Seymour Rants: Adelaide 1981
An amusing story of a very early Hunters and Collectors gig at the Tivoli in Adelaide.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: Put online 8 December 2004.
Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/rants/rants.htm
THE TIVOLI, ADELAIDE 1981 dec ’04
“Excuse me, Mr.Seymour. Can I have a quick word?”
He was tall and thin with short blonde hair and glasses.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking but I have this friend…She’s a professional dancer and she would really wants to join the band on stage. She wants to perform an interpretive dance.”
“Really?” I said.
He stared at me. His eyes loomed large through his glasses. They wandered across my face as if looking for some sign of approval. His hands fidgeted with the middle button on his shirt. He glanced down at them awkwardly as if considering the possibility of undoing it.
“A really earnest type with a deep and abiding respect for our work”, I thought.
The rest of the group were disappearing through a door at the back of the car park.It was dark. I’d been left behind. I started moving towards the door. He kept pace with me, a little too close. Our shoulders touched.
“She’s a huge fan”.
“So, what song?”
Yeah. What song does she want to get up and ‘interpret’?”
“Oh. Ah, that one with the video clip. ‘Talking to a Stranger.'”
“Right. Well, yeah, I suppose. Is she just going to walk on and start dancing?”
“Yeah. That’s it.”
“And she wont get in anybody’s way?”
We were at the door now. He was hovering over me. He seemed genuine and I kind of liked the idea of being able to ‘give permission’ to an outsider without consulting the others. In ‘bandspeak’ I was about to make an executive decision. I liked the way it felt. This guy was approaching me as though I was the boss.
Besides what harm could it do? By then, a little over three months into the touring life of Hunters and Collectors, we’d had every conceivable form of human on stage: footballers, transvestites, members of the armed forces, daughters of transport magnates. Perano had dreamed up the idea of handing out hubcaps and drumsticks to the multitude and they’d gotten into the habit of clambering on stage to share the love.
Word travelled fast. People gushed over rumours of audiences driven wild by a new beat that was really fucked up. Perano was the percussionist who deployed industrial refuse; plastic pipes, dust bin lids and a strange device known as “The Wang” which emitted a demonic tone when struck with a glockenspiel key. It was the iron guts of a Rheem hot water tank. At some point he made a sign and people in the front row clambered on to the stage. Only Perano knew when this would happen. It became a ritual. They watched him all night, waiting for “THE SIGN”. It became mythological. Punters came along with the express purpose of finding out exactly what that ‘sign’ was, only to be swept up by the prevailing hysteria. Few ever noticed how Perano actually did it. Was it his pinkie? His left eye? Was it his arse?
Only he and several thousand others who are out there right now, twenty years later, walking the streets of our great cities, know what that sign was. They’re like a sect. They’re like the Masons. They remember. They know.
It was all about timing. He was like the master of some primal mystery, a witch doctor. He even found a shrunken head in some St.Kilda thrift shop and stuck it on a pole in the middle of the stage. The moment would arrive and they would rush to him like children chasing Mr.Whippy. He handed out the implements, and then they frolicked around the stage, stumbling into each other and us. We grew accustomed to it, weaving and ducking as the nation’s youth bashed their bits together with their mouths hanging open and their eyes half closed as they attempted to keep time, badly. It was a riot. They were ecstatic. It was a spiritual event to them. Hunters and Collectors were ‘breaking down the barriers man!’ It was the beginning of some momentous shift in popular consciousness.
Perano began to morph into a guru. That night, at the Tivoli in Adelaide, Greg Perano was at the peak of his powers.
Unfortunately I didn’t really grasp the fundamental importance of any of this. I figured one solitary lady on stage doing some kind of ‘interpretive’ dance number had to be ‘sort of okay’. I didn’t really ‘get’ most of the communal stuff anyway. It didn’t have a lot to do with me. I was too busy learning how to sing and hoping there were more girls looking at me than Greg Perano. Hell, it was no big deal, something a bit different. Besides, gig time was looming. I looked at my watch.
“Okay”, I said and walked through the door leaving him out there.
I immediately forgot about it. The heat inside was appalling. It was a tiny room with orange and brown seventies couches covered in wine stains around the walls, the stuffing erupting in places. The ceiling was barely high enough to accommodate the Doctor’s head. The walls were made of corrugated iron. Basically it was a “lean-to” on the side of the theatre. There was a short flight of stairs on the other side of the room that lead to an open doorway and the stage, which was bathed in blue light. The P.A. was blasting “The Blockheads’ Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll”. The crowd was roaring. A slow handclap was building. I felt the urge to shit.
No one was seated. Waters, Smithy, Crosby and the Doctor were standing around a plastic bin full of VEEBEE on ice, singing “Eidelweiss” from “The Sound of Music.” Perano and Tosti-Guerre were in the corner sharing the view of a full length mirror. Tosti was playing with a turquoise scalf, trying to decide how much of it should hang from his back pocket. Perano had his hands on his hips slowly turning from side to side occasionally running a brush through his almost waist length black hair. He was topless. He gave himself the odd pout. I looked away. It was too frightening. Clearly he was right on top of his game. He looked good. We all did. Even Archer was making an effort. He’d finally shaved off his moustache in a motel at Murray Bridge. Archer was finishing off a beer and roaring “BLESS MY HOMELAND FOREVER!” He was deliriously happy. It was show time. My heart began to race.
“What’s the crowd like?” I asked Archer.
I moaned inwardly. The whole thing was completely out of hand. We were doing gangbuster numbers. Every night was a firetrap and I didn’t get any of it. People just turned up and stood there all night staring as if awestruck. At what? It was ridiculous. But the others, well, you just had to look at them and it all made sense. Everyone in the band was bursting with enthusiasm. It was all going extremely well. We were the next big thing. It was our turn. But me, I was hopelessly fatalistic. It’s the bog Irish in me. I didn’t know it then. I was young. I thought everybody was like that. I was my mother’s boy. I got it from her. Something horrible had to happen. We’d hit the jackpot. It was like winning tattslotto. I’d never won anything in my life. Years later, somebody told me I had an “attitude problem.” Damn straight.
“Where’s the toilet?”
“It’s in the bar.”
I peered through the haze at the stage door. They were jammed hard up against the stage. There was no way across now. I had to hold on.
“Great,” I thought. “A new challenge.”
Waters said, “Oh well. May as well get on with it.”
One by one they wandered over to the doorway and stood behind me. I could feel somebody breathing down my neck.
“Well, go on.”
I didn’t move.
“Go on where?”
‘On to the friggin’ stage you poof.”
I walked. Instantly the room erupted. Taut young faces leered at me from everywhere, screaming hysterically, naked arms stretched out onto the boards at my feet, fingers scrabbling for contact with my feet. Mad kids with nothing better to do than go off! They used to say I never smiled. How could you smile at that? It was insane. They looked like they wanted to tear me limb from limb. I was instantly bathed in sweat.
I went for the guitar, the battered Fender, the one that had walked from the stage in Sydney two nights before, in the arms of some young criminal we’d shared the love with during Perano’s mystic giving of the hub caps.
We started. The voice croaked. I adjusted my footing, struck a pose. Heads began to lurch and sway. I never looked behind me. The guitar, the rhythm, and the voice were pretty much all I could deal with. Around me the room thundered with physical excitement. People ground themselves against the stage and each other. Hot light scorched my face. It changed colour. The room was saturated with moisture. The applause grew hysterical. People were screaming. I was screaming; and the relentless repetitive thud of the rhythm section drove the mood home. My god! It was madness. It kept building, song after song. They loved it. It was irresistible. We were wilfully driving them wild.
Oh the humanity!
The songs were designed to build this effect. The longest was an apocalyptic epic called “Run Run Run” . It came in at a touch over ten minutes. The rest fell slightly short of that but not much.
I stood my ground. Looked straight ahead, trying to take in as little detail as possible. God only knew what I would lay my eyes on.
The whole thing revolved around Archer, Falconer and Perano…Bass, Drums and Percussion. Between them they created a rhythmic wall that drove the crowd into some kind of bizarre trance. They loved the power they had. I could see it working, in a detached sort of way, kind of like a lab technician watching humans being sonically tested. Crosby was somewhere in a dark corner at the back of the stage on a synth, wearing Harrison Ford’s hat and squeezing out the sounds of a large marine mammal either dying or making love. I’m not sure which. It depended on his mood. He was an artist! Tosti was the lead guitar player. He was Italian. He danced. He was the only human on stage who could. The brass section, led by Howard, stood to my left, blasting these long sonorous melodies that sounded like doom approaching on horseback. They became known as the “Horns of Contempt.”
I had these obscure more or less incomprehensible lyrics that seemed to allude to some kind of post-apocalyptic world full of lonely paranoid men. Quite simply, the lyrics didn’t count. Actually “meaning’ was irrelevant all round. It was the MOOD that mattered. People went off. I just stood there and sang. It was easy. Night after night we’d walk on and do it. And it worked. But it did more than just work. It blew people way, in their thousands.
It was miracle!
Down the front there were a couple of punks in black with elastic bands pulled down over their faces, their features distorted into bulbous fleshy lumps. Their heads pounded up and down, sometimes striking the rim of the monitor box, causing little gashes of blood to appear on their foreheads. They seemed to be in some kind of chemically enhanced state. It was nothing we were doing. They’d arrived prepared.
Strangely, I began to relax. Things were falling into place. We had control. Well, put it another way. THEY had control. I was hanging on for grim death and my personal feelings were becoming less and less relevant as it became apparent that the evening would prove to be yet another resounding success. People were really getting fucked up. Great!
We were in the middle of “Talking to a Stranger”. It’s a long drawn out ‘break down’ when the doctor pounds out the back beat and Tosti keeps at his “Disco riff” while the rest of us noodle with savage disintegrating sounds. This process lasts for about twenty seconds before Archer re-introduces the bass line and then at a predetermined point the brass come in with a new tightly arranged melody. At that point too, Perano starts hitting the “Wang” on the two and four. The effect is monumental. The coda begins and builds to a hellish cacophony.
It’s serious business. I am deeply absorbed in my own part; a David Burnesque rhythm that intersects with Tosti’s riff. I love it. It’s delicate, even feminine, and quite difficult to hold down, given the prevailing enormity of the rhythmic ‘thunk thunk’ that is blasting from behind me. It is one of the most exciting moments of music I have ever been apart of. I glance up at the punters in the front row. They are banging hard against the stage. All is as it should be. Yes! This is what power and control is all about! My ego is beginning to go off. I will definitely get drunk tonight. The kids are at once laughing and screaming. This is good. We continue. I glance across at Tosti to confirm we are connected. He’s jiving like a man possessed. The fool! We are magnificent!
I look back at the front row. They’re looking passed me at Perano. Fuck. Here it comes. What? Hub cap time? He’s not going to…to MAKE THE SIGN? NO! NOT NOW YOU FOOL! WE ARE ALMOST THERE! THE ORGASM APPROACHES!
But wait. They’re not getting up. In fact, they’re growing quite still, even frowning. Some look positively confused. We are belting the living shit out of the tune and people seem to be distracted. I try to maintain focus. It can’t be me. A quick look at Tosti. Yes. He’s cool. Everything I’m hearing is as it should be. Drums, brass, the sound of a zoo burning down,,,and Perano bashing the Wang…and then, a horrible KERRTHUNK! The hideous squawling of metal upon metal.
WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?
It came from behind.
I always hated looking behind. It threw me off balance. My technical abilities were that limited, but this sounded seriously fucked up. I had to look….
There was nude lady on stage.
She had long black hair. She was wearing a white suspender belt, long black stockings and stilettos. She had the body from hell. She was grinding her crutch along the surface of the now dethroned “Wang” which was on its side at Perano’s feet. Her bare arse was sort of waving in the air, whilst her hands mockingly caressed the metal skin as though it was a gigantic cock. Perano was staring down at her from his podium, running his hand through his long hair. He looked distraught. He looked like he was going to kick her in the head. She was completely ignoring him.
Perano began to kick the rest of his gear in every direction until the rest of it, like the Wang, was lying in disarray at his feet. Hubcaps, plastic pipes, tom toms….the lot….Everbody stopped playing except the Doctor. Perano stormed off. The Doctor kept going. I looked at him. He looked back and shrugged.
Fuck it. We had to keep going. The song wasn’t finished. Tosti and I resumed riffing and eventually Archer joined in too, (after counting for a while, with his eyed shut) and our Lady of the white corset proceeded to ‘do the rounds’ so to speak. First it was Tosti. He loved it. She nibbled at his ear and ground against his arse. He rolled his eyes.
“No Tosti No!” I thought. “You’re not supposed to enjoy this. This is a mockery of our art.”
I looked around. The entire audience was transfixed, by her. There’s nothing quite like public nudity. We were nothing. She was a show stopper.
I stopped looking. This was terrible. I had to convey some semblance of authority.
“Pretend it’s part of the act you fool. Look! It’s working for Tosti,” I thought.
There had to be people out there who were thinking that. My mind began to lurch towards some form of ‘action’.. There had to be a way out of this. After all, the Doctor was still at it. Crosby was oblivious. The whales were still moaning. In fact all you could see was his hat bobbing behind the keyboard stand, vaguely in time. Archer began to wind up.
The only thing left was personal dignity. I stared into the distant faces at the back of the room.
“Remain perfectly still. Behave as though everything is as it should be.”
The reprise chorus was approaching.
“Souvent pour s’amuse les hommes d’equipage and it was like…”
I felt her hot breath on my neck.
“and it was like talking to a stranger”…
She was behind me. She began to push herself against me. She thrust. My teeth struck the cap of the microphone. I looked back at her. She leered theatrically. Her lipstick was smeared. Her mascara was running. She was bathed in sweat. Great rivers of it were running down between her enormous artificial tits. I turned back to complete the chorus. She ran her hands through my hair. The two black clad punks were howling manically. They were loving it. I scanned the crowd. Others were laughing too. Her performance appeared to be having a positive effect, on some. Others were aghast. It was too much for them. They were shocked. Even outraged. Some seemed about to faint, the blood utterly drained from their young innocent faces.
I had a choice; either to side with the politically correct, the artistically offended, the terminally earnest, or step up to the plate and at least pretend I was enjoying it. And with that very thought I realized that in fact, I was enjoying it. Thoroughly. There appeared to have been a conspiracy. We were the target. It was in fact, A PRACTICAL JOKE.
She disappeared. She must have run from the stage. As quickly I became dimly aware that I was no longer having my head stroked she was gone. We finished the song.
“THANKYOU. GOOD NIGHT ADELAIDE!”
The two punks roared.
The rest simply stared. Strange days. If it had been Chisel, they would have gone off. Tonight, Adelaide was NOT HAPPY….although there was a smattering of applause.
We exited the stage. I was dead meat.
We assembled around the plastic bin.
“It’s my fault…” I said.
I was good at contrition. I’d been practicing from a young age.
“That bloke I ran into outside in the carpark. He asked me if she could do it.”
“And?” said Perano. He was sitting on one of the couches, his chest heaving.
“And I said yes.”
“You what?” He stood up.
“I said yes. I said she could.”
“You mean to say, you allowed this to happen?” He approached me.
I reached for a beer. It was hidden beneath the crushed ice. I had to bury my arm deep into the bin. Nothing. I began to scramble around the bottom of the bin searching for aluminium. There had to be a fucking beer in here. I had to have one more beer….before I died.
I found one. I straightened up. My hand was numb from the ice. I hung on to it and slowly peeled the ring pull back, making sure my eyes never left his face. He moved closer. I raised the can to my lips, took a sip and then held it poised there, between us.
“Would you like some?” I asked.
“Are you telling me, I mean us, that you went ahead and gave permission to some…BODY to get up on OUR STAGE WITHOUT CONSULTING THE REST OF US?”
“You’re sorry. He’s sorry guys.”
“I….I thought you’d be pleased. I thought it’d be sort of …cool, you know?”
“Well it wasn’t. Was it?”
I looked at my can of beer. It was near full. A fleck of foam had gathered round the hole in the top from when I’d had my first sip. The sides were icy cold and still covered with the dewy mist of condensation.