On The Return of Live Music

I have a band called Casabella. A group of friends who get together seven or eight times a year to play a gig. It’s incredibly loose, to the point that the band has been around for over ten years and is literally on its hundredth iteration.

It started as a background jazz band, playing a weekly gig at an Italian restaurant in a shopping centre. We got the gig via Myspace, when a chef at the restaurant found our nascent social media presence and called us up. A one-off gig turned into a Friday night residency that carried on for seven years. The deal was simple – $100 each and a pizza for three hours of low volume jazz.

Over time the low volume component became the most important part of the gig. We were regularly asked to turn down, at least three or four times a night. I started leaving my sticks at home and just turning up with brushes. Then I started cutting my kit down – ditching the toms, ditching the cymbals, eventually buying a smaller kit – an 18” kick, snare and ride cymbal. One gig I forgot my kick drum at home and no-one noticed. If anything it probably made the gig better.

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On Normalcy

Back into the swing of it. It appears life is accelerating to normalcy at a much faster rate than expected. A much faster rate than hoped to be honest. I was ready for another couple of weeks rolling out of bed at 8.30 am, but it wasn’t to be. The government has decided we’re back to it on Friday and suddenly I’m staring down the barrel of getting out of bed, putting on actual pants and riding my bike to the various schools I teach at. Wild.

I’ve also booked some gigs. What a concept. I had one day of productivity a couple of weeks ago where I emailed a venue I’ve played at for years to see how their opening up was going, and next thing I knew they’d booked me in for two gigs. Then another venue emailed me to reschedule a cancelled gig from July and suddenly I’ve got two rehearsals this weekend for two gigs the next weekend. Ludicrous.

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On Ongoing Priorities

I can feel the first breaths of summer. It’s been a long monotonous winter, another one to tie into last year’s where we thought it could never get worse. Turns out it could get worse, we could do the exact same thing again but without the novelty that got us through the first one.

To be fair, I’ve been pretty happy this lockdown. I’ve got enough on my plate to keep the weeks rolling past. I’ve been exercising and eating well and spending enough time catching up with friends on the internet that I feel connected. I’ve been reading and listening to new music and doing practice, although not as much as I’d have liked to in hindsight. But that’s how it always is.

Steve told me the other day that this might be it. This might the last month of lockdown passivity we might ever live through. We might never be given this much free time in our adult lives again.

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On the Ongoing Passing of Time

I’ve been thinking about time, as these glorious days of full sunshine and warm breezes start to waft in. It’s been a mere blink of an eye since we were here last, twelve months ago.

I’ve thought often of how time is tied to memories, memories are tied to actions, and actions are tied to the places we inhabit. As much as I’d love to recall thoughts I’ve had over the years, these thoughts are infinite, a galactic ticker-tape that clicks and clacks throughout my days. There’s no way to count the thoughts I’ve had, no way to categorize them, to neatly place them in to boxes. Sure, I can vaguely group them, ideas I have on music and reactions I have to people I meet, but thoughts are so ephemeral, blink and they’re swamped by the next wave of thoughts and so on until we die.

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On Missing Live Music

I’m missing live music.

I open up Instagram with my morning coffee and the first thing that pops up is a video of Jacob Collier and Justin Lee Schultz, jamming together on a green room keyboard after a festival. It’s just such a joyful stretching out – two young guys with a genuine love of music playing over a tasty little chordal vamp. There’s no audience, no pressure, no end goal, just a shared exploration of music, and I love it.

I know for a lot of my musician friends, the pandemic has taken away careers, income, all semblance of future plans, and I’m definitely feeling this myself, but the thing I’m mourning the most is the spontaneity of music.

I miss just being able to turn up to a venue and see something happening – a group of people who’ve worked collectively on this shared thing to a point that they can get together on stage and play it live. Who knew that with enough time practicing mechanical motions we could learn to express emotions through physical vibrations. Truly amazing.

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On Doubts

Recently I’ve been finding myself doubting some things that I’ve always done.

I put it down to COVID of course. With the once in a century shut down of planet earth its easy to start to scrabble at the edges of everything you’ve held sacrosanct and pick holes in things you believed were too strong to fail. I’ve seen it with lots of friend too. A wave of teetolarianism and vegetarianism is sweeping through my friendship group, accompanied by the dual waves of exercising and going to therapy. Everyone I know is going to therapy. It’s great. Inspiring. Beautiful. We’ve learnt to think and talk about our feelings. Is this related to the ongoing stress of this global pandemic? Or is it just merely a reflection that we’re getting older (and maybe now able to pony up the therapy fees that we couldn’t have done in our 20s).

So what am I doubting?

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On a Return to Live Music

I took my worn down feelings away with me for a weekend, and carried them with me through a couple of days of tour life. I’d forgotten what the six am starts and four hour drives and three set gigs were like, somewhere in the midst of this last year of COVID. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be living on the edge of tiredness, eking out the mental energy to accomplish the task directly in front of you, while staving off the expansive future and its twists and turns.

I spent the last year with a blessed amount of sleep, with mornings spent in bed till nine am, with evenings empty of follow-on tasks, so it’s a slightly rude awakening to realise suddenly life is back to normal and I didn’t get much say in it. This is the reality of life though isn’t it? As much as we cling to the things we can control, the iceberg of inevitability has this vast underwater mass that drags on the edges of what we can see and saps energy just when we feel we’ve started to gain some headway.

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On Balance

It’s another casual day of school holidays. I can feel the holidays starting to slip slip slip out in to the background. Like an inkblot bleeding into a bucket of water, this intense vibrant experience of freedom I felt ten days ago slowly dissipates with time into nothingness.

I spent the first week of holidays floating, aimless and free towards the weekend. I’ve been training for a triathlon for the last three months (much more to come on this in the near future), and the triathlon date landed neatly in the middle of the school holidays. As part of my intense training regime (mainly riding my bike to the pub and running up and down the road out the front of my house), I’d incorporated a ‘taper’, essentially a couple of days off before the triathlon to let the muscles recuperate. I came down with a sickness at the end of last term, so my taper wound up being a whole week of lying in bed eating pumpkin soup and re-watching the one TV show I like (I’ve watched all nine seasons twice a year for the last six years running, something my partner assures me is a coping mechanism for something). So for the first week I had this upcoming triathlon to ground me, and that was enough to make time feel formless.

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On the Music in My Memories

A heart that’s… full up like a landfill.”

What a beautiful line.

I come back to Radiohead as one of those bands that I’ve neglected for a little while. It seems over the last ten year stretch I’ve drifted in and out of fandom with a hundred different bands. Not that I’ve ever stopped loving them, more that something else has taken pole position in my musical interests, and as I’m slowly discovering over time: the first thing to get my attention is the thing that gets all my attention. Everything else is put on tomorrow’s to-do list and shuffled away in to the interminable future.

So I’ve got this extended list of acts I’ve loved: Radiohead, Bjork, Chick Corea, The Tallest Man on Earth, Gregory Alan Isakov, Keith Jarrett, Missy Higgins, The Staves, E.S.T., Kanye (to compile this list I scroll through my iTunes library from 2010 – 2012). Each of these artists has a massive, diverse back catalogue: a mix of albums I’ve spent afternoons devouring and long car trips absorbing via osmosis, as well as albums I’ve probably never listened to, or at best given a cursory one-off shot and then moved on from. Some albums I’ve given lots of time to and they’ve never stuck, case in point Radiohead’s King of Limbs album which I re-listened to in full this week (for probably the fifth time) and I still don’t like.

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On Spontaneity

I find my way to a local craft brewery for a gig, pedalling through Thursday’s somnolent summer sunshine down Victoria Rd, then along the Yarra River bike path. I overtake handfuls of people: the elderly couples walking their dogs, the active-wear clad mothers with prams with who walk side by side and pull off the path as I ding ding behind them, the group of teenagers who ride BMX bikes along the side of river, hopping between stones underneath the bridge at Dights Falls. Each group is left behind as I speed past, top gear enhanced by the gentle downwards slope from Northcote towards the city.

I pull up to Bodriggy, find a way to attach my bike to the fencing that lines Johnston St. My D-lock struggles to make the connection, mainly because my bike is held away from the fence by the milk crate I’ve attached to the back of it to hold my groceries, my jacket, my banjo, depending on the outing. This milk crate is a source of conversation at most social engagements oh man, I’ve been planning on doing that for years, I’ve got some milk crates somewhere, but wildly impractical. Due to the nature of the way I’ve attached it to my bike, the bike’s centre of gravity sits somewhere just behind my butt. This is totally fine if I lean forwards to ride, or if I’m rolling downhill, or if there’s nothing contained in the milk crate, but under less than ideal circumstances, ie pedalling up hill with a full contingent of canned chickpeas and silverbeet, this bike has a tendency to wheelie, front wheel floating up off the ground, Pegasus taking flight in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The first couple of times it happened I imagined I’d mistaken the issue. Surely my front wheel was coming loose, or the handlebars had developed some fault, but then I realised this distinct lack of control was my bike subtly taking off below me, shifting from a useful mode of transport to a point of interest amongst the local kids. whoah look at that guy wheelie-ing with a banjo on his back, it looks… effortless.  No effort here, just this bike and me slowly drifting away from the Earth’s gravity.

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