Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Tex, Don & Charlie live at Factory Theatre, Marrickville, 23 August 2017

(for gav's little songy mag)

           I’d seen Tex Don & Charlie perform a few times prior to their Factory Theatre gig in Marrickville last week; twice in 1993 when they’d just formed, and again to a packed house at the Hopetoun in Surry Hills in 2003.  Fourteen years later, the group had sold out the larger Factory Theatre over three consecutive nights, confirming their enduring popularity and appeal as they tour Australia for the first time in over a decade.

Something of a mini-super group, the band comprises of Tex Perkins (Cruel Sea, Beasts of Bourbon), Charlie Owen (Divinyls, Beasts of Bourbon), and Don Walker (Cold Chisel, Catfish), with extra musicians guesting on double bass, drums, and at this recent gig a pedal steel guitar.  Tex Don & Charlie weren’t particularly popular to begin with.  Being a huge Don Walker fan I didn’t miss the opportunity to see them live as soon as they started gigging together back in 1993-95.  The venues they played in back then were small and the audiences subdued; I got the feeling that most of the audience were there to see Tex Perkins who was trailing hot from his time in the Beasts of Bourbon and Cruel Sea.  Cold Chisel remained coolly submerged from the fashionable zone in the early nineties and Charlie’s fine skill as a guitarist was known only to fellow musicians and dedicated fans. 

Almost twenty-five years later we find audiences singing along to both the newer and older songs, revelling in the pleasure of music made by three great performers and songsmiths who work just damn wonderfully together.  Tex Perkins is an exceptional front-man; he’s tall, gravelly-voiced, articulate and theatrical.  His once trademark swarthy, aggressive stage manner has refined itself with age.  He’s a little more composed and dignified now without in any way affecting his characteristic stage presence and innate theatricality, on the contrary he is now performing better than ever.  Don Walker is rightfully respected and loved by audiences, and Charlie Owen is seen as an integral musical and personal force as he weaves his way with a variety of guitars around the songs of Don Walker and Tex Perkins.  Fittingly, the first album they made together back in 1993, Sad but True, is now universally regarded as one of the great albums of the Australian music canon.

The group played a mixture of songs mostly from their first and most recent third album, You Don’t Know Lonely.  The songs from their latest release are brought to vivid life in a live context when compared to the understated, skeletal tone of the album.  These are reflective, almost world-weary pieces that resonate well with middle-aged folk, sounding refreshingly vibrant when performed live.

The band started with something quite familiar.  ‘Redheads, Goldcards and long black limousines’ is the opening track of Sad but True and was sung by both Tex and Don over alternating verses.  It’s a great opener and introduces us to the concert with a fitting line, “…I’ve been in and out of trouble, mainly in…”.  ‘Man in conflict with nature’ showcases a fine lyric from Tex who is himself a fine storyteller.  “…I got myself three hookers, and some sushi…” was easily the most memorable line here, and all the more satisfying when ‘taxi’ was used to rhyme with ‘sushi’.

Danielle’ was featured early on in the set.  This is one of Don Walker’s Ray Charles flavoured, jazz-blues signature tunes that had been adapted from a Chisel song ‘Janelle’ and re-recorded by Tex, Don & Charlie for Sad but True.   This version had Don swapping his lead vocal with Tex, mirroring the Chisel version which had Ian’s lead vocal swapping half way with Jimmy Barnes’.  Of the four, Tex probably sings it the best with his warm, commanding baritone, and Don for that matter as composer is not quite the singer that the other three are, but no matter: ‘Danielle’ is a musical and lyrical delight and was a set highlight.

Don and Tex swapped places on stage for ‘Harry was a bad bugger’ which featured Tex theatrically carving out single note motifs on the piano, underpinned by Charlie’s understated guitar.  This song of a racketeering, notorious crim called “Harry” managed in its four minutes to eek out the terrain of the entire Underbelly series.  Musically sparse though lyrically detailed, ‘Harry was a bad bugger’ was delivered with a poetic precision that once again showcased Don Walker’s unique talents as a songwriter.

Tex commandeered his acoustic guitar on a number of songs including ‘Fake that emotion’ from Sad but True.  This is one of Tex’s better-known tunes from Tex Don & Charlie, and the song elicited an enthusiastic response.  The band overall gave a committed performance and engaged in some laid-back on-stage banter, particularly Tex.  The audience in turn delighted in the songs, the performance, and the band’s easy camaraderie and humour on stage.  And they got their money’s worth with the main act playing for almost two hours.

The final song performed prior to the encore was Don Walker’s ‘Sitting in a bar’ from Sad but True.  The guest musicians left the stage at this point and for the first time we witness only the three men on stage, Charlie, Tex, and Don.  This song encapsulated everything that is great about the band: Don’s compositional genius and storytelling mastery, Tex’s singing and showmanship and Charlie’s deft musicianship.  The audience loved it and laughed and spurred on the singer as he approached those iconic lines, “…I’m sitting in a bar doing lift-home deals, with the last two drinkers in the skirt and high heels, one of them’s a girl, the other one…I’m not so sure…”.  These lines surprised audiences in 1993, but in 2017 the audience at large know the song well, laughing and anticipating Tex’s customary send-up as he came to sing those lines.

Sitting in a bar’ could be set anywhere, ostensibly Kings Cross, but reads also as an indictment of empty lives centred around far-flung, nowheresville, landlocked suburban pubs where Friday nights are met with “the usual bender in mind, a wet week’s end” and a “cold grey Saturday coming in under the door”, fleeting romantic prospects so that “I’m making eyes at the floor” and a midnight meal that’s “coming alive” at “half-past five” when I’m “half alive”.

The band finished their encores with ‘Postcard from Elvis’, written by Smotherman/Ehmig and featured on Sad but True.  It was a fitting ending to a superb concert, with the band jamming out heartily to the song’s calypso-like coda.  Tex by this point had cracked open a beer and sung out the refrains with his own improvised melodies, losing himself in this terrific home-cooked musical corroboree.

Tex, Don and Charlie appear to get together about once every twelve years.  These guys are wonderful musicians with their own unique flavour and appeal.  Let’s hope their next album and tour comes along a lot sooner than 2030.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


enjoying a bevvy

Awakening to the ‘good’ in our lives and to the fulfilling sense of gratitude which follows often comes to us via the most simple and sometimes indirect means.  I’ve found myself catalysing these freeing thoughts and sensations by attending Al-Anon meetings, which is a worldwide support group for friends and relatives of alcoholics.  Al-Anon delivers a platform for attendees to listen and to speak with candour and honesty in a confidential setting with like-minded persons.

I’ve been to three Al-Anon meetings thus far over three consecutive weeknights.  There’s a church up at Randwick that hosts both AA (alcoholics anonymous) and Al-Anon meetings on Thursday nights.  My partner is in both AA and A-Anon.  We figured that I might give Al-Anon a go – given I’m a blue ribbon qualifier - while she can choose between attending either AA or Al-Anon depending on her own needs at the time.  She came with me to my first two Al-Anon meetings and went off to AA on her own at my third sitting.

Al-Anon, unlike AA, is a small group and maxes at about six or seven people on those three occasions I attended.  I discovered quickly that there are ‘branches’ to Al-Anon with mine being ACA – adult children of alcoholics. ACA meetings are held around Sydney and I’m considering going along to one, partly out of curiosity and partly out of a want to experience some of this group’s emotional intensity.

This Randwick group is a somewhat generic Al-Anon group that welcomes all comers facing issues related to someone else’s alcohol use affecting their own lives.  About half of the participants were in ‘dual recovery’, meaning they attended two (or more) types of support groups, invariably Al-Anon and AA.  I certainly have nothing to do with either AA or NA (narcotics anonymous), but I’ve everything to do with friends or relatives or children of alcoholics support group.

I turned up on that first night wearing my new leather jacket.  I’d come straight from work and I noticed myself to be better dressed than the other attendees (my groovy partner excepted of course).  I felt overdressed and overqualified given that the men in particular were dressed like they were on parole, all nervous and fidgety in their trackies and hoodies.  My leather jacket I’d purchased a few weeks ago at a second hand clothing store in Katoomba.  I was really pleased to find a good, inexpensive leather jacket as I’d been meaning to purchase one for sometime.   The jacket symbolised something, some sort of movement towards a greater “independence” of my inner ‘man’, and another ever-so-slight moving away from the cloistering or debilitating influence of being that child of an alcoholic.  As I donned that jacket when walking out of that shop in Katoomba I felt a noticeable uplift and sense of authority.  I love my leather jacket.

I enjoy these meetings.  It’s great to hear people speak and to tell their stories, and I enjoy speaking myself.  Perhaps I just like to hear the sound of my own voice.  I attribute a sense of theatre with public speaking and it’s handy to have support groups as a means of improving one’s own speaking for work-related situations, even if this is only a secondary consideration.  You don’t have to plan your talk when attending support groups; you just speak, and let the words and narrative flow through you, going where they may in the hope of getting a better understanding of your own processes along with hopefully inspiring the other participants in the group.  I was unashamed and candid when speaking.  I told them all about the slow-burn of my dad’s drinking, how he was enabled by everyone around him, that no-one even considered the word ‘problem’, or ‘alcoholic’, during his lifetime.  I guess he was one of the last of that swathing generation of Aussie ‘blokes’ who carved their own meaning through pubs, schooners of “Reschs” or “New” and all that bullshit; ‘shouts’, ciggies, and finally coming home sozzled each and every night with that dark shadow shrouded over what was essentially a brilliant man of magisterial integrity, though who was to know, we certainly didn’t.  He was everybody else’s ‘best mate’, not ours.  When he came home from that fucking pub, we had a dead codfish in the house, night after night after night.  I never had a proper conversation with the man in the entire time I knew him even though he was, incredulously, “my father”.  A gruff pontification here and there was about the extent of any dialogue he threw my way.

A square grimacy smile surfaced on my face when I divulged some of the gory details, and when talking about the relief I felt after he passed, throwing his coffin in the hearse as one of the pall-bearers.   I was quick to add that this didn’t mean I didn’t love him, rather, when a life is lived in a shell-like and destructive way then isn’t better for this energy to be freed, to move onto the next gig?  I guess that physical death is a gift in its freeing-ness, and something we all face sooner or later.

A woman who turned up at that second meeting mentioned something about attending an ACA meeting in Bondi Junction the week before.  She talked unnervingly about another attendee, a man, sobbing uncontrollably.  I thought that there must be some heavy juice to ACA and it’s probably where the most painful ‘shares’ of Al-Anon are to be encountered.  I’m an ACA, so I hope to go along at some point to speak and meet these people.

I didn’t discuss my dad much at all in that third and most recent meeting I attended.  Instead I gave a summation of my situation as someone whose point of reference died twenty-five years ago.  Twenty-five years is a long time, but it takes an equally long time for circumstances – and the facing of these circumstances – to play out.  Sure, an alcoholic father may pass away, but this leaves the mother acting out her own denial in a tight-fisted and strangulating way, the siblings playing out their own worlds of bad marriages, instability, and anger.  Partners are chosen on the basis of what you already knew so invariably these encounters are painful and soul-destroying, and friends and situations coalesce into enmeshments, fear, and conflict.  Circumstances appear difficult, natural expression is repressed, and a shadowy fog of vague torment envelops your thoughts and emotions.

With that third meeting came the clear realisation that each individual present were in a lot worse situation than me, meaning that their lives were conflicted and problematic, now.  I realised that despite the trauma of alcoholism in my family, and the negative circumstances and situations that played out thereafter, that it’s all over – I’m at the point in life where the negativity has played itself out.  There is no one in my life who is reflecting active para-alcoholism (anymore).  My partner is an alcoholic, but she’s sober and works the steps (creepily, she stopped her promiscuous drinking at around the same week my father died).  My sweet mother is still in denial, though she’s getting old and her all-consuming focus now rests on her own health and well-being.  Everything else that may have caused problems has moved on and sorted itself out.

I read, I’m educated, I noodle on piano, have a nice job, live close to work, have a lovely partner, and live in a nice-ish part of town.  One has to count their blessings constantly, and at this meeting I felt grateful for what I have.

I haven’t come away unscathed.  I have adult-onset diabetes which is very boring and unsexy and always has doctors asking me how did you get that?  Well, I identify sudden weight gain at age 17 as the first signs of insulin resistance, meaning pre-diabetes.  I finished school, and then blew up like a balloon.  My parents didn’t notice, one was a pisser and the other a para.  Fucking hopeless.

You crave love, but can’t receive it.  You long to give love but you can’t find the key.  You have an urgent desire to communicate and to be your natural ebullient self but the appropriate persons or situations never seem to manifest.   Most of all you need a dad who’ll actually talk to you and help you along in his own loving, dad-like way.  Didn’t happen.

This is where meetings are vital, they help you work through this stuff.

I look into my life and all’s clear and all’s good.  I am alive and well.  I am reminded of a meditation tape I have where Barry Long the speaker talks about releasing “emotional prisoners”.  I play this CD most mornings as I’m preparing my oatmeal.  Allow me to paraphrase according to memory, and with that I do acknowledge any copyright considerations in relation to the Barry Long Foundation International:

Perhaps it’s the feeling that your mother or father failed you at some time in your life.  Let’s say it’s your father.  Smile. Forgive him.  With love, not necessarily with love for him, but just love and goodwill. See that what you’ve been holding onto was your own self-centred expectation of what a father should be. 

If he was not a good father, so what.  It’s all behind you, and all the more reason to let go of him.”

I love that, if he was not a good father, so what, it’s all behind you

Barry continues: “He gave what he could, all that his nature and conditioning allowed, just as you give…”

My dad’s worldview was simple – you got food, something to drink, a roof over your head, that’s all that matters.

He’s right.. fundamentally.  Granted however it was my mother who was the one nervously scurrying around trying to balance the budget while my old man was blowing his own on booze cigs and horse races.  If my mum weren’t so good of character and just plain amazing with managing finances then really we would be fucked.

That however, has passed, is past.  I look now, as I did in that most recent meeting, and can see there is no problem.  The alcoholism, the para-alcoholism, the cause and effect, the circumstances, are all behind me now.  This I see clearly, and it’s a very good feeling.  I don’t have a need to do the Steps to Recovery.  All I need is to stay grateful, true, clear and Now, and be real.  Life is good, and it has taught me a hell of a lot.  But that imperative or necessity to stay true and present, it never ceases…

Long, B. 1983. Start meditating now. Barry Long Foundation International. Compact disc.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Solitude standing

I graduated from high-school 30 years ago.  The boys are on for a major reunion, so out come the Facebook groups, comments, photo uploads.  Suddenly I'm drawn into this yesteryear world of peering over schoolboy headshots appearing on Facebook and attempting to recall all those long-forgotten faces.  My immersion into this group has been an odd experience, a surreal journey where I find myself flipping between 1987 and the present and sometimes capturing the essence again of being that exact person I was when I was 17 years old and left wondering if anything in my life has actually moved on since then.  Songs or feelings I had in 1987 suddenly flash in my memory and consciousness, vivid and alive.  Suzanne Vega's Solitude Standing album.  The innocence of living quietly and studying.  But that sense of life coming full-circle is somewhat unsettling.  I may have left school, though I haven't really left university.  I work there, and by January 1988 I will have been there 30 years given 2 years and 8 months hiatus between 1992 and 1996.  The university is near the old school, too.  So I haven't really gone anywhere, I'm still here..

No, not much point in turning up and having to justify my non-material, non-trappings to guys who have either houses or families or both while I'm still living like a battler-boho.  And there are some people I really don't want to see.  Having said that, many of those men would like me to turn up and it may be a very friendly experience - they did join ('yank') me into the Facebook group after all.  My face looks the same: fresh-faced and green as a blade of grass though my hair has thinned and greyed around the edges, so I'm probably still better looking than the lot of 'em, the snot-faces they were. Ha!

My 1987 headshot is scowling and unhappy.  That same scowly surliness will be present in me if I attend the reunion although I would more likely put on a contentedly cool front.  Too many blokes, too much garrulousness, too many guys asking the same questions to each other and which I've no answer to.  What have I been doing all these years?  I don't know.  I am here now, as I was thirty years ago.

I'm in two minds about going.  Thirty years is a long time, and the past is well and truly over.

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...