Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bolt the Drummer

Our drum kit was put through its paces today by Andrew Bolt. He's a journalist of note and I for one had not known of his prowess with sticks. But he came along and rendered a few solid tunes of reminiscence in our Music Room.

He's a fine chap. Andrew.  He gets a lot of stick and black faces from some quarters but oddly this time it was not from one of the usual suspects.

Some drongo had a go at him in the newspapers.

This tickled Andrew and a lot of the chaps in the bars. He said:

I  love the idea of me having been a passable drummer, now plotting vengeance against an industry that denied me the fame of a Ringo Starr:
I am asked:
How could it be then, that someone who recalls live music so fondly could have such an issue with it receiving a modicum of government funding? Was he not attempting to work as a musician at the time?
Hey, I never expected the government to pay me   
for playing the drums.  
Nor do I expect government to take my money to pay any drummers today that I’m not prepared to pay for with my own hard-earned cash.  
As for the particular grant I criticised, judge for yourself its merit.   
The abuse you get as a drummer is even worse than what you get as a conservative.  
 IfsAndBute, standing supping a pint laughed and asked:

 Has anyone ever paid you NOT to play the drums, Andy?
 Menai Pete, nearby asked him: 
What is a well balanced drummer? One who drools from both sides of his mouth at the same time?

So Andrew went off on a blinder, telling all about his memories of those long passed days. It was so instructive.

I kept topping up his glass while he reminded younger chaps what his day as a teen was like.

I am sure that American friends and the Sterling chaps in the UK room who all came to hear Andrew play, could recall changes to their societies, riven as they are by the sort of people who criticise Andrew. They too have their lefty parasites and moral degenerates, and the older imbibers recall much more pleasant days.

AB told us:
How I remember the band:

WHEN I was 16 I formed a band, which was silly since I couldn’t play a thing.  
I still can’t, as you may have noticed yesterday when 3AW’s breakfast show got the four of us together as a joke, for charity.  
For charity? Gosh, it was the people we once played for in dances around Murray Bridge in the 1970s that showed the real charity. Fancy them actually paying a few teenagers in red vests, grey shirts, polka dot bow-ties and black trousers to torture tunes like Swinging Safari, Pearly Shells and—when we were really daring—Beautiful Sunday.

So I always knew yesterday would be embarrassing. What I didn’t count on was to be reminded so vividly how much my love of this country comes from what I saw of it playing in that band in all those country dances nearly 30 years ago.  
As you may know if you read these columns, I’m puzzled why so many artists and academics insist Australia is twisted with racism, stinking with xenophobia.  

"Australia at its heart is so racist that I don’t think we can stomach it,’’ director George Miller put it.  

Our country towns particularly seem to be loathed and feared.  
Wake In Fright is one writer’s typical nightmare of waking up in a bush town like one of the several I’ve lived in, from Tarcoola in the Nullarbor to Tailem Bend. Hicks, ferals and rednecks live out in the bush, don’t they? It’s nasty Hanson territory out there.  
All this astonishes me.  
This isn’t the Australia I knew then or see now.  
I didn’t even know the word racism when I was a boy, growing up alongside Aborigines. Danny was my best mate and school captain in Tarcoola Primary, and was, purely incidentally, Aboriginal. His father was a foreman in our railway town.  
Nor do I ever recall my parents, with their Dutch accents and my mother’s weird dishes for community suppers, being treated like aliens. Just pitching in gets you anywhere here.  
 It is true I grew up knowing a few more eccentrics than many children might today. They were in your face in the bush, not hidden as they are here in the city.

So in Tarcoola we just had to put up with Charlie Hoskings singing ``I keep my pants up with a piece of twine’’ during the pictures every fortnight. We knew two choruses would see him through, anyway.  
In Warramboo, one of the local girls had Down syndrome, but there were always a couple of men to talk to or dance with her at the town `socials’. Difference was something we had to deal with, and we did it usually without much fuss—without the academics, the sensitivity training and the awareness campaigns. Or the furious hectoring.  

It was the Nelson brothers’ mum, one of those practical Christians you often find in the country cooking yet another meal for someone else, who told us that if we were to play dance music we should go to a house on the edge of town and learn the tempos from the transsexual who lived there.  
Except, of course, Mrs Nelson didn’t use the word ``transsexual’’, being discreet. So it took me a while to wonder why the woman who taught us to play every dance from the military two step to the Pride of Erin had such a low voice and hid her face behind her hand.  
Still, by the time we got used to her we got used to what she was, too.  
No fuss, no politics.  
She even came with us to our first dance, at a dairying town on the Murray, where we played free, just for the practice, while she muttered ``faster’’ or ``slower’’.  
Oh, we were bad. Peter Nelson used to smile sorry whenever he played a bum note on the piano accordion, which probably explains why he always seemed so happy. Allan was good on the organ, but boom cha was as much as I could manage on the drums.  
And when my brother, Richard, later joined us, we at first made him play softly enough for no one to hear.  
Yet people hired us and we gradually got better—enough to play for church groups and tiny towns, for sports groups and anyone who thought it was more fun dancing to a bad live band than a perfect dead record.  
We’d play in restaurants or sheds or, more usually, in halls with deep-brown honour boards, gold-glittering with the names of locals who’d fought for their country or their club.  
We’d play while the women put their plates in the side room and the men chatted by the front entrance.  
We’d play while dads danced with their daughters, and aunts taught steps to their nephews.  

We’d get half a hamlet of folks in a circle, doing the progressive military three step, and see the shyest girl dance at last with the man with the Monaro.  
Sometimes we’d play Running Bear for the kids.  
There would be raffles for some good cause and announcements of a future do. There’d be votes of thanks and toasts to the bride.  
There were no drunks, and we none of us even imagined people actually took drugs.  
There were no fights, either, of course. People there knew each other too well.  
And no one ever felt the need to tell us in the band how bad we truly were.  
This is the country I remember.  
This is my Australia—with more heart, more life and greater decency than many artists credit.  
I know at times it could seem dull, and how often our cultural elite seem in horror of that evenness of our temperament and history, trying to make us more dramatic by inventing genocides that never happened, satanic legions of racists that never lived, and rebellions out of a few shots.  
But I guess that’s the dullness of peace and decency, when it’s up to you yourself to make your life rich, without bothering your neighbours too much. Somehow, quietly, Australia allowed us to do just that.  
Look what’s become of my old band—now a child psychiatrist, a government adviser on energy policy, a truck driver and a columnist.  
One of us has a Japanese wife, another has lived in Asia and a third is just back from an official fact-finding tour of Europe.  
 From one dorky dance band from the Murray’s backblocks we’ve all come. We can’t play and we still don’t dress well.  
But we’ve seen this country for what it is and we know it’s better by far than flashier folk than us might like to tell you.

I am glad we still have men around like AB. He is an honest man with his head screwed on.

Those day may seem to some to be a long time ago and a thousand miles away.

But look. It is NOT far away in time and place. It is still here. In the REAL Oz, the country Oz.

Mind you, some bush bashes can get a tad down and dirty. The Batchelor and Spinster Balls are known for their 'times'. But the American influence even hits here.

At the Knight & Drummer, Andy can beat a drum.

He can beat it here anytime.

Pour the man a drink of fine Amber Fluid.

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