Seymour Rants: Four Mile Creek
Mark telling the story of his 28 May 2004 gig at the Four Mile Creek Hotel at Strathpine, north of Brisbane.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: Put online 25 June 2004.
Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/rants/rants.htm
Head north from Brisbane for about thirty minutes along Gympie road. When you can see the big “W” on top the Westfield Shopping centre you’ll be in Strathpine. The road is lined with neon signage. Fast food joints, car yards, furniture warehouses, service stations, mini-marts, drive-thru banks, kitchenware showrooms, blasting white hot light into the tropical night sky, and in between the buildings the earth is thick with wild uncontrollable scrub. Where else but Queensland?
The big W glows on top of the hill. On the other side of the road there’s a thirty foot banner flapping on a cyclone fence. It reads “MARK SEYMOUR/ EX-HUNTERS AND COLLECTORS- FRIDAY MAY 28”. TICKETS AT DOOR. $25.00 in metre-high red lettering. Behind it is open wasteland full of rubble and abandoned earth-moving equipment. On the far side of this field is a huge industrial shed…about sixty metres long painted battleship grey and in the centre of the wall there’s a red neon sign throbbing in the dark. “Four Mile Creek Hotel”.
We turn off the highway and drive across the open ground to a car park that surrounds the building on all sides. It’s packed. To the left of the front door is a Ford F250….brand new and jet black with designer plates. “Bloke 1”. To the right is a red Holden SS Ute with a “Queensland Street Racing” across the back window. Its licence plate reads “HIM 03.” We pass between them. The entrance is guarded by a Samoan in a black suit.
“I’m Mark Seymour.”
“I’m playing here tonight.”
He steps back. I have access. We walk into a long low room with balloons and ribbons festooned all over the ceiling, blue and maroon, the State of Origin rugby final.
It’s all new. Light blue carpet on the floor, that won’t be that colour for long and floor to ceiling glass down one side. The stage is in the corner, a two metre square platform with a Bundaberg rum banner hanging from the lighting truss.
Oh good. I’m promoting rum tonight.
There’s a long sweeping bar that disappears around the corner into the gambling room where the pokies are. The machines ring softly in the background while men in shorts and thongs stand around and grunt quietly to each other. They’re watching Cronulla get done by Souths on monitors that hang from the ceiling all over the room. Everyone looks pleased.
A girl is moving through the room in a pink bikini and gold high-heeled sandals. She looks about 15. Travelling with her is one of the kitchen staff. He’s wearing an apron and carrying a tray piled high with assorted cuts of red meat. She’s a mask of stoic determination but there’s something a little awkward about her, vaguely school-girlish, definitely new to the job.
Her nakedness is shocking. Young female flesh in a room full of big hairy people with their clothes on.
You wouldn’t recommend this line of work to students from the Queensland College of Hospitality.
“Hey fellas. You’re just in time for the meat tray raffle.”
A bloke with no hair and gut approaches us from behind the bar. He shakes my hand.
“I’m Justin. Floor manager.’
He’s very jovial. Smiling profusely. We’ve arrived at the right time. An almost nude girl is walking around with a tray full of meat and Souths are winning.
“Pass” I said, politely.
“What’s with the girl?” says Rob.
“You get that.” Justin says, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s a pub.”
Rob moves across to the soundboard while I’m led to the back stage area.
“We’ll keep you back here until the raffle’s over if you don’t mind.”
“Yeah? Why’s that?” I ask.
“Well you know…The boys’ll get a bit rowdy. You won’t be able to do much in the way of a sound check. Right this way Mr. Seymour.”
I follow him behind the bar through a doorway and out onto a vast open concrete apron surrounded by high walls and roof, literally covered with hundreds of pipes, all of them labelled in various ways. “Soil”, “CO2″, Ammonia”.
There are various doorways leading into other sections of the place from which workers appear in black aprons with “Four Mile Creek” emblazoned in white. They scurry across the floor and disappear through other doors. Uniformly they say,
“Have a good one mate.”
Justin ushers me to a long white plastic table, located exactly in the middle of the room. It’s an all-weather job, surrounded by four white plastic chairs. On a tray in the middle of the table is a bottle of white sambucca with four shot glasses.
“Enjoy” he says and leaves the way we came.
I sit down to wait.
Waiting is always difficult. It gets easier with age but doing it indefinitely is impossible. I’ve had years of practise and I’m not a patient man. Singing places you last in the production food chain. The voice cannot be effectively presented until every other sound ‘issue’ is addressed. It’s always been that way. My mixer prefers the brutal approach. This may be an ‘acoustic’ gig in north Brisbane but he may as well be mixing Coldplay at Madison Square garden.
His name is Rob Miles. Under normal circumstances he leaves nothing to chance. The minutest frequencies are examined and if any are found to resonate or feed at high volume, they are eradicated. He likes to run the P.A. hard. This is a pub after all. People must be contained and controlled. They’re here to drink and let loose. Volume is crucial.
I look at my watch. In an hour I’ll be on stage to I don’t know how many people. I need to be heard and I’m beginning to feel nervous. These are not normal circumstances. There are ten monitors out there showing the State of Origin final with rabid commentary. The boys are giving it their undivided attention. They like to hear what’s being said. It adds to the drama. If some wanker at the back of the room starts bellowing ‘check one two’ into a microphone at well over one hundred decibels, they’re bound to get a little flustered. Add to this a virtually naked girl wandering around the room flogging a tray piled with meat and you’ve got a highly volatile situation.
Thinking of this, I take a seat and stare at the sambuca. I look at my watch again. Too early for that. It’s okay. Concentrate on the positive. Just wait. With time, if all runs smoothly, I will begin to hear the sound of Rob…..
CHOOOUUUWWEKKK…. WUUURRRNN…. TTSSSEEEOOOOOUUU
I wait. Nothing as yet.
I begin to notice how the building is constructed. We are inside a giant industrial space, possibly a hundred metres long. The roof towers over head. Great steel trusses are festooned with a/c ducting that hangs in a tangled mess, with individual ducts descending onto specific points on the surface of… It dawns on me that this so-called ‘pub’ is in fact merely a series of climate controlled boxes completely enveloped by the bigger space. All the vital technology needed to run the pub is attached to the skin of each box…Gas, hot and cold water, electricity, waste disposal, electronic cables and most importantly, the supply of various kinds of draught beer, are all represented by multi- coloured tubing, appropriately labelled. They remind me of exposed arteries running across the surface of a skinless man. There are valves and taps mounted along the edges of all the doorways, with highly detailed instructions about various states of emergency.
The pub is a building within a building. I have been deposited in a space between the inner and outer skin, like an air lock. Staff move from one section to another unseen by the punters inside. I look for signs of surveillance. I can’t see any, but then again I’m on the side of the service providers, the receivers of the cash. I’m one of them. I begin to relax. At last.
“You are not merely the entertainment” I tell myself.
“You are one of the masters.”
Good. That’s positive.
The girl in the pink bikini with the meat tray walks in thru one doorway, looks at me blankly and then leaves via another.
The tray is half empty.
Better think again. There are greater forces at work here. The meat-tray girl and I, we have much in common. Still, she looks remarkably composed now. Things must have gone well. That’s encouraging. My imagination begins to crank up again. I see myself walking on stage in a pink bikini with a guitar made of lamb cutlets.
Christ, somebody built this machine, some demonic architect with a cynical commercial brief.
Enough. You’re thinking like a hippie….says another voice. I’m going mad swinging wildly from a normal level of professional enthusiasm to outright despair.
I look at the sambucca. Charisma in a bottle. No, not yet. I haven’t heard the voice of Rob Miles booming through the wall. Then it occurs to me, given the devious design of this place, the walls may be so thick that I may never hear him from in here. I decide to go and look.
A girl appears. She’s dressed in black.
“Hi. I’m Cassie”.
Her hand comes out.
“Yeah, I know who you are. I wasn’t born yesterday.”
She’s the perky type. Small and bouncing from one foot to another.
“Oh, well, I’ve got to sound check. Do we get a meal?”
“Where do we go?”
“Just go back through that door when you’re ready and ask for me.”
Rooms within rooms.
“Cool. What was your name again?”
“Cassie. I suppose you meet lots of people.”
“Sure. See you later.”
I head back out through the bar behind the girls serving the blokes. Everybody is smiling. They seem pleased to see me.
“You gonna play that song ‘Talking to a stranger’?”
This from a Maori at the end of the bar just as I step into the room proper. He’s got a motto on his face and two schooners. He offers me one. Grinning like shit. I take it graciously.
“Sorry mate. I’m solo.”
“Oh, Look, I haven’t learnt it. Next time hey?”
I smile and make my way to the stage. Rob’s up there moving his head around the cap of the mike, to check for feed. It’s stable. Good.
“How’s it going?” I say.
“Great. I’ve kept it pretty quiet up here”.
He’s unusually relaxed. In times of stress he has a strange habit of twiddling with a lock of hair that hangs down at the front. He isn’t doing it.
“Figured we didn’t need to scare the horses. It’s a bit of an educated guess but I reckon we can get away with a line check tonight. This place looks as dead as a doornail.”
‘You mean sound wise?”
“Yeah.” He laughs.
Good. A dead room is good. Trust me. That means good sound in this business.
It is. In fact, it is spectacular. Go figure. Three hundred turn up. In black. My kind of people. Then a huge bloke with sandy hair and a red face approaches the stage half way through the second song…. “One Eyed Man.”
I keep playing. He is standing directly in front of me waving a beer coaster in the air. The stage is only a foot high. His head is at the same altitude as mine.
I keep playing and reflect on the notion that this could turn into one of those magic rock moments when spontaneity lifts the performance to unforeseen levels of excitement.
I continue through to the end and let the last chord gently decay.
I approach the mike.
“Yes?” I say.
He gives me the coaster. Four Ex. I turn it over. On the back somebody’s written:
“Say Happy Birthday to Beth. 42. Neville.”
“Very nice Neville. I’ll look into that.”
Some punters chuckle. Neville remains where he is, fixed to the spot, staring intently at me, swaying slightly. I have a vague feeling that his wishes will need to be addressed at some stage if I’m to avoid something nasty.
He walks away, much to my relief. I continue on.
The show travels well. As they loosen up various others step forward and present me with beer- coasters and ….beer. By the time I get to song number seventeen, there are eight full stubbies of Victoria Bitter lined up along the floor at the foot of the microphone stand and four beer coasters.
Eventually, I decide to attend to the gifts spread before me. First the beer coasters. They’re all birthday requests. Julia, Tamsyn and Cassandra. I wonder if she’s the restaurant lady.
“The following people are having birthdays. Julia is sixteen, which means she isn’t supposed to be here, Tamsyn is twenty- eight. I must say it is gratifying to see so many girls here to night who are prepared to admit how old they are. (Laughter.) and Cassandra who is……”
The room is silent. People try to turn subtly to see where Cassandra is. What does a fifty-seven year old look like? Like their mother? Like their grandmother? You can hear their minds ticking over.
A woman pushes through from the back. She’s got a huge straw hat on her head festooned with tropical fruit. Her face is covered with garish showgirl makeup and she’s wearing a flowing orange taffeta gown a la Stevie Nicks.
“Good on ya Love!” She screams. “You give it to ’em love!”
She’s staggering all over the place. People back away which gives her room to start gyrating in a kind free-flowing circular fashion. It’s a form of dance I’ve seen before. ‘Banana dancing’ it’s called. It is more commonly encountered in northern New South Wales so I’m surprised to come across it this far north, but even more so given that I’m not actually playing anything yet. She’s floating around the front of the stage in complete silence.
I launch into Arms. May as well. Why fight it? She goes nuts.
At the conclusion of this I thank them all and step down onto the floor. There is no band room so I must walk through the crowd to the far end of the bar and make my way into the bowels of the building to the room where all the pipes are. People are smiling at me and slapping me on the back.
There’s the maori at the end of the bar. Two hours later and he hasn’t moved. I smile then scuttle down pass the bar girls to the security door that leads through to the holding area. The door closes behind me. I turn the corner. Safe.
There’s Neville. He’s huge.
“You didn’t say happy birthday to Beth.”
I was at the Strathpine gig, though my memory faded recollection of events is slightly different. Still, it makes for a good story!
If only navigating Brisbane was as easy as half an hour north along Gympie Road! The northside has none of the simple road network of the southside! To get to Strathpine, you go along the Riverside expressway, then get on the Inner City Bypass, then leave that for Lutwyche Road, which turns into Gympie Road, which somewhat gets you to Strathpine.
As for the personalised number plates on the car, that’s the result of a huge money raising push by the Queensland state government. The personalised number plates have become common fodder for insecure locals longing for a sense of pretentious identity. There are very few Ford F250’s around the place.
The promotion may have been for rum, but it’s hardly the drink of choice for the locals. Loyalty to taste buds outweighs loyalty to the locals when it comes to liquor. The home of XXXX, anyone with taste in Brisbane drinks exactly the same as Mark – VB.
I am sad to say I missed the meat tray spectacular. She must have been pretty cold, because it was not really the night to parade around in a bikini with a meat tray, not that I have ever thought to try it.
The door staff were a little kinder to my wife and I than they were to Mark. The guest list disappeared and I rocked up saying “Hi, I’m Stuart Fenech. My name should be on the guest list. I think.” in my usual ‘not sure how to handle being a third grade celebrity’ tone. However, there was no guest list. Taking our names, they let us in anyway (!).
I am pretty sure that Mark announced Beth turning 42, and then ended up reannouncing it because of “Neville’s” daunting presence between the main set and the encore. Mark noted something about saying it again because he was the man was too big with which to disagree.
– Stuart Fenech in Brisbane.