Friday, April 12, 2013

Great God! This Is An Awful Place

It's amazing what you can get for a bottle of whiskey.  As we rolled out of Otaki at the end of the first leg of the Explorers Club:Antarctica tour, having just played 16 shows in the past 14 days, and driven the van four and a half thousand ks over that same period - a lot of winding and climbing, three times through the Lindis Pass, down the Buller Gorge, up the Haast, to Milford and back with the smell of clutch and brake hanging heavy in the air like brimstone, like napalm, like victory - well we'd been up late the night before finishing off the fizzy wine that they gave us in lieu of payment for the last show (the fee, oh promoters and future partners of Bond Street Bridge, has since increased), we had the music turned loud to promote wakeful driving, and we weren't sure at first whether we were hearing things when the van started making a noise like a an old yak coughing up his breakfast.  We'd cashed our chips at the main gas station in town - I forget what we did, but we couldn't face going back there - but Thor* was on our side, and the next gas station had a mechanic on duty and this mechanic needed only a little persuasion to take a blowtorch to our undercarriage in exchange for what was left of a bottle of Jameson's.

Whatever he did to the van, it's holding good, and thus was inaugurated whiskey as the principle medium of exchange in the Bond St economy.  (Again - promoters, festival bookers and the like: we actually prefer cash or bitcoins, this story is mainly just rock'n'roll posturing.)  So when we got back to Auckland, we thought we'd try our luck with a stash of very fine 12-year-old single malt we'd picked up from the New Zealand Whiskey Company in Oamaru, who are as premium a parcel of moonshiners as you'd hope to meet in that still-studded corner of the country.  We shopped round for tenders and by far the best deal we've been offered was from Hazel Gibson, who in a trice rustled up a film crew and with their new-fangled patent cinematograph-photolithography process, captured these bright crisp images of our performance at the Wine Cellar in the Auckland Fringe Festival:

I think you will agree that we came out on top in this particular deal, which I guess means that now we owe Hazel a favour. Which means she wins!  Curses, foiled again etc, but I gather that she filmed the whole thing, so there ought to be more videos like this coming out over the next few months.  The audio was all recorded live on the night as well, thanks to Rohan Evans' wizardry on the mixing console.  He also got whiskey, and of course it goes without saying that we are also in his debt, as we have been for a number of years.  If Rohan Evans called in all his debts at once, every musician in Auckland would have to put every piece of gear they own up on trademe.

For those of you who don't know the story, this song is about the arrival of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his men at the South Pole, just over one hundred and one years ago.  They had hoped to get there first, of course, but they did know that Amundsen was also heading for the pole and that he had a head start.  For most of the journey, however, they had been able to convince themselves that they must be in the lead, not having found any sign of the Norwegian team.  It was only a matter of days before their arrival at the pole that the British team came across Amundsen's tracks, and at this point the tone of Scott's diary takes a decidedly dark turn.  At the pole, he writes 'Great God! This is an awful place, and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority... now for the run home, and a desperate struggle.  I wonder if we can do it.'  I almost always get a manly tear in my eye when I read this entry; it's simple and brutal and there is only one way out.  The writing remains extraordinarily lyrical under the harshest conditions, and it was straightforward enough to turn this part of Scott's diary and some of his last letters into a song.  I hope it does him and his party justice.

*God of all things van-related.  Full disclosure: the van is a people-mover.


  1. Lovely sound - sorry not to have been able to get to a concert down this way - Mid

  2. Hi Mid! Don't worry, we'll bring the show back to Wellington later in the year, bigger and brighter and even more tragic. Would be lovely to see you.