Here’s the story of last weekend’s Apollo Bay music festival, in which Tess McKenna and her band do battle with multiple manifestations of Murphy’s Law, and still have a rollicking good time.
First, Karen had a flat tyre while picking up my kit in a complicated logistical manoevre of which I won’t bore you with the details. I took the train from Footscray to Geelong to join them – my first ride on a country train for years. Then we jumped into the car with the gear in a hired trailer on the back, and drove the back way, as it’s called, through the Otway National Park to the coast. It was a beautiful golden autumn day, short-sleeves weather. The sun was shining, the birds were singing…
Remember this was Anzac day, and Murphy’s law gave us a carload of the Worst Bogans Ever at a couple of stoplights. What does “Buy your own fucking trailer, ya cunts!” mean? These people are a mystery. Bitter, obviously.
This was our driving music. So beautiful.
When we got to Apollo Bay, we had to register to get the keys to our acommodation and our blue Sparkle Princess wristbands which automagically allowed us into the music venues. Karen went to register while Tess pulled over to the roadside with the hazard lights and music on (this will become relevant later). Karen seemed to be taking rather a long time and eventually Tess’s mobile went. Then there were some variations on “you’re joking!” which didn’t bode well.
Apparently we had been bumped from our accommodation in the Star of the Sea Convent (by the Choir of Hard Knocks) because [bungle by persons who shall remain nameless to avoid possible litigation]. Alternative accomodation cost $400 for the two nights. BUT!…
We didn’t have to pay for it because… the festival organisers had already uncovered this post in an accidental google and had proof that we had originally asked for two nights.
The blog saves the day! In your face, people who scoff at the blogotariat!
Then Tess discovered that the battery had gone flat while we waited with the hazard lights going, so she had to call the RACV.
After which, we drove to our alternative accomodation, which was enticingly named…
TWIN PEAKS. (Cue ominous music.)
Because if you are hiring little holiday flats for people to come and have fun in your holiday town, you want to give them names which are redolent of weird and evil small towns where the dead bodies of young women turn up wrapped in plastic and everyone has a murky secret. Of course you do!
Oh, and there were two Rastafarian drummers who were also without a room and with whom we shared the first night, but they were the quietest Rastafarian drummers you’ll ever meet.
The next day it was still warm, golden and beautiful. I strolled down to the main drag, had some eggs and toast and checked out some bands who were already playing. Every schoolkid with a violin was out busking; Damn, I should have made Girlchild keep up with those lessons!
We were doing two gigs that day: 2 o’clock in the Apollo Bay Hotel, then 7 at the Acoustic Club. We’d had a look at both the night before, and the hotel was pretty grouse, but the Acoustic club was… very acoustic. A dear old Scout hall thing tucked away in a back street, it was very live and cavernous, the only sound dampening being the hundreds of metres of polar fleece worn by the largely over-60s audience. At least that was the impression we got from seeing Martin Stephenson there. We weren’t sure if the venue would cope with drums and bass at all.
Tess and Karen warm up at Twin Peaks before going on stage at Apollo Bay
The Hotel was where we could make some noise and Tess McKenna and the Shapiros ravished the crowd with material from Tess’s back catalogue, plus some new songs which aren’t out yet. After we played, Chris from Skipping Girl Vinegar approached me to borrow a cymbal. Apparently it wasn’t for him but for a sheepish looking young bearded guy who was “in the band after us”. I was somewhat severe on Young Bearded guy, saying “you will look after it won’t you. I’ll probably never afford another one.” (It’s a very nice relic from the palmy days of not having to feed and clothe children.) Turns out “the band after us” was Dog Trumpet. Now, I had a file archived in the back section of my brain to the effect “must get to see Dog Trumpet”, but the front part of my brain could not remember why this was. A quick La Perouse of the performer bios reminded me that DT is mainly Peter Doherty and Reg Mombasa, aka the Mentals, a band that formed the soundtrack to much of my young late-seventies and early-eighties life. Young Bearded Guy on drums was Doherty’s son. If Chris-from-Skipping Girl Vinegar had said “the (ex) Mentals want to borrow your cymbal,” I’d have given them the whole kit, and maybe my firstborn as well.
It was a strange trip back in time to sit hardly more than a metre away from Reg Mombasa playing Berserk Warriors on the very same baby blue Stratocaster he’s playing in this clip. Very battered and pockmarked now, and covered with sticky tape, a bit like us. Legendary!
It had started to rain and the temperature had started its descent from “think I’ll wear a sleeveless top” to “I think it’s snowing on the hills”. (It was.) This had the excellent effect of driving people into the pub. By the time we saw Skipping Girl Vinegar, it was so packed it was physically uncomfortable, so I left, but they’re high on my list to see some other time. By the way, what is it with people who TALK LOUDLY THROUGH THE ENTIRE SET? Even though their conversation implies they’re longtime fans? Really, people, shut the fuck up.
The gig at the Acoustic Club was difficult because we had to be so quiet, but we managed. We took it back to brushes and nothing much else drum wise so it mainly showcased Tess and Karen’s voices. Technically it was a bit of a strain as the acoustic guitar decided it was sooooo coooold it wasn’t going to stay in tune for more than a minute.
Dallas Frasca at the Great Ocean Hotel
Another act I want to see again is Dallas Frasca. She’s a mighty red hot mama with a voice and stage presence like Nina Hagen meets Robert Plant. She’s a reminder of how metal grew out of Delta blues and she plays right on the interstice. Don’t be deluded by the fact that she plays as a duo with Her Gentleman, Jeff Curran, on dobro and plays an acoustic guitar – this is no Friday night down at the folk club.
I must learn how to do that bottleneck thing.
Out in the street, by now the underage binge drinkers were out in force, as if determined to get their faces on ACA. Lots of slurring and staggering and nearly falling out of the extreme bumster jeans. Tess dismissed this phenomenon: “Townies: they’re all like that.” She means people from a country town, not the usual meaning of city folk, having grown up on a horse property near Sale. So much for those unctuous real estate ads touting the Country Lifestyle to keep your kids pure and safe from Teh Evil city.
We finished up the night at the Bowls club with what have to be Melbourne’s fastest band, The Band Who Knew Too Much. These guys have a stylish mix of jazz, ska, gypsy and a few other ingredients. It’s my opinion that the Cat Empire owes quite a debt to these guys, but then I’m no music critic. They’ve been around literally for decades (and they also have the distinction of being the band who played at SO’s and my wedding.) You’d think they would have worn their fingers down to stumps by now, but they’re the Iron Men of Australian music.
TBWNTM make all the false teeth fall out at the Bowls club
After that we fell into bed and then the long drive home – here’s the board at Geelong station. The lettering says “Memory OK”.
And so they are.