Book Of Ships @ The Builder’s Arms, Melbourne, 27.08.2010

I was sure that I’d drafted this post a long time ago, absolutely positive. I looked everywhere to try and find the words, on every drive on every computer I own and on every flash drive I could find. Nothing. Obviously trying to recall the fine details of an evening in Melbourne 21 months ago would be futile, although I enjoyed the show and really enjoyed the album that I bought at the merch table afterwards. I was really pleased when it made the long list of that year’s AMP competition. It’s a hard album to easily describe though. There are obvious classic prog and post rock reference points but at other times there are shades of more contemporary bands like Bloc Party. It is, as many a terrible street press reviewer would say, ‘widescreen’. It’s not what I’d call an ‘Australian’ sounding album, although this is based on not being able to compare it to any contemporary bands I can think of. It’s a lot more epic-sounding than your average triple j fodder.

I know Calfie (or d.a. calf as he calls himself), Book of Ships’ main man, from my early days in Australia. Having come out to Sydney on a one year working holiday visa in May 2004, the first time I saw his previous band, The Hauntingly Beautiful Mousemoon was at The Excelsior on 31 October 2004 and they blew me away. I’d been going out and seeing bands since I’d gotten to Australia, but ignoring anything from overseas due to the cost. I couldn’t believe that going to see a UK act that I might have paid 10-15 to see in London costed 40-50 in Sydney. I was on a very limited budget, doing temp jobs trying to save up money to do some travelling around the country and so I don’t think I spent more than $10 on a gig the whole of that year at gigs at places The Hopetoun, Excelsior, Vic on The Park, The Gaelic Club, @Newtown (the RSL on Enmore Road) the Sandringham Hotel and even at the Town Hotel before they stopped doing them. Most of those venues don’t exist anymore and having not been to Sydney for three years now, I’m not sure what small venues are in the city these days or if there’s much of a local scene. Sydney looks like it’s in an even worse position than Brisbane when it comes to losing venues.

A couple months after that Excelsior show the band announced a few shows on the east coast and said if anyone wanted to go along for the ride, everyone was welcome. Thinking about it, I can’t recall how this was ‘announced’. It was pre-Facebook and before MySpace was big. I think it was via email to people on their mailing list and a friend who received it told us and forwarded the details. So we went. I quit my short-term temping job in Parramatta a week early and we drove up the east coast and caught up with the band at The Channon, before going to a party somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the Byron Bay hinterland. After that we stayed close to Federal with a guy called Flash who did lighting at shows and who lived in a half-built house that was missing a few external walls and where the electricity was run off a solar panel via a car battery. Given the lack of walls, we all pitched tents on the first floor to protect ourselves from the local wildlife, with an unobstructed view over forest.

The first show was at The Great Northern, so a day was spent in Byron and Short Shorts Day was celebrated in the park and with a march down to the beach before the gig. Mojo Ju Ju, a friend of the band, supported and played a solo set, pre- Snake Oil Merchant days. Next was the terrible named JoyFest, a three day festival in the Gold Coast Hinterland than looked like it had been set up expecting a much larger crowd than the may-be 1,500 people that were there. A couple lazy days were spent camping there, with mammoth sessions of Scrabble to keep everyone entertained.

There was also a show in Brisbane at The Troubadour, which was my first trip to The Valley (my prior experience of Brisbane had been changing buses at Roma Street when doing the 48 hour bus from Cairns down to Sydney on my first trip out to Australia). My second experience of Brisbane wasn’t much better than the first; Fortitude Valley mall in the daytime, terrible food from one the place on the corner near 299, helping load the band’s gear up The Troubadour’s stairs, and walking around the Valley trying to find out where the shops were, while a few of the band went to 4ZZZ to do an interview. I had the same experience that first time, with a bus change at Roma Street, having some time to spare but coming out of the bus station and seeing no sign of anything interesting.

The evening was better, with dinner at Asian Fusion, which has always been my go to place in China Town ever since and is better than anywhere else anyone has taken me, watching Shaolin Soccer on the TV in the corner in the room in amazement as we ate diner. It was another good show, and I was impressed that they could pull an audience that could half-fill The Troubadour. The downside to coming up from the Gold Coast for the day to play a show was that then we had to drive back to the Gold Coast and before we did that, everything had to be packed up and brought down those stairs. The drive back in the early hours of the morning was really hard work given the levels of tiredness. It also included the first time in almost 15 years of driving that I was pulled over to be breathalysed.

The Joyfest set was on the Sunday. It may have involved everyone that wasn’t in the band but along for the ride, dressing up as pirates. The next morning it was time for the long drive back to Sydney, catching up with the band a week or so late when they came down for the Sydney leg of the tour at The Hopetoun and crashed at our place in Enmore (28 Edgeware Road). I don’t remember much of the show but I do remember their interest and the entertainment found in my housemate’s Bear Porn videos that she’d rescued from a skip on the back roads of Enmore one time.

The band had a day or two head start on my for the final leg of the tour, a few shows down in Melbourne. It was also the start of my 3 month road trip around Australia. I surprised myself with the good time I made for my first drive between Sydney and Melbourne. I’d only stopped briefly for food and drink in the NSW/VIC border town of Holbrook, and had a quick look at its submarine, and was on the northern outskirts of Melbourne by late afternoon. The trouble was that I was just in time for Melbourne rush hour, and not knowing the quickest way or any short cuts, in the days before sat nav, it took me over two hours to get across Melbourne to Prahan for the show Mousemoon were playing at (I think) The Prince of Wales. I don’t think it’s there any more, I heard it became something like a pizza restaurant. The show was recorded and eventually (not long before they sadly split) a few songs were released on CD. It’s good to have a memento of a show I was at, even better that it includes Slow Down Kenny, a fairly stupid Country & Western-style song, fairly out of character with the band’s usual song-styles, that wasn’t a regular in their set and which I always loved seeing played.

We were all crashing in sleeping bags on the floor at some squat on the north side of town (can’t remember which suburb but just off Lygon Road, so likely that it was north Brunswick somewhere). However, our tenancy didn’t last very long, only a night or two, before the people in the squat told us we couldn’t stay and had to move. I’m not sure if a reason was ever given for our eviction; it’s a bit ironic when squatters evict you from a squat. There was some frantic phoning around and we moved for the remainder of the time in Melbourne to crash with friends of the band in Collingwood. It was a whole lot nicer than the squat, as were the people we stayed with. I remember one night, one of the girls had been working waitressing at a function and at the end of the night had snuck out a whole load of cheeses that had been left at the end of the night and were destined for the dumpster. The haul included almost three-quarters of a massive wheel of just about the best stilton I’ve ever tasted. Band on tour meets free food and soon there was nothing left of the original cheese pile. The second Melbourne show was at The Empress in Fitzroy and then the final show at The Espy on the Sunday at Kilda Festival. I think there’s some photos from those Melbourne shows that have never seen the light of day and which I really should dig out and show somewhere. With the tour done, the Monday was the start of my 2 1/2 month drive over to the northwest of WA and back to Sydney again.

I was also a bit aggrieved that The Hauntingly Beautiful Mousemoon never made it as big as I thought they should have. At the time Wolfmother were starting to take over the world but I also thought that it should have been Mousemoon. A cross between Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails with Jeff Buckley vocals was a winning combination and a band that were always really superb live. Even now thinking back and seeing a lot of Australian bands each year, I still don’t think there are many bands in Australia that could hold a candle to their live shows. I don’t think they ever captured their live show in their recordings though, something that would have made all the difference. It was a sad day when the band announced their split. I had always hoped that the next album would take them to the next stage. Every one went off and did their own things afterwards; putting together and playing in other bands, travelling, and having kids by all accounts. They did reform as a one-off for Duke’s (the band’s drummer) 30th birthday for a show in Newcastle that in retrospect I really wish I’d gone to. Should they ever do it again I would definitely go although with everyone scattered around the country now, and everyone doing their own thing anyway, the chances of that are probably quite remote. Still, it was a wonderful time getting to hang out with them for a few weeks. I haven’t been on a tour for ages, years in fact, so should get that rectified sometime soon: any offers considered (the last tour that was planned was a few dates with The Drones when they were touring the UK but the tour got cancelled when Dan Luscombe caught pneumonia…)

In the last couple of days, Book Of Ships have announced a return to playing again (with a new lineup) and with mention of new songs, so it’ll be good to see how they’re coming along. Another three week trip to Melbourne beckons in September so hopefully I’ll get another chance to see them play again.

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