Right away from motorcycles today, hope you’ll forgive me. I must state at the outset that I’m not much of a concert-goer. Apart from the expense involved, finding concerts by artists whose music and performance I appreciate is pretty tricky so, let me give you a summary. This might be a bit long so I hope you have a cuppa in hand.
The first concert I ever went to was a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta at the Roxy Theatre in Hamilton, a suburb of Newcastle in 1962. As I have often remarked, the music teacher at my school was a clever guy and he devised a very sneaky and effective method of introducing his pop music-mad students to classical music. Part of that strategy was taking his students to a live concert. Every year the local music society would stage a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in Hamilton and Bill used a school excursion to see the performance as a way of “easing” students into another genre of music.
Now I told you he was sneaky, and he was. He knew that even the most uninterested boy (and it was winning over the boys that was the key to his strategy) would love to go out at night and see their favourite girls dressed up to the nines to go to a concert. If you could see the dowdy uniforms that the girls were compelled to wear back in the day, you would understand the attraction.
So, in 1962 (I was 13) we went and saw “The Gondoliers” When the curtain rises, the stage is filled with about 30 girls in colourful dresses singing the opening chorus, “List and learn.” I was hooked.
For the next three years I booked a seat on the bus and saw a G&S. It was fabulous. I also performed in concerts being an active member of the BHS choir, singing at events at the school and also at the yearly Choral Festival in the Newcastle Town Hall.
When we were living in Canberra in the 70’s we went to quite a few concerts, mainly orchestral, usually at the Llewellen Hall at the ANU. We used to joke that Canberrans would go to the opening of an envelope and the concerts WERE always well attended.
In 1980, Kevin Johnson did a concert at the venue and it was great. I’d always been a fan of his music and it was fascinating to see him live. His visit to Canberra also provided me with an opportunity to grovel to his agent and get him to come to my school and talk to my students about music. What a day that was. He said to me after that my students asked him vastly more intelligent questions than most reporters asked him when he was being interviewed.
Many years later I was able to see him at a Leagues Club in Sydney where he performed along with two other iconic Australian singer/songwriters, Mike McLellan and Doug Ashdown. In between those two events I got to know Kevin well as my son and I cooperated on building and publishing his personal web site.
A stint of living in a town in Queensland that was a cultural wasteland meant that, returning to Canberra in the early 90s meant that we could go out to the occasional concert. I’d become very enamoured with country music in the mean time and I couldn’t resist buying tickets to a Willie Nelson concert at the AIS Arena. What a disaster that was. Willie started late, was obviously heavily inebriated and proceeded to massacre most of my favourite songs. Now I did feel that he was entitled to mangle his OWN songs but when he started to do the same to Kris Kristofferson’s songs, that was a bridge too far. My wife and I joined a steady line of disgruntled patrons heading for the exit.
Incidentally, today is Willie’s 90th birthday so Happy Birthday, Willie.
While still living in Canberra I discovered that Trisha Yearwood was doing a concert at The Woolshed in Yallah, just down the road from where I now live! I had been thoroughly indoctrinated with Country music by now, even having a subscription to CMT on Foxtel. So I drove my little Ford Laser through the pouring rain and turned up early. It transpired that this concert was the first of only two that she was going to do in Australia, the other one being in Melbourne. Whether this was an exploratory trip to scope out the chances of a concert tour or not, I really don’t know, but these two concerts were all she did and she hasn’t been back since (this was 1997).
I was even more impressed with her when I saw her arrive in a “normal” car, get out of the passenger seat, take out a umbrella and walk around the car and hold it over the driver as they walked from the car park to the verandah. Not sure that any of the modern “stars” would do that.
It was a terrific concert, 2 and a half hours and she sang all my favourites. No band, as such, a drummer and a lead guitarist. Of course most of you will know that she is now Mrs Garth Brooks and has a very successful cooking show on cable TV in the USA.
Watching CMT also introduced me to lots of other artists as well, including the Dixie Chicks. Somewhat out of left field in a sea of look-alike, sound-alike artists, the Chicks were terrific so, when a Sydney concert was advertised, my wife and my daughter went along. It was at the Olympic Stadium and not being Joe Gotrocks meant that our seats were some considerable distance from the stage. As it was to turn out, it really didn’t matter. Fact was the concert was LOUD, and I can’t even begin to define just how loud it was. Not only was it loud but the performance was punctuated by the use of blazing beams of light that not only illuminated the stage and the performers but also were shone out into the eyes of us poor concert-goers. The combination of the lasers and the atomically loud amplifiers meant that I lasted about 15 minutes before I headed out to the car park and sat in the car until it was over and Helena and Natalie emerged, looking shattered.
The Chicks shortly after fell from favour with me and millions of other Country fans with their leftists political outbursts. I still listen to their early albums but they lost me.
I mentioned Kris Kristofferson, one of my extra favourite singer/songwriters. My good mate, Bob Holden, introduced me to his music in 1973, right at the beginning of his career and I’ve been a fan since then. So, when I heard that he was booked to do a concert at The Woolshed in 2019, I, of course, turned up. It was a sensational concert. Kris apologised that his voice wasn’t as good as it used to be but, quite frankly, I didn’t notice any different. He admitted to being in his 70s but the only real difference I noted was this his ability to maintain long phrases in songs was not as good as it had been when he was younger.
He did the concert unplugged. A solo rhythm guitar and his harmonica, that’s all. He sang for two and a half hours with a short break in between, sang all of my favourite songs beautifully and then took requests. I asked for “Darby’s Castle” and he said that nobody had ever requested that one before so he did it. It was a real privilege to hear a superstar perform in such a small, intimate venue.
My association with my 360 friends has allowed me to attend some more concerts, both at the Diggers RSL Club in town and also at the various folk concerts I have attended. The New York Public Library was a standout group, doing lots of Kingston Trio songs as well as lots of other folk standards.
Since then I’ve been to dozens of concerts and I haven’t had to pay to attend any of them. In fact, for some of them, I’ve even been PAID to be there. I like to think that the lessons I learned going to the small number of concerts that I had been able to attend have helped me to be a better performer for the audiences who listen to me now.
Oh, and I must not forget to mention a terrific concert that we attended at the Basement at Circular Quay in Sydney. Billed as a Singer/songwriter event there were numerous Australian performers on the bill, but I went there to see Gretchen Peters from the USA. Who? you might ask. Well Ms Peters has written a raftload of classic country songs including Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” and Trisha Yearwood’s “On a bus to St Cloud.” Hearing her perform her own fabulous songs was worth the price of admission by itself. The icing on the cake was near the close of the show when one of the performers asked a guy standing at the back of the room if he’d like to sing. He did, and we got a great spontaneous performance from Keith Urban.
So, not many concerts, but worth going to and worth remembering.
I close with Trisha doing “On a bus to St Cloud” If this song doesn’t move you, you don’t have a soul.
Catch you next time.