FALLING ON POLITE EARS BY TOBY MARTIN – PART 1

Wednesday 6th July – The Heritage, Bulli I have always considered The Heritage to be one of the more genteel venues in the Sydney fringe region and so am surprised on arrival when Aaron Curnow (of Spunk Records, Holly’s label, and south coast local) informs me that as a northern suburb of Wollongong it has ‘an edge’ and is home to the infamous surfer group the Bulli Boys. I resolve to be on my guards against these nogoodniks during my time here.

No sign of the Bulli Boys during my set; only dining couples who listen with polite interest. I have chosen to play ‘all new songs’ on this tour, and have chosen to play them solo, just acoustic guitar, no band. The stakes are high. The good people of Bulli do not fail me.

Seeker Lover Keeper are brilliant. They have just enough accompaniment from Jim White on drums and Dave Symes on bass. Lots of space for their voice. And when they hit the three part harmonies it kills.

Thursday 7th July – The Heritage, Bulli We are lucky enough to be staying with friends at Austinmer and so today I put on my plimsolls and do my Cliff Young shuffle over the beaches and headlands. My mind shuffles through various memories as I go:

- I remember when Youth Group played with Screamfeeder at The Headland Hotel sometime in the mid 2000s. The Headland is closed, boarded-up and sad now. I make a note to self: organise the South By South Coast Festival at Austin(mer)! Hold it at The Headlands! Genius! Must find investor.

- I remember the last time YG played down this way. It was the day of Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and we listened to his victory speech, broadcast live from Chicago, as we drove down the Bulli Pass. Light, eucalyptus, ocean and Obama’s amazing voice. It was an unforgettable moment. Everything seemed optimistic.

The path of the free world hasn’t been entirely smooth since then, and sometimes it feels like its not very cool to not be cynical about politics, but I still like to wear my Obama t-shirt when I go for a ramble and to hell with the doubters. So I am very pleased when I am passed by a two guys in a van who beep and wave and don’t call me a faggot. And then I round the next bend and come across a man wearing a poncho and carrying a picnic basket. A poncho! If such things are possible, it seems to me that the south coast is still a happy place. Then I am passed by a ute with the number plate ‘JD’ (Jack Daniels?) Which of course is awesome too. In its own way.

That night at the gig a large, rugby-ish looking, man dances suggestively among the tables as SLK sing ‘Even Though I’m A Woman’. I wonder if he is a Bulli Boy.

Friday 8th July – The Factory, Marrickville This is it. The big Sydney show. I’ve got a few nerves tonight and so have a bit of a warm-up strum in the backstage stairwell. It turns out that stairwells have amazing acoustics and I start to enjoy its reverb-drenched sound. I must be enjoying it a bit too much because a ‘a punter’ wanders down to enquire whether it’s a free concert.

Its nice to play with a big pa, and I am starting to feel like perhaps these songs do hold their own like this. Because my new record ended up having lots of parts on it – strings, piano, drums etc – its easy to forget that the songs started like this – just acoustic guitar and singing. Its starting to feel like I’m doing ‘solo interpretations’ of my ‘solo record’.

The Factory suits SLK and they sound terrific. Their last song is a great cover of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Wild Heart’. There’s a bit when Holly and Sarah sing another beautiful harmony and then suddenly stop, leaving Sally’s voice suddenly by itself. It is, as Danny Allen would say, goosebump material. Its so great to see a band care so much about and leave so much room for singing.

Saturday 9th July – Marrickville, Sydney This one feels like a party night and there are various well-wishers, Sydney underworld identities and theatre lovies backstage afterwards, sifting through the ice to find the last of the rider. Holly generously hosts a party back at her place, the highlight of which for me is finding ‘Lump’ by ‘Presidents of the United States’ on her iPhone and getting a massive dancefloor reaction from it. I’m buzzing.

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