This is a confusing road sign for a couple of Brits abroad.
Settlers the world over have named their new abodes after the places they left behind. The Brits who arrived here many years ago did better than that, they brought the road signs with them.
We left Mongarlowe in showers which turned to heavy rain, which must have helped with the bush fires as we didn’t have to make a detour this time.
It was about a four-hour drive with a decent stop and the weather picked up after an hour or so. The journey went well up to Sydney, aided by a bag of gorgeous cherries that we picked up from a roadside stall.
We were on our way to Humph Hall, which is in Allambie Heights, northern Sydney. It was Friday lunchtime and the traffic understandably got very busy going through Sydney, not helped by the road works. We belted out odd lines of old folk songs when we spotted some of the road signs (Botany Bay, Circular Quay) and got mildly excited when caught a glimpse of a tiny section of the Sydney Opera House.
Humph Hall is an ex-church that has been converted into a home and performance space by Wayne and Gail Richmond. We arrived there about 2.30pm, banged on the door, rang the bell and had a wander around. No sign of life. Dave phoned and it went to straight to answerphone. At that point a chap staggered out of the side door of an old camper van that was parked up by the side of the building. “Hi I’m Harry. I live here. I was just having a sleep”. We introduced ourselves to Harry and he told us that Wayne and Gail were out, then let us in, made us a cup of tea and went back to his van. We didn’t see him again.
Gial then returned home along with her father Donald and a little later Wayne appeared. Donald was a sweet old gent. He was a soft-spoken, nimble ninety three year old with a passion for breakfast cereals. Donald had travelled the world and was an academic who’d studied and written about minority groups in China. His specialism had been Muslims in China. Donald helped himself to a bowl of fruit & fibre while Wayne showed us around.
Wayne is passionate about acoustic performance; he detests the use of microphones and amplifiers. Not that you need them to play Humph Hall – it’s a great room to sing in. The hall itself takes up one side of the building and it leads into their living area. It seats about fifty people, has good lighting and is really well set up for live video shoots with three (I think) fixed cameras and two manned filming the performances.
Wayne and Gial are good souls. They work very hard to put a wide range of events at Humph Hall more for love than money and have had to jump through numerous hoops at great expense to keep on the right side of the local authorities.
Folks began turning up about half an hour before the start and wander into the living area where Gail served up teas, coffees and home made scones that she’d made about an hour earlier, Donald was getting stuck into a bowl of coco pops.
The gig was fine and we had a couple of weird coincidences. We sing a song about a ship called the Metagama that’s based on Kip’s great uncle emigrating to Canada in 1923 aboard the Metagama. A lady in the audience told us during the break that her grandfather had done the same thing a couple of years later. Another lady then told us about her time living in Cranwell many years ago. Cranwell is five miles down the road from our home town of Sleaford.
After the gig we sat chatting with Gial and Donald (he was back onto fruit & fibre). Donald showed us the autobiography that he’d written several years ago. It would have been great to have read it; he’d clearly lead a fascinating life. Wayne was busy editing the video he’d shot during our gig.
We were up reasonably early on Saturday morning. Gial had gone to the gym and Wayne was again busy working on the previous night’s video (which you can view here, thanks to a wonderful job by Wayne). We had a quick shower and coffee, said our goodbyes to Wayne and Donald (cornflakes) and got back on the road.
Back along the M31 to Canberra to play the Canberra Irish Club. We stopped on en route to look at Lake George. We saw an eagle circling high against a clear blue sky as we approached the lake but were not quick enough to get a picture. Lake George is a massive expanse of flat land with a little water in it, but this is the middle of summer.
Cassidy Richens arranged the gig for us at Canberra Irish Centre and we were staying the night with her and husband Pete. There was much joy on arrival at their house in Narrabundah – Pete had banjos. He lent Dave a beautiful old five string Gibson to play at the gig that night. This was to be the first and possibly last outdoor gig we’ve ever played in January. We were to be playing on the outside decking area at the Irish Club in Canberra. Cassidy (who is a great singer by the way) had sold fifty tickets. She thought it might rise to sixty on the night which would be a snug fit but comfortable. After much sweat and rearranging of furniture most of the near ninety that turned up had got a seat. We are constantly amazed when people turn up to see an act they’ve never heard of play a gig in their town for the first time. A new local band the Lowlanders kicked off the night playing an original set of songs built around guitar, drums and cello. The line up gave them an unusual sound which worked well – by no means the finished article but it will be interesting to see how they develop if they stick at it.
Our two sets went exceptionally well and we were absolutely delighted. We sold a heap of CDs and folks were very complimentary. Nice as this was, it wasn’t the highlight of the evening. During the break we met an Aussie bloke whose name was Bruce. Dave couldn’t contain his excitement and told the audience all about it in the second set. Some laughed, some didn’t and most looked totally bemused. God only knows what would have happened had his wife been called Sheila.
Thanks to some brilliant planning on our part, the next morning (Sunday) we were heading back up the M31 towards Sydney. We set off with full bellies thanks to Pete’s fry up and a couple of mugs of fresh-ground, wake the f**k up coffee, courtesy of Cassidy. The sky was clear blue and we were feeling good.
We feel like we’re almost locals now on the M31, we recognise names of some of the towns, we recognise some of the views and we know the cafe that has shit wifi but nice toilets.
Our next stop is Live N’ Lounging at Leumeah near Campbelltown, about forty minutes south of Sydney. Live N’ Lounging is a chilled-out house concert at the back of Kim and Bernie’s house. Bernie and Kim are lovers of live music and have been putting on monthly gigs at their house for the past five years. This afternoon’s event had three acts – Bill Hunt, Niq Reefman and us. Bill opened up; he is a local troubadour with many years’ experience, singing thoughtful songs from his own pen, accompanied by just enough guitar. He’s a competent player with some nice touches but never tries to be flash and divert the listener from the lyrics.
Just before Niq came on, a local fourteen year old (Jeremy) did a couple of songs (Crowded House and Ed Shearing). The boy done good. Niq was up next – he’s a young man who lives out of his camper van and makes his way through life playing solo in schools and house concerts etc, plus also in bands at festivals and theatres as well as session work. Niq is very accomplished musician. This afternoon he played keyboard, accordion and trumpet, very often two at the same time. He played a quirky set of tunes and songs which made for a varied afternoon.
There was about thirty people there, most folks bought drinks in their “Eskies” (cool bags) and Kim along with her helpers provided snacks during the breaks. We started our set just as the sun was sinking which was the signal for the “screeching bastard birds” (known locally as Cockatoos) to do their best in the surrounding trees. We accepted the challenge, cranked up the PA and took them on. After fifteen minutes they realised that defeat was inevitable and went to sleep. Bernie joined us on stage toward the end of our set to play some great blues on the harmonica. We found out later on that he’s no slouch on the guitar either. We’d done a lot of miles over the past four days and after a couple of beers at the end of the night with Berni, Kim and Niq and much scratching of mosquito bites, we slunk off to bed.
Why was it only Dave who pulled a face when Niq said let’s do a funny one