A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#16 The Beez: Portrait of a band at the end of a very long road
First published in Trad and Now magazine, May 2009
‘Is there any point going on with this? I mean, should we just unplug and go acoustic?’
It was late December 2008, one of the first gigs for The Beez from Berlin at the start of an epic four-month tour. Fresh off the plane (and without their usual all-terrain sound man Georg for the first few gigs), things were not going well.
The speaker, Rob Rayner, originally from Sydney but a long-term resident of Berlin, was being polite and patient and professional, but the strain was beginning to show as Julischka’s acoustic bass seemed determined to stay unplugged. The audience was urged to move up front and cluster in the front rows.
Guitarist Peter D’Elia made some gag to help defuse the situation which got no response from the audience, except this from yours truly. ‘Try telling that joke again acoustically’.
‘Hey, I know you!’ D’Elia said, pointing into the second row.
And so was rekindled a friendship that left off in Cobargo in 2007.
This was the start point of the mammoth undertaking that saw The Beez travel to just about every point on the Australian compass, from Darwin to Hobart, from Byron Bay to Perth and many, many points in between.
And more festivals than you could poke a mic stand at.
From the disheartening sound problems early in the tour, there were many, many happier times. Like scenes of crowd pandemonium in Bulli, standing ovations in Cobargo, masses of new fans everywhere, and the final bitter-sweet performance to an over-flowing tent (and champagne glasses) in St Albans.
I crossed paths with The Beez at seven of those festivals, plus their gig at the Folkus Room in Canberra, and I had them in to the radio studio to play and chat live on air in Canberra.
But one thing eluded me (and them) from Woodford through each of those meetings until literally the last minutes before they jumped on the tour bus away from their last gig: the Trad and Now interview.
Finally, I had some hurried chats outside the entrance to St Albans folk festival late on a chilly Anzac Day evening, and asked them about the process of touring on such a scale. Plus some more clichéd questions about reactions to Australian crowds, music and touring.
Talking to five people more or less separately meant some questions became a little repetitive.
Talking to five people more or less separately meant some questions became a little repetitive.
OK, even I knew I was going to do that.
Trad and Now: It’s the end of four months: how are you feeling?
Julischka (acoustic bass/vocals): I’m feeling sad and I’m feeling happy too because four months is a long time on the road. It’s been really, really nice and really awful at times, you know! Because you’re so, so long away from home. You need to go home at some point. I think it’s nice to go home.
But also we’ve seen so many great places. We’ve been to Darwin which was great; we’ve been on the East Coast which we really love.
We’ve been to Tasmania which is beautiful and also a little bit like Europe, I think. And we went to Perth, to Western Australia last week. I think Western Australia is a lot like how I imagined Australia to be.
Trad and Now: The land?
T&N: How about musically? Were there any good musical memories?
Julischka: We met so many good musicians. We have a pile of CDs we’re going to take home. It’s too much; we can’t take it all. We have to put it in our computers. We met so many Australian bands. Deta makes a sampler for every month, and the April sampler is all Australian musicians.
T&N: Four months. It’s a long time. Would you do it again?
Julischka: No. [Laughs]. No, no, we’ve decided. We’ve all been through this and we said four months is too long. If you’re in one place, it’s good, but all this travelling is so tiring. I think two months is a good amount. We spoke to many artists like David Francey, and they all do two months. Seven weeks, two months – that’s good, but four months is too long.
But we still love each other.
T&N: I wondered about that. Do you start to rip each other apart on the bus?
Julischka: No, no we didn’t. But it’s good when you can talk about it. You say, ‘We really have to take some time and be away from each other for a few days’, and then we can meet up and are happy to see each other again.
And this guy [Georg, the sound guy joins us] is the sound guy and he has heard 69 gigs of The Beez.
T&N: So what, you were listening to a bit of speed metal or Rammstein?
Georg: No, nothing like that. Nice music.
T&N: Wow, maybe we’d better talk some more about that friendship you said was still there!
T&N: And what’s it like travelling with four musicians for four months?
Georg: Terrible. I hate it. I can’t stand it anymore!
T&N: Did you find there were any places where the sound really did present a challenge?
Georg: Most of the time the small venues like pubs were nothing, actually. They were crap! Sometimes five cables, one mic stand and two loud speakers.
And one time there was nothing!
Julischka: Yeah, we had to play acoustically. But we can. You know this guy is a magician.
Georg: Yes, my second name is McGuyver.
T&N: Tell me something about the process of organising a four month tour. How far out did you have to start organising it?
Rob (guitar/mandolin/vocals): The problem with Germany is that you’re often organising stuff a year in advance. Or a year and a half in advance. The running joke is that it might be 2008, and we had a couple of promoters saying, ‘We’d like to book you for, um, we’re looking at September’. And we’d say, ‘2008?’ and they’d reply, ‘Nooo, we’re talking about 2010!’
So they can be booking two years in advance, becauz zey are organized! Ja, it iz like a machine! They’re not all that crazy.
Nevertheless, here I started a year ago. Applying, setting up, then you’ve got all the visa requirements that you have to sort out. They’re very stringent.
T&N: Stringent on the Australian side?
Rob: Oh yeah! Very difficult. I just get the feeling that we’re being forced to jump through these flaming hoops. The hoops are getting smaller and the flames are getting higher! And it’s making my job very difficult.
I’m an Australian who wants to come back here and play in his own country, and I want to be in a band with people from other countries, and it’s being made really, REALLY difficult from several different sectors and being able to make a buck out of it. Because most of the money that we’re earning is being left in Australia. We’re not taking a lot of money back. We’re taking a bit of pocket money back if we’re REALLY lucky.
T&N: Things that you could do different? Resources that you can draw on? Intelligence that you have after this tour?
Rob: I think a bit of corporate stuff next time, because we do a bit of that in Germany. That might make it just a bit easier financially next time.
And we need management. We need someone to take it to the next level. We can do that ourselves but then we neglect the creative side of things.
[Deta and I had spoken a couple of times over the four months about language barriers and so her first answer when she joined in was highly appropriate.]
T&N: Deta, memories of Australia? The fond ones and the not so… the challenging ones?
T&N: What are your fond memories, your happy memories of Australia and the tour?
Deta: I saw a crocodile! I had a glass of wine with Campbell (the Swaggie) and he gave me a postcard, with a picture of him. A painting, actually.
It’s all about people and it is not easy to meet people when you are not a native English speaker. I am really looking forward to Tuesday night because I will have a pizza in my neighbourhood with all my friends and they will pick us up from the airport and I can speak German again!
I think that my English is good enough that I can understand what others are saying, but sometimes if there is a big group and everyone is talking and it’s very noisy then it’s very hard to understand. You get tired.
T&N: Musically, do you have fond memories?
Deta: Well the thing is we don’t have these kinds of festivals in Germany. If we do festivals in Germany they are music comedy, or juggling acts or vaudeville shows and if you can’t sing and juggle and doing a handstand at the same time, it’s just not interesting for the people.
And when I came first to Australia, to Port Fairy, there was a big tent, about 2,000 people in the audience and there were two women on stage singing a cappella. And the audience was just listening. I almost cried because I never saw that people are so attentive to music and I thought, ‘I can relax in Australia because I can do music; I don’t have to do all the tricks!’
T&N: What are you thinking now as opposed to four months ago when I saw you at Woodford playing for the first time?
Peter (guitars/vocals) When I first left Berlin, I thought, four months, that’s a really long time. As soon as I got here I forgot about Berlin and have been having the best time. I’m feeling sad about leaving, actually. Once I get back I’ll be enjoying Berlin in the spring and summer but right now I’m definitely sad.
T&N: As an American living in Berlin and touring in Australia, do you ever get a feeling of, ‘Where the hell am I? What city am I in?’
Peter: For sure.
T&N: What is it that lets you know you’re in Australia?
Peter: Meeting people and finding out about them in the first ten minutes. It’s crazy! Not the case in Germany.
T&N: So Australians are a bit more up front?
Peter: Totally upfront. You learn much more about them in a very short space of time. Americans can be that way too; Australians even more. It takes much longer to learn about people’s private lives in Germany.
T&N: How about musically? The music that you’ve seen, the venues: what are the differentiating factors that you’ve seen?
Peter: We’ve done so many big festivals and the outdoor shows that we do in Germany are not so much festivals as street fairs or more like smaller scale village festivals. And we’ve had a few other shows as well here, but we don’t do so many pub gigs in Germany. So it’s kind of hard to compare.
T&N: What are the good memories?
Peter: Having some time to be out in nature, and getting to see people more than once. The nice thing about four months is going to some same places again and getting to hang out with the same people again. And that’s not the same as a one/two month tour where you might only get to see that person once.
And get all the way north to Darwin and all the way west to Perth.
About 36 hours after leaving St Albans, The Beez flew back to Berlin and hardly drew breath before heading off to Rock und Rottwein (probably doesn’t need translating). For more on The Beez, and to keep watch on when they might be headed back to Australia, see http://www.thebeez.de/ and http://www.myspace.com/thebeezband.