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Under Western Skies: Broken Hill (Show #5) 

Ah holidays! Aren’t they the best. You’re all stuck in your cars on the way to work in the city at 5kmph (or stuck behind a caravan on a country road doing 75kmph - I can assure you, both are on the same level of frustration) 

Me? I’m driving 3200km by myself to play some music to people who’ve never heard of my band. 

Granted it’s probably not the thought most of you conjured up when I first mentioned holidays but anyway, I shall get on with this postcard’s prose. 
I was so excited I couldn’t sleep, the last run of the tour was upon us and it was a true road trip - far west, and then a reasonable distance north… I firmly believe that the grant we got was based on a willingness to travel to the places that original music has forgotten and I was looking forward to it like you wouldn’t believe. 
That excitement was somewhat tempered by getting to the hire place on the Wednesday morning to discover that the 3 seater van that I’d booked through the website was actually a two seater - “yeah, it’s pretty close to that model” said the helpful customer service man and, I can’t argue with that from a numerical standpoint but in a real life scenario 3 men (even one of my diminutive stature) into 2 seats does not go, thus began a solo road trip. 

There’s beauty in a 10 hour drive, if you’re prepared to embrace the experience, soundtracked perfectly and plenty of thinking time and it’s a reality of living in regional Australia that if you want to get anywhere you need to give yourself a bit of time. I’ll confess to not being the biggest fan of the Cobar to Wilcannia stretch, the straight roads can’t find you wandering off until a stray goat brings your focus sharply back. 

I was listening to a podcast that was dissecting Kanye West’s “Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” - a great album in my opinion and it’s perfect for dissecting (I’ve used that word twice now, probably ‘cause that’s the name of the podcast too - check it out if that sort of thing interests you). 
Back through Nyngan I went, with memories of that gig still giving me warm gooey feelings, through Cobar with the sausage roll I bought from the servo for lunch giving me other not so good feelings, through Wilcannia where I implore you to stop if you have a chance and look past what A Current Affair has told you about the place and onwards to Broken Hill and a bigger bluer sky. 

Can I just say I love Broken Hill, not many places would be worth a ten hour drive but this place is - it’s enigmatic, a cool, cultured place in the middle of nowhere and I appreciate the efforts of the artistic community there to keep breath in the lungs. To quote that great movie line, “it’s just the vibe”. 
From staying at playing at “the Priscilla pub” (The Palace Hotel) to Dallas’ favourite day of the tour, exploring Silverton’s Mad Max Museum, there’s just so much to take in. 

Thursday was gig day. An early morning trip to the ABC to play live was almost derailed by local politics and broken embargoes but eventually we got there, only realising when I was in the green room that the guitar I’d brought with me was in a different tuning to any of the songs from the new record (preparation 101 people!). 

Back to the Palace and Tim was excited as soon as he saw the sequined curtains on stage - every place brings a new experience so you appreciate the little things. My words can’t do justice to the set-up in the room we played, ceiling murals and just a beautiful room. 
I got to test out a few new solo songs for the opening set, and the extremely talented Aimee Volkofsky joined us as well for some local flavour. Playing a Thursday night in a place like this makes you feel like a real rock band, and the gig was great but you’ve probably read enough descriptions of our live shows to do you for a while, but they say that the value is in the journey not the destination… and this tour has definitely been a journey. Let’s meet again soon Broken Hill shall we? (Just leave the 3am fire alarm in your back pocket next time!) 


Under Western Skies: Nyngan (Show #4) 

Gig days are always fun, except when they are potentially not the most fun thing on that day. We’d known for a while that Dubbo was going to have a beer festival (with live music!) on the same day as our Nyngan gig. You know that certain kind of paranoia that all the cool stuff happens when you’re not around? Yeah I had a case of that. 

I had a foolproof plan to try 2 nice craft beers before heading off - which was blown up by the first sample I was given when the brewer says to me, seeing the satisfied look on my post sip face, “you like that? Doesn’t taste like it’s 13% alcohol does it?” 

Dejected, and potentially over the limit from one mouthful of hard lemonade I waited. If there hadn’t been a giant game of Connect 4 who knows what I would have done. 

...but I know you clicked this link to hear all about Nyngan so here we go... 

As one of the early supporters of this idea I was keen to give Nyngan a great show but I have to admit a level of trepidation at playing at a Golf Club. Not the most common bedfellows Golf and Rock & Roll. 

After easing audiences into our sets earlier in the tour, we adopted what we’ve titled the “Punch Nyngan in the face” setlist not with any ill will of course, simply that we’d come out of the gates with our loudest, rockingest songs (that they don’t know)... I mentioned this was akin to punching someone in the face upon first meeting them... my fears however were dismissed with a hearty chorus from the other band members of “well let’s punch Nyngan in the face!” 

You know what else helped? 200 people turning up with rock & roll in mind - as Eraser kicked things off my fears disappeared. These were the nights I had in mind when this tour was proposed, and would be hard to top. Playing outside, under a western sky. 

By the time the guttural riffs of Mannequin had drifted off into the night the high was well and truly established. 

One guy said he felt the bass rumble at his house and was drawn to walk the 6 blocks to the venue, another, effusive in his praise said that it was so good he bought a CD - and he doesn’t even have a CD player... can every gig be like this please?

Under Western Skies: Armatree (Show #3) 

Many people would say don’t rely on Apple Maps anyway but whatever, I’m a bit of a fan boy (this is my opinion only, definitely not shared by the rest of the band - for the record) but anyway... 

What I can safely say is that you should remember, unlike me, that Apple Maps requires mobile service to work and if your tour date is in a place with no mobile reception and you haven’t previously worked out where you’re going there may be a problem. 

So as deep and meaningful conversation between myself and opm drummer Dave turned into, “is this the turnoff? I’m sure it’s here somewhere” an unwelcome feeling of apprehension crept in - if we can’t find the venue, would the audience? Would we be playing in the middle of nowhere to no one? 

I feel like I need to contextualise this - we were heading for Armatree, which the census qualifies as a “suburb” of regional NSW. Busby Marou played at this same pub 6 months earlier and had a crowd in the multiple hundreds. 

Perhaps that’s not so impressive to you folk who are used to taking the stage at Wembley but when I point out that Armatree’s population is also in the multiple hundreds (284, officially) that makes a great pub crowd even more impressive. Especially when there’s no local paper, no local radio and we’re not playing songs that anyone knows. 

I counted roughly 50 people, which is pretty good for a Friday night, 1/6 of the population of the “suburb” - if that happened in Sydney you’d be playing to a crowd of 500,000, so I’m calling success. 

Another thing I learned is to make sure you look at your set list before dedicating a song. My “thanks for coming, thanks for supporting original music in regional Australia” spiel confused more than a few people (as well as the rest of the band) when I started singing the chorus of our song Don Draper (“You’re making me maaaaad maaaan”) but at least it gave me room for a semi-humorous mea culpa. It wouldn’t be the last time I made that mistake... 

Thanks to Simon Allen & The Unpaid Millions as well as The Exchange for supporting us. Simon even had people asking to pose for photos with him after the gig. Maybe he needs a lesson in not stealing the limelight... totes jokes... we’re more than happy to ride their coat tails :)

Under Western Skies: Coonamble (Show #2) 

There was a fear that my skills in logistics and timetabling had let me down again (honestly they are not skills that I sharpen with any regularity) when I got a call a few weeks out from the Coonamble gig. 

“There’s a Rotary Ball on the same night” 

Of course I laughed because in my experience this was the sort of thing you needed ID to get into - that ID being a seniors card - which, according to Spotify (surprisingly) isn’t our most popular demographic. 

Lest I rest on my mistaken assumptions I was quickly informed that oh no, Coonamble Rotary is different... of course as it turns out different means “directly appealing to the exact same crowd that one would normally expect would support a night of live music” 

Damn. It. 

I hurriedly put in a call to the Bucking Bull (aka the venue of the unbelievably rocking rock show about to hit town) and decided to play along with a game of publican knows best when one of original music in the west’s new best friends Trevor assured me it wouldn’t matter. 

Fast forward to the day of - fresh from a moderately well attended gig in Coonabarabran we were prepared to play for an empty beer garden like it was Wembley Stadium. 

It wasn’t a lack of faith I promise but more that feeling that sometimes comes over songwriters when there’s this sneaky feeling that no one will show. Dave and Dallas took the van and gear via Baradine and Tim and I cruised through the Warrumbungle National Park for a spot of bird watching. 

What? That’s a legitimate exercise to engage in on a rock & roll tour! 

Technically it was Tim doing the watching (he’s really very good, pick his brain about it) while I asked annoying questions and probably made far too much noise in environments where that wasn’t exactly the recipe for success. 

A few dirt roads later we hit Coonamble and cruised past the pub - and what is out the front? A big effing chalkboard with “LIVE BANDS ONE NIGHT ONLY” and the line-up. OK, so the pub was excited, this might be OK. 

We stopped downtown, imposing ourselves on the only open cafe at a distinctly non “lunchy” time and losing the battle to have them turn the fryers back on we walked out with 4 chicken sandwiches, having heard the people behind the counter talking about “the big gig tonight” unbeknownst that it was us that was the big gig. That was enough fuel for my ego - the optimism meter was starting to flicker... 

Joined by our great mates Civil Hands, Mannequin and Simon Allen there was one thing we knew - there would be at least 15 people there ‘cause we all weren’t going anywhere else. 

A few early birds put that at around 25 and I was happy, telling myself that it was a pretty good number for this tour of songs you’ve never heard. 

(Here them here!)

You know they even gave us a green room to relax in (Trevor, you are a legend!) and I don’t recall it happening but by the time the opening D chord to Magpie was ringing out the crowd had swelled to a hundred or more. Estimates from the pub put it near 200 by the end of the night. 

The pattern of losing myself in the set continued so the memories are fuzzy but I know there was singing and dancing... I need to give a shout out to the two incredible people who pretty much danced all night for the bands and got other people up to do the same. 

OK, I’ll admit, occasionally I’m prone to the use of hyperbole but if I said this was one of my favourite gigs ever I wouldn’t be stringing you along. Coonamble, you’ve outdone yourselves and it was an absolute pleasure to play for you. Until next time! 


Under Western Skies: Coonabarabran (Show #1) 

As I was flying into Dubbo that Friday afternoon, content in the knowledge that I had completely avoided the responsibility of packing the tour van (I do have a little bit of lead singer disease after all) it struck me, “we’re going on tour!” 

I like to think I’m a rock star sometimes but I’m almost 40 and have never been on tour. What’s that all about? 

Barely fitting my remaining gear into Tim’s car (do I really need two tuner pedals? Yes, I do!) we started the trek north to Coonabarabran. I have fun memories of Coonabarabran, it felt like longer in the family car when I was 10 but a 90 minute trip to hang out in a dinosaur themed park is right up there with my favourite childhood memories. It may have cost 20 cents to make the T-Rex roar but it was worth so much more than that… I miss you Miniland… 

Anyway, time for a road trip, on with the tunes! Except not, because despite a CD being clearly visible in the CD player in Tim’s car, pressing eject could only elicit a “No Disc” message. Was it trying to tell us something? I don’t think so but it was frustrating none the less (for Tim) because any silence gives me the opportunity to fill it with diatribes about the music industry, politics and the state of education – sometimes even a combination of the three riveting subjects… 

I’m sure the CD player will magically be fixed next time. 

The venue awaits. The only place fitting enough for an unknown band playing unknown songs at loud volume – the local Bowlo. I can’t fault the CBC for their support, they even let us park on the grass, which is the ultimate sign of respect (I gather). 

With 4 sets of hands and basically no idea what we were doing we started to assemble the PA. And all went swimmingly as far as I could tell, although I was doing a lot of pretending to be busy so I didn’t have to carry the subs. Banner up, instruments tuned and ready to go, schnitzels ordered and perhaps a beer or two to calm the nerves. It was time for the main event… the meat raffles. 

In all the excitement, Tim and Dave invested their per diems in dreams of a meaty reward, exactly what we would do with 10kg of fresh fillet steak if they won had not yet been considered, perhaps the plan was to let them roast in the Coonamble sun the following day like we all would? 

Righto – time for some music to calm the carnivorous hordes. Brad Haling sir, you are up! Only problem was, having plugged the PA in (we assumed) correctly in a slight state of panic we didn’t test it and now there was no sound. NO SOUND! That’s the only thing a PA exists for, to give sound and this one gave none… thankfully plugging the cables into where they really went instead of just where we thought they went fixed this. 

Brad serenaded us with his gravelly folk tunes and women and children cheered (and men too I gather… I couldn’t hear anything, stress had robbed me of most of my senses… and this was only Day #1!) 

Mannequin were next, hitting the stage in acoustic mode, very fine tunes not at all assisted by our inability to provide anything in the way of background music for the set change aside from some sub-bass sound that approximated being locked in the boot of a car doing midnight mainies. Still having class support acts paid off again as the night was righted and the mood was set for our… um… set. 

Honestly I can’t remember that much from the performance. Still struggling with sound I begged Scott from Mannequin to fix it (which probably only he could, and did) and we’d just play. I swallowed my heart, my life flashed before my eyes (or perhaps it was the kitchen light being turned off) and I took out my in ear monitors (rookie error) and we played. 

I thought it had gone about as well as we could have expected until our second to last song where we were joined by Churchy, friend and great supporter of the band since day #1, local hero and stellar guitarist for a guest spot. All of the sudden the phones came out. I’ve never had 7 cameras recording my performance before… and they weren’t this time either , they were on Adrian so I tried to photobomb him as many times as possible… it was a triumphant moment and a pleasure to have him on our stage. 

Pretty good for first night jitters – look out Coonamble you (and we) don’t know just what might happen next!