A dirty yellow moon hangs low, skulking the perimeter of the evening sky. Soon it will die, leaving the nights dark in its wake. In time a new sliver rises, diffident and uncertain. The cycle begins again.
Our dirty yellow moon skirts the horizon like a golf ball lipping the cup, refusing to sink. The prospect of a new moon does not bear consideration. The years of self-funded recordings, humiliating prostrations and foot-slogging self-promotion are never so remote as to be forgotten. A man reaches an age at which conversing with answering machines, or trying to catch a promoter between 11.50 and 11.55 on Thursday morning to hand him a demo becomes undignified. He mellows; the scent on the trail of success goes cold, to be replaced by a comfortable funk of pipe smoke, log fires and accommodating armchairs. The moon must stay above the horizon.
Still, a chap must eat. While The Fauves water the camels at dusty caravanserais on the road to Nowhere, the bank account atrophies. Larders and coolrooms, hitherto overflowing with the finest sturgeon roe, panda haunch and tiger penis, now stand denuded of their rich produce. Standard and Poors have progressively downgraded our celebrity rating from AA to A- during this prolonged hiatus. The world has moved on, questioning the amounts of discretionary spending needed to subsidise our existence. In the New Economy we have been forced, like starving tigers in a shrinking forest, to roam beyond the old feeding grounds.
The gate into a well-stocked chicken coop creaked ajar when Doctor and I received the offer to perform as an acoustic duo. The pay prospects were but a fraction of the immense sums we earn in the Fauves but desperate times afford the straightened few alternatives. The hoary old adage that the measure of a song lays in its acoustic performance would in time come to shine an inquiring torch into the cobwebbed recess of our back catalogue.
Our engagement as unplugged musicians brought to mind Doctor's brutal repression of buskers in his time as president of the Musician's Union. Then the gulags and concentration camps of Nauru and Papua New Guinea overflowed with poorly dressed roving minstrels, forced to sleep in the very guitar cases that once collected the smattering of silver coins tossed by sympathetic pedestrians. As his personal secretary and minister in charge of propaganda, I stood every bit as condemned for the slide into barbarity that marked the year of Doctor's tyrannical reign. The first acoustic show would be our Nuremberg. Like war criminals stripped of our epaulettes, medals and crisply creased uniforms we would face the harsh scrutiny of Justice before an unwavering tribunal.
The show, however, passed without incident. It was a modest beginning but one not without promise. Fear remains the best teacher, a fact that the modern education system seems to have egregiously overlooked. Driven by our deepest paranoias, we rehearsed the material harder than we had for years. Where behind the scenes we stumbled for weeks over the beginner-level intro to the Pixies' Here Comes Your Man, we rendered it faultlessly on the night, indulging in only the merest of glances at the fretboard. A modest crowd gave modest thanks and an indulgent air of contentment settled over the evening as we languidly packed our equipment. Outside a funeral cortège buried Ambition in a shallow grave in the car park
A virtually anonymous appearance playing first on at the Espy marked our second performance. All contractual obligations were fulfilled as we provided a muted aural background for a series of social interactions playing out on the tables and couches stretching away from the stage. The evening was marked by Ted's appearance at the mixing desk. It felt like old times. The stage was a comfy pair of warm slippers and Ted the dog bringing us the newspaper. After the show we sat back to unwind while he extorted his fee in cash, lest we make straight for the airport to seek Brazilian exile. The incident left a sour taste in my mouth. I had not reckoned on giving Ted fellatio as part of his salary package.
By the time of our third booking complacency had set in. This acoustic lurk was proving easy and a guest spot on Tommy Emmanuel's next tour was surely imminent. Moreover, Balnarring's Heritage Tavern was a mere Sunday afternoon drive from home. Harvesting cash couldn't have been any easier if we were the sacked chief executive officers of a major corporation. By all qualitative measures rehearsal had dropped off significantly. Fear was just another primal instinct lying dormant in the depths of the brain's limbic system. Avarice, its marginally younger sibling, ran unchecked through our frontal lobes.
A blackboard outside advertised our performance - Doctor and Coxy (ex Fauves). I was immediately crestfallen. Either Ted and Doug had sacked us while we were driving to the show or the proprietors were under the misapprehension that The Fauves were no longer together. "Perhaps it's in Latin", I wondered aloud. "As in from the Fauves". Of course the alert reader will have immediately spotted a problem. The Latin preposition ex must be followed by the ablative. A second declension plural male noun could not possibly end in -es. Correct translation of a sign that declared our current membership of the band would have read simply: Coxus et Doctorus - Fauvis, remembering also that the straight shooting Romans had no grammatical use for the definite article. I enquired inside as to the meaning of the sign but found the occupants of the public bar singularly unhelpful. Upon moving through into the Classics Lounge, a barman confirmed my worst fears: the licensees had indeed believed us extinct.
The auguries were unfavourable. A small, unassembled vocal PA was provided but proved intimidating to our powerfully creative but hardly practical minds. Fortunately both creativity and practicality squat within the derelict walls of Ted's ancient cranium and a quick call to our obliging compatriot soon had the sound system operational.
For an audience we had to rely on assorted members of Doctor's extended family. Practically no one in attendance was unknown to us, bar a small cabal of disgruntled bikers who lurked menacingly in the further reaches of the bar. This presented a unique set of problems. Although grateful for the face-saving bulk their numbers presented, social convention forced us to engage with the audience. At this proximity the pity in their eyes and the awkward carriage of their bearing was unmistakeable. Lit by the stark afternoon light and humiliated by our circumstances, we searched in vain for a sheltering cloak of anonymity.
The excruciating awkwardness had a dilatory effect on our perception of time and each track seemed to take 20 minutes to complete. Doctor in particular seemed rattled. He found himself waylaid along the well-worn path from B minor to D via G during Bob Dylan's If You See Her Say Hello - pausing for an unscheduled sojourn at A and subsequently marooning himself there. Hopelessly thrown, we lost all cohesion. Though the song contains but 5 chords, we rarely managed to finger them in unison, resulting in a screeching cacophony of dissonant noise. Only with the kind of persistence in the face of utter futility that drives men over trench walls in the face of enemy fire were we able to escort the song to its welcome conclusion.
From here we trudged on, defeated like a beaten army in retreat. At some point during the second set Doctor's youngest son Zephyr took one of the small falls that can shudder the foundations of a child's afternoon. Son's inconsolable wails accompanied Dad's quavering tenor in an unholy duet. Mere anarchy was loosed upon the world; the centre could not hold - and we didn't even have any of Yeats' material on the play list.
Desultory applause greeted the cessation of proceedings. We mingled sheepishly with our sympathetic guests who offered half-hearted tokens of congratulation and solace. The ecstatic full houses of the mid-nineties seemed a long way away.
Like first time players at a casino we handed back some of our earnings, gambling on the menu of the in-house bistro. I called for a 4th card and watched downcast as the croupier swept my chips into his jealous possession. Sage leaves charred black with deep-frying littered a strangely crisped gnocchi that wallowed on a lake of the dirty oil it had been cooked in. An incongruous bunch of vine-ripened tomatoes dressed the plate as though having fallen there from a bush between kitchen and table. Unremarkable wine of local origin washed the greasy slick into my ungrateful stomach.
Notwithstanding this setback, our dance card continued to fill. We dared to dream of the possibilities. Could the same people who'd handed The Fauves a tractor to strip a thin layer of top soil from the ever more saline fields of live rock be once again pulling the keys from their pockets? A quick check of the statute books revealed that no major laws had recently been passed to prevent The Fauves or members thereof from once more charging venues over-inflated guarantees. Doctor and I high-fived and set out towards Geelong.
The Bells Beach hotel lies 20 minutes or so beyond Motor City at the heart of Australian surfing iconography. Though I consider myself to have conquered much of the Australian mainland, the map of Bells has hitherto remained unshaded by the pink hue of my Empire. My experience of the famous beach is limited to the closing scenes of Point Break. Patrick Swayze, reckless with adrenaline and the fatalistic abandon of the condemned, plunges headlong into the famous surf - here engorged by the swelling effects of a 1-in-50 year storm - defying a chorus of overplayed Australian accents counselling caution. Of course this scene was doubtless shot somewhere along the Californian coast. I nevertheless scanned the immediate surrounds for some kind of stone monument to Swayze's inimitable derring-do but to my disappointment found nothing.
We arrived in weather that, while not quite a 1-in-50 year storm, was at least the worst one that week. A stiff onshore breeze played havoc with carefully coiffed hair and neatly pressed outfits. A bar full of locals passed gently derisive comments as we moved our equipment through into the performance area. With several hours to kill we turned our thoughts towards dinner. The contract promised a free meal but a quick scan of the limited menu failed reveal so much as a side dish that could satisfy our vegetarian requirements. The response was predictable: "Do you eat fish?"
When finally I have outlived my usefulness in this life I would like my obituary to read simply: " Did not eat fish". Hopefully this pre-emptive strike will be enough to forestall any future dickheads I may encounter in the afterlife who remain uncertain as to the animal nature of our piscine cousins. Central to vegetarianism is an avowal of animal flesh. I'm not sure at which point our shrink-wrapped culture decreed the fish unworthy of animal status but I call here for a review of this deeply flawed conclusion. Fish are animals. Furthermore, and without wishing to labour the point, vegetarians don't eat animals - ergo I don't eat fish. The gratuitous descent into Vulgar Latin is a sure sign that I have a foot in the stirrups ready to swing a leg over my high horse. Many times I have surveyed humanity from the lofty perch of its broad back and decreed most of what I see to be irredeemably stupid. Once more astride my trusty steed I declared the visible occupants of the public bar to be morons and left in search of a meal.
Outside the wind lashed against a blackboard detailing upcoming events. The promoter apparently knew me as 'Cocksy' and had blithely rendered the cruel misspelling in thick painted letters that steadfastly resisted the deleterious effects of the weather. Howling with anguish at this injustice, I nevertheless made time to document the slight, capturing a photo of Doctor and our consorts Monique and Kelly posing before the sign (see photo page). Having summoned the strength to rise above this lexicographical assault on my nomenclature, the problems presented by a groaning stomach were but hay to my scythe. Hastening from the cold, we decamped immediately for a café over the road.
Several hours later the evening began to wind down. Unfortunately we were still on stage at the time. Having patently failed to fulfil at least 25 requests for Throw Your Arms Around Me we stumbled on through our set list of obscure covers, long since forgotten Fauves tunes and stillborn originals that lay like unclaimed John Does on a mortuary slab. The audience had by now dropped all pretence of civility, talking loudly over the modest wattage of the PA and stoutly refusing to acknowledge the passing of each song with even the most ironic of applause. Occasionally the floor space in front of us would be occupied briefly by a drunken couple dancing satirically in open mockery of our failure to present them with a good time. Inevitably even the act of belittling us became tiresome and they would fall back into the great disinterested hubbub that congregated around the bar and other dark corners of the room.
Would that our bandmates could have materialised at our flanks. The dumb power of volume should never be underestimated and many is the ambivalent audience that has been vexed to nightmare by a drum set and 3 amplifiers. The evening seemed to seal our fate. Without dreadlocks, some manufactured concern and a guitar face up on our laps it had been folly to attempt an entry into the highly competitive acoustic market. As my Dad always told me: if something's worth doing you should also consider the fact that it's quite possibly also not worth doing.