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An absolute banger by Grouplove and Tony Martin’s Sizzletown

OB

It was a lovely suprise. A moment in which I rediscovered something I had previously enjoyed. Hugely.

Strolling past the Oyster Bar (or Booga Shop as some call it) down at Glenelg’s Marina Pier, I heard the opening vocals to Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied.” Although it was only released in 2011 I hadn’t happened across it for some time. I stopped to listen.

It is indie-pop perfection. Pop music you say? Well, yes. For the record I freely declare that “Shake It Off” by Taylor (Tay- Tay) Swift and “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars are both genius.

There’s so much I like about this song. The instrumentation is soaring and joyous. It’s fun. Although it has a moderate tempo I reckon it’d be fantastic at a festival. The kids would go spare. There’d be dancing. As our Max says, it’d be lit.

Like much in this genre it’s a celebration of youth and being carefree. The excitement, the bursting life is irresistible. The vocals echo this and are almost shouted with enthusiasm like a mad pub singalong.

The lyrics all speak of teenage hopes and vitality, and I hear these lines and am instantly elevated.

Take me to your best friend’s house
Go around this roundabout
Oh yeah
Take me to your best friend’s house
I loved you then and I love you now
Oh yeah

Best friends. A roundabout. Love. It’s all there. Summery and glittery like the LA beaches of the band’s home town. I’m glad I heard it.

*

I’m not madly into podcasts but one that I love is Tony Martin’s Sizzletown. I’m a massive fan of Tony’s work, especially his radio legacy including Martin/Molloy and Get This! with Ed Kavalee and the late Richard Marsland. The name Sizzletown comes from the Martin/Molloy days late last century when a radio station executive implored Tony and Mickey to take their show up a level or two and add extra “sizzle.”

MM

The premise is great. Although it’s a podcast the concept is that it’s a late night talkback radio programme with a number of recurring callers and guests. Of course, it’s entirely written and performed by Tony Martin himself. It’s technically brilliant too, with the conversations all spliced together in a most natural way.

There’s Dave Clacton who hosts The Busted Nut, a “proper comedy” club in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. “No inner city, latte- loving” stuff on his watch. A regular comic is Barry Dickbags and his show “Cock-Eyed Christmas!” I think you get the idea.

HAL

In one episode Tony talks with HAL 9000, the speaking computer from Stanley Kubrick’s epic film 2001. My favourite part is instead of singing “Daisy” as he is dying aboard the spaceship, Discovery One, he launches into

I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it ’til my fingers bled
Was the summer of sixty-nine.

An excellent character is Nils Nyquist, the elderly gent haunted by suburban paranoias including a fixation with nanobots. He has a stereotypical lisp and aged voice, but towards the end of their chat Tony asks him what records he’s been playing. Nils is clearly a man of about eighty, but his musical tastes are decidedly youthful. It’s funny.

“What are you listening to?”

“Just a bit of shoegazing.” (early 1990’s alternate music characterised by its ethereal-sounding mixture of obscured vocals, guitar distortion and effects, feedback, and overwhelming volume.)

“Anything else?”

“Some dubstep. I also listened to the new single by Aphex Twin.”

“And what did you think of it?”

“Oh. It’s an absolute banger.”

I reckon Nils would also enjoy “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove.

sizzle

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Eleven

alex 1

You and I were both up early on your birthday. I gave you a hug and a kiss and said, “Happy birthday Alex.”

You sang, “Dad, I’m so happy to be eleven!”

*

Of course, you’re embarrassed by Dad’s music. You don’t think much of Fleet Foxes or Vampire Weekend, but you like Lana Del Rey, and Ben Folds is our road trip soundtrack. Every time. We turn it up loud.

In the same way there’s days you love the Old Gum Tree Park, and other days, when not so much. You swing between being a little boy and an almost teenager who, some might say, can be a little demonic! I guess your emotional vocabulary is developing, and this isn’t always easy to spectate. But I mean this in a kindly way.

It’s what happens when a boy is eleven.

All you wanted for your birthday was a lunch at an all you can eat restaurant (term employed loosely here, I think) so off we went to Charlie’s Diner at the Brighton Metro. As I’d been at a conference Saturday morning I arrived late and you’d all eaten.

alex 2

Where Max had sat appeared as a site in Pompeii when the tables and houses were frozen forever as the lava struck. There were plates and drinks and bowls, all with just a sip or bite taken, as if Vesuvius had burst through. It wouldn’t take the archaeologists long to discover whose meal this was.

I loved that you and Max immediately took me on a tour about Charlie’s to the bains-marie as you both pointed out the endless offerings.

“Dad, here’s all the pizza! There’s the Asian food.”

“Look at all the chips. They’re pretty good.”

“Right now, come to the dessert bar. Around here. You can come back as many times as you want!”

*

You’re a beautiful big brother. As one of the people down the park said to me last week- “Alex is caring, and tries to look after his younger brother- I don’t think Max listens too well.” But you do laugh at and love him as we all do.

I become misty when I think of you both in fifteen years. I can see you at the Ashes cricket, or at a music festival (I think you’ll come around to Vampire Weekend), and I know you’ll be there for each other. There’ll be knowing nods and gruff exchanges and glances across the pub just to check on your best friend, your brother.

I know you love him with gentle ferocity.

boys

Your humour makes me happy. Just like an eleven-year-old should, you laugh at YouTube and those crazy physical dares and stunts that are all a bit Three Stooges, but I also love how you watched Frontline with me- and can quote the clueless current affairs show host Mike Moore, and at random times around the house you’d say, “Mmmm. Martin Di Stasio there with that disturbing report.”

I love that you roar instantly with me at Mad As Hell when Micallef features one of his fake promos, for funny ABC shows like

The Rise of Hollywood’s Power Mice

The Depraved, Godless, Sicko Hedge Sparrows of Yorkshire.

*

You’re nearly finished at primary school and are in the senior unit where, in an innocent, unlikely symbol of your unstoppable progression, you can use a microwave or boil a kettle to have noodles for lunch. I can see you in there quietly leading your friends with your constant sense of justice.

Just as I can still see you in our Singaporean condo on your first ever school day as you headed out under the towering cityscape and into the hugging heat. My hot tears from that day are never far away.

alex 3

Tim Winton is my favourite Australian writer and one of his best lines for me is not found in Cloudstreet or The Riders or Dirt Music, but the Young Adult novel he published thirty years ago.

Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo.

At the end Lockie is talking to Vicki who, like some adolescent girls, wants to grow up too fast, and I’m so joyful that in this gorgeous character’s reply I can hear you, dearest Alex.

“I hate being a kid,” she said.

“See? I’m weird,” he murmured. “I love it”

LL

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Backyard Cricket

cricket 1

During that beautiful hour or so before dark when the light is golden and the world’s rough edges disappear the boys and I played cricket in the backyard. It was warm and still and the kids next door were having a pool party. They had a great soundtrack and sang along to Gang of Youths and The Smith Street Band. They even played Eagle Rock.

Max likes to bowl leg spin, that most difficult of the cricketing crafts. But he has reasonable control and can get them to bite and spit. With his blonde locks he’s not unlike a certain SK Warne. I encourage him. “Don’t try to bowl fast like your dopey old Dad. There’s millions of very average medium pacers out there. Keep the leg spin going!”

Our home is in a constant state of tennis ball crisis. An already modest backyard, it will continue to shrink as the boys likely stretch into six footers. We share fences with five properties and all have endured our friendly fire.

A couple months back the people behind us had their yuccas removed. They ran the length of their back fence and were quite tall. I came home from work and suddenly could see the eastern sky as that vegetative wall was gone. And on our lawn were about ten tennis balls and a toy or two which had taken refuge in the trees. I was surprised there wasn’t also a Jetstar blanket, a German motorcycle and the Best of the Jackson Five. They were big trees.

yuccas

After a brisk delivery from Alex, Max edged one over the tree and into Mrs Hambour’s yard. Like Farmer Fred’s wethers we had no balls. Mrs Hambour is 97. She lives alone. She makes me laugh.

Earlier in the week when the temperature reached 46 degrees I rang her from work during the day just to check on her. She told me (again) of how she’d been recently hospitalised at the new Royal Adelaide following a fall during which she suffered two black eyes and hurt her nose.

“It was very nice Michael. They were good to me. I even saw one of those heart people- what are they called?”

“A cardiologist.”

“Yes, that’s it. And I said to him, ‘Don’t worry about my heart. It’s no good. Have I broken my nose?'”

The boys returned with two tennis balls and two chocolates each.

Having had a bat and a bowl I took up the prestigous position of umpire/ commentator/Dutch beer drinker in my chair under the patio at short extra cover. I channelled Australia’s finest all round broadcaster Tim Lane.

lanes

“Max comes in and tosses one up just outside off stump. Alex steps into it and punches it through mid off for four!”

The boys found it amusing, although, if truth be told, not as amusing as their Dad. I continued.

“With his characteristic loping approach Alex bowls and Max is defending this one back up the pitch. There’s no run.”

And then like all great commentators (real and backyard) I had to show the power of brevity.

“Edge. Gone!” I made myself giggle.

Being brothers there was frequent disagreement so I turned to more televisual theatre to help. Alex was sure Max was out LBW. It was irresolvable. So I made the TV rectangle with my fingers. We’d go to DRS (Decision Review System is a technology-based system used in cricket to assist the match officials with their decision-making). I began.

drs

“Can I have side-on vision of the bowler please?” For reasons unknown I adopted an English accent for my third umpire duties. There’s probably some interesting post-colonialism going on here. Alex and Max had stopped fighting and were watching me and my recreation. “Yes, that’s a legal delivery,” I said to no-one and everyone, putting my hand to my invisible ear-piece.

I continued. “Can we go to Hotspot please?” The boys eyes widened. “Can you rock ‘n’ roll it please?” A meaningful pause. “Again… Thank you. No edge showing.”

I took a sip of beer. “Let’s go to ball tracking please.” We were getting close to the truth. “Yes, it’s pitching in line.” Another pause. “But the ball is going over the top of middle stump. Can you please reverse your on-field decision to not out?”

And do you know what? The boys nodded and returned to their positions. Dispute ended. I learnt something too.

And with this the game continued under the orange sky until we again exhausted our tennis ball supply and it became time for baths and then bed.

It had been a brilliant hour.

cricket 2

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Vampire Weekend’s Hannah Hunt

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It’s an enthralling, alliterative name. Say it aloud. Hannah Hunt. It’s easy to pronounce. There’s an affable rhythm, and linguists suggest the repetition of “H” creates romantic introspection.

See, it’s started already.

That autumnal afternoon Hannah was the girl you noticed strolling across the uni lawns, smiling and chatting, smiling and chatting. Not having seen her before, suddenly you looked for her everywhere.

She had an irresistible laugh; a laugh that promised unexpected fun, and every time you heard it you fell further. She wasn’t routinely beautiful, although Hannah was deeply attractive. You’d pinch a peek at her and she’d be unaware; unaffected; completely at ease with herself, and her moment. You loved this too.

vw 1

But Hannah was maddening. She was dangerously spontaneous and you kept tumbling. You never felt more alive. You always forgave her.

And then, that was it.

How many of us have fallen in love with a Hannah Hunt? I have.

*
Discovering Vampire Weekend a decade ago, I grew to love their sunny, literate pop. I’d often listen on my phone to their second album, Contra, as I moved beneath Singapore’s concrete towers and jungle heat.

I then enjoyed their third release, Modern Vampires of the City, but it was years before track six, at the record’s heart, stirred something significant in me.

Hannah Hunt opens in a seascape. A gentle, pretty song, it initially glides in that ethereal space between sleeping and waking. There’s a quietness, an almost meditative quality to the music that maybe mirrors our narrator’s quest for peace.

vw4

We first meet the couple when their world is bright and astonishing and they share those daily discoveries, as all new lovers do.

A gardener told me some plants move
But I could not believe it
Till me and Hannah Hunt
Saw crawling vines and weeping willows

Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice is hopeful yet haunted, and harmonises with Rostam Batmanglij’s murmur in a pristine fragility. It’s almost acapella, so sparse is the instrumentation.

The narrator and Hannah are on their road trip and such is the cinematic scope the song feels like a four-minute film. They travel from Providence to Phoenix (in America two especially symbolic names) and Waverley to Lincoln before their westward wanderings end, as they must, among scenes of desperation, on the bitter Californian coast.

In Santa Barbara, Hannah cried
I miss those freezing beaches
And I walked into town
To buy some kindling for the fire
Hannah tore the New York Times up into pieces

Like the best stories there’s an atom of doubt in how it concludes. Seemingly a break-up song, but in Dylanesque style we remain unsure.

If I can’t trust you then damn it Hannah
There’s no future, there’s no answer
Though we live on the US dollar
You and me, we got our own sense of time

But he’ll forever remain in her orbit, no matter how wide the galaxy.

vw3

Following the second verse there’s a gorgeous explosion when the drums, bass and that detuned piano burst into aching life. This is among my favourite ever melodic instants. With Gatsby-like uproar, and swelling anguish, it’s a flowering. Like Hannah, the piano sounds broken yet still attractive, while the drums are as insistent as the pounding heart of her protagonist.

Finally, we have Rostam Batmanglij’s guitar solo. It’s the perfect coda. Played with a soaring slide effect it provides the listener with release, wailing and crying like the human hurt that inspired it.

I love the joy and transportive passion. It’s aural splendor.

I’m going to listen to it now.

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Four pubs and a funeral

I love the week between Christmas and New Year, and know I’ve achieved happy levels of festiveness when I forget what day it is. Someone like the wife will say, “Don’t forget we’re going to X and Y’s on Thursday.” Then I’ll feel a frisson of panic and reply, “Right. What day is it again?”

Bliss.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of my dear mate Bob’s brother Jeff. We all went to Kapunda High with Jeff. He’d passed away too soon. He left a young wife and two daughters. He was 48.

The service was in Gawler and closed when the casket was draped with a Hawthorn footy club flag and their team song was played on a loop. Training as a junior with Central District he’d idolised Johnny Platten.

Jeff was laid to rest in the church cemetery where a couple decades’ prior he’d married a local girl. Atop this hill just outside of Saddleworth, the wind roared from the north in that menacing, apocalyptic way, as the temperature screamed into the hundreds. Fahrenheit, as always, seems more appropriate for these timeless occasions.

In the interim we called into the Gilbert Valley pub. It’s one of those places that has the take-away drinks fridges in the bar itself. Puggy and I had a quick pint of Session Ale. In a corner below the tele two chaps wearing farming equipment hats were slumped. For some reason the screen was showing an old movie, and not the cricket. They were drinking West End Draught cans.

GV

There was a reception at the bowls club. While the party pies, sausage rolls and scones were all in attendance the sandwiches, of course, were uniformly excellent. For the first time in ten years I saw a girl I went to school with Gert*, and her husband Kempy* against whom I’d played footy and cricket. Again I was reminded of my unbreakable home bonds of school and growing up. On a day of mixed emotions this was a lovely moment.

Saddleworth

Mid-afternoon our convoy of two conveyances set forth towards Marrabel and its singular pub. I reckon I’d last been inside in 1986, and as near as I could tell all was as I’d left it. Most of us opted for a West End from the keg, largely on account of it being the only draught option.

Marrabel is a town known for its eponymous rodeo, and so we searched the pub wall photos for Kapunda’s champion bull rider and colourful identity, the late Les Cowan. One of the Hayward brothers, Hollis, and I reckon we spotted him clinging to a vertical beast, frozen but waiting for the eight-second horn. However, the memorbilia had no caption so we couldn’t be certain.

Marrabel

Among the flow of cricket stories, both recent and prehistoric, we then paused to toast Jeff, while Chris also hoped that 2019 could be funeral-free.

We then pushed on through Hamilton where there were four churches and a now vacant shop. I wonder how many kids live there today and go to Kapunda High. There was once a dedicated school bus. The earth is desperately brown and scorched.

As always it is a treat to call into the Allendale pub. It is cosy, welcoming and inn-like in its charisma. Happily, Greenock Creek ales are on tap. Indeed, two of the four offerings are from our old school mate Chris Higgins and his thriving micro-brewery. A trip home, even amid awful circumstances such as those of today evoke much, both good and bad.

Allendale

It was time to continue our cricket reminisces. Of course we spoke of the Lyndoch Cricket Club which at tea breaks provided the most gentlemanly afternoon tea, all scones and egg sandwiches and pleasant conversation.

First experiencing this as an eighteen year old- the day Wocko took a hat trick- made a mark on my young self. Of course, once this culinary interlude concluded and the locals again stepped across the mythical white line psychopathic hostilities resumed. Both accompanying cousins, Froggy and Puggy understood.

I then dragged out the old chesnut concerning Rodney Hogg and his debut appearance at Mildura’s Willowfest. Handed the ball the recently retired Australian quick heard from the boundary, “Bowler’s name?” The captain answered only to hear, “One ‘g’ or two?”

Finally we adjorned to Kapunda’s Prince of Wales. It was the natural conclusion for our day. Although only six in physical number our party expanded courtesy of the anecdotes. Froggy and Hayward the Elder had a moment of faux disappointment concerning some confusion among the beverage orders.

Prince

Night was gathering when we then heard of the night at the Mickans when Paul E. White, having smoked the brothers in cards, starting counting the cash. One of the brothers Mickan admonished him saying, “You know it’s not etiquette to count your money while still at the table.” His voice rising its customary couple octaves, Whitey retorted, “I’m not counting my money d**khead, I’m counting yours!”

And so homewards.

The good that comes of funerals is community and connection and the silent vows we take from these to live well, to stride with purpose and to take care of each other.

It is how we can honour the deceased and ourselves.

Vale Jeff.cemetery

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Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy” and me

 

songs from the south

My favourite Christmas song is twenty-two. But it seems as though it’s been around forever. Like Love Actually, which premiered in 2003, they’re both part of the festive furniture, and signal the season’s arrival.

It’s the 21st of December and our protagonist Joe, freshly imprisoned and hotly anxious, reaches out to his brother. But is “How to Make Gravy” a letter or a phone call? Initially, the form seems spoken- “Hello Dan, it’s Joe here,” but then moves to a written mode- “I hope you’re keeping well.” Which is it? I don’t know.

Over four and a half minutes, this mystery of the medium continues while we meet the brothers; Angus; parents Frank and Dolly; Joe’s wife Rita; his kids; sisters Stella and Mary; Mary’s former boyfriend, the olfactorily-offensive one (just a little too much cologne) and, of course, the almost missable Roger.

Although most are only mentioned once they’re Australia’s first family of Christmas song. We feel like we know them. Despite these skeletal sketches, they’re writ large. Dolly’s the uncrossable matriarch. I can imagine having a beer with Angus, and if he were alive surely Bill Hunter would play Frank in the film version, all gruff wisdom and barbeque tongs.

‘How to Make Gravy’ begins with opening chords similar to Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ but its guitar riff by the recently-departed Spencer P. Jones almost nods in homage to the British band’s late-sixties hit song. This might be partly why Kelly’s tour de force seems like it’s been around longer than 1996. It’s deep in our musical tectonics.

Willunga

Across the top and also underneath is that doleful slide guitar, foreshadowing the anguish to come. Exhilarating, it’s suggestive of outback space and tropical heat and melancholic veranda conversations.

The next surge is when Peter “Lucky” Luscombe’s drums kick in with an electrifying jolt at, “I guess the brothers are driving down from Queensland and Stella’s flying in from the coast”. Although I was drawn to the song upon its release, and taught it (and Radiohead’s “Karma Police”) to year 10 classes, it was our move to England early this century when it took a profounder hold.

Kerry and I each took ten CD’s with us and Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits- Songs from the South was the first I packed along with Jeff Buckley’s Grace and The Beatles’ Revolver. Settling happily into a village rhythm I’d cycle home on Fridays post-pub, and put it on in our townhouse after the dark had already stolen through our patio windows.

At this moment I’d then fly homeward, down across the land and ocean. Its melodic panorama contrasted with the claustrophobic British winter and the unforgivable 4pm nightfall. We spent a first European Christmas in Madrid, freezing under a pale sun far, far from Australia’s burnt dirt.

I’d only considered it as a stand-alone song until I read this from the singer: “I’m sort of aware where certain songs are written a few years apart from each other – ‘To Her Door,’ then ‘Love Never Runs on Time’ and ‘How to Make Gravy’ – I’ve got a feeling it’s the same guy. He keeps coming back.”

Here Kelly’s created a fictional universe, or at least some intertextuality, especially as the line, “Tell ’em all I’m sorry, I screwed up this time” indicates a wider backstory, an extended narrative, featuring our central character and his wife Rita.

Hay Plains

And what of that famous recipe for gravy?

“It’s a real recipe of my first father in law, which he used and which I still use. When I make gravy for my family, that’s the recipe that I use, and now they always make me, make the gravy. It’s my job now (laughs). When I made up the song it wasn’t my job but it is now. Sometimes art influences life or the other way around.”

I love how the song’s acknowledged with today, December 21, declared national Gravy Day. There’s even a hashtag- #GravyDay.

A portrait of timeless Australia, it’s as evocative as the timber pylons of the Port Willunga jetty; a backyard cricket match; the ribbon of road unrolling across the Hay Plains.

As our boys splash about in the twinkling pool on Christmas morning, and I sneak my first piece of ham I anticipate that plaintive strumming and forlorn slide guitar and hearing, yet again, Joe’s confessional.

 

2

Pub Review: The Cumberland, Glanville

Plenty of room for you and yours in the beer garden

I had one final chance to visit a pub down the Port. I was offered plenty of advice.

“The Largs Pier is a beautiful old building.”

“The British is nicely renovated.”

“The Port Dock Brewery is good fun.”

But, for the moment, no to all of these.

A colleague said, “I reckon you’d find the Cumberland interesting.”

And so last Tuesday afternoon we ventured over the bridge, with Cruickshank’s Beach among the pylons, along Semaphore Road and then towards Glanville Railway Station which eases past the window.

There it was. The Cumberland, or as all such pubs must be known, The Cumby.

Australia is a vast country with many modern and featureless suburbs bigger than European cities. This is why the Port is terrific. Jump in your jalopy and in five minutes you can drive through Port Adelaide, Birkenhead, Semaphore, Exeter and Glanville where the geography is intricate and brutal, welcoming and rich.

Oh dear

Certainly in Britain there’s a whole realm of interest in pubs located by railway stations. Oodles of websites are dedicated to this genre alone.

Sauntering into the front bar the six patrons all ceased their conversations and took us in. If a honky tonk pianist had been banging the ivories he, too, would’ve stopped suddenly.

The publican, Michael Parker, or The Rev as most call him, was friendly and helpful, especially when chaperoning my friend, JB, through the forest of cider choices.

We ventured out the back to the beer garden’s large lawn and sheltered benches, but it was barren, save for a Port Power flag hanging flaccidly in an upstairs window. Sometimes, having too much space to yourselves is unappealing so on we explored.

Next we came across the live music room with its blackened stage. In recent months it has hosted the legendary Kevin Borich Express, and while I must confess to a personal connection, the magnificently-monikered Don Morrison’s Raging Thirst (I’m friends with Don’s sister Claire). I reckon Tim Rogers and Tex Perkins would both go well in the Raging Thirst.

Punters can watch the world go by

Sitting on our stools out the front of the Cumby the mis en scene of sky, battered earth and noiseless trains sliding in and out of the railyard was a compelling palette. It was natural, industrial and human.

The triangular patch had formerly been a carpark for the Holdens, Fords and Valiants. Now in the newish, glass-walled space there was a luckless incident involving a wonky table, JB’s elbow, Bob’s pint and his cream trousers. But in the maritime atmosphere his strides dried quickly. Perhaps they’re from Fletcher Jones.

And as friends for over thirty years we all moved on, although it gave rise to the ancient philosophical question: What’s worse than someone spilling a drink on you? Answer: Someone spilling your own drink on you. This aside, we enjoyed a lively interval in the bright afternoon, and then scarpered.

Such is the dynamic psycho-geography of the Port that last week’s destination, the Lord Exmouth, while technically a compact suburb away, is only 220 metres to the west. But the Cumby’s atmosphere is different, and in our often homogenised world, this diversity is to be celebrated.

So, if you’ve a raging thirst, or you want to hear one, then this pub is right there. And, should you wish, you can catch a train.  

And be there too.

conveniently labelled