Sydney, launches, music, Iain Banks

“Cold and final, the imagination shuts down its fabled summer house…”

– Sylvia Plath

I’m writing somewhere between Sydney and Perth, and trying to make some sense from the a crazy 36-or so hours. Inflight entertainment by Florence and the Machine’s Lungs is nicely covering the sound emanating from the lungs of the baby in the seat in front of me, even though he/she/it is giving it a good go at screaming the plane down.

I’ve just finished reading Iain Banks final novel, The Quarry, and there’s a tear in my eye. Partly from the book, partly from the thought that this is it, there are no more words to come from Mr Banks. For the last 21 years his work has been a constant presence, a regular entertainment.

Way early yesterday morning I dragged myself out of bed, fed the cats, showered, fed the cats, and dragged myself onto a plane bound for Sydney. Started reading The Quarry, a bit slow starting, but solidly character-driven.

A highlight of the flight was listening to Ruby, by Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter. Awesome album, a bit jazz-inspired, powerful songs, great voices. I will be seeking out a copy when I get a moment. Ruby, you are missed.

Arrived, paid a taxi driver a decent chunk of cash to sit in lunchtime traffic, and checked into the weird hotel. Weird angles, the stairwells created a visual illusion of being ramped, and the lift was not rectangular. The weird hotel that held an extra $100 on my card in case of expenses, though the only thing in the room was $24 worth of water. Weird.

Made a couple of calls to see everything was going smoothly in preparation for the book launch. The excuse for the trip is, afterall, launching Patty Jansen’s wonderful science fiction thriller Ambassador at Galaxy Books (as well as topping up my frequent flyer status points to retain Gold, and to hang out with a bunch of favourite Sydney-siders). Bookshop casually asks if I was sending any paperbacks to the launch, and no, they haven’t arrived. I flagged this with the printer the day before and because of the flight eating my morning, hadn’t had a chance to follow up. Bookshop also lets me know that the address labels the printers use aren’t displaying all the right information. I vaguely recalled a similar situation a couple of years ago, and had naively assumed from the shit that hit the fan then things would be fixed. They weren’t.

Follow up with printer, it takes some work but manage to persuade them that they should follow up with couriers. By this stage the folks I’d planned to meet up with, Cat Sparks and Rivqa Rafael, are in the room and there’s nothing else that can be done. So we head to a nearby pub so I can eat lunch. Printer calls, courier has books at depot but won’t deliver them to the bookshop today. I’m welcome to go and pick them up. After working out that there isn’t really time for me to go out to their depot and get back, start ringing couriers to find someone to do a rush job. I’m on hold on my phone, Cat is on hold on hers. Cat eventually gets through and we’re told someone can do it and have books there by 6pm. Rivqa has found a convenient bottle shop so I can get some booze for the launch.

Get to launch on time, meet and greet and look around for books. Not yet. Get call from courier, books will be there close to 7pm. It’s a small crowd who don’t mind waiting, so we eat chocolate and drink sparkling wine. I walk up and down stairs a lot looking out for courier. Shop closes at 7pm, but there’s still a guy downstairs doing stuff so we can let the courier in when he arrives at 7.20.

We launch, I’m in rock n roll mode probably from the nature of the trip and having walked past Red Eye Records on my way to the shop. And I’m wearing a Beatles shirt. I pay my respects to the Kadigal people of the Eora Nation. I talk about how we’re at something like the first Sex Pistols show in Manchester, where there’s a dozen in the crowd but years later hundreds will say they were there. I mean it, too, I love the book we’re launching and I’m not going to give a half-arse speech even if there’s a small crowd. I talk about the book, the incredible way it draws the reader into a truly wonderful alien world. I hope I’m not too boring and the crowd certainly aren’t looking too bored. Handover to Zena Shapter to launch the book and say many wonderful things about it. She also says Matt Damon a lot. Then Patty talks and reads, and the crowd are lapping it up. We sign and sell, and keep Alison the wonderful book chick up way past her bedtime but she puts up with us. Then we pretty much all head off to dinner, down weird secret alleys to a little Malay place that does a great job of delivering a street food atmosphere. I’m convinced it’s good when I walk in and see they serve whole fish on the bone. We order a wonderful variety of dishes, I go for butter prawns and coconut rice. Butter prawns aren’t butter chicken but prawns battered light and crunchy and seasoned with chilli and other yummy spices.

We all say goodnight and I drag myself back to the hotel, promising to be an early riser and catch up with Patty in the morning. And I am up early, at least on Perth time. My alarm clock was writing cheques that neither my body nor mind wished to cash. My plan of getting up and having a slow relaxing breakfast, maybe a little stroll, before checking out and meeting Patty didn’t happen. But we did meet, and had a yummy bacon and spinach scrambled eggs while plotting world domination, so all was good. I’ve also got a bit of a crick in my neck/shoulderblades, probably a mix of stress and unusual bed/pillows.

Next stop was back to the aforementioned Red Eye Records, where I found a haul of CDs I had been looking a long time for. Kirsty MacColl’s first album finally on CD, not sure why I didn’t see this in London a few weeks ago but getting this at last was worth the trip. Tiddas Inside My Kitchen EP, another on my wish list. Two CDs by Severed Heads, Shattered (featuring “Dead Eyes Open” and a 2 cd collection (also featuring “Dead Eyes Open”). A box set of the first 5 Ramones albums. The complete recordings by The Eastern Dark. A live record by Husker Du. Christine Anu’s first album. Volume 2 of the Australian Underground series (covering 1978-1990, also featuring “Dead Eyes Open” – that’s 3 if you’re keeping score at home). And Bitch Epic by Deborah Conway. A bunch of glaring gaps can be considered plugged.

I could have spent a bucket more at Red Eye, on Died Pretty rarities, Archie Roach, The Hard-Ons, Tall Tales and True, Husker Du (my collection is woefully lacking), Texas, a size 4 The Pixies kid’s t-shirt, Snog (that Throssell chap must put out an album every month), Coldplay (not really, just checking to see if anyone was still reading),

Unfortunately they didn’t have Ruby (see above), but overall I was a kid in a candy store.

It seems that indie music is associated with kindness and wanting to change the world, as my Red Eye shopping bag seemed to attract every charity collector: the Wilderness Society, RSPCA, Wesley Mission.

Then it was the airport train, cheaper than a taxi by a long way but a bit of a stroll to get to the platform – does anyone like Central Station? Then the sanctuary of the Virgin Lounge, with the very helpful Ian arranging me onto an earlier flight, and I even scored an empty seat next to me.

The screaming baby in the seat in front can go from full-on Jimmy Barnes to cutely smiling in the blink of an eye – possibly an evolutionary survival mechanism kicking in.

Listening to The Jezabels’ Prisoner, I like it but not sure I love it. Might need multiple listens, great vocals but the songs are a little formulaic, at least that’s my impression half a dozen tracks in. I’m getting fussy in my old age, while they’ve obviously got their sound going on this album, I expect two sounds on an album these days, at least a bit of a mix of pace or feel or something. It’s why I like Lungs better than Ceremonials, and spent some time discussing this last night over dinner. “Rosebud” seems to be coming from a slightly different place, but that place is Pat Benatar. I think what’s bugging me is the distant rhythm guitar sound that blends with keyboards, it’s like there’s a sound gap between the vocals and the guitars that the bass and drums aren’t filling. Kind of like Simple Minds around Once Upon A Time but without a thumping stadium-grade bass-line/rhythm section to fill the songs out. I think these songs would be great live.

One Reply to “Sydney, launches, music, Iain Banks”

  1. Great to see you Sydney-side Russ! I blame Patty for the Matt Damon references though – she’s the one who wrote a Matt Damon political thriller meets Total Recall action meets Avatar otherworldiness!!

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