Virgin Aus Flight DJ 845 Melbourne-Sydney

April 4th, 2012

GBS has now played on three continents. Forgive for patting myself and the lads on the back here, but that’s friggin cool. The gig at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne was a triumph in many ways. The band played and sang well (with the exception of me completely forgetting the words to the last verse of Scolding Wife) and the crowd seemed to have a great night out. It was a grand way to start what I hope a future filled with many concerts in Australia.

And to think it was very near to being a complete disaster and may not have even happened at all. The trouble lay in the fact that while we were in Melbourne ready to Rock, our gear was being held under the lock and key Australian Immigration. I’ll try to explain.

You need to know that Great Big Sea is not your typical band. I don’t mean this in some boastful, exclusive kind of way. I mean that we don’t play the kinds of instruments that most bands play and we don’t have a conventional equipment list or set up. Nine out of Ten Rock and Roll bands use a standard drum kit, a couple of amplifiers, electric guitars and basses, and maybe a keyboard or two. These things are readily available from almost every music store and rental agency in the world. GBS really has none of that stuff.

We have a drum kit and I play an electric guitar on a song or two, but that’s where the similarity ends. Our instruments are primarily quiet acoustic folk instruments that we have carefully and seriously modified so we can amplify them the volumes and tones required to play big festivals and hockey rinks. We have special microphones to attach to tiny tin whistles and mandolins to make them sound the way they do in big concerts. We use some very uncommon instruments, like tenor guitars and bodhrans. We use three different kinds of bouzouki’s in our show, for frig sakes.

So when our own gear does not show up. It is really difficult or impossible to get what we need from a local supplier. You know what I’m saying? Most Urban Music shops have a shite load of guitars and amps but you try running around Melbourne at 6 pm trying to find a low Celtic whistle in the keys of F and C. Or try getting three button accordions modified so Bob can play them upside down and backwards (which he does, you know). Or try explaining to a smirky know-it-all dude working at the Guitar store that a five-string and a four-string banjo are actually quite different.

Well that’s what I was doing at 5:45 pm last night. Our gear, you see had been flown from Canada and made it to Melbourne in plenty of time for the show. But recently there had been an incident where some African band had inadvertently brought some bugs in their unfinished wooden drums and Australian Customs is on high alert. So as our wooden acoustic instruments were going through their routine Customs check yesterday morning, they were deemed risky and were put in Quarantine. Yes Quarantine. Our stuff was in lock down and Customs would not release it till some high end fella showed up to make sure we had not smuggled in the Great Canadian beetle or something. When the Customs office closed for the day at 5pm, our stuff was still under wraps. We were hooped.

The promoter wondered if we would cancel the show. I said, Sir, we played a gig 10 hours after our tour bus flipped over. There is no way we came all this way to not play. If we have to do 90 minutes of Shanties, that’s what we’ll do. The promoters and local folks were awesome. We begged borrowed and rented two acoustic gtrs, the only button accordion in Melbourne, I think, and I bought the last pair of whistles and harmonicas at the local music store. Sean was going to tip a bongo on its side and use it for a bodhran. We line checked some of the stuff just before doors and we were ready to dive in for better or for worse.

You should have heard some of the chat in the dressing room, joking about our predicament. There was not a glum face in there, seriously. I was so delighted to see everyone rallying for the cause. Now, we still had a few verbal jabs at the Quarantine guys. Some one, ok me, ranted.

‘Does anyone else find it really ironic that they are worried that we might be trying to smuggle dangerous bugs into Australia? Isn’t this where dangerous things live? We just left the Canadian winter, where not a single bug has been alive since November. There’s 30 cms of snow on my back step. What could possibly be in my guitar case that would survive a mili-second in the Australian Bush or Outback? Smuggling dangerous insects into Australia is like smuggling pot into Amsterdam…..’ and on I went.

I was joking, of course, trying to keep the mood light. I’m sure the good folks at Customs had the best of intentions and know exactly what precautions to take. And in the end I should thank them as, just in the nik of time as the opening act was about to finish, an exhausted promoter rep burst though the back door saying, they came back in to clear the stuff. The truck will be here in ten minutes!

Our Brit and Andy and Johnny got our stuff on stage in record time and GBS hit the stage at 9:36 for a slated 9:30 show. Yes B’y.

The rest is history. Our first gig in Australia was awesome for many reasons, but in the end mostly because it was in Australia. Finally.

GBS. Three Continents. Friggin’ Cool. Thank You.