A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#34 This time, it’s personal
First published in Trad and Now magazine, April 2012
Fun fact: this is ‘A Punter’s Perspective’ edition #34.
And I draw attention to the edition number here for only the second time, and for the first time since I wrote my first column in December 2006.
Is edition number 34 significant?
Absolutely not. And absolutely yes. And for sure and for certain. And not in the slightest.
It all depends on your perspective.
34 is the number of the house in north Canberra where I lived from ages 4 to 18.
So it has no actual relevance or significance here, except in the same way it’s strangely satisfying when you order your breakfast at the local caf, and you’re handed a table number that happens to be your lucky number.
(36, for the record. Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a long black. And water. ‘Et est-ce que vous avez des aspirins? I have a hangover you could photograph.’ Name that film.)
The preceding paragraphs may have struck a cord (or a chord) with you. Or, like so many versions of ‘A Punter’s Perspective’ in the last five and a half years, they’ve left you staring incredulously into the middle distance as you stir your soy chai latté with an index finger, mumbling, ‘What a load of self-indulgent toss’.
And that, my friends is my parable or analogy – at 6.32am on a mild Western Sydney morning, a full 13.5 hours after deadline, as I sit here in a friend’s kitchen with one eye on the clock and both eyes squinting at the screen as I wonder where the haitch ‘e double hockey sticks my glasses have gotten to, (maybe still in the spare bedroom?) and if I had my glasses I could find my glasses – to describe the vast difference between the utility and benefit we all get from folk.
What’s in it for me?
We all have motivations that are as different from each others’ as to be like beautiful, individualised snowflakes.
OR they’re so similar, that once we’ve established all the myriad points of connection with a fellow traveller at 2am in the session bar we figure we were somehow metaphorically separated at birth and ultimately want to adopt each other, have our respective kids marry each other in themed weddings at a future festival and move to their state/territory/country/ashram.
Or buy them the next pint.
If we can find our beer tickets.
I actually have a few salient points, and hopefully they’ll will make themselves clear in the next 800 words.
But I’ll state one loud and clear: we’re in this thing called folk for different things.
So then, who the hell are we to rain all over someone else’s parade if they’re marching to the beat of a different drum?
If someone else has motivations or triggers that aren’t ours and we don’t quite gel with them, who are we to get bent out of shape?
You might be in folk to never pick up an instrument in anger or sing a note, but to just to soak up as many performances as you can plant your derriere on a seat at.
You might be in folk to hang around with musos and to blog about their talents and exploits.
You might be in folk to never see a programmed performance but to hang around the jams and sessions and have the occasional noodle yourself.
You might be in folk just because it’s a guaranteed source of mulled wine and Turkish gozleme.
And I could go on until the cows are looking at their watches, doing a few fake stretches and yawns and apologising but the time does get on, and maybe it’s time to be heading ‘em up and moving ‘em out.
‘LOVED the bluegrass pâté; Angus and I MUST get the recipe from you.’
‘Is the whatsit in the back paddock? I think something I ate went straight through to stomach number three without so much as a ‘by your leave’ or giving me time to ruminate.’
Where was I?
There are as many reasons for getting involved in folk as there are folkies.
Probably more, in much the same way that if you put 10 economists in a room you’ll get 12 different ways to screw up the economy.
Opinions, I mean, you’ll get 12 different opinions.
So, before the word limit catches me crying, because time does go on –and so do I.
Let me say that this Easter marks my seventh anniversary of being in folk. Which means that I now have a licence to open my maw and have a few things to say.
Why seven? It just is.
A much wiser head on very wise and folkie shoulders told me so, and it stuck.
Being an extroverted extrovert means I do a lot of things, probably too many.
That coupled with something of an addictive personality and the character traits of a magpie (jumping on to shiny new things and supporting the Magpies team from 1976-2000 at the point of their untimely demise), I tend to rush in to things at a million miles an hour* and get a bit evangelical about them if they appeal to me at first blush.
Leads to all sorts of opportunities and mistakes with cars, records and women.
* Oh, at this point I idly noticed the word count in the original draft was 774. ABC metropolitan radio in Melbourne, I observed, realising the significance of that number at that point in this article: i.e. none whatsoever.
Like I said: magpie.
Having spent the first 38 years of my life only vaguely aware of the folk world, process and accoutrements, I went to the National in 2005 and leapt in with both boots, crew cab and chassis.
That’s been to my unending joy and wonder.
And it’s had its savage costs as well.
A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and when you come into something in a full-on power-slide, some of the dust and gravel you kick up can land right in someone’s face.
Or lands in their cheese and chorizo omelette and chai tea.
I could go on about this until – well, we’ve established the cow thing already. Oops, don’t mention breakfast. I mentioned it once and I think I got away with it. (I was chipped for being flippant by mentioning the breakfast menu and not the talent.)
I’ll leave you with one story on topic and then we can all do what some of you have already done: turned the page and moved on with your lives.
I’ve had a pre-festival tradition for about five years now which involves a much-loved and well-worn copy of ‘Flash Lads’ by the Wheeze and Suck Band, signed-in-signature-Pyrzakowski-red-pen by the five members.
I put the CD in the car stereo with the engine idling (and the car’s as well), and wait for the start of track one (‘TNT’) which features a space launch countdown.
‘Five….four….three….two….one….we have ignition!’
And then Pyro’s fiddle launches in, my foot eases off the clutch, the accelerator slowly, slowly depresses and I take off at a very sedate pace.
Albeit accompanied by a blood-curdling scream of pure joy that I occasionally sustain until the end of the street or suburb.
It’s like a mainline hit of adrenaline and blood sugar. It pumps (no pun intended) me up for the drive and the festival and all the wonderfulness that is about to come for the next two to eight days, depending on the festival.
Sometimes the planets are not aligned and I can’t find my CD.
20 years ago if this happened, I would have flown into a rage and torn the house apart using cuss words that would make a stable boy frown and intone in a rather patronising air, ‘Now steady on, lad, there’s no call for that sort of sailor-blushing talk’.
These days, I figure the universe doesn’t want me to find my CD at just that point and it has some other plan in mind.
So it was on the Sunday morning of St Albans as I left for a long drive from Canberra at the people’s hour of 1.45am. I took off instead to the sounds of Billy Bragg and The Wells.
Almost ten hours and one sleep later in a truck-stop (the honeymoon is over, baby) I was on Webb’s Creek ferry and starting to build some frissons of excitement at the prospect of being at a festival with good friends in just 20 kms, plus one ride with the lock-keeper (well met again).
I was at about track six on the 2011 Snowy Mountains of Music CD when a thought finally crystallised.
‘2011? Didn’t they….. weren’t they…… I think they… they did!’
I picked up the jewel case and there it was: Track 20 – ‘TNT’ by the Wheeze and Suck Band.
As I took off, the last vehicle off the ferry: ‘We have ignition!’
People in the small township turned around in shock as a blood-curdling scream rent the air. (It’s not a good time to buy.)
People in St Albans turned and cried, ‘WTF?!’
Sydneysiders joined in, as did many in Bathurst, due to a freakish prevailing wind.
I was heading home. To where I belonged. To my folk family.
Within a minute, I had tears of pure joy streaming down my face and I was sobbing with emotion.
Two slightly sobering (or not) epilogues.
I found out the next day, that a dear friend was at the head of the queue to board the ferry coming back the other way as I drove off on the Snalbs side of Webb’s Creek. She saw me and tried to yell out to get my attention, but I was otherwise occupied in yelping my exuberance.
Had I seen her, or been 20 minutes earlier, I may have had a different festival experience.
Then, having lobbed into the festival precinct, one of the first of my ‘folk family’ to greet me did what some family members just feel they need to do: provide a service of passive-aggression and just snide and unnecessary nastiness.
And had a shot at my hair-cut and general appearance.
I shrugged it off at the time, which was no mean feat, being in an slightly fragile state.
But by 2.30am, 14 hours later, these things had amassed and built up to a point where, as one does at some family gatherings, one looks at one’s watch and makes like a cow.
And heads out. Hopefully to find a place on the range where seldom is heard those discouraging words.
“Well, I never found a place that I could call my very own…,” says the song.
It won’t stop me looking. It may be a movable feast, but folk is where I live.
See you at the next trailer park, I mean, festival.