|The Sunbury 50th anniversary
shows still have legs - all the way up..
21.4.22 - I seem to recall that one of my bands might’ve been
booked for the Golden Vine pub in Bendigo sometime last century, but I’m
fairly certain that I’ve never actually played there. I’ve
barely played anywhere in Bendigo, which is a shame as I know there’s
a healthy blues scene there, but I’m pretty sure the addition of
Broderick Smith to the usual Double Bill suspects of Spectrum and Madder
Lake would’ve enticed a few diehard blues aficionados to this Golden
We arrived in broad daylight and on initial inspection the pub looked
very tired. Once the sun went down though the well-worn atmosphere in
the entertainment room felt quite welcoming and it looked like all the
tables had been booked, which boded well for the vibe in the room when
the music started.
After we’d set up on the tiny stage I encountered Broderick and
his guitarist Shannon Bourne in the beer garden. Their food looked so
good so I ordered myself the calamari - and a G&T.
At last I had the opportunity for a bit of a chat with Brod and, amongst
other things, he remembered being impressed by my first band, The Chants,
playing at the Catcher back in 1967. Nice to hear even after all these
years - the Chants broke up a short six months after arriving in Melbourne
due to perceived and actual indifference.
Brod and Shannon took the stage for a performance that was noticeably
more relaxed than the last gig we shared at the Brunswick Ballroom. Shannon
played gritty electric guitar through a vintage-looking amp and Brod played
his arsenal of harps through a little amp as well. The room would’ve
no doubt drowned them out if they’d opted to go acoustic, but on
the other hand I think the electric approach might’ve worked just
as well in the more concert-like conditions at the Ballroom.
Then it was Spectrum’s turn. The lack of space on stage was a bit
inhibiting and a massive contrast to our previous show at Bluesfest -
I had to be careful to avoid Bren’s guitar when moving to and from
the mic we were so comically close to each other.
The sound was in everyone’s faces too, but it wasn’t at all
nasty and despite the restricted movement we enjoyed a fun set.
I was surprised when Sunbury author Peter Evans and ARCA’s Adrian
Anderson presented me with a framed original Sunbury poster marking the
50th Sunbury anniversary. (Somebody in the audience immediately offered
to buy it from me, but I thought that might seem a little ungrateful).
I managed to persuade Brenden to bump my Badlands song appearance
up the Madders’ set list, which meant Broc and I got to leave before
the end of the Madders’ set and get home at a respectable 12.30.
As far as I know that’s the last time that Sunbury’s 50th
anniversary will be used as a pretext for a Double Bill gig this year.
However, I’m reminded there were four Sunburys so we may yet see
you again next year for the 50th anniversary of Sunbury #2.
19.4.22 - At 5.20am on Wednesday morning
my phone alerted me to a message from my travel agency.
Our Virgin (flight number whatever) departure time had been changed
to 7.20am. I suspected it probably wasn’t our 11.00am
flight, but it was a nerve-jangling start to what turned out to be an
epic day of post-COVID air-travel.
The airline's advice was to arrive at the airport a full three hours
before take-off, so, there we all were assembled in the departure lounge
at 8.30, blearily considering the next two and a bit hours waiting for
our Bluesfest flight to be announced.
Our flight was originally a direct flight to Ballina (Byron Gateway)
but it had been annoyingly modified by Virgin with a two hour layover
in Sydney. The sitting-around-waiting hours soon start stacking up.
While I'd booked the flights early enough, I'd left my accommodation
and transport run way too late and there was none of either to be had
anywhere in the vicinity of the festival.
Luckily Broc has a musician friend from his days in Canberra living
in the Byron area and you can picture the relief on the faces of our
dishelvelled crew waiting in the drizzle at Ballina airport with assorted
hand luggage and equipment stacked on a couple of trolleys when Tony
Dwyer (he prefers 'Ant') arrived in his burnt-orange Subaru and we all
managed to squeeze in with the three back-seat passengers nursing Broc's
bass guitar on their laps.
Then we were off to Ocean Shores, a small township north of the festival
site, where Ant put up Robbo and Broc for the two nights and Bren and
I were billeted with Ant's friend Georgina (Georgie) just down the road.
There we were treated to sumptuous welcoming BBQ that continued on into
the late hours.
It rained overnight, (in my limited experience it always rains at Bluesfest),
but the morning was sunny enough. The problem of getting us all to the
festival site was solved by the Ant and Georgie tag team who got us
there in good time.
Once we got all the formalities sorted we had time to get a bite to
eat and mingle with the growing crowd and have a look around.
(The performers were compelled to wear masks and we were happy to be
compliant, but there was hardly anybody in the crowd bothering and we
actually copped a bit of hostility from a couple of people for wearing
It's hard not to be impressed with the set-up at Bluesfest. The scale
is enormous - some of the marquees must be four storeys high - the stages
are big and well equipped with helpful and patient crews ministering
to our every need.
So, there we were setting up on the Delta stage for our 5.00 - 6.00
slot. We had a leisurely thirty minutes to accomplish this, so leaving
my pedal board in our dressing room (requiring the genial Pat to come
and rescue me in the performers' bus) was easily accommodated - in fact,
the rest of the band was oblivious to my mini-drama. I can't remember
the year Spectrum last played at Bluesfest, but I think we had ten rather
than thirty minutes to set-up so this was luxury.
The hour-long set went more or less as planned. I inserted one of our
emergency songs (Real Meanie) late in the set when it looked
like we were a number short and perhaps the end was a little rushed
as a consequence.
The crowd had swelled dramatically from the fifty or so that watched
us sound check and so a vast sea of heads sang along with gusto and
nearly blew us over in I'll Be Gone.
It wasn't till I saw Georgie's clip of IBG filmed from the
audience that the full impact of the vaunted Ellis D Fogg lightshow
became evident. (We were actually billed as 'Spectrum with Ellis D Fogg's
Liquid Light Show'). I have yet to see the footage that Daryl's wife
Debbie (now nick-named Tripod) shot for Bren, but I'm guessing the images
behind the band for the rest of the set will look just as effective.
It's a pity we don't get to see it while we're playing - in fact, as
previously mentioned with Hugh McSpedden's light show, we're struggling
to see anything on stage.
After the set we packed our gear and vacated our dressing room and considered
what to do next. We wandered back to the Delta tent where Tamam Shud
was wrapping up their set. It was neat to meet up with Tim Gaze and
Nigel Macara again and Tim mentioned he'd like to chat about possibly
touring together, and with not a lot on the gig horizon that sounds
We had a bite while listening to Ross Wilson's set - interesting to
hear Love is the Law and Woman of the World again
- and caught some of Joe Camilleri's Bob Dylan revue before taking in
some of The Cat Empire's 'last' show. A wonderfully varied all-Aussie
start to the festival.
I've been telling anybody that I think might be interested that this
will be my last Bluesfest, which sounds like I'm accustomed to being
invited - which, of course, I'm not. This year's invitation from Peter
Noble was entirely unexpected and I was very chuffed to be considered,
no matter what Peter's actual motives might've been for inviting the
band. The experience was almost entirely positive and served to remind
me that human kindness is always on hand when things are looking uncertain.
It was fabulous to be so well received by the audience - I'm sure not
everybody in the tent was our vintage, so it's nice that the curious
youngsters in the room chose to stick around and enjoy what we threw
their way - Roger Foley's light show probably helped no end.
Then there's the band itself, putting up with the occasional indignities
that are accorded bands of our station with good humour and patience
and then putting their best foot forward when it comes to those vital
few minutes in actual performance. Peter 'Robbo' Robertson, Daryl Roberts,
Broc O'Connor and Brenden Mason I thank and salute you as friends and
fellow musicians representing the spirit of Oz music from the '60s and
Anyway, we'll try and get a vid or two from the show up on FB ASAP.