Andrew Winton, David Hyams and Bernard Carney at the bar, Illawarra Folk Festival, 2012. Photo by Bill Quinn.
Last night a song came on the Saturday Night Forever Classic Hits and Memories Relive Show on the radio which was a perfect soundtrack to my current never-ending task of cleaning, packing, clearing, selling, and carting stuff to op shops, charity stores and the tip.
Anyhoo, this song (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles) I learnt via ABC Sing books in primary school and ABC Radio 2CN and 2CY back in the 1970s.
And from listening to Beatles records in the Dickson Library in Canberra after school.
I took the song in my head to a ‘Songs We Sang In School’ themed concert at Illawarra Folk Festival a few years ago, in answer to a callout from the organisers. I’d worked up a bit of vaudeville to go with it, but the setting for the concert was an intimate affair up in the Chapel (at that time just the chapel itself, not the awesome little elevated tent show it’s now become). The small, subdued crowd didn’t really seem to suit the energy of what I’d planned, so I did a Dylan song instead.
However, I *did* mention to Bernard Carney in passing that I was planning to do the song before I changed plans. Bernard Carney, apart from his decades-long anthology of original music, has made a regular feature of his all-singing, all-dancing, multi-muso, multi-instramental, multi-style Beatles singalongs at festivals around Australia.
At my casual remark, Bernard shot me one of his trademark sideways looks, twiddled his ‘tache and said, “Why don’t you sing it at The Beatles Singalong?”
Me. Mr Amateur Plus, who occasionally slides off notes like a slippery dip. Singing with electrified accompaniment in front of ~400 people.
Feel the fear and don’t think twice, it’s alright.
“Oh, yeah. Alright.” Always up for a challenge, me. That a man’s grasp should exceed his reach – or vice versa. I never can recall.
Come the appointed night, with the thought of going on stage and singing with a backing band, I had so much adrenaline pumping through the veins, you could stick a cord into any orifice and light up a small city.
Ask Craig Dawson — he was sat next to me and had to ask permission to say something before I went up there.
I’m glad he did because he said, “Give it everything. Don’t hold back. Leave it all out there on the stage.”
I can’t remember getting more timely or salient or sage advice.
Thanks, Campusoid. I strode out, barefoot and in shorts, bandages around my legs where the gumboots had bitten into my calves, plonked a bag on the stage, nodded to no less than Liz Frencham on bass, David Hyams on geet, and Bernard also wielding an axe. Forgotten the others.
I fluffed the first line because I am *crap* at singing lead with accompaniment and never know when to come in, but I made it up, and when we hit the first chorus, I had props.
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, bra…” ♪♪♪
And every time I hit the word ‘bra’, I threw a St Vincent de Paul shop-bought bra out into the audience.
If I missed a note, or got a half-tone off or slurred a word, who cared? Everyone was tossing bras around the crowd.
An enduring memory shall remain as I sang, “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face!” and on every syllable stabbing a finger at Billy Folkus – picture an Australian twin of Billy Connolly – in the fifth or sixth row. Billy had one of the bras tied around his head like some large, hairy, pseudo-effeminate character from a Jane Austen novel.
I walked off stage to shrieks of laughter and gales of applause, cheering and clapping, and the knowledge that noone — not one single person — needed to know my name, just that they had a fun time and laughed lots and maybe had a story to tell. It chrystallised everything that’s core to my being about performance and writing and speaking and radio and singing:
It’s not about me. It’s about you.
It’s about them. It’s about us.
I don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old world and never aim to. That people can tell me stories as if anew that prominently featured me but they don’t realise it was me is a cause for great personal joy.
It’s the song, not the singer.
And another enduring memory out of all of that was the amused, bemused and c-mused look on Bernard’s face as I bounced off stage and over to the bar to collect the bottle of wine I’d won as a runner-up prize in the Yarn Spinning Contest earlier that day (and necked it in about 15 minutes which only partially damped down the raging flames of heat and adrenaline).
“I think we’ve reached a seminal moment in Beatles Singalongs!”
The next morning, as we were setting up in the Slacky Flat Bar for the day’s shows, one of the cleaners walked up to me swinging one of the bras around her fingers with an incredulous look on her face:
“What went on here last night?!”
That, my friends, is why I folk.