Saturday, March 06, 2004

Gigs in the UK

We saw Paul Kelly at the Academy in Manchester last week and are seeing Powderfinger, also at the Academy next Thursday.

I don't know if Aussie bands who tour the UK know how much their predominantly Aussie audiences need them. I don't know if I speak for most but the few Aussies I've talked to at gigs both here and in London just love the experience of seeing Aussie bands live in the UK.

For starters the gigs where Aussie bands play tend to have a much better atmosphere. I've been to loads of gigs here in the UK, mostly seeing British bands and I can safely say that at each one I have felt a subterranean quiver of aggression. People at gigs here don't really tend to talk to people at gigs that they have not come with. You get shoved and hassled if someone tries to get past you and if they happen to be a whole foot taller than you they don't stand to one side to leave you room to see. I am not generalising here - this has been my experience every time.

I saw Underworld at the Apollo a couple of years back and that was probably the friendliest 'Brit' gig I've been to here. The only hassle I had sadly was when I managed to make it to the front of the stage and this fuck wit kept deliberately crashing into me as he wanted me to vacate the space I'd found. After ignoring him for the first dozen times I turned around quickly, grabbed his arm, pulled his face to mine and said as menacingly as I could 'If you want my spot, just fucken ask me, don't shove me' and I pushed past him and let him have the space. I could tell from his face that I'd shocked him but I did not care. He pissed me off beyond belief not just because he was shoving me and ruining my Karl Hyde experience - but because for me he typified the average Brit gig goer. I don’t dare begin to delve into the mindset of the 50,000 Oasis fans who pissed in their beer cups and proceeded to fling them around the audience at Old Trafford the summer before last…

I tested my ‘Aussie Audience’ theory when The Whitlams played the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London a couple of years ago. Ian and I went with Paul who is also English. I told Paul how much I loved going to gigs where the Aussies outnumber the Brits. He wanted to know why. I elucidated. I said that I felt 'safer' in a crowd of Aussies than in a crowd of Brits. I said people talk to one another, they seem more conscious of giving people space and their aim for the night is not to get paralytic but to enjoy the band and the vibe. Of course you get the odd exception like the bozo in the front row of the Paul Kelly gig last week who felt the need to couch his many song requests in (not so) clever riddles i.e. Hey Paul, how many hours is it on a bus between St Kilda and Kings Cross? The entire audience groaned out loud.

So my experience at The Whitlams gig at Shepherd's Bush lived up to my explanations. I asked a guy at the bar where he got his shirt that was covered in prints of 1940's Arnotts biscuit ads and we had a laugh over the fact that his mum had sent it to him from Brisbane. I spent most of the first set talking (between songs) to 3 girls who at first told us they were from Sydney as they were not terribly proud of their hometown of Newcastle. And Ian and I had a competition as to who could could the most Mambo shirts & t-shirts in the crowd. The overall atmosphere generated by the crowd that night was one of fun, an appreciation of the band, a pride in our shared collective as Aussies overseas but was everso slightly tinged by a tangible feeling of homesickness.

I guess this is what makes Aussie gigs here all the more special. When I see bands here in winter I search the faces on the stage for signs of sunburn and warmth. I want them to bring me a little bit of what I desperately need in the depths of a British winter. I want the sun they felt on their skin not 2 days before to warm mine. I want to hear them speak of MelbourneVicBitterBigMsSydneyManlyFerryThe EspyBrisbaneSouvlakisAdelaidethatfuckwitHowardStKildaBeachGunamattaandwaitingforthesun. I not only want them to bring me a bit of home but I need them to make me feel like I'm still a part of home. That I am still Australian and that they recognise that in me. That I have not lost what makes me feel so different in this place so far from my Melbourne Town.

That is why I love it when Aussie bands and artists tour the UK. Especially when they make it up to Manchester.


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