It’s always amusing to head south and see ’80s fashion on display – high waisted jeans, mesh singlets, Ken Done jumpers and pleather.
Because in the Territory, the ‘80s never really ended. Visit Casuarina Shopping Centre or the Humpty Doo Hotel; folk might be texting on an IPhone, but they’re still sporting the same haircut they had in 1983 and why the hell wouldn’t they?
Same goes for our music. While the young hipster things Down South might be listening to bands like Iguana Bloody Mary or The Macrame Wizards, we’re still enjoying a good meat and three veg diet of ‘80s pub rock with the occasional ‘90s breakthrough song. The Macrame Wizards are never going to get a sell out crowd at the Darwin Entertainment Centre. That’s a job for our ‘80s legends– Ross Wilson, Colin Hay, Paul Kelly or Barnesy. Or Farnsy for that matter, should he decide to do another farewell tour, and more power to him.
I never truly appreciated Aussie pub rock until I came to the NT. I was a lover of indie rock and ‘90s grunge; I smelled like teen spirit.
But I’ll tell you something for free. You’re never going to get the Adelaide River pub on the dance floor with The Pixies or Sleater-Kinney.
Want to make 95% of the people at Daly Waters happy? Put on Khe Sanh. Two guys who were about to fight now have their arms around each other. Someone at the bar is reminiscing about the time Cold Chisel played the Diamond Beach Casino. The next is recalling what Ian Moss got up to at high school in Alice Springs. The guy next to him was actually in a band with Mossy back in the day. The dance floor is full. All because of Khe Sanh.
Being something of a sponge, I quickly got on board with the ‘70s and then the ‘80s of pub rock. The indie CDs moved to the back of the shelf, making way for Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl, Icehouse, Men at Work, even 1927, which I’ve always secretly liked. I danced to The Boys Light Up at rodeos and started putting Flame Trees on road trip compilations. I began requesting Choir Girl at the Jabiru Social Club.
And then it was 2009. I finally went to see Jimmy Barnes live in concert at The Mangrove Hotel in Broome. My friend Woo came with me, even though it was a school night.
There were an array of black, red and green cans doing the rounds; the audience was liquored up and Barnesy was rocking the stage. Every so often the band’s PA system would trip the electricity for the whole hotel and the sound guys would scramble around hysterically. Barnesy, the true professional, would pick up on exactly the note he left off on, mid lyric if need be.
I left the concert giddy on pre-mix vodka and the power of ‘80s pub rock, and walked home to Old Broome with my ears still ringing.
By the time I moved back to the Territory, the unthinkable–or very thinkable–occurred. Cold Chisel announced a reunion tour, around Australia. They would play Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth and they would play a show at the Gardens Amphitheatre in Darwin. Everyone knew their ‘80s haircuts had just been vindicated. The band was back together.
So one sticky build up October evening, I rode my bike to the Gardens and snuck into the Casino to get changed. The high rollers at the roulette table might have been oblivious to the Chisel factor, but Darwin was electric that night. If you’d seen the band in the ‘80s, you were there. If you were a johnny-come-lately like me, you were there. If you had two ears and a soul, you were at the concert, or at least up the hill behind the Buff Club peering over the black plastic.
I went on my own but found some friends in the middle of the crowd, and then a guy I vaguely recognised came over. He gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“Hey!” he said. “It’s good to see you!”
You too! I said.
“I’m so sorry”, he said. “I don’t remember your name”.
That’s OK, I said. I don’t remember your name either.
We’d met years ago playing Frisbee with friends; he’d been in Timor and I’d been in Broome and Alice Springs.
He was with a guy I knew from the Weather Bureau, and they hung out with my mates for the rest of the night.
We danced to Cheap Wine and Standing on the Outside. To songs I knew, and songs I didn’t. Cigarette lighters came out. It felt like everyone in the audience was hugging or crying or kissing. A few of them were probably throwing beer bottles. Or remembering other days, when they listened to this music and were younger and things were better and worse all at the same time.
When it ended, two encores later, this man who didn’t remember my name got my number. I left the Gardens buzzing with attraction and music and anticipation and the stickiness of a build up evening in the Gardens.
That was the beginning of Mr Tea and me, a relationship built on the pub rock foundations of Cold Chisel.