After my childhood dreams of being a Samurai like Shintaro or a Ninja like Tombie the Mist faded, my next dream was to become a singer-songwriter – just someone like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Paul Simon or James Taylor would have been great.
My chances were slim however as I was unfairly handicapped by a lack of confidence and an even greater lack of talent.
Over the years though I’ve enjoyed playing songs with various guitar buddies starting with my older brother Rob, then my cousin and best friend Steve, then my friend Greg (who took over from Steve in the best friend department at Uni) and his younger brother Bernie, and finally my son Joe (who is a much better guitar player and singer than I will ever be).
To the best of my recollection (there might be some moments during the 70s that escape me) I’ve only performed more publicly on three occasions during my entire life.
Number one was when I was a young Teacher at my very first school – Mount St Michael’s College at Ashgrove. It was a girls’ school and a few times I played and sang for the year 12s. I usually played alongside one of the senior students. She was much better than me. My most requested song as I recall was Hurricane by Bob Dylan. The senior girl did a great version of Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young. I always thought she was something special. This is part of what I wrote about her in my diary at the time.
Amid the plastic faces,
cardboard lives and paper dreams
There are still jewels,
I was right. Her name was Mary-Rose MacColl. You might know of her. She went on to be a journalist and writer. Her first novel, No Safe Place, was the 1995 runner-up in the Australian/Vogel Literary Award and was published 1996. Her other books are Angels in the Architecture, Killing Superman, No Safe Place and recently Birth Wars.
On the final day of school for that Year 12 group Mary-Rose recorded me doing a version of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue. It was played at the farewell ceremony. Can’t vouch for the quality of the singing and guitar playing but you couldn’t say it wasn’t appropriate. The girls’ school days were all over and the colour of their uniform was blue.
My second ever public performance occurred many years later in 2008. It was in Bali at the Bali Jazz Cafe. I had somehow managed to get invited to the wonderful Ubud Literary Festival and had also somehow agreed to be part of an authors’ cabaret. I just didn’t realise it would be held at such a public venue!
On the night the place was packed. There were people associated with the Festival, as well as lots of others who were just there to eat and drink and had no idea (and cared even less) about performing authors. Then I found out that some of the authors on before me were real musicians. Some had actually recorded songs professionally!
Luckily I had a couple of things going for me. Firstly, there was time to drink copiously before I was on and secondly, I had writing legend and all round lovely person Melina Marchetta and some of her friends there for moral support.
The song I sang that night was Dylan’s The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Yes, in hindsight perhaps I could have chosen something cheerier and more upbeat than a song about a poor black woman being killed by a wealthy, cane wielding, white tobacco farmer!
Somehow I survived the ordeal, but as the above photo taken by Melina shows, I don’t think I opened my eyes until it was over! When I finished I got a generous round of sympathetic and drunken applause (at least from those who were listening). But what made the night for me was when the leader of the Bali Blues Band, who could have been mistaken for Bob Marley’s much taller twin, came up and shook my hand and said, ‘Weeeell don Maaaykuul. Thaart waz cool mon.’ I’ll take that over an Aria award any day!
My third and final public performance was in Munich last year at the White Raven’s Children’s Literature Festival. It was one of the highlights of my life. I always wanted to be in a rock band and at the festival I got my wish, playing and singing with the German Band Gone Fishin’. They were the band who had recorded the nine songs I’d written for the German audio version of my novel Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs. I travelled all the way to Bavaria, the land of my great, great grandparents and found these six brothers.
So I guess I finally did achieve my dream of being a singer-songwriter even if only very briefly and maybe not quite to the same degree as His Bobness. And I also got to play in a rock band. I’m on a roll. Maybe anything really is possible.
I can almost hear Shintaro and Tombei calling my name!
ps To see author John Green’s video of Munich and the White Raven’s Festival which includes some (thankfully brief) footage of me playing with Gone Fishin’ go here.