Pre-pandemic we would visit Brisbane music venues as consistently as a Charlie Watts drumbeat. Some months ago I got an unexpected message from my friend who has impeccable music taste. He’s the aural detective who scours local media for upcoming shows and tours. The Venn diagram of our musical wheelhouses are akin a packaged double CD. Usually his messages double as a public service announcement, giving me a heads up to clear the calendar for future shows. This message was anything but – his sister was organising a gig in Brisbane and needed to know whether I would be willing to be the gopher and pick up/drop off the talent? Reading further, the headliner for her first Brisbane gig was none other than my favourite artist in the entire world, MR TIM ROGERS! National treasure and ultra talented singer-songwriter. Being able to land him for your maiden Brisbane gig would be akin to sharing your first kiss with Scarlett Johannsen. Instantly I replied with the only possible answer. “Hell yes!”
In the intervening weeks I was in the process of selling and moving houses. The most important task in my life to date had to be put on the backburner until the logistics around the real estate arrangements were finalised. It wasn’t until a couple of days before that I realised I would have to clean out the car. Not that Tim is a diva, but the car was brimming with my belongings and there wasn’t enough room for a passenger let alone his luggage and guitar. The left side of the backseat was a time capsule of fashion from the turn of the century, the right ferried an array of squash rackets, a mixmaster, attachments to a vacuum and slabs of chipboard that may once again be fashioned into a bookshelf if I can locate the missing allen key. Essentially a mobile flea market. Cleaning out the car netted the grand sum of $4.45 in loose change and a tetra pack of chicken stock.
A change of plan saw Tim fly in the night before so I no longer had to pick him up from the airport. This suited me as I could sneak a longer sleep and not have to deal with the Brisbane Airport and it’s associated rage inducing parking issues twice in one day. Rather I was given the address of a hotel and his phone number with a pickup time. Halfway to Brisbane I had to get fuel, it would be embarrassing to have to push to car up Ann Street in the Valley because I’d forgotten to quench a thirsty engine. At the servo I bought one of the tree air fresheners as the previous one had lost it’s stank three years ago and as with any special date you need to be smelling your best. Caltex had two options, an ambiguously named Black Ice and the slightly familiar Green Apple. Given that my only interaction with Black Ice was the smell of melting dirty snow on a road in the northern hemisphere, I opted for the Green Apple thinking the stale air inside the car would instantly transform into a country kitchen that had apple crumble bubbling away in the oven. The reality couldn’t have been more confronting, less than 10km down the road the smell was that intense I had watery eyes and a shortness of breath. A manufacturer’s warning in bold font might save some others? One would think the car was a mobile home to a fishmonger who bathed in Deep Heat.
My 9.50am pickup was still 20 minutes away when I arrived at the hotel. The next 10 minutes was spent wearing out the bitumen working out the logistics of the pickup, the Saturday morning brunch crowd had laid claim to every parking spot within a 2km radius. At 9:49 and 59 seconds I take a series of deep breathes and ring his number. I was telling myself to play it cool, I didn’t want to sound like the Australian girls in the archival footage of the Beatles tour in 1964. Tim picks and and informs me that he will be down in a couple of minutes. Then out of nowhere Tim emerges – purple corduroy pants, a knitted shirt covered somewhat by an unbuttoned denim jacket. After packaging his luggage in his car and the precious cargo in the passenger seat we headed to the gig, his face covered with a mask. I am sure they help against COVID but could it protect against the air fresher, which had now morphed into something stronger than battery acid.
The trip is only a couple of kilometres to the Valley. The gig is unusual as it is for parents so they can revisit their musical tastes pre conception. Are Mum and Dad’s musical tastes found in their offspring’s double helix? Designed to go only a couple of hours, the Small Fry Rock Festival is marketed as kid friendly. Based on this I decide to see if I could get Tim talking by asking asking about the time his band, You Am I, played on Play School. Their rendition of One Potato Two Potato was that blistering that it perforated Big Ted’s eardrums. Tim was happy to share a couple of stories about that day and the genuinely great time they had hamming it up for the younger audience. He also dropped into the conversation that he hadn’t voted yet in today’s Federal Election and was worried that he would miss his chance to take part in the country’s democratic process. He had been researching out of town voting booths so I foolishly told him that we could go and find one after the gig on the way to the airport. Why would I make such a stupid promise? I guess that what you do when you are trying to impress a hero? Before long we were pulled up in front of the Triffid where we unloaded, he went in to prepare for soundcheck while I combed Newstead for a spare carpark.
To see the inside of Triffid without 500 other people in it was weird. It was clean, bright and the staff were very professional, checking and rechecking all the lights and sound settings while Tim was playing a few bars of various classics Being nearly 11.00am I leant a hand with the final touches before the young critics were due to make their way in. First job, balloon blowing. Life lesson: never blow up black balloons, they taste like a truck tyre that has covered every inch of the Hume Highway. To go with the balloons was free juice for the kids, a colouring in station and a kids only mosh pit down by the front. When the kids were let loose they were better behaved that what I anticipated. Nobody was doing lines of sherbet off the bar, but all were high as kites on sugar and the childish enthusiasm of something new, their energy relentless.
Ben Ely (of Regurgitator fame) was the support act. He kept the energy up and was so swept up in the excitement that during his penultimate song he asked, “Are you all having a f&$king great time?” The parents roared at the faux pas, his mouth agape and body frozen with embarrassment. The moment was lost on the kids who were more concerned with popping the remaining balloons.
Tim immediately followed donning a tailored green velvet suit with matching velvet shorts. The kids were bemused until he tried to give the backstory to the kiddies, “This one is about when a boy and a girl love each other and then people change…”. His newest fans started their grilling him over his age (“I’m 22) and when he grabbed a beer between songs, one of them yelled out “chug, chug, chug”. The next song called “Dinosaurs” bought a loud cheer from the crowd but when Tim introduced it as a song he wrote for his daughter who is now 20, the smarter kids started didn’t have to reach for a scientific calculator to realise that Tim could not be 22. His apologies and restatement of his age “I’m really 152” seemed move convincing to he kids given his greying hair. This was the precursor to some kids picking up the carcuses of popped balloons and slinging them onto the stage. Tim who has spent a career dodging projectiles from crowds, improvised a new song “Friends Don’t Throw Balloons at Friends”. Between songs, the kids unfamiliar with gig edicate, thought they would just treat the show as a conversation with the talent. One, “I played netball this morning” was followed with “I chased the cat around the house and then my sister”. The show wrapped up after nearly an hour and a half, ankle biters excited that they had seen something new, parents reliving their youth for a fleeting moment before the responsibilities of parenthood were again front and centre of their collective minds.
Now to solve the voting conundrum? Firstly I Googled the telephone voting system that was in place for those affected by COVID. I thought that a couple of fake coughs down the line might be enough to save a drive around Brisbane’s outer suburbs. However checks and balances were in place so it couldn’t be abused. Damn Government and their strict rules meant that my flimsy plan was as useful as used toilet paper. Plan B was to track down one of the four interstate voting booths, the closest between the Valley and the Airport was in Kedron. Managed to extricate Tim from the bandroom and now had to corral him into the car. Time was the enemy and for once I wished he could be less giving of his time to all and sundry who approached for a photo and chat.
Usually when Tim’s voice is travelling with me it’s spilling out the car’s speakers but it was surreal to see him taking up the whole front seat. I plug the address into the GPS and we follow the directions to the Northern suburbs of Brisbane, all the while trying to give the impression that I knew where I was going. It is now raining very lightly, the wipers now working automatically and this bought with it the uncomfortable noise of blades which I now realise have been fitted backwards on a barely wet windscreen. Here’s hoping for some heavier rain to dull that pesky wiper noise.
A curated playlist had been prepared as a soundtrack for our expedition but for some reason the technology failed me at the crucial time, my
trusty iPod refusing to give out any noise. I did have a solitary CD as backup, Dan Kelly’s “Drowning In The Fountain Of Youth” which has the very apt track, “Drunk On Election Night”. This thankfully garnered some cred from Tim but this was quickly offset by me taking a wrong turn and having to do a fifteen point turn in a narrow backstreet to right ourselves. This did give Tim enough time to take in the surrounds, the houses in their British Racing Green reminded him of his formative years in Kalgoorlie. I had thousands of questions but most of them verged on nerdy music questions so I played it safe by asking ones that he doesn’t hear every single day. Somehow Tim gave an oral history of jazz music whilst we were navigating Lutwyche Road as well as recalling his memories dining in Chinese restaurants in the late 1970s. We bonded over our mutual admiration of Darren Hanlon and the pain of supporting football teams that have had given us little to cheer about for the last fifteen years. There were times where Tim’s lyrics from the song “Vandalism” were coming to life, “I know this guy/If I’m the mayonnaise he’s the cream…He talks about Art Blakey and I pretend to know what he means”.
Many wrong turns later we made it to the St Columba’s Primary School where Tim had a chance to have his say within the confines of the ballot box. As I drop him off he sees the mass of signs and shakes his head at the “Its not going to be easy under Albanese”. Told him that as a writer himself he could at least give them some credit for the rhyme. With a half nod and shrug he headed into the bowels of democracy and told me he would ring me when he was done. For the next 40 minutes I sit outside, starting to do some rough calculations in my head as to what is the latest I leave it before I go in and search for him. Maybe he has bought something from a bake sale and would come back with an assortment of hand made biscuits purchased from the Kedron sub-Branch of the RSL? My plan was to give it another 10 minutes and then go looking for him as the time was evaporating on this now muggy afternoon. Before I led the search party I would have to cover up his snake-skin guitar case, carry-on and notebooks with my gym towel from the boot. Those things would be more valuable than the car itself.
My concerned were laid to rest when I saw Tim making his way back to the drop off point. From there it was less than fifteen minutes to the airport. I confess to him as we round the final turn to the airport drop-off point that I had nightmares about him missing the plane. He told me he would have just stayed another day and he had a quiet day lined up tomorrow. A few ticks before 4:00pm we pull up out the front of the Virgin terminal. After retrieving his gear from the bag he donned his mask, thanked me for my efforts and called me “a great man”. If only he said that louder so the group of thirty-something women some twenty metres away would be within earshot to hear a character reference from an eleven time ARIA award winner. He got to the airport in one piece, the gig was a success and he got his chance to place his vote – a successful day’s work by any measure. It has been said, you shouldn’t meet your heroes, it only ends in disappointment. I’m the exception to that rule because it was an experience that I will not forget in a hurry. Maybe the person that coined that phrase was a Dani Minogue fan?
Small Fry Rock Festival – Next one is November 19th. Get there.