Monday, December 16, 2013

The day I became a 'nobody'


I used to be a ‘somebody’ in the workforce. When I called people and said, “It’s Ange Takats, from Reuters” or “It’s Ange Takats, from Channel Nine News” – I was guaranteed a certain level of respect and attention.

Now, when I'm asked where I’m calling from, all I can say is, “Um, nowhere. It’s just me – Ange Takats”. I'm officially a 'nobody'.


My decision to leave full-time employment came off the back of a year working a corporate PR job in Sydney that paid me ridiculously well. The money, however, did not make up for...

the daily two-hour public transport commute

the freezing air-conditioned office cubicle
the mind-numbing fluorescent lighting
the endless 'brainstorming' meetings that left me brain-drained
the pressure from my boss for me to win over new clients
the fact that I was waking up each day with no desire to live.

And so I made the huge decision to leave my hometown and move to the Sunshine Coast; to explore the possibility of creating a career that would allow me to not only enjoy my Saturdays and Sundays, but also my Monday to Friday.

It has been eight years since I became a freelancer.

Now, when the sun is shining outside my home office, I can walk down to the beach and have an ocean dip. When I feel the need to sing, I can step away from my computer and pick up my guitar. There is...

time to eat well
time to exercise
time to spend precious moments with the people that I love
time to breathe
time to discover what makes me happy - and do more of it.

But working as my own boss is not without its pitfalls.

I never know when my next contract job will come along. Sometimes there are weeks without money flowing into my account. There is no financial security. There is no sick or holiday pay. There are clients who take three months to pay an invoice.

And yet I’ve never missed a rent payment. And I’ve had enough cash to self-fund two albums and publish a book.

I might not have a multinational company behind me, or a swanky title on my business card, but at least when the receptionist on the other end of the line asks me where I'm calling from, my heart knows the true answer - a very splendid place called freedom.


Photo by Lib Creative

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Healing in the hills

I nearly didn't make it to Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival. Two days before my departure date I'd begun typing an email, full of regret, informing the festival director that I would not be able to perform. After four weeks of dealing with a range of debilitating health issues - including a bout of acid reflux which stole my voice from me - I was exhausted. It felt like my body and spirit had been broken.

Thankfully I did not send the email. Instead, with a bag full of supplements, lotions and potions - I hopped in a car with my bass player, Tim, and we drove down to Dorrigo.

I'm not sure what exactly was responsible for the healing....

Maybe it was the country hospitality shown by our hosts who allowed us to stay in their beautiful homestead on a hill, surrounded by rose bushes and friendly cows.

Maybe it was their neighbour who dropped around a bunch of freshly picked lemon and aniseed myrtle for me - or their other neighbour who picked me up one morning and drove me to the most spectacular lookout.

Maybe it was the caretaker of a train museum who, as the sun slid behind the ranges, spoke of the ghosts who lingered in his empty carriages.

Maybe it was the festival performers who took to the stage with banjos, mandolins and bluegrass charm.

Or maybe it was the conversations I had with Tim, Steve and Caroline - each with their own stories of feeling broken - and the moment, halfway through performing 'Arva', that our souls became one on stage.








Monday, September 23, 2013

Rockets, rain and a walk down memory lane



There are movies about heavy issues...and movies full of laughter and light...and then there are those rare films that manage to weave moments of humour between the heartbreak. For me, these are the films that are touching and powerful. The Rocket - which was written and directed by Australian filmmaker Kim Mordaunt and produced by Sylvia Wilczynski - is one such movie. It had me laughing and crying at the same time. It left me feeling uplifted. It restored my faith in humanity.

Set in Laos, it tells the story of a boy who is considered cursed by his family...and his path to redemption, which leads him to meet some memorable and loveable characters...who all end up at a rocket festival together.

Maybe it's because part of my heart still remains in South East Asia that I found this film particularly magical. The cinematography is superb, with breathtaking shots of the lush green mountains of Laos. Mordaunt has spent a lot of time in this part of the world and it shows - his script is such an accurate reflection of the culture and customs of the people of Thailand and Laos. The film brought back many happy memories of my time in Asia.

All of the actors were outstanding, but the two children who play leading roles were truly exceptional. Sitthiphon Disamoe, who plays Ahlo, had the ability to convey so much emotion not only with his delivery of the lines, but in the way he moved his body - each little facial expression and shrug of his shoulders had meaning. Then there was the angelic Loungnam Kaosainam, as Kia, who is the kind of child who is able to look straight through a person and read their soul.

The film is now showing in independent cinemas across Australia and has already won a swag of awards. It has also been submitted as the official Australian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the OscarsDo yourself a favour and go see this film!

*         *         *

One of the many crazy stories I was sent to cover during my two years in Thailand was a rocket festival. In celebration of this charming film, I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from my memoir The Buffalo Funeral about the day I watched people trying to 'pierce holes' in the sky to make rain:


It had reached that time of the year when the skies over Thailand became dark and heavy in the late afternoon. Each day, under the oppressive heat and humidity, one would pray for the monsoon to break and the clouds to release rain and yet, somehow, the sky would hold thick and strong – and the country’s people would be left to sweat through another night. In the north-east province of Yasothon, villagers were gathering for Bun Bang Fai – otherwise known as the Thai Rocket Festival. On the way to the festival, when I asked Vusit about the meaning behind the long running tradition, he told me the rockets were launched so they could pierce holes in the sky and bring rain for the farmers. He also mentioned something about the rain god Wassakan who apparently loved to be worshipped with fire (go figure) and, therefore, the more ‘bang’ and smoke the rockets created, the more rain the god was sure to send.

As a child who grew up when it was still legal to launch fireworks in the backyard, I can remember being completely traumatised when walking through a dark park with my parents one night and having some drunk local teenage boys throw crackers at us. The fireworks didn’t hit us, but the noise of the tiny explosions and the sight of the sparks (which probably would have delighted the average child) left this sensitive schoolgirl rather distressed. Thankfully the laws changed and I was able to enjoy the beautiful spectacle of magical light blooms in the sky from a safe distance in the years that followed. As we pulled into town, I hoped that similar safety laws were in place in Thailand. I had made two inaccurate assumptions about Bun Bang Fai. The first was that there’d be designated ‘rocket’ areas and designated ‘spectator’ areas on the large field where the festival was taking place. Wrong. The second was that the word ‘rocket’, in this festival context, would translate to ‘small fire cracker shaped like a rocket’. Also wrong.

As I flung the tripod over my shoulder and began following Vusit through the massive crowd of already fairly intoxicated onlookers, a loud explosion ripped through the air. It was followed by a huge plume of smoke that rose high above our heads and caused an ecstatic cheer to erupt around me.

“Vusit!” He had picked up the pace, keen to catch the commotion on camera, “Vusit! Hey! These rockets – like, they are fireworks, right?” I inquired.
“No Khun Ange – they are rockets!”

BWWWOOOOOFFFFF! 

The explosion was so forceful that I considered hitting the deck to protect myself from flying debris. Another elephant- sized puff of white smoke rose from the land. I was unable to see the source of the smoke as Vusit and I were now inside a pack of sweaty festival goers – all wearing brightly coloured shirts and most holding bottles of whisky in their hands.

When we finally found a patch of ground that was raised from the rest, Vusit pointed to a group of fifteen or so men carrying something that was heavy enough for them to be straining as they moved through the spectators.

“See ... rockets!” he exclaimed, as he set up the camera.
“HO-LY CRAP!”

The parting crowd revealed the object that was weighing the men down. It was a large piece of giant bamboo that stretched for six or so metres – with two metres that had been cased in bright blue PVC piping – full of gunpowder. Around the top of the ‘rocket’ was a thick pink ribbon. The men were making their way to the far edge of the field towards three bamboo structures that looked a bit like towers of scaffolding. They would have been at least three storeys high.

Then, with great difficulty and thanks to some very long vines, the men hoisted the rocket up so that it sat vertically parallel on the bamboo scaffolding – like a space ship about to hurtle into the stratosphere. They tied it into place and then 11 of the 12 men made a run for it, leaving one guy to light the match.

BWWWOOOOOFFFFF!

The homemade rocket shot up into the sky and, before the crowd could cheer, made an abrupt about-turn – hurtling back to the earth and crashing with a BWOOF and BANG into a ditch behind the launch pad.

“Oh my god!” I looked at Vusit who let out a little girlish giggle as the smoke began rising from the ditch.
“Sometimes rocket not good,” he said.

I looked over to a small swamp where two very drunk men were splashing about in the mud. The hand painted sign next to the water’s edge read DENGER ZONE. Maybe the sign would have served the public better had it been placed on the side of the highway leading into town. I know I would have appreciated a ‘heads-up’ before I stepped onto the festival site.

It was moments like these that caused me to question the sanity of the Thai people – PVC piping, full of gunpowder, exploding in close proximity to more than one thousand onlookers? I mean, what goes up ... must come down, right? Safety anyone? Anyone?

Sensing a look of horror on my face, Vusit continued.

“One time the rocket fall on a house in a village and some guys die. Maybe five guy die. But usually just fun for the people,” he said before another missile exploded at the other end of the field.
It’s kind of strange when you turn up to an event with a TV camera. Your brain has ways of convincing you that no matter what happens in front of you, the fact that you are behind the lens makes you somehow immune to it all. Maybe that’s why TV crews find themselves risking their lives or doing crazy things to get ‘the shot’ or ‘the story’.

As I stood amongst the insanity of the rocket festival I reassured myself that nothing bad was going to happen to me. I was a journalist. I was with the guy with the big impressive TV camera. Surely the rockets knew that their job was to crash back to land, away from us! Even so, I was rather relieved when Vusit told me to stay with the tripod while he went and got some close-ups of the rockets. I opened my backpack and checked my mobile phone. I’d been hoping for a text from Mike who had left the country two days prior in his usual work-mode haste. This time he was in Fiji – covering civil unrest. But there was no message and I knew there wouldn’t be one until he returned to Bangkok. As I sank into a state of sorriness, my thoughts were interrupted by a gang of men dressed as women, wearing bright lipstick and eye shadow. They were parading through the crowd, holding what looked like small rockets between their thighs but, as they moved closer, I realised they were pieces of wood that had been carved to look like penises. What on earth? The Universe usually has a way of snapping me out of my woe-is-me-ness, but I hadn’t expected the wake-up call to be a wooden phallus! Everyone around me was also laughing, including a couple of kids who thought it would be even funnier to run up and touch one of the penises. Even the monks were laughing. I noticed a few other phallus statues around the festival site, but I was too scared to ask Vusit about the relevance of this particular appendage when it came to rain for the farmers. Peung later told me it had to do with bringing fertility to the land to ensure it was a bumper rice crop. I suppose that’s reason enough...

BWWWOOOOOFFFFF!

The ground shook as another massive rocket hurtled into the sky. I looked around, trying to spot Vusit amongst the chaos. He was standing with a family of Westerners who appeared delighted by the calamity around them. Vusit waved for me to bring the tripod over.

“Khun Angela, this family from Britain,” he explained as I uncurled the microphone lead and readied myself for the interview.

“We should stand over there – away from the peoples,” he motioned for me and the family to follow him to a clearing.

“Is it safe here?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said as he began to roll the tape. I stood next to the camera, stretching out the microphone to interview the father.

“What do you have to say about the festival?” I shouted.

BWWWOOOOOFFFFF!

“It’s CRAZY!” he shouted back, “We’ve never seen anything like it! The kids are having a ball!”

BWWWOOOOOFFFFF!

The man’s son then stepped forward. He’d obviously done his homework. “I think the festival is about awakening the rain god so that the farmers can plant their rice and the families in the village have enough food.”

Just as I was about to praise him for being so eloquent and knowledgeable...

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!

If you watched the tape back you would see the little boy’s eyes widen as his father says: “Um, son, I think we’re a little too close.” You’d then hear me say: “Yeah – we are, we’re too close Vusit!” and then you’d hear a thud (me dropping the microphone) as the camera revealed (thanks to a fast pan to the right) a very drunk man setting off a series of smaller rockets just metres away.

If the camera continued to pan right, and then zoomed in, it would have found me cowering behind a group of monks. Hell, if the media card wasn’t going to protect me, then surely my next best bet would be to seek shelter amongst the ordained Buddhists in the crowd! Rockets would most certainly realise how bad it would be for their karma if they were to take out a pack of monks, right?


Ange Takats is an award-winning songwriter and author. This excerpt is from her travel memoir The Buffalo Funeral which follows her unusual journey from foreign correspondent to folk singer in South East Asia.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Winning prizes and eating pizza


I love eating. Food makes me happy. Maybe that's why my partner whispered the word "pizza" into my ear, just before they announced the winner of the Folk / Singer Songwriter category at this year's Queensland Music Awards.....

Have you ever set yourself a goal that you really, really wanted to achieve? At the start of each year I write a list of goals for myself. Some years I get to cross lots of items off the list and am left with a huge sense of pride...other years I look back over my words and dreams and feel slightly foolish for ever having believed they were possible.

Winning a Q Music Award was on my list for this year... which is why my heart was beating so fast as I sat waiting for them to announce the winner... which brings me to pizza.

You see, what I've learnt from my list-writing-years is the importance of rewarding yourself...of treating yourself to things that make you happy - whether you are 'winning' or 'losing' in life.

Before going to the ceremony, my lad and I had discovered a cute little wood fired pizza place just around the corner from the venue. We decided that it would be the perfect place to have a post-event feast. The anticipation of the meal brought me much joy.

It just so happens that I won (YAY!!!!) which meant that there was a big grin on my face as I devoured my half of the Hawaiian... but even if there had been tears... there still would have been pizza.

;) Ange

Can you spot Katie Noonan at the side of the stage? 
She presented me with my award!
(Photo by John Stubbs - 77 Photography)

With Denise Foley from QMA (Photo by John Stubbs)



P.S. I WON!!!!!
P.P.S. My little glass trophy now has greasy finger prints all over it.
P.P.P.S. For those of you who voted for me in the category of 'Most Popular Female Artist' - thank you so very much. I didn't make it to the final round of voting for that particular award but I was delighted that the very talented Emma Louise took home the title.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A man of colour

The walls of my grandparents house used to be covered in vibrant, colourful paintings. Many of them were created by my grandfather, Walter, who began to draw when he was a teenager in Germany.

He and my grandmother used to gain much pleasure from attending art classes in Australia, once their children had grown up and left the nest. They learnt all sorts of techniques - dabbing, scratching, inking, blobbing - and they painted all sorts of things - mountains, self portraits, lakes, flowers. The one thing that was a common thread in all of Walter's creations was the use of colour.




Walter now resides in a nursing home in Sydney. He is 96 and in the past year he has declined rapidly. These days he just sits staring at the wall, not saying much. If he does talk, it's mostly about being tired of life - so much so that a few months ago, on his birthday, he asked my mother whether the wooden coffee table in the nursing home common room was his coffin. He was disappointed when she explained that it was just a table.

As he waits for the 'light at the end of the tunnel', I wondered if there was a way of bringing some colour into the darkness of his days....



FILMED AND EDITED BY MY EVER SO CLEVER SISTER, LIB CREATIVE







Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sonic dots and strings


Every now and then, a sad song falls out. That's what happened a few weeks before I flew to Victoria to record my album last year. I had all my tracks mapped out ... and then 'Last on his List' happened. I emailed a rough demo of the song to my producer J. Walker. He emailed back with - 'it's a keeper'

.

Soon enough I was sitting in a cold, old wooden hall in Gippsland, pouring my sorrow into a microphone as I played a few soft chords on the guitar.



A few days later, as the rain came down outside J. Walker's recording studio, I listened to him lay down one violin track, and then another, and another ... then cello, layer upon layer ... then double bass. He was joining my sonic dots with his strings.



When he hit play at the end of that day, his arrangement reduced me to tears. I cried not only because of the dark beauty of the instrumentation - but because I had found a producer who understood the picture that I was trying to create - who was able to shade my sadness with the perfect amount of black, white and grey.

NEW MUSIC VIDEO - LAST ON HIS LIST


If this song moves you, I would love you to share the link on your Facebook page or email it to your friends.

Thank you.
x Ange

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Earth-angels and pieces of missing brain


I left two things behind when I set off on the West Australian leg of my tour:
1. A little piece of my brain
2. My driver’s licence

I want you to know that I’m not the kind of girl who usually fails to pack important things when she goes away. In fact, I’ve been known to write extensive ‘REMEMBER TO PACK’ lists, that include everything from camera battery chargers to insect repellant. I’m the girl who not only takes her passport when she travels overseas, but who also packs a photocopy of the passport – stored in a separate place in case of emergencies.

The only explanation I can come up with is that, in my post-album-launch weariness, a little piece of my brain must have fallen out of my head … and I was too tired to notice it drop … and that it was the piece of brain that was responsible for double-checking the presence of my driver’s licence in my wallet.

And so, after a two-hour ride in a shuttle bus from my house on the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane airport, it came as a huge shock to me to find my purse did not contain my licence. This shock turned to distress when I realised that without the licence, I would not be able to pick up my hire car in Perth – a car that was due to get me to remote parts of Western Australia for the final leg of my tour.

I spent the next 12 hours banging my head against a brick wall – no doubt losing other little pieces of brain in the process…

I tried to get my partner to search for the licence in the hope he’d find it and be able to fax through a scanned copy to the car hire place in Perth. He wasn’t able to find it.

I tried to call the Queensland Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to request them to fax through a ‘Proof of Licence’ to the car hire office. All I got was an after-hours answering machine message.

At ten minutes past midnight, after finally touching down in Perth, I approached the car hire desk and tried to plead my case. Company policy prevented me from driving off in my hire car.

And so, at thirty minutes past midnight, I caught a cab to a nearby hostel and tried to get some sleep … but not before praying to the powers-that-be to provide me with an amazingly helpful customer support person on the other end of the telephone-line the next day.

At 6am, in my hostel bed, I put in a call to the Queensland RTA. The woman told me it would take a ‘week of paperwork’ before any ‘proof of licence’ could be faxed to the car hire place. She said the only thing she could suggest was to head back to the airport office and get the car hire people to call her office – so she could issue a ‘verbal proof of licence’ over the phone.

I called a cab and sat outside the hostel, contemplating my options as I waited. The cab pulled up and I hopped in.

“Andrew?” the driver said.
“Um, no, I’m Ange and I booked a cab for the domestic airport,” I replied.
“This booking for Andrew for international airport. You are not Andrew?” he tried again.
“Um, definitely not Andrew,” I said, stepping out of the cab with a body that felt like a deflated balloon. I’d probably managed two hours sleep in the hostel. I walked back over to the main entrance, where a man in his late 40s was standing.

“Are you Andrew?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“I tried to steal your cab,” I attempted some form of humour which didn’t come out quite right, due to my lack of sleep and state of scattered-ness. “Anyway, your cab is waiting for you over there,” I pointed.
“Thanks,” he said, picking up his light backpack and heading for the vehicle.

The cab then did a full loop of the car park and came back to the front door.

“Get in,” Andrew said.
“What? But aren’t you going to the international airport?” I was confused.
“It’s okay, we can share the cab, just get in,” he said.

Given I was keen to get back to the car hire office at the airport, I sat myself in the back of the cab and we set off into the morning traffic. As the taxi meter ticked away, I was glad to be sharing the fee with my new friend, Andrew. He told me he was off to Thailand. We spoke about our common love for the country but the conversation stopped as I realised our taxi had driven past the sign for the international airport.

“Aren’t we dropping you off for your flight to Thailand? Haven’t we missed the turn-off?”
“No, we’ll go to the domestic terminal first,” he said.
“Oh, are you sure?”
“Yes,” he replied, without turning around to look at me.

As the cab pulled up, I pulled out my purse and offered up a $20 note.
“That won’t be necessary,” Andrew said calmly.
“But we were going to share the ride?” I said.
“Share the ride – yes – but not the fare. I will take care of it,” he said.
“No! You can’t do that. You don’t even know me. Are you serious?” I pushed the money towards him.
“Just say thank you,” he said.
“Thank you”
“You’re welcome.”

Andrew was the first of three earth-angels I was to encounter that morning.

I walked back into the airport terminal with a fresh sense of confidence. I was going to make this happen! This confidence fell straight into whatever deep black hole my driver’s licence had fallen into, when the car hire company told me that, despite the advice from the Queensland RTA, they would not accept a proof of licence over the phone. They needed something in writing. But unfortunately Queensland is the only state that does not allow for proof of licence to be faxed to hire companies. Lucky me.

After putting in two more calls to the authorities (hoping that a different call-centre person would result in a different outcome) I came to the conclusion that the best I could do was to fax a formal letter of request to the RTA’s head office and hope/pray/manifest someone to take pity on my brainlessness and grant an exception to the ‘no fax’ rule.

In the meantime I began an internet search of bus routes from Perth to my first destination – a coastal town, 150 kilometres from the city centre – where I was due to perform at a private house concert that evening. Each search came up with the same conclusion: “Sorry, the destination you wish to go to is not serviced by any public transport options”.

Feeling at a loss, I decided at 9.30am to go to the airport café and try and stomach some breakfast. It was in a line, trying to decide if I wanted toast or muesli, that I encountered my second earth-angel. I was two people away from the cashier, and something compelled me to turn to the person behind me and ask how their morning was going. That person turned out to be a bloke in his late 30s with scruffy hair who was holding a surfing magazine.

“Yeah, pretty good, and you?” he said.
My top lip began moving of its own accord and a tear popped out of my right eye.
“Well, I’m having the most crap-hole morning actually. I’m a musician and I’m on the final leg of my album launch tour and I’m due to perform at this house concert tonight and then perform at a festival down south but I can’t get my hire car because I don’t have my driver’s licence and there’s no public transport to get to where I need to go and I don’t know what to do,” I sobbed, uncertain how the bloke would take my unexpected emotional outburst.
“Where do you need to get to?” he asked sympathetically.
“150 kilometres south of Perth – to a town called Binningup,” I sobbed some more.

Sensing I might keep sobbing all morning, the café guy put his hand on my shoulder.

“We’ll sort something out, mate,” he said, “Don’t you worry. I was thinking of heading south for a surf at around midday when I finish my training here at the airport. I’m sure I can drop you off in Binningup. Why don’t you give me your mobile number and I’ll call you at twelve. If you haven’t found a ride by then, I’ll take you to where you need to go,” he said in a gentle and sincere voice.

“Oh my god,” I sobbed again, “Are you for real? I think I am seriously going to have to take you up on that offer. Thank you so much! God, I feel so relieved just knowing that I have a plan B! What’s your name?” I asked.

“George. My name is George. I have to go to my training now. But I’ll call you at midday”. And with that, the second earth-angel was gone.

Half way through my muesli, my mobile rang:

“Is that Ange Takats? It’s Ray from the Queensland Roads and Traffic Authority. Look, I wouldn’t normally do this as it’s not our policy, but I’ve faxed through your proof of licence to the car hire office. They should have it now if you want to go there,” said a voice on the other end of the line.

“I LOVE YOU RAY!” I burst back, “You have no idea how much this means to me. THANK YOU! Thank you! You are my third earth-angel of the day!”

There was a slight pause, Ray (no doubt) wondering whether he’d done the right thing by allowing this crazy hippy to get behind the wheel of a car, and then he simply said, “You are welcome”.

After doing a happy-dance at the car hire office, I set off down the long and un-serviced-by-public-transport highway with a heart full of gratitude for the three strangers who turned my luck around in Western Australia.

At midday my mobile rang. I pulled off the road and answered it.

“Um, is that Ange?”
“Yes, is that George?”
“Yeah, how’s it going?”
“Guess where I am, George?”
“Where?”
“In a HIRE CAR – bound for Binningup! YAY!” I shouted down the phone.
“Oh, that’s awesome, Ange! Wahoo! I’m really glad you got yourself some wheels. You have yourself a wonderful weekend,” he said, in the most genuine of ways.
“I will. It’s going to be a great weekend … I can feel it! Thanks so, so, so much for your words of support this morning. I was very close to dropping my brain-bundle in the airport but you helped me hold it together. Thank you,” I wanted to reach through the phone and give him a celebratory hug but words were all I could offer.
“You’re welcome,” he said.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

I'm feeling... fine and dandy!

Last year I strapped on a pair of high heels (a rarity for me) for a photo shoot with Hailey Bartholomew from You Can't Be Serious. I glammed-up (in an olde worlde way) with the help of Cameron MacGowan from Smyths Inc. Hairdressing and makeup artist Tasleema Nigh. I had loads of fun playing dress-ups and sitting on an antique chaise lounge in the middle of a grassy field with a bugle (why not?) in my hand...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Skulls, Seagulls and a place called Love Island

This story begins a few hours before my final gig at the Tamar Valley Folk Festival in George Town, north of Launceston. I was going for a morning walk, along the waterfront, and spotted this rather unusual, slightly ominous, sign in the window of a little brick house.

It's not everyday that you stumble across a skull and crossbone on a suburban street which is why I felt compelled to return to the house later in the day. I asked my festival friend (his name is Forte) to come along, just in case the sign/house belonged to an evil witchy woman or some deranged psychopath (with a name like Forte, I felt that he probably possessed greater powers that any creepy person we might meet).

We walked on to the front lawn and spotted the owner - a man in his 80s - eating his lunch inside. We waved and the old man came to the door. His name was Brian.


"Hello there," I said meekly, "Sorry to bother you but we are really interested in the sign in your window. My name is Ange and this is Forte. We've been performing at the folk festival and we were hoping you'd tell us more about this skull". Brian held out his hand and we both shook it on his front porch. He had a gentle energy about him.

"Well, I just got sick and tired of those Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on my door ... the Born Again Christians and the like - so I figured this was a good way of keeping them away," Brian said - causing Forte and I to chuckle.

"Did it work?" I asked.

"Yes it did. They used to congregate down by the shoreline over there in a big group and do their prayers and things, and then they'd break off in pairs and come knocking at my door but they haven't bothered me in four years - thanks to the sign," he said.

"So is it a real skull?" I asked.

"Oh no dear, that's just plastic. I bought it at the Two Dollar Discount shop. But the bones are real ... lamb chops if I remember rightly," he smiled.


He was wearing a pair of old shorts with socks and grandpa slippers and I think he was pleased that we stopped by because he then launched, without being prompted, into this story:

"You see that rocky outcrop over there? Do you know what they call that place? Love Island. I'm not exactly sure why it's called that but back in the day, when the explorers came through in their tall ships, they used to name islands after whoever spotted them from the crow's nest...so maybe there was a lookout lad with a surname of Love.

Anyway, the seagulls love it over there. They flock to the island every year to lay their eggs. And when the black hawks start hovering above to prey on their chicks, the gulls rise up to form a flying dome above their nests and some of them take turns at breaking away from the flock and attacking the hawks ... it's such a sight! 


My wife - Celia was her name but we called her Ceal - she loved watching all the birds out there. She has been gone for ten years now. She made me promise one thing to her before she died, she said 'Whatever you do - don't let them bury me in the ground. I can't stand the thought of all those worms wriggling around inside my skull'.

I've been to the cemetery here in George Town. You know, most of those graves never have any visitors. After the first year, their family and friends stop coming. It's a waste of prime real estate if you ask me.


Anyway, after Ceal died my son and I rowed the dinghy over to Love Island. I sprinkled her ashes there. It makes me feel nice in the morning when I look out across the water and see the gulls flying around Love Island ... it reminds me of Ceal."



I feel blessed each time I meet people like Brian, who share so honestly their stories with me when I'm on the road with my music. I didn't write this song about Brian and Ceal, but today I dedicate it to them - and to Love Island.