Busking in Perth – memories from 25 years ago

Ruff n Ready

The first time I came to Perth, WA, was exactly 25 years ago, as a busker. Christmas 1991. We had a brilliant 10 days, and – incredibly – each made enough to cover our return airfares.

At the time, I was living and working in Singapore, where busking was prohibited. Something about it being against the law to have two or more people gather together in a public place; a law that had been brought in to help quell communism in the sixties. Singapore did quite a good job of quelling communism, but that’s a different story. The strange remnant of this law (since lifted) meant that 2 fellow band members who had travelled down to Perth the year before (‘where there’s a terrific street entertainment scene‘) said we should visit this Christmas and do some busking.

Yes, I had fellow band members. I had moved to Singapore the year earlier, and somehow inveigled my way into a fairly well known (in expat circles anyway) 6-piece rock n roll tribute band (the ‘Ruff n Ready Roadshow’) which was made up of teachers, mainly from the same school I was working at. Anyway, 4 of us agreed to do it, and so we cobbled together a skiffle set of rock n roll classics, interspersed with some silly jokes and improvisations.

Our first port of call was Council House to get the required $2 busking license. It showed some red dots on a CBD map of the city, which denoted where we could busk and off we trotted. We saw one small stage set up in one of the malls, and set to work. Everyone pretty much ignored us, and by the end of day 2, we had not much to show for it.

Oh well, we thought, at least we’ve given it a go. And we are hardly street performers anyway. We’d do 20 or so dinner dances in Singapore, but this live performing to Christmas shoppers malarky was a different ball game. One upshot of actually performing on the street was meeting other performers, many of whom do it for a living, and do very nicely thank you. They can sense when it’s a good time to do a show, know exactly how to build up a crowd and milk it for all it’s worth. People I met that week, I would meet a year later in Covent Garden in London, or in Edinburgh at festival time.

The person I was staying with said that by performing on a stage, Perth people might think we were paid by the council, so the next day we went and found a spot outside Myers’ main entrance in the central shopping mall. There was a steady throng of people there, who were happy to stop and listen. Suddenly the money started pouring in. People would sing along, laugh at our silliness (we looked a picture in our multi coloured teddy boy outfits and greased up hair – the photo above shows us in Fremantle that same week), and would generally get the idea that it was time to pay up when we ended each set with the Motown/Beatles standard ‘Money, (that’s what I want)’ .

On one occasion, the Salvation Army lady was standing near our audience getting donations for her tin, so we decided to donate a whole set’s worth to her. You should have seen her face.

Never change a winning formula, we thought, so we played there for most of the week pre Christmas, and a few days after. In between, we did a day in Fremantle (not so good tippers that lot), and also got booked to play on stage in Forrest Chase for the Carols by Candlelight and were entered into a busking competition (we came second!).

All the while I was struck by Perth’s beauty: the clean streets, stunning blue skies, bright sunshine, great coffee and beautiful beaches. The friendliness of the people and their genuine warmth (we were asked to play at so many parties & corporate gigs, but it was always the week after we’d left). ‘I’m going to live here one day‘, I thought. And so it would prove, about 5 years later. For 2017 denotes the 20th year that Lisa and I moved to Perth. We’re set here for life, and every year about this time, when I find myself walking through the mall or Forrest Place, I always remember the time, a quarter of a century ago, I first landed here, and strummed a tea chest base for 10 days and sampled my first (of many thousand) flat whites.

Merry Christmas Perth, and a Happy New Year. You’re beautiful.

Drumming the management beat

Drummer manager

I have a philosophy on management which goes – if you notice the manager, then management has gone wrong.

Good management should be invisible. It happens behind the scenes, allowing the parts to move together efficiently and the whole organisation to work effectively. Good managers select great people, self motivators, give them the tools to do the job (training, time, support, resources…) and then get out of the way.

In so doing, the manager does not absolve themselves of the responsibility for the performance of their team. The best managers are always on top of the numbers (the activity of the team, the work they are producing and the results). This can be achieved through simple CRM methods, regular quick meetups or huddles, and and ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit.

Getting away, and letting them get on with it, is a tough thing to do. It’s easy to meddle, it’s hard to bite your tongue and bide your time. You’re there to help, and when you’re needed, you’ll know. Sometimes you’ll err on the side of being too disengaged, but this won’t last long as the results come in. It is far worse to err on the side of being too engaged, micro managing your team to distraction, and not allowing them the freedom to fly. In this atmosphere, the best people will leave, and may even turn on you (think Kevin Rudd).

A manager is a bit like a drummer in a band. If you notice the drummer, something is wrong. Sure, you can listen out for the drummer, but if you sit back and listen to music, it’s rarely the drumming you are listening to explicitly. You’re singing along with the singer and maybe air guitaring a cool lick. Perhaps a cool drum fill will have you reaching for the pencils and drum rolling along the top of your desk, but usually it’s the general sound and lyrics you listen to. And yet the drumming is there. Remove it, and the whole thing collapses. Even a capella singers snap their fingers.

The drums hang in the background (within the sound, and literally, on stage) yet keep the whole on track, efficiently, and on time. If a fellow band member wants to go off in a new direction, the drummer signals this and goes with them. If the whole song is collapsing and needs to end, band members look to the drummer and the drummer brings the thing to a close.

Being in control is not the same as being up the front, posing and taking all the plaudits. You can manage things perfectly well from the back, keeping it all together, encouraging others on, marking time, going with the flow when need be, and bringing it all back at other times.

Drummers don’t need a flashy kit either, a simple set of a few toms, hi-hat and a couple of cymbals will do. Managers don’t need flashy offices, suits, pens or cars.

The best drummers, and managers, know that their skill is to work with the best team mates, and whenever possible, set the tone, support the team and stay the hell out of the way.

Stones keep rollin on


Stones in full flight last Wednesday night


The famous logo shining out from Perth Arena

I have been fortunate (twice) to see the best rock and roll band that ever strutted the planet, the Rolling Stones, in concert.

The first time, 16th July 1990, at Cardiff Arms Park, was possible only because the band had to cancel a few Wembley gigs due to Keith Richards’s injured hand, meaning they threw on the Cardiff gigs. I happened to be back in the UK and jumped at the chance.


Jagger strutting as Jagger does

The second time, last Weds, only happened because their initial date in March was postponed due to the sudden death of Mick Jagger’s partner.

I had tickets but had sold them to a friend as the date clashed with something I could not get out of. The rescheduling allowed me to see them for a second time last week.

No more Bill Wyman, but they did bring on Mick Taylor (at 65, the youngest of them, although he did not look it, having been their guitarist before Wood from the death of Brian Jones in 1969 up to 1974). Some say Taylor was the best guitarist to have ever played with them. Judging by this performance, his effortless blues riffs were incredible, and a stand out of the night.


Keif slow-mo’g a chord


Charlie purse lipped


Ronnie being Ronnie

Considering they were fantastic 24 years ago (when they were each in their mid to late 40s), I was not expecting too much this time around, now they are in the 70’s.

But Jagger stole the show, as always, with his trademark walk-skip as he moved around the stage, running around the elongated tongue extension stage all night.

Richards sort of played in slow motion, emphasising each chord, like a modern day blacksmith.

Ronnie Wood, too cool for school with a trademark ciggie perpetually struck out to one side rebel style, slung his axe to the side making faces at the crowd.

Charlie Watts, pursed lips, thwacked away with minimal of flourish, and maximum effect. Being a drummer, I watched Watts closely.

But you couldn’t keep your eyes off Jagger. A consummate showman.

He was off for 2 songs (note to all: Keith Richards, bless his little cotton socks, is one of the worst singers you will ever pay to listen to), but when Jagger came back on, the show soared again.

How 70 year olds can be so nimble, so cool, so professional… it was inspiring stuff.

If I have half their agility at their age, I’ll be more than happy.

Roll on.

On Demand, Everything

{ In flight entertainment of yesteryear }

{ In flight entertainment of yesteryear }

I think I was on my first long haul airplane flight 30 years or so ago when the idea struck me. Back then jumbo jets took 30 hours to fly to Australia from the UK with 5 stop overs. At your seat you could flick the channel of the entertainment system’s handset to hear comedy, the latest pop hits, or classical music. There were maybe 12 channels tops, but to me this was electrifying – imagine being able to listen to what you wanted, when you wanted, and go back around the channel again laughing along to your favourite comedy routine, or listening to your favourite tracks.

On that same trip I bought my first walkman (in Melbourne’s Victoria Markets) and slipped in a cassette (remember those?) of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I listened to this on a continuous loop for weeks. Listening when I wanted, where I wanted, anytime. Reverse, play a favourite track again.

They say the head of Sony persisted with the Walkman’s development even though research suggested people wanted larger, bigger HiFis not a small mobile device you had to listen with headphones. He said, “No, this will be a hit – people are bored.”

Yeah, walkmans reduced the boredom of youth, but they also gave us instant entertainment, when we wanted it, on the move. It was the first mobile device, a forerunner of what was to come in the 2000s with the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Back in the 1980s, the idea hit me that I (and millions more like me) wanted to consume music, or comedy, and favourite TV shows or movies whenever we wanted, at anytime. The idea of listening for the track on the radio or waiting to sit down and watch a show at a time appointed by someone else did not seem as good. VCRs were part of the solution, but were not mobile.

Perhaps it was around this time media splintered, and the era of mass broadcasting started slipping slowly away. Before this time, with maybe 3 TV stations across one country, a joke or event would pass into the national consciousness overnight. Everyone would be talking about it the next day. Everyone else had sat down and watched too.

No more. Apart from the odd realty TV show hit, we don’t seem to sit around and watch shows anymore. [Although even those wither on the vine pretty quickly.] We binge consume on DVD packs, from downloaded services or saved Foxtel IQ. We want it now, whenever, at anytime.

This desire for ‘everything on demand’ was always there, but untouched. Now, it’s the new normal. It’s a challenge not only for media, but for every business out there.

Still Rocking at 50

The Stones 50 years after their Marquee gig

[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false] Next year I turn 50. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe dear reader. But who’s older than me? Rolling Stones, that’s who. For 50 years ago  on this very day, at the Marquee Club in London, the ramshackle collection of pulsating testosterone that was Michael ‘Mick’ Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Dick Taylor and Ian Stewart first took to the stage. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts joined a month or two later. Mick, Keef & Charlie are still rocking and a-rollin to this day, together now with Ronnie Wood of course.

Stones at 50 - logoAs mentioned previously in this blog, the first album I bought was a Stones album, Some Girls, in 1978. I did not get to see the Stones live until 1990, and only because I happened to be on holiday in the UK, and a sold out Wembley Stadium concert series had to be cancelled due to Keef’s bad finger. They put in a gig at Cardiff Arms Park instead when he was better and I pounced on the opportunity. What a performance. Then in their mid 40s, they pranced around the stage like they owned the place. It was a religious experience.

When asked in the mid 60s how much future the Stones had, Mick replied “Probably a year or two“. I doubted he thought they’d still be packing out stadia well into the next Millenia. When I turn 50 next year, I will be sure to be listening to some Stones in the car or on the headphones.

So – here’s to the Stones; by far and above my favourite band – always has been, always will be. (It’s OK, you can now retire to your islands, lads.)

Always look on the bright side of life

A poll last year asked people for their favourite comedy song of all time – way ahead atop the pack was Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from the Life of Brian movie.

Legend has it that the Python crew were holed up in Tripoli shooting the movie and had no ending. Endings had always been their weak point, with the rather silly ending to their first movie The Holy Grail descending into a modern day police chase (I felt almost cheated about that). Eric Idle came up with the song (which the movie company hated) but it has proved to be as popular today as it was when penned in 1979. I saw him perform it with full orchestra in Perth a few years ago and it brought the house down. It added a brilliant ironic twist to the end of the movie, which had been controversially sending up religion, or rather the absurdity of the over the top crowd adulation that can go along with it. I remember a teacher at school disdainfully asking us “you’re not going to see that movie are you?” Like punk rock and long hair, anything that was subversive and annoyed our teachers was going to have an attraction. I remember laughing til I cried, and still do – the comic timing (welease Woderwick!) and memorable lines (I think he said blessed are the cheesemakers… presumably all makers of dairy produce) were comedy perfection. Ex Beatle George Harrison, bless him, pretty much bankrolled the whole movie with a million quid cash injection mortgaging his house in the process. A wise investment for George as it would turn out, and his Handmade Films went onto to make classic likes Withnail and I,  Mona Lisa and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and be a major supporter of the British TV industry. George simply said that after reading the script, he had to see the film made. Python Terry Jones famously described this as the “most expensive cinema ticket in history”.

And finally, just on its own – it’s a bloody good sentiment. Be positive, always look on the bright side of life. Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing 🙂

Never be your Beast of Burden

The other day a newly released DVD caught my eye as I was browsing for TVs. It was the Rolling Stones’ 1978 ‘Some Girls’ tour film, never before released, digitally remastered from the original 16mm movie.  So I had to have it.  (We also later bought a new TV.)

‘Some Girls’ was the first album I bought. I was 14, and heavily influenced in my musical taste by my older brother. I’m proud of that first purchase, I think my 2nd album buy was Grease – the Movie. ‘Beast of Burden’ is a stand out track on an album full of heavy hits.

‘I’ll never be your beast of burden’, implores Jagger, ‘my back is broad, but it’s a-hurting’.

It is still one of my favourites tracks of all time, and 30+ years on rarely a week goes by without me cranking it up in the car, me singing at the top of my voice on the way to work. I have no idea where that old original vinyl LP has gone, but now I have their electrifying 1978 live performance, which my new TV can convert to 3-D. Ain’t technology great.

But having just listened to the whole concert and sung along again to the lyrics, I was struck anew by what Jagger was singing about – never be your beast of burden. Now that I’ve been back as a salaried man for a few years (after over a decade running my own business) I’ve noticed how there are people – colleagues, suppliers, clients – that take advantage of your good nature far too often. Without noticing it, you can end up being their best of burden. Helping others is one thing, but when some are simply not pulling their weight or imposing extra work on you unfairly, or simply stuffing up with you having to take the resultant flak, then you’re being taken advantage of.

So, a 2012 resolution is to push back against those that engage in this, while not letting normal customer service levels slip.

[Beast of Burden >  lyrics and discussion of meaning ]