My left eye cracks open, allowing the stream of bright sunlight rip the iris a new one while my right eye slept in a bit more. The sun streamed down through the hatch out of a blue, cloudless sky. A cool breeze whipping about on another 28-30 degree sun-filled day.
Dean, who owns a beast of a catamaran, asked me to help him paint the keel while the tide was out. I suited up and painted alongside his 15-year-old son, Gemma. His pregnant partner, Mel, was looking after two-year-old Jecanje, the cutest blue-eyed, blonde-haired kid you ever did meet.
“How much cash you want for the job?” Dean asked.
“I’m happy to barter, mate,” I said.
“Alright, how ’bout we take you out to the Palmerston Night Markets for a feed?”
“Done,” I grinned and headed off to clean myself up.
I didn’t even know there was a market out in Palmerston, the original name of the city of Darwin before 1911.
Out on the grass, a troupe of swing dancers performed and entertained the crowd, getting people to get up and swing. The food choice wasn’t as varied as Mindil Beach Night Markets but some of the same stalls were there. I was tossing up between Asian food and Asian food.
In the end, I settled on some Asian food.
On the drive back Mel was singing along to Florence and the Machine that was playing on the radio.
“Geez, you got a voice on ya Mel,” I said. “You know every Friday is open mic night at Dinah.” I was recalling my last performance at Dinah the previous Friday where, although my guitar playing skills did well, my singing might have caused a spontaneous migration of all living things in the surrounding mangroves. I knew that with Mel on the mic we could blow away the audience.
“Alright,” she said without the need of persuasion. “Let’s work on a few songs.”
I was invited to dinner at the Sariks. “Roast beef and vegetables,” Izzie had written in her text. I didn’t need any arm-twisting. I biked the 12 K’s to their home and caught up with Damo, Izzie, Cheyenne, Xavier, Paulo, Paul, Suzette and her youngin’, 5-month-old Mali.
We drank and stuffed ourselves to the extreme and polished off the evening by watching the 6th installment of The Fast and the Furious. These car movies were nice the first time round but milking out ludicrous storylines to bank on an international market was over doing it like with any sequel, prequel, and any other quels Hollywood’s lack of imagination comes up with.
And there definitely weren’t enough souped up cars tearing up the crowded streets of whatever city they were in.
12 K’s later, I was back at Dinah Beach where I crashed into bed.
I sat with Mel and we went over some songs before we decided on Bill Withers’, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and The Foo Fighters, ‘Best of You’. We rehearsed when we could over the following days. I figured she’d sing, I’d play and we’d call it a night. But then Wednesday happened.
I was sitting at the bar when Amy came up with the refreshing idea of beers and a swim down at the waterfront. Brodie was on her break from sanding Paul’s boat so the three of us biked over for a splash.
Returning from the water, Brodie went back to sanding Paul’s boat, ‘Clair de Lune’ (French for ‘Moonlight’) which was tied to the wall opposite ‘Jaz’.
“We should jam a bit,” suggested Amy. We were sitting on the wharf above Paul’s boat. Amy had a pair of bongo drums from Steve and a voice that just kept you in the moment. I brought out my guitar and as Paul and Brodie worked, we provided a soundtrack of covers and Amy’s original (which was mind-blowing).
As the sun set and the day’s work was coming to an end, Paul invited us to sit in his boat. Richard, our neighbour to the left of ‘Jaz’ who lived on the catamaran ‘Catalyst’, also joined us. But it was when Paul brought out ‘The One’ that had me return my rickety travelling six-string to ‘Jaz’ so I could completely rock out on this beautifully wood-crafted, steel-string electric Ibanez. Every string emitting a sound that made knees buckle (luckily, I was seated). It was perfection.
Paul added to the party by plugging in his other acoustic pick-up (a Sanchez) which had one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard an acoustic ring out.
And like Bob Marley, we were jammin’. And to think, that jammin’ was a thing of the past.
Being it a Wednesday night, the club was hosting it’s weekly member’s night. They have a badge draw where they try to give away a thousand dollars to a member. A member’s number is called up and if that member is present then they have 60 seconds to claim their winnings. If the winning member is absent then the money rolls over to the next week.
At 19:30 we made our way to the bar for the draw, each hoping our number might be called up and make one of us a thousand dollars richer.
“7561,” called out the wheel spinner.
A chorus of, “Shit,”‘ went around the packed bar and it wasn’t due to the State of Origin rugby match playing live on the TV. For the third week running, the winning member was absent and the money rolled over to be drawn next week.
We bumped into Jack at the bar and stayed for a few drinks, listening to Reggae Dave, an Aboriginal musician who ripped on the guitar with world-renowned bass player Jayco (who was playing his last gig) accompanying. But the call of our own instruments on the Clair de Lune was too enticing and we heeded to it.
Amy, Brodie, Paul, Jack, Richard and myself sat around the table in the cockpit. Brodie had bought 4 packets of beads in plastic tubes that were turned into shakers. She poured one out and rubbed the beads against the wood of the table, producing a sound that just added to the ensemble. Paul added volume by producing a microphone and I provided a capo and harmonica.
We had just finished a song when a resounding applause was heard from the wharf just above us.
Looking up I saw Chucko, Jayco and a few others that had pulled up some chairs and were just chillin’, listening to the music.
“Venus is bright tonight,” noted Richard as the evening’s first star shone like a spotlight on our concert stage.
But it was when Paul started playing with the effects on the amp while I was strumming on The One that really kicked things off.
Especially when someone in the next bay set off fireworks to light up our night.
Suddenly I was transformed from a backpacker who was strumming a few sing-along songs to having the soul of Jimi Hendrix channel through me as the effects turned this boat-jam into a stadium show.
I was jaw-dropped by the sounds we were all producing but this guitar, The One, I didn’t want to let her go even though it was nice to take a break and swap around to the other instruments. I drummed on the bongos and then blew the harmonica while Amy and Brodie utilised the guitars.
And then I ended up with the microphone in my hand.
Now, I dunno know about you, but when I get a microphone in my hand my voice turns from the charming, charismatic, deep-based soprano that I’m known for and into a seducing, late night radio show host. As Paul started a beat, I found myself beatboxing into the mic.
We became an unstoppable musical force playing four hours straight. And like the Foo Fighters, we weren’t gonna stop unless someone pulled the plug.
We ripped through what felt like hundreds of songs. Paul, who’s only been playing guitar for a year and a half (and playing it fucking well) smashed out some of his originals. We improvised on the fly, Amy and Brodie singing out in harmony while beating out a beat on the bongos. Jack took hold of the harmonica and Richard… well, Richard just rambled from one story to the next without pause.
We drank and smoked and sang and laughed and I reckon the boat could have sailed on the musical energy alone. Kinda like the boat on the chocolate river in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The crowd that had gathered on the wharf had long gone. At just past 23:55. Amy and Brodie retired. I continued to jam with Paul and Jack, Richard telling another story.
At 00:19 I called it a night and went to bed, leaving the three of them to try and play over Richards ramblings up until about 03:30.
I helped out on Paul’s boat in exchange for a few beers. Paul invited me to stay for dinner with Brodie and Richard.
“Got some steaks,” he said.
“What can I bring?” I asked.
“One of those ready-made salads,” Paul said.
I looked at him. “Bought salad? Nah mate, I’ll make us a salad,” and I biked off to buy some salad produce to make my famous diced garden variety.
The dinner guests included our small, tight-knit wharf community – Brodie, Amy, Richard, myself and Paul. John joined us later on for the jam session that inevitably happened after dinner. Only this time, we were going unplugged so as not to disturb the wildlife.
I was surprised that I still knew some songs that we hadn’t played last night and we rocked on well into the night. Richard retired early at midnight and I followed not long after. Amy, Brodie, John and Paul stayed on until about 5 AM.
It was game day. The Sariks were coming along with Suzette and Roger. Names were being written on the Jam board as I stared at it. I was nerve-racked. I couldn’t even bring myself to write my name on it let alone get up and play.
Shit, I thought. The fuck is wrong with me?
I mean, it’s terrifying (for the audience) every time I get up and play. I always feel like a newborn giraffe, trying to workout how the legs move, getting them to cooperate in sequence. I figured the anxiety I was feeling was due to me deciding last minute that I’d play a few covers before bringing Mel up.
I got up to get a drink at the bar and on the way forced myself to detour by the Jam board and put my name up.
I had two meals as I was starving and after about five beers (which didn’t help ease me nerves) I was finally called up. I was glad Paul’s Sanchez was up there and I magnetised myself to it. I broke out with a Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’ followed by The Velvet Underground’s, ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ before I finished up with U2’s ‘Desire’.
“Thank you, thank you,” I thanked the applauding crowd (I’m not sure whether it was because I was finally done or because I may just have sounded a bit of all right). “Now I’d like to bring up someone who can actually sing and give some proper ear-listening pleasure. Mel?”
Mel came up with her lyric book. She stood in front of the mic while I placed a capo on the fifth fret for our opener, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. She ripped out a soulful rendition that blew the audience away, just as I had predicted. I smashed out Bill Withers song on the guitar and together we rocked the crowd.
The applause almost knocked me off the bar stool as I lifted my head at the end of the song, astounded by the love. We glided into ‘Best of You’ as Cheyenne and Xavier danced in front of us, twirling around without a care in the world as most kids do.
The crowd was still applauding as we left the stage. I realised while I was up there I was lost in the moment. I didn’t even notice the audience while I was playing.
After everyone had left, I hung out with Brodie and John. We rode over to his place to grab a couple of fishing rods to try and fish for Barramundi off Paul’s boat.
I had told Paul that I’ve never really properly fished.
“What?” he stared at me. “Never?”
“I once went with my brother and while he was emptying the ocean I just sat there waiting. And waiting. And nothing.”
“I’m heading out Monday with Brodie. We’re gonna sail to this secret spot off a reef off an island off the coast where I guarantee you’ll catch a fish,” he said. “We’ll be spending the night.”
“Sweet! I’m in!” My first proper sailing trip. I can already see an intimate jam sesh that’ll have the fish eating out of our hands.
Life is much better with music.