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Pub Review: the Magpie and Stump, Clare Valley

 

front of pub
Geometrically, I think the lawn’s a trapezium but I might be wrong.

Either way, it’s a Clare Valley garden, which just happens to come with its own pub!

There’s slate tables on the grass; umbrellas on bases- although the spring breeze means these are tethered lest they launch toward an unsuspecting vineyard or throbbing Harley; and two fire buckets embedded in imposing circular structures as if they’ve come from a 1970’s playground, or a Texan mechanic’s barbeque.

fire bucket

We’re at one of my favourite places on the planet: the Magpie and Stump.

Last year we sulked pub-ward suffering afresh from the Crows’ grand final defeat, hoping schnitzel might sooth our spirits. Spooked, Mozz uttered, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

The pub was shut.

And had been for some months.

But in 2018 new owners have flung open the doors- this sudden change in fortune is called peripeteia by the Greeks- and I’m thrilled. Shaking mine host Paul’s hand, he explains he’s expecting seventy for lunch. He adds that, “We did 700 meals over the June long weekend.” I peek in the kitchen en route to the bar and see four chefs: all busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Our entourage takes up residence at a generous garden table. Having consulted the pub’s website, I know $15 jugs of Coopers Session Ale are waiting. At my urgings Bazz and Mozz enlist. “Go on,” I say, “it’ll be funny.”

lawn

The bar-keep seems unimpressed by my digital espionage but honours the offer. There’s wine and cider for the others and raspberry for the young fellas so we sit in the sun and speak of many people and places.

It’s perfect.

Most opt for the Stump burger, a challenging treat with meaty patties the size of small, beefy UFOs. The chips are crisp and tasty- this isn’t always a given- and come in those miniature wire baskets that could’ve been hocked from a Lilliputian fish shop.

Kath has salt ‘n’ pepper squid but it needs additional NaCl dusting. Flopping about with their iPods and assorted devices our male progeny orders nuggets. These are breathed in, instantly.

table 2

Post-lunch, the entertainment’s on under the veranda: a guitar and keyboard duo. Looking like an older Jack White the vocalist announces, “I’m Paul and this is Andy. Together, we’re known as Paul and Andy.”

They provide an afternoon of agreeable covers including our request for “Sweet Caroline.” Given the comprehensive demographic of the audience they ignore our plea for Frank Zappa and his 25-minute magnus opus, “Billy the Mountain.”

The pub staff are also congenial, even when one of our crew, Bazz attempting to assist, drops five glasses onto the table’s unforgiving slate. Disappointingly, only four break but the employee with upturned trouser cuffs laughs throughout his dustpan deed.

table 1

As the sun dips in the western sky we each get out three coins to engage in a few rounds of spoofy- known by my old mate Whitey as, “the free beer game.” Your correspondent enjoys complimentary cups.

We leave with some newly-minted stubby holders. However, these look better on display behind the bar as rolling them about in our mits, they’re, as Ian Chappell used to say, a bit thin. The cover of an old National Geographic would provide similar beverage insulation.

But it’d been a terrific Sunday on this fetching lawn and despite intermittent outages over the decades, the Magpie and Stump again powers on.

I urge you to enjoy its lawn soon.

stubby holder

 

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Billy the Mountain

FZ

I sing best when by a washing machine.

Half way across Australia. The farming hamlet of Kimba. Late on a Tuesday. It often was. At that time, no night was safe. Bazz, Hen and I wedged into the laundry, and warbling along with Frank Zappa.

A mountain is something
You don’t wanna fuck with
You don’t wanna fuck with
Don’t fuck around

Stripping precious bushels from the wheat, our voices pranged out across the paddocks. The adult in charge was Coopers Sparkling Ale. Of course, Bazz, Hen and I have been mates ever since.

I first heard Zappa at Bushy Martin’s one summer down at Sellicks Beach. It was Joe’s Garage on vinyl, exhilarating and just a bit dangerous. Here was sophisticated, funny music coupled with contagious lyrics, especially on “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”

Much of my pop culture schooling came on Sunday nights through The Coodabeen Champions. During one episode the best Frank Zappa song was debated. They agreed.

I raced into Rundle Mall, and bought Just Another Band From LA. Inspecting the cartoonish cover, I see “Billy the Mountain” runs for roughly thirty minutes. Epic songs have always bewitched me with their wide landscapes. Empty roads, awaiting traffic.

The storytelling and amusing arrangements make it a masterpiece. Part travelogue and romantic comedy, it opens in Los Angeles, tumbles through Playa Del Rey, Santa Monica, and Canoga Park, before lurching across the Mojave Desert, to The Strip

It’s off to Las Vegas
To check out the lounges
Pull a few handles,
And drink a few beers.

It also functions as an opera and a radio play, with Zappa and cult vocal duo Flo and Eddie alternating as narrators. On a vacation paid for by postcard royalties, our mobile mountain Billy, and his wooden wife Ethell are heading, seismically, to New York.

The heroic pair travel west to east, annihilating various human environments, in a deviant Manifest Destiny. Edwards Air Force Base is an early, delicious target

TEST STAND #1 and THE ROCKET SLED ITSELF… (We have ignition!)… got LUNCHED! I said LUNCHED!

When I lived just north of London in the old Roman city of St Albans, it was a Zappa-free zone for two years. Mammoth in charisma and personal impact, I missed this song. So, in 2005 I had a mate home in Adelaide copy my CD, and send it to me.

Driving down to New Forest’s heathland, the wife and I listened to it one Friday. It provided happy escape from the cheerlessness of the M25 and M3. A universe distant from soggy Hampshire

He was born next to the beef pies,
Underneath Joni Mitchell’s autographed picture,
Right beside Elliot Roberts’ big Bank Book,
Next to the boat
Where Crosby flushed away all his stash.

Mentioning American emblems such as Jack-In-The-Box and Howard Johnsons, this magnum opus inspires me to drive an El Dorado Cadillac and shop at Ralph’s. Just like The Dude in the beginning sequence of The Big Lebowski. To a country boy from South Australia, it’s profoundly panoramic.

Remember the soaring coda of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes?” It’s parodied on “Billy the Mountain.” A key sonic motif is the stab from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and the structure reminds me of “Peter and the Wolf.”

It’s eclectic, as Toto (the dog, mercifully, and not the band) and the tornado from The Wizard of Oz, are juxtaposed with Jerry Lewis samples. Remarkably, all recorded live at UCLA!

Satirising the antihero, a blundering Studebacher Hoch, Zappa’s darts are sharpest on overzealousness, and fawning ignorance, especially in Hoch’s introductory monologue

and, ah, how’s your wife’s haemorrhoids? Oh, that’s too bad… Listen… so you’ve got a mountain, with a tree, listen, causing… oh, my! Well, let me write this down . . . sorta take a few notes here… yeah… ?

The song’s Dadaist, its anarchistic storyline urging anti-war sentiment during its elongated loopiness. But, it’s also debauched, ridiculous, and hilarious.

And, of course, it takes a brutal intellect to invent such fun.

We don’t live in a global village. Mostly, we reside in a culturally identical village, repeated globally. Zappa fought this, and “Billy the Mountain” is musical theatre of prodigious ambition, and equal achievement. It’s among the most engrossing, most weird half hours you can spend.

I often think of being by that washing machine, in its tiny laundry, when three friends squawked out into the undeserving Tuesday dark, with America’s wittiest commentator, Frank Zappa.

A mountain is something
You don’t wanna fuck with
You don’t wanna fuck with
Don’t fuck around