Friday, 27 November 2009
At three hours drive from Melbourne it's probably not an ideal day trip, but the hub town of Hall's Gap provides an excellent base for those wanting to explore this beautiful area. Hotels and B&Bs are in abundance there for those who like their creature comforts but it's the campsites that people flock to for that true outdoorsy feel. Your fellow campers aren't your only companions either - you're never too far from a grass-munching kangaroo.
The distinctive and diverse landscape you can explore here at the Grampians (or Gariwerd to give it its Aboriginal name) is the perfect foil for an adventurous spirit. While designated walkways make it safe and keep you from getting lost, they are rough and rocky enough for you to get some impression of what it must have been like for those first European explorers travelling across this vast and peculiar landscape.
A highlight is the hike up to The Pinnacle - a sturdy outcrop of rock pointing out over a vast valley and crisp blue lake. It's a humbling view preceded by a walk (and occasional clamber) past picturesque creeks and through corridors of the curiously ruffled rock. Nearby is a test for those with a head for heights - a tightrope walk along a free-standing wall of sandstone that has a not insignificant drop each side.
There are many lookouts around the Park and each one provides a skyscraper-free view of untouched landscape that stretches right to the horizon. But you can get more intimate experiences of nature as well - not least at the handful of elegant waterfalls you can visit. A highlight is MacKenzie Falls which, although best seen at certain times of year, is both striking and peaceful whenever you sit by the inviting rock pool.
There is a silly distraction to be had in the area as well. We broke up the long drive with a quick hello to The Giant Koala. One of Australia's growing collection of 'Big Things', it makes for a good photo and a quick comment of, "It's really quite big, eh?" before you get a cup of tea. Don't bother going inside though, it looks a bit like someone's neglected attic.
Why? You'll find no other landscape like it in Australia.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Aim your camera at the houses and that familiarity becomes recognisability when viewed through a screen. Pin Oak Court is better known to the world as Ramsay Street, and is the longest serving cast member of perennial soap Neighbours.
You could visit the street on your own steam of course, though the real neighbours ask that you respect their privacy. But even if you’re a Neighbours die-hard it’s still just another suburban street. More fun is to be had on the Neighbours Tour, which not only guides you around Ramsay Street, but takes you even further into Erinsborough.
Whether you watched Neighbours years ago or are an avid fan today, you’ll get a thrilling sensation of stepping into your television on this tour. It is for Neighbours lovers past and present only though.
You’re shown a classic episode on the not-so-subtle bus during the half hour journey out to Pin Oak Court. (We had Daphne’s (sob) death.) Then you pull up outside Erinsborough High and enter a world only understood from viewing it on screen.
You’re not allowed in the school itself - like Ramsay Street it has a real life as well. Nor are you allowed in the Neighbours’ houses, of course. But you do get given a Ramsay Street sign to hold up and have your photograph with, so that’s all right.
Further exploration of sets such as Lou’s garage and the infamous Lassiter’s Complex provide further Neighbours geek heaven. It’s the meeting of a cast member though that’s the icing on the cake. But don’t expect Scott or Charlene. You should be so lucky. We got Janelle. No, I didn’t know her either.
Why? Turn off the TV and go out and do something more interesting instead.
WHEN: Saturday & Sunday 8.30am
WHERE: Neighbours Centre, 570 Flinders Street
MAP: click here
Monday, 20 July 2009
Eskimo Joe as a live act isn't about visuals or high concepts - the show is very much about the music. The three-piece make an effort in terms of outfits - they dress up rather than down - but vocalist and bassist Kav Temperley, drummer and guitarist Joel Quartermain and guitarist Stuart MacLeod let the tunes run the show, keeping their casual interactions with the audience to a minimum.
But their songs don't need such support. Recent hits like Sarah, New York (see the excellent video here) and Black Fingernails Red Wine get the crowd singing along with ease, and current single Foreign Land (rumoured to be written about fellow Perth boy Heath Ledger) is a classic-in-waiting. With over a decade's worth of playing together as a band under their belts, Eskimo Joe is a tight-sounding band that are hard to knock.
They formed in 1997, despite each of them being involved with other bands at the time. Their break came when they won the Australian National Campus Band Competition, part of the prize being a recording session, which resulted in the Sweater EP. The title track went on to make Triple J's Hottest 100 that year.
In 2001 they released their debut album Girl, which featured in the hit TV series The Secret Life Of Us and propelled them to fame. Second album A Song Is A City saw more chart success and ARIA awards, but it was their third album Black Fingernails, Red Wine that scored them their first No 1, and their first Top 10 single.
New album Inshalla has been garnering their best reviews yet, with critics saying the band has finally found its groove and is now doing what it does best. Decide for yourself by checking them out live at one of their shows.
Make your way to the Palace Theatre website for info on tickets and dates (click on "August").
Why? They're one of Australia's best bands.
WHEN: August 6 & 7, 2009
WHERE: Palace Theatre, Melbourne
MAP: click here
Thursday, 9 July 2009
In the newly refurbished and rebranded bar Penny Black (formerly the oddly-monikered Don't Tell Tom) on Sydney Road, theatre company Impro Melbourne host an enjoyable evening of improvised comedy which they've dubbed The Impro Cave.
Instead of the more formal setting of a theatre, the Penny Black provides a more relaxed vibe for Impro Melbourne's performances. You can either sit at the tables in front of the stage and enjoy dinner before the show, or perch yourself on one of the chairs or sofas dotted around the venue. Get there in good time though - there's a danger you could be watching the show from behind a pillar.
Cosy and warm, and with food and drink being served until late, it's as comfortable as being at home. And on stage there's some ad-free entertainment that has the added bonus of no-one - not even the performers - knowing what's going to happen next.
Each week the actors - a talented mix of both professionals and hobbyists who have worked together for some years - use different formats to spin tales and create characters that take form before the audience's eyes. The sense of danger is palpable, and yet they somehow manage to pull it off with apparent ease and plenty of laughs.
One format at a recent show was a kind of Director Idol in which each actor would direct the others in a scene and then the audience would decide which story they wanted to see continued. One story was even a musical, with the actors making up songs on the spot.
Another format was a courtroom scene with the actors playing the judge and lawyers as well as the protagonists in the case. It adds to the tension knowing that not even the actors know how they're going to wrap things up.
Throughout July as well you can see a bunch of more inexperienced Impro Melbourne actors have a crack at off-the-cuff performance in a show called Sideshow Spontanial that starts a little earlier than the main event at 6pm.
But it's Impro Cave itself that is the draw here - relaxed and funny, this is affordable and enjoyable entertainment.
Why? It's the excitement of the unknown.
WHEN: 7.30pm on Sunday nights until August 30th.
WHERE: The Penny Black (formerly Don't Tell Tom), 420 Sydney Road, Brunswick
COST: $15.00 full, $10 concession (and groups 10 ), $5 entry to Sideshow Spontanial in July
MAP: click here
Monday, 6 July 2009
"I think sketches are a young person’s game, really," explains Dawn French. "Jennifer and I want to keep on working together but not necessarily doing a sketch show, so we thought it was best to officially finish it."
So French & Saunders are bowing out in style with a farewell tour called Still Alive, which is also unfortunately only their first here in Australia. It's a greatest hits show which includes the first sketch they ever wrote together and the sketch that went on to inspire Saunders' hit sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. French's solo success Rev Geraldine Granger from the Vicar Of Dibley also makes an appearance.
The classic white room in which the two comedians play exaggerated versions of themselves features in the show and leads into some of their classic film and music parodies. But there's plenty of new stuff mixed in with the old and you get to see French and Saunders flex their acting and comedic muscles playing a variety of characters from teenagers discussing sex to grannies zipping around on scooters.
It's a fitting farewell ending a working partnership that has endured for a comparitively long time in the world of comedy. It nearly never happened - Saunders famously didn't like French when they first met at drama school. But they went on to live and work together, performing for the first time at a strip club in London's Soho.
Ten years later they had been given a sketch show on the BBC and their fame and success was assured. It ran until 2005 and a year later they announced their 'split'.
While we've not seen the last of them on screen - they still plan to work together on material more "appropriate" for their age - this is a last chance to see a pair of comedy greats doing what made them so well loved.
Why? It's the last chance to see the duo perform together on stage.
WHEN: July 15-20, 2009
WHERE: Palais Theatre and Palace Theatre, Melbourne.
COST: $99.90 - $159.90
MAP: click here
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination starts a six month tenure at Melbourne's Scienceworks museum this month, after successful stints in both Sydney and around the US. It's a fanboy's dream come true, with costumes and props from all six films including light sabers, the Yoda puppet, the three-section Darth Vader helmet from Revenge Of The Sith and a full-size model of Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder. There's nothing here that couldn't be described as iconic.
But the main focus of the exhibition is on the science behind the films' mythology. You'll find more detail here than you could possibly need about the spaceships and robots that feature in the films. As you're going through it may be hard to remember that it's a fictional world they're describing. But the point here is more than pure entertainment - it's also to compare science fiction with science fact.
Using Star Wars is a neat way to get both children and adults interested in and learning about the real life science that both inspired and was inspired by the Star Wars films. The exhibition is divided into two sections. The first, called 'Getting Around', looks at the various planets featured in the films and compares them to environments on Earth. Enter a kiosk here and you'll find yourself on Tatooine. It also looks at the transport used to get to those planets and get around on them. You can put together your own hover vehicle, or have a go at driving an 'air chair'.
The second section 'Robots and People' features many famous costumes such as Chewbacca's fur ensemble and Darth Vader's still intimidating armour. But the focus here is more on the robots and how we are slowly edging towards our own versions of R2D2 and C3PO. You can even have a go at building your own droid.
The exhibit is more than just an enjoyable trip down memory lane - its a glimpse of our future as well.
Why? Science has never been so interesting.
WHEN: Until November 3rd, 2009.
WHERE: Scienceworks, 2 Booker Street, Spotswood, VIC 3015
COST: Adults $18, Concession $8, Children (3-16yrs) $6
MAP: click here
Sunday, 24 May 2009
At first, Brooklyn quartet Crystal Stilts’ debut album seems only designed as a distraction for anyone pining for the floppy-haired days of 80s indie rock. The band gives solemn nods to the likes of Joy Division and Jesus and Mary Chain on opener The Dazzled, but further listening reveals them to be a far more unique proposition.
Alongside hallmarks of 80s indie - most obviously singer Brad Hargett’s ghostly, emotionless vocal - Crystal Stilts exhibit a playful 60s-style pop sensibility, seemingly trying to elicit a smile from their indifferent frontman. This joyful drone rock makes for a unique template and Crystal Stilts achieve the rare trick of not sounding like any else around right now.
But the problem with the band’s inspired idea is that it’s their only idea. Once the musical agenda has been set, there’s little experimentation on the album with the small niche they’ve found. As such Alight of Night merely undulates through your ears as one track flows into the next. More pacey tracks like the punky The Sinking and Bright Night might capture the imagination, but as a whole the album just washes over you.
Sunday, 3 May 2009
I started off seeing Julia of course. After a year of doing stand-up in Sydney, she’d garnered enough of a reputation to land a spot in Comedy Zone, the festival’s showcase of up and coming talent. Alongside her were three acts I’d seen before when they were competing for the spots: Neil Sinclair, Laura Davies and musical duo Smart Casual.
Neil Sinclair's comedy was perfectly pitched for the introductory set. Light and whimsical, he plays around with clever ideas, obvious stereotypes and misdirection to create an accessible and enjoyable set.
Following act Laura Davies was a little harder to enjoy. Seeming awkward and nervous at first, it soon becomes clear this is actually part of her shtick. And as she deconstructs her jokes and plays around with your reaction to them, you realise there’s some clever comedy going on here. If only she could fine tune her delivery, make it a little more confident, you’d be more impressed.
Julia throws a different kind of curveball. There she is, all lovely-looking and smiles; a nice middle-class Englishwoman you may think. Then she opens with a line about her mother masturbating. Her measured and ultimately affectionate jibes at things like Australians, stand-up comedians and public transport reveal a sharp wit and an enjoyably twisted sense of humour. Dark and funny, you can’t help but laugh.
Smart Casual perform their belly-achingly funny songs with deadpan delivery and a smattering of stand-up. ‘Who prefers musical comedy to stand-up?’ they provocatively ask at the beginning. By the end of their set they’d be guaranteed a full room of hands.
At the Hi-Fi Bar the festival runs The Festival Club, where most of the comics perform a short set during the month. On the night I attend I see and fall in love with Russell Kane. This cockney geezer plays against the stereotype, though his father seemingly fits the bill perfectly. Playing out his difficult relationship with his dad (he’s excessively macho, Kane’s the shy geek) seems a little too personal at times but Kane imbues the stories with universal themes and rapid-fire humour. He’s a whirring ball of energy that doesn’t stop moving, and neither do his jokes.
Tim Vine follows. The king of the pun-liner, Vine’s delivery is sometimes a little clunky cos his jokes are so short. There’s no flow, but he is funny. When the jokes are done he gets the DJ to play a tune called Pen Behind The Ear (the lyrics of which don’t venture beyond the title) and proceeds to try and throw a ballpoint and get it to land behind his ear. This goes on for 10 minutes. Amazingly, by the end of it all of us in the audience are rooting for him and when it finally lands he gets a standing ovation. Simple things.
Then there was Randy the Puppet. It’s a puppet that swears a lot, and not much else. Awful.
One afternoon I caught 1000 Years of German Humour. Thankfully it didn’t last longer than 10 minutes. That was dull enough. Ten centuries of it would have been unbearable. It elicited a shrug rather than a titter. Julia later ripped into it, describing it as ‘lazy humour based on lazy stereotypes’. She may have been right.
I was treated to a double bill of comedy on Sunday evening. First up was Felicity Ward who led us through her experiences as an ugly child. Which would have been more convincing had she not been quite cute as a child. It was a great performance – Ward has natural comic timing. But it could have done with more actual jokes.
Jim Jeffries won a new fan when I went to see him. Visceral, twisted and unflinching, Jeffries is an Australian comic that has forged his career in the UK. He explores sex, race, sex, relationships, burglary and sex without any regard for the sensitivity of any minorities in the audience. As he says about the gays: ‘If you can take a dick up your arse, you can take a joke.’ You can’t argue with that.
British comic Daniel Kitson declined to take part in the festival. Instead he came over and used the ready-made audience of comedy fans to test out new material, selling the tickets himself from an obscure record shop. How very indie. The festival organisers merely rolled their eyes. Shambolic and rambling as the material inevitably was, the 90 minutes that Kitson was on stage provided the surprisingly patient audience with consistent and insightful humour. Sharp and occasionally aggressive, Kitson gives clever twists to everyday subjects and leaves you both thoughtful and laughing.
On the last weekend of the festival I saw Stan Stanley, another British comic. I’d met him a few weeks previously through friends of friends and was keen to check him out. I found a comedian, heavily tired from his young son’s birthday party, who laboured through his set (which did show signs of promise with some genuinely funny material) and had seemingly made no attempt to tailor his stories to the Australian audience. He even looked at his watch five minutes towards the end and bemoaned the fact he still had time to kill. He then launched into a gag heavy with Brit-references and not really that funny. Cringe-worthy.
All weekend we tried desperately to get tickets for young comic Tom Ballard, but he was sold out thanks to winning an award at the festival’s awards show and his breakfast show on radio station triple j. Instead I finished the festival on Dave Jory. A friend of Julia’s, she tells me he’s normally more ‘edgy’, but for this festival the Aussie comic has gone with a lighter set revolving around his love of cats. It’s entertaining because of his delivery – he’s a great story-teller. But the jokes were thin on the ground and it felt like a flat end to an exciting month.
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
Saturday, 21 March 2009
In one corner we have Timbaland. The increasingly omnipresent (if you can be such a thing) and seemingly omnipotent producer has gone from being a highly respected hip hop and R&B beatmaker for the likes of Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, and Ginuwine to the world’s most prolific hitmaker, providing his polish to pop stars such as Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, and Madonna.
In the other corner we have Chris Cornell. The distinctive singer made his name with his trademark howl in the band Soundgarden, part of a triumvirate of bands alongside Pearl Jam and Nirvana who spearheaded the grunge movement in the early 90s. He went on to form the equally successful Audioslave with former members of Rage Against The Machine, doubly securing his place in rock history.
It’s this rock legacy that makes this new project so jarring for Cornell’s fans. The shimmering electronica and stylised beats that make up Timbaland’s armoury are the polar opposite of the raw and gritty rock music that Cornell is known and loved for. But can you blame him for wanting to try something new? There was a sense that Soundgarden had done all they could when they came to an end, and the last Audioslave album certainly suggested a band that was also running out of ideas. Then there are Cornell’s two previous solo offerings – both uninspiring albums that failed to make anything like the impact of his band work. Cornell’s career seems to have been made up of projects that push the boundaries then move on. His decision two years ago to record the James Bond theme also drew gasps, but he made it okay for alternative artists to do such a thing. No one raised an eyebrow when Jack White recorded last year’s Bond theme with Alicia Keys.
As Scream has been released, reviewed and panned by critics and fans alike, it’s Chris Cornell who has taken all the flak. Timbaland seems to have come out of it relatively unscathed. Yet it’s his contribution to the project that is the most disappointing. Taken on its own Scream is a competent and highly enjoyable pop album that blends R&B and rock to great effect. All these songs would sound great on the radio and it’s a mystery why the songs haven’t been marketed there. But we know Timbaland can do big-sounding pop songs that sound great on the radio. From him it’s really nothing new. The presence of Chris Cornell should finally have elicited Timbaland’s rock album. There certainly seems to be one trying to get out. His music constantly references Coldplay, and his collaborations with The Hives and Fall Out Boy on his Shock Value album provided two of its highlights. But, despite working with one of rock’s most interesting and versatile singers, all Timbaland has done is foist the next Timberlake album on him.
As previously said though, if you put both men’s legacies aside, this is an extremely well-made pop record. Timbaland knows what he’s doing. The scuttling beats and Indian mysticism that lace a number of the tracks are his trademark tricks but they don’t sound forced. Each song feels like it was created lovingly by both men.
While Cornell has obviously had help with the melodies (judging from his last two solo albums), his influence is still felt. The chorus of opener Part Of Me has a barroom brawl feel to it, as does the rockiest track Enemy, while Other Side Of Town oozes small-town sleaze. When those guitars do appear though, they are disappointingly polite – choreographed aggression that’s unable to slip out from under Timbaland’s thumb. All the tracks flow into one another, which only works well at times, but does add to the sense that this is a labour of love. Sweet Revenge and Get Up is the album at its most R&B before it segues into highlight Ground Zero, a danceable barber shop soul creation. But the album is dominated by sweeping stadium-sized choruses, no doubt boosted by the presence of OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder on songwriting duties on some tracks. Just as things are getting rockier we are reminded once more of Timbaland’s presence by the final track Watch Out, which struts down the same path as Nelly Furtado’s Maneater.
So this is has been a huge experiment for Cornell – his unmistakable voice does some things you never thought you’d hear it do and wanders dangerously close to generic pop vocal at times. For Timbaland it’s certainly him at his best but hardly at his most experimental. Where he’ll go from here is obvious – pumping out more pop hits. For Cornell that’s the big question – what on earth will he do next?
Thursday, 19 March 2009
I went on to explain that I didn’t much care for Jade Goody. She’d made no impact on my life and had only elicited my curiosity on occasion because of her fame’s inexplicable longevity. Her insistent media presence was something that both puzzled and interested me. And it was the same with her sudden terminal illness. As much as I sympathised, it also just felt like yet another unexpected twist in her ‘you couldn’t make it up’ life drama. Her life is so much a TV show that I find myself caring about her as much as I would any TV character that died on screen.
But I wasn’t as articulate as that. I probably said, ‘I’ve never seen the point of her. Why should I care if she died?’ or something equally as blunt.
Then Wendy Richard came up. She, also, had cancer, also got it suddenly, and also before her time. With her I was fawning; conveyed sympathy and sadness. My friend picked me up on it. ‘What’s the difference between her and Jade Goody?’ My instant reaction was: ‘Ah, I grew up with her.’ And I had, in a way. She’d been a constant presence in my television viewing via Are You Being Served? and her long tenure in EastEnders.
But my friend had a point. What is the difference to me between these two women? Both were only present in my life because of TV; one longer than the other for sure, but that’s not a good enough reason.
It might be to do with the perception that Richard being an actress has worked for her recognition, whereas Goody has achieved her fame with no discernable talent. But really I’m not sure how much respect I have for actors in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible actors out there who do work that floors you. But I think there also many who just read lines convincingly. Arguably Richard was one of these; she certainly can’t be lauded for her diversity.
No, I think it’s more to do with to do with how they are presented to us by the media. Wendy Richard is a national treasure, Jade Goody a figure of fun; the nation’s whipping girl. I wonder: if Jade Goody had managed to prolong her career as long as Wendy Richard, would she have become a national treasure? If she'd got cancer in her 60s after that lengthy career, instead of in her 20s, would she be more lauded in the way Wendy Richard was?
The other friend who was present at this most inconsequential of discussions thought so. “I think I have more empathy for characters like Jade Goody as I get older,” he said. “When she first came on the scene, she reminded me of all those really annoying 'townie' girls at school, who revel in their own ignorance, and ridicule difference and diversity. And these "C" list celebs used to get on my tits anyway.
“But then I thought, sod it, if I had 15 minutes of fame would I not make the most of it and live the dream for as long as I could? The answer is yes. And I think fair play to her for making it last as long as she has.
“And I guess she has been an inspiration for all the 'underdogs', those people with under-privileged backgrounds, who haven't had the best education. Didn't she help look after her disabled mother from quite a young age? In any case, she makes no pretence to be anything she's not. She's very genuine and doesn't seem to have let her so-called 'fame' go to her head.
“In short I wouldn't invite her to a dinner party, but I might buy her exercise video.”
It seems this is where Jade Goody stands with a lot of people – with a grudging respect. You wouldn’t want to be her friend (can you imagine the noise?), but good on her, eh? And eventually, though sheer persistence (and continued very clever PR) she might have reached that point where a nation paid its respects from a genuine and heartfelt place. Instead a nation will pay its respects with the uncomfortable knowledge that they’ve not cared much up until this point, and really they don’t care much now.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
1. My favourite colour is holographic silver. I find it brings out my eyes.
2. I’m an excellent cook and have often been compared to Susan Sarandon.
3. I became gay at the age of eight. I found it was the only way to get attention from boys.
4. I once had a pet elephant called Thom (he was insistent on the h). All was well until he tripped me up one day with his trunk. I had him put down. That bastard.
5. My unique swimming style was learnt from the cat after I pushed it in the bath once.
6. I became straight at the age of 11. I found it was the only way to get attention from girls.
7. I met most of my best friends while studying my degree in crocheting. Woop woop big up the Crochet Crew innit! You know who you are. Love you guys. ;p
8. I am very, very good at video games. So good in fact that it goes all the way round to seeming like I’m quite bad at video games, which is very confusing for those I play with as they labour under the illusion that they’re beating me.
9. During my tenure as a ‘showbiz’ ‘journalist’ I interviewed Tina Turner. In my commitment to innovative and off the wall journalism I spent my allotted half hour attempting to gain insight into her personality and life by merely running my fingers through her thick, luscious hair. It didn’t make for a good feature, I must admit.
10. I’m a fantastic driver and have often been compared to Ricky Martin.
11. I became a gay at the age of 18 when I moved to Manchester. There was a man on the street giving out leaflets and it seemed like a fun thing to do. It’s been a rewarding hobby and it’s a great organisation to be part of. Girls are always well into it as well, so that’s a bonus. That said, they’re still not inclined to have sex with me so I need to be a bit gayer I think.
12. My parents would often punish me by placing me on top of the television and making me watch it from there.
13. I once worked as a waitress in a cocktail bar, that much is true. But even then I knew I’d find a much better place either with or without you.
14. I once did volunteer work in Wales, building wells and drainage systems, distributing food aid, teaching English, that sort of thing. It was hugely rewarding but the flies were horrendous.
15. People often mistake me for that kid from Indiana Jones.
16. I once shot a man in the eye. He was not at all happy and complained about how much it stung.
17. I once used a jellyfish in a trifle rather than actual jelly. It killed all my dinner guests and I went to prison. That was a low point. But I learned a valuable life lesson – trifle is trouble.
18. I am an accomplished dancer and have often been compared to Hillary Clinton.
19. I was once in a dance troupe called the Scissor Brothers. Our high kicks were the talk of Wolverhampton.
20. I was once in a school play as a tree and was so good that I enjoyed a short career playing trees on TV and in film. But then a new trend kicked in where they used real trees (which still seems a bit dull to me) and it all came to an end.
21. I became straight at the age of 29 when I met and married my wife Debbie, a lesbian truck driver with a beer belly and breasts of similar dimensions. She’s off driving at the moment, and has been gone for some time. I miss her, she has a wonderful singing voice.
22. I am really friendly to the environment. I think just a simple ‘good morning’ makes a difference, don’t you?
23. When it comes to my sexual prowess I am often compared to the people that the person I’m having sex with have previously slept with.
24. I can legitimately say that I know something you don’t know. So ner.
25. I am a Cornishman and as such I always do a proper job.
Saturday, 14 February 2009
My experience of the bushfires has been purely anecdotal, thankfully. As Black Saturday burned outside I stayed indoors much of the day with the curtains drawn to escape the suffocating 47 degree heat outside. I ventured outside at one point, just to have a little taster of what it was like. A hot wind blew fiercely down the road, feeling like the product of some giant hair dryer. My skin tingled in the thick air as I quickly retreated. A true taste of Hades.
The stories have always been heartbreaking and often tragic. The bravery of those wishing to stay and protect their houses from the unflinching fires is astounding. The story of one man has stayed with me. Staying to protect his house, he was finally beaten into retreat, not by the fire itself, but by the burning hot air that preceded it, blistering his skin before the fire even got near him. He retreated to his neighbours’ house to help them protect their house. The last thing he remembers is being thrown into the swimming pool by one of those neighbours.
Hundreds of people have lost their homes, and the death toll continues to creep up. My proximity to this disaster means it has touched me a little more than the many we read about on the world news each week. Empathy seems to have a direct relationship with proximity – with colleagues and friends all seeming to know people directly affected it’s impossible to not put yourself in their position.
The debate about whether to make people leave or not rolls on. Despite the tragedies that have resulted, I think people should still be allowed to make that choice. They are adults who enter into that choice knowing of the consequences. A government shouldn’t be there to make choices for people, to nanny them. Because where does that end?
But I digress. What’s been making the most impression throughout this whole disaster is the spirit of the Australian people. Never have I seen such speedy response to help fellow man. Or such heartfelt enthusiasm for helping out. Millions of dollars have been raised very quickly, and collection points set up around the city to collect vital items for those who have lost everything. Imagine that: being left with nothing but the clothes on your back. Not even a toothbrush.
The Australians have pulled together in a way that I wonder whether you’d ever see in my own country. The solidarity is impressive and inspiring. It feels good to be amongst them right now.
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Big Day Out is seen as the quintessential Australian music festival by music fans in the
Now, in the
What also surprised me was how clean-cut and straight-forward the whole thing was. As Big Day Out is
Once I’d gotten over the fact that Big Day Out was a sleek shiny camper van to Glastonbury’s beaten up old vee-dub, I embraced this smoothly run and neatly laid-out festival and made the most of the opportunity to see some amazing (along with some average) live music. Something I’ve been starved of these past two years.
Trial Kennedy: An Aussie band who first caught my attention with their song Colour Day Tours, I dragged Mark along at 11am to see them. He was pleasantly surprised, as was I. Him because they did a blistering energetic set and won him over as they had me, and me because the lead singer looks like a
Children Collide: Another Aussie band whose Social Currency song first caught my attention. They sounded great but we were far back chatting to our friends so I have no idea how good the performance was.
The Black Kids: The polar opposite of The Ting Tings, these guys roused the crowd into states of pure joy. Never have I seen such a bouncy, joyous crowd. This American band seems to have that magic locked in their joyful pop music.
Sneaky Sound System: Fun, bonkers, easy-going. This band knows what it’s doing and does it very well.
Pendulum: They started off really well, getting everyone going with their bouncy drum’n’bass but then it inexplicably just tailed off. As my friend put it, “Well they’ve done their three best songs now, we can go.”
Cut Copy: The surprise of the day for me. The album, good as it is, doesn’t suggest an exhilarating live experience. But exhilarating it was. They don't seem the most charismatic band but they infuse their music with so much energy in their live show.
Arctic Monkeys: Cut Copy was so enjoyable that we missed the beginning of their performance. We apparently didn’t miss much. The crowd was huge when we arrived but as the performance went on large chucks of it disappeared. It was lacklustre and irritating, latterly because they kept ‘ending’ songs only to start them up again. As another friend put it: ‘applause junkies’. It was a performance they could have phoned in and Alex Turner’s vapid between-song talk didn’t help.
The Prodigy: A-mazing. I’ve never seen them live before so I was excited to do so, not least because friends who’ve seen them have said they’re incredible. And they were. Blistering, visceral, aggressive, empowering, frightening, euphoric: it’s all there with added adjective.
Friday, 23 January 2009
The house is quiet. There’s a slight ringing in my ears because of it. Nearly two years of travelling and being constantly surrounded by people has left some lingering background noise in my head. I’ve gone from a three-bedroomed backpacker flat sharing with eight very sociable people to a four bedroom house with three people who have their own lives and get on with them with very few requirements from me.
I savour the silence. It’s nice.
I’m at work in the break area. There are stylish chairs and tables, old magazines and floor to ceiling windows that stare out across southern Melbourne. There’s never anyone around so I like to go right up to the window and test my vertigo. I stand with the end of my shoes touching the glass and press the top of my head against the window. That way I can look down at the city and pretend like I’m floating above it.
I like this city. Sure, under all those grey roofs I can see there are people stressing about their workloads. But at least when they go outside the sun will shine down on them, there won’t be crowds of people jostling them about, and they can get home via a comparatively less crowded public transport system.
I think of my own work. It’s mindless but occupying. It leaves lots of space in my head; space that is slowly being filled by other things: ideas, stories, characters, bits of my imagination and my real life that have melded together to form interesting shapes and words.
Slowly in the past few weeks these shapes and words and ideas have been shuffling forward from the darker recesses of my brain. They look a little shamefaced, not very confident in themselves, but I can feel them growing and their potential shines out at me.
Before Christmas I felt lost, unfocused. What on earth am I going to do next? Why have I still not found that answer I’ve been looking for? I look back at the last two years and see myself like a dog chasing cars. I’ve travelled the world with more enthusiasm than I’ve done anything before and yet I haven’t really achieved anything.
My friend Julia, suffering from her own lack of inspiration, suggested we spend Christmas doing something to lift our spirits and renew our confidence in our talents. We decided to write a sitcom. She’s a stand-up comedian. I’m a writer who can occasionally be funny. Our first attempts felt quite good as we drew out the story arc and shaped the characters. We decided to write about what we know and are telling the tale of five British backpackers who don’t really like each other but are thrown together by their mutual love of Australia. It’s about Britishness. It’s also about Australia through British eyes. And it’s mostly about why those eyes usually gaze so lovingly upon this country.
People are interested in our sitcom idea and are egging us on. Maybe it’ll go somewhere, maybe it won’t, but it’s got the creative juices flowing. It has given purpose to my presence here, and purpose to the past year.
And it’s helped me realise that maybe, just maybe, this is what I’ve been looking for on my travels: a state of quiet that will allow me to create. Enough space in my head for my ideas to take shape and flourish. Maybe this quiet house is what I really wanted, this undemanding work what I really needed, and enough time passed that the distractive (destructive?) longing for past loves no longer dominates my thoughts.
And new relationships help. I've found a Huck Finn to my Tom Sawyer. I feel the gentle pressure of his fingers on my chin as he twists my head towards him. He smiles at me with his wide green eyes. It fills me with reason again.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
But cynicism aside it's hard not to get excited by the fresh-faced musicians and their fresh-sounding tunes. Despite the big PR machine behind them, pushing them into the limelight, there is another reason they're there - they're actually quite good.
I've been lucky living in Australia that I've been living with some of the music acts tipped for greatness in the UK in 2009 throughout 2008. Lady GaGa in particular has been massive here, scoring two No 1s with her first two singles - Just Dance and Poker Face. They've been a dominant part of my soundtrack to 2008, proving big hits on both the radio and the dancefloor here.
Aussie duo Empire Of The Sun as well have been a strong presence on the radio and on my iPod with their debut album Walking On A Dream. It's lush sonic electronica has provides a perfect soundtrack to staring at the always amazing Australian sky.
Then there's Melbourne band The Temper Trap whose single Sweet Disposition has been a regular companion this year. Sounding a bit like U2 but without the earnest vocals and tiresome histrionics, The Temper Trap are an awesome rock band.
Coming from the UK, where we have probably the best music scene in the world, I was a little worried that the Aussie music scene wouldn't keep me interested. I couldn't have been more wrong. It's good enough to keep me from heading home.
Yes and no. It’s been very up and down. The ups involved travelling, meeting new people, and meeting up with old friends. The downs involved work, money and family.
2. What has been your biggest achievement?
Working for and getting a 2nd year visa to stay in Australia. And I drove a tractor for two months. A fucking tractor!!
3. Did you take any exams, Pass?
4. Have you had your birthday yet?
In February. I turned 30, which was a huge anticlimax, and just got very inebriated with some lovely Irish friends of mine.
5. Have you been on Holiday?
Only one really, though some might consider my whole year has been a holiday. I wouldn’t, it’s been too stressful.
6. Where and when (list)?
I went on a tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs and had the most amazing time ever. I saw beautiful things and met some amazing people who made me laugh hard and taught me rude French words. Would I rather? I would actually, yes.
7. Have you bought anything expensive?
I suppose the ticket for the aforementioned tour.
8. Have you had a job?
Many, many, many jobs.
9. Made any big decisions?
To stay in Australia I guess. Yeah that was pretty big. I’m missing a lot at home – friends’ entire relationships, births, engagements, weddings, etc etc so it’s hard. But I like this country.
10. Lost a friend or loved one?
Hmm… no, not really.
11. Met anyone amazing?
Oh man, so many amazing people. Where to start? Mark, of course. A more loving, patient, sexy, generous, fun, adventurous, grounded, encouraging, supportive, unflappable and intuitive bad driver you’ll not find. Julia – my funny bone’s soulmate. Laura F – the essence of everything good about Essex girls with none of the bad (well, maybe some, he he.) Ben – a lovable bear with a sore head of a man. The Irish girls, who salvaged my 30th birthday from where I’d chucked it, dusted it off and presented it to me wrapped in a big bow. Mr Robert Cox, my boss on the almond farm – a full-blooded Aussie with a good heart and murky Melbourne past. Someone who I’ll no doubt characterise in one of my hugely successful novels in the future. Mikael the blonde gay surfer Swede – the campest straight man you’ll ever meet and entertainingly unhinged to boot. Craig, a man full of fascinatingly useless information and dry wit. His girlfriend Lucy, who might seem sensible at first but will fearlessly embrace party times at the first sniff of debauchery. Who else? Laura P, or Norman – the funniest girl I’ve met this year who isn’t funny for a living. And Emer, or Irish – such good banter, my belly still aches. And the others on the road trip – Aubs, Shellie, Vicky, the Frenchies Charlotte and Karl. We did good chemistry, we were lucky. Cornish Sarah, my tractor buddy – who’d have thought we’d have both left Cornwall for Oz and ended up driving traak-ters with a fellow Cornishman?? The Stoke man Bill – inordinately proud of Robbie Williams and the WORST storyteller in the world. But he is devastatingly handsome, despite his Punch & Judy chin. Alex and Mark, who have both now gone solo. Alex is gonna make a tenacious and unflinching journo one day, and Mark’s a lovely handsome fella who I defy anyone not to get on with. Megan, the lovely, lovely American who came to Oz and realised her dream of being a vet wasn’t what she wanted anymore. Hayley, a woman with the most Australian accent I have ever heard in my life – funny, shameless and camp as Christmas. The peeps in Darwin - Adam, Rob, Jo, Karyn - you provided more welcome distraction than you'll know. And I can’t forget the first Melbourne housemates – dancing Dec, lovely Anna, email buddy Nicola, delightfully deadpan Kiri, Laura and her Chaplin-esque drunkenness. There’s been many, many more as well and I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten you.
12. Made new friends?
13. Moved house?
I’ve slept in approx (give or take) 25 different beds this year. And on a few sofas. And in a few buses. Nuff said.
14. Changed college?
Not for a long time!
15. Tried something new?
Loads. Driving a tractor. And a ute. I’ve cooked Thai food. I’ve moved into an environmentally-friendly house. I’ve made awesome sangria. I’ve been to a birthday breakfast (who does that??). Swam in rock pools in Kakadu. Got up close and personal with crocodiles. Seen Uluru. Slept with a soldier (two actually). There’s so much I’ve probably forgotten.
16. Been more happy or sad?
An equal balance of both, as always.
17. Made any enemies?
Not that I know of. I’ve met a fair few people I didn’t like this year actually, usually at the working hostels because you get to know people quite well at these places.
18. What music will you remember from this year?
God, loads. Adam K & Soha, Alphabeat, The Aston Shuffle, The Beautiful Girls, The Black Ghosts, The Black Keys, Bliss N Eso, Bloc Party, bluejuice, British India, The Charlatans, Children Collide, Chris Brown, Cog, Coldplay, Cold War Kids, Cut Copy, Daft Punk, Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, deadmau5, Digitalism, Dizzee Rascal/Calvin Harris, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, The Duke Spirit, Dukes Of Windsor, Empire Of The Sun, End Of Fashion, Eskimo Joe, Estelle, Eugene McGuinness, Faker, Familjen, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Foals, Foo Fighters, Freemasons, bloody Gabriella Cilmi, Gossip, Grace Jones, Grafton Primary, Guillemots, Gyroscope, Hercules & Love Affair, Hilltop Hoods, Hook N Sling, The Ian Carey Project, Josh Pyke, Kaiser Chiefs, Katy Perry, Kid Cudi, Kings of Leon, Kisschasy, Kylie Minogue, La Roux, Lady GaGa, Ladyhawke, Ladytron, The Last Shadow Puppets, Leona Lewis, Lupe Fiasco, M.I.A., Madonna, Metro Station, MGMT, Miley Cyrus, Muph & Plutonic, My Digital Enemy, OneRepublic, Pendulum, Pink, Plump DJs, Pnau, The Potbelleez, The Presets, The Pussycat Dolls, Rihanna, Roisin Murphy, Salmonella Dub, Sam Sparro, September, Sneaky Sound System, Something With Numbers, Stafford Brothers, The Ting Tings, Trial Kennedy, Tricky, Urthboy, Vampire Weekend, Wiley, The Wombats, and Xavier Rudd. (Can you tell I just went through my iPod??)
19. What movies have you seen at the cinema this year?
I don't go as much as I'd like. I've seen The Golden Compass (disappointing), Cloverfield (brilliant), No Country For Old Men (overrated), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (hilarious), Sex & The City (entertaining), The Dark Knight (amazing), Wanted (silly but fun), Tropic Thunder (better than the reviews suggested), In Bruges (brilliant), Body Of Lies (awesome), Burn After Reading (overrated), and Australia (entertaining). Think that's about it really.
20. What was your best night out?
The night I met Julia was great fun for reasons too convoluted to go into here. It was just one of those nights that clicked and everything was funny. Essex Laura’s birthday in Mildura was good fun. The night I met Mark was great obviously. Getting drunk with the tour group in Coober Pedy was hilarious. The night I danced til six in the morning (without the aid of drugs) in Throb in Darwin was good. Getting drunk with Graeme in Melbourne was one of those unexpectedly good nights out. New Year’s Eve with Mark was good. I’m gonna go for the night I met Julia.
21. What was your worst night out?
The night Mark, Travis and I went to the Xchange and then the Market clubs in Melbourne. Drink and drugs don’t mix well kids.
22. Best Day?
The walk around Uluru probably. Amazing.
23. Worst Day?
The day after aforementioned night out with Mark and Travis.
24. Best month?
August, cos I was seeing lots of Australia.
25. Worst month?
First month in Darwin probably (September). Money stresses and that.
26. Was summer a good'un?
It is so far. (We’re in the middle of it in Australia!) Christmas went well, if pretty quietly. And I’m looking forward to the Big Day Out festival and Emma and Justin coming over from the UK.
27. Have you made better friends with anyone?
Yes. Stew and Kath who I knew briefly from the UK. And Graeme who I shared a room with in a hostel last year and now we’ve got to know each other better.
28. Lost any friends?
No, I don't think so.
29. How many people have you kissed in the year of 2008?
You mean as in boys and tongues? Maybe… 10? Not sure.
31. Did you have your heart broken?
No. Healed if anything.
32. Made any plans for next year?
The goal is to try and stay in Australia. We’ll see how well that goes.
33. How many hair colours have you had?
Just the one, my own.
34. Got pierced?
35. Got inked?
anted to but never had the money to do it. This year hopefully.
36. Changed your image?
I did the scruffy farmer look for a bit.
37. Missed anyone?
All my friends and family in the UK. A lot.
38. Enjoying this survey?
It's going on a bit longer than I thought it would.
39. Know what you want in the future?
To stay in Australia for a bit longer and try and settle here for a bit.
40. Regret anything?
Oh only a few financial things. I’m terrible with money. But it’s all good.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
“We had dancers on one of my videos who were doing all these really amazing elaborate things,” he says. “And I’d interrupt them and say, ‘Sorry, that looks really good but can you just do this?’ and I would make up some really shit move like something out of Napoleon Dynamite. Whenever they do something shit in the video it’s because I told them to.”
Eugene himself is not much of a dancer. “I’m too tall. And I’m from London. I think the English reserve comes into play. Whenever I start dancing I’m very much aware I’m dancing. I can’t relax unless I’m completely out of it, but that’s not dancing that’s just some sort of mild fit.”
Eugene’s wicked sense of humour rears its slyly-grinning head throughout his music. His nostalgic skiffle-punk balladeering first courted critical acclaim with the release of last year’s mini-album The Early Learnings of Eugene McGuinness. His recent full album proper picks up where that left off, with more light-hearted and surreal story-telling about the dark and sweaty side of life.
“I find absolutely everything funny,” he says. “If someone puts the right spin on it I’ll be in stitches. Even the most terrible things. But I don’t set out to put humour in my songs. It’s just a habitual trait. Often I’ll be writing about something that’s not particularly pleasant and the only way out is to say something tongue-in-cheek, a sarcastic kind of thing which doesn’t fit the mood at all.
“But that’s just in the upbeat songs. Whenever I’m in a sprightlier mood what naturally happens is I start being a bit stupid. Like this interview for instance - I’m on fire, I’m wicked here. Usually I’m terrible. It’s cos I’m hungover.”
Born in London and brought up in Essex and Ireland, Eugene says he had a playful attitude growing up. “In school I always used to pick on people who were like twice the size of me. And I’d always get away with it and run off, laughing. It was never bad fights, just playground stuff when you’re playing football.” He laughs. “I was always just really annoying.”
After considering studying fine art, Eugene instead went to the Paul McCartney-founded Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, the same establishment that produced The Wombats. But he found the university’s approach to music to be completely at odds with his own.
“There was nothing really going for me in London, so the idea of going to Liverpool to study music sounded quite appealing at the time,” he says. “But I had no idea what studying music would actually entail. I realised that I don’t agree with the idea of studying music at all. You start thinking about it in a very cold and contrived way. I did, anyway. I don’t want to slag that place off. It probably works better for classical music, or theatrical stuff. But it wasn’t for me. For me it was more about the city of Liverpool and the music scene that was there outside of that cocoon.”
Signed to the UK’s renowned Domino Records, home of Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, Eugene obviously hasn’t suffered without the training. With descriptions like ‘one-man Arctic Monkeys’ being bandied about (“They are the best band in the world, but what I do is pretty different.”), Eugene’s currently enjoying his next big thing status. He proudly reports that “people are liking the album” in his native UK and talks like a caged animal about his upcoming solo tour and support slot with Goldfrapp.
“It’s nice to be busy again,” he says. “For a couple of months I was just waiting for the record to come out. People would ask what I was doing and I’d say, ‘Nothing, but I’ve got a record coming out, it definitely exists.’ But now it’s out and I get to do gigs and interviews like a famous person. Glorious. One can’t be trusted without the routine of a tour. I just end up upsetting people.”