original. acoustic. music.


We played two fairly landmark gigs recently.

After week after week of playing the Adelaide, we managed to score a paid gig at the Wellington Zoo (thanks to Peter Baillie, who runs The Acoustic Lounge nights at the San Francisco Bath House, and a 40 minute opening set at the Adelaide for the Henrietta Ford Stagecoach Open Mic night (thanks to Tyree Robertson).

The gigs were landmarks for two reasons - one that pertains to the band in general, and the other that is more personal to me.

The zoo gig was a great success. We were essentially background music while people ate lunch but we got through to a few people (i.e. they clapped) towards the end, and heard nothing but good feedback from the organiser and a few of the punters who came up to speak to us. We supplied our own PA, which meant our studio setup had to be cannibalised, and played for about 1 and a quarter hours with a break in the middle. All in all we had prepared 23 songs, 14 of our own and 9 covers. It was harder to play the covers than our own stuff - as it always is - but we pulled them off pretty well, adding harmonies in bits that never had them in the original songs.

We played through the entire set and finished with a repeat of the first song, We Could Be Good. We were playing in the gazebo next to the Elephant House - the place where the public used to get onto the saddle for elephant rides around the zoo in the old days. Wellington Zoo's elephant died some time ago, and the buildings remain as a monument to it. We've done a paid gig before, performing for the crew of The Water Horse earlier in the year, but this one was for actual money, not gear. The money will of course swiftly be turned into gear, but it marks a fairly significant milestone in Darrel and my history together - our first gig for people we didn't already know. We're turning professional. Kinda.

Turning professional brings forth all sorts of previously hidden stuff. I've been an APRA member for some time now (Australasian Performers' Rights Association), but have never filed a Live Performance Return because I've never had to. I was recommended to become a member by the director of one of the theatre shows I was doing the music for a while ago so that I might benefit from return seasons of shows I've worked on. None of the shows I've worked on have ever had return seasons. Theatre is not a medium anyone in their right mind should expect money from, at least not in this country. Furthermore – I figured I had already been paid for the work I did and am rather uneasy about receiving money without lifting a finger. Call me crazy, but that's how I feel.

However, now Darrel and I may be doing more gigs for money we have to be sure everyone is getting represented – we have to register our songs so we can file our return, and we also have to make sure we list any covers we play so that the appropriate funds are channelled to the appropriate people. It all sounds like Income Tax to me and I'm not really happy about it. However, having never done it I have no idea what sort of a task it is to do, so perhaps I should reserve judgement until after our first return is filed.

I have major issues with money in my life – it seems you always have to pay someone else some part of whatever you receive. If I had a real salary all this would be done silently and I could quite happily not give a rat's arse, but as a contractor I see every slice taken from my pay check and have a great deal of trouble accepting that due to some arcane magic I will see some of it back at some seemingly arbitrary date set by the Tax Department for reasons all their own. Work can be exhausting enough without having to expend more energy ensuring you get paid your due as well. I'm sick of it – it was precisely this that drove me from working in the theatre and thus away from composing music for almost two years.

I want to do the right thing, always, I understand the work and energy that goes into creating a piece of music and I believe in acknowledging artists for their work, giving them their due. Yet the current atmosphere in this crazy world, where on one side you have the studios and their Digital Rights Management systems, threats of lawsuits and fines of amounts I couldn't even begin to see myself having let alone paying, and the other an entire legitimate commercial industry devoted to the creation of ways and means of circumventing these systems and “laws” makes me feel like a criminal for picking up my guitar and playing. Can I write something without infringing someone's rights?

Some people campaign for Fair Use, and Creative Commons over standard copyright, while others seek to either maintain the status quo, or worse, make money of people by purchasing the rights to material they didn't create and suing people for breach of copyright. This sucks, people. I just want to play music.

Which brings me onto the other landmark (because talking about copyright just makes me sad, depressed and sick at heart). During our 40 minute set at the Adelaide I reached Nirvana, albeit briefly, and it was wonderful. I want to go there again. It's what I want whenever I play, and it's every reason why I play.

Listen: Darrel and I were playing pretty well, having recently come from the zoo gig confident in our ability to play our material, and confident that our material was good, and mattered. I can't remember the song we were playing when it happened but I know that it lasted a while before I came back in control again.

What happened was this: It was as if I relinquished control of my body and became a spectator from inside my skull. I stopped feeling my fingers on the strings, dissociated myself from my voice and let go. I closed my mouth and kept on singing. The feeling was only momentary – I came back to Earth for the next song, but that song, and the one after it were a lot harder to play as I found myself once more responsible for myself. And all this without drugs, kiddies (well, except alcohol – but not enough of that to really explain away this sort of thing). This has got to be what it's about for me. No man upstairs, no fear. You could almost forgive the rest of the world as long as there was somewhere else to be and a way to get there doing the thing you love and not hurting anyone.

“...and they're all going: 'Ooh, fooking amazing! Ooh, fooking fantastic! Ooh, save the Morris Minor, man yeah!'” - Alexei Sayle, The Secret Policeman's Other Ball† († which, of course, is ©, or ™, or ®,and surely $,£,¥,¢ Someone Bigger/Richer/Other Than Me.)