Commissioned Pieces

A few examples of pieces commissioned for special occasions…

Poetry

Prose


The biggest gig of my life in front of 20,000 people in Nuremberg Square

HEADING FOR THE BIG ONE

Back to Germany and our enigmatic friend Christophe. The heat is almost unbearable, it is like Christmas 2001 in Queensland with slightly less humidity. I am in jeans and cowboy boots, I don’t take shorts and rubber footwear with me because I’m sure that Keith Richards would foreswear such abominations. I am reduced to walking about in my jocks and a t-shirt, which horrifies some members of the cast. Christophe has nearly severed his finger in a butchering accident, he is very happy to see us, he tells me that he has been in a fit of manic depression for many weeks and seeing us has lifted it from him. He obviously had forgotten how much we could eat. The Happy Pig Farmer down the road was given a serious work out as the Fat Bastards ate their way through a herd of the things in all manner of shapes and sizes. The farm is green and lush, Christophe has done much work since we were there last, it is a little oasis of sanity in the middle of a crazy world, a safe haven where we can relax and not care about anything. The nights are cool enough for the famous fire and we sit there every night and play accompanied by Annette, Christophe’s lady and let the fire hypnotise us until it is time to crash. On the first night Christophe informs everyone that he wants to talk to me, the others scurry off and we are still there as the sun reappears and the huge, fat lazy bees begin their dawn chorus. We talk of many things, Christophe is a well travelled musician who has seen it all and he tells me that he has seen much in his time but rarely has he seen a band that has ‘homogene’ I was going to hit him with a piece of wood there for a moment but he explained it as a ‘oneness’, a togetherness in spirit and performance, nice coming from one of your peers.

We play a great gig in the fairy tale main square of Celle, there is a wine festival on and the whole town is in the grip of bacchanalian excess. Cockatoo Ridge, an Aussie Cab/Sav wins the best red wine of the festival and we play to a huge crowd. We are invited to play at another giant festival that takes place in late August in Celle, 5 stages, 80,000 people, an extended tour begins to look like a reality. We also suddenly discover that we are running dangerously short of CDs, we have been selling them at an unprecedented rate and we face the unbelievable situation where we may have to play without enough to sell! What a great problem to have…..sort of, the money from CD sales means the difference between coming home in the red or the black so we desperately phone home for more.

When we leave for Gottingen again Christophe comes with us. We are meeting Conny and Stephanie again at Nina’s house so we now have quite a caravan. The heat continues to build, there is something in the air, the people feel that there is something wrong, how right they were to be. We only just got out in time before the floods, the greatest in living memory, which ravaged much of Germany doing catastrophic damage to wonderful historic centres like Dresden where priceless treasures had to be rescued from museums and art galleries. The weather gods however were still doing their thing at this stage and the heat followed us around like a lost dog. We had a sensational Aussie style barbecue at Nina’s place on the last night with our fanatic’s club. We met some really interesting people at a gig a few nights before, one a poetic radio journalist and another, a psychiatrist. We must have made interesting fodder for the trick cyclist, especially JB who that night was in rare form and would have put the Crocodile man and Bazza McKenzie to shame, he had an absolute shocker and I’m sure put relations between Germany and Australia back at least 20 years. It is another all nighter and we wake to rain, there is a teary farewell as Conny and Stephanie take off to go back to their normal lives. They really were sensational to us and simply couldn’t do enough for us, if only we could find another 20,000 or so of them we would have a very comfortable, lucrative musical life. We are eternally grateful to them.

Sad partings and rain however cannot dampen our spirits today. Today is the big one, we are heading for Nurnberg and the gig of our lives, we will play the main stage at the huge Bardentreffen Festival, one of the biggest in all of Germany. 150,000 people attend this festival over 4 days, there are many stages spread all over Nurnberg but there is only one mega concert stage and there are bands from all over the world, dozens and dozens of them but only 8 will play the main stage, we are one of the 8.

All I knew about Nurnberg before this day was that the war trials were held there and that the allies almost obliterated the place. It is now a glorious city with great open boulevards and paved walking streets, grand old buildings obviously rebuilt after the war, faithful to the old designs, it is surrounded by canals and lush, green parks. Through the more modern sections the old city fortified wall wends its way between polished marble and chrome, a ghost from the past that is somehow reassuring amongst all the progress. I love the Europeans for the way they protect their past even after other less sensitive people have tried to blot it out, I think the German cities and towns are the most picturesque throughout Europe.

Today Nurnberg gleams in the sun, the people are tanned and prosperous, the women are beautiful (sound familiar?) the city is alive to festival, the sun is shining and the excellent, icy cold German beer is flowing in copious amounts. Not for them the sterile plastic cup, the beer is served in cold glass steins, you pay a small deposit and get your money back at the end or just keep it and add it to your collection like I did, for the princely sum of 3 dollars! We play on one of the lesser stages and still pull about 3,000 people. We go back stage and the fridge is crammed with all kinds of drinks, alcoholic and otherwise and food. We simply have to ask for anything and it is immediately available to us, nothing is too much trouble when you have the performer’s ticket on. There are tens of thousands of people in the streets, the night is warm, there is music everywhere, the whole town is in party mode and they’re going at it as if there is no tomorrow. We move from stage to stage and simply drift into the backstage area, flash the badge and eat and drink as we please. We go and watch the main stage, Nurnberg Square is packed to capacity, there must be well over 20,000 people milling around. There is an Aussie band called Kangaroo Moon playing, they are from Adelaide, we met them at the Skagen Festival in Denmark a few years ago. They play a kind of full on, hippy, jazz fusion kind of thing, they are very good musos, we have a drink and a laugh and catch up on old times.

It’s getting late, I wander off on my own to have a coffee and lose track of the rest of them. I suss out a really late night (early morning) bus, the driver is on his own and I have to try to explain where it is I wish to go. We are staying at the Mercure Hotel on the outskirts of the city, somehow I manage to get through and when he finds out that I am one of the Aussie musos he is stoked. We have been quite popular in the Nurnberg press that week (there were several Aussie acts performing) and he is really happy to actually meet one of the Aussie contingent. He takes me right to the front door much to the bemusement of the other passengers and he won’t charge me. As I get off there is a big handshake and a chat of sorts, all the other poor buggers are nodding off in the back wondering when they will, if ever, get to their beds.

This is the day of days and this is where I’ve chosen to finish my tale. This is far removed from the 5 office workers and a fat, pissed blonde at that first gig in The Majestic Hotel in George Street, Brisbane all those years ago. At breakfast that morning everyone was cool but I think we were all feeling that this was about to be something special. We had seen the crowd at the main stage the night before and tonight we were going on just prior to the main act who were, fittingly I guess, a very popular German outfit. We all ate a huge, totally undignified breakfast and wandered off to ready ourselves for the big moment. It was a stinking hot day, the sky was clear and shimmering, everything was hot to the touch and the by now familiar gigantic German bees lumbered about like fully laden Heinkel Bombers bending the flowers over double as they landed their great bulk on the delicate petals. Lost dogs wandered about tongues lolling, heads down, looking like rhythm players from itinerant Australian folk bands, the flowering splendour of Germanic womanhood was abroad in all its bronzed and barely covered glory, bless their hearts, every last one of them, they are a joy to behold and a danger to shipping. Nurnberg sizzles in the mid morning heat as the musicians shuttle drops us in the centre of the city. Already there are thousands of people about, their faces turned to the sun, looks of bliss and contentment, smiles like great gashes in a watermelon. Beautifully coloured flowers, they look like New Guinea Impatiens to me, look rich, healthy and joyous and I’ll swear I heard some of them humming. The shops are full of people and the buskers are already working their magic on the pre lunch masses. Even the great gothic monstrosities from the Middle Ages fear and loathing period have their stone exteriors softened by this glorious day that promises so much, for me however it is to be a mixed blessing.

We head for the main stage, it looms out of the great square, its giant black maw beckoning us on, sound guys and lighting technicians clamber about its surface like monkeys, its darkened interior looks cool and inviting as the heat continues to build.

In Nurnberg Square there is an ancient wishing well, it is very famous and has been there a very long time. Around its circumference there are rifle barrel like protuberances that appear to face in the four points of the compass, I try to step around an old couple reading the plaque and walk head first into the one pointing south. It opens me up like a can opener right through to the skull, I bleed like a stuck pig much to the delight of the gathered hordes of tourists. They all smile appreciatively as I stumble about stunned, splashing great gouts of blood about the ancient cobblestones, they applaud generously and mutter amongst themselves about the busker with the really original act. The stage manager meets us backstage and is girded into a loin straining frenzy and insists that I report to the Nurnberg Hospital. Having in my lifetime been a surfer of remote coral reefs, a builder of houses and boats and an adventure seeker in general I have endured worse cuts, it did however obviously need stitching. I am not remotely worried about facial scars, in fact I rather like them, when you have a head like an Afghan road map another mark is not going to make any difference. I was worried about only one thing, the biggest gig of my short and unspectacular musical career, I wanted to go nowhere but the stage manager was freaking out and insisting, in fact he called the ambulance and a crew duly arrived. It was just like in that last verse of the Lucy Jordan song by Marianne Faithful as she sped along through Paris in an ambulance with the warm wind in her hair except this was Nurnberg and I don’t have any. Nina and I arrived at the hospital, I took a picture of the crew and my split melon and we all had a jolly old time until the doctor informed me that my melon was dented and I would have to have x-rays taken. We’re talking Saturday afternoon here and of course all the German doctors, just like their Australian counterparts, have instructed their receptionists not to take calls Friday arvo so they can scarper off and play golf. He informs me that I may be there for some hours but it is a nasty cut and an impressive dent and I must wait. I enquire as to the financial damage so far, the answer is, nothing, the other alternative, several hours waiting in a hospital waiting room for Doctor Mangler to show up, anything up to 200 Euros. As soon as he wasn’t looking Nina and I, much against Nina’s better judgement, (she is however a female of the opposite sex) took off out of the hospital, went to a chemist shop across the road, whacked a band-aid on it, then went around the corner and had a nice crepe at a gay fete that was raising funds to send a lesbian water polo team to the gay Olympics somewhere or other. We then returned to Nurnberg Square where my brand new mobile telephone was pinched off a park bench right next to me whilst I was trying to remember who I was and cursing Christine for not sewing nametags into my BVDs.

It was a very unsightly band-aid, the type they used to put on Wermacht Tank Corps drivers when their legs were blown off, I think the chemist was getting rid of old stock and he figured a bloke with a head like mine featuring a large gash with skull showing through couldn’t look much worse so a World War 1 field dressing would probably go unnoticed. It of course sent the band into wild gales of laughter, there was much finger pointing and rude jokes about me having a good head for money because now I had a slot in it. Tyso was concerned that perhaps I would sing the wrong song or suddenly have an amnesic episode in the middle of Flying Dutchman, JB was just concerned that I looked unsightly and would give the band a bad name. I was actually feeling a little wonky and a bit butchers hook but there was nothing going to stand in the way of me facing that crowd. It is a subject that we often joke about and this was an example of how fragile the whole thing is. What if I hit it just a little harder? What if I had succumbed to concussion? (I think I was a little anyway) What if……?

When the big moment arrived I was feeling just fine. I still remember the rush from hearing that German voice from the front of the stage and then the name, Rough Red. We walked up the back steps of the stage, past a bank of side fill monitors then out into the open. The sight was breathtaking and unforgettable. The sea of people stretched to every corner of the square and then up onto the balcony of the restaurants at the far end, there were thousands of them, they estimated 15-20,000, you could see them filing down the long, wide concourse from the upper reaches of the town. We launched straight into ‘Mad Dan’ and the sound was perfect. In fact it was huge; Mashy’s tiny drum kit sounded like thunder and my foldback was so good I could hear myself breathing. All the disappointments, the sadness, the frustrations, the being told we were too old and who were we kidding, all the Australian audiences wanting to hear Jimmy Barnes covers disappeared at that moment, it was glorious and uplifting and probably one of the most enjoyable moments of my life. During, ‘Groovin’ in the Desert’, we had them howling like dingoes. Tyso and I encourage them to join us and howl at the moon, which they did with gusto, 20,000 Germans, heads up, throats open howling into a darkening summer sky, what a hoot! They loved every song, they danced and jumped about and stood behind the security railing and smiled at us and howled and waved and had a ball. All too soon it was over and we were walking off waving to them, they roared and howled for more, we stood off to the back of the stage and waited. We sent Mashy out in case they were actually offended and wanted to throw things and he was met by thunderous applause, he climbed up to his kit and started the intro into ‘Drunken Sailor’, we waited, we let it build then we walked out. The roar from the crowd was like a living thing, it nearly blew us into the back of the stage, when Tyso strapped on the Mandy and hit that first big chord it almost doubled in power and volume. ‘Drunken Sailor’, the way we play it is irresistible, that age old, memorable riff lifts even the most sedentary blob into movement and it builds and builds to a crescendo that leaves the crowd howling. We stood in the middle of the stage and photographed the crowd, they went mad, it was simply fantastic! After the show we could have sold hundreds of CDs but we only had a few left, it was very disappointing to see them waving their money for CDs that we couldn’t sell them. All the stage crew and the other musos loved the show too and they smiled and slapped our backs as we walked off. We stood together out of sight of the crowd, threw our arms around each other and howled with joy. Jesus it doesn’t get any better than this.

And so we are at the end of my story. Another chapter in what we hope is a never-ending one. We are slowly but surely climbing the tree and our popularity is quite wide spread. We have built a following in Europe and proved ourselves in the toughest arenas from Northern Ireland to Northern Sweden, from Estonia to Switzerland and everywhere in between. I have an unshakeable belief, we are as good as anyone, no one impresses me unduly anymore. Sure we haven’t had a top ten hit anywhere but we know that doesn’t count for anything in the area in which we operate. We know that we can do this thing as long as we are able to drag ourselves onto a stage and keep the punters happy. There are a lot of people a lot older than we over there so we figure we have a few good years ahead of us yet. I guess it’s just the ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’ principle that applies from here on in. I guess that I’ll have to stop screaming sooner or later or it’s going to look and sound like an old bloke with his balls caught in a wringer. I don’t know what I would do now without the music and I sincerely hope that I do not have to find out. The music has become such an all-encompassing part of our lives, it is inextricably linked to everything we do and of course careful lifestyle decisions have to be made to accommodate the band. The songs get better and better and we seem to be writing fewer dogs. This assertion is based on the reactions of our fans, they are our best barometer. The future is mapped out for me, I know what it is that I want to do. I want to live in Europe and play out my days on the festival circuit and rot away disgracefully into oblivion. I want to sit in Somerset Maugham suits and Panama hats in rustic coffee shops and debate the meaning of life with poets and musicians and other ne’er-do-wells. Increasingly it seems that I care less and less about the everyday, corporate workaday world and all its bullshit and machinations. I have no interest in growing up or in manifesting signs of maturity and responsibility or becoming a pillar of the community. I would gladly become one of those colourful old hippies that you see in the crowds at the festivals with their crazy eyes and memories, eccentricity and the slow inexorable drift into madness sounds like a great way to go.

So there it is. The story of 5 middle aged blokes and a couple of mates who took to the road in Europe on a wing and a prayer to find out if their particular brand of mid-life crises were just a desperate cry for help from the drowning or a valid attempt at creating something meaningful. It is the stuff of dreams and will remain in my mind one of the great achievements in a short and unspectacular stay on the planet.

Just travelling to another country is a great and significant event but when you get to play music as well there is an added degree of magic that is indefinable.

In all these years there has been barely a cross word spoken between us. We travelled together, ate together and slept together. Perhaps more importantly we created magic together and left our mark in many places that have certainly left a mark on all of us.

Skagen, Villers-Brettoneux, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Amsterdam, Ireland, wonderful memories all and unfortunately just enough to give you that feeling of longing in your guts on those days when you yearn to be elsewhere. We have all been greatly enriched, you can hear it in the songs that were created there. We learned much about ourselves and the gifts that we have. We learned that there are places where people love what you do regardless of your age. We have made friends in those far-flung places that will last forever and fill my heart with joy when I see their names on a letter or an email. We are all back at our jobs and the music is the one thing that maintains that thread in our lives. It has bound us together. We don’t really socialise much except when we play but there is something between us that we will always share and we know that we must keep going. Every now and again when we are together and we mention something of that time there is a special light that shines in our eyes and we are back there travelling together, the MSG on the Amateur Pornographers Women’s Weekly Discovery Tour of Europe. Speeding up one way streets in Amsterdam, the wrong way, driving into remote places in Estonia where they have never met an Australian, drinking Guinness, putting shit on each other endlessly and always going off on adventures with a smile on our dials and a song in our hearts. If I die tomorrow I will die happy knowing I’ll probably meet up again with these blokes and Doyle somewhere and we’ll do it all again. Music is the heart and the soul and the purpose and my sanity, even though regretfully I will never be a musician. After all these years that memorable line from a song by The Who now means more to me than it ever did when I was a callow youth - I hope I die before I get old.

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