Tag Archives: ollie

Australia week one

Adelaide to Perth. All electronic devices should now be switched off. Keep your tray tables in their upright and locked position. Push the metal ends together until they click. There’s a light and a whistle for attracting attention.

On the surface, being a flight attendant may seem like a glamorous job: you get paid to fly all over the world. If you dig a little deeper, it seems a lot more boring: you fly around the world and stand up in front of a few hundred people and say exactly the same thing you said yesterday to a few hundred different people. Read that last sentence back: it also serves as a pretty accurate description of what it’s like to be on tour in a band. We have a lot in common with the flyboys, but we have slightly cooler jargon. Gig. Soundcheck. Backstage. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Ollie is one row back and across the aisle from me, describing to Steph (the merch girl (or “merchant” if you prefer) on this tour, not to be confused with Stéph, the lighting guy on this tour) the various schools of thought on causality in relation to time travel. That is, whether doing stuff in the past should effect the future. Ollie assures us time travel is possible, though he always seems to skirt around the issues of what machinery is required to do it, and where one can get this machinery. Nevertheless, he gets nerd kudos for being able to explain it all without relating anything to events in Back to the Future or Back to the Future II. Also, his right arm is currently in a cast. It’s a futuristic gunmetal-grey cast. Last night I said it made him look like a professional ten-pin bowler, but now, in light of all his time travel discussion, he looks a lot more like a piano-playing android from the future. This may sound a bit far-fetched, but it has a lot more in common with the truth than my professional ten-pin bowler theory.

By now you might be wondering why Ollie’s arm is in a cast. If so, you obviously haven’t yet heard what happened on the day of the Canberra gig. If so, you obviously haven’t read about it on Twitter. Congratulations: you’re a credit to your species. In short…

Actually, bugger that. Twitter, with its 150-byte limit, is clearly the forum for “in short” accounts of things that took hours or days to unfold. This is not Twitter, so I’m going to give this story the elbow room it deserves. Let’s take it from the top.

Day one. And two. The Palace Theatre, Melbourne. The sign out the front says “Established 1912″. This is confusing for anybody who knows that
a) the place was called the Metro for a long, long, long time, and
b) there was another venue in St Kilda called The Palace until very, very, very recently.
If you can ignore both of these, you’ll feel the nostalgia settling on your shoulders as you walk in the front door of the building. Honestly though, this place is very far removed from the Metro. If you don’t like the idea of going to see your favourite band at the Metro, you really should give the Palace a chance. They’ve stripped out all the shiny Metro 90s nightclub decor, removed that bar downstairs that takes up the whole dancefloor, and best of all, that weird second balcony with the glass in front of it no longer has glass in front of it. It’s beautiful in there. With three balconies dripping with old-world charm, it’s a cavernous-yet-inviting room with a enormous PA.

Day three: fly to Canberra, drive for two-and-a-half hours to Jindabyne, check in to the accommodation that sleeps five-to-a-room. It’s freezing outside but you haven’t seen an ounce of snow. If you’re already thinking, “That sounds shithouse so far, I hope the gig was fun,” well you’ll be glad to hear that it was. The whole experience felt like being on school camp, but none of my school camps involved playing a gig to 1000 people, or smuggling the bottle of Jameson back to the room for a pre-gig Election Party. Come to think of it, school camp also never had a rider.

Day four: the Canberra gig. It turns out Ollie got up early and went snowboarding. Yes, there was snow up there somewhere, but clearly you had to know where to find it. Nobody thought snowboarding on the day of a show was a bad idea, except Harry, who urged Ollie to be careful. But you can only urge so much. It’s easy to say, “Be careful man, we’ve got a gig tonight,” but most people feel like they’re crossing a line if they say, “We’ve got a gig, don’t go snowboarding, this is going to end in tears.” Sure enough, we got a phone call somewhere between Jindabyne and Canberra. We could only hear Harry’s side of the conversation, but it didn’t sound good.
“Guys, Ollie fractured his right wrist. He’s still in the hospital.”
A few of us jumped to conclusions about cancelling that night’s gig and even some of the following week’s gigs, training up stunt keyboard players, or writing a less keyboard-intensive setlist. I wasn’t worried though: Ollie can do a lot of things with a keyboard. I always thought he could still play the whole set with one hand tied behind his back, and tonight we would get to find out for sure. Harry soon spoke to Ollie on the phone when he got out of the hospital, and he sounded similarly optimistic:
“Ollie said he’s really excited about the gig, and that he’s been thinking about this scenario for YEARS.”
Sure enough, at soundcheck we were pleasantly surprised. With a microphone stand holding up the cast to top-keyboard level and four fingers poking out of the cast, Ollie seemed to be able to do a pretty convincing job. The gig that night upgraded his status to “not just convincing, but playing stuff nobody’s ever heard before”. Also, it looked pretty bad-ass to walk on stage with an arm in a cast and then shred the hell out of two keyboards. Ollie proved true the old adage that “whatever doesn’t kill you can only make you play faster”.

Oh. That seems like a good length for this post, but I’m still six gigs behind. I’d better save them for later.

Next: Perth. But I’ll also say what happened in Brisbane, Byron, Coolangatta, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide.

Calgary Folk Festival

Oh. I’ve done it again. It’s the end of the tour but there’s still ten days of stuff I haven’t told you about yet. Damn. Let’s start with the coyotes.

Calgary Folk Festival was located on Prince’s Island, in the middle of Bow River. I checked, and it’s not the Bow River that’s mentioned in the Cold Chisel song of the same name. The island is right next to the city (or amongst it, really) but it still feels pretty remote when you get out there, and I sure wasn’t glad to see this sign on the bridge:

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There are only three bridges to that island. If the coyotes took the bridges, we’d be done for! That made me a little nervous. Leash pets for their safety?! What about the humans? I wasn’t really sure of what coyotes were capable of: I have no real world coyote experience, and only really know about them through Wile E. Coyote, Coyote Ugly, and the ones in Red Dead Redemption. They can mess you up if you’re not careful.

That reminds me: something that seems to be happening a lot on this tour is the confusion that results from walking into a conversation and not realising it’s a conversation about something that happened in a video game.

“Yeah man, I was out in the desert and all of a sudden I was surrounded by wolves, and they killed my horse and then I had to run to the next town which took like ten minutes.”

“Hang on, you’re talking about a video game, right?”

It sounds pretty bad if you think they’re talking about real life.

“I got on the train again, and I got further than last time, but I kept getting shot at by the guys on the roof. I never know when they’re coming.”

Anyway, back to the story. Coyotes. No, we covered that. Where were we? Oh yeah. Calgary Folk Festival. Another folk festival with those workshop things that only happen at folk festivals.

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That’s us with Etran Finatawa. Coolooloosh were on stage too but, honestly, I found it pretty hard to take a photo that included all three bands. Ollie probably did a much better job: when he’s awake and not playing keyboards, he’s usually taking photos.

Next: Toronto.

New Zealand

I walked into the airport. Correne was the only one there so far. I started to prepare the relevant muscles to say “Hello”, but they all failed as they simultaneously morphed it into a different word:
“PASSPORT!”

So I missed the plane. New Zealand is a funny place really. It is so close to Melbourne, that catching a plane there doesn’t seem as big a deal as going to any other overseas country. There are plenty of domestic flights that take longer than Melbourne to Auckland. So I didn’t remember my passport. Neither did Ollie.

Six hours later, we were crossing the Bolte Bridge on our way back out to the airport again, when Ollie’s car decided it had something to say.
“Ehem…” coughed Ford.
“…so a rhodes, a hammond and a wurly go into a bar,” continued Ollie, undeterred.
“EHEM,” it interrupted again, swaying and spluttering to further emphasise the point.
“Mmm. It sure is windy up here today,” I thought to myself.
“Er…” Ollie clearly disagreed.
“Fzzzun!” My eyes widened as I caught a glimpse of the petrol guage.
“Ah.”
So we got off at the next exit.
Needless to say, if you saw Jesus at 3pm last Monday running along Footscray Rd in flares with a jerry can in tow, it was probably me.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us at the time, the other guys were having a strange little trip of their own. The plane that would take them to Christchurch had no air conditioning that day, so they waited around in Melbourne for a few hours and went to Wellington instead.

Ollie and I were still early to the airport. We had actually left home about two hours early, to account for whatever other bizarre crap could take place on the way to the airport. Lucky. The plan was to fly to Christchurch, and then on to Dunedin the next morning. The check-in staff had other ideas.
“The double bass won’t fit on the plane for the second flight. We’d better send you to Auckland instead.”

Yeesh. With the disastrous first day out of the way, we had a great tour. The upstairs smallish gig at Massey Uni in Wellington reminded us of the Late n Live days in Edinburgh in 2002: a room of people who were totally up for getting the hell on down until the end of the night. On a school night! The Palmerston North gig was an o-week toga party. That’s right. John Belushi. Louie Louie. Kegs. Jocks. Nerds. Some guy riding a motorcycle through the house. About half of the togas were, amusingly, made from the hostel-issue blue sheets. But these NZ kids know how to party.

Pump water is actually bottled spring water in New Zealand. Australia’s pump is “purified ozonated water”. We’re getting ripped off. Next week: the tour diary starts again for the Sly Tour, making its way around the country.

On the Attack Week Five

Taking to the skies, blasting eight light-minutes into the sun and flying feet-first in reverse orbit a few times, stopping off for a bite at the nearest servo, and finally heading back down to Earth, the On the Attack Tour Diary once again catches up with our heroes in the land of Sydney.

Based on how little of our time in Sydney I covered last week, I figured the intro had to involve time travel of some sort. After the Yallah gig we headed north again, hopped past the airport, skipped through Maroubra, and jumped into Coogee Bay. The Coogee Bay Hotel (or CBH, for the abbreviati) was host to our pre-Europe Sydney gig in May, and we could all remember how ridiculously co-operative the crowd was back then. We started with Wandering, and even in the intro the crowd were going bananas. Those fancy bananas with the red wax on one end. Who would have thought a bar of 15/8 would entice people to dance so hard? Our first show at CBH had me wondering yet again why I spent so much time complaining about the heat at our other gigs. The sheen of moisture on the stage was mystifying; it could have been our own sweat dripping everywhere until it covered the entire surface area and mixed with whatever had previously been stuck to the stage, becoming gigmud. I like to think that the stage ITSELF was sweating. Either we gave it a serious detox that night or the air conditioning stepped up to the plate for the second night. Our footprints were a lot less muddy on the second night, but still bloody ridiculously hot. Walking directly off stage outside into 10-ish degrees was not at all good for our health. Sadly Julie O’Hara’s voice was not a happening thing for the CBH shows. Ben once again stepped in for a short-notice fill-in, this time singing all the Skaddabox vocals without Julie. The cross-band sit-ins were in full swing by the time we hit Sydney, with Ollie, Jumps, Ross and Carlo joining in for bits of Skaddabox, and Julie and Novak joining in for some of our set.

Riders. They are a funny thing. For the uninitiated, a rider is whatever the venue supplies for bands backstage. You’ve probably heard about Mick Jagger’s 80 metre running track and Britney’s Coca Cola (she actually has a Pepsi endorsement) and Wheatus’ 40 pairs of white socks. We ask for a pretty simple list: a few things to eat, a few things to drink. Riders often attract intruders, and ridersluts. There was an intruder at our Tasmania show who found her way backstage and started drinking tequila, which is the only thing we are MENTAL about. There is an adamant Cuervo Only policy. Anything less than that and it’s a waste of time. When asked what she was doing, she found it HILARIOUS and wastedly made her way back out to the crowd. Ten minutes later she was back. All this DURING our gig. The riderslut, however, is easily spotted as they start a get-to-know-you conversation while opening three beers and edging back out the door. Anyhow. At the CBH gigs we had so many sandwiches backstage that we seriously didn’t know what to do with them. During our last song, How to Explain, Harry passed them out into the crowd. For the record, the sandwich goodwill was my brilliant, sexy, witty (she’s watching over my shoulder) girlfriend’s idea. It was good for the soul to look out into a crowd that was really getting into the music and see happy, enthusiastic, appreciatively chewing faces. The plate made it all the way back to Rhodesy at the mixing desk – truly an indication of how big this plate of sangers was.

Next week, I might finish telling you what happened in Sydney.

On the Attack Week Three

So. Little Johnny’s back in. I’ve been doing a bit of a survey, and so far I don’t know ANYBODY who voted Liberal. Furthermore, THEY don’t know anybody who voted Liberal. In his acceptance speech Johnny mentioned that the people of Australia had made their choice. I guess that makes me, everyone I know, and everyone they know, un-Australian. Anyway. Onto less-sickening matters.

Actually, not just yet. Some sort of horrible relentless bloodsucking fire-breathing flesh-eating flu virus is making its way through The Cat Empire, Skaddabox, and the rest of our touring posse. This is quite possibly the least-desirable conditions for the most gruelling four days of the tour. Four consecutive nights of gigs with bits of driving in between pretty much rules out the prescribed “tons of sleep”. If you live in any of the cities we played at this week and heard some sort of painful dry cough echoing about, it was probably one of us waking up.

Brisbane has been in our good books for a while, and we seldom find a reason to leave Fortitude Valley. We sleep there. We eat there. We drink there. We gig there. Narrowing it down a little more, I find nothing at all weird about eating three meals in one day at Ric’s, and having a few brews there afterwards. The first and second cabs off the rank were the pair of shows at the Arena. Just to set the scene, this is what happened last time we played there:

  • I busted into the Billie Jean bassline
  • The crowd started singing along
  • The band stopped playing
  • The crowd kept going for a whole verse.

Joy. Aside from memories like this, the venue has the added bonus of the audience being not only on the floor, but also on a mezzanine which stretches all the way around until it is BESIDE the stage. Sorry if we didn’t give the sideliners much attention at those gigs. The “face the middle of the stage from one side and you won’t have your back to anyone” rule works for me at most of our shows. After another meal at Ric’s, and unfortunately missing an Afro Dizzi Act gig (check these guys out if you can…they’re the best ever), we clambered into the vehicles that will take us all the way to Melbourne: Empire One, Empire Gold, and Guantan (“one ton”). We’ve got walkie talkies and everything.

Okay I hate to whine about these “uncomfortably hot gigs” like I did last week, but seriously this time: the Troccadero in Surfers Paradise on Saturday the 9th of October 2004 was a really really really hot gig. Rumour has it that the air-con broke down halfway through our set. You should’ve seen Harry. Even the slightest flail of limb sent sweat flying. Felix’s mic short-circuited in the confusion, and then announced its return with a flurry of feedback. On the plus-side, nearly everyone in the band was feverish enough by then to not notice the heat as anything outside the norm.

It had been in the works for a while, shrouded with secrecy; the research and development stages guarded behind closed doors and expressions of denial. But finally this week Felix unveiled his new percussion machine. It’s known as the Charioti (“kah-ri-OD-dy”), and is sort of like five other percussion instruments that already exist…but better. You just have to see it to have any idea what I mean. Byron Bay is still the most beautiful place on Earth, and we all drank in plenty of sun at the Pass. I bought a hoodie that looks like half a skeleton outfit. Felix had a haircut, but probably not the one you’re expecting. Novak woke up in a teepee. Ollie announced after a big night that he was going to sleep for 24 hours. Our gig was actually in Bangalow, a damn cool little town up in the hills, in the historic A&I Hall. Other local bands have praised the “hall gigs” in the area for being tons of fun for everyone involved, and, oh yes, we had a bloody fun show up there. There it goes again: the last show of every week turns out the best. We coughed and spluttered our way out of Byron, and headed south again.

Next week, we’re in Sydney for four gigs and some red carpet action.

Europe Week Five

Maybe Paris doesn’t like me. On day one, I got lost for a few hours after trying to take a detour back to our hotel. Day two saw my credit card devoured by a Metro ticket machine, and a two hour wait for someone with the right spanner to open the machine. After a few days off, we returned to Paris for our gig at L’Europeen. At the end of the night Harry’s trumpet was missing, along with Correne’s camera and phone. Adding to our strange run of luck with tour managers, Stefan’s Discman went missing also. Stefan won’t be around for our last few days in Europe, which takes our tour manager tally for this trip to a grand total of four.

But it wasn’t all bad. We got to see the Louvre, the Arc d’Triomphe, and all things typically Parisian. There was some pretty nuts rollerblading going on outside Notre Dame Cathedral. The bar Harry and Ollie stayed at had its fair share of characters, including the Sly Stallone look-alike Algerian kung fu champion bartender, the 17th century bookstore owner philosophising in the corner, and the backpacking English couple who correctly assumed Ollie was in The Cat Empire just because he is a muso from Melbourne. Everyone who went to the police to report Harry’s trumpet stolen got a huge laugh out of the constable’s three-hour attempt to fix his stapler with a pair of scissors, and returning to the bus to find Ollie wearing a Paris sweatband, nursing a half-full bottle of Cuervo.

The Three Elephants Festival in Lassay Les Chateaux had the same vibe as the Woodford Festival, but concentrated. Picture the same amount of dreadlocks distributed amongst fewer people. Staunchly anti-Euro, the organisers have a system whereby food and drink are purchased with the festival’s local currency: the Elephant. Hanging around outside our accomodation for the night, we met the exiled Duke of Reading. Tragically driven from his homeland by his own hatred of its people, we didn’t immediately take to his way of communicating. Those of us who were game enough to enter his house were given these chilling words of advice: “Your hostess will be heartbroken if you get the urge to do something bizarre, and if something does happen, don’t be afraid to use any means necessary to remedy it.” Harry argued that our music has roots far older than his bel canto chamber music, to which the Duke replied, “I’ve already had a swim today. Good luck with the festival.”

Our one and only gig in Germany was in Karlsruhe, which is so close to the french border it’s barely in Germany. The highlight of the night has to be the old guy with the enormous beard up the front. After spraying something onto the soles of his shoes, he proceeded to spin in circles on one foot for seemingly impossible lengths of time. A retired speaker designer, he believed he got the best sound at gigs by spinning around. Huge thanks go out to whoever passed that VB on stage – my wish from last week’s diary was granted – which brings us to this week’s challenge:

BARBECUE SHAPES.

Two days of driving took us back to Spain. The first two Spaniards we saw were roadworkers. One was sitting in the shade eating a sandwich. The other was taking a leak on the side of the road in full view of eight lanes of traffic. Will Smith’s new movie is called “Yo, Robot”. Microsoft Notepad is called Bloc de Notas. Shopkeepers take a five hour siesta every day, and now that it’s the holidays, many of them don’t return to work after the siesta. Above all, though, we are impressed by Spain’s attitude towards the mullet. It is one that is constantly looking forward and dedicated to innovating this often misunderstood but universally respected hairstyle, while maintaining respect for its past. The rat-tail is also well represented around Barcelona, but not as accepted as the Spanish mullet, or Spullet.

More about Barcelona and the fate of Felix’s moped next week.

Europe Week Four

The history of bassplayer-related accidents is a largely under-reported, occasionally amusing, but often painful one. I wasn’t there, but apparently part of Nick Seymour’s thumb once flew into the audience. My personal favourite, however, is the story of Prince’s current bassist Rhonda Smith. Apparently one night she was playing with Sheila E and they were funkin’ out so damn hard that her eyeball popped out. There’s photos of it on her website if you don’t believe me.

We had a bit of an ‘incident’ at our Lucerne Blue Balls Festival (don’t laugh) gig in Switzerland. Anyone who has seen us live will know what happens in the middle of The Chariot. Harry points at me, we turn the bass up, and we try to get everyone’s pant legs a-flappin’. Nobody was really concerned about the SVT blasting its guts out on stage, because about two bars in a large-ish section of the 15th-ish century roof had just given way and landed on the bar.

I really didn’t want to say this next line…but…it’s inevitable… WE REALLY BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN.

Apart from that, it was a really fun gig. It coincided with three buses of Aussie Contiki tourers arriving in Lucerne, so we had plenty of crazy kids up the front singing along, disgusting the locals with their behaviour. We couldn’t play on after the roof incident, and a few more drinks saw Ollie take to the piano in the foyer of our hotel. A few security guards took note and started to gather around. Some guy who looked like Celeborn started trying to kick Ollie off the piano. A few more security guards joined the fray. Celeborn jumped sides and started bringing Ollie cognacs. Even more security turned up. They came in from everywhere – it was like that bit in Matrix 2 where about 8000 Agent Smiths come running in.

Our second Blue Balls gig ran a little more smoothly thanks to the elaborate network of scaffolding holding up the roof. The third and final Swiss gig was the Paleo Festival in Nyon, also attended by Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Horace Andy, and other scary dudes from all over the world. We played the final set of the festival early in the morning of the 26th, and I was pretty amazed at the Happy Birthday I got from the crowd after our gig. Big thanks to whoever threw that Aussie flag stubby holder on stage. A slab of VB is definitely on my wish list for next year.

We had a great time with our Borat look-a-like temporary tour manager this week, after our previous tour manager had to leave for reasons you would not believe if I told you.

We are now trackydacking around in Tours, with Paris next on the list.

News of The City of Impossible Roundabouts and tour manager number three next week.

Europe Week Two

Leaving the tranquil surrounds of Clermont-Ferrand, the company of the Empire broke camp and forged ahead into new territory, hoping to find lodgings by nightfall. Braving the treacherous path through the mountains they came to the city of Torino, in the land of Italy. They tarried there awhile, finding much-needed provisions and merriment. They found also after receiving seven conflicting sets of directions from seven townsmen that nobody in town actually knows the directions out of town. At daybreak the band again broke camp, this time heading north in hopes of reaching the kingdom of Austria. The band were dismayed to find that every man and his damned steed had decided to do the same that day, and so they about-faced and set sail for the fair isle of Venice.

Okay okay enough of that… Not long after the last diary entry we had our gig in Clermont-Ferrand, which took place before a room full of stone-faced industry types. We had most of them coaxed well and truly out of their shell by the end of the night. The venue itself had a certain significance, being located on a road named after the late, great French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. The next day’s road trip through the French Alps gave us a view from the car window to rival even that of the band’s favourite stretch of road: the Byron Bay to Coffs Harbour leg of the Pacific Hwy.

The most fortunate traffic jam we’ve ever been involved in took place right at the turn-off to Venice, so it was a choice between that or sitting in the bus all afternoon. We all got into some adventures during our five hours in town, with Ollie and I getting a Venetian history lesson and guided tour from a retired lawyer from Milan. It was about as far as we could get from the Austria-bound traffic jam, being a city with NO cars.

We did finally make it up to Austria, for a serious dose of mountain air, apple strudel and wiener schnitzel. Our first show was a place called Monkey Circus, our show at the Jazz Above Villach festival almost didn’t happen. The only other act on at the festival that day cancelled, but it all cleared up by the time we were due to play. Not since the good ol’ Mt Buller days had we done a mountain-top gig, but this was truly one of a kind. With over 1000 rugged-up stein-swilling punters watching, we ripped through two sets of old and new stuff as the sun went down and the mercury dropped in a serious kind of way. It was great to see an Aussie flag flying proudly in the crowd too, along with a homemade Cat Empire t-shirt or two. The Austrians were incredibly hospitable, leaving us a record-setting two kegs in the band room.

And so our brave travellers head once more down the mountains and into the sunset towards strange lands as yet uncharted and unconquered by the Empire.

More news and cliches next week.