So I have now been overseas for over a month, and on tour for over two. Strictly speaking. Although I haven’t really been doing many shows in the UK. When I found out I was coming it was kind of too late to book many shows here.
London is abuzz at the moment. Just had Lil Queenie’s Diamond Jubilee which was all fun and games, so it would seem and so I am told.. I ventured out in the 10 degrees n drizzle to watch a few boats float down the Thames for the Flotilla last Sunday. Absolutely miserable weather but old Greek Phil and Liz stood there stoically for four hours watching the boats roll past. Phil had to go to hospital the next day. I hope he’s okay. He missed the big pageant.
The funny thing was it had been quite pleasant in the UK for the week leading up to that. Then, come the big day.. Rain. Didn’t seem to deter many people. People had street parties in the rain. Bunting. The big concert at Buckingham Palace the following night featuring Gurrumul and Rolf Harris and some people who aren’t Australian (fancy that) was apparently quite mint as well. I wasn’t game to venture in to that. I’m not that fond of crowds. The tube at rush hour is bad enough, ducking your head to fit the curve of the door.. Urgh. A claustrophobes nightmare. I’m not supposed to call it ‘The Tube’ apparently; apparently (apparently, apparently) no one has called it that in London since the 60s. It’s just the underground. Mind you the person who told me that ended up falling over in the street later so maybe take it with a grain of salt.
Anyway, the underground or whatever you want to call it is a miracle, to be frank. I don’t know how it runs at all. Did you know there are a bunch of deserted stations? Abandoned stations? There is also a rumour that the royals have their own special line. Actually The Original Ben Salter and myself wrote a song about it, called “It’s A Miracle And No One Cares”. The Original Ben Salter
I just realized I haven’t talked about The Original Ben Salter prior to this. He is a year or so older than me so he’s The Original. I spent a day hanging out with him while I was in Brighton, met his wife and kids, and we wrote a song and played a gig in this lovely seaside cafe in Worthing. It was just amazing. The song is a cracker too, I think. We were talking about the tube for ages as he had a book all about the abandoned stations etc. Then when we went to write a song I pulled out my list of potential titles that I carry around and one of them was “…Miracle” and it seemed to fit. There’s not a lot of time for debate when you have two or three hours to write and record a song with someone. Pick an idea and go. Anyhow the whole thing was all a bit surreal as we have a lot of shared interests and are of a similar age and what not. AN UNIQUE EXPERIENCE. Everywhere we went, we just couldn’t resist telling people. “We’re both named Ben Salter, fancy that!”Me n Ben Salter on the beach at Worthing
Anyway, yes. The Underground. It will be interesting to see how it holds up during the Olympics. Just yesterday a burst water man flooded the central line and people had to be walked out. That would be exciting I think, and terrifying, walking through the tube lines. This prompted an almost immediate reaction from the various free London evening papers ranging from the hysterical (“London will be a laughing stock come the Olympics!!”) to the considered (“It’ll be fine”) Anyway that’s the next big thing, the Olympics. Not being much of a fan of the Olympics (with the possible exception of the gymnastics) (ok and maybe the weight lifting) or crowds, I am glad I’m not going to be here when they’re on. There are signs and posters everywhere basically telling people to not use the tube (“Why not walk it?” goes one cheery example) or to leave work later or to just get the hell out of London, cause there are going to be so many people here.
So.. I’ve been pretty busy, apart from four days I spent in Dalston over the Jubilee weekend dancing around my friend Tim’s lounge room and drinking everything in the booze cupboard. If you can’t beat em, join em I suppose.* Me n Tim at the Offie.
When not dancing I cooked a lot of food including an excellent roast chicken, a tuna pasta dish and a baked omelette. As well as this, Tim and I constructed a Jubilee themed art piece. It will act as the cover image for the Immaculate CVs album. That’s a band I’m starting. At some stage.With apologies to.. Everyone.
But apart from that I have done a few collaborations – the first one was with songwriter Gordon Mills and his partner Lillian Todd Jones, who were just delightful. Gordon and Lillian
Gordon has worked with heaps of people including The Bluetones and Ed Sheeran and Newton Faulkner. He was a real pro but also very relaxed and I felt very at home in his studio in the sticks out in Chertsey, which is conveniently not far from where I have been staying in Surbiton. Chertsey is near Staines. Cue Ali G hilarity. Anyway the song is sort of a massed harmony indie rock thing, a bit like Band of Horses or MMJ or something but with me singing and not as good. But I like it. It’s called “Bones Under The Dunes”. It’s quite epic.
The second was with Australian producer Aaron Cupples.. He produced Gala Mill by The Drones and played in Dan Kelly’s band.. He has been living in London for five years and has a band here, a duo called Civil Civic, who I am gonna go and see on Tuesday night. Azza
We knocked together a song over one afternoon in his flat in Dalston while I made Pumpkin curry. Upon seeing a Velvet Underground poster on the wall I explained to Aaron that I was obsessed with that particular band at the moment so we set about doing something in that vein, although I think the results are quite different. It was a really exhilarating day actually, a true collaboration; we kept throwing ideas at each other, I hastily assembled some lyrics from bits and pieces and before we knew it we had a finished song that is (I think) much greater than the sum of its parts. The song I did with Gordon and Lillian was much the same.. Really fast, exciting.. All the things I enjoy about writing songs. The one I did with Aaron is called “The Stars My Destination”, which is the name of the book I am re-reading at the moment. I sort of wrote it around “I Heard Her Call My Name” but it doesn’t sound much that it anymore. Anyway I really like it. Can you tell? I wish I could play you all these songs but I think we’re gonna sit on them for a while. I have a tendency to just want to release stuff as soon as I record it.
What else. I did a show with Mike Noga at the Windmill in Brixton; also performed at Cargo in Shoreditch as part of the Aussie BBQ thing, alongside Inland Sea, The Bowers etc etc. Both gigs were good. Mike has an awesome new song. He’s gone back to Australia now, sadly. I had fun hanging out with him.. But I think there’s a new Drones album in the works so that’s pretty exciting.Michael at Cargo in his striped coat
I spent a week in Bath visiting my relatives there which coincided with a week of glorious sunshine across most of southern England. Everyone in England goes nuts when it gets over 25 degrees, and then complains that it’s too hot. Bath is really beautiful. Bath Abbey – looks awful, eh?
The whole place is heritage listed and much of it is constructed of local limestone which is this golden colour that absolutely sings in the sunlight.** My visit also coincided with a visit by the Olympic Torch, which is making its way around the British Isles even as we speak. Bath got very excited by that, bus loads of people turned up to cheer on whoever it was carrying it at that stage. Last I heard it was being carried through the streets of Dublin by absolutely frightful Irish boy band duo Jedward. As Dublin is not part of the UK, I am not really sure what that has got to do with the London Olympics but it all seemed in good fun and indicates a certain lightening of the mood in Anglo Irish relations, as far as I can gather. Still, getting Jedward involved seems odd.*** Although they do look like they come from the future, which is to be encouraged I suppose. Give me Zenith any day. I once met a guy in Auckland who was working on a screenplay for a Zenith movie. True story.
In Bath, as the weather was so delightful, I went busking on several occasions in the mall, which was a great success. I mainly just did old rock n roll songs and a few Beatles tunes; I didn’t waste any time doing any of my own stuff. I was there to make money! Not that the two are mutually exclusive^ but you don’t want to be standing around in the street for longer than you need to be and I am not sure that “Last Night I Dreamt I Was Chasing You” would have gone down as well as “Runaround Sue”. I learned a few new busking songs especially including “Cupid” by Sam Cooke and “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochrane. Always more fun when you have new songs to do.
As I said I have a lot of relatives in Bath, and a bunch of cousins that I haven’t seen since they were too young to go to pubs with. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that my cousin Adam is a budding sound engineer/producer. Cousin Adam
I thought it would be fun to try and record something with him. So we did. I recorded this song I’ve been trying to finish for ages.. I went in with a basic structure and no lyrics and came out with a finished song, which I am really pleased with. The hit rate has been good! Anyway it is called “Parrot Day”, which according to Sunny “The Magosopher” Leunig, is the day after Boxing Day – the 27th of December. My other cousin, Jenna, Adam’s little sister, lives with a really great double bass player. So seizing the opportunity I got him to do some overdubs on it also. He also took me along to a Jazz gig he did in Bristol. I hadn’t ever been to Bristol before; it was lovely. I had a beer on a barge. The jazz was excellent.Greg keeping it real
Anyway in Bath I also went to a couple of awesome pubs. One, The Star, had a cat named Kernow (Cornish for “Cornwall”, I am told) who, when not nestled amongst the crisps^^, wandered about the place much to the delight of all assembled. Well, maybe to the disgust of some. Not me. I followed Kernow around taking photos of him about half an hour. Amongst The Crisps
Another pub,The Bell, had music on almost every night. My cousin Jenna had tried in vain to secure me a gig when I was there but while the booker was fond of The Gin Club he evidently wasn’t too taken with my solo stuff and so I turned up to a special Sat night Jubilee open mic session with a point to prove. I did “Wylde Bitch” acapella, as well as “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen and and “Tracks of my Tears” by Smokey Robinson, and a very drunk Sat night crowd went mildly bananas, which was most gratifying.
Lastly – I was very honoured to be invited to perform at a Queensland Day function on Thursday night at the Australian High Commission in the heart of London.. Basically the Australian Embassy in the UK.Embassy – Exterior
It’s an amazing building, the ballroom where I performed particularly so^^^, all constructed of materials brought over from Australia before World War I. There was quite a crowd of personages and notables in attendance including Her Excellency, Governor General of Australia Quentin Bryce, a pair of very dazed looking Aboriginal artists from Arnhem Land, some of our olympic rowers who had survived the sub zero temperatures in the Jubilee Flotilla, a few heavily decorated military types, and assorted other expatriates, socialites and hangers on. It was great. Champagne, hors d’eurves, and even lamingtons, mini pavlovas and Vegemite twirl pastry things. Unfortunately though, in an almost unforgivable oversight, the only beer available was VB. I mean, honestly. Gringott’s
But beer crimes aside, it was really special. The Gov Gen gave a great speech, which I am told she had written herself (she’s really something, our Governor General, or should I say, Her Excellency. She is truly excellent, it’s a well deserved title) and I performed alongside fellow Queenslanders Chris Brady, Kristy Clark and Georgia Potter, to the general indifference of almost everyone assembled. Not that we cared, we we just excited to be there. Ken Smith, the Agent General for Queensland and Trade and Investment Commissioner for Europe (phew) gave me a great introduction which invoked the Go Betweens and Gangajang. I was really stoked. I had this Qld centric speech all prepared in my head where I would thank both Ken and the Governor General graciously, pithily lambast the present administration, invoke Mal Meninga and our seven-peat-astic Origin team and generally endear myself to all assembled; however no sooner had the “…ter” in “Ben Salter” been uttered by Mr. Smith than the four hundred or so guests all began conversing robustly again. No matter. It wasn’t about me^^^^, and it was just a real honour to be a part of. Afterwards we went to this pub called The Bank Of England, up the road near Fleet Street. I think maybe it used to actually be The Bank Of England. Nice Pub
Anyway since then things have been fairly quiet, although last night I went and saw an acoustic Devin Townsend gig in town with my old mate Shakey which was great. He had such a lovely stage presence (Devin, not Shakey.. Shakey’s a miserable sod), was self effacing and funny and looked a bit like Hank Azaria. Beforehand we went next door to the CroBar, where the jukebox is stacks heavy and all the walls are covered in vintage 2000AD comics.
I was pretty happy.
Until next time, please stay in touch.
* I am fairly sure there is an excellent joke out there waiting to be made up with the punch line “If you can’t beat them, join them”.
** Rasta trivia: Exiled Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, lived there from 1936-1940.
*** Apparently after they did their torch bearing stint they did an impromptu performance that including a chorus of the song “Ghostbusters”. *ahem*
^^^ Was used as the set for Gringott’s bank in Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone.
^^^^ THERE I SAID IT