Just Whip It Under The Milky Way My Belfast Child

29 06 2012

Good news: The Church are touring again this year, and they’re bringing Simple Minds and Devo with them. Better news: they are coming to my home town. Bad news: although I haven’t gone to confirm myself, but the tickets are quite expensive from what I’ve heard. Because of this, there is a slight chance that I might not be going when they come, but I’m still holding out hope.

All this news about the tour got me thinking of the last time they toured close to home and how unbelievable that experience was for me. It was late last year that they performed and it was their ‘Future, Past, Perfect’ tour. In this show, the band performed three albums in their entirety, one from each of their three decades of being. In order of performance, they were ‘Untitled #23’ (2009), ‘Priest=Aura’ (1992. This album was released just 8 days after I was born. Predestined?), and ‘Starfish’ (1988).

Future Past Perfect tour poster

Before this particular night, I only knew of one of the songs that they were going to perform, Under The Milky Way’ from ‘Starfish’. So basically, I was going in totally blind, because as it turned out, they were performing a total of 34 songs. This was okay though, because the ticket (it was actually just a receipt with my name on it) only cost a grand total of $34; a dollar a song, not bad value.

Because I was so nervous/excited to go and I didn’t know the layout of the club, I wanted to get there early because the ticket didn’t stipulate that it was designated seating and just assumed it was first in best dressed. I got out there at five because the band’s website told me the show started at five. It didn’t actually start until six, but as it turned out, this was probably a good thing that I rocked up early. I wasn’t the only one to turn up early, so I got chatting to the others.

Leigh and Margi their names were. I hadn’t been to a concert before (my tastes in music do that and I always wanted my first concert to be my favourite band of all time), but Leigh, himself a bass player influenced by the works of Steve Kilbey, had been to many and had been lucky enough to meet the guys on a previous occasion. What happened next was amazing; an old computer teacher of mine walks around the corner and joins us: of all the places to see an old teacher, who’d have thought, a rock concert.  Because we were so early, we went for dinner. I had a burger of sorts with a coke.

Six o’clock; show time. The funny thing about the show was that it was rated 18+. When I went to purchase my ticket (receipt), I had to go to the bottle shop across the way, and not once was I asked for id. When entering the club though, I was. There was a small flight of stairs when you first walked in and beyond that was pure mystery. It is at this point that I would draw your attention to pictures, but I forgot to take my camera and as I have mentioned in previous posts, I don’t have a phone with a camera on it (and you’ll find out why this is disappointing later).

The room was lit just well enough for you to make your way to your seat. On the immediate right though, was the first port of call: the merchandise stand (or the ‘churchandise stand’ as the clever management called it). It was at this point that I became like a kid in a candy store. The last time the Church had a hit was 22 years ago with ‘Metropolis’ from ‘Gold Afternoon Fix’, and because shops like JB Hi-Fi only stock commercial material, it is impossible to get any Church music after the 80s there (even some 80s stuff can be a push). So seeing so many of their records for the first time in the flesh, the question wasn’t so much ‘to buy or not’, it was more like ‘which ones’? With the show being only a fortnight before Christmas and me never knowing what I want, Mum said that she’d give me $50 and to but whatever I wanted and that would be my present. Unfortunately, she forgot and I forgot to ask, so instead of having $100 to spend, I had $50 (but I got something much more valuable than that at the end of the night).

I remember Dad telling me to be careful with the merchandise because he reckoned that it’d all be marked up for the show; thankfully, he was wrong and nothing had been marked. As a result, I was able to get 5 discs for $47, imagine if I had that $100 (*facepalm*). I bought the ‘Deadman’s Hand’ EP because I had actually seen this one at JB. JB’s price: $10. The stand’s price: $5. I bought ‘Jammed’ because I had read about it online a few months earlier and was fascinated by it and its sister album ‘Bastard Universe’. They are both just massive jam sessions with ‘Jammed’ lasting 58 minutes and ‘Bastard Universe’ 70. I enquired about ‘BU’ but they didn’t have that in. As it turns out though, you only get that album when you purchase ‘Hologram Of Baal’ (BU comes as a special bonus and I only learned about this after the show). The other three discs I bought (‘Back With Two Beasts, ‘Operetta EP’ and ‘Shriek’; the soundtrack to the book, yes book, ‘Shriek: An Afterword’ by Jeff VanderMeer) purely on the power of the cover imagery; particularly ‘Back With Two Beasts’ as I got the remastered version with the striking red and blue sky.

Finally the show begins; Marty Willson-Piper walks out on stage. False alarm: it’s just some guitar tech that bore a striking resemblance to MWP. After he leaves the stage, the real band struts out. Steve takes the mic and tells us how the night is going to pan out. He told us that we “are the first the first crowd in Australia to see this particular show”, before MWP cried out ‘genie pigs’.

I had read about their performance style in the 80s and I noted that it hadn’t changed much since then: they play their songs and rarely talk to the audience in between. The two standout songs that I remember from ‘Untitled #23’ were ‘Pangaea’ and ‘Space Saviour’. These were the two that imprinted themselves on my brain and I said were my favourite when Leigh and I went to get drinks during intermission.

Untitled #23 (2009)

Then came the dark and eerie ‘Priest=Aura’ which is an absolute classic, and if you want a challenge to listen to, I recommend you go out and buy. I starts with ‘Aura’, a ‘cinemascopic, epic soundscape’ (MWP’s words, not mine) and possibly the best song on the album (my words, not his). Other beauties from this album that will never leave me are ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Dome’, ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘The Disillusionist’, ‘Chaos’ and ‘Film’. Film is an interesting song; it’s the last song on the album, it’s an instrumental and rather ironically, every time I hear that song, I can see credits of some sort flash before my eyes.

Priest = Aura (1992)

Another intermission and back for the spellbinding ‘Starfish’. For each of the albums, the band has changed appropriately and by this stage of the night, they’re wearing paisley, their trademark look in the 80s. I didn’t know much about the previous two albums, so I sat back and enjoyed the spectacle with Leigh and co, but I knew that ‘Starfish’ was a commercial smash for them and felt it would be more appropriate to ‘dance’ (I have two left feet) to this album. Seeing as it is not exactly a dance album, I more got up with everyone else and just swayed. It was here, hearing it for the first time, I heard my new (temporarily) favourite song, ‘Reptile’. THIS PARTICULAR VERSION is from that night, and if you look hard enough, you can see me. I know that I said that ‘Reptile’ was my favourite song that night, but the most memorable was ‘Hotel Womb’. By this stage all the guys had been up there for 33 songs, and being so close to the stage, you couldn’t help but notice just how much sweat was dripping of Steve, signs that he wasn’t just lip-syncing his part (also, earlier in the night Graham, the old computer teacher, had pointed out that Tim, the drummer, had actually damaged a bit of his kit that’s how hard they were playing).

Starfish (1988)

The show wrapped up to rapturous applause and cries for an encore, which sadly went unfulfilled. Because I don’t drive, I had organised for a friend to come pick me up after the show. I had told him 10:00, but the show had actually finished at 9:30, so I had a half hours wait, and it was the BEST DAMN HALF AN HOUR OF MY LIFE (and I didn’t even get laid). I decided to wait outside the club because, even though it was drizzling a bit, it was still a beautiful night. I got talking to a few people and I met someone who had gone to the original gig in Sydney way back in 1981.

I got chatting to this one particular woman and I couldn’t help but notice that she was flapped a cd cover around. I asked her what she was doing and she told me that she was trying to dry the ink of the autograph that she had just had signed by MWP. She pointed back through the glass doors at him, as he sat just there talking to the patrons. I went back in hoping to be as lucky, but I wimped out. I wimped out because, here was my idol (one thereof anyway) and I thought to myself ‘he probably sees heaps of people like me, massive fan, first ever gig and excitable at just being within a metre or two of him, let alone talking to him. So I turned back and went outside again. This woman was still standing there flapping her cd and asking why I was so quick. After I admitted I got nervous, she said ‘look, I’ll come in with you’.

I see you looking at me, I pose for the camera

Seemingly extracting a whiteout marker of sorts out of nowhere, she casually strolled up to Marty and said ‘Marty, this is Sean and it’s his first show and he’s nervous to ask for your signature’. That was it, the ball got rolling and I came out of my shell. I remember he asked me why it was and what I thought of my first show. “Well, I was sat there and thought to myself, ’Wow. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to a cd again and not be disappointed. But then I realised why I’ve never been to a show before: most of the artists I like don’t tour anymore”. He asked me who I liked, I told him. He asked to see what cd’s I purchased before telling me that they were all fantastic (tongue firmly in cheek) and proceeding to ask why I bought these particular ones. I told him that I hadn’t seen them before at JB and the likes. He then told me that JB wouldn’t stock all of them. I said that I worked at Big W and that I was going to ask the girls in the home entertainment department to try and order some in for me which he said would be impossible, right after he asked what Big W was (I likened it to Kmart because he knew what that was). He then extended an offer to me that I did not see coming, and one that I will not take advantage of out of respect for the man. Earlier when he asked what cd’s I had, I mentioned that was looking for ‘Bastard Universe’ and he said to me (my lift had arrived so I had to, begrudgingly, wrap up the conversation) that if there was any album by the band that was not in stock at the shop, to get in touch with him and he would burn and then send me a copy of said album.

So I didn’t have a camera on my, and I only had $50 to spend on Churchandise, but I got to meet Marty Willson-Piper. I got his autograph and shook his hand: that was worth the $34 in itself.

Yes: it says ‘love MWP’ No: I don’t know why

Still wish I had my camera though.

All band photos are provided courtesy of Leigh

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