Smokey's Blog

we gonna do the damn thing or what

Month: July, 2016


I got sick this week. Properly bedridden, eyelid drooping, life sapping sick.

Alongside countless others returning from Splendour in the Grass, I contracted some strand of the flu.

I previously thought the flu was like a cold, just a bad one. I was so wrong. Tuesday night was sweats, fevers, short of breath, sleeplessness. With Wednesday came the body aches and a feeling that my energy had blacked out like a reverse snare drum. That night the headaches started up the drums and stuck around til Thursday evening. I spent more time waking up than sleeping.

I hadn’t had an illness like this for a long time. I wrote to my colleagues and apologised for missing work and assured them I’d be in the following day, or at worst work from home. Surely. Then the stomach started playing up, like it’d been hollowed out and the vital organs were in crisis talks with each other. I lay in bed listening to the back and forth of these weird deep sea creatures singing out from my belly. Girgle girgle, zoooooooooom, eeeeeeeeyyyoooooo, rummbble, szzzweeeng. I turned over again and again, wedged into the side of my bed as our three year old daughter sprawled her legs over my back.

The stomach thing hung around all Friday and I wasn’t going to work. I was about 70 hours in and while the symptoms changed, I was still as crook as ever. How long now?!

That night it just disappeared. All the cold symptoms (razor blade throat, congestion, sniffling, other gross stuff etc) were still kicking and screaming – but the virus that wrestled me to the ground had left. Suddenly all those cold symptoms seem quaint by comparison.

It made me think about people who have to deal with long term illness, or chronic pain. The strength of character that is required when the expectation of an illness ending doesn’t exist anymore. You go to sleep with it. You wake up with it. You enter into a contest with it. You do your job with it. You raise your kids with it. It’s life and it’s unfair. I got the tiniest of tiny window openings into that world and I was like a crying baby trying to close it.

I have a deeper level of respect for people who have no choice but to learn to live with it.



The Afterglow (of a great tour)

A short video recap of the Second Heartbeat Tour and some context underneath.

I’m writing in the afterglow of one of the best tours I’ve ever had the fortune of participating in. The tour poster had my name on it but there were a lot of people who made it a success, and you were one of them, so thank you. I can staple words together but I don’t find it easy summing up exactly how profound it was to me. This time last year I genuinely doubted whether I would/could do another proper tour! Even with mid-level success the financial rewards in music make a low but steady income seem like big pimpin’. This new album was difficult, it took a lot of soul-searching, the indicators weren’t good – the kinda shit that spooks you. I couldn’t mentally envisage what shape my live show would take even if things went well – all I knew was that Jane wouldn’t be part of it.

IMG_9665(Pic by Yaya Stempler)

A couple of years earlier I had a heart to heart with Jane Tyrrell where she let me know that she could no longer perform in my show; she needed to focus on her solo music career and other professional work. It was a bittersweet conversation, made slightly better by the fact we both felt it was the right thing to do. Years before that, I’d had a similar conversation with Elgusto, and we parted ways on great terms after an awesome decade playing live together. Each of their departures brought its fair share of anxiety and uncertainty: I can easily perform my songs but how fun could it be without such important ‘family’ by my side? Touring is not just about being on stage: it’s the ins and outs of building relationships, often from scratch, in a transient lifestyle characterised by endless “dead time”. It works when there’s a sense of camaraderie and love and respect but that takes a while to establish.

Pic by Yaya Stempler

That uncertainty and the decisions that had to be made are the context for my current elation. Over the course of the last 6 weeks alongside Jayteehazard on turntables, Ev Jones, Meklit Kibret and Claire Nakazawa on vocals, and Todd Dixon doing the tour managing and sound, I felt like we were flying. The crowd response was, at worst, appreciative and loudly respectful; at best, the wildest crowds I’ve ever played to. I spent a lot of time at the merch desk taking a gazillion photos but ended each night wide-eyed about how much we were selling. The music I’d agonised over during the last few years was making people cough up at the merch desk in numbers I hadn’t seen for a while (we had great designs thanks Dale Harrison, Sarah McCloskey and Allara Uota). Physically and mentally it was a healthy tour and I took a lot of heart from the connections and relationships that developed between the tour party over the duration. It’s early days but I’ve loved playing live with this team.

(Pic by Cole Bennetts)

It was at the second Sydney show that I looked around on stage and saw myself and 4 guys, outnumbered by 8 uniquely talented women. I think this is the first time in my career where the ratio of women to men on stage was like that. It wasn’t a statement, it was merely the album’s guests doing cameos, but it underlined that there was something really special taking place. We had Kira Puru, Bertie Blackman, Jane Tyrrell, Montaigne and B Wise all stealing the show sharing the spotlight. With L-FRESH The LION, Mirrah, DJ MK-1 and OKENYO, we also had a tour that reflected the changing face of local hip hop in as good a way as I’ve seen. Night after night, the atmosphere was electric and people sung and yelled and danced and went home joyous. We (mostly) woke up without hangovers.

(Pic by Cole Bennetts)

I remember so clearly how low I felt wondering about the future in 2015, but as tickets started selling in 2016, I made a commitment to myself not to take any success for granted. We sold out the entire tour, bar a handful of tickets in Canberra, and that’s an amazing feeling. It’s one of the reasons I decided to donate every cent I earned from merch sales to charity. The total after paying manufacturing back was $4923.14 (this will be split between Grandmothers Against Removals, Tranby Aboriginal College and the Healing Foundation). I don’t want to front like I’m all G financially, but I’m very lucky, and don’t want to forget that.

After all that soul-searching, the album is going brilliantly, and this tour was all time – that’s no exaggeration. On to the next one.