Tangled Drumkit

The life of a full-time travelling musician is rarely dull. Not only are we lucky enough to have the privilege of performing alongside greatness on stage, we also on occasion get to travel to some tasty destinations for work and today is no exception.  Just the mention of the name Darwin conjures up exotic images of sun-drenched harbour walks, vibrant markets, dangerously seductive crocodile-infested waters, vivid coloured skies blanketing bright red Northern Territory dirt and general tropical thoughts of all kinds. It’s been seven years since I last visited Darwin so am thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of the Bob Dylan Tribute ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ at the Darwin Railway Club.

Any air travel needed to be undertaken within Australia with more than one hours’ duration, and I know Dobe Newton from the Bushwackers will whole-heartedly agree can only be on Qantas. Tiger Airlines has been putting in a valiant effort as of late, as has Virgin (who have relaxed their rules of baggage allowance for musicians through APRA). And ever since they provided ‘all-responsibility and no-care’ with my accordion on one ill-fated trip, Jetstar remains an all-round disappointing experience. There is a certain amount of tactility and romanticism associated with Qantas like the intoxicating aroma of a soft, well-worn leather jacket. Complimentary SMH at the gate, your own personal iPad with movies, a free hot-meal are just some of the features that Qantas won me over with when it was time to book the flight to Darwin.

Railway Club Beer-Garden
Railway Club Beer-Garden

In 30 Degree temperatures, a fairly mild but ever so gentle ferocious humidity blasts me on arrival. Feels like a storm is on its way to this troposphere town but turns out is a tease only and more a sign of whats to come over the next six months. As soon as I check into the hotel, am out of my tight black Sydney Winter jeans and boots and into the Havianas and shorts quicker than you can say ‘Story of the Hurricane’.

Slightly peckish and with a few hours to kill before sound-check at the Club I get pointed in the direction of the Parap Village which is directly across from the hotel where I discover a fabulous supermarket, Parap Fine Foods. This establishment has been run by an Italian family for years and they have an extensive stock of top-shelf gourmet selections of all kinds. It takes me by surprise and spend the next hour perusing labels of local and imported jams, sauces and spice mixes. The fruit and veg section is all local and mostly organic. Then I spot the Deli with an incredible display of chocolate sweet delights and macarons, salamis and a cheese component equating the quality and quantity of anything found in a French Fromagerie.

Parap Fine Foods Deli
Parap Fine Foods Deli

I can’t decide on a cheese and this must be obvious to the woman behind the counter as have stared glazed-eyed for some time. She offers assistance and decides for me, giving me a sample of a German Sheepskin Milk Picasso which is divine. Being the end of the role due to the popularity of this cheese, she wraps it up and hands over 200 gms worth with a discount at $14 adding she likes her cheeses to go to a good home and I reassure her this will be the case. This woman knows her cheeses. I also purchase local vine-ripened tomatoes, Kalamata Olives drenched in lime and garlic and a 2010 Mount Benson Merlot from South Australia. Forty-five dollars later, and all I wanted was a snack 🙂

Wheelbarrow Basil at the Railway Club
Wheelbarrow Basil at the Railway Club

The Darwin Railway Club is a fascinating place. This is the first time I have performed at a Club that raises their own chickens and uses the eggs for spinach pies, grow their own herbs and also harvest ducks for consumption. They recently held a feast night where these ducks were (sorry vegetarians) after being raised lovingly, then put to sleep, prepared and served up for the members. Welcome to Darwin! Before the gig, I order a glass of Shiraz and forgetting am in the NT for a moment, shudder at the fact that the bottle comes out of the fridge. After mentioning this to the bar-girl she responds in her NZ accent to just give it two minutes when it will arrive at room temperature. Of course it will.

Beergarden Buddha

The Green-Room where we are hanging before the gig with the local Darwin Musicians in the Tangled Band tonight is the hottest room in the building. I learn later this room is also a completely cyclone-proof bunker made of solid concrete. Unlike performing at the Gympie Muster last weekend in arctic temperatures where the lights on the stage being LED based no longer generate any kind of heat, we are exposed to the old faithful R & R full-on-heat emitting old-school globe variety. The Band also cooks, renditions of Maggies Farm and Subterranean Blues are well executed by these local talented Darwinite Musicians.

Parap Market Flowers with Ginger
Parap Market Flowers with Ginger

Thanks to the Qantas In-Flight Magazine, I have already read about the Parap Markets held every Saturday being touted as a must-do on the Darwin tourist agenda. How serendipitous that I am here on a fleeting twenty-four hour visit, staying directly opposite where these markets occur. The produce is primarily of South East Asian flavours – mountains of chillis, coriander, paw-paws, mangoes, garlic, ginger and accompanying spices. Lebanese flavours are also represented along with reams of tye-dyed clothes and locally crafted silver jewellery. But it is the food that is impressing me here and I circle around in a holding-pattern deciding on what just to go for. Instinct tells me that anything will be good so I go for a Thai spicy chicken larb style salad, a watermelon, lime and ginger juice plus a Lebanese custard desert drenched in rose-syrup. Heaven. I also purchase a Chilli Sauce, made with only birds-eye chillis, garlic and lime. NO SUGAR or preservatives of any kind and is very hot according to the grocer who has made it himself.

Oddly, there appears to be some media action rustling up with TV cameras all assembling in the vicinity of where I am. A quiet buzz turns into frenzy as none other that Kevin Rudd appears out of no-where. All of a sudden I am engulfed by a sea of zoom-lenses and a tsunami of paparazzi, surreal indeed. Now there’s a traffic jam and general mayhem surrounding the previous serenity of the Parap Markets and people are asking Kevin to move-on. Something tells me he’s not here for the Laksa 🙂

The Rudd Circus at Parap
The Rudd Circus at Parap

Muster Main Stage
Muster Main Stage

Driza-bones, Cowboy Hats, Bundaberg Rum, Pluto Pups, XXXX, Boots, Dust and Country Music. These are just some of the elements in no shortage at the Gympie Muster where I have spent the last four days performing.  Set in the beautiful location of the Amamoor Forest Reserve in Queensland Australia, this festival is not for the faint-hearted. This Festival is tailored for die-hard country music fans who are well-seasoned Musterites happy to spend a few days temporarily removed from reality, donning the appropriate Muster gear, yelling choruses of songs about utes, beer, cows and pink guitars while drowning in a sea of Bundy.

For a Musician who has several performances at this festival, the Muster experience usually involves being prepared and match-fit when it comes to the food options. There are long walks involved, carrying gear from venue to venue (there is on-site Artist Transport, but this is ‘unintentionally’ on occasions not so reliable due to the hectic scheduling of hundreds of musicians and gear needed carting around the many different venues) on-top of the actual performance energy required, so it is essential that nourishing food be sourced and this is not such an easy or in most cases cheap task. Being a performer, I have been sent my Muster Pack by email prior to the Festival with a list of handy hints and Artist Services that will be available. A piece of information included in the Pack mentions there will be refreshments and light snacks available for all performers at a place called Artist World and this is encouraging news.  The first gig of the Muster for me is with The Bushwackers on the Main Stage and we will be required to hang around there so there’ll be no time to get acquainted with various food stalls around the site which is fine as will have a fair amount of hurry-up-and-waiting time over the next few days to do just this.

Artist Refreshments
Artist Refreshments

There is fruit, luckily. Then there is a bowl of assorted chocolates and lollies, a huge bottom-less pit bowl of smarties then another with a selection of snack-pack school lunch size chip packets.  Some instant coffee satchels plus several mini-bar fridges chockablock full of festival sponsor Red Bull. With the exception of the fruit, once again my handbag almonds have come to the rescue as we’ve no time to source anything more substantial before jumping on stage to set-up then perform for thousands of Muster revellers on the hill.

Our accommodation is off-site at the Conference Centre back in Gympie which is welcoming as it is away from the mayhem and general racket of the festival. Unlike some other musicians, I much prefer this to the on-site complimentary artist tent accommodation where I would have been an un-happy camper exposed to evening temperatures dipping as low as minus six degrees Celsius, braveness indeed. Also, the conference centre provides breakfast and I am ravenous the next morning having passed on the lollies and chips for dinner the night before. It consists of poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, fruit, a selection of cereals juices and an adequate coffee machine with an espresso option. A good start to the day so far, I am happy and nourished for the long day ahead.

My first gig today is with The Bushwackers at the Crowbar. Playing accordion for seventy-five minutes in this high-energy band burns energy and calories in aerobic proportion so again the handbag almonds are useful, but I’m still ravenous after this show and now have some time to search for some decent food. Something am hoping is as healthy as possible amongst the plethora of hot-chips and pluto-pup outlets. Word has it from some veteran Muster musicians there is such a place, Govindas. All vegetarian and all good so I set out to find it. It’s a bit of a treck from the Crowbar where we have just performed, trundling along past the main stage hill and swimming through a sea of Driza-Bones but after a bit of searching (it’s a little hard to locate not being as flashy or lit-up as some of the other food outlets) I see it.

Govindas
Govindas

Govindas, as the sign above the hut says is Pure Vegetarian and ‘The Taste of Transcendence’. Judging by the genuinely friendly smile on the face of the young guy serving behind the counter, I just know already that I WILL taste the love in this food. He offers two plate sizes $5 for a small or $11 for a bit of everything. So far it’s looking like good value, I’m also hungry so go for the larger plate. The food is of Satvik nature which is traditional Hare Krishna recipes the body best harmonises with – Harmonious Food, how ingenious and apt for musicians. Piled high on an eco-friendly bio-degradable plate made of sugar-cane plus accompanying fork made of corn starch, I receive a creamy curry loaded with vegetables on a bed of jasmine rice, a generous serve of Kofta balls with a spicy tomato sauce and a Halava dessert (semolina and cardamom). I am most definitely transcended far away from pluto-pup land after eating this meal and will certainly be making a return visit before the end of the festival. Well nourished and happy, I’m ready for my next gig. The Torn and Frayed Show – a country rock tribute featuring some of my most favourite musicians. Thank you Govindas 🙂

Big Biodiesel Ute - and THOSE boots
Big Biodiesel Ute – and THOSE boots

The Mystery Box
The Mystery Box

Unless you are lucky enough to regularly fly First or Business Class, chances are high that you have at some point experienced some pretty ordinary and disappointing air-line food. On top of this, the food outlets at most major airport terminals nowadays are like walking through a Westfield Food Court, a place I usually keep my distance from. However when you have to catch a flight somewhere there’s no choice but to amble to the departure gate, wading past all the red and yellow big M’s, Hungry Jacks and Krispy Kreme counters. There are some healthier options like Sumo Salad, Sushi Train and Boost, but at $15 for a Mango Tango and a small fruit salad? I’ve already paid for travel or parking costs to Sydney Airport, hidden overweight baggage fees at check-in and a weak $4.50 double shot flat-white while waiting for the other band members to arrive. The wallet has already had a decent work-out.

I feel some-what comforted by the fact that today I am getting on a Qantaslink flight from Tamworth to Sydney after doing a gig with The Bushwackers there last night, so I will be given food rather than having to purchase something like a triangular plastic packaged stale egg and lettuce sandwich on Virgin, Jetstar or (gulp) Tiger Airways.  Their in-flight menus say they are fresh, but I think this means ‘freshly thawed’ not ‘freshly made’. If you are a highly organised person you’d prepare and take your own food. But if I have an interstate gig, before leaving home am more concerned with making sure I have all instruments and stage gear needed, not what sort of nourishment for flight duration. I do however carry a bag of almonds with me always. Almonds in my handbag have warded off hunger pains in the face of dire food options on many travel occasions.

Tamworth Tarmac
Tamworth Tarmac

The economy class food served by Qantas has gone through many changes over the years. Depending on where you are flying to domestically and at what time of the day determines the quantity and quality of what you’ll receive on that flight. Tamworth to Sydney is a short flight, so it won’t be a three course meal (entree, main and dessert on one single tray). Today, it’s the Mystery Box. It looks cute, a nice picture of what resembles the Great Barrier Reef which is probably meant to relax you if you are a nervous flyer, like the sort of thing you see in dentist waiting rooms.

Mystery Box Contents
Mystery Box Contents

I’m wary of food in boxes and packets, but what’s this? Carrot and celery pieces? That’s a good start. I give the Carrot Feta and Coriander Dip a try and it’s a bit of a let down, too sweet and not much trace of feta or coriander. That’s fine as am happy with vegetables on their own.  (I just googled the dip to find out some more information and a link to Neil Perry and the Qantas Epicure Event held on Lizard Island came up. This probably explains the picture of the reef on the box). I’m going nowhere near that Toasted Cheese Corn, need I say more?

I look up from the box and see the Air Hostess is making her way down the aisle holding a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in one hand, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the other and offering a glass to any takers. How civilised, I am on my way home from work after all 🙂