Friday, April 27, 2007

After a hiatus - More Blues @ Basement Discs

Today, I had the pleasure of seeing for the first time, American Blues artist Doug MacLeod, do his thing.

He was a most entertaining performer with his humorous introductions to songs. He explained, during one of these stories, that all the old master bluesmen from whom he learnt his style, never thought of themselves as artists, but more as entertainers. He called it humbilisation (if that's how you spell it).

As well as being an engaging and likeable entertainer, Doug MacLeod is a master guitarist and songwriter supremo. One of his strings broke during his performance at Basement Discs, so he improvised with 5 strings.

Bless the Basement Discs for putting on these shows - where else would you get such an opportunity to see so many diverse and interesting performers.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Kevin Andrews vs Snoop Dogg

Do you reckon that this guy (he has the power)...

... should allow this guy to enter the country?
No? ....You're right.

This issue appealed to me as the two personalities involved appear to be chalk and cheese.

You can read about it here

Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch & Fats Kaplin

From L to R - Fats Kaplin, Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane

Last night’s show of the above artists at New Capers was fantastically good. We had a table right in front of the stage so my impressions of this venue – to which I have not been before - are positive. I was expecting it to be rather posher than it actually was. It had a pleasant laid-back atmosphere, though the tables and chairs were jam packed, making it hard to move around, if you were unfortunate enough to be seated at the back.

I first saw these artists, or at least Kieran and Kevin way back in 1999 at the Continental, where I was blown away by the show. They sat on stage and alternated with playing and singing their own original songs, with vocal and musical support being provided by the other member of the duo. A live CD was produced from this show called 11/12/13: Live from Melbourne, Australia, which is a good introduction to the work of these artists.

They have returned to Australia many times since and I have generally taken the opportunity to go and see them.

The expanded band format of this current tour serves to enhance the talents of the pair. Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch are consummate songwriters and masterful musicians, particularly Kieran who plays mandolin, banjo and guitar with exquisite artistry. Kevin has a wonderful warm and whiskey toned voice, but he generally sticks to playing guitar.

I remember the first time I saw Kevin Welch at a Basement Discs In-Store in 1999, just before the Continental show. I thought he was the most gorgeous man I had ever set eyes on. I’d actually never listened to his stuff, but had booked for the show at the Continental because of Kieran Kane, whose 1995 CD, Dead Rekoning, I really liked.

It is hard to actually classify the type of music these guys play. It’s a rich mix of folk, country and blues. The songs are superb, mostly written by either Kieran or Kevin. The sound last night was mind blowingly good with the tasteful combination of various instruments – mandolin, banjo, guitar, fiddle, accordion and subtle drumming on the part of Kieran’s son Lucas. It was the first time I have seen Fats Kaplin with the others, and I must say he certainly adds to the vibe of the performance.

It was amusing, at the start of the show, when the venue proprietor attempted to do an introduction. He was either very nervous or just simply uninformed for he really muffed it, forgetting the names of the artists, “Welcome”, he said “to Kane and um…Kane and……”
He retired in confusion as the artists dryly remarked that they’d introduce themselves.

Anyway, it was great night of fine entertainment with exceptional music.

The photos are from last night. As the artists performed seated, and as there was such a maze of microphones and equipment on stage, it was difficult to get a clear shot. There’s nothing like a microphone growing from the forehead of a performer to spoil an otherwise good photo.

More information on these artists can be found on the Dead Reckoners website.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Beach at Gallipoli 1915

Tomorrow Australia (and New Zealand) celebrates ANZAC Day. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as Anzacs, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day.~ from Wikipedia

It is always celebrated on the 25th April and we get a holiday from work for the occasion.

There was not a great tradition of celebrating ANZAC day in our family, as my father never went to war. However, it seemed you could never miss it completely. What follows is my history of ANZAC day.

As children in Primary School in the 1950s every ANZAC eve , broadcast through the school, was the story of
Simpson and his donkey. I suppose they thought it would appeal to children, a touching story - with animals – of heroism in the face of battle. The story of Simpson and his donkey is still vivid in my memory to this day.

When we lived in Woods Point in the late 50s we watched the returned soldiers march down the main street. There was a man called Andy Hut who was reputed to be a VC. We thought his name was amusing because he actually lived in a hut, just down the road from the hospital where we lived. Just outside his hut was an enormous Sycamore tree. I remember loving the little helicopter blade seedpods spinning down from the tree in autumn.

Not to be outdone by the march, we had our own monument down by the river. It was an outcrop of stones amid the blackberry bushes (which were rife in that area) and we’d found a large stone to be a plaque. On it we inscribed, with sandstone, the words “Lest We Forget” and we’d stand there and salute it.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, celebrating ANZAC day was out of favour with the youth of the day. We were, after all, protesting against another war (Vietnam), so the glorification of war as represented by ANZAC day, was anathema. Just before ANZAC day in 1971, the word PEACE was painted in large white letters on the pillars of the north portico of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. It caused outrage among the establishment, particularly the RSL. It was hard to remove, and the letters remained faintly visible for over twenty years.

In spite of this attitude on youth’s part, in my second last year of university, Australian History was one of my majors. It was a very interesting course mostly due to one history lecturer, L L Robson. Towards the end of the course, Robson – a flamboyant and entertaining speaker – delivered a lecture on the first AIF (Australian Infantry Forces) in particular, on the conflict at Gallipoli. It was a splendid dissertation– moving and inspirational. We gave Robson a standing ovation after it was over, the only time in my memory that a lecturer was accorded such an honour.

There was of course the film Gallipoli, made in 1981 about the first AIF. It has that extraordinary sequence at the end where the brave Aussie soldiers go over the top into death and the athletic boy runs, arms outstretched, until bullets cut him down.

1980s to present
Of course attitudes changed after the Vietnam War was over. Eric Bogle wrote the magnificent song
“And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” which I used to play every ANZAC day. It’s an anti-war song of great emotive power with cutting lyrics.

The youth of today travel as far a field as Turkey to celebrate ANZAC day on the beach at Gallipoli, something we wouldn’t have considered doing back in the 60s.

So ANZAC day, despite all, remains important in Australian cultural history. The old soldiers get fewer and fewer each year, but I dare say there will be more wars to fill the dwindling ranks of returned soldiers marching from the Shrine.

These days I just enjoy the break from work.

Tomorrow I shall just relax and enjoy myself. In the evening we are going to a dinner and show at a new, for me, venue. The artists we are to see are Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, Fats Kaplin and Kieran’s son Lucas. They are wonderful performers - singer/songwriters from Nashville. More about them later…with pictures.

PS: How could I forget!

I was talking with a friend tonight on the phone and he mentioned ANZAC Biscuits - the equivalent fare for ANZAC Day as hot cross buns are for Easter.

So here's a recipe for them. They are easy to make - we children could make them - and they are quite delicious, though I must admit I haven't made them for 40+ years or so. I found this recipe in an old cookery book called Good Housekeeping World Cookbook which B bought for 10 cents from the Salvation Army many years ago. I can't remember putting chopped walnuts in the mix, but all the rest of the ingredients sound right.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Fawlty Towers Moment

Last night B and I were dining at a small pub in Fitzroy where we often go for a meal out on Friday night. We were sitting in the beer garden (that's an outdoor area common in a lot of pubs in Australia) waiting for our food to be served when B spotted a rat running around the perimeter of the area. It ran under a door at the back and disappeared. B was in two minds as to whether he should mention it to the publicans, but he did tell the girl who delivered our meals.

We had finished our meal and were relaxing with a post-prandial drink, when the rat reappeared scurrying towards the street entrance of the beer garden. A woman on the table next to us remarked that it was a native rat as if that made a difference. Anyhow, how could she tell?

The rat made an abrupt about face and headed indoors (the back area was opened up due to the warmth of the evening). The bar girl darted after it with one of the publicans in tow. A couple of customers inside who were about to sit themselves at a table where the rat was headed, hastily beat a retreat. The last we saw was the publican pursuing the rat with a large cardboard box in hand. I don't know if he managed to catch it. We observers outside were highly amused by the drama. It naturally reminded me of the scene in Fawlty Towers where Manuel's rat escapes into the dining room.

So ended a series of amusing incidents in Melbourne this week.

Shortly after we got home last night, Willy the cat came in with another rat - dead, fortunately. He hurled it around for a bit and then ate it. We see quite few rats, mostly dead, as the cats are good ratters. B found two half eaten rats the other morning, lined up under the dining table.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Lisa Miller at Basement Discs & Designex

Today at lunchtime I ventured down to Basement Discs to catch local singer/songwriter Lisa Miller performing live. She is a great songwriter and has a lovely singing voice. It has a lightness and sweetness that is not cloying and is very distinctive. On her website someone describes it as blue eyed and broken hearted, which is an apt description.

In the past she wrote feminist songs such as Rule #1 (Never Trust a Man) and her first release was sort of country music. Lisa Miller, though, can sing any sort of music and writes pop songs, ballads, blues – you name it.

Her latest CD “Morning in the Bowl of Night” is inspired in part by the poems of Omar Kayyam and is dedicated to her parents.

Anyway it was a pleasure to see Lisa Miller perform again as I have not listened to her for some time. Shane O’Mara on guitar and mandolin and Peter Jones on drums provided excellent accompaniment to Lisa’s strumming and singing.

Designex and the Yarra River

After walking round the Designex exhibition yesterday afternoon, I was exhausted. I spent about two hours roaming around looking at all the cool stuff being displayed. There was a carnival atmosphere in some areas, for instance these girls modelling textiles. (click for larger images)

I also managed to photograph this guy in his juggling outfit.

Whether this outing was relevant to work or not, it was interesting nonetheless.

The photo below was taken outside the exhibition centre. I liked the striped effect of the building supports with the city in the background.

My job as Supply Manager involves managing and monitoring contracts for appliances and fittings in the public housing sector of Victoria. Recently we called tenders for water saving showerheads to replace standard water wasting showerheads in public housing units. Because public housing tenants need to be treated with sensitivity, you can’t just put in any old thing. If the tenant felt he was being deprived of a good shower he’d rip out the water saving showerhead and replace it with the old model. So, we had to find a water saving showerhead that provided a decent shower and still met the Water Efficiency standard. We did find one. I even tested it out at home and found it gave an excellent showering experience which would not put off any housing tenant.

Other products supplied through my contracts are heaters, hot water services, cooking appliances, washing machines, solar boosted water heaters, carpets, holland blinds and security doors. I deal directly with major manufacturers like Rheem and Rinnai as well as small family run businesses. Because the Victorian Government likes to give the impression that it is serious about climate change and energy efficiency, the products installed in public housing units must be seen to be meeting these standards.

I suppose my job is quite interesting and varied, but I’ve been at it for such a long time, it kind of bores me these days.

Anyway, whilst I was down by the Yarra I took a couple of river shots.

The first is looking eastward towards the Docklands. This area has recently been developed and tidied up. A great many new buildings were erected (mostly high rise apartments).

This photo is of the Polly Woodside a restored 19th Century Tall Ship. It’s a very pretty vessel and stands at the gateway of the Melbourne Maritime Museum.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another one of those moments

Another lost photo opportunity today in Melbourne , was the astonishing sight of a guy on skates (roller) being towed by two dogs. They flashed past me on the intersection of Spring and Lonsdale Streets and were heading at a good clip towards Carlton. It made me laugh, and ponder the frequency, this week, of strange Melbourne sights.

The Public Purse spot today was occupied by a rock band - OK I suppose - but not up to the standard of fat belly dancers and the hare krishna fraternity.

Tomorrow, I'm attending an exhibition as part of my work. It is a showcase of innovations in interior architecture and design. It could be quite interesting and is kind of relevant to my job as Supply Manager.

It's at Jeff's Shed (aka Melbourne Exhibition Centre) down by the Yarra river. I'll take my camera and try to get some water views with or without ducks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

One of Those Moments

At lunchtime today in the city I wished I'd had my camera on hand to record the juxtaposition of two disparate forces on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets outside the old GPO.

There was a rather portly woman, dressed in a glittering costume, belly dancing for money to sensual middle eastern music, by the Public Purse. A group of Hare Krishnas came tink, tink, tinkling across the road from the opposite corner. They bobbed, swayed, tinkled and chanted their way past the fat belly dancer. She abandoned her own music and belly danced to the Hare Krishna beat. The Hares smiled blandly & benignly and took the opportunity to distribute literature to those of us waiting the tram. I was handed a card which told me if I chanted the Hare Krishna mantra, my life would be sublime.

It was one of those moments in the city which made me glad to be a Melbournian and also reminded me of a cartoon by Michael Leunig, Melbourne's treasured cartoonist. (see picture below - click to enlarge).

There is something absurd and charming about the cartoon. Today's small snapshot of life in the city had the same nuance as the cartoon.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

End of the Autumn Racing Carnival

It is practically the end of the Autumn racing carnival, the Sydney Cup yesterday being the last of group one racing day for the season.

It has been a very interesting season all round and it was good to see my favourite Haradasun prove his worth by winning two group one races.

He raced again yesterday - over 2000 metres for the first time. He looked, at one stage, as if he would win, but he veered waywardly off course and ruined his chances. The Sydney iron horse, Desert War, prevailed.

According to the newspaper today, Haradasun was distressed after the race and collapsed with "the wobbles" while he was being watered down. Nothing serious I hope is indicated by this. Perhaps he was feeling the stress of only having a mere 6 days to recover from the Doncaster Handicap before racing again.

I should imagine he and a lot of the other stars of autumn will be spelled now and resume in spring. He"ll come back better in spring I'm sure, as he's still only a very young horse and won't achieve his true potential until he is fully grown.

Hopefully Haradasun will be competing on my annual day at the races in September in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes. I'd love to see him in the flesh.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vale Kurt Vonnegut

Yesterday the news of Kurt Vonnegut's death caused me to remember all the wonderful books he wrote. I have a pretty fair collection of them, the bulk of which I appear to have bought in 1972. So 1972 must have been the year I discovered his writing. I remember he was very popular at that time, a cult writer like Richard Brautigan and Joseph Heller. They all wrote extraordinary novels, fresh and original at the time, and even today, when their books are almost forgotten, their voices are still uncommonly individual when you read them again.

This morning, as a gesture of respect and remembrance, I re-read Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse 5". It is the story of Billy Pilgram who has a habit of becoming unstuck in time, who is kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who is a prisoner of war in Dresden at the time of the fire bombing of the city. The action of the novel jumps back and forth in time as Billy's life is documented in stops and starts as he travels through time and space.

I haven't read the novel for over 30 years I guess, but I whizzed through it in a couple of hours. It was as good a read as I remember it being and has not dated at all.

As a footnote and epitaph to Vonnegut here's a short quote from the novel:

"The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. ...It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once that moment is gone it is gone forever. "

So rest in peace Kurt Vonnegut, may the memory of you and your books live on forever.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Haradasun Wins Again

It was a very emotional and tense moment at the start of the Doncaster Handicap today, where Haradasun was sent out favourite. The track was rated heavy after considerable rain fell in Sydney over the weekend. As he has mostly raced in Melbourne where drought reigns supreme, he hadn't any form for wet conditions, so there was always a question mark over his chances.

Well, he proved the knockers wrong and won one of the most prestigious Group One races in Australia quite convincingly, against a top class field.

I found it an emotional moment as I have been following the career of this young horse since his maiden race last Spring and I look forward to seeing his further development into a true star performer. He has lived up to the hype put on him and is sure to be well worth watching in the future. He's only had nine starts for six wins and two seconds and has only been unplaced once when he had foot problems.

I had a small bet on him as his odds, even if he was favourite, were quite good at 4/1. He certainly won't be offered at those odds again.