Being an Account Of Toby’s First Ever Solo Tour Opening For Seeker Lover Keeper at Various Towns of New South Wales – Pictures by Johnny Au from The AU Review
Wednesday 6th July – The Heritage, Bulli
I have always considered The Heritage to be one of the more genteel venues in the Sydney fringe region and so am surprised on arrival when Aaron Curnow (of Spunk Records, Holly’s label, and south coast local) informs me that as a northern suburb of Wollongong it has ‘an edge’ and is home to the infamous surfer group the Bulli Boys. I resolve to be on my guards against these nogoodniks during my time here.
No sign of the Bulli Boys during my set; only dining couples who listen with polite interest. I have chosen to play ‘all new songs’ on this tour, and have chosen to play them solo, just acoustic guitar, no band. The stakes are high. The good people of Bulli do not fail me.
Seeker Lover Keeper are brilliant. They have just enough accompaniment from Jim White on drums and Dave Symes on bass. Lots of space for their voice. And when they hit the three part harmonies it kills.
Thursday 7th July – The Heritage, Bulli
We are lucky enough to be staying with friends at Austinmer and so today I put on my plimsolls and do my Cliff Young shuffle over the beaches and headlands. My mind shuffles through various memories as I go:
- I remember when Youth Group played with Screamfeeder at The Headland Hotel sometime in the mid 2000s. The Headland is closed, boarded-up and sad now. I make a note to self: organise the South By South Coast Festival at Austin(mer)! Hold it at The Headlands! Genius! Must find investor.
- I remember the last time YG played down this way. It was the day of Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and we listened to his victory speech, broadcast live from Chicago, as we drove down the Bulli Pass. Light, eucalyptus, ocean and Obama’s amazing voice. It was an unforgettable moment. Everything seemed optimistic.
The path of the free world hasn’t been entirely smooth since then, and sometimes it feels like its not very cool to not be cynical about politics, but I still like to wear my Obama t-shirt when I go for a ramble and to hell with the doubters. So I am very pleased when I am passed by a two guys in a van who beep and wave and don’t call me a faggot. And then I round the next bend and come across a man wearing a poncho and carrying a picnic basket. A poncho! If such things are possible, it seems to me that the south coast is still a happy place. Then I am passed by a ute with the number plate ‘JD’ (Jack Daniels?) Which of course is awesome too. In its own way.
That night at the gig a large, rugby-ish looking, man dances suggestively among the tables as SLK sing ‘Even Though I’m A Woman’. I wonder if he is a Bulli Boy.
Friday 8th July – The Factory, Marrickville
This is it. The big Sydney show. I’ve got a few nerves tonight and so have a bit of a warm-up strum in the backstage stairwell. It turns out that stairwells have amazing acoustics and I start to enjoy its reverb-drenched sound. I must be enjoying it a bit too much because a ‘a punter’ wanders down to enquire whether it’s a free concert.
Its nice to play with a big pa, and I am starting to feel like perhaps these songs do hold their own like this. Because my new record ended up having lots of parts on it – strings, piano, drums etc – its easy to forget that the songs started like this – just acoustic guitar and singing. Its starting to feel like I’m doing ‘solo interpretations’ of my ‘solo record’.
The Factory suits SLK and they sound terrific. Their last song is a great cover of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Wild Heart’. There’s a bit when Holly and Sarah sing another beautiful harmony and then suddenly stop, leaving Sally’s voice suddenly by itself. It is, as Danny Allen would say, goosebump material. Its so great to see a band care so much about and leave so much room for singing.
Saturday 9th July – Marrickville, Sydney
This one feels like a party night and there are various well-wishers, Sydney underworld identities and theatre lovies backstage afterwards, sifting through the ice to find the last of the rider. Holly generously hosts a party back at her place, the highlight of which for me is finding ‘Lump’ by ‘Presidents of the United States’ on her iPhone and getting a massive dancefloor reaction from it. I’m buzzing.
Monday 11th July – Lizottes, Dee Why
I recorded this new album of mine at Oceanic Studios in Brookvale, just down the road from here. Tim Kevin (producer) and I drove past this unlikely looking venue many times on our often futile searches for late-night dinner options on the Pacific Highway, and so I am keen to see what Lizottes is like on the inside. Its like a Greek wedding reception venue is the answer. Except they’ve decorated it in Boho chic: drums for coffee tables and accordions for lampshades. I find this use of instruments simultaneously reassuring and unsettling.
But man, they know how to treat a solo artist here. The backstage area is basically set up like a private dining room – formally-laid table and all. SLK are nice enough to share this with me and we have what amounts to a pre-show dinner party, three courses and all. We share school stories, camping anecdotes, 90s pop music trivia and after-dinner mints before its time for me to hit the stage.
The thing about Lizottes is its owned by Brian Lizotte (Johnny Diesel’s brother) and the things about Brian Lizotte is he likes to introduce the bands. It feels like old-fashioned show-biz. My introduction is: ‘We are lucky to have him in Dee Why! Toby Martin!!’. SLK’s is: ‘three gorgeous…AND talented women!’
I have pretty much the best audience ever. They are utterly silent when I’m playing. You could hear a pin drop. Actually someone does drop a fork and it’s deafening.
Thurs 14th July – Lizottes, Newcastle
Same instrument-as-furniture vibe, but this time in a 100-year old theatre in a lovely, sleepy part of Newcastle. I am feeling a bit phlegmatic on stage tonight for some reason (maybe it’s the effect of another 3-course dinner) and I am also genuinely worried that I am going to spit into someone’s seared ocean trout (the dining audience are really up close here). And then I want to say something about it, but I am worried that might seem too gross. So I don’t say anything and instead just start to silently question the whole idea of playing a show while people eat their dinner. This is a common problem for me playing live – my mind can wander instead of getting lost in the music. There, I’ve done it. Broken the mystique!
There’s really nowhere to watch the show without having a table here, and so I squeeze in behind Christian (SLK’s guitar tech) side of stage. This is actually quite great because it provides me with the perfect view of Jim White’s extraordinary drumming. There’s one song in particular – Sally’s ‘Every Time’ – where instead of playing the drums themselves, he plays a drum case covered with a tea towel. It’s a great song, and has a kind of a punky riff and there may have been a temptation to exploit that punkiness. But like so many of SLK’s songs the obvious temptation is resisted and interest and subtlety chosen instead. The drumless drumming fits this perfectly.
I have to drive back to Sydney tonight, and so I exit the stage door towards the end of SLK’s set. I close the door and step out into the clear Newcastle night with my guitar in hand. I can still hear the singing as I walk to the car: ‘Rest your head on my shoulder, and I’ll take care of your worries’.