St Andrews Primary School Oval
St Andrews Day 2007
I don’t know what sort of a big brother I have been.
Families, to coin a bland phrase, can be difficult. Ours was. And by my reckoning, they go one of two ways in the face of trouble. They either pull together and fight the struggle collectively or they fly apart. We flew apart.
I feel this emotional distance when Richard and I get together. I love him a lot. I know he loves me. But there is a space in there that I think we both find difficult to bridge. Some shit’s gone down and it hasn’t been sorted, or at least, sorted enough.
We are different in many ways. I went to uni, he didn’t. He’s technically savvy, I’m clueless around electronics and mechanicals. I’ve had two kids, he has none. He was awarded an ARIA, I completed a doctoral degree.
We do, however, share a deep love of music. Somewhere along the way Richard heard a call to follow his muse and has dedicated his life to sound. He runs his own ultra-cool, analogue recording studio, plays guitar, sings, writes and has been a member of a number of outstanding bands. He is one of Australia’s top drummers, but has to hold down a day job to eat. So he works as a welder during the day, and then does night shifts in his studio, at band rehearsals or at gigs. He takes his situation on the chin and rarely complains about it, even though his double life exhausts him.
He joined a trio I formed in 1988 but three years later it broke up and since then we haven’t played together all that much. So it was a big deal in my heart when he responded enthusiastically to my studiously low key suggestion that he and I form a scratch band to play at the St Andrews Festival in 2007.
This festival is an annual day of fundraising organised by the parents’ committee at my kids’ primary school. The day centres around a series of local performers playing on the tray of a semi-trailer parked on the footy oval. No matter who performs, however, the headline act every year is always the massive, end-of-the-night, fireworks display.
Richard’s partner at the time was also his musical co-conspirator. Together he and Sarah-Jane made up two thirds of the mighty Princess One Point Five. On St Andrews Day they also formed the core of our little schoolyard scratch band, a natty tree-piece I christened, A Nasty Sort of Person. Our set list was a ragged mix of unlikely covers and Princess One Point Five originals. We had one short rehearsal on the morning of the gig and boldly declared ourselves ready to take to the stage.
The song I remember most from that day was You, Sarah-Jane’s most perfect piece of power pop. It should have been a world-wide smash with its tight and punchy arrangement and gorgeously fruity melody. But today it travelled no further than our audience of locals seated on the grass in front of us, and the wooded hills behind the Diamond Creek, the backdrop to our stage.
I remember a moment before Richard counted us into the song. I looked over to the drum kit and saw him between the cymbals, eyes wide, panting and grinning maniacally. He was having a ball. Once the song’s staccato introduction settled into a groove I allowed myself to close my eyes and feel into our brotherly rhythm section. I found myself in the middle of something I hadn’t realised I’d been missing, and I did my best to breathe it in.
I guess we sounded as good as one might expect after a single rehearsal. It might be said that we performed with a ‘playful abandon’. But I could hear something else within the rough edges of the music that felt really solid, together and in time. Like we were pulling together. I hope he heard it too.