Phil Garland's News Blog

Phi Garland New Zealand Folk Musician and Kiwi Balladeer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Australian Tour 2009

My book launch for Faces in the Firelight at the Madras St Cafe Bookshop was a roaring success - it was great to see so many familiar faces at this important (certainly for me) occasion. To date it has received some excellent reviews, which is very pleasing as I never really knew what sort of market there might be for such a book. Thanks to everyone concerned.

Hard on the heels of the launch I was off to Australia for yet another concert tour - this time to promote the book and my recently re-released albums, which haven't been available over there until now. I really feel right at home over there these days and can normally expect a good reception despite my trying to instill some sort of cultural appreciation of Kiwiana into the local audiences.

I started the tour off with a preview at The Bunker in Devonport, which is always a good night, although the audience was slightly down on normal - however the warmth of their reception more than made up for any
diminished numbers. I sold nearly all my copies of the book in Auckland, which augured well for the upcoming tour. Because I had found a suitcase full of books too heavy to lift, I had to start rationing any copies I was carrying. It meant I would have to start taking (paid) upfront orders much earlier than I would normally have expected.

I left Auckland at 'sparrows' the following day due to the airline (Pacific Blue) having decided to change their original schedule from a civilised departure time to first thing in the morning - the middle of the night for any self respecting musician. To cap it off they then decided to charge me $130 to carry my guitar, which I found pretty unfriendly and unecessary in the extreme! Other airlines seem to have a much better policy with regard to a second bag, especially when it fits the tools of the trade description. However they had me over a barrel as I had to take this flight so I could start the tour as planned in Brisbane the following day.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Brisbane to a glorious sunny day was when going through customs (in readiness for the new 'domestic' policy due to come into force soon) all Kiwi and Aust passport holders now go through the same lanes! We are certainly getting closer in many regards these days. Bring it on!

My first Brisbane concert was at the Kookabura folk club the next evening and the small venue was chocker as per usual. It's always an interesting venue to play and well run by Anne Infante , who was my organiser, guide and driver for much of my Queensland stay. I ran into an old mate (ex Chch folkie) John Stafford there and he turned up for a couple of performances during my stay. Two nights later I was presenting a house concert locally and the audience were again warm and receptive - I'm continually amazed by the number of expat Kiwis who turn up to my concerts in Oz and tonight proved no exception. Saturday night saw me performing at The Upfront Club in Maleny, a lovely little town high above the hustle and bustle of Brisbane. It's fast becoming a real alternative getaway for folkies, townies and lifestylers and one can see it's attraction immediately on arrival. The views of the surrounding countryside are fantastic. However the concert numbers were smallish - but apparently not as bad as some well known performers have experienced in the past. I caught up with a few supporters from earlier visits, among them Jacko & Karen Jackson, well known to Kiwi audiences for their Fiddlesticks combination. Anne and I set off mid morning heading to the next gig a few hours south at Redlands Bay, where another house concert had been organised instead of the normal club day. Unfortunately the club's usual venue had been double booked so it had been arranged as an outdoors afternooon gig complete with barbie, which always works well over there - in fact the whole time I was in Brisbane the temperature remained around 29 - 31 degrees. It's the one of the best times of the year to be in Queensland and I was loving it. The concert was well received with CD sales and book orders starting to mount up. No complaints from me! Afterwards it was back to my home base at Bridgeman Downs in Brisbane, where I was being wonderfully hosted by John & June Groom, a delightful couple and my gratitude to them knows no bounds.

I made a concscious decision to take the train from Brisbane down to Canberra via Sydney a few days later, because having flown the route previously I wanted to take a gander at the countryside for a change. This decision proved quite disastrous - about an hour or so into the journey we ran into the huge dust storm (the worst one in 70 years) that was sweeping the country - I couldn't see more than 50 metres either side of the train and it remained like that for the rest of the journey to Sydney. After overnighting with Margaret Walters in Sydney, I caught the train to Canberra for a concert at the Merry Muse on Friday night. Crowd numbers were extremely small here and no-one could really explain why - if it hadn't been for the support act and their followers there would have been hardly anyone there. However the show must go on and those that did come proved very welcoming indeed. Earlier in the evening I had watched a punter come through the door and go straight to my merchandise display, where he selected and purchased five CDs! I spoke to him later, asking if he was by any chance a Kiwi and he replied no, but he'd taken a look at my website before he came - liked it so much that he had to have some of my CDs. If only more people thought likewise!

I was off at first light on Saturday morning heading back to Sydney for my appearance at the Loaded Dog folk club in Sydney. Sandra Nixon runs this wonderful club and the audiences are great - they sing beautifully
without having to be asked or cajoled. Because of it's friendly and welcoming atmosphere I always find it a lovely place to play and tonight was no exception. The touring pressure was starting to build up with yet another earlyish start heading to Kiama (a couple of hours south of Sydney) for an afternoon house concert. I love Kiama, which is a beautiful seaside town and home to the O'Grady bunch headed by Yvonne O'Grady an expat Kiwi from the West Coast. Yvonne plays accordion in a bush band called No Such Thing, who specialise in playing the old bush tunes of Australia and I got to sit in with them at their rehearsal on Monday night. My concert was on Sunday 'arvo and despite many folk signifying their intention to be there - the cancellations started mounting up during the day mainly because of a huge wind storm that sprang up damaging houses, power lines and uprooting trees - Authorities were advising people to stay home so my audience numbers were halved as a result. Nonetheless the concert went ahead as planned and we all had a great time - I caught up with local folk legends John Broomhall and Phyl Lobyl at the concert. Afterwards I was able to relax for a few days and catch my breath before heading off to the 39th Uranquinty folk festival organised by the Wagga Wagga Folk Society.

I caught a bus to Canberra on Thursday in order to get a lift down to Uranquinty on Friday. The festival is held at the Uranquinty Domain, just 20 minutes drive south of Wagga Wagga - it is one of the longest running and most friendly festivals in the country. Alan Hunter is the organiser with a little help from just a few volunteers and he's finally realising the need for some sort of committee to help him run future events. The opening concert was held in the local pub and before an excellent turn out. There was a mixed bag of performers here and my performance drew some interesting comments from festival goers in the form of "The most Australian act of the night was a Kiwi!" Amazing, but a real compliment in many ways - there are so many singer songwriters on the Oz scene, who do not perform anything remotely Australian in content these days - it seems to be all navel gazing interspersed with considerable anxst! Is it any wonder some festival committees are trying to limit their participation by keeping only a few spots open for modern singer / songwriters? I had three performances scheduled at the festival over the weekend - a mini spot at the town's Bakery under their large verandah and again at Jacks Hut on the Domain itself. I also managed a spot in the main blackboard concert. Acts to impress me over the weekend were the Stiff Gins, one of whom hailed from the immediate area and was making her first visit home since taking up singing, a Scottish group Braemar (one of the festival highlights & very remiscent of the Corries) and a new group called the Baja River Quartet - comprising Guitar, Keyboards /concertina, Flutes and whistles - they were musically delightful and I reckon they have a great future ahead of them if they can stay together. A couple of other musicians told me how much they loved the Henry Lawson song (The Old Station Gate) I sang during the festival. They were most surprised to learn that it was my own composition - so I take that as real compliment indeed. By now sleep deprivation was kicking in as the festival drew to a close and I was looking ahead to getting my head down and making my way to Melbourne for the last segment of the tour.

I managed to get a lift from Uranquinty to Melbourne with Dave, a festival goer, who lived in Southern Victoria. It wasn't more than a five hour drive to Melbourne and we made pretty good time - as we approached Melbourne, I could see some of the damage caused by the devastating bush fires earlier in the year. The bush is already starting to regenerate so there won't be too much damage to see by the end of this year. My first gig was at the Melbourne Folk Club, which is now held on a Saturday 'arvo to mixed audience numbers. I gather there have been some small turnouts in recent times - once again there weren't many folk here, perhaps due to a Sat afternoon schedule or the lovely sunny day outside. It certainly wasn't a good start to my visit. I stayed with the Darby-O'Leary's for a few days, where I was well looked after. On Tuesday John took me sightseeing out to Marysville (seat of that terrible bush fire) which is a pretty isolated spot - here I saw the remains of many homes, while the owners are temporarily housed in cabins on the camping ground as their lives are being rebuilt. We then spent much of the afternoon at the Healesville animal sanctuary looking at the many and varied species of native Australian wildlife. I was most impressed with the Tasmanian Tigers, Lyrebirds, Brolgas, and especially the platypus. I do love hearing Kookaburras, 'cos then I always know I really am in Oz.

The next concert was for the Victorian Folk Music Club at Ringwood - despite the heavy rainfall on the night the place was full and the audience very attentive and responsive. They really seemed to enjoy my performance. My support act was an old timey duo Pigeonwings, who are due to tour NZ early next year - so keep an eye out for them. I was picked up after the show by my next host Phil Young, who is an expat Kiwi rocker turned folkie. Phil & Elaine have billetted me a couple of times in Melbourne and they do a great job looking after me. While staying with them I got to see the 2004 Planxty reunion concert on DVD. What a wonderful show - the first chance I'd had to see these great folkies perform even if it was some 20 years late!

My final concert in Melbourne was once again at the BAD folk club (Berwick and Districts) and we had a good turnout rather reminiscent of my last appearance (but not quite as surreal) there in 2007. I caught up with some of my rellies here and one of them, Claire surprised me by getting up to sing, which she did very well - even her mother didn't know she was going to do so. Claire has already made her mark in acting circles with a part in Australian Outback House, which was also shown back home a couple of years back.

I had sold out of some CDs (especially Southern Odyssey) earlier in the tour and with book sales going well I was able to do a few deals at Berwick, which would help lighten the load for my flight home a few days later. I was more than pleasantly surprised when Air NZ only charged me $30 for my guitar - Which I felt was far more acceptable than what I had experienced with their opposition on the journey over to Oz.

Now that yet another tour is over, I'm seriously considering limiting my touring to home and maybe just the occasional festival in Oz - it's proving to be too long away from Jan and besides I'm not getting any younger!

Take care
Phil Garland.