Riding to Newcastle to catch the first show of Radio Birdman tour is the obvious choice. Didn’t quite seem like it, trying to get outa Sydney on a Friday arvo. I took a quick spurt up the footpath a few times to relieve the tension. Then we hit the freeway and Jenny gave me that tap on the left hip that means ‘slow down’ but I was doing 90mph through one of the tighter curves and slowing down wasn’t the point. Nor possible. Can’t brake a motorcycle unless it’s reasonably upright.
1982, the first time I really heard Radio Birdman was the 1976 2JJ show at midnight on a Monday. Used to be a lot of good movies on late back then, ‘Vanishing Point’, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, ‘Five Easy Pieces.’ One night I walked into my little bedroom at the back of the house, flicked on the radio and my life changed.
Every friend and lover, every beautiful terrible moment, it all started then. It’s been one hell of a ride and the road rolls ever on.
Harry Howard and The NDE at The Facory Floor. Lyndal Irons photo
Many years ago when Sydney was full of thriving, original music venues, Friday night for me was always a combination of either playing gigs or checking out new bands.
There was never a shortage. I grabbed my copy of "On the Street" on the Wednesday, eased into my chair and sat there with my red pen. After reading the odd review, I would scrawl and circle names of bands to see in the “What’s On.”
Every now then I would get to the Lansdowne, Evening Star, Hopetoun and many others and be happy with just finding a new band. Well, times change. Nothing remains the same. Seeing a new band is a rare night out these days.
Hard to pick when I first heard the Stones. They've always been around, the songs, like a family member, those classic ‘60s hits: “Ruby Tuesday”, “Paint it Black”, “Get Off My Cloud”, “Mother’s Little Helper” and so on.
I knew heaps of Stones songs growing up. “Get your Ya Yas” out was popular at parties in Brisbane in the ‘70s. Flogged, it was. “Midnight Rambler” goes right alongside some drunken maniacs lurching around in a Brisbane backyard dancing the Pre Vomit Shake.
"You heard about the Boston" THUMP !
Ho to the Gov, where the food is great, the Coopers flows and Tuesday is legendary Ukelele night. I love the Gov. Great venue. And ho, back we go to the 1970s… hmm.
Does the spectacle always win in the end? Is the naming of the legend so important? You’d like to think not. You’d like to think that people wouldn’t be so fickle.
You’d be wrong, of course.
To paraphrase H.L. Mencken (I know you have all his books) ‘Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the people.’
A while back I wrote about The (British) Beat on this very stage. They played very well, worked hard. But long gone was the feral desperation of the Beat’s first releases - and they came across rather like a cabaret act. Good fun, certainly, but not essential, not inspiring. If you’d never heard of them before, and you were told afterwards how important the Beat had been at a time and a place … you probably wouldn’t have believed it.
Of course, the crowd thought this version of the Beat were wonderful. Because you can’t argue with a spectacle, and a band would have to be pretty dire to beat down expectation. The (British) Beat were fun. But you can’t go back. To a certain extent, they were kinda covering their own songs. The intention, the point, the urgency, the personality-driven chemistries had all faded.
So, first money shot tonight: were The Main Band any good?
Emmy Etie photo
The Corner Hotel in Melbourne oozes rock, and the idea of being part of Radio Birdman, HITS and Penny Ikinger shows over two nights was worth the flight from Sydney to Rock Mecca.
I choose to be in Sydney for the Rowland S Howard tribute show Pop Crimes on the Saturday before so I missed Birdman’s Manning Bar gig.
Sitting at the airport, fuelling my thirst of adventure and drinking my Coopers while reading social media, I noticed that my Facebook feed was inflamed with reports on how well Birdman played the night before in Brisbane. Comment was made that it was so powerful and melodic.
From the spectacle of the Rolling Stones the previous night, I awaken somewhat seedy and blasted. It’s been a huge week, dealing with our Beasts of Bourbon documentary, taking note of Stoneswatch, seeing the Stones on a stage half a soccer pitch away and now… Rowland, who would have been 55 the previous day (AKA Stonesday here in Adelaide).
Ho to the Wheatsheaf Hotel on a borderline suffocating hot day, where Alison Lea’s photographs of young Rowland (the infamous late 1980 Adelaide tour, where scrawny Nick Cave painted a skull and tentacles on his chest, performed topless with the paint running to buggery and beyond.) If you’ve seen the cover of the Nick the Stripper 12”, that’s Alison’s photo. If you need more information go here.
There were two sets, the first being These Immortal Souls, and the second devoted to Rowland’s solo work. It wasn’t the line-up for the Melbourne shows; Hugo Race wasn’t there, nor was his sister Angela, nor Ed Kuepper.
I haven’t been so profoundly moved all year. Partly because, after interviewing him on many occasions and brought him down to Adelaide for a few gigs, I knew Rowland reasonably well. Which meant that seeing these songs being performed by his friends had me rather teary. It was painful to watch, confronting, nasty even; more poignantly, his words are now far more loaded…