The Land Down Re-Under

If you ever get the chance, Andrew Falkous (Mclusky) "thoroughly recommends" touring Australia.

Ollie — “Have you ever been to Australia?”

Ben — “No. Why would I want to go there? Full of people in khaki, squinting. Just the world’s largest collection of poisonous things.”

(The Thick of It)

In October 2003, back in the longest of long-agos, a man, who claimed to be my manager¹ called me up and asked me if I wanted to play some shows in Australia. Sure, I said, not having anything else to do that winter except hide myself in our water damaged top-floor flat, shivering, and didn’t think much about the trip until it was almost upon me, at which point I bought a hat and some sun-cream and assumed that would see me right.

The journey was an all-timer. To save cash we flew via Los Angeles, which in case you were wondering is the entirely wrong way to travel to Australia from the UK. At Heathrow, we were bumped to the next flight and paid £125 in compensation, which proved to be the only money I made on the trip. (While waiting, I bought a Mars Volta CD, listened to it twice, and resolved never to take hard drugs.) By the time we landed in Brisbane via Sydney, we were 42 hours into our journey and had lost our minds. Our bass player, Jon, smoked 11 cigarettes outside the airport and complained about the heat (he lives in Australia now). We were playing later that day at a venue called The Zoo so, since I hadn’t any sleep, I resolved to drink myself into a coma — all the better to wake up from suitably refreshed.

It didn’t work. 

I remember collapsing from the stage that night, the heat dropping me two belt sizes (belt-size is the only truly accurate weight measurement tool) as (drummer) Jack and Jon fell beside me, sweat our new identity, humidity our cruel God. The Zoo, back then, didn’t have air conditioning — they had windows, which they sometimes opened a little to tease the English — but they did, like many Australian venues, have this cute little curtain they pulled across the stage while we set up, proper school-play vibes. Only instead of an audience of politely chattering parents, we were about to be faced with a room of feral people-lizards, impervious to heat, wide-eyed and expectant in their fucking cargo shorts².

Google — yes, they let singers have access to it too — tells me that on December 12, 2003³ we played only 14 songs and the temperature that day was a mere 30.2 C, neither of which seems at all realistic. We played forever, in my memory, each note an effort beyond human possibility, and the room was hotter than a thousand suns. Nowadays, we’ll happily piss our way through 20 or 21 songs, and The Zoo, I’m delighted to report, at least has the option of air conditioning (but no curtain, which is both a shame and less of an obvious fire hazard). 

The rest of that 2003 tour was a delight, a boon, all of the positive words, life-affirming, joyful but tough. The Meredith Music Festival — which takes place in a natural amphitheater in the bush an hour or so outside Melbourne — is the nicest festival I’ve had the honor of playing, outside of All Tomorrow’s Parties (RIP). And even though the Sydney and Adelaide shows were somewhat sparsely attended, Melbourne proper provided us with two of the best nights the original run of the band ever ran into/over. The first, in the Tote, a legendary Melbourne venue which has just been saved by a crowdfunding campaign, was so hot that a guy in the audience — the kind of guy who trains his body to the point of tracking such things — claimed to have lost 8 kgs during the evening. (Myself, I went down three belt-notches, which I think we’ve already agreed is a more scientific measure.) The show was carnage, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. We left nothing on that stage and the audience left nothing on the dancefloor. It was special. It was everything. 

The second Melbourne show was at The Corner Hotel in Richmond — a venue I am proud to say that I have now played 12 times in total — in fact, as I sit typing this in my freezing home (some things never change) I’m wearing a official Corner scarf, although why Australians need scarves is beyond me (unless that scarf rates Factor 50 or above). It was another great night, although there was a slight conflagration involving one band member — who shall remain nameless, but heavily implied — drinking wine out of a lemonade can and falling around the stage like a silly man who couldn’t remember the new songs (we were about to record our third album in Chicago, in fact flying there on Christmas Eve, direct from Melbourne)⁴. It was special. It was… see above. It was beyond the normal cool night, the great show. It was a real, tangible, magical thing, a happening between willing humans, and, I’m happy to report, it still lives on in my mind as an absolute of the human experience, albeit one viewed through the prism of a wine-can.

It’s 2024 now (update your calendars, dickheads!), and one week ago we got back from our tenth tour of Australia (across mclusky and future of the left, two teeny-tiny hobby bands that not everyone reading this piece will have heard of but are special to me and some other people nonetheless). I’m delighted to say that the love — and it is love, as dramatic and as complicated a word as that is — is still there. The magic, when it deigns to visit us, happens in that mysterious, sometimes non-existent intersection between band and audience, and with some exceptions — I remember a future of the left show in Melbourne in 2012 which had a very odd, drunken atmosphere that I really didn’t dig — is always there when we take the Australian stage. 

They don’t move a lot in Perth, it must be said, but they appreciate their fucking arses off. Sydney is livelier (and the green rooms are worse). Adelaide, I don’t have so much of a handle on, having only been there three times, but no place with such incredible Botanical Gardens can be that bad. Brisbane — well, the Zoo will always be in my heart, encoded into my sweat glands, a living monument to both trauma and joy. Melbourne, a spiritual home? I don’t go in for such fripperies, usually, but it’s as close as it gets, along with Bristol and Seattle⁵. I even ended up marrying a lady from Melbourne (you may know her, Julia, from future of the left) and she and our daughter were at both Melbourne shows playing (in Julia’s case at least, jumping on for “Chases” while Damien got to show off his muscles) and singing along  — our daughter’s favorite is “Alan Is a Cowboy Killer” — while making me the proudest, poorest, most satisfied man on Earth.

So, if a man/woman/person who claims to be your manager calls you up and, in lieu of anything better to do, suggests you maybe play some shows in Australia, why not say yes, live a little/lot? It’s worked out OK for me, and hey, I’m a sample size of one. I get to board a plane with the best version of this band — and Damien and Jack are the best version of mclusky, believe me⁶ — and travel to a place where they have rock music and beer (a little too much beer) and class walks and sun and friends and love and the kind of memories which will last a lifetime (or until Alzheimers comes for me, same difference). 

I thoroughly recommend it. Oh, yeah, and buy a fucking hat. You’ll need it. 

¹ Craig was our manager and is still a good friend despite having to put up with me and my bullshit for well over 20 years.

² Said with love and respect, but cargo shorts should be limited to the Australian subcontinent (and touring stage/sound techs) by international law.

³ We still have friends with us that we met that day, including Tim from Tym Guitars, who tech’d for us in that oven and played amazing host during several in-stores in his sadly missed shop next to the Zoo.

⁴ It was quite the trip. BTW, be careful if ever traveling direct from Australia to the USA — the meaning and impact of the word “cunt” changes somewhere over the international date-line from a friendly affirmation of being to a deadly insult worse than an actual bullet.

⁵ I’m very proud of that trifecta, they’re all amazing places with lovely people and fantastic, though overpriced, food.

⁶ It really is. I feel nostalgia too, but only for discontinued chocolate bars of my youth. C’mon grow up. JOIN US. x

(Photo Credit: Damien C Sayell)

Andrew Falkous has been/is a member of the bands Mclusky and Future of the Left, and is currently releasing solo not-solo music under the name christian fitness. He has an abusive relationship with music which occasionally pays for a nice holiday somewhere warm and is allergic to seafood. (Note: all seafood.) You can follow him on Twitter here.