upon arrival to Melbourne, I headed straight to a student television program, to tape a short interview, with an affable gent who was a dead ringer for James Franco, and oddly, *hadn’t* heard that one before. Afternoon nap followed, then it was time to head to the lovely Grace Darling Hotel. One of the loveliest settings for one of my solo shows; antique molding that’s been painted over in modern black & white-and it’s upstairs, the top floor; there’s big windows about and minimal lighting, and the bar is tucked away in another room so you have the show to yourself. The Wellingtons were there to support/back me up, and they’d provided all the gear–the only issue I had was that there was no electric guitar, and no reverb on the amp, which meant poor Kate had to run around town and find a guitar and a reverb pedal. I mean, she could have also told me to take a flying leap in a rolling donut but she was kind enough to source the items.
Showtime that night, all was dark. When the Wellingtons started there was literally one audience member in the house (remember, there’s a full pub downstairs, so, people were getting their drink/food on). My man Michael had flown in from Adelaide with some very good Penfolds drinkables that we were in a dark corner guzzling with our pub grub. That put me in a suitably surreal state, the kind of state where, along with jetlag, I can coast off on streams of fancy, and thereby entertain whilst standing upright (counterintuitive, I know.. you’d think all I want to do is lie in a corner and snooze) for hours on end. We had a great crowd, and they wouldn’t let me go, either. I pulled out some rarities, and could always get the Wellingtons up there when I needed some uplifting support–on “One Morning”, “Solar Sister”, “Superwise”, “History Buffs”…and I also had Kelly, violinist to the stars, join me, but as my duet partner on “Doesn’t It Remind You”. She’s been touring with one Darren Middleton, songwriter who was part of the band Powderfinger, til they disbanded a few years back. Darren is handsome talented fella who also plays a little tennis on the side–Kelly brought him along and we had a good chat–def potential there to make some noise together in the future.
The show: was very good. The night: top. The after show donut: unnecessary, but not unwelcome.
The next morning: way too early.
Flew up to Sydney and rocked out to the Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel, which is out on a spit of land that projects like the arm of a starfish trying desperately to reach beyond the Sydney environs. A tranquil little cove more than a proper bay, you feel very far from the bustle of Sydney. It’s like being on vacation but you’re still technically in the city. Soon, we assembled in the lobby– the “we” being myself; Mitch Easter, who of course plays in the Big Star Third shows and recorded my album “Touched”; Don Dixon, whom I’d never met, whom, with Mitch, produced REM’s first two albums, and on his own produced two incredible albums by the Smithereens, including my personal fave “Green Thoughts”; Blondie Chaplin, who was a part of the Beach Boys early 70s lineup that produced the albums “Carl & the Passions — So Tough” and “Holland” and who does backing vocals for an up and coming English group called the Rolling Stones; and Rob Ladd, who is a fabulous drummer and knower of many facts, has played drums for all kinds of folks, too numerous to mention but in fact also goes way back with Don & Mitch. We had been assembled by one John Rooney, who played in band some years back called the Lonely Hearts, and now releases records periodically under the name Coronet Blue. Most days he’s putting people back together again as an orthopedic surgeon, but he loves to get out and play some music when he can. So, he lined up some gigs and flew in all these talented Americans (Blondie comes from South Africa, but these days is a US citizen and lives in LA) to make it spectacular.
This day we rehearsed at the venue we were playing later in the week, the Vanguard, which is narrow room with tables at the front and a small standing balcony above. Cozy little place. We had a nice selection of gear to work with, I had a Kurzweil on one side and a Nord on the other, to play mostly Wurli & Hammond but a bit of mellotron, too. And do backing vox. We ran thru all the songs, I’d practiced at home but it was quite a bit of material to get your head around, but I felt good by the end of the day– we only worked for a few hours so it was like, vacation…I’m usually expecting brutal, 12+ hour days whatever it is I do. We all went out to dinner afterwards and I needed some sleep…so by 9pm I was in my tranquil room at Watson’s Bay, listening to the waves lap the beach….ah.
On Tuesday we did the same again, rehearsed at the venue, and spent some time working on the vocal harmonies…you gotta love working out vocal parts with a former Beach Boy. Like, wow. Don Dixon did a few parts too but he has such a deft musical sensibility for pointing out what’s possible, what’s good, what’s necessary…like, well, a great record producer. Such a warm, funny, knowledgeable fellow.
When we wrapped at about 5.30, we decided to go straight to an early dinner, at an Italian place just up the road, I had coniglio cacciatore, and I brought some nice wine from a bottle shop for the table. This was the day of the lunar eclipse, the blood moon; we couldn’t see it as the clouds rolled in but even they looked otherworldly, black with a golden glow at the front. The rain exploded and did not let up–which was wonderful, to have out my window. Again an early night, listening to the thousand drumming fingers of the rain with my back terrace doors open.
I woke up at 5am. The rain was gone, the waves gently combing the beach. I went out to the deck and saw the moon, enormous, its reflection broken into a thousand pieces of platinum (if platinum was the color of goat cheese) on the bay. The Sydney skyline off across the bay. And then a kookaburra broke into song…you know, the laughing thing…these things are LOUD. I know that it’s a territorial thing, so I made a little prank–I pulled up a youtube video of a kookaburra laughing and played it out my back door, and got the actual kookaburra to sing again and again, warning off the interloper. Much fun! Magical.
I went back to bed, the sea whispering to me.
That day I was delighted to catch up over lunch with me old china Brad Shepherd (Hoodoo Gurus guitarist), and his lovely daughter Penny tagged along. Brad is one of those gentlemen of another era really; every gesture he makes is imbued with grand bonhomie.
In the afternoon we headed to soundcheck, which was pretty much done, really, since we’d been rehearsing there for two days. I caught up with Kat from Mezko, we had wine and dinner with her friends at a nearby pub (I augmented the vegan salad with seared kangaroo…I know, I know. Only $4 more). Got back to the venue and saw various mates — Dave Faulkner (Hoodoo Gurus singer), Darryl Mather (the proprietor of the Orange Humble Band, and a good mate of John Rooney’s). The opening band had finished, and, furthermore, did not destroy our gear, so that was nice.
We took to the stage and tore it up– considering it was a fairly impromptu band, you have some seriously experienced players up there…it went by incredibly fast. By the time we were doing our encore covers–Badfinger, Small Faces…and busting out “Sail On Sailor” under Blondie’s direction…the evening roared by. I grabbed a bottle of wine from the bar, and cruised on to the hotel for a bit of kip.
BYRON BAY, 4/17
Oh it was an early morn. Flew up to Brisbane, drove down to Coolangatta, in crushing holiday traffic. Popped by the hotel, and then headed to the Byron Bay Blues Festival site, picking up saxophonist Andy Thompson at his farm out in Byron, which was confusing as he’d been onstage with us the night before; it was sunset now, and as we drove, the fruit bats took to the skies by the thousands, always a magical sight to me. Upon arrival to the site, I met up with Andy Burton, keyboardist for John Mayer, whom I knew via correspondence previously; he’d been, hahaha, instrumental, hahah, in sourcing our Mellotron for the Big Star third show in Central Park. Indeed, it was his unit onstage. We had dinner together in the (excellent) festival catering, then it was time for me to set up my gear. I had access to the keyboards behind the stage, so I got to customizing a palette of sounds for the live set up. Suzanne Vega was on before us; I introduced myself to her as she’d written me a very nice email after the Big Star Alex Chilton tribute at SXSW in 2010, the performance where Alex had died just 48 hours prior; She kinda remembered writing the mail. Ah.
Then we got our stuff onstage and line checked and ripped it up…this was a great gig, and by now I didn’t need any notes whatsoever. Considering it was a festival slot, the sound was actually surprisingly good. I had a blast, and felt more confident on the backing vocals, all good. The set ends with a song that has a lot of jamming with a reggae feel, so, that’s a lot of fun…I play a reverb-ed out squeaky kind of organ throughout.
After the show I chatted with the very friendly Allen Stone, who has just recorded an album with Magnus Tingsek, a mate of mine. Then we went off to see Buddy Guy’s obscenity-laden set. Super weird set up for the audience–it was in a big festival tent, and people were standing up front; but, there *were* seats, but starting like…300 feet from the stage. And people were sitting in them. I was like…make some efforts, mofos..this, uh, Guy, onstage is almost 80 and he’s gonna stand up for 2 hours. Whatever. He was great. I was with Ella Fence, my duet partner in Hobart last week. She lives in Brisbane, and I was happy to invite her as my guest to the festival; indeed it was her birthday that weekend. My bandmates wanted to take off so she agreed to drop me in Coolie on the way home. We watched some of Buddy, tried to watch John Mayer but couldn’t get close enough, watched some of Allen Stone’s set (the boy can SING) and then drove up to my town. We were going to get a drink and talk about her record making plans, but at midnite it became Good Friday and the bars shut just like that. So, we sat on the beach…the sand while cool made this squeaky sound when you walk on it. We talked for about 20 min, and I saw a single cloud, a big ball, over the horizon, suddenly flash–lightning in its interior. It would flash thusly every couple of minutes…and you couldn’t hear the thunder. It was spooky, and beautiful. Time for bed! She drove on, I crashed out.
BYRON BAY, 4/18
Up early, I went for a swim in the Pacific, so warm and inviting. The beach at Coolangatta is in two lengthy sections, the shorter being in front of our hotel. It’s about 300 yards wide. A rocky point on the southern end is where the surf was breaking, surfers were at it in large numbers, but inside the rocky point was a calmer area that was great for swimming. OK…we went up, and played in the midafternoon, and had dinner and a great hang time…meeting friends like Wally from Even. Drank too much. Watched a few minutes of Gregg Allman. Drove back to Coolangatta. Slept.
Up early on Saturday, swam again, we flew to Sydney and I had an incredible evening drinking wonderful Aussie wines, at the home of Craig Gee whom you might recall from our Sydney Festival days, with wines provided by my friend Roz. And on Sunday, I spent it with friends, swimming in the harbor and generally resting, going over to John (Coronet Blue’s singer) & Georgie’s (John’s wife who helped organize all the show things and is just a peach) lovely home for an evening of wine and conversation.