I was expecting Bathurst to be freezing, chilly to the point of icicles hanging off the wisteria. Al, our driver was walking about in shorts and a t-shirt enjoying the mild winter chill. Not me; I donned the thermals and gloves just in case.
I’d left home on the 7:33am train to get to Southern Cross Station, hook up with a Skybus and head to the airport to catch my flight to Canberra which was leaving Melbourne at 10:30am. I arrived in Canberra at 11:35 where I was picked up by Al and Mikelangelo. This is working with Bond-like precision I thought and before I know it we’re on the road with three guitars and a couple of cases in the back of Al’s rather roomy hatchback.
Al only does this occasionally, he’s an artist and sculptor by trade but he’d forgotten something from his home so we have to venture sideways to Yass-Vegas for a pick-up. His house, studio and garden are enchanting, giant pears made of horse shoes and a house painted in all manner of pastel colours nestled amongst blooms of daffodils sitting alongside an abandoned railway line. The house is filled to the brim with artworks, beautiful old tiles and blasts of colour, you can barely see the walls. There is a window and a seat within a fireplace and above on the mantelpiece an array of floral and dainty teapots and more pear shapes. Al likes pears and his partner Sarah is an artist: a painter who obviously loves colour. The sun and light give the house warmth, vibrancy and life. A child’s dream house or maybe an adult’s dream house – it’s quite incredible.
Sarah snaps a couple of pics. Mikelangelo and I devour an orange or two and then before we know it we’re whisked away onto the black ribbon of the Lachlan Valley Highway past the rolling hills, fields and silos for our 3-hour trek to Bathurst.
Sun beaming down out there on a bright winter day and not long into our journey we’re trying out potential encore songs in the car. We agree it’s difficult to go past “In The Ghetto” as our mutual Elvis favourite and we find a way of sharing the lyric, same with Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love” … a few tour stories and musical tales of overseas ventures and talk turns to small time business bits.
Then I’m sitting in a café in Cowra having the best coffee I’ve had in quite a while, one of those with that delicious liquorice aftertaste. Country towns used to have god damn awful, piss-weak coffee and very, very average and tasteless food. I remember stopping somewhere many moons ago and having frozen lettuce in my salad sandwich. The culinary landscape has lifted beyond expectations and coffee culture has seeped its way across the country in the last few years and thankfully when in need of a decent caffeine hit, it seems much, much easier to find. Mind you it certainly helps that Al somehow knows where to stop.
An hour later we roll into Bathurst and find the Memorial Entertainment Centre where Mikelangelo and I are due to perform tonight. It’s taken me 9 hours all up to get here for sound check …train, bus, plane and motor vehicle, I’m half thinking this is just a little nuts.
Stephen the chap organising the show is helpful, warm and welcoming. There’s a massive poster of us on the outside red-brick wall advertising the show and we walk from the lavish foyer into a band room as big as school oval filled with round tables and chairs, it looks like these folk really care … new PA tweaked, the lights are set and the precision continues, the crew here have all done this before. Back in the day we’d probably have been asked to bring in our own PA or to help load in a huge monstrous beast.
Tuning our guitars, checking our mics, running through the tunes … should “In The Ghetto” be in the set? We then test some songs from my “Wounded Bird” and Mikel’s “City Of Dreams” … warm reverbs, big, big sounds for two duelling guitars and our two duelling voices. Done.
We head to our quaint historic lodgings to off load our belongings, pressed metal walls and those old wooden doors closing over the windows. The evening temperature drops but Al’s still insisting it’s still not cold enough for long pants, I’m now convinced he doesn’t actually own trousers.
We return to the venue for a light meal, bump into some friends who are here to see the show and have a quick catch up and chat.
Now we’re upstairs watching as the tables fill and we listen as the conversations rise and the Friday night drinks begin to flow.
The show works well, we’ve spread the songs out evenly and Mikelangelo’s personality literally fills the room, “Le Toro” the story of bird and bull has the crowd beaming. He’s shaking his hips, and twisting his heels bringing out a touch of the Balkan Elvis, his quiff anchored, refusing to budge.
For two lead singers who can’t sing harmonies, we find ourselves singing harmonies akin to The Everlys, we surprise ourselves as our voices seem to meld and melt. We throw in a line about Bathurst, we have a whistling contest, I read my tale about Pizza Guy and together we sing about “Lonesome Town” …where the streets are filled with regret … Show’s over.
We’re down at the merch table talking to all the good folk who came along for the show. Some people have driven two hours from Dubbo to hear us. Mikel’s signing my tea-towels, fine by me, we sign them together. Compliments all around and conversations bringing in people from the past and some long gone, the night here comes to a close.
I decide to retire but Mikel has more friends than anyone I know, they appear from everywhere at any time. He ends up at The George Hotel, with his guitar slung over his shoulder singing more songs to and with the folk there, enjoying the Bathurst late night hospitality.
The next morning we’re sitting having another great coffee in a café that has more of our posters than the rest of NSW, it’s practically the wallpaper. We pose for a pic in front of it and the owner is generous with his time and happy we’ve come along to enjoy a breakfast here at his lovely establishment. Then we’re off again, through Lithgow, Blackheath, Katoomba with a growing crack in the windscreen that’s got me a little concerned. Mikel has a train to meet at Central to get to Wollongong for yet another show, this time he’s the MC. Me – well I’m off to the airport for a flight home from Sydney to Melbourne.
I thank Al, give him a couple of my CDs and a tea towel for Sarah. Then I bumble along with my gear, awkwardly wheeling it to check-in. I’m waiting in line with a US heavy metal band and their tour manager happens to be friends with my booking agent in Perth, he knows my face and he’s complimentary about my music and the American dudes are friendly enough too.
Plane, bus, train, car … and finally I’m home. It’s 6:05pm.
Peter, Bev, Coty and I prepare to watch Collingwood vs Adelaide after a delicious home cooked dinner… and I think about the aberration of the last 36 hours in this kind of dreamlike state… remembering, I often forget what touring can be like.