself with philosophical musings and theoretical positions. So I said, “Mate, just write the bloody thing. Write about us, write about growing up in Bondi, stop over-thinking it.” Within a year his first novel The Lost Boys was published and he always told me, and mentioned in the forward of the book, that it wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t said those words.
But if I could have some modicum of influence on him, he more than made up for it in return throughout later years. As a confidant, as a sounding board, as a mate. It was in these later years that he became a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – a forum that allowed him to reach a far wider range of people and which afforded him both fans and critics alike. The one thing that Sam never shied away from was a good argument and whilst he held strong opinions, they were always informed opinions, based on thought-through ideas and concepts grounded by intensive reading of canonic and popular texts. He was no Google Philosopher – he knew his stuff.
Having strong, well-articulated opinions, and not being afraid to publish them, is, however, like having a target on your head in this era. And Sam wore the shots from many. He was accused of being sexist, misogynistic, arrogant, ignorant; a dumb yobbo and who was “just a stupid bloke”. But anyone who knew him personally knew that such perceptions were in no way the measure of the man. The Twitter heroes and the two-bit intelligentsia knew nothing of the man. And to see him belittled and mocked by some commentators and members of the public who, at a guess, did not have an ounce of the goodness of spirit and intent that Sam had, pissed us, his friends, off no end. He was never malicious and always sought to make the world a better place, as clichéd as it sounds, through his writing.
But I guess that’s the nature of friendship. You feel your friends’ pain when they are feeling pain and you feel their happiness when they are feeling happy. I introduced Sam to the woman who became his partner and the mother of his child and their early happiness, and eventual joy about the raising of their child, was something that as Godfather to that child made me equally joyous.
I can’t write this any more, I have no words, I need some advice on where to turn with the next sentence. But now, today, at 6pm on a lovely Bondi evening, after a storm has just cracked across town with lashing winds and hail, when I would more than likely see Sambo walk past my window on the way to the beach with his beloved daughter Noush, I need to call Sam … and he’s not there at the end of a phone line. Sam died today.
Thanks for all comments, I will try to respond in time. Much appreciated – Adam Gibbo
Having lived in Bondi all of my life, you’d think that one such as myself would’ve seen it all in the suburb we affectionately call “Scum Valley”.
All manner of circuses have come and gone from Bondi in my four and a bit decades of living here… And the associated clowns, chancers and freaky tricksters who have emerged over those years form a rich tapestry of knuckleheads eager to stake their claim on the suburb … or, indeed, claim their stake of it.
Which brings me to this bloke …
Sure, the dodgy developers have gouged and pillaged the suburb for years with construction work which seems to adhere to very loose building codes and subsequent “completed” apartments which look okay for about five Southerly Busters but then fade into peeling paint, seepage cracked eyesores soon thereafter.
That’s okay, we can live with that. Those Muscovite Moguls and/or Hall Street Hellmen know how to turn a buck and we’re used to that. We know their track records and we know their police records.
But this bloke … this bloke has found a whole new level of shyster-ism. He’s bought himself a Toyota Tarago, probably for $80 from some unwashed hippy who advertised on the noticeboard at Noah’s Backpackers, and has taken the initiative to put that fine vehicle on airbnb.com as “for rent”.
Yes, he’s decided that those fold down seats, lumpy as they are, can constitute a “Bed” and he’s further decided that the Tarago in total constitutes a “Room”, and he’s parked said Tarago in Queen Elizabeth Drive … and he’s put two and three together and came up with the amazing result that that Tarago is NOW AVAILABLE FOR RENT FOR THIRTY BUCKS A NIGHT!
Thoughtfully, he’s provided some key tips for potential guests: “This van is parked in a residential neighbourhood and they’ll probably complain if they see you at all. Don’t be seen. Just use the van for sleeping and keeping your belongings. Don’t hang out there playing music or anything. This is known by anyone who’s ever slept in a van in the city before: Residents hate van dwellers and most of them will call the police if they see you. Don’t put towels or bags or anything on the front seats. Beach Town Residents are the least tolerant of van dwellers because they come every year in summer and leave a mess. Keep Australia beautiful.”
Good one mate. What a dead set genius.
(PS. I give you two weeks, tops)
I have a new art exhibition opening next week.
This is my final exhibition of work developed during my Masters of Fine Arts at COFA. It will include paintings, photos, videos, other bits and pieces, plus a spoken word performance on Thursday, October 1, at 3pm.
Please join us for the opening night, Tuesday, September 29, at 5pm.
More details … “Australia Restless – the exhibition” is concerned with Australian language and landscape, distance and displacement. It looks at aspects of Australian life swept aside by picture postcard images of the nation, glib representations that tell a story discordant to the real life and history of the nation.
It is an exhibition incorporating sculptural, painting and video works by Adam Gibson in his final MFA show, with the centrepiece being a performance of a spoken word work which takes the audience on a journey through forgotten landscapes, deserted towns and the desolate landscape that lie at the heart of modern Australia.
Australia Restless holds within it a sense of yearning, a striving to articulate a terrain that, despite the age of mass communication and ease of contact, remains elusive and, in many senses, restless.
In a departure from other activities (or is it?), I have started a new radio show. It is a “conversation” show where I chat to a guest of note for about an hour, playing a few songs amongst the mix too. The idea is to do an in-depth interview with the guest – whether they be musicians, artists, writers, politicians, sportspeople, whomever – and get a nice handle on their world.
The first interview was with acclaimed Sydney songwriter Bryan Estepa and the second, going live shortly, is with record label owner, writer and journalist Stuart Couple. Check it out at http://radiohub.com.au/episodes and go to “Bit of a Chat … With Adam Gibson” to hear it.
Adam Gibson and the Ark-Ark Birds
“Australia Restless” tour diary
May 6 to May 17, 2015
Wednesday, May 6
When punters turn up to see a band that is on a tour, they get along to the show a bit before it starts, have a relaxed chat with their friends, a few drinks, watch the band, hopefully enjoy it. Maybe they buy a CD and then they go home, their night done and dusted. But for that band to get onto that stage, a helluva lot of effort has gone into it, long before they even get near the venue…
Thus as we get in the van in Sydney for the first leg of our ‘Australia Restless’ tour, it’s not some random whim that gets us going. Six months of calls and messages and hassling and organising and blah blah blah have gone into it and off we go, on towards Brisbane and our first show at the Junk Bar. Because we’ve got a couple of shows in Brisbane, the second at the Triffid, we’ve decided that my brother Simon and I will drive the Hiace with all the gear in it, rather than flying up and having to rely on borrowing or hiring amps and drums and guitars. The trade-off of course is that we can also throw in our surfboards and hopefully get some waves along the way.
Thus, we battle through the sort of Sydney traffic that just seems to be getting worse and worse every year, with no relief in sight, before grinding through the gears and hitting the Pacific Highway, heading north. It takes several hours to shake the sense of the city, with the drive as far as Newcastle and even beyond being a battle of weaving cars, speeding vans and tailgating double-B trucks. A nightmare that tenses the shoulders and tightens the jaw.
Eventually though we push on as far as Buladelah, now lying off the highway since the bypass was put through a few years ago. The bypass is undoubtedly good for motorists bypassing the town but at what cost to the town? When a town that relies on a highway going through it no longer has such a highway through it, what is it left with? Desolate service station bistros with shrivelled sausage rolls sitting in the bain marie which sell chips with every meal and chicken salt as mandatory. That’s about it.
Twenty years ago, I wrote a long forgotten poem called ‘Buladelah Caltex Station’, telling the tale of the place where my Valiant car lost the bolts on the front left wheel hub and myself and Avi Ronen amazingly found an identical wrecked Valiant car out the back of said service station. We managed to remove that car’s wheel hub and put it onto my car, paying the service station owner 20 bucks for his assistance (and his wheel hub) and off we went. True story.
Twenty years later, the Caltex station has fallen victim to the bypass and has closed, so we have a toasted sandwich “with chips” at the Mobil station instead. We then hit the road again, Simon driving, and I take the time to write some words for a Melbourne magazine about our album ‘Australia Restless’ and also do a phone call interview with a radio station in Darwin. It’s all very rock’n’roll and the highway and hot chips and sun and heading north…
Our intended first destination for the trip is Crescent Head, a neat half-way distance to Queensland and also home to a perfect right-hand surf point break. And so we plough on north, up past the Great Lakes and Taree towards Kempsey, where we take the turn off onto the old Pacific Highway (Kempsey is now bypassed too), and then turn east on the Crescent Head turn off. We stop briefly after the turn off to check our phones and emails as phone reception at Crescent is still, in 2015, sometimes non-existent. Which is kind of a good thing.
As we stop, a man with a matted beard, filthy clothes, bare feet and a terrifying look in his eye appears as if from nowhere and asks to get in the van for a lift to Crescent. As the van is completely full with gear, we must decline. He marches on down the road, talking to himself. Soon after, we drive down that road but don’t spot him until about 10km along it, right near the town. Even though no other cars have seemingly gone ahead of us, he’s seemingly nabbed a lift from someone. Or maybe he was a ghost of the great highway?
We pull into Crescent on dark and go straight to the surf point. It is reeling off with perfect waves, about 4 foot and luscious. Alas, sun sets over the Great Dividing Range quickly and it’s too dark to get out there. We find a room at the Seabreeze Holiday Flats, a place I have stayed at many times over the years and which has not been renovated or had the bedspreads changed since 1983. It used to be called Bourne’s Holiday Units and I like that name better. We have dinner and a couple of beers at the Country Club as a busload of retirees enjoy the restless chit-chat of people making the best of their lives with their new-found friends from the tour group and we adjourn, bed-wise, rather exhausted.
Thursday, May 7
Awake feeling surprisingly dusty from the day before but head straight down to the point to check the surf. It’s still cranking – sun-dazzled flawless waves firing us up immediately and we rush out there, all thoughts of music and the weekend’s upcoming gigs briefly forgotten as we get out there as quickly as we can.
It’s pretty much the north coast dream scenario for us and we surf some lovely waves, albeit a bit crowded with chubby longboard riders teetering with little control regularly through the line-up. Satisfied though, we get out, grab a pie and a pastie at the bakery and again start on the road north.
For this set of shows, which next week will include gigs in Melbourne and Sydney, we are playing a mix of songs from both my other band The Aerial Maps and the former band my brother and I were in, Modern Giant, plus new Ark-Ark Bird songs from ‘Australia Restless’ and one or two brand newies which aren’t recorded yet. One of these is called ‘Torn Apart Town’, about the many small towns in Australia which just seem to be in terminal decline. It seems to me that the hope for the future that many people once held in many small towns is disappearing and those towns are just dying. Simon and I discuss the song and whether or not we will sing the chorus twice or four times at the end after a key change. We agree that this is something the other Ark-Arks, Danny Yau, Tim Byron and Stewart Cahn will no doubt make the call on.
And so we drive on. Our destination for the night this time is Yamba; a lovely seaside town with the iconic Pacific Hotel sitting high atop the main beach overlooking the rivermouth where the fishing trawlers glide out from every night and the lighthouse winks its beacon through the hotel rooms’ windows through the night.Again we arrive there nearing dark, with just enough time to check one of the world’s truly best surfing spots, Angourie. A heavily localised place, the point there is pumping with impeccable waves as we pull up. Alas, it is again too dark so we resolve to check it first thing in the morning, and head to the Pacific Hotel for a room and a beer and dinner and sleep.
Friday, May 8
The day dawns with a big day in prospect. We have to make it to Brisbane by late afternoon for a couple of radio interviews, but we also want to get a surf in along the way. First things first though – at 7am I do a live-to-air radio interview a Brisbane radio station while sitting in the freezing van outside the Pacific Hotel. I am genuinely still asleep when I do the interview and struggle to hear the announcers as they have put me on speakerphone and their voices are muffled. Unable to hear exactly what they’re asking me, I just ramble on until they tell me to stop.
We then head in the van down to Angourie. The number of cars in the carpark indicates to us quickly that there are waves. But there are also a thousand people out there and as such, we elect to pass on the surf and get on the road.
We stop in a great second-hand store in iconic highway river town of Woodburn, where my brother buys a single old photograph for one dollar, and then keep going north towards Ballina and the waves around Byron Bay. Our first stop is Flat Rock, just north of Ballina, where we see there is a decent swell running. In fact, it’s a bit too big and the current looks horrendous. And sharky. We head on towards Lennox Head but that looks packed and a little sketchy too and so we head right into Byron Bay itself and find a perfect wave on the inside of the Pass, and surf there for two hours.
But we need to get to Brisbane, we need to get our music heads on, so we crank the HiAce up and do what is always a difficult drive into Brisbane. I check in with the Footstomp Music guys, who are handling a bunch of press and promo and other stuff for us, and we push on towards Brizzy. We arrive there on dark again and find that the hotel we’ve booked is a beauty, perched atop Spring Hill, and we shower and head out for a beer or two with some local friends at the fantastic Kerbside bar in Constance St.
Saturday, May 9
It is gig day. There is a lot to do. Guitarist Bluey Cahn and keyboard/bass player Dr Tim Byron are flying in from Sydney, while bass player/guitarist Danny Yau is already in town. We must all connect up somewhere. But first, Simon and I must go to radio Triple Z to do an interview with Jay and Smithy on the show ‘Balls in the Air’. It’s a sports show, with a strong focus on Rugby League, which is one of my specialty subjects. Have a great chat to those guys about music and footy and we conclude with a live-to-air version of our tune ‘The Shark’, with improvised league-related lyrics. Very enjoyable.
Soon, after, we get word that Tim and Bluey have arrived on a Qantas plane and are heading to the hotel. Danny checks in and everyone meets up and heads down to Southbank for a wander and lunch, while I stay in the hotel taking it easy and do the very un-rock’n’roll act of watch Canberra thrash the Gold Coast on TV in our room.
At 5pm, Simon and the others return and we jump in the van, Junk Bar-bound. The Junk Bar is an amazing venue out in Ashgrove. In Sydney terms, it’s not far at all from the city, but people in Brisbane seem to think it’s out in the countryside. It’s an 8-minute drive from our hotel in the centre of the town. Owners Mia and Jamie are there with smiling faces to meet us and we in turn are happy to see them. They’ve set up a wonderful space there and treat us with a friendliness and respect that is often rare in such situations. With little drama, we’re all set up and do a nice soundcheck, Jamie going to great lengths to get things “just right”. The guys from support act Mexico City arrive and set up in duo mode, doing a lovely soundcheck too.
We can now relax a bit, so we adjourn to the front bar and have a few beers as the venue starts to fill up. Pretty soon, it’s pretty much packed and there is a real sense of excitement among the band. Lots of people want to chat and lots of people cram into the Skukum Lounge to watch Mexico City do their honey-toned thing. Great band.
Time quickly passes and before we know it, it’s our turn. The room has filled up to a hefty degree and I focus in on getting my head in the right spot as the other fellas plug in, tune up and generally do what they’ve gotta do. There’s many familiar faces in the crowd and it’s exciting to be playing our first show of the tour to such a good crowd.
We kick off with an austere version of our tune ‘Australia Restless’, just my vocals with Tim playing lonely keyboards behind me, along with the sample of the sound of the Australian raven, or crow, or “ark-ark bird”, if you will. We’re straight out of that into ‘Lighthouse Beach’ and on into the full set of old and new and newer. I’m not exactly as switched on as I’d like to feel, but nevertheless, the band sounds good and everyone seems happy. In the end, it’s a damn good gig, we sell a stack of CDs and have a good chat with all sorts of people at the finish. All in all, a wonderful start to the tour and a nice harbinger, hopefully, of the shows to follow.
We have a nice little “after party” with Mia and Jamie and their staff at the Junk Bar and then return to the hotel all rather sloshed after a very satisfying day. I sleep like a drunken log.
Sunday, May 10
There is an interview with ABC Radio Brisbane mooted and I awake early, and hungover, to check any messages for word whether it is happening or not. Despite the best efforts of our promo guys, however, it seems the bloke from the ABC who was organising it has gone AWOL and nobody can contact him. It’s apparent it’s a no-go, so after a couple of Panadols, I crawl back into bed for a little more zzzzzz.
At 11am however, we all convene and head down to the Lust For Life café in Fortitude Valley for some brekkie. A café that’s also an art gallery and also a tattoo parlour (!), they do brilliant coffee and better eggs. It certainly perks us up as we have to be at the Triffid for 1pm to set up for our arvo show.
Back to the hotel we go after that to get organised, then all cram into the van and head over to the Triffid, one of the newest but best venues in Australia. We’re doing an outdoor set in the beer garden with a young Melbourne bloke named Ben Wright-Smith. Nice fella. We set up and just after 2pm we begin our set. Unbeknownst to us however, we’re booked to do two sets! We only realise this after we’ve finished what we thought was our one and only set. So we hastily reconfigure things, dust off a few rarely-played songs, and, after Ben has done a set, do a second set. The improvised nature of it makes it a lot of fun.
It being Mother’s Day, the crowd is a little thin, but we still have a good time and enjoy Ben’s set immensely – the bloke is headed for some sort of stardom. Then it is time to pack the gear and get a few of the fellas back to the airport to return to Sydney. That done, my brother and I and a few other friends head back to Kerbside for a few beers to wind down after a massive few days.
Monday, May 11-Tuesday, May 12
We certainly aren’t fresh as daisies as we emerge this morning, but we must get moving back on the road. We need to be back in Sydney by Wednesday, when we fly to Melbourne for shows, so there is no time to muck around.
Thus, into the van we get and that day, after breakfast at Byron at former Bondi crew Adam and Ruby’s Roadhouse café/bar, a surf at Yamba, and then an overnight stay at the Pacific Hotel again, we hammer it back to Sydney, arriving late on Tuesday evening. There is one clear day before we head to Melbourne.
Thursday, May 14
Simon and I are flying to Melbourne, as opposed to driving, as we have to be back in Sydney the very next day after our gig at the Yarra Hotel on Saturday to play at the Vanguard on Sunday. No time to waste. (The other guys will fly down later.)
Our flight to Melbourne from Sydney is remarkable for the fact that the Qantas cabin crew treat us as if we’re superstars. We are certain they have mistaken us for someone else and they give us the absolute royal treatment. Very strange and culminating in the CAPTAIN coming out of the cockpit as we’re leaving the plane and saying, “Have a great show!” SERIOUSLY! Who do they think we are? Mick Doohan and Bernard Fanning, maybe?
Melbourne is freezing on our arrival but that’s nothing unusual. We bolt straight to our accommodation just off Brunswick St in Fitzroy, go for lunch, have a couple of beers, then later go to a Vietnamese place on Brunswick St before calling it a quiet night.
Big days ahead.
Friday, May 15
We’re booked to do an interview and live-to-air on radio TRIPLE R, on the Breakfasters show, so we get up bright and cold and early and head up to the station, where we meet Danny, who has just flown in. We have a good chat with old friend Alicia Sometimes and the team there and do a live acoustic version of our song ‘Long Time Dead’. Lovely playing from Danny on acoustic guitar and Simon on uke. It goes very well considering the early hour and the fact that we’ve never played such an acoustic version of it.
Outside it feels as if it is just about to snow, so we get an Uber (as you do) back down to Brunswick St and have a hearty breakfast at Joe’s Garage. There are a few other radio interviews I need to do on the phone, plus I need to make sure all is okay with Melbourne support band The Danny Walsh Banned.
All seems well and Danny Walsh invites me to attend that night’s Courtney Barnett show at the Forum, to which he has a guest ticket. I say yes, and later on we meet Danny (Walsh) in central Melbourne, have a drink at Young and Jacksons, and he and I head to the Forum while Simon goes off to see Sydney friends Jamie and Scott Hutchins’ band Infinity Broke play at the Tote. Courtney’s show is massive and great and later on we pick up Simon and end up at the after-party at a house in Melbourne’s north, where we catch up with old friend Jen Anderson, legendary violinist from Weddings Parties Anything and many other bands while Courtney and pals cook up pasta in the kitchen after playing to 6000 people.
Get to bed at 3am absolutely farken wrecked.
Saturday, May 16
Gig day again. Bluey and Tim flying down at around lunchtime so Simon and I take it completely easy before they arrive. Thank god for Melbourne’s cafes. So many good places to hang out.
Bluey and Tim land safely, Bluey comes to where he, myself and Simon are staying, while Tim goes off with friends, we have another coffee and then hit the op shops of Brunswick street. End up buying some incredible western shirts that we vow to wear at that night’s show at the Yarra Hotel.
Front up at the Yarra at 6pm and get set up. Danny Walsh and his band arrive. Simon and I met Danny in San Sebastian in Spain in 2002. A completely random meeting of Aussies abroad but we have been firm friends ever since. Everything is set and Danny’s band plays a brilliant set of country-tinged rock. Very very entertaining and a rollicking show to watch.
By the time we’re due to go on, the crowd has swelled to a solid level and we’re excited. As we begin, a bunch of people head in from the beer garden and take up residence on the floor in front of the stage under my nose. Wow! Who are they are and where did they come from? But they seem to really enjoy the show, as do we. In fact, I think it’s the best we’ve ever played and I feel unstressed and clear-headed and have a bloody great time. Tim, Danny, Simon and Bluey are in top form and everything is sounding spot-on.
Again we sell a heap of CDs and have a good chat to everyone who wants to have a chat. But there’s not much time to muck around again as we have to be on a flight back to Sydney at some ungodly hour in the morning, so we up stumps and get to bed as soon as we can manage, all feeling a little sozzled but happy.
Sunday, May 17
Last day of this leg of the tour and it’s gonna be a bloody big one. First we have to get ourselves to Melbourne Airport, via Mick Thomas’ place. Mick, one of Australia’s greatest songwriters, from the band Weddings Parties Anything and an extensive solo career, has agreed to do us a favour and come to Sydney to play our launch tonight at the Vanguard. A massive favour, and we’re stoked he’s up for it. We pick him up and off we go to the airport, the 20-stone taxi driver telling us he can’t wait to have a big muffin for breakfast. He probably could do without it.
Through check-in and onto the plane and I think we all fall asleep the instant we take our seats. But before we know it, we’re landing in Sydney. We have to be at the Vanguard at 4.30pm, so we don’t have much time. Everyone makes their way to their respective homes while I take Mick for lunch and a beer at North Bondi RSL. A glittering Bondi day presents itself and Mick is happy to chat whilst he keeps one eye on an AFL game over my shoulder while I do the same for a rugby league game over his.
Time to hightail again though and we pick up Simon and Bluey and head into the Vanguard for an early-ish Sunday night kick-off. The Vanguard is probably the best venue of its size in Sydney and we’re stoked to be playing there. Soundman Darren is one of the best we’ve dealt with and within a very short space of time we’re all set up and ready to rock, as it were. Mick does a nice solo linecheck, playing a couple of songs, and we adjourn to the upstairs bandroom for a good chance to relax and actually sit down for a few minutes.
But time waits for no band and soon it’s nearing 8pm, when Mick is going to start. After we do a bit of workshopping on his song selection (with me relaying a couple of requests from Facebook), it’s time for him to go onstage and for us to go out among the crowd and watch. He’s one of my favourite ever performers so it’s a rare chance to see him in such easy circumstances. He plays a cracking set and the crowd, which has filled up really nicely, give him a lovely reception. He is the perfect person to play such a show and seems very relaxed and to be greatly enjoying the experience of not having the pressure on of being the main act.
But then we do have that tonight. Pressure more so because this is our home town gig and we want it to go well and for there to be a good crowd. It turns out the crowd is great and that we play, we feel, very well. In fact, I would say it’s the best show we’ve done. Everything just feels synched and perfect, everyone hits every cue point and Bluey, Danny, Simon and Tim are just ripping it apart. At one point I realise we’ve hit that rare spot where the songs seem to be carrying us along, playing themselves, and it’s a wonderful feeling. We bust out a few new ones, including ‘Torn Apart Town’, doing just two choruses at the end after the key change (much to Simon’s surprise) and a near-completely improvised track we’ve done once before called ‘The Bird’.
All up it is a simply fantastic gig at the end of an equally fantastic little tour. We adjourn to an unnamed venue in Sydney for a long and boozy after party, at which new songs are played and Mick busts out some of his iconic tunes and stories as the beers go down very very well. And we begin to make plans for more. Adelaide. Perth. Onward, more…