So an exciting time has come for the Adventures In Audio/ Faustus camp. We are off to Australia for the National Folk Festival.
As is often the case when you go somewhere new you really don’t have a clue what to expect. I have been to Oz touring several times, but I have not heard of the “National” and although Saul has played there with Waterson Carthy that was 19 years ago so things are gong to be very different now.
First things first though we have to get there. We meet up at Heathrow Airport for the long journey ahead and things already start well. We get to the Qatar Airways desk and there is no queue, Nothing at all! “Check In” takes 5 minutes in total then we are through to security which has………no queue. Winner, winner! Time to buy a lottery ticket. Paul is also playing in his duo Belshazzar’s Feast, with accordion maestro Paul Hutchinson, so we are a bigger party than usual which is a nice change from the norm. It’s rapidly time for food and drink in the departures area and we spend time “catching up” before the gruelling journey that lies ahead. First stop Doha in Qatar. This is the easy leg, just 6.5 hours, with a 2 hour changeover, before the monster 13 hours and 50 minutes flight to Sydney. It doesn’t stop there either. We have another 3 hour wait at Sydney, before we can get back on the same plane, for a 30 minute flight to Canberra where our hotel and the festival await.
Flight 1 is a breeze and it’s all going quite well on flight 2 to begin with. I manage to fall asleep fairly early on. The seats are thankfully a lot more comfortable now than they were when I last did this journey about 8 to 10 years ago. I wake up feeling quite good with the thought that I must have broken the back of the journey in my slumber, so I look for the remaining flight time via the entertainment system on the back of the chair in front of me………………..8 hours to go. Holy F£@K not even halfway.
“2 Glasses of Red wine and a Baileys please”
Praise be to Allah for “in flight entertainment”.
As it goes this was still the most comfortable flight I’ve ever had to Australia. Last time I did it I ended up deaf in my right ear for 3 days and under doctors orders I couldn’t work the first 3 shows of the tour.
We are met at Canberra Airport by the festival organiser Pam and her assistant Karlie. They seem very to happy to have us there and talk us through the plan for the few days ahead, on our drive to the hotel.
The hotel is a throw back to the 70’s, sort of like a posher version of the Crossroads Hotel I vaguely remember from T.V. when I was a kid. It’s spacious, with wooden decor that has obviously been modernised over the years. It is also filled with plants. Not unlike a greenhouse at Kew Gardens, but the roof is exactly the same as a festival tent. It’s a weird mix to be sure, but very nice all the same. We get to our rooms and sort ourselves out briefly. The guys are forced straight into work, with a radio interview at a station 100 meters away from the hotel. On the flight I had planned to go with them, but as I’m not needed and am desperate to start the coma that is coming my way, I collapse into my bed for a snooze.
When I wake I venture down to the bar and am quickly reminded of a downside to visiting Australia. The price of everything.
It’s expensive here, and after a small bit of maths to calculate “scooners” into something anglicised, we work out its roughly £9 a pint in the hotel. The food price is equally inflated, so a night out here creates a serious dent in the bank balance. I’ve always wondered why the Aussies give up the summertime paradise to come and live in the UK and the remember that it’s cheap for them. For us, alas, it’s the other way round and I would like to report that the drinking and socialising we often do when we are away was cut down, a little, from normal.
As I say I would like to report that, but it would be a lie!
Work is constant for the guys from “Day One”, but I’m not needed for the first couple of gigs, as the festival hasn’t opened yet. The muso’s though are giving “Masterclasses”, of their various talents, over the next couple of days. The main discussion between the guys before this happens is:
“What is a masterclass?”
Between them they come up with vague strategies for the teaching sessions, without being completely sure what they are supposed to do. The great thing about the situation is that the students are walking into a lesson with world class players, so anything they get taught is likely to blow their minds. They will get all sorts of new ideas about how to play their instruments and how to look at music from different perspectives, both artistically and theoretically. I know this because I’m constantly learning from these guys. The musical education I get from watching, working with, and talking to them has improved my own playing immeasurably in the last few years, and I’m still learning from them every day.
Thursday brings about our first gig of the visit. It’s a “warm up” in the artistes’ area of the festival, but only for workers of the festival which doesn’t open to the public until tomorrow. It’s a quick rush of a setup with Belshazzar’s doing 2 songs before Faustus do 2 more then all of them together to play a tunes set to finish. It’s a small tent for about 100 people seated with a P.A. thats looks a little bit cobbled together and with an “Old School” analogue mixing desk to boot. The P.A. guys are all very relaxed, friendly as well as competent, so its easy to throw things together quickly and just “go for it”. The sound is a bit scrappy as it’s just a hit and hope start for the show and the equipment is a bit limited in what it can do. It’s not bad though, and the speakers sound really good, so it’s perfectly acceptable. The room is relatively empty at the start but quickly fills up as the festival troops are curious to see what the English “masters” have to offer. They don’t disappoint. Belshazzar’s drop straight into their comedy routines and expertly executed tunes, and the crowd are simultaneously in fits of laughter and awe at the playing skill of the two Pauls. Faustus then carry it on, blasting out a couple of songs to rapturous applause, before they play the “tunes set” as an encore.
It all goes down a storm, and collectively everyone both foreign and domestic are happy with the fact that it’s the right people in the right place at the right time. Tomorrow is going to be a great day!
I have not seen any of the stages we are playing and have no technical information about any of them either. Usually lots of information gets passed between sound engineers and festival technicians, well in advance of the festival, to make sure everything is in order. Folk concerts in general are a little less organised than that, because they are usually not “equipment intensive” shows. Faustus are no exception really. The show is only 12 input channels of microphones and DI’s (direct injection boxes) and 3 monitor mixes. If you compare that to something like Bellowhead or the Wayward Band, who are in the region of 48 input channels and 12 monitor mixes, then you can see Faustus should not be difficult to put together. I rely on this fact to justify my laziness in not checking before we travel that everything is in order. I only know that we have 3 gigs over the next 3 days. We give ourselves plenty of time to get into the festival and case the joint to work out our plan of attack for the weekend. It’s a long walk, not Glastonbury long, but the site has loads going on and its 27/28 degrees, so too hot to rush around. Clearly everyone at the festival is just as relaxed as we choose to be. There’s no stress or aggression at all, just a bunch of chilled out folkies here to enjoy music. The vibe is completely different to your average UK festival. No red tape, no police, no security and nobody causing a problem. The artistes’ area has an unlocked gate so anyone can come and go as they please, yet nobody is there that isn’t supposed to be. It’s almost as if the population here are perfectly capable of being decent human beings and can handle their booze in a way we couldn’t dream of back in the UK, (but at £7 a pint they probably weren’t going to drink too much). The only controversy we have been aware of since we arrived in Australia is the ball tampering scandal that is currently plaguing the national cricket team and is all over the T.V. News in the bar at the hotel.
We make our way over to the stage we are playing later today. The Marquee stage is your average festival tent with, I guess, around 1200 seats. There is an old Electrovoice point source P.A. system that seems to be in good working order, and all the standard modern digital toys you would expect to find at a gig of this size. My F.O.H. desk for the show is a Midas Pro 2, which was my console of choice for a few years, so I’m going to feel right at home with it. Thankfully there is an Avid Venue console on stage, piloted by a competent sound engineer from the P.A. company. This means he will do the sound for the bands monitors onstage which frees me up to concentrate on one job for the show, and that’s getting it sounding great for the audience. We have a 20 minute changeover which gives us enough time to check all the lines are working and everything has been plugged into the right hole. It also allows me to adjust the sounds of each instrument a bit to give me a head start on getting the show sounding good. Straight away I love the mixing desk again. I’ve not used this particular one for around 4/5 years. All mixing desks sound different, and they all have their own little quirks and idiosyncrasies, some of which you like, some of which you don’t. None of them are perfect, but today this one is great. The E.Q. is incredible and does exactly what you want it to do, and the built in compressors are great, giving you lots of control over the dynamics of the instruments you are mixing. The P.A. system however is quite harsh, and it takes a bit of time, adjusting the graphic equaliser that controls the overall sound, to smooth out the rough edges and make the show more pleasant to listen to. By the time we are 3 songs in things are shaping up quite well. The mix has come together nicely and the crowd, that was a little thin on the ground earlier, has started filling out the tent. If there were any nerves about how Faustus would be received by the Ozzy public it didn’t show. They played one track after another to a crowd that have never heard them before and who respond enthusiastically at every opportunity. The gig was a huge success and the guys were quickly off stage, at the end, to meet some of the new fans, sell some merchandise and sign CDs. An away win for the British contingent at the festival. Time to relax and take in a bit of the festival atmosphere.
To be continued.................