To All The Bands I’ve Loved Before

I’ve seen plenty of bands in my time.  Some great, some not so great.  (And, truth told, I’ve been in bands that fit both those descriptions.)  I’ve been sunburned, sodden, too hot, too cold, too tall and too short.  Sometimes I’ve been moved to sing along at the top of my lungs (only to be reminded by others that it wasn’t me they’d paid good money to hear.)  I’ve sacrificed sneakers and, possibly, my hearing, all for the pleasure of live music.  It was worth it.  Even now, the distinctive squelching sound of a shoe stepping on a beer-laden strip of Axminster sends a sense of nostalgia surging through my veins.  As interactions go, there’s nothing quite like a live musical performance.

My first encounter with live music was – if I’m being honest – probably at church.  That said, whilst it was undoubtedly live music, it was far from lively.  In fact, if I’m being completely honest, it was probably far closer to death than life.  Driven either by piano or organ, the congregation emitted a tuneless, joyless droning sound that swallowed whole anything resembling a melody.  Those who could sing didn’t stand a chance.  But despite its general tunelessness (definitely a word), at least singing was encouraged.  Given the results, though, that encouragement would have been better directed towards getting singing lessons.

Most of the congregants considered singing an unnatural act performed on Sundays as a form of cosmic punishment.  Atonement, if you will.  Mostly, they didn’t sing during the week and it really showed.  The hymn numbers were listed on a board beside the pulpit like lotto results and I would check the hymnal as soon as we were seated, hoping to be surprised or delighted.  It rarely happened.

The first live music performance that blew my mind clear off my shoulders occurred when I was about four years old.  Daryl Somers made an appearance at the Mornington Shopping Centre and it was pure awesomeness.  From a grand entrance that involved running down the up escalator, to throwing out chewing gum to an adoring audience; his explosive energy could have powered a village.  I’m not sure if I even knew who he was then.  I doubt very much that Daryl Somers remembers appearing at the Mornington Shopping Centre, but I, for one, will never forget it.

It’s awkward when you’re a teenager.  Not only do you have to suffer through a tidal wave of hormones, pimples and other hideous changes, it’s the moment that you develop a passion for live music, only to discover the bands you like only play in pubs.  I have friends who claim that from their early teens, they’d sneak out at night and manage to get into licensed venues to see the musical groups they loved, but that was never me.  Growing up in Tyabb meant it’d be a three-day hike just to get to a licensed venue.  Even when I was eighteen, I rarely got past the bouncer.  Something about my shoes not being up to scratch…

As seeing music in a licensed venue was out of the question, it meant that live music could only be experienced at all ages gigs.  Granted, the history of music is full of legendary bands who’d go out of their way to put on ‘all ages’ shows to ensure their loyal fans didn’t miss out, but I can’t recall any of them getting down to the Mornington Peninsula.  The only all-ages gigs available to me were connected to the local church youth group.  These bands – often American, always wholesome – played big venues like Festival Hall and it was the first time I’d experience that kind of volume.  To hear music is one thing.  To feel it is something different altogether.

There’s something powerful about a shared experience.  It’s a communion, if you will, not just between band and audience but between members of the audience.  It’s an amazing thing.  I’ve seen The Flaming Lips walk across an audience in a giant space bubble.  I’ve barely seen Damien Rice at all because he likes to keep the lighting to a minimum, presumably to keep costs down.  And I’ve seen You Am I more times than I can count in venues big and small.

I especially love an intimate gig.  I remember watching, spellbound, as Rufus Wainwright played to a small group of people in a basement.  And, earlier this year, we went to see Canadian folk-rock legends, ‘The Burning Hell’ play in a tiny venue in Northcote.  We were so close that we were practically sitting in with the band.  Which was all well and good until we ordered dessert and the only way the waitress could deliver it was walk through a saxophone solo.  It’s awkward, I think, when a band dedicates the next song to your Affogato.

Then there’s the experience of playing live music to an audience.  Two weeks ago, we played at the local folk club.  It was a theme night with the theme being ‘heavenly bodies’.  We decided to write our own song, which we called ‘The Lonely Planet’ about the seventh planet from the son, Uranus.  We’d never played to an audience before and the audience had never heard it before.  But they laughed.  And at the end they cheered.  And we felt a sense of exhilaration that’s almost impossible to describe.  Music is, without doubt, the food of love.  Probably an Affogato.

All Hail Me: Mega Bowling-Lord Extraordinaire

It was, to put it mildly, unexpected.  On an evening on which I anticipated keeping a very low profile, I ended up being crowned king and supreme ruler.  Had I known that a simple afternoon at a lawn bowls club would end with my coronation if not deification, I would probably have worn a better shirt.  But some are born to greatness.  Others have greatness thrust upon them.  And then there’s the rest of us for whom greatness just rolls along as it pleases until it comes to a gradual resting touch.  So it is with lawn bowls. 

This was the second time I’d ever set foot inside a bowls club.  The first was decades ago in St Kilda to see one of my all time favourite bands, You Am I, play.  Although they may well be terrific lawn bowlers for all I know, they stuck to playing rock music.  And, as music goes, it was a great gig but it wasn’t much of a sporting event.  Which, in retrospect, made my decision to dress in bowling whites all the more unfortunate.  I’ll only say that I was misinformed as the venue entry requirements.  Besides the ensuing mockery, I’ll simply say that bowling whites will always come off second best in a mosh pit.  Always.

But this time, my visit to a lawn bowls club was different.  This was no late night gig but an afternoon that would casually slip into the evening by which time spirits would be high and great sporting achievements would be honoured.  My partner plays football.  In fact, she plays football really, really well.  And this year, her football club’s end of season shindig was being held at a local bowling green.  Naturally, I went as her ‘plus one’. 

I say ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’ because I quickly learned that referring to God’s own game as ‘soccer’ is akin to referring to Penfold’s Grange as ‘go-juice’ whilst drinking it from a plastic sippy cup, and is something that only the most ignorant of neophytes would do.  I’ve also learned to refer to potato chips as ‘crisps’ and to ‘Eurovision’ as awesome.  There’s been a lot of talk, too, about the World Cup but, to be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around that one.  All I can tell you is that Meat Loaf won’t be playing at half time.  I know because I expressly asked.

The end of year knees-up was dedicated to celebrating the sporting achievements of the club, whatever form they took.  From great victories and bags of goals and glory, through to narrowly avoiding relegation – the teams within the club had experienced it all.  For my part, I was there as the partner, not the star attraction, which is the role I feel I was born to play.  In attending, my mission was simple: don’t get sunburned and don’t do or say anything embarrassing that would result in being disowned.  It was, without a doubt, a low bar.  As it happens, there was also a low bar directly behind the bowling green that was doing a roaring trade, but I took up a discreet position against a wall and watched.

Early on in the pandemic, I stopped drinking alcohol.  I’m not sure why.  It was event without drama – there was no bottom of the barrel (or bottle) moment.  Rather, it was a gradual loss of interest that was hurried along by a general sense that the world was spiraling out of control.  That was more than two years ago, and I’m still very much enjoying life without it.  But when it comes to lawn bowls, would being sober give me an unfair advantage?

We were broken up into teams.  One of our players had played the game before and another had seen the movie ‘Crackerjack’.  Looking around the room, some of the teams were large, loud and were limbering up.  Given the warm up exercises they were doing, I could only assume that some of them were intending to bowl over-arm off a long run-up.  I was nervous.

I’ll admit there was a learning curve.  One that saw my bowl skive off the green and into the path of someone else’s before high-tailing it to the gutter.  But the next one was better and, by some miracle, we won our match.  And the next one and the one after that.  Within an hour, we were in the grand final.  The atmosphere was electric.  The other team was taking things very seriously indeed, but our team held its nerve and we ultimately prevailed. 

As the medal declaring me ‘Lawn Bowls Champion – 2022’ was being hung around my neck, it occurred to me that I may have made a mistake.  Attending a sporting club function as the ‘plus one’ and designated driver, I had no business winning anything.  Much less winning against a group of highly competitive humans.  Mind you, I suspect I’ll have to return the medal once the results of the random drug test come back and it’s revealed that I was stone cold sober.

I wasn’t the only winner that night.  As I sat at our table, I watched as my partner collected a ‘golden boot’ award.  Unlike my medal, her trophy was hard earned and richly deserved.  It was quite a night.  And if you’d asked me a year ago whether being a ‘plus one’ at a sports team function held in a bowling club would be a glorious experience, I’d have thought you were mad.  It’s funny what time does.