WOODFORD FESTIVAL NEW YEAR EVE
There were tented stages, small concerts, yarn spinning, spoken words, and a big top with Australian and African bands, the whole festival led up to New Year's Eve and culminated in a huge fire show using lanterns and horse lanterns with people in them, elephants and fish kangaroos etc, all dancing to a carnival, drunken waltz that would stop every 24 bars for a few seconds to freeze the dance movement and hold a frame, suspending the movement so we could view the figures.
The whole piece started with thanks and honouring the original aboriginal owners of the site land. Then two aboriginal men started a fire with wood in the traditional way without matches, one lifted the fire into the air for all of us to see. He then gave the fire and passed it to another character who ran around with it as a torch, waving and dancing with it around the huge fairground wheel that had been built out of wood.
The procession of translucent animal figures with lights inside them got wilder and busier and more and more populated. Sparklers and fireworks were set off, and sparks began flying, all colours of swirling flaming blizzards of fire on the huge wheel.
The last time I was here four years ago, star figures entered the arena lit up by lanterns, as they entered and some 60,000 people looked on, a real shooting star fell across the sky and everyone cheered in awe, as some kind of gift. or prayer answered as if it had been arranged by some direct connection from earth to the heavens.
Some 80,000 people gathered for this annual event from high up on the hill down towards the stage erected for the huge 100-person choir, all dressed in white, singing a kind of slow East European air. All rehearsed by a woman called Kavisha, who by the end of rehearsals was losing her voice.
The day before, I was asked to play on my own in a wine bar tent. I had told the owners that it would be a band that I decided we would be called the 'Fire Walkers' or 'The Familiar Strangers'. I didn't know who would turn up if anyone.
I started playing alone. Aimee joined me on a few songs at first, playing Bodhran, then I played a tango on my trombone, then in the middle of this appeared another trombone player, one became two trombones, plus my 'bone, then a fiddle. Then an accordion player came up. Then a young woman played string harp (I hushed everyone so we could hear her solo). Then a double bass player with a bowler hat asked to join in. Then Greg Sheehan, a wonderful percussionist mate, came up and played the tambourine. Then an African four-string "Balong" player. Then a reed section of two players was playing off from the stage, as by then the stage was full to overflowing.
Lots of folks were dancing on the red dusty earth off the stage. 'The Fire Walkers' became many and mutated into a big dance rhythmic jam, a band became 'The Familiar Strangers'. Solos were taken, and given.
I called for more wine, that was our payment. Champagne arrived. I drank it like water as I was thirsty for liquid. The wine was flowing, and at 5 am drinking tea in a tea tent, buzzing.
JIMMY - ROM
I Went touring up the Northern New South Wales coastline, in A white flashy Holden Commodore I hired, with automatic gears, fast acceleration, central locking and a big trunk!
I drove 60 miles up from Sydney towards Byron. Departing Sydney at 1 pm, sunshine, 8 hours later I was passing through lightning and storms, thunder, raining down in sheets, bouncing off the road. lights frazzled from huge trucks, reflecting and fractured by the rain and water and darkness. I got to Grafton around 10.30 and drove the darker back roads inland, on towards Copmanhurst inland, to visit Jimmy Storey, in his 50s, a mate I met some years ago in Queensland. He is the president of the Romany Association of Australia.
At Jimmy's place remote and dry, with no rain here since November, you could see the dark full rain clouds over towards the coast, but there was no way of pulling or coaxing them over here towards the dry, cracked parched countryside, to fall onto corrugated roofs, to fill up metal guttering and be flowing into the huge water tanks erected to collect any rainfall, however sparse. 100 Acres and Jimmy was building a new house of wood, with brick legs and plenty of windows for light.
Jimmy had rice and meatballs ready to eat. There were pictures of his New Guinean wife, kids and grandchildren on the shelf, all kitchen and living room together, his office/space full of Romany Gypsy books, pictures of Jimmy with Macedonian Gypsies on his European tour, other Gypsies, pix of Django Reinhardt, a small library of books, CDs of Gypsy music from around the world. Jimmy was doing a course in Business Studies for music and wanted to pick my brains about the little I know about Marketing, music agents, recording etc.
We would discuss all that the next morning over breakfast, he sang me a song for UK British Romany who was evicted from their house, also one about Swiss/nazi gold taken from the gipsies (as well as from the Jews). There was some kind of sadness in Jim, he and his wife were not getting on so well lately! They had always lived closely together near their work, he was now touring and away a lot playing festivals etc, storytelling etc, forming a band.. playing gipsy music, Jimmy had taken a music-making course learning about midi and sampling. Jimmy is from Ayrshire and tells me his grandfather was a ROM, there were a few Roms in Australia and he was trying to bring them together and the kids, there was an invitation of ROM kids to an International Romany festival. I must ask Jimmy where it is and pass on the message. Dorothy, Jim's wife, was not there, she worked in a women's refuge and did pottery. Jim told me that the area was a desert culturally, and was stuck in the 50s.
NSW COAST TOURING
Drove onwards North to Byron Bay, hungry for a swim, that night, all Motels are full, stayed with Janie, and Pete, her housemate. Their house is A 5-minute walk from the beach. Janie is a warm, bright and enthusiastic lovely woman teaching and studying literature. She is delving and searching her family tree, Jewish Polish, Scottish, Orcadian, and she talked about some secretiveness in her family, about a possible Romany background. Janie knows Jimmy. She has never been to Britain yet, a pilgrimage is in store... Byron Bay is beautiful clean water, not too much surf and rip, snorkelling around seeing schools of fish around rocks close to the shore.
That evening I drove to Stoker's Siding, through Uki, a village hall where I played to a mixed crowd, kids and babies too, 'new age hippies', 'spaced out' local ferals etc and 'straighter' folks. The next day was a gig down in Byron Bay, the Great Northern Hotel, big sound system.
Aimee had to catch a 10 pm train to Sydney and get to the Jambaroo festival in Illawarra. where her old-ex band Anam were playing. My support, a band started at 10 pm. The train platform was full of travellers, bags etc waiting for the train. Peter and Janie also came to see Aimee off. Like an old film, those moments of departure, doors closing, and whistles, We signalled through the closed glass of the door. I joked and pantomimed the train moving off, by moving... to twist my feet the opposite way as if the train had already begun to move. Our hands touched the glass but not each other. from either side, kisses were blown, "I love you's" The train took off, and got to the end of the platform, till some girl screaming and running "Stop the train" I thought someone had got caught in the automatic doors or something but, no, someone had missed the train further up the line and driven to catch up with it here. The train stopped suddenly. The girl's mum and dad came running with a push-chair and baby in it, carrying it, bags, cases etc. I quickly grabbed one or two and ran with them to help put them onto the delayed train. lifting the baby in its push-chair etc.Walking slowly back down the platform to Janie and Pete and back to the club to play my gig in Byron Bays Northern Hotel.
Nambucca is a wonderful swirl of Estuary sand and sea dunes and vegetation rivulet waterways bending and twisting, like the Mississippi, Back onto itself. I caught a chill, runny nose etc from the Air conditioning in last night's pub, where I sweated and sang. Now tired, I took a pill and dozed on a beach to recover. Sunset eating fish and chips before my gig, Met John Money, Weddoes old tour Manager. and his mate who is a horse breaker. I arrived at Waurchope salty and sticky from the sea and my sweat, after a sound check in the small wooden hall, I went to take a shower at Neals' mum's and dad's house.
Waurchope is or was an old timber town, that used to be a redneck country and still is conservative, Krissa the organizer, told me that people are slowly changing. She was recording old women in the area, and oral history projects and had discovered an old photo album of photos taken secretly by an old POW camp prisoner, photos of the prisoners, men in the pantomime, cabaret, comic theatre shows, dressed up in women's clothes, some looking quite beautiful made up, long flowing dresses, posing with their "lovers in character". Some as 'dancing girls.' The photos were quite tiny. The man had recently died so many unanswered questions remained about the kind of shows and rehearsals, where they got the materials for the dresses and costumes during wartime in a P.O.W. camp. Krissa and her kids lived in Bonny Hills, her ex-husband lived next door, she carved and sculpted out of wood, strong figurative pieces, she used a cutting machine to help save her time before working by hand, Commedia Del Arte latex masks hung on the wall, made by a maker up the coast, she had worked in a theatre company in Melbourne and now locally doing shows. parades and agitprop, trying to save an old theatre space in Waurchope...
In Waurchope, Graham ? a fiddle, cello, and guitar maker told me that in Classical concerts there is some detachment between musicians and the audience, and yet there is a sacred place you can go to in the music, he told me that I took him "to a sacred place", but also reached out in a non-secular way, mixing the earthly with songs and stories about people.
"With your feet on the Ground, you sang about life and touched and moved Us in more than one way, a mixture of both Earthly and sacred."
What a lovely and humbling thing to say.
Graham showed me his technique of tuning the backs of fiddles as he carves and shapes them, using a tone frequency and sprinkling dust on the fiddle as he chisels and carves its concaveness. The wooden back is laid over a speaker and the dust vibrates into waves, and shapes, curving with the frequency symmetrically if it is chiselled evenly. Centuries ago, makers, like Stradivarius, would knock the wood and listen to the resonating tones as they chiselled. Also, using extra thin wood on Classical Guitars, the table will resonate more and be louder, using carbon fibre ribbon in a criss-cross mesh in 70-degree angles to re-enforce the balsa struts underneath. He uses native Australian woods.
M.U.A. (Maritime Union of Australia) Benefit: it's a funny pride, that class consciousness, all the references about John Maclean, communists, the red Clyde and my pride all mixed up. A pride I was taught by my dad, but which I feel is like a religion, having a vision of the world. It came out tonight when I sang 'Passing the Pain Down' for the Wharfies, for all the folks there to unite us all, solidarity and sing together. I had been drinking there all afternoon. On the microphone, I mentioned the Liverpool Dockers and Gough Whitlam, who was forced by The queen's governor Kerr to stand down in some sinister coup to do with not renewing the pine gap treaty. I rambled on, as usual, about the Falklands/Malvinas war and the enemies that are made for us by our Fascist Governments Thatcher and Galtieri, Malvinas, saying basically, I thought we had the same enemies, both the Argentinean people and the British people and they were our ruling governments. Also, I spouted on about the amount of internationalism and support from abroad there was for the Liverpool Dockers on their long battle/strike but none for them in their own country, Britain, Murdoch and the Labour Party and TUC. had a covered blanket on the media. but everywhere else there were the Australian wharfies, Longshoremen from California, Mexican Grape pickers, and Union workers, the boycott, and solidarity were strong and far-reaching, and to me that is beautiful, that others can recognise another's plight, and act, as their brothers would. This is why this MUA Victory is so important to all of us everywhere in the world. I got everyone singing on Passing the Pain Down. After I'd sung and got back to a beer. John the MUA rep, who I hadn't met, thanked me shook my hand, hugged me, took off his Sweaty MUA tee shirt and sweaty shirt etc in public and gave me them, etc. He took off his shirts with MUA printed on them and gave them to me in front of folks there. The feeling he and I felt was the same, recognition, the Liverpool Dockers, and he were brothers, he was born in Edgware hospital. Like me! We were f\\\\\\g brothers, father and son, relatives, related, bonded, shook hands kissed hugged expressed our…... Yes I was drunk too, had been drinking at this pub all afternoon after playing outside in the rain….earlier in the day, it was an all-day Benefit of music with bands playing etc.
A couple of women ask me to play a bar called the 'Rising Sun' whenever I get back to OZ. I was supposed to be leaving the next day, flying back to the UK.
I Played the trombone along with John McCauslan and others. A dog was running and jumping around in the pub as we played.
Back at someone's house an Irish woman sang and played the piano, and I played the trombone along. I got back to my room at 5-5.30 am!
Was woken at 10 am to vacate my room and I hadn't packed yet! Ali, in a minibus taxi, came to pick me and my bags up as pre-arranged, Ali from Palestine has a 21-year-old married daughter back in Jordan, and he has another four two boys and two girls, the youngest is 8 years. Ali studied Islam for 4 years, the took degrees in Teaching. He taught in Jordan for 2-3 years. Now in Australia since 1971. I asked about religion, and told him eventually my mum's family was Jewish ("-ish", I joke).. but that she ran away with my Atheist dad, so I was never really brought up with any religion. He said it was a religion, not a race and we talked about the state of Israel, warmongering, power etc, How Israel was an American state, a missile site, and a strategic base to make war from. Wars over oil... I suggested that in the future we would have a war over water! I said we in Britain had our Colonial past in Northern Ireland. Eventually, he was very candid when I asked him what the word infidel meant. He didn't know, he said perhaps someone who is not married i.e. infidelity. I asked him if it meant unbeliever, like 'Heathen' a word Christians use for pagans or non-Christians. No there was another word for that. He told me it, but I can't remember it now.
He told me he could wear a turban to make money and pretend he was a guru. A worldly-wise mullah etc. He had the qualifications as he was a teacher, and some people pray and say they believe but are false and use their religion to gain worldly things. He said after studying Islam and reading so many books his brain hurt or he became even more confused, now as much as he wanted he didn't believe in a god, "I am like Salmon Rushdie" He said smiling. All this world today is a miracle, you can be travelling around the world in 1 day, with faxes, phones, space, and men on the moon, 200 years ago they would not believe all this would be, it is a miracle, He then laughed and confided that he would never tell anyone else these thoughts he had, no one would understand, he was surprised, here he was telling me inside his cab as he was driving me. I told him my childhood question. Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons, Navels? And Did the trees in the Garden of Eden have rings in them? How Christ, Mohammed, and Moses were revolutionaries, and prophets this is why they had stories told about them around campfires in the desert, then someone came and wrote the stories down in a bible or Koran and they became frozen laws. "Yes," he said, why is it that all the prophets only came to the Middle East and Arab countries, what about other countries, in India, Aboriginal culture, and Asia, why were none sent there? "Religion, like the Vatican, is egocentric," I said."That's why they locked Galileo under house arrest, he discovered that the earth and we are not the centres of the universe."We have codes, thou shall not kill, steal etc. These are good Ancient universal laws, we need them. We agreed that as long as no one harmed another then that was fine."I want to help create heaven on Earth" I told him. We arrived at the Airport.
Turkish words learned from Bora. Turkish Exile I met in Canberra:
Dost = Friend / Comrade
Dostlar = Friends
Evet = Yes
Hayir = No