AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY OF A HIRED GUN
It was in July when I was standing in my bedroom, looking at the window for no reason, and my phone rang. I answered it and heard the voice of a band-manager-type friend of mine. “Hello lovely,” he mused. “There’s this gig coming up in a couple of weeks… I’m looking for a bass player…” It was a Chet Faker show at the Bakery, which sounded fun. The relevant duo’s tunes, which I’d encountered briefly before, sounded pretty neat. I obliged.
A few months later (last week in fact) I was standing on Watt St in Newcastle, NSW, looking at a demolition site for no reason and my phone rang again. It was Andrew, the big enchilada/top banana of Cool Perth Nights Media & Haberdashery , Inc. The phone was crackly and the poor signal struggled to compete against the throb of house music from the nearby Great Northern Hotel. Our voices eventually traversed a few topics, however, and he asked what I was going to write about this week. Good question. I’d had a ticket to the upcoming Primal Scream show in Perth but it had made a swift exit from my possession. “Write about being a hired gun!” He enthusiastically advised. Alright – I would, I said.
So it had come to pass that in August I played the Chet Faker gig with Perth “folktronica” duo-cum-trio-cum-quartet Anton Franc at the Bakery, as a stand-in freelance bass guy. It was fun, so I got on board with some other shows as they reared their heads; a few at the Bird, one on Rottnest Island (the latter being a not-so-flash day forever remembered for its incapacitating hangovers, lost voices, chronic earaches and out-of-tune guitars). As the tail end of the year swung around, I got another message from Jamie, the man in charge of South American guitar-shaped instruments, sample-triggering, and chasing down ephemeral ring-ins such as myself. A tour approached. The only question was ‘why not?’ and, as no answer bubbled up, I offered my thumb in the upright position.
Jamie picked me up on Tuesday morning. The sun was shining, I was frantically searching for matching pairs of socks. We zoomed back to the he and (voice/guitar man) Josh’s North Perth abode and stuffed everything into the sedan as one might hurriedly stuff a turkey. At the airport, we attempted to buy muffins. Edmond at the cafe counter was deeply confused by our request and we almost missed our flight to Sydney as he grappled with the concept of buying snacks but not drinks.
We entered Sydney by night. The next day was a day of leisure; no shows, no commitments, just the primal urges to explore and feed ourselves. And so began the week of perpetual breakfast. We devoured poached eggs with green-coloured Parmesan salt in Surry Hills, before wandering aimlessly through the breezy, leafy streets. Apparently there was a much-loved dog called Dasher who used to loiter around these streets, and laze about in one spot for so long that folk would draw chalk lines around him. Dasher died earlier this year, but a chalk-line in his shape has been immortalized for all to remember him by. This is one of many reasons that Surry Hills is great. I would gladly live in Surry Hills.
The next day we met up with James Treweneck (aka Trainwreck), hired-gun of the drum kit. A Perth expat, he lives in Melbourne these days beating skins for those Split Seconds guys. The bunch of us ventured to one of the best breakfasteries I have ever encountered, a repurposed industrial building in Alexandria called “Grounds of Alexandria.” The coffee was great, and everything is this wonderful mint green colour. The Lebanese eggs were spectacular, and they have chickens on-site. I recommend this breakfast highly. The breakfast spilled over into afternoon, and the afternoon spilled into a quick performance and Sydney’s FBi Radio studios. We played Anton Franc’s first single, called “Letting Go,” though I played violin this time. Trainwreck hit a pillow as a floor tom. I couldn’t believe how good that sounded. The gig that night took place in the King’s Cross hotel, upstairs as part of the FBI social series. It was a cosy room with lots of couches and big wooden spools. We played with some bands called GNOME, MAMMALS, and WHEAT FIELDS. Everyone arrived and left at different times and it was a slighty baffling experience. Someone took my backpack with my freshly-bought Boomgates album, two books and that Primal Scream ticket inside, so I was a little miffed. But the beer was cold and the smiles were many.
Breakfast was from Bourke St Bakery, and outrageously good coffee from a place called Alchemy and another called Petty Cash which is run by a dude from The Cruel Sea. From there it was onto Newcastle, down hilly, tree-laden freeways. Newcastle was a totally new thing for me, but it was Josh’s hometown. We played at the Great Northern Hotel with some folks called DONNA & RILEY and ELIOT THE BULL and I managed to spill an almost-full pint of very nice local ale, so shame on me. Post-show drinks ensued at a place called The Lass, which reminded me of a dream lovechild between the (old) Hydey and Mojos, then we crashed on couches at a buddy’s place on the outskirts of town.
The next morning was about as tired as I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I floated through a thick haze back to Sydney airport. We didn’t even have time to get breakfast or coffee before or en route so I was about ready to curl up in the foetal position and weep. At last we did manage to MacGuyver a sort of breakfast at the airport however, and flew down to Melbourne feeling not-quite-so-shit. Driving into Melbourne I was struck with a rush of what felt like heart-warming nostalgia, despite having been there only a small handful of times before. I suppose absence makes the heart grow fonder. It was super hot, so we got ice-cream on Lygon St and then carried on driving, out of Melbourne, down the Mornington Peninsula to a little town called Rye. We played at a Taco Bar, which was a little odd, but I’ve never been one to turn up my nose at Mexican food. I don’t remember the headliner’s name but it was a bit of a post-Eddie Vedder/John Butler crisis. We slept in a caravan, and had a pretty good breakfast in town the next morning whilst discussing the merits of various Beck albums and which breed of dog one ought to invest in (Trainwreck was carrying on to a dog show later that day). The beach was tempting, but Melbourne beckoned. We returned and had 2nd breakfast at a superb place called Auction Rooms which I recommend almost as highly as Grounds of Alexandria. We sampled their bewildering range of coffees until we could see in 4-D and then headed to soundcheck at the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood. The Grace Darling was the best show of the tour; a heart-warming audience, support from fellow Perthites (SEAN POLLARD, and THE WARNING BIRDS) and a great sound guy with a tattoo of Chewbacca-as-sea-captain. The shows were now over, and Jamie had work in Perth the next morning, so he got a plane home at 6 o’clock the next morning, lucky duck. Josh and I lingered for a couple more days, exploring the beer, breakfast and napping options that Melbourne had to offer.
Touring is still not something I’m at all used to. Being a pseudo-band member diving in all of a sudden makes the whole thing particularly curious, having little context in which to position it all. I can now safely say, however, that it is very wise to tour with bandmates who hold coffee and breakfast in especially high esteem. Meanwhile, I look forward to sitting in car soon, that contains less than fifteen large items of tightly packed equipment, and seeing old friend Perth with fresh eyes after a brief soujourn. For some reason they let me into the Primal Scream gig back in Perth after all, though with my body clock three hours ahead, I was already thinking about my morning meal. I’ll tell you all about that some other time.