Last Wednesday night, we held our first ever live event at The Corner Hotel in Richmond. Paul Kelly, Bob Murphy and Francis Leach took to the stage to discuss footy, music and life. It was also the opening night of The Ashes series.
Backstage before the show Paul remarked how strange it was that we had booked our new turn on such a night. I had to agree that it really made no sense. It was a good old-fashioned ‘February oversight’, and I knew that had any of the potential participants known of the clash in advance, it’s unlikely they would have agreed to take part in such a folly. I’m grateful for our ignorance ‘though. With half an hour until stage time, the radio was tuned in just in time to hear the first ball bowled, and those familiar tones of English commentary bathed the little backstage room with the warmth and comfort that comes with ritual. Unlike the Ashes, we had no tradition or history of our own. It was all really just an idea to have a musician who loves footy have a conversation with a footballer who loves music live on stage, and see where it took us. You have to start somewhere, so as Mitchell Starc walked back to his mark in Nottingham, we readied ourselves for what we hoped might eventually become something of a tradition somewhere down the track. A kind person from the venue popped their head around and said we had a full house. At least we shared that with Trent Bridge.
As is the modern custom, I was tempted to post some thoughts about the show virtually as soon as it was all over – to rush the presses and file a report before the ink had even dried on my own memories. It’s funny these days that as much as we still experience events, we place almost as much importance (and sometimes more) on the immediacy with which we report them back. As I was thinking about what had just unfolded post-show, The White Stripes’ ‘Apple Blossom’ popped up on the stereo, and I was reminded of one of Jack White’s great innovations in recent years. Before he comes on stage, his tour manager steps up to the microphone and respectfully asks the crowd to keep their iPhones and cameras in their pockets, and to live in the moment during the show, to make their own memories. Jack’s idea is that if we have to work a little bit harder to remember what’s happened, not only will our recollections be unique and personal, but they will last longer and mean more. I really like that. There are billions of out-of-focus blurs representing important moments in all of our lives that serve to replace what could be crystal clear memories if we just relied on our own recollections. I don’t mind the idea of working for something like that. All the embellishments we graft on to a treasured reminiscence over the years make those moments even more poetic. They become our truth, not the one the little snap on our tiny screen ‘remembers’.
So, with a few days now passed since the show, and some time to think about it all, it’s fair to say that we remember having a fantastic time. The idea behind the evening was really an extension of what we’re trying to do here on the site – talk about footy and music, how those things intersect in our lives, the poetry and magic behind them, the mundanity, the hard work, the lean times, the great times, and why they mean so much to us. We were lucky to have three amazing people on stage on Wednesday to make that idea a reality. Paul Kelly, Bob Murphy and Francis Leach were the equivalent of The Jam upon release of ‘In The City’. What a power trio. Their generosity on stage and the fact that they completely ‘bought in’ to the idea was a real delight. Paul showed us his under 14’s cricket trophy and Mo Award. Bob brought in the football from his 200th match and a beautiful set of reflections about what that meant; Francis brought the glue and enthusiasm that held it all together. We were off and running in a fashion that went beyond our wildest dreams.
So what did we talk about? A lot. How Paul is almost single-handedly keeping the drop kick alive and executes it perfectly (Bob attested to the fact). That Bob has a great singing voice – and is also a Lady Gaga fan, with the t-shirt to prove it. That Renee Geyer is Paul’s Chuck Berry. That Francis is a host par excellence. We dropped the needle on the records that Bob and Paul brought in for our ‘Grand Vinyl’ segment (Died Pretty for Paul, Tex Perkins and the Dark Horses for Bob), and we sat and listened together in silence, a few hundred of us, and it didn’t feel at all odd. It felt great. Paul loved Died Pretty because they could either be spectacular or disastrous live. Bob loved listening to Tex the day after a game, when the message of the track he picked, ‘So Much Older’, took on some extra poignancy. We were really having a good time. We wound up the first half with a song from Paul, a brilliant version of ‘Bradman’ a nod to the bigger event happening over in Nottingham.
At half time we had a little chat backstage. It was going well. It all seemed to be working. Everyone on stage felt good, and they felt like everyone in the room was on-side. A few more stories got told, and immediately some were brought in off the bench for the second half: who threw up the most before games? (Barry Hall). There was talk of this being the premiership quarter. After twenty minutes our three form players walked back on stage to bring us home.
The second half kicked off with a segment we called ‘New Romantics’. Bob raised the bar for gentlemen everywhere to an impossibly high level with his story of how he’d recorded a version of Paul’s ‘You’re 39, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine’ (amended with a ten year age reduction) and presented it to his wife on her 29th birthday. The recording was played over the PA to oohs and aahs. He can sing like a bird, no problems there. The freshly revealed Little Monster added to his list of known talents.
Prior to the night, we had no idea about Bob’s version of the song or the story behind it. We found out about it like this: after Paul soundchecked earlier in the evening, he asked me if Bob was going to get up and do a number too. I laughed and said that he’d offered to run a handball clinic at the side of the stage instead.
‘No, really’. PK smiled. ‘He’s got a great voice. Come on’. We went down the step at the side of the stage to the dressing room and Paul stuck his head around the corner. ‘Are you going to do a song tonight Bob?’
Bob looked up from the couch and laughed. He probably knew what was coming next. Paul started telling us the story of how he’d heard Bob’s version of his own song. Bob picked up the story with the details of how it came about, the recording itself and the joy of the whole experience.
‘Have you got it? Can we get it?’ asked Francis. ‘We have to play that tonight!’. We had an hour or so until doors opened. A couple of quick phone calls were made and a drop off arranged. Minutes before doors opened, a CD arrived backstage. We were on! And so we had one of the great moments of the night thanks to Paul’s ‘innocent’ question at sound check. It was that kind of night. A conversation off-stage became a conversation on-stage, exactly as we’d hoped it might.
Back to the action: Paul talked about how much he admires footballers because aside from their dedication and their fitness, they run out every week with no script. They have no idea what’s going to happen from week to week, minute to minute. When a band walks on stage he said, they at least have a script, a set list as their road map, and a pattern that forms over hundreds of gigs. There’s no such luxury for the Sherrin kickers – it’ s a lottery.
Paul brought in his Under 14’s Cricket trophy and his Mo Award. Some fine people in the audience heeded our call to bring in their own trophies for discussion (the less said about the ‘Softc**k Award’ hewn out of stone the better. Here we were trying to be the antithesis of The Footy Show…) We talked about mavericks: Brent Crosswell, Malcolm Blight, Renee Geyer, of being scared of Glenn Archer…it was great. It seemed to be going too fast. It was. We were close to the final siren, and Francis wound up proceedings with an experts’ flair, leaving Paul to play us out.
Then we were treated to a something unexpected and fantastic. As Paul stepped up to the mic and adjusted some papers on the stool next to him, he let us know that he’d just finished a song that afternoon and was going to play it for the first time tonight. The song was called ‘A Bastard Like Me’ about the great aboriginal activist Charles Perkins. You couldn’t have scripted a more perfect moment. We arrived to talk about footy and music, and to go wherever those twin sirens ended up taking us. Amongst everything else, they ended up taking us to a brand new song by one of our finest songwriters about one of our finest public figures. It’s funny how things turn out. We loved it. To everyone who came to the show: we thank you, you were fantastic. We’ll keep working on our own little tradition. Let’s do it all again soon.