Lost in a Hardware Store

Poets do not belong in hardware stores. At least, this one doesn’t. I approach every visit with the sort of apprehension a normal person might reserve for a shark-infested pool. There are few places in which I would feel less comfortable – an aerobics class perhaps, the front bar of the Coober Pedy hotel probably, the changing room at a football venue most definitely.

There is a hardware retailer near my house that calls itself a ‘mega store’. Everything about it is ‘mega’. Not large, not big, but ‘mega’. It even has a ‘mega café’ (although, oddly enough, I couldn’t find it). I might be exaggerating a little, but the store is so big you could comfortably fit a Jumbo 747 in there, with room for a few double-decker buses and an elephant or two. Why do these places need to be so big! As if they aren’t already intimidating enough with their drills, nail guns and chainsaws.

Anyway, I was in the middle of a much-avoided home improvement scheme. I drew up a shopping list and, expecting a long arduous visit, packed a flask of water, some food and a compass. What I didn’t have, and desperately needed, was a map to the store. The shelves were so high it was impossible to get my bearings, as though I were trapped in a jungle or rocky canyon. The folks that run these places might like to think about installing a few lookouts, or at least employ guides (and even a couple of donkeys).

After ten minutes of aimless wandering, I found myself in a ‘secret wing’ of the building that smelled like horse manure and contained rows and rows of giant pots and enormous bags of fertiliser. I found a troll-like woman under a concrete mushroom who kindly gave me directions to the paint department. After mopping the sweat from my brow, and taking a sip of water, I was off again.

An average supermarket could have fit into the paint department – it was huge. My head was soon dizzy with choice – low sheen, textured, semi gloss, oil-based semi-gloss, low sheen textured semi-gloss, hi sheen super-gloss super-textured. I was still staring at one of these walls of paint when a shop assistant approached me. She had the same nuggetty-build as the troll woman I’d found earlier and spoke with a similar gruff, earthy rumble. After admitting my ignorance, she fired off a series of baffling questions, to which I gave equally baffling replies. Somehow, she was able to determine what I needed, and after referring to various charts and codes, presented me with a tin of paint.

Before leaving the paint section I grabbed a stack of those intriguing colour charts. I’ve always found them fascinating. Somewhere on the planet a poet or two are being held hostage by paint companies and ordered to come up with interesting names for paint colours. Who else but a poet could come up with colour names such as ‘Pomp’, ‘Sourdough’, ‘Speedboat’ and ‘Donkey’?

I found my next stop – the plumbing section – by mistake. One minute I was looking at brushes, the next I was in a section labelled ‘screwed brassware’. Amazingly, I found what I was looking for – a roll of plumber’s tape – without having to ask anyone. Although it did involve browsing though several aisles of solvents, pipes, saddles, brackets and copper capillary fittings.

The nail and screw section featured helpful signage obviously aimed at hardware-dodos like me. By answering a series of simple questions I could determine the sort of fastener I needed. Was I nailing or screwing into plasterboard, chipboard, timber, treated pine? Was I erecting a bookshelf or a pergola? These and other questions helped narrow the choice down to just a hundred or so fasteners!

Before heading to the checkout, I spent a few minutes wandering around the tool section. It really is a torturer’s paradise! There are tools to cut, smash, bend, penetrate and destroy every possible type of material. I was tempted to buy something called a ‘wrecking bar’. It would certainly it would come in handy when fighting for a parking spot at the local shopping mall.

While much of my hardware experience explored unknown territory, the visit to the checkout was very, very familiar to me. It doesn’t really matter what you buy – sausages, sandals or screwdrivers – the pain as the checkout operator runs your credit card through the card reader is the same.

‘See ya next time,’ guffawed the checkout chap with a goofy grin.

Next time? I didn’t count on coming back until the next home improvement scheme, which should be about halfway through the next decade.


Art on your Sleeve

The cover of Roxy Music’s fourth album Country Life features two scantily clad models posing awkwardly before bright lights in front of a mass of shapeless foliage. One covers her breasts with her hands; the other holds a hand over her crotch. Apart from the band name, there is no other type on the cover. In the US, the album was sold in green shrink-wrap. Elsewhere, to protect potential buyers from the ‘shocking’ nature of the poses, the women were removed altogether, leaving just the foliage.

Incredibly, The Word magazine have recently declared this unremarkable album cover the ‘best ever’. In my opinion, it is not even the best Roxy Music cover. The Roxy Music ethos was never better packaged than by the cover of their self-titled debut – model Kari-Ann Moller in a portrait that recalled Playboy centerfolds of the 50s. The cover was a perfect wrapping for the band’s music – a future-retro blend of 50s rock and space age sounds.

The Word magazine’s other nominations for ‘best sleeve ever’ are less contentious, and include Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (one of my own favourites), Bjork’s Post and the cover of Lost Horizons by Lemon Jelly.

I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book or magazine proclaiming to feature the ‘best ever album covers’ without feeling disappointed. There are always important sleeves missing, or more often, inclusions that inspire ridicule rather than admiration. One volume recently released by a prestigious European publisher of art books manages to skip the post-punk period (in fact, most of the 80s) altogether, jumping from David Bowie and Led Zeppelin to Nirvana and Primal Scream – no Peter Saville, Neville Brody, Vaughan Oliver or Martyn Atkins.

Of course, it is much easier, and a lot more fun, finding bad album covers. The Zonicweb site features a Museum of Bad Album Covers where you can actually vote for your ‘favourite’ bad cover. Current stinkers include albums by Queen, Van Halen, Millie Jackson and the Scorpions, as well as this rather grotesque curio.

However, the best place on the net to view awful sleeve art is BizarreRecords.com. The covers are grouped in categories such as ‘Nice Ladies’, ‘Men of Faith’, ‘Dorks’ and ‘Sounds in Space’. You won’t find Roxy Music, Joy Division or Bjork here, but you’ll find albums by such memorable artists as The Singing Curry Family, The Ministers Quarter and site favourite Joyce.

And which album cover did The Word magazine deem to be the ‘worst sleeve ever’? It’s this shocker from Queen (also rated ‘highly’ at the Museum of Bad Album Covers), the cover to their late 80s effort The Miracle.

It’s really quite frightening, I reckon. As though someone tried to clone the individual band members, spilled the DNA samples into one dish by mistake, and ended up with just one hideous Queen monster. One can only assume that the monster, having been brought to life by a bolt of lightning and lashings of Bohemian Rhapsody, then ate the Art Director that designed this atrocity.

The Lord of the (Burger) Rings

The Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy was very popular in our house. Such was our obsession with all things Middle Earth that we began to take on some of the physical characteristics of its inhabitants. My eldest daughter, E, developed a Gollum-like cough, while I acquired hairy feet and a liking for tobacco. And my other daughter, L, bought a replica of Arwen’s pendant and began speaking in Elvish.

So when we decided on having a family celebration to ‘farewell’ E on her journey to Canberra, we thought a Lord Of The Rings marathon – a screening of the three movies back-to-back – would be an appropriate way to spend some of our last hours together. We decided on the ‘extended’ dvd versions of the films, rather than the cinema releases, which meant sitting through about 12 hours of television – the audio-visual equivalent of climbing Mount Kosciusko or crossing the Nullarbor Plain on bicycle.

Before commencing such an expedition we required provisions. A trip to the shop yielded several packets of microwave popcorn, ice cream, soft drink, chocolate, corn chips and an enormous bag of Burger Rings. Unwisely, as it turned out, the girls also organized pillows and blankets, transforming the sofas into long narrow beds. I was left to squeeze in between someone’s feet and the armrest, or squat on the floor.

Timing was crucial. With both E and myself working the following morning, we didn’t want to start much past midday. Unfortunately, L was delayed by other engagements, and we didn’t begin until closer to 1.00pm. The first hour passed happily, popcorn was munched and soft drink was sipped. We made it out of the Shire without much problem, but well before Rivendell we experienced our first casualty. Far too comfortable in her ‘bed sofa’, L had fallen into a deep sleep and could not be roused. E and I continued on through the mines of Moria, Lothlorien and down the Great River. By the time we reached Parth Galen, two packets of popcorn, a bottle of Creamy Soda and all the Burger Rings were gone.

We had a ten-minute break before recommencing our expedition. I tried to wake L but only succeeded in getting smacked in the face. Meanwhile, E opened the Sarsaparilla, fluffed her pillows and settled down for the journey across Rohan. By the time the first disc of ‘Two Towers’ had finished, both E and I were weakening. I was hunched uncomfortably on the floor but still managed to find my eyes closing in the latter part of the disc, and almost missed Gollum’s schizophrenic exchange in Ithilien.

It was now about 7.00pm. We’d planned a half-hour break for tea, so while I attended to pets, telephone messages and email, E prepared a nacho dinner. L had finally awakened from her slumber and was suddenly full of energy. The mobile phone came out, and she was off to her bedroom to chat to friends for most of the tea break.

We sat down just after 7.30pm with six hours of television to go. The day had almost disappeared and we were only halfway through our journey. The next two hours passed easily. The battle of Helm’s Deep still managed to thrill us all despite this being about the twelfth viewing. Another ten minute break at the end of ‘Two Towers’ enabled E to speed to the local service station for another giant packet of Burger Rings and more soft drink, the remainder of our supplies having been demolished along with the Deeping Wall.

The last leg of our journey started promisingly, everyone was sitting upright, with eyes open and minds alert. But as Sam and Frodo neared Shelob’s Lair, and Sauron’s legions approached Minas Tirith, the long day began to take its toll. There was a Sarsaparilla spill on one of the ‘bed sofas’, which caused a brief but heated exchange between L and myself; then an argument erupted over the remainder of the Burger Rings. As midnight approached, we were all a bit tired and battered.

I don’t know if any of us saw the entire final disc. Sam and Frodo’s ascent of Mount Doom seemed to take forever, and, of course, after the Ring was finally destroyed, there was the reunion, the coronation, and the Grey Havens. It was approaching 2.00am by the time I fell into bed; feeling as though I had traversed Middle Earth myself, not watched others do so from the safety of my lounge.

When I awoke the next morning, and stumbled about in preparation for work, I studied the remnants of our achievement – a pile of empty junk food containers, a row of soft drink bottles, and fragments of Burger Ring, mashed into the carpet.

Poetry Rocks

Of all the poetry I’ve written in the last ten years, the most popular, by far, is a series of poems inspired by pop music and musicians. I’ve had them published in quality overseas e-zines like Exquisite Corpse and the Danforth Review. I’ve had them included in anthologies, literary journals, fanzines and even an educational text.

After writing the first dozen or so, I realised that I’d actually stumbled on a good idea. Apart from the odd piece here and there, I’d never come across a lot of poetry about rock ‘n’ roll. A close friend of mine, Adrian Robinson, a writer and music fan, also saw the merits in a collection of pop music themed poetry, and together, we began working towards such a collection. Here is a small sample of our work thus far.

Poem for Nick Drake

you wake with the sun
as it bleeds through the windows

you play fragile guitar
and your voice murmurs
barely audible
above the sounds of the day

you wait for autumn
& the cold forest floor
to break your fall

you pray that the end
will go unnoticed

Adrian Robinson

Music For Icebergs
Another Green World, Brian Eno 1975

drifting in a dream-haze
mind empty, body drained
he cannot see his future
through the fog of self-doubt

the distant ripple of harp
trickles into the atmosphere
and the soft, grey music of rain
permeates, envelops, cushions

he touches upon possibility
brilliant shapes start to form in the ether
he imagines the sounds of moons and oceans
the songs of clouds, the conversations of icebergs

Graham Catt

Poem for Robert Forster

His role model is Joyce
you can tell by the pose
as if he’s just walked
off the streets making notes
for Finnegan’s Wake

Distinguished by his literary tastes
and admiration for Blonde on Blonde
the Dylan songbook imprimatur
is what keeps him going

Guitar resting on his knee
he is intimate with the light
combs his hair in the shadows

He taunts the crowd
with a story half told in song
about a man who walks
into a café with the word ‘regret’
written on his sleeve

Later in his study
he turns the pages of a European
classic, Thomas Mann or Satre,
Draws a secessionist nude.

Adrian Robinson

U2, Las Vegas, 1997

icons fill screens
four-storeys high
a quartet of neon superheros

the Edge is a cowboy
astride a white guitar
shooting sparks into space

Adam and Larry
an artillery of rhythm
oozing macho and muscle

Bono punches the sky
elicits adoration
and a sea of stars

they imitate the divine
levitate above the crowd
in a giant mechanical lemon

Graham Catt

So keep an eye out for the collection in your local bookshop. Given our current rate of production we envisage completing the collection towards the end of the decade.


Please note that all material appearing on this website is protected under Copyright laws and may not be reproduced, reprinted, transmitted or altered in any form without express written consent of the author.

Best of Friends

If a television is on, and no one is watching it, I must turn it off. It is one of my ‘pet hates’.

Now, anyone who has teenage children will know that it is the job of the teenager to not only discover the things that annoy their parents the most, but to exploit that discovery to the full. During her last years at High School, and then at University, my eldest daughter developed a most infuriating study habit. Some people like to listen to music while they study. Others require complete silence. My daughter decided that she could only concentrate if the television was on. Music annoyed her. Other sounds distracted her. But the sound of sitcom laughter, fast food advertisements, and repetitive theme songs helped her relax and absorb texts on post-colonialism and feminist theory.

While she generally liked any television as a backdrop to her studies, my daughter favoured a handful of popular American shows – Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and most of all, Friends. We have episodes of Friends on dvd and prerecorded VHS, as well as a teetering pile of blank VHS tapes filled with Friends episodes taped over the last 10 years. In fact, as the show is popular with both of my daughters, and both have their own dvd/video collections, we have multiple copies of the same episodes. In our house you cannot sift through a pile of media without coming across an episode or two of Friends.

Anyway, back to my daughter’s annoying study habits. I initially tried to stop her from having the television on all day and all night. We argued. There were slammed doors and thrown books. But when it became obvious that she would not study without television, and therefore, fail her course, exam, assignment etc, I relented, and tried to adjust to a life of painful co-existence. I woke up on Sunday morning, and Friends would be on. It would be on while I ate lunch. It would be on during dinner and after dinner. Sometimes I complained. Most of the time I said nothing.

As the relationship with my daughter went through its ups-and-downs, my relationship with Friends also went through a series of changes. At first I couldn’t stand the show. I thought it just another in a long line of vapid American sitcoms, with its all-too-beautiful characters, painful laugh track and clichéd plot developments. Then I warmed to it. I grew to appreciate its Woody Allenesque neurotics, its clever writing and keenly-observed insights. And I fell in love with all the women. I loved Monica’s smile, Rachel’s hair and Phoebe’s laugh.

Then, as with all Friends who outstay their welcome, I grew utterly sick of them. I grew to hate the theme song. I grew to hate Ross’ whining and Chandler’s constant need to joke and mock. I wanted to grab Joey by the shoulders and scream: ‘You’re a terrible actor! Give up! Give up now!’ I wanted to make a mess in Monica’s kitchen. I wanted to grab Phoebe’s guitar and hurl it from the top of the nearest skyscraper.

And I became so critical and nasty. While my daughter sat at the computer typing up her latest essay, and Rachel and Ross went through yet another break up, I stood in the kitchen peeling carrots for dinner and muttering under my breath: ‘Why don’t you just strangle each other and be done with it! You idiots!’

My daughter finished her Uni degree in January and has since moved to Canberra, along with her share of the Friends collection. The house is mostly quiet now, and the television only goes on when someone is watching it. The exploits of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey are tumbling around in my memory along with all the other nonsense.

But sometimes, late at night, I’ll slip on an episode or two, catch up with the old gang, trapped in their Nietzschean universe, doomed to live the same life again and again, to make the same jokes forever. There is comfort in the idea of some things staying the same, while all else moves on.

And, if the atmosphere is just right, I imagine that if I look back over my shoulder, I would see my daughter sitting at the computer, one moment deep in thought, the next tapping madly at the keyboard, a Friends-induced smile on her face.

That Charming Man

I’ve been to a few concerts over the years, but I’ve never known pre-show excitement like that before the Morrissey concert in late 2002. It might have had something to do with the fact that this was his first appearance in South Australia, or it might have been that he was rumored to be performing songs from a new album, his first in 7 years. Whatever the case, the voice of a generation of indie kids was going to be on stage in a matter of minutes, and the audience was humming with anticipation.

Stupidly, I’d bought tickets in the seated area of Thebarton Theatre, which is located far from the stage. Morrissey was only halfway through his first song – ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’ – when I decided that this was no way to see one of my idols. I abandoned my seat and joined the throng at the front of the stage. Reviewers were subsequently critical of the idiosyncratic set list and sound quality, but I don’t think anyone minded at the time. And, at the concert’s end, as Morrissey sang ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, I would have waved my lighter too, if I’d had one, despite years of laughing at such people.

One of the pleasures of file-sharing is the ability to swap rare material – demos, live tracks, alternate versions – with other fans across the world. Among some of my ‘treasures’ are copies of some early Talking Heads demos, an Associates concert from 1980 and, amazingly, a copy of that 2002 Morrissey concert in Adelaide. The sound quality is so good it’s hard to believe that someone recorded it on equipment probably hidden in his or her jacket, or glued to the sole of their shoe. Every technical glitch and caustic comment is preserved in excellent condition. And, if you listen really hard, you can hear the moment when my knickers hit Morrissey in the face and he gags for just a second.

Morrissey has just finished putting the final touches to his latest album, ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’. It was recorded in Rome with legendary producer, Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T-Rex, Thin Lizzy), and has been described by Morrissey himself as ‘my most beautiful album’. I don’t expect that he has lost any of his acerbic wit, however, judging by the titles of some of the songs: ‘You Have Killed Me’; ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ and ‘The Father Who Must Be Killed’ which, according to Billboard magazine, ‘juxtaposes a murderous storyline with an ultra-poppy chorus’. ‘Ringleader’ will also feature string arrangements scored by Ennio Morricone and an Italian children’s choir.

For some ‘behind-the-scenes’ photos of the recording sessions and other information visit Tony Visconti’s website.

Meanwhile, I have been able to acquire a ‘preview’ of one of the songs from the album. The opening track, ‘I Will See You In Far Off Places’ is available to download from the ‘Soundtrack’ page of Graham Catt’s website. It will only be available for a short time, so please be quick. The file is about 8mb in size, so dial-up users will need to be patient.

‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ is due for release in the UK on April 3rd, while the first single from the album, ‘You Have Killed Me’ will be released on March 20th.

Let’s hope an Australian release date is not far behind.

Submission Guidelines for a Fictitious Literary Journal

  • Please only send one short story and up to three poems; or two short stories and up to two poems; or three short stories, a haiku and a bowl of cherries.
  • Send three copies of your work – a hard copy, an electronic copy (on 3.5″ floppy disk) and a copy handwritten on soap.
  • Do not put your name on your work, but include a short video of yourself acting out your name in mime.
  • Text should be single-spaced, except when submitting in the months of April, August and December, when text is to be triple-spaced, typed backwards and in red ink.
  • Do not use italics or bold type in your submission except when referring to southern Italian villages or 17th century French poets.
  • Do not use the characters !@#$%& or * in your submission except when referring to Dutch cheese manufacturers or salmon.
  • Submissions in Norwegian will not be considered, unless accompanied by a 12-inch replica of 16th century Norwegian sea craft.
  • Do not date your work, but please include your date-of-birth, a photograph of your mother, and a diorama depicting Serengeti wildlife.
  • Calculate the number of pages, words, characters, metaphors and similes in your submission. Divide the total by seven, and write the answer on a slip of pink paper in yellow ink. Deposit the slip of pink paper into your mouth and chew vigorously for several minutes. Place the wad of chewed paper into a small plastic bag and mail it to us in a separate envelope marked CP.
  • Submissions from anyone with a name starting with N, S or V will not be considered, unless that person also has a surname beginning with the same letter. In those cases, all of the above requirements will be waived, pending a full physical examination, psychological test and payment of AUD$200.

Please note that submissions will only be considered if hand-delivered between 3pm and 3.45pm on August 28th, or between 10am and 11.15am on October 17th.

If a piece of work is accepted for publication you will be required to embroider the work with green thread on a satin sheet, and forward it to us together with at least five species of African dung beetle.

Please note that the above conditions are subject to frequent revision, and may change without notice several times a week. Submissions not complying with said conditions will be sprinkled with marmoset urine and eaten with a light salad.

Brokeback Mountain – a Review

There’s a very good argument against reading any reviews before going to see a movie. How many times have you seen a movie and wondered if the reviewer had seen something completely different? Either the praise or the criticism just didn’t make sense. I made the mistake of reading too many reviews – both good and indifferent – before going to see ‘Brokeback Mountain’, and my mind was subsequently bristling with expectation. Before detailing my own impressions I’d like to correct a couple of misconceptions about the movie currently creeping into review pages.

Firstly, the sex scenes. I’ve read at least a couple of reviews that say director, Ang Lee, has somehow glorified the act of gay sex, that it has been rendered almost sacred. Well, I must have missed those scenes altogether, because the only sex scene I saw took place in the dark, and resembled wrestling rather than sex. There is also some kissing and hugging, but those preparing to be outraged by lots of naked man-on-man action are going to be disappointed.

I’ve seen the sorts of sex scenes described by these reviewers, and there are none of those in ‘Brokeback Mountain’.

Secondly, the hyperbole. ‘One of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen.’ ‘The best American movie of the last ten years.’ ‘It has restored my faith in cinema.’ How seriously can one take such comments?

Unfortunately, Hollywood particularly adores a certain kind of movie. A quick scan of the last 30 years of Oscar winners will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. It’s almost as though the movie is awarded ‘bonus points’ for daring to deal with such an issue. It’s a phenomenon that short changes both the subject and the movie.

So just how good is ‘Brokeback Mountain’?

It is certainly a beautifully filmed and directed film. The screenplay co-written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana is first rate, and adheres closely to the E. Annie Proulx short story from which it has been adapted.

The young cast – Heath Ledger (Ennis), Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack), Michelle Williams (Alma), Anne Hathaway (Lureen) – is impressive, particularly Ledger and Williams. Both roles demand that the actors articulate much of their hurt, frustration and anger by body language and facial expressions alone. There is a scene between the two where Alma confronts Ennis about his supposed ‘fishing trips’ with Jack, and the tension between them, previously expressed with minimal words, suddenly erupts into physical violence. It is a gut-wrenching moment.

Indeed, Heath Ledger’s performance is a revelation. Given his previous screen outings, one might have thought the task beyond him. But he inhabits the role, as all great actors do, and ‘becomes’ Ennis Del Mar.

The film’s greatest strength is its reliance on suggestion over explanation – the memory of a hug, a bloodied shirt, a phone call, a look, a smile. This comes to the fore particularly in the final scenes, when the story reaches its tragic conclusion, and Ennis is left alone with his few memories of a happier time.

‘Brokeback Mountain’ is, at its core, a tragic love story, filled with yearning and regret. Anyone – gay, straight, or otherwise – who has experienced such feelings will relate to the movie and its message. It is, indeed, a powerful film, and will, for whatever reason, walk away with a swag of awards at Oscar time.

Whether or not it is one of Hollywood’s greatest achievements is another matter altogether.

The Life Pursuit – a Review

Belle and Sebastian might have been born out of a love for 80s indie – The Smiths, Orange Juice, Felt, and the like – but deep down they are 70s pop kids. ‘The Life Pursuit’, the bands 7th album, includes dashes of glam and T-Rex boogie, bubblegum and country rock.

And maybe it had something to do with recording the album in LA, but it’s also a soulful affair, and the influences of the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers and Sly & the Family Stone abound.

But Belle and Sebastian are not simply trying to recapture the past; they use these sounds to embellish their tales of misadventure; stories about misfits, losers and those unlucky in love. We, therefore, have ‘For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea’ – as sunny as the Spinners – with its story of a woman ‘always exotic and aloof’ worried about village gossip; and ‘White Collar Boy’ – a glam beat, synth bass, and call-and-response vocals – with its account of small-time criminals.

In ‘The Blues Are Still Blue’, singer Stuart Murdoch might be doing his best Marc Bolan impersonation, but the lyrics are pure Belle and Sebastian.

‘Look at the kid from school
He’s teaching mamas and papas how to be a little cool
He’s changing fashion, the way he dress
The tracksuits are old, and the hoody’s way too moody
For a kid with the will to funk
He dances in secret; he’s a part-time punk’

We also meet ‘Sukie In The Graveyard’, the tale of another outsider, played over choppy organ, a shuffling beat, and churning bass:

‘Sukie was the kid, she liked to hang out at the art school
She didn’t enroll, but she wiped the floor with all the arseholes’

In a recent ‘Uncut’ article, Stuart Murdoch selected an early Orange Juice single as the most significant pop artifact of the last fifty years. In ‘We Are The Sleepyheads’ he gets to pay homage to his indie heroes with some very funky rhythm guitar (and, of course, Orange Juice were channeling their own heroes of Motown and 70s soul). The track also features a scorching guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Thin Lizzy album.

‘Song For Sunshine’ opens with some Stevie Wonder clavinet, before drifting into a chorus that references the Roy Ayers’ hit ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’. The lyrics here are very un-Belle and Sebastian, surprisingly naïve, with tongue almost certainly out-of-cheek.

‘Sunshine, we all see the same sky
Looking, learning, asking the same ‘why?’

Unfortunately, ‘The Life Pursuit’ doesn’t change the fact that there is no perfect Belle and Sebastian album. Opening track ‘Act Of The Apostle’ is unnecessarily reprised later in the album, and ‘Mornington Crescent’ is a drab closing song.

This is, nevertheless, a strong addition to the Belle and Sebastian canon – an increasingly interesting collection of material, from poorly recorded, sloppily played indie pop to the glossy, genre straddling fare of the last two records.

‘The Life Pursuit’ probably won’t change your life, but it’ll make it a little sunnier, and it might even get you dancing.

The Big Day Outsider

I’d arrived a couple of hours into the day and the ground was already littered with crushed beer cans, water bottles and prostrate bodies in various stages of intoxication. Rock ‘n’ roll rumbled from every direction. Every seat, path and scrap of lawn was crowded with music fans. I decided to wander around and get my bearings.

My first stop, the Boiler Room was, despite its name, a dark, cool and cavernous shed. In the distance, a small but enthusiastic crowd wiggled to Aussie electro-duo The Presets. They were at the end of their set, so I only saw about three or four songs. Between each song the singer said the word ‘awesome’ but little else. Here are a couple of observations about the performance: 1) People will dance to anything with a beat. 2) Watching other people play keyboards is not very interesting.

After escaping the Boiler Room I explored the stalls lining the walkways between stages. There was plenty of food to choose from – Indian, Mexican, Chinese. There were stalls selling t-shirts, hats, sunglasses – even ear-plugs (although I thought the point of the day was to let sound into your ears, not keep it out). I then entered the main arena and took a seat in one of the stands.

Aussie band, Magic Dirt, was in the middle of their set. I didn’t know much about them at all so looked in my ‘souvenir’ program. According to the entry for Magic Dirt, their last lp’s wall of sound ‘comprised 19th Century choral symphonies and 20th Century film soundtracks’. I didn’t hear much of this in the few songs played this afternoon, just a lot of clichéd rock star posturing and dull tunes. (Note: playing one’s guitar behind one’s head does not improve the quality of playing or the song.)

Unlike Magic Dirt, with their tats and leather, the Sleater-Kinney girls looked ready to go to tea rather than play rock ‘n’ roll. With an unassuming little wave, Carrie picked up her guitar, and away they went, straight into ‘Fox’, the opening track of ‘The Woods’. A reasonable chunk of the album followed – ‘Wilderness’, ‘Rollercoaster’, ‘Modern Girl’ and others. The guitar playing was razor sharp, with Corin and Carrie sharing solo duties, while Janet drummed up a storm. The shared vocals sounded great, especially Corin’s banshee wail, and more than a little like the B52s in the poppier songs.

It was a (too) short, tight set of songs, and the band exuded class, but the thing I’ll remember most about the event is the young girl who not only caught one of Janet’s drumsticks, but also acquired the set list. She was shuddering, and almost in tears, with excitement.

Back in the main arena, a Led Zep tribute band (Wolfmother, sorry fans) was grinding through lengthy blues workouts. I hid in one of the stands and ate muffin bars while making a few notes before heading off to find out to explore the ‘silent disco’. Hidden in a vast shed on the fringes of the event was an inoperative dodgem car rink. It had been transformed into a dance floor. It was filled with people dancing in silence. They listened to the music through headphones. Maybe next year they could expand that idea to the whole Big Day Out – a silent rock festival?

Back on the Green Stage, the Go! Team leapt into their brief, energetic performance. A multicultural, multi-instrumental group of three boys and three girls, they reminded me of ‘kiddy band’ Hi-Five or even a Christian group, such was their enthusiasm and wholesome youthfulness. All smiles and handclaps, they rocketed through a selection of songs from the debut album ‘Thunder Lightning Strike’.

Unfortunately, my initial enjoyment of the band was marred by the weather (it had started to rain) and a restless crowd. A pot-smoking scruff had positioned himself in front of me, and didn’t think anything of thwacking me with his backpack, or exhaling his mouthful of weed in my direction. Worse than either of those offences, however, was his need to chat with his friend. They didn’t seem at all interested in the band.

Oblivious to my discomfit, the Go! Team played on; led by the diminutive Ninja, whose energy was infectious – by the end of the set she had the whole crowd bouncing. The highlights were ‘Bottle Rocket’, ‘The Power Is On’ and ‘Ladyflash’, although the entire set was impressive.

It was then time to ‘bite-the-bullet’ regarding a much-avoided toilet break. I’d needed to pee since arriving hours earlier, but had taken one look at the intoxicated individuals staggering in and out of the toilets, and decided against the idea. But the situation was now at crisis point, and I imagined bursting my bladder and ending up the first Adelaide BDO fatality. I don’t know why people were still bothering to line up at the trough though, because the entire floor was dripping with urine, but I closed my eyes, held my breath, and joined the piddling ranks.

As evening approached, I made my way to the main arena. I’d intended spending the last couple of hours watching a string of acts on the Blue and Orange stages – Franz Ferdinand, The Stooges, and The White Stripes. The vast lawned area in front of the stages resembled a battlefield, strewn with garbage, vomit, unidentifiable liquid, discarded food and collapsed humans. And those that weren’t lying down were staggering dangerously. I began to feel like the only person at the party not pissed or stoned (or both). I set up an encampment in spitting distance of the main stage and waited patiently for Franz Ferdinand to appear.

But first I had to sit through an hour of The Living End. I didn’t imagine it would be so painful, but by the end I was almost beginning to hate the whole concept of rock ‘n’ roll. There must be something about the Australian environment that nurtures the spirit of the ‘yob’ and turns the majority of homegrown bands into entities that embolden that spirit. In the 80s we had Cold Chisel, Swanee and Aussie Crawl (among others). In 2005, we have The Living End. I thought the enlightened 90s might have cleared out this sort of rubbish. Obviously, this is not the case.

But the crowd loved them, and lurching, bellowing drunks soon swamped my little sanctuary on the grass. The music was a kind of pub rock/rockabilly fusion that seemed to celebrate, above all else (and appropriately) getting drunk. One song was introduced: ‘this is about getting’ pissed and goin’ out on a Friday night’. The fans roared, and off they stomped. I was forced to retreat to a safer spot beyond the crowd.

Forty-five minutes later and Franz Ferdinand took the stage. Amazingly, the folks who’d been bouncing around to The Living End’s ‘yob-abilly’ moments ago were now pogo-ing to Scotland’s version of indie-disco. I fought my way back through the crowd and found a good position from which to watch the band, only to find myself, once again, in the midst of a group of people with no obvious interest in what was happening on stage. Couples kissed, took photos of each other, others drank, told jokes. The guy next to me even attempted a conversation on his mobile phone.

Meanwhile, back on stage, Franz Ferdinand scratched their way through renditions of songs from their two albums – ‘Do You Want To’, ‘Take Me Out’, The Villain, ‘Matinee’ and others. Their music was less polished, more abrasive than their records, but the playing was tight, and the sound was mostly good, apart from the occasional moment when wind swept away the vocals or a guitar riff or two.

To combat the nuisance crowd in my immediate vicinity, I tried emitting extremely bad vibes, and, by the end of Franz Ferdinand’s set, I’d been able to clear a reasonable space around me. The fact that I’d also threatened to strangle the guy in front of me might have also helped. (He’d recklessly pogoed onto my foot.)

Iggy Pop started on the Orange Stage within minutes of Franz Ferdinand’s departure, and I wandered over to watch him for a while. By this time my enthusiasm was waning, and my legs and back ached. A few minutes of watching Iggy drag his emaciated 59-year-old body about the stage wearied me even more. The band chugged through a few Stooges’ standards – ‘1969’, ‘Loose’, I Wanna Be Your Dog’. They were lurching into ‘TV Eye’ when I decided I’d had enough, and left, seriously concerned that Iggy’s pants were going to fall down before the end of the night.

I’d missed The White Stripes, but decided I could listen to them on my iPod, in the comfort of my bed, far from the maddening crowd.


1) If a pop singer asks the audience to clap or wave their hands, about 95% will do so.
2) Music fans are a generally good-natured folks, despite their over-indulgence in alcohol. But they are terrible slobs. I’ve never seen more rubbish on the ground than at the BDO.
3) For a great many people, the BDO is a social event. A chance to drink, dance and party. The music itself is secondary to the socialising.
4) According to the latest issue of the Triple J magazine, the Australian music scene has never been as healthy as it is today. If this is true, where were the good Aussie bands at this year’s BDO? Are Wolfmother, Magic Dirt and the Living End really the best we can offer? Maybe I just need to look harder.