My friends – guitarist Eddie Kairouz and bass player Phil Blatch – accompanied me to Enmore’s Warren View Hotel at the dawn of the new millennium. It was my first gig since The Stolen Holdens last show some years before.
I had a boxful of new songs – some we had learnt and some not so much. A lot would make up the bulk of our first album ‘Meter’. A lot would never be heard from again.
I deliberately steered clear of as many old Stolen Holden’s songs as possible.
We set up in the corner under a TV set with the obligatory horse racing. We had a small vocal p.a. and our guitars plus three chairs.
It was one of the first times I would ever sit down at a show and play. Playing acoustic music was not a thing that I’d done a lot of. I had this cheap black acoustic guitar – I only ever liked to play electric guitar up to that point – and it sounded like shit. It had some sort of Teflon back that looked like the stuff they used on non-stick frying pans. The best thing about it was its colour – Johnny Cash Black.
From the small make shift stage you could look out the door and straight down Stanmore Rd. To the right of the stage was Enmore Rd. If you sat on the bottom step inside the doorway you were actually eye level with the asphalt and the double yellow lines. After a few beers and some bass player marijuana, if you got the angle just right, it was pretty trippy watching the trucks run up to the Enmore Rd intersection, seemingly straight at you, and then veer off round the corner onto Stanmore Rd.
Directly across from the pub was a shutdown post office with the graffiti ‘Sewer Sider’ painted on its wall. Opposite that was a medical centre with the words ‘Play Some Fucking Stooges’ written down one side.
The pub didn’t have an entertainment license and so there was no advertising the gig. It was strictly word of mouth. There were about 20 people there to watch the beginning of the first set. They were all familiar faces from the days of The Stolen Holdens. From Kaff the Punk and Bill the Nazi Hunter to Big Mark Na-Na and Detective Sergeant Harry Ree of the Hong Kong Vice Squad. There was Curly Headed Greg and Greg with the Beard. Joe the Hood and Commie Annie. These were the names that these people sometimes went by. Some I still only know by these names.
Steph Miller, who had been in Roaring Jack and who was a fine singer-songwriter as well as a good friend, came along and played a short set first up. He was accompanied by Matt Galvin who I had first met when he played guitar in the Barbarellas back in the late 80’s.
He and Steph had also spent time playing together in Eva Trout – a band that also had Bek-Jean Stewart and Grant Shanahan.
That afternoon, Steph played a song called ‘Two Aeroplanes’ that appears on his first solo album. It featured a guitar solo from Matty that burned a hole in your head. Steph’s acoustic guitar playing was elaborate and beautiful with just the right amount of aggression when needed. He was steeped in the folk style of Richard Thompson and Nick Drake.
I remember looking on and listening and feeling very intimidated by the musicianship of Matty and Steph, which makes sense as I’ve always considered my acoustic guitar playing as a musical version of chopping wood.
However, I had my Ace in the Hole, as it were, in Eddy Kairouz. Edmond could, and still can, turn the most rudimentary four chord dirge into a wondrous thing of beauty. Many a time I’ve attempted to carry on singing a song at a show while to my right Eddy played something on the guitar that not even he would be able to explain when asked about it after a gig. Whatever, it was that he’d do, it would often shoot right through me and throw me for a couple of lines, sometimes half a song. He should have one of those blue plaques stuck onto his Mum and Dad’s house in Redfern commemorating his place of birth. Many a guitar player will come and go on the now gentrified streets of Redfern and its immediate surrounds but none will surpass the gifts of my old friend.
Mostly, what I recall of our gig is how sunny it was outside. We started at 5pm and finished the 2nd set at 7. It was the middle of summer and everything felt possible again.
Around that time, I’d been listening a lot to Wilco’s ‘Summerteeth’ album and had decided to sing with a little more passivity, ala Jeff Tweedy, in contrast to the more shout and raise a ruckus vocal style I had exhibited in The Stolen Holdens. I remember Kaff the Punk saying that she didn’t like the new way I was singing. I told her that I didn’t really sing in The Stolen Holdens, that it was more like pleading. I knew what she meant though; I had to get some energy back into it without sacrificing the subtlety. I’m still working on it!
The only other thing I remember about our set that day is that we played a new song that was actually an old song that I wrote when I was about 17. Big Mark Na-Na – never one for compliments – came up to me at the end of the night and, in the true spirit of punk rock, said, “You guys were pretty shit but I like that new song about New Years Eve”.