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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The art of finger-clicking

Questions: What do you get when you take a songwriter from Queensland, transport her to Gippsland, put her in an old bakery-turned-recording-studio with one of Australia's most talented producers and let ten days pass?
Answer: An album called 'Arva'.

Some of you may be familiar with the name J. Walker. He's the frontman of the band Machine Translations and in the Winter of 2012 I went down to Victoria to record my sophomore album with him.

Our first recording session took place in an old town hall in Gippsland on a rather grey and cold day. As J. Walker set up his equipment in the kitchenette, it was my job to make a sound barrier-thingy out of two stacks of chairs and a doona drapped over a broom handle. I then sat down, with two heaters on either side of me, and began to sing. 

It's hard to describe the feeling of singing in an old wooden hall ... there's something magical that takes place. It felt like my voice was 100x larger and fuller and fatter (in the nicest of ways).

J. Walker seemed happy with what we achieved, particular the sound of the recordings - thanks to the beautiful acoustics inside the hall. He said he was glad to have tested the space out, as he had an album he was going to be recording for 'a guy' in a few weeks and he'd wanted to make sure the hall was the best option.

Little did I know that a month later J. Walker would be recording Paul Kelly's 'Spring and Fall' album in the very hall I'd sat and sang in a few weeks earlier. 

We spent the rest of our ten days together working on overdubs in J. Walker's studio...which is situated in an old bakery.

This is Gladys - one of many instruments that J. Walker played on my album. He also played banjo, guitar, vibraphone, piano accordion, violin, double bass, cello and percussion. Talented much?

This youtube clip gives you some idea of the genius that is J. Walker. I learnt a hell of a lot from the man during our ten days together - in particular, how to click my fingers!

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