Melbourne April 2019 - Sound Serpents and Gig MothsMay 15, 2019
In our little outfit we have a term to which we refer quite frequently - ‘trauma-dwarfing’. This term can be used in two contexts: to describe the way in which the distress of one event obviates the memory of the last significant trauma, or; to describe the way the trauma of a current or future event will pale in comparison to some distressing feat or event experienced previously. In other words, the Crazy Scale is a sliding and relative one.
Example - as you may recall from the notes on our last trip, we began the tour by leaving to the airport directly from a gig (which did seem quite insane before, during and after the fact). Using the logic of trauma-dwarfing, and calculating that the distance to Melbourne from Perth is somewhat less than that to Ireland, we surmised that a similar down-to-the-wire strategy would be comparatively breezy. Yes and no. Make no mistake, the high speed load out/pack up/check-in to red-eye flight scenario was definitely unhinged* , but bolstered as we were with the knowledge that the feat was possible, we cheerfully and recklessly ploughed through the task (‘Have we got everything do you think?’ ‘Who cares, weeee!’). So this part was certainly trauma-dwarfed by our last adventure. The next day proved a perfect example of the other kind of dwarfing. The one you put in the bank so you can say ‘at least this wasn’t as bad as that other time’.
*Though made much easier thanks to the services of friends and family, Johnny and Tom, cheers bros.
We were keenly aware of the fact that we’d be running on very little pizzazz ahead of our first show, given that the maximum amount of sleep we would get on the plane was 3 hours (much of which was squandered on the consumption of wine and cheese), and the unavoidable fact of a hectic day’s schedule of car hire, equipment preparation and general bearing-taking. Not to mention the unmentionable and inevitable beachhead before our gig at 5pm (ominous music) - a reckoning with the mixing desk of confusion. In fact, this was to be the first in a series of technological quandaries, and so I’ve decided to give them their own segment.
Ghost in the Machine
The Broken Pokers travel with a lot of instruments - bouzouki, bodhran, banjo, 2 guitars, mandolin, many microphones, 1 million tin whistles - most of which require cables and somewhere to put them so they may be amplified in order that, for better or worse, people will hear them in a rowdy pub. Some venues have cables, some don’t, so we also carry an obscene amount of these sound serpents. The ideal place to put said cables is in an audio mixing desk, and being that 99% of the time we are our own sound engineers, we need to understand the basic operation of these mysterious devices.
Mixing desks, and their relationship to the amplifiers and speakers to which they are attached (or otherwise), are always similar, yet always different, and an ill-informed pilot of any such system is sure to yield undesirable results. The two most famous of these results are, 1. - ……………… (tumbleweed), or, 2. - EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, both of which are met with derision and scorn from the punters caught in the crossfire, particularly if they believe you are here with the express purpose of ruining their day (There is a good reason sound engineers often look world-weary). Our unavoidably schedule-bound circumstances permitted us little time to become properly acquainted with a new system each day, and ergo we managed both of these outcomes and many more over the weekend.
It must be said that the staff of P.J. O’Brien’s did warn us of the peril we faced prior to our showdown with the mighty QU-24 Digital Mixing Console of the Future and Possibly a Parallel Dimension. Using the wisdom of the popular adage, ’it’s not what you know, it’s who’s neuroses you can exploit’, the band were able to capitalize on my trait of deriving pleasure from reading technical manuals. Thus, with due diligence, in the week leading up to the show I read and re-read the instructions till I was fairly satisfied I would be furnished with the knowledge needed to tame the beast. I even grew exited to have such power at my fingers.
As it happens, with this power also comes the power to send the whole venue’s sound system haywire in the middle of a football broadcast being watched eagerly by the afternoon punters, substituting the relevant commentary with blaring rockabilly music from some hidden computer, and sending the staff into a brief panicked frenzy, never mind the hapless ‘sound engineer’. After much collaboration with the P.J.’s gang (IT support calls and everything), two hours work and much needed moral support and encouragement from Toby, Derrick and a saintly Irish coffee, we were ready with five minutes to spare. The QU-24 DMCotF&PaPD was truly a wonderful machine once in hand, worth every terrifying minute of disaster. Pity we only got to use it once.
The other venues had much more familiar equipment - apparently, at least - and we even got to set up a whole system from scratch and soundcheck on the wedding day (This sounds ponderous, but believe me, removing the ‘where does this cable go after it goes into this dark dusty tunnel’ factor makes for sane brains). Still, fate managed to throw us volley after volley of chaos grenades, resulting in EVERY gig setup taking an inordinate amount of time and pushing right up to or beyond the advertised commencement of tunes.
Aside from the fact that we were back and forth between three hire companies over the weekend as per our daily requisites, there were awkward and tiny stages, crackly mixers, a phantom sound engineer turning the volume up and down while we played (there really was no one that could have possibly done that other than a poltergeist), equipment apparently disconnected from power that still managed to go PEW!!! really loudly (more ghosts), and a barfly who approached us as we were deep in concentration figuring out technical problems to tell us at length before we’d even got our instruments in the building that he had a dozen bands under his command which were guaranteed 100% infinitely superior to your trusty troubadours. Calm blue oceans, tree falling in the woods…
But then there was music.
Behold, the Gig Moth
Pending our first visit to any given city, country, region, parish, fork in the road etc., the question of which particular venues we might perform at is subject to robust debate and analysis with regards to market positioning, social responsibility, fiscal treachery, various map strategies, personal allergies and political/philosophical dispositions. Also, in equal measure, our itinerary is dictated by the simple fact of whether or not an establishment will have us. Luckily for us, the latter factor played perfectly into the former, and The Pokers played three wonderfully diverse Irish pubs on our eastern rambles. P.J. O’Brien’s in Southbank was a big and bustling inner city meeting spot, Jimmy O’Neill’s a cool and crazy little 21st century whiskey bar in St. Kilda, and Flemington’s The Quiet Man representing all things warm, rustic and homely.
Increasingly, we find ourselves in front of new audiences. The moments (or hours, see above) that pass as we set up in full view of a crowd of punters who we assume are sizing us up for a good heckling can be awkward. However, as with the stage butterflies of the theatre, these feelings of uncertainty and tentative evaluation can be channeled into a bristling and action-ready psychological state - not exactly butterflies, so we’ll call them moths. Butterflies for nerves, moths for awkwardness. Gig moths?
But a smile begets a smile. We left Melbourne happily bewildered and grinning from ear to ear. In reverse order -
There was a great deal of post gig revelry on the last stop of our jaunt, Sunday at The ‘Quiet’ Man. Four sporting punters who’d had the sad misfortune of seeing us perform a novelty rendition of Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’ at PJ’s on Thursday had chanced the possibility of a cloudy Monday in order to see the circus once more. Much confusion ensued, as this Sunday night’s performance at the QM tended towards our folk troubadour repertoire. In the end all was reconciled, with one of our sceptical witnesses mounting the stage for a stirring rendition of a poignant song, and while I must say the title is lost to me, it was good and supernal all round. No joke. Then there was the blisteringly fun mid-gig session with Aussie folk legends The Exciting McGillicuddies, virtuosos who’d make your eyes water. Such musical dexterity was sobering to merry plunkers as ourselves, so countermeasures were called upon. It was our last night after all.
Although Melbourne has been the key locale for our Victorian story, mention must be made of the impetus for our eastward journey, the wedding of Jo and Nathan in Geelong, who very, very kindly lent us their city lodgings while they prepared for the truth of truths - and I ask that you please pardon my use of acronyms and latent cursing - OMFG for their bridal waltz they did the entire routine from the finale of Flashdance! Lifts and all. F!@#ing magical. Also, Geelong is the s#$&.
If we’re still attempting this reverse chronology thing properly, I’ll quote Toby’s assessment of Jimmy O’Neill’s at the conclusion of the Saturday evening’s proceedings of which we were privy to - ‘I can tell it was a good night by the amount of glass in my shoes’. By which he meant quite a lot. Of glass. We have no reference point from which to pivot, but certainly on that night it was a sweaty, smiley sardine can of joy, drunkeness and hilarious danger. It reminded us muchly of Perth’s own An Sibin.
Our first stop of the tour is P.J. O’Brien’s, home of The Broken Pokers and a crazy mixing desk! And also home to our wonderful host and chaperone Ciara who will fight the technological battle alongside us. The gig moths may well become spectres of our own travel-depleted imaginings, and better yet, reveal themselves to be people who have actually come to see us make the music we love making. Our weary spirits are lifted with the promise of a grand eastern Antipodean jaunt…