Firstly, let’s get something out of the way.
This Australian summer, I’ve declined all approaches to cover The Ashes. I’ve also not done the typical freelancer thing and pitched to all and sundry that they should hire me for a series or two.
Why? I need a break from the pressure that deadlines bring and I’m a little burnt out.
Those that loosely follow my life will know that I’ve just come back from Pakistan where I’ve put down over 160 hours of film that need to be sorted into some kind of documentary. I’m also writing a book. When combined with my normal day job, a family that doesn’t see enough of me and a fast approaching Xmas break, it was a simple decision to make.
This Ashes series, I’m just your regular fan. And should the bug bite, I’ll pen something or record a video or just tweet shit like I normally do. But given there is no one waiting for my Ashes content, I can do it when I choose.
I have no desire to be a full time cricket journalist. The extra income is great, but it doesn’t change my life in any way. The documentary and book projects are enough to keep me interested and connected for the immediate future.
It’s refreshing and I’m glad I’m doing it.
Anyhow, while England were two down for not many at the Gabba in their second innings and about to be rolled for bugger all, I chose to miss the whole thing and instead go on a date with my wife. Let’s call it Dennis Does Date Night, except it was a daytime event and I’ve already penned a story by that name few years ago.
The missus and I were off to see “One Electric Day”. An outdoor concert with multiple bands at a place called Werribee Mansion. A special joint about 45 minutes west of Melbourne.
Some classic Australian bands were on show. I’m 42 years of age. I grew up with most of them. Therefore, there were to be no drunk teenagers picking fights. Instead, a slightly mature local crowd, sitting on the expansive grassy lawns sipping on cans of scotch and Coke or Carlton Draught. Singlet tops. Thongs. Camp chairs. Cheese and biscuits. The Australian way.
We arrived to hear an old stagehand named Diesel, who was half way through his set. A strong performer with a well known set list. This bloke is a mainstay of these type of mixed program concerts. Irrespective of what or where it is, Diesel is there. He’s like Nathan Lyon in the Australian Test team, but less popular.
But because he is one of those guys where every song sounds the same like a Verve album, he is also quickly forgotten. Diesel is never the highlight of the card.
The Baby Animals were next up. One of my favourite bands when I was a teenager. Classic Aussie rock. Suze Demarchi is the lead singer. A woman who now is 53 years old. But I’ve still got a crush on her. She’s just bloody hot and sexy and started spelling her first name in a quirky bogan fashion way before the bogans started doing it. Funky names are so uncool these days. It’s the millennials fault. They’ve gone overboard with rubbish like Rebekah and Meshal.
Suze looks ravishing with her jet black hair, hot pink lipstick and cheek definition of a Hollywood starlet.
The best bands play songs that everyone knows. Suze leads her crew in 45 minutes of a solid crowd chorus. These guys know how to rock it out. If given the opportunity, I’d drunken pash Demarchi. I’d do it sober. I’d do it with my wife next to me. I only have one woman on my cheat list. It’s Suze. Unfortunately, she doesn’t even know I exist.
Daryl Braithwaite is the opposite of the Baby Animals. An Aussie icon who is now probably 70. Until recently, no one really rated him. He was just there, but it was difficult to name one of his songs. But then when you hear them, you kinda go “oh, is that a Braithwaite song? I like that one.”
Yet, one of the great local mysteries is how his flagship song, “Horses“, is now the unofficial national anthem.
It used to be Cold Chisel’s “Khe Sanh“. One of Australia’s greatest ever rock bands singing a tune about the Vietnam War. Everyone in the county knows the lyrics or has a version of them that they think to be true. Most of us have no idea what the words mean.
But the current holder of the anthem heavyweight title is a song by this Braithwaite character.
In Australia, we have a public holiday for a horse race. The Melbourne Cup. Ninety thousand Melburnians will attend the race. Recently, Braithwaite started singing this song before the race to the gathered masses. I have a theory that this is why it is now so popular.
But it is not a song about horse racing. I’m not even sure what it is about.
For example, the chorus is:
That’s the way it’s gonna be, little darlin’
We’ll be riding on the horses, yeah
Way up in the sky, little darlin’
And if you fall I’ll pick you up, pick you up
Who takes little darlings on horse rides up in the sky? Is he singing about unicorn rides at the fair? And why would you put a child on this magical horse and then expect her to fall off? It’s ridiculously bizarre. But it is now our favourite song.
So when Braithwaite sung it today, we sang it with him. All 13,000 of us. For about ten minutes. The chorus was on repeat. But Braithwaite is a one trick pony, and he really only held the crowd’s attention when he was singing about picking up kids that fell off a horse that was flying above the clouds.
Now, when I was growing up, John Farnham was the people’s champion. A pop singer who became famous on the back of a song about a cleaning lady. True.
He is now 68 years old. But ask any of my countrymen, and they would all have at one time bought a copy of his two monumental albums “Whispering Jack” and “Age of Reason”. Both chock full of antiphona. Those non Australians reading this should go onto iTunes or Amazon or Google and buy them both now. You won’t regret it. He picked the best written songs to record, and record them well he did.
These two masterpieces were released when I had just become a teenager. By 1987, when I was 12 years old, they were competing for space in my Walkman with U2’s Joshua Tree.
Being a male fan of Farnham when I was young was seen as a geeky thing. His songs were, in the main, about love and soppy things. Meanwhile, ACDC was singing about rooting chicks and taking drugs. I should have been more into them. But I wasn’t.
Farnham stormed onto the stage in a black suit and black waistcoat over a crisp white business shirt. Not the uniform of a rockstar. More the layers of an old man attempting to hide his beer gut from the world.
His opening number was Queen’s “We Will Rock You“. I have no idea why he chose this, but it didn’t matter. The crowd absolutely adored every bit of it.
Now the thing about Farnham is that he can sing. Not in a rock way. Not in a pop way. But in a Farnham way. Loud. Powerful. Pitch perfect. It grabs you and wrings your neck and demands that you listen to every tonal gesture.
He also engages the audience. He’ll joke with us. He’ll call us “bastards“. He’s remind us of how this country was in the 1980’s with his style and his vernacular and his larrikinism. This is why this country loves him. The man is truly a national living treasure. A story teller. One of us.
Today I chose Farnham over The Ashes and I didn’t regret it one bit. This is not blasphemy. I’m simply a worshipper of multiple Gods during the summer. Cricket and outdoor concerts demand the most attention.
Singing “You’re the Voice” in unison with the rest of your fellow concert goers is one of those moments that will stay with you for life. Farnham starts us off. Then he steps back and let’s us take over. Some bagpipers join him on the stage, play their cameo and stride off. One of them can’t believe the reception that they got. Her face was one of pure joy and shock. Here is a guy leading the congregation in a song that is over 30 years old. However, they don’t need leading. They just need an excuse.
It is cathartic. It is spiritual. It is as Aussie as sledging the English cricket team.
But it also highlights what we clamber to as a nation.
Show ponies are out. So too are pretenders. Those that don’t make the effort to connect with us are also on the nose, no matter how talented.
Think Maxwell and Mitch Marsh and Michael Clarke.
But with Farnham, we see the best of Australia.
An honest man. A joker. Talented, but self deprecating. He’s one of us. Someone we can relate to. Not someone that we can’t.
And this is why I love this country. It has a way of cutting through the bullshit and using your personal character as the social leveller. Not how much money you have. Not what car you drive, where you live or what you have achieved. No, the only test is “are you are good bloke“?
Farnham passes this test by a long way. You only have to see how the crowd respond to him to understand. They don’t respond to Braithwaite in the same way. Nor Suze. Not that they disrespected them, but they are not national heroes.
However, Farnham is.
At 7.15pm, the concert was over. I checked my phone. England are about to lose a Test that they should have won. Like a bad salesperson, they were unable to close the deal.
But today I didn’t really care. Nothing that happened at the Gabba today was going to top John Farnham.
It’s probably not even humanely possible.
In Australia, you can be nearly 70 years of age, sing about the number one being the loneliest number and dress in a daggy way. But if most of us would love to have a beer with you, then a hero you can be.
I love this country.