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March 2009 archive

Rediscovering my Inner Cockroach: Dream Nights, Hecklers and Two-Bit Gigs

This year has so far been characterized by my return to the music scene. Not unsurprisingly this momentous occasion has been heralded with the kind of fanfare usually reserved for the delivery of new text books to old fashioned libraries, but nevertheless, I got back on the horse and have been off the couch and gigging consistently since December last year.

This has been a colourful time then as a result.

I’ve gigged enough to have enjoyed some amazingly wonderful dream nights. Nights where the stars have aligned to introduce me to new and (hopefully mutually) beneficial relationships, to seat me in front of lovely audiences who were apparently on the same bizarre wavelength that I transmit on, where every word I uttered or sang was understood and appreciated. Nights where my voice was golden and my fingers just did what they are supposed to do and otherwise left me to it.

On the flipside, I have had some Hell-gigs, although more often (thankfully) just hell-moments. I tried to throw the biggest night of the year so far to end up slightly embarrassed at the smallest ever turn-out of friends and, for that matter, strangers. The same night I got heckled every time I tried to kick back and explore the dubious realm of the humorous monologue. (“Play us a song Mr Piano Man!” … “Yeah, thanks for that, Mr Tattooed Bogan. Give me a sec – I’ll just get the old baby grand out of my bag.”) And I’ve followed the microphone south during the odd song until I was singing bent over almost double, unable to rectify the situation without stopping the song, pleading with my eyes for a friend to hop up and adjust the stand to no avail, wondering if people were smiling ‘with’ me at the funny lyrics or ‘at’ me and my predicament.

And then there were the nights where my hands shook, the nights I played 100% sober.

That sounds really bad so I need to explain that my hands don’t shake in the absence of alcohol normally, just during gigs when nervous energy seems to make my hands go all crazy and, well, with apologies to spastic people everywhere, spastic. One or two drinks really calms them down. But I must repeat that I don’t drink to make my hands stop shaking at any other time … I just drink to get drunk (ha, ha)

So here’s a quick round up of the gigs so far this year:

Tuesday 20th January – Ruby’s Lounge, Belgrave

This venue is local to me, or has been for the last two and a half years, so it was cool to finally play a gig here. I rocked up on time and was pleased to discover that the sound guy was Jeff Springfield, who sound-engineered my CD. My business partner Steve Mills, also a local, came along but apart from that I knew nobody.

I was pretty sober and out of practice. This meant my hands were shaking and also they simply couldn’t remember what they were supposed to do. Also I had done so few gigs in the last couple of years that I found that everything I was doing was too subtle for a noisy bar. I soon pulled out some good songs that I knew would cut through the noise, but I certainly remembered at this gig that an unknown musician needs to forget subtlety when playing in a rowdy pub and just bust on through the wall of indifference with something exciting, humourous, or at least LOUD.

After the gig I hung around and got quite drunk and met several locals. I also met a couple of musicians who were on that night. I gave away a bunch of CDs.

Yes, that’s right, I give CDs away at gigs. Maybe I will explain why in a separate post one day.

Wed 28th January, Empress Hotel, North Fitzroy

A lovely venue to play and only the third or fourth time I had even played here. I organized the gig and got two others, my mate the talented Shane Walters and a friend of his, the equally awesome Faye Blais, to play as well.

I went on first, because my friends are a bit old 😉 and so I figured they would be more likely to come along on a Wednesday if they knew I would be onstage by 8pm or thereabouts.

Turned out to be a fantastic gig, it was incredibly hot (bushfire season here in Victoria, Australia) but not too bad inside the very dark pub. A good little crowd were there and they seemed to dig what I had to offer. It was the first gig where I deliberately told some pre-written comedy material and it went down a treat. It just seemed to come out of my mouth (for the most part) as if it was spontaneous, which I am discovering really makes all the difference. And of course I threw in some off-the-cuff funnies as well; to various degrees of success (the funniest joke of the night always seems to be one of the better spontaneous remarks). You can view some of the songs from this gig here at YouTube.

Songwriters in the Round, Vibe On Smith, Friday 20th January

This was an unexpected gig (and a pleasure) that came my way via a recommendation from Frank and Robin who organize the Empress Hotel’s open mike night, which I played at in December last year.

I had no idea what the night was going to be like but it turned out to be fantastic. The ‘songwriters in the round‘ is a really interesting concept. What it is three solo acts ‘in the round‘ onstage (well, on chairs in the middle of the room) at the same time, taking turns
to play, with chairs and couches all around the songwriters. Sounds odd but it really works. Lots of funny repartee, and in fact this was the first time I gave some extended and several short comedy bits a go in between songs and realised that I was ‘home’, that this is the missing element from shows. I had known I’d wanted to do this for ages, but it took me a long time to actually do it, but so worth it. Mind you, it wasn’t and still isn’t easy, as the following tales will outline, but this night it went smoothly and I got lots of laughs plus the songs went over well also.

Sat March 7th – Brunswick Hotel, Sydney Road, Brunswick

This was kind of my Hell gig. In actual fact there were several good things about the gig, one being that I got paid for once but as a whole the night was a stinker.

For starters I really put a lot of effort into promoting it as a CD launch to my friends, but weirdly, less of them showed up on this night than the usual smattering of random friends. This sounds so sad but it is in fact a sign of the age that my friends are at now – when you are twenty and you throw a CD launch, everyone comes, when you are 35, nobody really cares. Sad but true.

And the fact is, I don’t care either. What I mean is, I don’t care about getting my friends to come to gigs. What I care about is developing an audience of people who are interested in what I do enough to come and see it.

So I tried my best to be Zen about the no show factor and enjoy hanging out with the few people that did some along. I had to stay sober to drive home too, which in fact exaggerated my down mood, because not drinking when I am in a pub is frankly, depressing for me. I don’t know how people who abstain can even stand going into pubs at all, but that’s just me.

So yeah my hands were shaking because of non-calmed-down-by-beer nerves and then to really make it fun, some bogan up the back heckled me severely when I was trying on a comedy routine and I discovered that I need a little practice at dealing with that. I wasn’t upset, I just forgot where I was and the bit was ruined. Thankfully, unlike most regular comedians, I have cool songs that I can launch into and hide behind.

Friday March 13th – Vibe On Smith, Songwriters in the Round

In direct contrast to the last gig, my second go at Songwriters in the Round was a fantastic and nearly perfect gig. It just all went so smoothly, the songs, the comedy, and the guys I was onstage with were awesome too. I just want to replay that gig every night for the rest of my life.

Wednesday March 18th Ruby’s Lounge and Scarab Bar

Back to my local area, I started this gig to a massive crowd of Jeff the sound guy, the bartender and my best mate from when we were teenagers, Peter (who just suddenly appeared in my life again).

Thankfully by halfway through the set a few people did arrive who were keen enough and so I ended up extending my set to play the songs they had missed earlier. The music went well, but the comedy on this night went down like a lead balloon, except for the spontaneous comments.

Two girls gave me a piece of paper with some lyrics for me to sing. They were certainly very talented at songwriting I must say, and this was probably the best song of the night *cough*. Was a good laugh though.

After the set I hung out with the people who had been listening to my set and gave them all CDs. Then we went across the road to the Scarab Bar, a tiny bar that stays open late. I was relieved to discover that despite the way I had carried on there the other week (like a mad, hairy Irish boozehound) my arrival didn’t raise any eyebrows amongst the staff. I guess it’s just that kind of joint.

I got speaking to the band, and they asked me to get up and do a set, so being quite sober still (but not hand-shakingly so) I got up and did a nice little set and in fact the sound was lovely. It seemed to go down quite well, although again my comedy bits were off.

I then proceeded to hang around and get utterly smashed seeing as I was just up the hill from my house and all.

In the morning this excuse didn’t seem as convincing as it had the night before, causing me to write this song lyric:

An Interesting Life

It’s one thirty AM,

I’m at the Scarab Bar again,

Drinking and carousing with my new friends.

Legends,

One and all,

None of whom I will recall,

Tomorrow,

When I’m writhing ‘round in pain.

It’s the cost,

It’s the price,

Of an interesting life.

You take off into the air,

Just like a plane.

You climb higher,

And higher,

Until your wings catch on fire,

Then you plummet,

Back to the planet,

Once again…


Never Gonna Be A DJ – A Ghost Story…

I wrote this years ago but it is still the best song I have to end a set with.

The story is about a young guy, Steve, who I was working as a kitchenhand with at a restaurant called Torlanos on Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, Melbourne back in the mid-late 90s. The head chef was Iain Hewitson who Aussies would know from TV. (By the way, on TV he is very jovial, but my memory of him – not necessarily reliable – is of a tough-as-nails swear-bear who really used to rip into the apprentice chefs … having said that he never gave me a hard time at all, in fact he barely spoke to me.)

Although Steve held a full time job as a kitchenhand and had done so for some time, he was apparently homeless, I can’t remember if it was by choice or not. He was a great guy and an incredibly hard worker.

He used to talk a lot about becoming a DJ but in fact he never did because he suddenly died.

He never used to miss any time at work but one day he didn’t show for a few days in a row until it was eventually learned that he had turned up dead in the Yarra River.  And this is where it gets weird… Shortly after learning about Steve’s death, which was reported as accidental (the police said he slipped and fell to his death while urinating in the river), I was visited by Steve’s ghost.

(I  should point out here that I am not particularly interested or frequented by ghosts, in fact if not for this incident I would probably poo-poo the idea, but this definitely happened – call me crazy.)

One night I was minding a friend’s house and dog, a doberman. I was awoken by the dog going crazy one night, and I just knew somehow that Steve was with me. Steve proceeded to tell me about how he wanted everybody at work to know that he didn’t die accidentally but was deliberately pushed. He told me some details, which have become hazy with the passing of time, but from what I remember he said he had been walking into the city, all the way from St Kilda (a long walk) with some people, one of whom was a young homeless lad who was giving him a hard time about something. Steve described the guy’s clothing to me, and later I was told by a co-worker that they had seen Steve shortly before his death, walking up Barkly Street in St Kilda, towards the city, with a young guy wearing clothing that matched Steve’s description. According to Steve (or his ghost anyway) it was this guy who pushed Steve to his death while he was “cracking a whizz” over a steep riverbank edge.

I told people at work this story, and if it hadn’t been for the corroborating evidence, I am sure they would have dismissed my wild tale out of hand. As it was they just sort of said “wow, trippy” and left it at that.

Steve had two other things he wanted to tell me. Firstly, that he regretted having never made the time to properly pursue his dream of becoming a DJ (he used to work long hours). He pleaded with me not to make the same mistake; timely advice seeing as I was treading water at the time instead of getting on with my music. These were his actual words:

“If you’re going to do it, then go ahead and do it before it’s too late.”

As a result I walked out of the kitchen half way through my double shift one day soon after, and went out to have dinner with some friends of mine who were in a band called The Mavis’s. We ended up partying with Kylie Minogue that night which I took as a sign that I had done the right thing. (In retrospect it would have been wiser to go and do some work on my music career rather than get pissed – but 20/20 hindsight and all that…) I have always kept this advice close to heart, and whenever I find myself off track, I make sure to correct my course and just get back to pursuing my dreams, rather than worrying too much about money and security.

The third thing Steve wanted to tell me was that death is ok; it’s nothing to be afraid of. This has been an issue in my life, despite all my Zen posturings, so I like to remind myself of this when I am succumbing to fear (on airplanes, for example).