Tram stop, St Kilda, November 1997

The Mean Fiddler, London, July 6, 1999

The Continental, Prahran, Melbourne, September 1999

An acquaintance bails me up at the tram stop outside Luna Park.

It’s a Saturday. We’re both heading to gigs.

“Where are you off to?” he asks.

“The Marquis of Lorne*”, I reply.

“Who’s playing?”

“The Blackeyed Susans,” I reply.

“Aahh,” he says, with a slight pause. “Again?”

“Yes,” I nod. “Again.”

“Where are you headed?” I ask.

“The Conti,” he says. “To see Ron Sexsmith. You should come. I think you’d really like him.”

Sexsmith is a Canadian singer-songwriter but, up until then, I knew nothing about his music. But The Susans, I know ALL their music.

We go our separate ways, but in the back of my mind I keep thinking I should have taken the punt.

In the intervening 18 months I learn a lot more about Sexsmith. I hear him played on Triple R. I buy Other Songs (1997) from Raoul Records, my local haunt on Barkly Street.

I hover around the second-hand racks in all the usual places.

In 1999, I did an epic (by my standards) sweep of the northern hemisphere taking in the UK, Ireland, the east coast of the US and parts of Canada.

Along the way there were the usual distractions like catching up with friends.

But on this trip, I had a mini mission of sorts. It combined friends and gigs.

I’d discovered that Sexsmith was going to be in London the same week I was. Except that London is a pretty big city. I was staying near Richmond, on the Thames, and he was playing at a venue in Harlesden.

I was staying with Australian friends, Jock and Heather and their pre-school aged son, Harry, in deepest, darkest suburban St Margarets. It was leafy and green and close to Heathrow.

The Mean Fiddler was a gritty bar and music venue in down-at-heel Harlesden, in the inner west of London. In the 1980s and 1990s it had hosted The Pogues, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, Los Lobos, Billy Bragg and Nick Cave. Two years after my visit it moved to the basement of the Astoria in Charing Cross Road, a much more central site in London.

The idea of traipsing across London at night on my own was frankly daunting. In 1999, I was in my 30s and would happily go to gigs in Melbourne on my own. But London.

I persuaded my old rockdog friend Jock (now mixing on a desk to the right of St Peter) to accompany me. But he would only go if we cabbed it. Which was fine on the way there.

Ron was superb, as he has been every time I’ve seen him. I don’t remember the setlist, mainly because it was more than 20 years ago.

But I do remember freaking out on the way home when Jock fell asleep in the cab and I had no idea if we were being taken on the long way home.

My trip also took me to Boston where another acquaintance led a tour of the local secondhand record shops. I picked up Whereabouts (1999) for $US6, most likely a review copy. In Melbourne it would have been about $A30.

A few months later I was back in Melbourne.

I bought tickets. To both nights at The Continental.

I went to the instore at Basement Discs.

On the setlist is Strawberry Blonde, one of the songs Triple R have given a fair amount of airplay. Sexsmith played it in London. And in Melbourne. And every time since it’s been in the set.

It’s a song about familiarity. A song about generations. And even now, when I hear a guy in a wine bar play it, I think of tram stops and conversations, and taking a punt.

****

Ron Sexsmith’s 16th album is due to be released in April.

*This may be incorrect. Memory fails me.

Stereo Story #494

Louise Maskell has been surrounded by other people's words for some 30 years. Occasionally she strings together a few of her own. Otherwise it's all about the music and tall skinny dogs. She misses The Continental.