Sunday, August 7, 2011

Playlist: Pleasant Valley Sunday Breakfast August 7th 2011

Tune into 88.6 Plenty Valley FM for The Pleasant Valley Sunday Breakfast from 6.00 am - 8.00 am AEST.

This is the playlist for August 7th:


streaming live on

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Lay In Bed On A Sunday...

                          Mulch Music On The Radio - June 26th

That's right, folks... Don't touch that dial. You can now listen to me live on the radio every Sunday morning at 6.00 am (AEST) until 8.00 am on your local station 88.6 Plenty Valley FM with my brand new show Pleasant Valley Sunday Breakfast. Join me for the premiere June 26th at 6.00 am. Sure, it's early, but what else have you got planned? Sleep?

You can also listen through live streaming over the internet -

Artists included on the first show are:

Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, The Blackeyed Susans, The Chieftains, Cousteau, Paul Kelly, Big Star, Radiohead, Christy Moore, Ryan Adams, Bap Kennedy, Cowboy Junkies, along with a feature on Gordon Lightfoot.

Let me know you're listening, or send me a request or comment at:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy 50th, Dino

My brother in law Dino turns 50 today. He is as much a brother to me as my flesh and blood brothers. He passed away just over a year ago. And not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I miss him a great deal.
We had a few shared interests. Not a small part of which was marrying sisters, and becoming ‘The Outlaws’ in a large extended family. It seems like yesterday that, after saying goodnight to the sisters we dated, we would sit in his beat up Datsun, and talk about them, and their brothers, whilst we listened to some terrible Love Songs And Dedications radio show. Since then, we spent the best part of three decades fishing, drinking, watching footy, raising kids, camping, playing cards, disagreeing, and laughing. Laughing a lot.
And music has always played a big role in our shared experiences. In a way, Dino is responsible for me having a reasonably large collection of music. I hate to be caught out and fail at being able to play a request for someone. Being the second youngest of six, when my brothers and sisters left home, so did the majority of my music collection. By the time I was married, I had about five good years worth of my own music, but had not gone back and purchased the back catalogue of my youth. In Dino’s words, “Gee you’ve got a shit record collection.”  I vowed from that day on to build a worthy collection of music, beginning from the music I grew up with. That still continues today. Thanks, mate.
Dino and I didn’t agree on everything when it came to music, but we did come together on some important pieces. He could never understand my passion for The Mothers Of Invention. I didn’t appreciate his love of The Highwaymen, although I did like some of their solo work, especially Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. We both really liked Gordon Lightfoot, and I treasure those Saturday nights spent listening to his love worn copy of Gord’s Gold. And then followed by Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night.
We both liked The Bushwackers – the more Australiana the better for Dino, where my preferences leant more towards the Irish background of bush, being a Pogues fan. Dino took a while to warm to The Pogues, but when he did, he basically took ownership of Dirty Old Town as his song. And although he wouldn’t be considered a fan of Leonard Cohen, he never complained when we played him, or banged on about his lyrics around campfires.
We both knew of Randy Newman and Ry Cooder, but it was out extended brothers that brought them to the fore. If a night didn’t end with Famous Blue Raincoat or Fairytale Of New York, then it would definitely end with Rednecks, Political Science, or the classic drunkard’s song, Yellow Roses (“Wait for the intro...!”). Usually it would be all five... And on some occasions, that would actually be the start, not the end, of a very, very late session.
We all loved listening to Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, Neil Young, Simon And Garfunkel, The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Jim Croce, just to name a few. Above all, Dino was a fan of good company, and good music to make a good night of it.
Dino had a very interesting record collection. I was very impressed with his older records that didn’t get played as much anymore, yet, were obviously still treasured. As laid back and relaxed as we were listening to more country oriented rock, we could still appreciate the early works of Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper.
The music we have shared really has been the soundtrack of our lives. Having a barbecue and listening to American Graffiti Soundtrack through the thick smoke of a flue that never ever worked. Fast forward to Kevington and Like A Hurricane as we enjoyed cold beers from stolen stubbie holders. Fast forward once more to Badger Creek, or Warburton, and listen Van Morrison accompanying the swish of a breeze through the trees, or the gentle sound of the river rolling along.
As Dino fought a brave battle against the cancer that would eventually take his life, we still had time for music. I tried to make playlists of the music he liked as the brothers all travelled first to Thornton, then Seymour and Yea, and eventually our final journey through Tasmania (“How many old houses and trees can a person look at?!”). Desperadoes Waiting For A Train. It was a sad time. It was a time that came and went far too quickly.
As I listen to Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Billy Thorpe, I wonder if one day we’ll all meet up again. And if Heaven exists, I imagine it’s an eternal journey through your favourite places with the people you love. Dino’s wry smile and a roll of the eyes as we make “just a quick stop” to enjoy an ice cold beer and a game of pool at the Alexandra Pub.  A moment of reflection around a campfire at Lake Eildon. The thrill of a winning bet on an unknown horse at Yea Picnic races.  The beauty of sunrise and moonlight over the Derwent River. Home, and firing up the barbecue for family and friends.
Happy 50th Birthday, Dino. RIP.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Old Man by Neil Young

When Neil Young released Harvest in 1972 it was met with quite a lot of indifference, to put it mildly. Fans, who appreciated his constantly changing musical persona, got on board, as opposed to the critics, who rated it as quaint, at best, and complete rubbish at worst. Young has never released anything in response to what he was expected to by either fans or critics. By the time one album was released, he was already deeply immersed in folk, screeching electric rock, country, or what would eventually be called grunge.

The song Old Man now has a place amongst the best of Young’s work, and is one of several excellent tracks on the album. Harvest, Out On The Weekend, and Heart Of Gold are all brilliant compositions, and help create a unified theme and texture on the album. But, Old Man is the track that I play most, and extracts a greater emotional response.

Old man is one of those unique songs that allows for multiple interpretations and responses that shift and grow with the passage of time. With age and experience, we gain a deeper appreciation of the perspective of both the singer and the subject.

Many observers thought the song to be Young’s appraisal of his relationship with his estranged father. However, it has been confirmed by Young that the inspiration for the song was the old ranch manager on Young’s farm. But, could the same song have been written if Neil Young had a different upbringing? Clearly, his relationship with his father, even subconsciously, has influenced the choice of words, and style of music.

Regardless of the subject, the themes resonate strongly across a broad spectrum. If confesses all the fears and hopes of us as young men, a few years into adulthood, and all the promises and regrets that go with it. As we slide through our thirties, there is a dual appreciation of each perspective. Not siding with either but having a greater understanding of both. And finally, when approaching fifty, especially with a son around twenty four, there is a clear bond with the Old Man. Never losing sight of what the song meant when first heard, it grows in meaning and depth with each passing year.

It is a tribute to Neil Young’s song-writing ability to produce a work of art so mature, so complex, and so dynamic. And even though he has a huge repertoire of songs just as impressive, this one piece alone places him equally alongside other modern poetic masters, like Cohen, Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, and Springsteen.

The conviction of Neil Young’s cross-generational conversation rings true with each word sung, and each note played. It is such a beautifully sad and sweet piece of music. Hear the young man pleading for a chance to be heard. Feel the old man pleading for a chance to shake his younger self to listen.

Old Man is a timeless song that you can return to again and again. It’s like a good friend that you comfortably and dependably grow old with. And if you can, you should introduce the Old Man to a younger person and keep sharing the wisdom.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sail Away by Randy Newman

Randy Newman is the master of subversive, social comment, often hidden behind delightful and misleading melodies. It would be easy to discuss the brilliant, but obvious, tunes like Short People, Rednecks, or the prescient Political Science. However, Sail Away remains a perfect example of all that is Newmanesque.

Newman is deftly able to cast a spotlight on the hypocrisy that allows systematic inequality to take a foothold and thrive in modern society. Don't be fooled by the humour and the light and breezy tone, or the romantic southern composition that could have easily sat with one of his father's film scores. This is a dark piece.

Like Zappa before him, and Eminem after him, Newman turns the table on both overt bigotry and condescending enlightenment. He highlights the absurdity of the argument by framing the story from the oppressor's perspective. It is a bold, and sometimes contentious approach, and Newman is by far the best at it. So much so that he has received a considerable amount of uneducated criticism from the very people who
should be shouting his praises.

The furore surrounding Short People was ridiculous. The very same people who were outraged by the 'treatment' of short people were noticeable by their absence during civil rights protests, or any number of famous racial discrimination cases. Those calling for the boycott of Newman's music were, and remain, strangely quiet when 'short people' is replaced with 'black' or 'yellow' or 'red' and so on. In Rednecks, no-one is spared, from the easy targets of racist southern stereotypes to complacent, condescending liberals of the north.

Sail Away is Newman at his best. Sung from the perspective of the slave trader it plays almost like an advertising jingle to entice voluntary migration from The Jungle to The New World - "A Brave New World awaits those eager to embrace the values of the USA!" It's great to be an American! Sail away. Freedom. Everyone is free to take care of his home and his family...

Sail away is not just about the shame and disgrace that was organised slavery in America. It strikes a chord still resonant today as it was at the time of recording in 1973. Consider these facts: African Americans account for around 12% of the population yet take up around 40% of prison populations. An African American male is about five times more likely to be incarcerated than a white American. The ratio between black and white inmates on death row is 3:1 in favour of whites. Split by race, African Americans represent the lowest average household income in the United States, along with the lowest rate of home ownership.

"You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day. It's great to be an American..."

It is the stark contrast between history as we know it and the chilling perspective of the slave trader that provokes and prods the listener. It keeps the message of the song so vivid and strong decades after it was written.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hotel California by The Eagles

The Eagles have been often misunderstood, misrepresented and much maligned over the years. Most of that criticism has been undeserved. The album Hotel California remains a milestone record of the 1970's. It is a coded documentary of the times. Sadly, much of it is lost on the audience it laments.

As the exploits of the rock gods in the 60's became more public, they moved from shocking news, to entertainment pieces, to finally an expectation of the stereotype. It's not that they were different from
their jazz, blues, and rock 'n' roll colleagues of the 40's and 50's. It's just that the excesses became more public - to the point where it became part of their brand. What was hidden from the public in previous decades was now actively marketed to them. By the mid 1970's, the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle were so ingrained in the culture, the only eyebrows raised were to those who did not over-indulge.

Enter The Eagles. Riding high on the crest of a successful wave, they wiped out all competition before them, thrilling fans and critics alike. They could do no wrong - at least in the eyes of others.

At some point they look in the mirror, and either don't like, or don't recognise who they see. Lost, they look at each other and their surrounds; strangers in a strange land. Now excess equates to less. Everything is nothing. What is the point of doing anything when no sensation registers at all? They have become uncomfortably numb.

Hotel California is a triumphant statement about California in the mid 70's and the wider American psyche. Hotel California is like a documentary on a life fuelled by excess retold in metaphors and allegory. And with Joe Walsh joining the line-up, the band finally had enough balls in the sound for the music to match the words. The result is a very dark, sometimes Gothic record.

The one problem with a record of this style is that it can be too sophisticated for its own good. With audiences unfamiliar with the approach or unwilling to explore the lyrics further, they settle for a literal interpretation. With the passing of time the misconceptions about this song have escalated from the bizarre to the absurd.

One consistent interpretation that refuses to die is that the song is about a cult, and a hotel where that cult sacrifices people. The Eagles are practising Satan Worshippers and the Hotel California is their sacred Headquarters. Hmmm...That must be the one down on Devil-Gate Drive?

How misguided can people be? America? Oh yeah, they sing the one about a horse. It doesn't have a name, so the rider can't tell it where to go. So they get lost. Don McLean? He sings that one about a guy who drives a Chevy. And he goes out with this girl who bakes pies. But he has to leave. But what's it got to do with the movie, dude? If it wasn't such an indictment on consumer-age literacy standards it would be laughable.

I am sure the band found it laughable too, in the beginning. God (or the other guy) knows what they think now. They do have a sense of humour. The album supposedly features Anton LaVey in the inner sleeve photo. They play up to the myth again with the naming of the "Hell Freezes Over" tour and album. Just enough of a whiff to keep the conspiracy nuts busy as they laugh all the way to the bank.

The song marvels as a stand alone track, a chronicle of the train wreck that was 60's idealism meeting 70's hedonism head on. However, it is best enjoyed as part of the complete package that is the album.

And so there it is. In all its raw, majestic and ragged glory. If you haven't been there for a while, book yourself a stay. Hotel California - a great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Losing My Religion by REM

watch the original film clip here:

It’s hard to define exactly why this song is so great. How much can a video clip influence our reaction to a song? It was certainly the standout music video of the decade, and remains one of the best clips ever. Like a Hollywood Epic crammed into a few minutes, the song is both majestic in scope and acutely personal, evoking thoughts of loss and failure throughout the ages.

Besides, who can resist a mandolin?

In reading Peter Buck’s liner notes of this song for In Time: The Best Of REM, he said that the band members themselves sometimes do not have a full literal meaning of their songs. They connect with the feel of the song, or the collage of images that the song creates. Sometimes, all that you have is a word, or phrase that triggers an image, which provokes an emotional response in alignment with the feel of the song.

The ambiguous lyrics of Buck and Stipe are often intentional, inviting the listener to explore their own interpretation. Some believe that the song refers to the profound guilt and remorse the singer feels about the disintegration of a relationship due to some untold wrong doing. The phrase ‘losing my religion’ is apparently a saying from the deep south of America, meaning to lose one’s temper, get extremely angry or frustrated, or to feel totally overwhelmed and helpless. This certainly does correspond to the shattered relationship interpretation. However, I still relate to this song in the ‘big-picture’ way.

This is more than a song about one or two people. It is a song of many, of mankind, and our collective relationships. This song speaks to me about loss, regret, failure and its implications for the future on a grand scale. As Humanity splinters and cracks along the forks and cross roads, both discovered and created, this is the soundtrack that accompanies the footage of the wrong path taken. This the tune Judas was humming two thousand years ago when he and Jesus hatched their ambitious plot together. When Einstein ran from The Fat Man and a Little Boy in Manhattan, he was found cowering in the dark, clutching a compass and a violin, and whistling this tune. And in some parallel universe Stephen Hawking screams this song with rage and fury, at the difference between what is, and what could be.

This is monumental defeat on the big stage. Whether you are facing up to the loss of a loved one, or knowing you will never face the one you love, or spending your final moments staring down the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this is the deep sense of loss and remorse over potential unfulfilled. This is the realisation that you have nothing left. You can neither give nor receive. Everything you believed in has been proved not only to be false, but a total sham right from the start.

Losing My Religion is one of those rare songs where everything converges and meshes correctly. A song where the lyrics, the singing, the music, and the visuals are all aligned in perfection. The story is told that Buck purchased a mandolin, which led to the melody, which lent itself to the phrasing of the chorus. Stipe then completed the lyrics in five minutes, a subconscious streaming on paper, and later recorded the vocal performance on the first take. The Indian/Renaissance video clip is visually stunning and is the secret ingredient that brings out the flavour of everything else in the song.

When everything blends so smoothly, and fits so perfectly, well... Perhaps religion has been found.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fourteen Minutes And Fifty Two Seconds Of Fame (Almost)

Recently, I entered a radio contest - 15 Minutes Of Fame, to get my chance to be a DJ. The concept seemed simple enough. The radio station was giving listeners the chance to have their fifteen minutes in the sun playing the music of their choice, with the chance to play something that hadn't been heard for a while.

The contest asked for ten songs - clearly too many, but I guess they wanted to get a feel from the applicants. Most likely it was another way to gauge the demographics of the listener base.

I thought about my selections. No, they wouldn't be a list of my top ten songs, nor just any good songs I haven't heard in a while. They needed to be unified somehow - to make a statement.

My initial list was to tell the Rock story over the journey. There would be Shooting Star by Bad Company, and Rock And Roll Aint Noise Pollution by AC/DC, with It's Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It) by The Rolling Stones followed by Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams, and maybe finishing with My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) by Neil Young.

I rejected this list. It needed to be more succint - fifteen minutes to be exact. And the Rock And Roll list deserved more respect than fifteen minutes anyway. There is at least an hour or two worth of killer tracks that should be honoured - God Gave Rock And Roll To You, It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll), and as they say on the ads, And Many More.

I decided to make it about the personal journey of the listener and not the music, in under fifteen minutes. It's a Classic Rock station, so they're playing everything from the 60's onwards. What better way to convey a love of music, and Rock in particular than from the perspective of teen years through to middle age?

I've been listening to the results of those fortunate enough to be selected, and they are all good songs. The problem is, most of them are already staple songs on the radio playlist. What's wrong with a bit of variety? What's wrong with a bit of exposure to alternative tastes? The other problem is they only take three songs. Three lousy songs, with time for about twenty seconds of intro for each.

I think it is pretty obvious by now that my list has not been successful. Never mind.

1: Thirteen by Big Star
Pop music begins at any age. Rock begins with your teens. Thirteen is a classic rock song, short, sharp, and complete with teenage angst and sexual frustration. You're thirteen, and you think everyone can see right through you. There are so many changes happening, and thoughts through your head, you think you might just explode.

2: Seventeen by The Sex Pistols
You're seventeen. You know everything, but you're not old enough to do them legally. You're bored. You're angry and frustrated. You want it all now. Parents and school didn't teach you much. Music is everything.

3: Eighteen by Alice Cooper
You're eighteen. You're out and about. You're a big shot, living it up. You can drink, drive, and vote. Hell, you can even get shot at or shoot someone. But you know you're not an adult yet, and you have a lot of growing up to do. Music helps you forget about everything for a while.

4: Twenty Eight by Tim Rogers & The Twin Set
(the video IS NOT Tim Rogers - I guess if it was more mainstream there would be a you tube video!)

Now you're twenty eight. You're still young enough to get out, but you have some more responsibility now - the job, the loan, maybe you're even married with a kid. You look forward to getting together with your mates, but it doesn't happen as much as it used to. Your cd and record collection brings back a lot of good memories. You're still young enough to dream of being a rock star. Just.

5: A Pirate Looks At Forty by Jimmy Buffett
Now you're middle aged. Yes, you've made mistakes, but you've lived a good life, too. You have some regrets, but you call them lessons now. Sometimes you shake your head in disbelief at the young folk around you. Sometimes you'd like to grab the 'You' from twenty years ago by collar and say, "Wake up to yourself! Savour every moment. Stop wasting time. Life is way too short." And now you crank up the radio in the car, sitting in the driveway, when one of your favourite old songs come on the radio. Life is different now.

Fourteen Minutes and Fifty Two seconds. Not bad...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Golden Brown by The Stranglers

Golden Brown might be about heroin, a gorgeous black woman...or toast. Take your pick. Quite possibly, it’s about one man’s infatuation with a heroin addicted, dark skinned beauty, who has the munchies for toasted muffins. Whatever meaning it has, it provides us with a perfect counterpoint to the rest of the punk movement, and its remains and offshoots.

Who would have thought the harpsichord could be so cool?

When most of the punks were still moaning about no future, or burning effigies of Margaret Thatcher, The Stranglers turned 180 degrees, and added some musical legitimacy to what had become a fairly predictable and boring movement.

The Stranglers are no strangers to doing things differently. Shunned by some for being musically educated, and shunned by others for being educated in general, they defied the critics, which included a sometimes apathetic music press, and maintained a healthy and respected following well into their fifth decade.

They were there when punk rock’s rocket launched, and rode in its wake. And they survived when that rocket turned out to be a missile and self destructed. The Stranglers had enough variance in their repertoire to be able to walk away relatively unscathed. They are one of those bands that have always been thereabouts. Whilst not leading the charge, they were always in the thick of the battle, and earned their stripes.

With an impressive 16 original albums to their collective name, they have kept themselves in the mix with fans across all continents, which a string of hits, like Peaches, Always The Sun, and Skin Deep. All still get regular airplay some thirty years later, but none so much as Golden Brown. Whether they like it or not, it has become their signature tune. And there is nothing wrong with that.

With numerous line ups, The Stranglers have remained true to the original punk ethos of originality and free spirit. That ethos became lost with the endless repetition of snarling guitar bands with three chords and a pose that pandered to an ever hungry public that devoured anything thrown at it labelled punk, and a music industry increasingly manipulated by fashionistas and consumerism. This is why Golden Brown stands proudly amongst the best punk songs of the period, and holds it’s own with the best rock songs of any period.

Golden Brown works extremely well on many levels. As a simple listening pleasure it is magnificent. It delivers a measured balance of melancholy melody and composition, with a wistful vocal performance. In the tradition of all great songs, its meaning lies buried deliberately between the literal and the metaphorical. For those wanting to dig a bit deeper it yields further riches.

Whether it is about addiction, or obsession, it is that desire for something, or someone, that provides so much joy and pleasure, if only temporary, that you know can only lead to pain and suffering. In the cold light of day, you know you need to stop, and move in another direction. But the heart is the trump card. The heart knows exactly what to say, those sudden persuasive whispers to the subconscious. Emotion rules the day, and the heart chips away, until Logic becomes a true believer, an ally in self deception. That’s the sad truth about obsession. As addiction strangles the life out of the addict, the addict only feels the warm embrace of the object of his desires, his one true love.

Underlying these sinister overtones is incredibly beautiful music. The choice of harpsichord is inspired. The guitar break is understated elegance. It is very seductive and compliments the lyrics perfectly, right through to the hypnotic mantra on the fade out.

This song may not be of much use as you face your own personal struggle, but it is one to savour when you come through the other side. It is a song to reminisce with, safe in the comfort of either victory or defeat.

Won or lost – you have survived.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Leonard Cohen At Hanging Rock: A Review (Kind Of)

Initially, we were all very much excited. Leonard Cohen was returning to Melbourne. But, after seeing him the first time at Rochford Winery, I decided not to see him in a concert hall. And then came the news; music industry guru, Michael Gudinski, had secured permission to stage a concert at the evocative Hanging Rock, near Woodend. And what a line up! Dan Sultan, Clare Bowditch, Paul Kelly, and the return of Leonard Cohen.

I’m sure there were many, many people, and I suspect even Cohen himself, who thought that he would not pass this way again, in this life. About nine of us decided to go, and quickly snapped up the tickets online, as only 12000 were to go on sale. Some of our group had only seen him indoors, others in the outdoors, and some had missed him altogether. My brother in law, Joey, was happy enough to just arrive before Cohen hit the stage, but I was eager to take in the whole experience from mid afternoon into the evening, and urged everyone to get there as early as possible.

We planned to meet at Kilmore. Originally, we thought we’d meet at Mac’s Hotel, but quickly dismissed that idea, fearing we’d get stuck into a few drinks, and forget why we’d gone there for. My wife and I took the very pleasant, scenic High Street route to Kilmore, whilst the others had taken the Freeway and Highway. As they rolled around a bend into Kilmore, we pulled in behind them like clockwork. We were off to a good start.

We had agreed to meet at Hudson Park, with a view to quickly checking in and leaving en masse to Woodend. My other brother in law, Barney, knew of a way that would take us there against the heavy flow of Melbourne based traffic. But it was hot. So we had a beer. And then another. One of ladies needed to purchase some fruit or crackers, or some such thing. So we had a beer. And then another. It was a beautiful day. We talked and we laughed. And we drank. It really was a beautiful day. Somewhere in the back of our heads, a little voice was trying to remember something about something to do with getting a move on. So we had a beer. And then another. And then we decided to leave. We were still on time, though. How that was exactly, I am not quite clear. I am sure there is a branch of maths or science that deals with such things. You see, our beer brains seem to know how to manage the time that we absolutely have to leave and the real time that we absolutely have to leave. And it never fails. Forget the Big Bang, Stephen Hawking, just work that out and we’ll be happy.

We hit the road again, out along Foote St, and the Kilmore-Lancefield Road, and winding our way through back roads and byways, taking in the beauty of the lush green pastures, and the sparkle of filtered light through enormous overhanging trees. Thirty minutes later we came to a brief halt. We’d hit the convoy from Melbourne. As far as we could see into the distance was a parade of pilgrims, like us, waiting for their moment to worship and cry out Hallelujah. Fortunately for us, we’d approached from the other direction, enjoying a momentary pause, until the traffic officer held back the masses, and made way for our three vehicles. We’d arrived. So much for the prepaid parking ticket! No one asked for it, no one was checking anything or collecting payment. The ground attendants were just happy to herd everyone into the parkland. Now, I’m not saying we parked a long way away, but, I’m pretty sure I could see the back of my house not too far away.

On a bright day, loaded up with chairs, and hampers, and bags, it was a fair walk through the grass just to get to the queue, which was already strung out over a couple of kilometres. My wife suggested things might be easier if I let go of the stubby, and held something else with my right hand. I swear, I don’t know where she gets these crazy ideas from. Once in line, there was nothing else to do but stand and wait. So we freshened up and enjoyed another beer. We observed a lone figure in the middle of a vast paddock. I guess he was waiting for friends to arrive. He did strike an unusual pose, with his long cloak lightly flapping in the breeze. He seemed to take our jibes quite well: “Hey, Frodo, Gandalf said he’d meet you by the merchandise tent,” or “Harry Potter! Your cloak isn’t working. We can see you!” As I said, he took the gentle ribbing well. Either that or he was lost in thought, trying to figure out what to do with that damned Ring...

As it was the first event there, the organisers were learning as they went. They’d decided they needed more room for parking, and told half the line to squash up ‘concertina like’ in about a dozen rows. This was all very well and good until those at the back of the line, and those just arriving over the hill thought it was every man for himself and all the lines would all start again. From a distance it reminded me of the famous scene from Zulu. Some guys next to us started singing “Men Of Harlech.” Others shouted at them strange words, like: “Ti'n llawn cachu!” That group then started singing: “The Warwickshire Lad.” And the barrage of words continued. “Cau dy ffwcin ceg!” “Cachu bant ti cachu mes!” A scuffle broke out, with one man knocked to the ground. Two handsome African gentlemen near us observed the commotion. One turned to the other and said, “Lesu, mae o'n rel coc oen.” As the horde got closer, it then reminded me of Braveheart. A guy at the front of the approaching mob may have been yelling something about “Freedom” and then abruptly blaming the whole mess on the Jews. Things started to get a little tense. We’d been waiting for around half an hour already, without moving, and we weren’t going to give up any ground. Sanity prevailed, and eventually everyone fell into line, allowing the cars to fill up Frodo Potter’s paddock.

On we marched, around the bend, towards the entrance, for another half an hour. The routine precise: take a few steps, put down the hamper, and the chairs, put down the stubby. Hitch up the pants, pick up the hamper and chairs, and pick up the stubby. Sip. Continue. Along the way, we encountered some new arrivals, oblivious of the ruckus earlier, seeking to jump the queue. These were people that parked their cars in the new spaces in the paddock, and not wanting to join the end of the queue, thought it was okay to just join in at the end of their car park aisle. Luckily, in most instances, there were car park attendants to escort them back. However, not every aisle had an attendant. By the third occurrence, my wife had had enough – loudly identifying and shaming the intruders until they could take no more and departed. One poor fool confronted her, getting into her face, saying “What are you going to do? Start a fight?” To which, her brother, Joey, a short but fiery individual, replied: “Yes,” as he gently, but matter of factly, placed hand on chest and eased the guy away from his sister. It helped that Joey, was shadowed by his older, hulk of a brother, Barney. Both are gentle souls, but both very protective of their family. A ripple of applause rang through the crowd. We arrived at the gates without further incident.

Getting through the gates at an event can sometimes be an arduous experience. Not so at Hanging Rock. I’d decided to leave my camera at home, as, although it is just a standard digital, it looks more ‘pro’ than what it is and I didn’t want to go though the hassle of confiscation and argument, etc. I’d also snuck a flask of whiskey in my jeans (hence the hitching up routine) to curb the price of alcohol likely to be charged inside. Well, I could have taken a slab and a small production crew with me. “Anything in the hamper?” asked the attendant. “No,” I said. “Okay, have a good day.” This was in total contrast to seeing Leonard Cohen at Rochford a couple of years earlier, where I can still hear the snooty patron asking “How are we going to cut the cheese?” as his knife was confiscated. And the full cavity body search still leaves emotional scars to this day. They don’t call. They don’t write...

At last we were inside. We made it.

Hanging Rock. It evokes a profound sense of mystery and awe. We can't help but feel we are standing on sacred ground. Cohen also illuminates a persona of immense mysticism and spirituality. We are told that he was ecstatic about the chance to play at The Rock, being a huge fan of Peter Weir's classic movie. I could think of no better choice of words than those of Leonard Cohen to echo through eternity around Hanging Rock. We set up our chairs and blankets - seeking alignment between the stage, the bar, and the toilets, whilst ensuring a pleasant view of the surrounds.

Having set up, it was now time to check out the merchandise and the all important toilet location. I was really disappointed in the quality of the tee-shirts purchased at his last concert and could see nothing has changed since, so quickly avoided those in favour of a nifty key ring and 'Cup of Mercy' mug. Now, call me pedantic, but it would have been good to know, prior to purchasing it, that the mug has numerous poisonous chemicals applied to its surface to create the decorative emblem, and is therefore not recommended to be drunk from. Drink. Splutter. Cough. Collapse. Hey, that's no way to say goodbye...

The toilet block was neatly arranged between the bars (convenient: empty, refill, empty, refill) and split into Men, Women and Unisex. I'm assuming it meant either, not both. Although, I imagine the couple that crap together are clearly made for each other... The line for the Mens was always about 30 metres long with a wait of over 10 minutes. Yet there was never more than one or two in line outside the Unisex. All evening, I noticed guys seeing the empty Unisex cubicles but unwilling to break free from the deep rooted Aussie males' psyche that proclaims: Real Men Don't Pee In Unisex Toilets. It never failed to amuse me as passed by all of these Real Men, waiting in line, missing three or four songs. After I'd finish I'd walk past, knowing that they'd noticed me, heads down, but the look on their eyes saying, "I know! I'm a fool....But I wanna be a Real Man!" Then they'd dance a little jig so they didn't piss themselves.

Late afternoon drifted by. It was a beautiful day, with a steady wind keeping us cool. We chatted and passed the time in a very relaxed manner, as did everyone present, waiting for the Great Man to appear. The crowd swelled as the first two support acts played their sets. Interesting but not inspiring. Entertaining but not overwhelming. From what we had seen, heard, and read, we expected more, especially considering the reputation of both singers and the high regard for them in music circles. To be fair to Clare Bowditch and Dan Sultan, Paul Kelly and Leonard Cohen were front of mind for most of the crowd. The other factor was the wind. It was quite strong during the afternoon and carried the sound far off into the distance. It eased considerably by the time Paul Kelly played.

Paul Kelly deserves more space than this article can afford him, such is his brilliance. Only someone who is highly skilled, dedicated and hard working, and well versed and passionate about his craft can make it all seem so effortless on stage. His rendition of Everything's Turning To White with Clare Bowditch was superb. Kelly's set alone has more than repaid the cost of admission.

The moment has arrived. Cohen strides out to rapturous applause from the worshippers at the alter. He is our Jim Jones and we are the cordial drinkers. The Messiah in a pin-stripe. From the first note of Dance Me To The End Of Love, the religious fervour of the crowd builds, enraptured with every word, every move. Cohen's timing is impeccable. The performance rehearsed to perfection.

For over an hour, Cohen submerges us in his world of love and beauty, regret, and redemption. He drowns us in melodies and harmonies that flow around his world weary voice. When he finally takes a break, the audience comes up for air, struggling to recapture their breath. Taking some time to compose themselves and clear their minds before the final onslaught. As if timed to the second, darkness and a chill descend upon the crowd. When Cohen and his backup singers reappear they are draped in scarves. It is very cold. This may be a major concern for other concerts at this venue - no matter how glorious the day, it is uncomfortably cold at night.

The show continues. Always the great showman, Cohen knows when and how to extract the most out of his audience. He entices the crowd with a reinvigorated Hallelujah, and then possesses them totally with A Thousand Kisses Deep. Lovers embrace and kiss. Holding hands, swaying to the rhythms, hypnotised by the charlatan with an angel's smile. Is there laughter behind his eyes when recites these words?

And then he was done. Finished. For two and a half hours Cohen swooped us up and gave us a glimpse of the universe through his eyes and then gently let us down again. Calm, but spent. Speechless. Reflective. Serene. The serenity lasted until everyone tried to leave the car park at the same time. Our three cars were separated, but I could see Joey in the distance. After being cut off several times, he was starting to retaliate. First it was queue jumpers, and now it was car park road rage. I was reminded of Michael Douglas in Falling Down. And when Joe stopped to get a warmer jacket out of his boot, I could have sworn he was reaching for his bazooka. We each ended up driving home in different directions yet managed to arrive at our respective homes around the same time, as we always do. Another one for Stephen Hawking.... It was an extremely interesting and entertaining day; well worth the cost

Oh, and the review? It wasn't as good as Rochford.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ever Heard Of Steve Poltz?

“Ever heard of Steve Poltz?” Probably not. Didn’t he write that song with that woman? Yes, he wrote You Were Meant For Me with Jewel. But there is so much more to him than That Song. The spirit of troubadours and minstrels live on in Steve Poltz. He regularly travels the world, sharing stories and songs of love, death, pain, happiness and laughter.

That Song was not my first introduction to Poltz. I purchased One Left Shoe, based on the look and feel of the cover. I was not disappointed, and over a decade later those songs still make it to playlists and mixed tapes. Over the years I’ve picked up most of his albums, both solo, and in his previous life with the cult band, The Rugburns. It wasn’t until I purchased Mommy I’m Sorry that I realised my very first introduction to him was watching a cover of Sesame Street on some music show. We never got the name of the band, and never saw the clip again.

A Steve Poltz album gives you everything; excellent musicianship, melodies and words rich in texture, with a keen eye for observation. He has an actor’s feel for drama, and a comedian’s sense of timing, with a quirky sense of humour. And he genuinely enjoys sharing all this and more with a live audience.

Steve played The Northcote Social Club on January 22nd, a venue he enjoys returning to. The NSC is a very comfortable, easy place to hang out, being able to enjoy a quiet drink with friends before the show, watching the unusual, weird, and wonderful denizens amble through – none more freaky than the bar staff.

I drifted into the stage bar around 9.15 to catch the support act, Kate Walker. A very gifted guitar player, and singer, Kate was well supported by friends and fans. Two standout songs remain with me. A wry ode to a friend, I Liked You Better Before You Found God, and a breathtaking cover of Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World. Kate is as good as anyone you hear on the radio – her biggest step will be in managing self-consciousness on stage, self -confidence once in the songs end, and to develop an entertainer’s presence on stage as a performer. Having said that, it was a strong set and received rousing applause from the gathering crowd.

Steve comes on stage around 10.15 pm and from the first note his enthusiasm is infectious. For the next two and a bit hours he has the audience in the palm of his hand – laughing, singing, and sometimes in total silence as he weaves his way through his repertoire.

I saw him at this venue around the same time last year, getting the crowd in the mood with his intro vox-pop video “Ever Heard Of Steve Poltz?” before exploding into Chinese Checkers that set the scene for the evening. He blew me away with two songs that night, a cover of Dylan’s Forever Young, sung with the effervescent Bushwalla, and my personal request, Salvation Song. There was no Salvation Song this night, but there were equally impressive renditions of his standards, like Once Again, I Killed Walter Matthau, and The Great Mystery, as well as a faultless version of She Moved Through The Fair. He played songs from his most recent album, Dreamhouse (retailers, why is this cd so hard to find?), and that other well known song, You Remind Me, yes, the Jeep ad song. He didn’t play That Song, but no one noticed, such was the energy and passion that he devotes to his set lists.

Steve Poltz transfers his energy and passion to the crowd, encouraging audience participation if and when he can. From his epic Rugburns song Dick’s Automotive, with added baritone and falsetto, to the hands across the world finale of Long Haul, with hilarious commentary, he has that uncanny ability to conscript members of the audience and happily get them out of their comfort zone for a short while, to since or dance, or share a laugh. In turn, he helps them express who they really are.

Clothing is another form of self expression. Have you ever noticed that people like to wear band tee shirts to gigs? I do. I guess it’s a bit vain, it’s a bit of a status thing; look at me, this is who I am and who I like. Can it make a difference to the gig? It did for me. I’d worn one of my favourites – a Big Star tee shirt. Big Star: one of the best ‘unknown bands’ that have influenced countless numbers over the years. I was overwhelmed when Steve Poltz dedicated his cover of Thirteen to Big Star’s late, great Alex Chilton, who passed away in 2010. As always, I purchase a copy of the show on USB, and hang back to pick up an extra cd or offer thanks for a great performance. When I spoke with Steve briefly after his set, I’m not sure who was more gob-smacked: him for seeing someone with a Big Star tee shirt, or me for having one idol play one of my top ten favourite songs. The beauty of Steve is that he appreciates the awe us fans have for our rock stars. He makes a point of getting around to as many people as he can, sincerely acknowledging their support and interested in their comments or questions. And he backs that message up professionally. This show was his last public gig in Australia. But he was performing again – in someone’s lounge or backyard. You see, subject to availability, you can book him for your own private gig. Sure, he doesn’t make much from it – but it keeps him grounded, and connected to his fans. Just like the minstrels of old...

Ever heard of Steve Poltz? You have now. The rest is up to you.

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