Smokey's Blog

we gonna do the damn thing or what

Tag: touring

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.

IMG_9962
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.

1D4A9479
(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.

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(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.

Thanks.

Spring and Fall Tour Diary – Part 5

SYDNEY – TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY AUGUST 13 and 14

 
Anyone who’s seen Paul play will recognise the stage prop placed beside him as he performs. It’s about yay height and so wide. I had wondered, as a fan watching him from the seats, what he kept in there, imagining all sorts of items ranging from his harmonicas (true) to hip flasks of whiskey (not true).

Really wanted to show you the contents but Kim Jong-Un Kelly wouldn't hear of it.

Really wanted to show you the contents but it’s like North Korea out here.

In truth, it’s much more. Masquerading as a modest stump, it actually resembles the inner console of a whiz bang technological stump. If Bond were a troubadour musician who sung about Donald Bradman and St Kilda this is the shit he’d put on his rider. The crew watch over it with the zeal of the Four Angels guarding the Ark of the Covenant. It has lights that pulse dull and bright; like a woo-ha gadget that seems incredible but is actually frustrating when you can’t find the ‘on’ button. I’ve seen Paul use it in countless gigs but it’s purpose is entirely unclear. As my finger curiously descended on it the panicked lunge of a crazy-eyed strongman crew member who understands who puts food on the table shooed it away.

What is it? I asked.
Nothing. Came the reply. Get back in your lane Levinson.

So that’s it then.

THIRROUL – FRIDAY AND SATURDAY AUGUST 16/17

 
Thirroul

Anita’s Theatre shares a common thread with half of the venues we’ve played on this tour; originally built to be a cinema – the King’s Theatre in 1925 – it converted into a roller skating rink in the mid 60s before closing in the mid 90s. Just quickly, by all means bring roller skating back but please no more rollerblades. Tonight was hectic, this show was added late so our tour drummer Lozz was unavailable. She’s been incredible and is now confidently smashing every show. Replacing her was our usual drummer, Lisa, but we had no time to rehearse, hence the hecticness bruz. She couldn’t do the tour for the standard reasons – being on call with Family Man for session work in Jamaica. Lisa Purmodh is one of the countless unsung musicians in Australia, deeply revered among peers but little known beyond the audiences lucky enough to see her. She drove 5 hours from the mid North Coast to do a 40 minute set. Then turned around and drove 5 hours back.

This is the life for career musicians, often for a hundred bucks. Disclaimer: not me of course; I paid her in gold bullion. It’d be understandable to point out the madness of it – but that’d be missing the point, it’s all part of the long slog. This is the passion. The job. We gamble defiantly, sometimes blind to our delusion; hoping some day it’ll pay off. It’s people like Lisa that make me feel like a fraud.

850kms for a 40 minute gig? Sure why not.

890 kilometre round trip for a 40 minute gig? Sure why not.

Jane and I have been guesting with Paul toward the end of his set and for two nights in a row he’s had to stop our song as he hits the wrong key in his harmonica part. It’s spectacular. I watch side of stage in awe at it happening for the second time, and his fallibility is a dart in the bullseye of my closet love of getting it wrong. The crowd laugh. There’s a trust there so they think he’s playing. And then they realise it’s just a fuck-up and the air gets warmer as he joins the rest of us as a mere mortal. In a flash he’s back. The brilliance is not in repeated precision night after night but the crafty navigation out of an unfamiliar mess. If you ever want a masterclass in performance don’t bow to those who nail every note, see how they dance out of a scrum, a slip or stumble – that’s the window into a pro’s genius. The crew shake their heads at both the mistake and the speed of recovery.

PK obliges Lozz' request for a harmonica lesson in 10 rare free minutes.

PK obliges Lozz’ request for a harmonica lesson in 10 rare free minutes.

When we reverse out of the carpark we narrowly miss some punters leaving the gig before driving up the winding road home.

CANBERRA – SUNDAY AUGUST 17

 
They come during Paul’s set, heads down dragging their feet through the loading dock. Decked out in old caps, flannies and big jackets, loaders are the godforsaken bastards that come out at midnight to help load the tonnes of gear into the truck. There’s no real chance to get to meet your average loader – they sit around forlorn on empty roadcases waiting to lift things. These fellas range from family blokes to zombies in Canberra Raiders gearnseys. I thought about asking for a photo to share here but I visualised violence so here’s another picture I found on the internet.

Loaders are actually good blokes.

Loaders are actually good blokes.

The loader is sadly ignored unless they’re an early loader; road crew hate the early loader. That’s the loader that rocks up early in order to see a free show. It struck me as a fair enough perk of a crap job to see a few songs in exchange for getting out of bed at 10pm in 4 degree Canberra cold but the road crew are on em in a flash.

Roadie 1: “We’ve got an early loader.”
Roadie 2: “Fuckin’ early loaders.”
Roadie 3: “Fuckin’ hell. I’ll sort it out.”

One day off tomorrow. I’ll drive back to Sydney and pretend to work by popping my head in our Marrickville office. Then it’s Adelaide on Tuesday, Sydney on Wednesday and Perth on Thursday.