Almanac Music – Tex, Don & Charlie at the Thornbury Theatre: Here’s as good as anywhere

“Really. Maybe we’re already in it. Look at The Handmaid’s Tale. Look at Anna Funder’s book; set as the Nazis rose in Germany.”

Trinity is talking as we wait out the front.

“It happened. At least the Nazis did. Because good people stood by. People never see the tyranny until it’s too late. We wake up one morning and freedoms have been removed. It happens by creep. Bit-by-bit, our social world order is changing.”

Trinity, mother of my children, life partner, is thinking again.

“Look at us now. Social disconnection is rampant. Belief in the market is unquestioned- we are all commodities. Social safety nets are being stripped away. On economic grounds. Maybe this is our Dystopia. I think we’re already in it.”

I’m thinking about that as we’re over the creek and into Thornbury. In white European Australian terms, this is my country. Where my parents were each born and raised. It’s not a bad place to experience dystopia.
“Hmm. Maybe. Maybe it is.”

“But gee I love Tex.”
And I really mean it.
“And Don. I love Don.”

We’re off to the Thornbury Theatre on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday, to sit, stand, dream and respond in audience to Tex Perkins, Don Walker and Charlie Owen.

“What about Charlie?”
“I don’t know Charlie so well. But I love him by association.”

And I’m excited.

Back ten or twelve years, Tex, Don and Charlie released their second album together: All is forgiven. It caught me like a punch in the guts. Into the self-absorbed life of a new father, this album with its stories of hardship, of everyday struggle and spiralling repercussions of hastily made decisions, opened horizons; opened my mind; it was art. I was hooked. I was caught.

“If Fridays are for funerals,
And Saturdays are for brides,
Guess I’ll take Sunday as mine.
Cause on the weekend I perform miracles
Turning paycheques into wine
One working week’s wage at a time…”
Paycheques

And time after steel-string-slide-guitar time, it’s the stories that reach out of my headphones with murky, ethereal force. That snag lounge room air on my tympanic membrane. Stories that carry my imagination; swooping, soaring, diving – into the worlds of the down-and-out and of the chancers. Of those riding out another day. Trying to ride out another day.

“It’s just me and my fevered brain
And the man on the DVD
And two sisters from the Ukraine
Doing what comes naturally…”
Another Night In

–/

“Oh yeah- tonight’s going to be a good one.” It’s Tex, at the microphone, talking to his band mates in a conspiratorial stage whisper- letting us all in on the fun. People whoop and cheer.

We’re in the balcony. Seats saved for us by S&P; beautiful old friends, each. Each buffeted by the winds of life; sailing on through illness, separation, divorce; finding one another. As always, it’s magnificent to see them. So positive.

All is forgiven remains a go-to album of late Saturday night and later Sunday mornings. It feels made for weaving through a darkened room, through scattered playing cards, through Jameson’s and haloumi. And feels made for weaving with equal deft through the milky light of a morning-after; through the coffee and the toast and a gravelly laugh.

This has been a tumultuous year.
Maybe Trinity is right.
“So much isolation. And what about climate change? What the fxck are we doing to ourselves?”

 

And then this year, into a time of tumult, of this rising dystopia, of a rising social disconnection, a rising sense of struggle, came Tex, Don and Charlie’s third album: You don’t know lonely.

Part poem, part ballad, part message, part warning; this newest set of Tex, Don and Charlie shines with lyricism and humour; musical lilt and meld. It is a wink and a nod. It is the sombre raise of an eyebrow. It’s a glass of whisky; neat. And it is my new late-night-card-playing favourite.

 

“Went down to the docks on Saturday night,
Caught the train and it was only 3 stations.
Caught a tip from a bloke who said there’s no doubt:
She’s Loretta and Race 5 is a sure thing.
And I’ll be buggered if it didn’t come in.
So I got me 3 hookers and some sushi.
Forget what they say about wages and sin.
But in the end I didn’t have enough left for a taxi…”
-A man in conflict with nature

==

 

The beautiful old Thornbury Theatre is full below us. People have come early for dinner. Some stand at the back. Some are at the bar.
-Hi, excuse me; David?
-Er, yeah.
-David Wilson?
-Yeah.
-I’m Damian Balassone. I thought it was you from your Footy Almanac photo.
-Ah, Damian Balassone.
-How good is this?
And we’re off.
In the midst of social collapse, of dystopia, I meet and connect with the man himself; poet and Collingwood supporter; contributor to Long Bombs to Snake. I feel that I am winning.

Back upstairs S&P are leaning on each other, swaying to the music. These two calling each other “Plan B;” after a song on You don’t know lonely.

Tex as ever the showman out front. Owning the stage; the room. He’s a funny presence. And now D Walker stands from the piano and walks to centre stage; introduces T Perkins with: “you may know him as the front man, the singer, the MC – but let me introduce you in this next song to Tex Perkins; the concert pianist.”

Big laughs.

And while Don stands at the centre stage microphone to deliver “Harry was a bad bugger,” Tex hams it up perfectly.
Classic.

We’ve had a top night.
It has been a privilege to be in such company.
In the doors at home I’m immediately into a packet of m&ms, when Trinity says:
“Yep. If Trump can be elected leader of the USA, we are already in dystopia.”

It’s an interesting idea.
I wonder about our treatment of asylum seekers.
About our homeless population.
I wonder about the opposition to same sex marriage.
And I wonder about Don Walker’s characters.
About how tenuous is our grip on all of this.
It’s a mystery.

==

Perhaps my favourite of the night, in a tight field, was the song “Here’s as good as anywhere.” Described in Don Walker’s nasal everyman voice, the protagonist could be his same character from “Flame trees”, many years later. Or it could be his Vietnam vet of “Khe Sanh”. Or it could be any-damn-one of us.

 

“You don’t know lonely til you pull into a town
You’ve never seen; c
limbed down off a truck
No money; no line on anybody
Hunter bag from the passenger side
Thank the driver for the ride
And he says “that’s ok” but not your name.

Until you watch the wheels roll on by away
And turned your eyes across the road
At all the 15 stores in a strip mall
And you turned again to see the way you came.
You don’t know lonely until you know
No matter how far back you go,
She’s no longer there
And here’s as good as anywhere…”
Here’s as good as anywhere

 

Thanks Tex, thanks Don, thanks Charlie.
You were magnificent.
If we really are in dystopia, here’s as good as anywhere.

Don Walker, Tex Perkins and Charlie Owen at the Thornbury Theatre (click to enlarge)

 

 

About David Wilson

@e_regnans

muddling along.

Comments

  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Great piece ER. Even in a nascent dystopia we can find meaning, connections and brilliant music and lyrics. Terrific that you bumped, perhaps not coincidentally, into Damian – a true Collingwood/Philospoher/Poet/Music Fan.

    Don Walker and Cold Chisel provided the soundtrack to my teenage years. Dystopia then revolved around the Cold War and the belief that we could be obliterated at the touch of a button.

    “You and I had our sights set
    On something
    Hope this doesn’t mean our days are numbered
    I got plans for more than a wanted man
    All around this chaos and madness
    Can’t help feeling nothing more than sadness
    Only choice to face it the best I can” (When The War Over)

  2. E.regnans says:

    Thanks very much, Phil.
    Yes, the threads of it all are pulling.
    But at the human level we are at our best, I think.

    We’ve entered the Streaming Age at our place. No more CD purchases.
    But all of those songs (above) can be found on Youtube.

    “Here’s as good as anywhere” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aftxoKt_yAA&index=3&list=PLTK2SJnCYEfoFXO6nJoSf-6fF0z02LHe7

  3. DBalassone says:

    Pleasure to bump into you David. And yes, what a great show – twas like some kind of carnival at the old Thornbury Theatre. I’m with you re ‘Here’s as good as anyway’ – sublime chord progression – and that hitchhiker/drifter character that appears so often in Walker songs (Dresden, Carless in Isa, The Hitcher, etc). Impossibly, Don Walker has actually got better as a songwriter. I still marvel at that profound line from the 2005 TD&C album: ‘They build jails for those who can’t build their own’. Charlie’s slide guitar was captivating (you can see why he commands equal billing), as well as Garrett Costigan’s pedal steel and Tex, oh Tex, what a show man & what a voice!
    Was surprised they didn’t play ‘What I Am’. I guess they can’t do em all. Don opened his show last year with it. It’s a powerful song for me. Would love to hear your interpretation.

  4. John Butler says:

    Call me envious. Don Walker is one of Australia’s great men of letters. Tex is one of the most charismatic front men we’ve ever had. And Paul Kelly said it all for Charlie Owne’s slide guitar.

    Killer combo.

  5. E.regnans says:

    G’day Damian – meeting you was the perfect accompaniment to the show; Small-scale personal connection in a time of the opposite. I agree with all of your assessments.
    “What I am” is another powerful track, isn’t it?
    I hear it as a cry of personal misunderstanding – the idea that “I cannot change what I am” – can be used to validate all sorts of things. Aren’t we all able to change? Maybe. Maybe not. If you think not, then I guess it’s not. I don’t know.
    But those wonderful layers of music; piano and guitar and voice.. Soothing and questioning at the same time.

    =
    JB – I see that tickets remain for Sunday’s show in St Kilda, before the tour moves to other states. They already played Bendigo and (incredibly) the Meeniyan(!) Town Hall.
    http://lovepolice.com.au/tex-don-charlie-2017/

    =
    Links to “Here’s as good as anywhere” and “a man in conflict with nature” now included (above).

  6. Rick Kane says:

    Hi DW

    Terrific review/essay. I’m ever charmed by the wistfulness of your writing. Seeing things matter-of-factly but wanting to see things in a better light, on a better day.

    I’m not much of a fan of Tex. I’ve enjoyed bits of The Cruel Sea and BoB but mostly he seems more like a gun for hire. (And don’t get me started on his awful Johnny Cash thing). Don Walker stands as one of Australia’s best songwriters and one of our worst singers. Remember the old East Brunswick pub. He did a solo show there a few years back now. It was bad. But the songs still stood out. Charlie Owen is terrific. Last saw him with Paul Kelly on the Death’s Dateless Night tour at St Michael’s on Collins St. Thornbury Theatre is one of my fave rooms in Melbourne. Close to home too.

    By the way a band called Old Crow Medicine Show are playing the Forum on 1 October covering Dylan’s Blond on Blond. That should be a beauty. Support is Valerie June who is worth the ticket alone.

  7. John Butler says:

    E Reg, Meeniyan Town Hall is a ripper of a venue. With a long and esteemed gig history.

    You city folks need to get out of town more. :)

  8. Rick
    as a rule “blond” is masculine, “blonde” is feminine. Dylan was def Blonde on Blonde. Quite a trashy sapphic image. Yours is more gay aryan. I guess you’re voting “Yes”.
    PS Nice piece E.R.

  9. E.regnans says:

    Thanks Rick. Fair enough. I’ve always loved Tex and his ways (which even include, as you know, writing a Foreword for the 2015 Footy Almanac – Kinda Blows My Mind – about the debate on origins of Australian football).. Agreed on Don Walker’s and Charlie Owen’s extraordinary talents.
    And thanks for the heads-up on the Old Crow Medicine Show.

    JB – I married into a family of South Gippsland. So I know Meeniyan. I reckon it punches above its weight.

    thanks AJC. Yes all the way.

  10. Wonderful review / story, e.r.
    I must say that I am extremely jealous. Just love Tex, Don and Charlie.

    I like the new album, but find it a little more sombre than the previous ones. I really love the first album, on which there are many great lines…
    “The closer I come to the heart of the matter,
    The farther away I get…”

    I am of the opinion that Don Walker is Australia’s finest ever song-writer.

  11. yeah the better half here loves ’em and saw them with her 70ish mum and dad, who love Tex, and they all loved that song of Don’s the most

    me, I pumped Sweethearts again in the leadup to the Saints game, it helped, it always helps, Walker genius.

  12. Rick Kane says:

    Well spotted ajc and ouch slash what? Thems some agile leaps to I’m not sure what.

    But on to more engaging convo. Have you listened to The Cutting Edge, the 17 or so cd set of Dylan moving from Bringing It to Blonde? Listening to take after take of Visions as Dylan and his band find their way into the heart of that magnificent song is what I love most about music. When they finally strike gold (and even though you know the end result) I let out a cheer that they got there. That is one hell of a song.

    Cheers

  13. Thanks Smokie – strange to tell, but despite loving “All is Forgiven” (2005), I unimaginatively never sought out their earlier album “Sad But True” (1992).
    So I’m getting two-for-one just now.
    Such rich, rich words and music.

    PW – Sweathearts will now get a run from me today. Many thanks.
    #streetsweeper

  14. And here’s a Guardian (UK) article by Stephen Metcalf that contributed to the idea of a present-day dystopia.
    From a couple of weeks ago.
    It’s a long read.
    “Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world”
    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world

  15. Er- great piece on many topics stemming from Tex, Don and Charlie. Like Smokie I’ve found their new album to be more of a slow burn, but with some good moments nonetheless.

    Earlier in the week I bought Tim Rogers’ new memoir, and saw that it was on the shelf next to the new memoir by Tex. Tim’s was $35 and Tex’s was $34.99. He’s always after the last laugh, our Tex.

    Really looking forward to Tex, Don and Charlie at Adelaide’s finest venue, The Gov, in a fortnight’s time. I hope it’s an appropriately balmy evening.

    Gee, the sushi line is a beauty. Thanks David.

  16. DBalassone says:

    I like your interpretation of ‘What I Am’ and felt a similar sentiment initially, but I reckon about the 3rd time I listened to it, I struck by some of the imagery and wondered if there was a deeper anti-political meaning i.e. ‘never be a company man’, ‘never be a union man’, ‘never be (political) party man’, ‘never been a left-handed drinker’. He’ll ‘help out where he can’, but he’s not part of the Right, nor part of the Left as this is ‘a world of shifting sands’.
    I’m could be completely wrong, but that’s the thought that occurred to me while listening to it.

  17. Luke Reynolds says:

    ER- wonderfully told tale of what sounds like an amazing gig.

    Running into Almanackers anywhere is always a highlight. Have bumped into D.Balassone a few times in the Olympic Stand.

    Read this a few days ago, but hadn’t heard the new album. Have had a few listens, 3rd time now as I type. It’s hit me tonight. Fantastic. Love a slow burn album.

    Love streaming (I do pay for it via Spotify), the access to new albums is exceptional. But will still buy the odd CD of artists I really like. Or, lately, vinyl of artists I really, really like.

  18. Hi Mickey – looking forward to learning your impressions of T, D & C. And of the Gov. What is the Gov? I spotted the Tex and Tim books alongside each other recently, too. Though on that day I opted for Jimmy Barnes’ “Working Class Boy.”

    Damian – that’s a good call. The song of an individual ruing a world of compromised collectives, perhaps. Maybe disillusioned. But strong in their choice.

    G’day Luke – I like your hierarchy of streaming/ CD/ vinyl. Agreed on the random meetings of Almanackers. “Here’s as good as anywhere…”

  19. Thanks ER.

    Love that Tex pulled the boots on at Sandgate – where Jezza was. And the Wagners who now have a couple playing in the AFL.

    Like Tex’s words in Pig City too.

    And a creative foreword in one of the editions of The Almanac.

    Cold Chisel/ACDC/Stones et al on a boat cruising up and down the Brisbane River, second year uni – if that’s dystopia I’ll have a second helping. Bring it back.

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