RIP John Gill – a man who left a great signature on the sheet music of life

I was saddened to discover yesterday, accidentally, that local  busker-around-Perth and ragtime piano virtuoso John Gill had died in April. I obviously missed the news, because there was significant coverage at the time, and deservedly so.

John was one of those people who had been on the scene in Perth for so long that he was no longer a novelty when you saw him in Murray Street or Fremantle, or any shopping centre, but rather a comforting, familiar and friendly reminder of the warmth that comes when a stranger shares his or her talent with other strangers. It didn’t matter where I saw him, I always stopped for a minute and marvelled at his dexterity.

I remember years ago taking the time to read the loosely framed note he had attached to the side of his piano, the details of which I don’t recall exactly, other than they let the reader know that he was a world-renowned ragtime player, and he was raising money for yet another trip to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, or some other get together of like-minded musicians.

More recently, the boys and I watched him perform a couple of times in the city and also, memorably, at the Royal Show in 2009 (we just missed his performance in 2010, much to our disappointment).  When he finished his set, based at the exit of the Agricultural Pavillion, the boys went up to him with our donation and Blondie asked him how long he’d been playing. With a smile John told him he’d started when he was 7, which Blondie told him was how old he was when he’d started. John encouraged him to keep practising. I remember saying to Blondie afterwards, “see, keep up the practice and you could play like that one day.” Blondie was inspired.

While I was looking for further coverage of the news of John’s death, I found this lovely piece from Lee-Ann Khoh who had written a piece about busking including John, just before he died, and she has two great video links on her post which will bring it all back if you would like a reminder of his talent.

I’d like to think that in some small, ongoing way through my donations, I helped John, along with thousands of others, to pursue his passion and no doubt inspire many others to keep at it, while bringing such simple joy to those passers-by who took a moment to enjoy the sound, that glorious sound.

And now I reckon he and Scott Joplin are banging out some fantastic duets somewhere. Oh, to be able to hear them.

Haiku for international relations (thanks Edwin)

War! What is it good
for? Absolutely nothing!
Say it again! War!

Huh! Yeah, yeah, what is
it good for? Absolutely
Nothing. Hear me now!

I am a Rockwiz legend – nay, poindexter!

Along with a few hundred other lucky people across this wide brown land, I have experienced the thrill of being one of the ‘freaks’ from the audience at a Rockwiz show. For those who know and love this gorgeous, funky, well-oiled machine of a music quiz program on SBS television, you’ll know this makes me special. So very special.

It happened last year when Rockwiz unplugged the amps from the Espy in St Kilda and went on tour around Australia, and me and the hubby went along to the first Perth show.

Truth be told, I’d been slack in getting tickets.  But, in a fantastic stroke of luck, I discovered on their Facebook page that because the first three shows were sold out, or nearly, they were about to open bookings for a fourth and final show.  Even better, this show was going to be the day before the first show was scheduled, on account of them returning a day early from a mid-tour break, so they would be fresh as fresh musicians can be after a month off. On the day bookings opened, I jumped on the phone early and managed to get two tickets in the second row – centre!*

Before I go on, I should say that I didn’t go with the expectation that I would end up on stage at the Perth Concert Hall that evening, but I was prepared to give it a go if the opportunity presented itself.  I also don’t want to bore you with a minute by minute account of the experience (I do really, because every one of them was brilliant), suffice it to say there were highlights:

  • I won a ‘wild card’ entry fair and square from Brian Nankervis after answering the most answers correctly out of our huddle of mothers in the foyer (it was Mother’s Day, after all) as opposed to the wild card I also got for participating in their Facebook competition. Bit embarrassing to have had two shots at getting on stage when others had missed out.  Tough luck.
  • Being whittled down from the original 24 brought on stage, to the four who ended up competing – and being the only female.  Yeah, rock chicks rock! Yeah! Rock on. And that.
  • Hanging around backstage signing consent forms, full of adrenaline, being introduced to Julia and getting ‘the drill’ on what’s going to happen, and being soooo cool with it. Oh yes, sooo cool.  Rock cool.  Actually, I was a mix of wide-eyed starfucker and ‘been there’ musician**. Kind of.  I think.
  • Julia is gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. I would turn straight for her if I was a gay man.
  • Brian is lovely, genuinely lovely and respectful of the contestants, and wore an incredibly crisp and attractively fitted pink shirt. It was that memorable.
  • There’s a very good reason why Dugald is the housewives’ choice, and pheromones have something to do with it. I’m sure his singlets bring women into heat.
  • The Rockwiz Orchestra is brilliant – watching them work together, up close, was an unforgettable Australian music experience.
  • Having Deborah Conway as one of our musicians was such a treat – even if, in an agonising starfucker moment, I did make a dick of myself backstage by getting mixed up with the film clip for It’s only the beginning and her having to correct me (okay, so the Royal Botanic Gardens can easily be mixed up with some suburban golf course … can’t they).
  • Discovering Henry Wagons who is clever and funny and a great performer with a great voice – and a contributor to what is the real highlight which cannot be over-emphasised: I am a bona fide Rockwiz legend.  Don’t believe me?  This, from Wagons himself on the Rockwiz blog (which I’ve just realised has me in the picture behind Henry and Abbe May!):

For those not familiar with RocKwiz, the show begins with the introduction of the two surprise “celebrity” guests via a “who am I?”- style question. It’s very much in the style of the Sale of the Century fame game. For example:
“I was born in 1953.”
“I have a husky voice.”
“I did a shit version of ‘Dock of the Bay.’”
Contestant buzzes
“Is it Michael Bolton?”
“Correct! Here he is!”

Out trots Michael Bolton, and plays ‘Dock of the Bay’.

Minutes before the show, I was in the dressing room out the back, sure of the fact that no one was going to guess who I was, and I’d be humiliated in front of the whole concert hall, night after night, for the next four shows. The ample piles of snacks and booze did not make up for that kind of repeated psychological trauma. I sipped on a couple of whiskey and Cokes. Close to the moment of truth, I was standing next to Deborah Conway. With several hits to her name, she’s forever etched in everyone’s mind as part of Aussie music history. As for me, I could count on my fingers the number of times our video for ‘Goodtown’ was played on Rage. I was shitting my dacks when my “who am I?” question began.

Thank God for kooky MC Brian Nankervis and his pre-show, audience filtration quiz. Every night before the main event starts, he picks the cream of the intellectual crop from the crowd to be audience panelists. To my surprise, one of the chosen über-dorks [um, that would be me, after some suggestive education by Brian pre-show] guessed my name and I trotted into the lights and did my shit.

The opening night went ridiculously quickly. I performed my song ‘Drive All Night’ to open the show and answered a few questions, although I left most of the responses to the highly capable female poindexter on my team. Thanks largely to her, we edged through to victory over the Conway crew (yessss!).

Do you need any more proof?  Some days the music reservoir tap is open, and some days it ain’t, and that night it just flooded out.  And I don’t care what the Urban Dictionary (yes, I did have to look it up, just to make sure) says about being a poindexter, I like to think Henry used it in a nice way, confessing at the end that he is, after all, a “nerd and proud glasses wearer at that.”

The only other proof I should offer is a photo, so here I am for the final bow with my fellow contestants, Brian and Julia, Deborah and Henry, and Abbe May (who was also hot hot, by the way) and Dom Mariani (ex The Stems).

* my arrival on stage meant that Mr JB ended up on his lonesome for the evening … but at least it was the second row – centre!

And now it’s time for some music, I think.  It seems only right.

See also Goodtown, which demonstrates why Henry’s bass player is called Steve “Harmony” Hassett. Bloody noice.

And …

Where on earth did I get the Royal Botanic Gardens from?  Must have been the video clip of my life at the time 🙂

I am a Rockwiz legend.

** in a former life I was a [classically trained] percussionist, and spent many nervous minutes backstage at the PCH as a teenager-and-young-music-person waiting to go and knock’em dead with some timpani or tambourine solo with the WA Youth Concert Band, or occasionally WAYO, in the 80s. Those bloody Shell Concerts.

* my arrival on stage meant that Mr JB ended up on his lonesome for the evening … but at least it was the second row – centre!

A starfucker at 46 gives thanks to YouTube

My good friend Oldie encouraged a starfucker* habit in the late eighties and early nineties by procuring for me the signatures and scribbles of so-called famous people (what celebrities used to be called) while bartending at one of Perth’s theatres, or seeing them at other cultural events.

It was actually a bit of a game, being daggy, and starfucking with tongue firmly in cheek.  I remember receiving a Leunig mug with a lovely scribble on it, which my flatmate in St Kilda inadvertently washed off while doing the dishes. I also had an almost intelligible and very strange comment from Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn, who I thought was very cute (and obviously enigmatic) at the time.

I was so removed from these people – they were never that real that you would ever imagine meeting them under equal circumstances of social and cultural standing. That was sort of the unofficial rule of the game.

In the ensuing 20 years, and having given public life a nudge during my brief time as an ABC radio broadcaster, the whole starfucking thing is very interesting to have been part of from both sides. 

I remember clearly a few occasions when, while with the ABC, friends would introduce me to their friends at a social gathering being sure to include the ABC connection. It was if my employer and media status made all the difference to who I was as a person.  This continues to be a valuable insight into the nature of fame (however tenuously connected or shallow) and judging people’s motives for your attention.

Knowing all this, on a rare night out last year I had a bona fide starfucking incident, which almost rendered me speechless (difficult for some of you to believe, I know).  I had a wonderful evening at the Burswood Theatre watching Chris Cheney (The Living End), Josh Pyke, Tim Rogers (You Am I) and Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon) performing the entire Beatles White Album to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release.  It was a brief tour run around Australia, and there was only one Perth performance.

Without going into a full review, or even trying to find the words to capture how musically uplifted I felt at the end of it, it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever been to – and I’ve seen a lot in my time.  The highlight was undoubtedly Chris Cheney’s guitar solo in ‘While my guitar gently weeps.’

Afterwards, my friend and I enjoyed a debrief drink at the Casino bar, and after waving her off I made my way back to the car park.

And who should be walking towards me as I headed to the escalator? None other than Chris Cheney and Tim Rogers.  They were on their own, they were right in front of me, and my opportunity was there.  What did I do?  I said this, to Chris Cheney:

 “Your guitar solo in ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ left me in a heightened state of physical pleasure.” 

He raised his eyebrows, looked bemused, and said, “Thanks a lot,”  and he and Tim continued on their way.

I thought about how old and tired I looked (ie totally unattractive to cool rocker dudes like them) and tried to keep it together while I rang my friend to tell her of my encounter.

I also consoled myself that at least I’d given Mr Cheney a comment that he might remember, and that in years to come he could recall with his mates somewhere, “There was this Banger Sister chick at some gig who said this weird thing about being aroused or something,” and that made me feel better.

Then today I found the said guitar solo on YouTube.  It’s crap quality from a fellow audience member’s phone video, but I am sooo grateful, because obviously he/she found it as memorable as me and needed to share. Up until now I have felt so totally impotent in my ability to recount just how fantastically fantastic it was, and YouTube has allowed me, vicariously, to at least attempt the pleasure transfer.

In fact I found two clips – one is the full 6-ish minutes but from a distance with shocking sound; while the second is from a spot closer to the stage (and just in front of me), about a third of the way in before the aforementioned pleasure-heightening solo gets rocking, and better sound quality.

Thank you, social media revolution.  Thank you, Chris Cheney.  Here’s the second:

Can you imagine what that was like live, five rows back, with full acoustics?

And if you don’t believe me about how good it was, here’s what other people thought.

* one does not have to indulge in any physical activity with said star to be a starfucker. Just wanted to set that straight.

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I had a vision of Mariah Carey … or how else do I explain it?

Okay, so in the Hottest 100 post below, I made mention of pulling out a Mariah Carey CD.

I can feel a justification coming on.

When ‘Vision of Love’ came out, I was quite taken with her voice – I mean, really, she does have a pretty amazing voice. What she does with it is a separate issue.

Anyway, when our house was burgled in 1995, four months after moving into it and six months after we got married, the bastards took all our CDs.

Here’s the unexplainable bit. We wrote out a list of all the CDs we could remember for insurance, about 100, and I’d remembered we had Mariah Carey. Now, by this stage, I could have thought, “Here’s my chance: let’s substitute her CD with something else I’d rather listen to.” I mean, who was going to know? It was a few years down the track from Vision of Love, after all.

But no. Not only did I feel compelled to replace Mariah honestly, but for some unbelievably unfathomable reason, I got another one as well. What can I say.

I don’t think either of them had been played until last week. I was really desperate for some background music while the vacuum cleaner was on. It was just there when I opened the drawer. I enjoyed about 30 seconds of ‘Vision of Love’ before I flicked the switch, and from then on it was just bass and high-pitched whale calls over 1200W of Volta. All right?

And the real crime is that years down the track, I STILL remember CDs which are missing: my wonderful Nino Rota compilation including the theme to La Dolce Vita (now out of print), Willy de Ville’s solo album produced by Mark Knopfler which includes the track which was our wedding dance (ditto), and even bloody Tim Finn’s solo album (who can forget ‘Fraction too much friction’? But, ‘I hope I never’ gets me still.). Actually, I still haven’t replaced that one.

Bloody Mariah and her ridiculously small waist and her even more ridiculous octave range.

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