Posted by Bill on August 27th, 2010
Well that’s another Antipodean tour over, and it was a quite a belter.. So much was going on – I arrived in Melbourne before the tour started for two days of publicity, and found the ruling Labour Party in the middle of a leadership crisis ( sound familiar?). Kevin Rudd was ousted in a brutal putsch and Julia Gillard was installed as the new leader and de facto Australia’s first female PM. (Don’t want to pour cold water on that particular milestone Australia, but after our experience of that I can’t guarantee it’s for the best.) and now there’s a hung parliament while the two parties are flirted with by the smaller..wait, this is all a bit familiar.
Christchurch with its elegant trams, and quaint waterwauys was the starting point, and a great audience.Then came Wellington which was engulfed in freezing rain and storms for three days. I managed to venture out but the jet lag was still happening, so I read a lot, mainly the Stieg Larsson trilogy, and a book about the isles of St. Kilda off the west coast of Scotland which I visited during the Highlands and Islands tour back in the Spring. They are truly breathtaking, and if you ever get the chance to take a boat out to see them you must. The story of the inhabitants lives, and how they came to eventually leave St Kilda, or Hirta, is fascinating and moving.
By the time I got to Auckland, I was still wide awake at night, which meant it was no problem staying up to watch the World Cup, and all its accompanying disappointments.
I flew back to Sydney after some fun shows, especially liked the Civic Theatre in Auckland, beautiful old art deco friezes inside – how could they even have considered knocking it down?
From Sydney I flew up to Newcastle, and another Civic Theatre, and equally impressive. Only problem here, I bounded onto the stage and immediately began wheezing like some ancient rusting piece of farm equipment.. I was gripped by a totally unexpected asthma attack. I had to leave the stage, and run back to the dressing room for me inhaler ..audience initially baffled, later appreciative.
Driving back to Sydney, I remixed the ‘Cars’ tribute on the laptop. Technology, sometimes it’s a beautiful thing.
After the chill winds and horizontal rain of New Zealand, Perth with its balmy sunny days was a relief. Convention centres aren’t always the most conducive to comedy, but this worked I think cos it’s new and comfortable, and maybe the artist had something to do with it, whatever these were fun times. As all my gear was being trucked around Australia, there was a day off while it rumbled across the desert ..I took the opportunity to fly up to Lake Eyre. About an hour and a half’s flight north of Adelaide, this is a vast inland basin, which remains dry for most of the time, but occasionally when there is a lot of rainfall, it fills up to form a huge lake, only a few feet deep, but covering hundreds of square kilometers and attracting flocks of nesting pelicans, and many sightseers. There’s even a bunch of n
s who take their yachts out on it. The water is so heavy with salt, it hardly moves..ripples don’t break its surface and the effect is of a gigantic limpid mirror, stretching off as far as the eye can see. To get there, you have to fly first to Coober Pedy, the self proclaimed ‘Opal Capital of the World’ and that is equally a fascinating and unique place. Hopeful miners have been pitching up here for decades, staking out their claims, and burrowing into the earth like monstrous ants. In fact, the landscape around Coober Pedy looks like nothing on Earth, a mass of holes, each one accompanied by a neat cone of soil..the legacy of thousands of prospectors hopes of the big score. The heat here in summer is blistering – it can regularly reach 50 degrees Celsius,so many of the residents have chosen to live underground in the cool of the earth. This is perhaps the most striking feature of the place, these partially subterranean dwellings, ordered, and smartly appointed ‘caves’. I stayed in an underground hotel which was surprisingly comfortable, the temperature was a constant 22 degrees, and the huge scarification on the bare walls by the huge gouging devices used to dig it out only increased its pod-like charm.
Adelaide’s Thebarton Theatre is a fine old rock and roll hall and it didn’t disappoint. As did not the falafel I ate on the way back to the hotel.
As we were there for two nights, the weather was fine I seized the chance to go quadbiking with the crew. And the boss of the facility was from Gloucester and sported a fine west country accent – world, small innit? My lover.
For the second time touring Oz in their winter, I was looking forward to Brisbane.. there’s a relaxed and tropical atmosphere here that I love. What greater pleasures are there on tour, than strolling along a riverside boulevard on a warm and balmy night, sitting outdoors and nibbling on satay sticks, artfully marinated, and elegantly presented..while sipping a cold Boags.. ? On the last day, I drove up the coast to the Holden V8 Supercar facility, and hooned around the track with the excellent Dennis, the test driver. What larks.
I’ve always somehow missed out on Tasmania over the years I’ve been travelling to Oz . This time I was determined to go, and so I found myself in Launceston at The Princess, yet another lovely old theatre. The drive down to Hobart the next day, was one of the most picturesque on the tour, and I was taken aback by the sight of a huge flock of white cockatoos, probably some 400 birds, which swirled across the road ahead like a cloud of smoke.
Hobart is I think a rare gem of a place. The cafes along the wharfside are as good a spot to watch the world go by as any I have experienced. When the venue provided us with a chocolate fountain after the gig, it seemed momentarily like some 80’s Motley Crue tour in its utter decadence..
Arriving in Melbourne always rekindles many memories. I first came to Melbourne in 1996 as part of the Comedy Festival and it was really the first time I’d performed overseas. Well, if you don’t count Amsterdam that is.
There’s something which is hard to describe about performing in another country – there’s no map, there’s no way of knowing what will work and what won’t. Some things are familiar, others are utterly alien. We have a partly shared cultural history, some of it though is a mystery ..So it’s a half-blind stumble through patches of sunlight and darkness..and all the more exhilarating for it. It’s a feeling that never leaves me even now, that here, the other side of the world, with a shared language, a following wind and a bit of goodwill we can do the same comedy as back home. I came back to Melbourne for four years after that first festival, and my first memories of Australia are all tied up with the place. The accent,+the directness of the people – the quality of the sunlight, the cafes, the trams and the haunting beautiful song of the Australian Magpie at dusk.
And this was to be my most favourite Melbourne show experience..because I got to play the Palais Theatre in St. Kilda. At nearly 3000 seats, this is Australia’s largest theatre by some distance. Like the Civic in Auckland this nearly suffered an untimely death, but the far-sightedness of some investors made sure it’s still a magnificent Melbourne landmark. And you can’t miss it, standing alone like a huge church by the sea..It’s a beautiful building, and the more I learned about it the more I loved it. It was built in 1929, then almost immediately burnt down, so they built it again, this time hurriedly and up in the roof evidence of this haste is all around. Not by cutting corners on safety, but the joists and timbers are not neatly trimmed off, so many odd angles jut out.
There’s a closed hot water pipe heating system, that provides warmth to footplates in front of every seat, so in the chilly Melbourne winter, audiences sat down and immediately their feet were toasty – what a way to put the crowd in a good mood! When it was first opened, it was a cinema and the projection box was so far away from the screen that they had to make special adapters for the lenses to allow them to throw that distance. Even then it was hard for those at the back to see, mainly because of the thick pall of cigarette smoke hanging in the theatre. My shows here will live long in the memory. Sometimes stand-up comedy is hard to do , for me anyway. Some nights it’s just not flowing, the words don’t come easily, it’s like trying to push a pram up a hill with a piece of lettuce.. and then sometimes it’s working fine, the jokes are there, the material is good, your own performance is confident and the audience enjoy it.. but sometimes, on a few very rare occasions, everything clicks, … the pram’s flying up the hill , something else takes over and you and the crowd reach a state of mild hysteria… well, I do anyway.. there was a couple of times this happened in Melbourne and I attribute it to the venue itself, and the memories of all the good times had there over the years..
And when I thought I couldn’t have a better experience doing comedy in Australia, I went to Sydney, and the five nights I performed there at the State Theatre were some of the best shows I’ve done anywhere.. By now, the rough edges of a new show are starting to get smoothed off, the odd quirks of comprehension are ironed out.. And, wow, there’s a WW1 U-Boat engine under the stage! Ausgeseichnet!
I finished the tour in Canberra, a place which is often mocked by visiting artists, and Australians themselves. But I like it – I like the greenery and the oddness of it. After looking out of hotel windows onto cityscapes, it’s a welcome change to see trees, parks, and huge numbers of birds, cockatoos, lapwings and parakeets.
I don’t normally like last nights..I usually celebrate on the penultimate night. Last nights can be an anti-climax, everyone’s leaving after the show, packing up, moving on the next job, that often a celebration can’t happen. I’m always surprised and delighted by the huge demographic amongst my fans – long may it continue.
BB August 2010