The Gypsy Bar, Civic, Canberra – late 1999
Petersham Bowlo, Sydney, 6 November 2015
As I stepped in through the door I was drenched by a wave of uncertainty.
Where is everyone?
It is tonight, isn’t it?
It was The Gypsy Bar, wasn’t it?
No, seriously, where is everybody?
I look around to see if there is anyone to answer my questions. There are two guys playing pool, oblivious to everyone else and, yep, just the two guys playing pool.
It’s midweek in Canberra, about 8:20 pm. The city is as it usually is for 8:20 pm on a weeknight in a non-Parliamentary sitting week. Comatose. You aren’t expected to be going to see a gig midweek; let alone a Mick Thomas gig.
It wasn’t that long ago that Weddings Parties Anything played their farewell gigs in Canberra. Tilley’s at Lyneham was packed. So for Mick Thomas’ solo gig I thought I’d better get there early. Get myself a good spot and be ahead of the crowds. Looks like I didn’t need to worry.
Finally, someone appears behind the bar. “Yeah, Mick Thomas is on tonight. We haven’t opened the room yet,” the girl points to a door. “Should be about 20 minutes.”
So I order a drink rather than step out into the cold and go home. It is only that I am on a promise that I stay. It doesn’t matter how good Mick Thomas is, passing 20 minutes on your own in an empty bar without a book or conversation is more than a little pathetic.
I ran through the list of those of my friends who would go to a Mick Thomas gig and their various excuses. Overseas? OK. Young kids? OK. I wait and hope for a familiar face: a friend of a friend, a more than nodding acquaintance, to come in. No one – it is as if no one knows it is on.
Doors open, I pay my money and find a seat. It isn’t hard – still only me. I don’t want to sit up the front and I don’t want to sit right up the back. Off to the side so that no one can see I’m here on my own.
I can’t remember how long it took for someone else to come in, but someone did; and another and another. Maybe we made a dozen, all sitting in the back section, no more than two or three to a row.
Mick comes out with his trusty guitar, sits down and thankfully doesn’t ask us to sit closer. He encourages the smokers to blow their smoke “over that way” in the direction of the smoke-free Tilley’s. Like all Mick Thomas gigs, it’s great. I’ve often wondered why we only remember Mick for Father’s Day. He’s a story-teller with a guitar or mandolin. He’s electric and acoustic. He’s…
Oh no. He’s going to sing Step In, Step Out, the song about a couple of shift workers who hardly spend any time together because of their work.
It’s a duet, which one usually wouldn’t expect at a solo gig. But I’d been to enough (all right, three) Weddos gigs to know what was expected when that song was sung. Mick sings the guy’s part; Jen Anderson, backed up by the women in the audience, would sing the girl’s part. But Jen’s not here tonight. I nervously look around. I’m not the only woman; but I might as well be.
What do I do? I can’t not sing; it’s like not throwing the 10 cent pieces during Ticket in Tatts. My three gigs have taught me Weddos’ etiquette, and singing is compulsory. And while part of me would love for Mick to spot me and call me up on stage to help out, I just know I’d sing off-key and fluff the words. While no one I know would witness it, I still don’t want to feature in one of Mick’s stories at a future gig.
In the morning when from slumber you awake, you find me sleeping like a baby by your side sings Mick.
There’s the cue.
Get up, get up to work for there are cakes that must be baked. I sing like a churchgoer singing an unfamiliar hymn; just loud enough for anyone watching to know I’m singing, but not loud enough to draw attention to myself.
I needn’t have bothered. The other women present (all two of them) don’t sing or sing the way I have. Mick mumbles the line as well and then sings his own properly. He finishes the song as a solo. We clap and move on.
Duets are really meant for two. Even poorly sung it needs two voices. Just like going to a Mick Thomas gig. I shouldn’t be here alone. I should be here with Steve.
But Steve is now based in Sydney. He’s got his job and I’ve got my job and at least he comes down to Canberra when Parliament is sitting. There are times when I need to say something that only he would understand and that’s when I miss him most. Now is one of those times.
I wouldn’t have ever gone to a Weddos gig if we hadn’t started going out. I’m only here tonight because I said I’d give him a report. I’m not into Mick Thomas enough to wait twenty minutes in an empty bar on a Canberra weeknight.
I am into Steve but we are literally living in different worlds.
Petersham Bowlo, Sydney, 6 November 2015
It’s a Friday night, a bit after seven and there aren’t many people about. The crowd stepping out of the train at Petersham station dissipates and walks towards parked cars and bus stops. I’m on the footbridge not knowing if I need to turn left or right to find the bowling club. The directions from the Transport info site aren’t helpful – being directed down a particular street for 50 metres only works if you can see the street name.
Thanks to Facebook I know there’s a Mick Thomas gig on; as do lots of other people I’ve never met or heard of, who have clicked on the “going” button. I think I’m early enough to get a seat – only the foolhardy tend not to book tickets ahead of time and, when it isn’t reserved seating, not get there early.
It’s not the usual venue but most other things are the same. I’m seated in the middle with an unobstructed view of the stage and there are a lot of people crammed into the small room. I wonder if the guy with the propeller hat is going to be here tonight. He was a fixture at the Annandale Hotel gigs. That really tall guy who was in the year above me at school, he’s here. During Ticket In Tatts someone throws 10 cent pieces on the stage.
Squeezebox Wally is playing tonight and he hits the familiar notes on his accordion, signalling Step In, Step Out. There are more than enough women to carry the duet. Get up, get up to work… we sing as some chick crashes the stage and starts singing. What the?
Mick’s kissing her, so’s Wally and then: “Tricia Young, ladies and gentlemen! and we’ll start again” It’s a great rendition, performed the way it should be.
I’ve flicked open the iPad and googled ‘Tricia Young’. I then google ‘Tricia Young Step In Step Out’
Steve leans across. “Where’s she from?”
“I think she was…”
“Yes, she’s the one who sang it on the album. I’ve just looked it up.”
Life and love can be a dance that is bizarre; but this one hasn’t yet worn thin.
Duets are best sung by two voices and I’m still singing this one.