Nobody turns down a free concert do they? Well, I don’t. Though on this occasion, I almost did. My mate Neil has a knack of spotting random things happening nearby. He reads newspapers and magazines and keeps up to date with what’s going on, much more than I do. This means it’s great to travel with Neil as you never know where you’ll end up. With Neil in the past I have ended up at an evening of short plays in Taipei, an international tennis tournament in Sydney, an all you can eat Chinese buffet in Gravesend and an all you can drink pub in New York City. This time it was the turn of the Australian Capital City.
Neil had found a brochure somewhere advertising a FREE outdoor music concert on our last night in Canberra. Sounds perfect, unless you’re me for 10 minutes, when I doubted we could actually make it to the festival, saying that it was too far away. I wouldn’t normally do that, but this time I did!
Our day had consisted of walking round Canberra and doing a few of the free things in the city, the Art Gallery, the Museum, the Sunday chimes of the National Carillon and also randomly a collection of Bonsai and Penjing miniature trees. We left the Australian National Museum (by Lake Burley Griffin) at closing time, which was 5 pm, and we knew the concert was in the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
The day before we had gone up Black Mountain and I spotted the Botanic Gardens to the right out the car window just before we headed up the mountain. Because everything in Canberra is so spread out, I had assumed (wrongly) that the Botanic Gardens was miles out of the city. Walking up from the museum, I decided to have a last look at my Canberra map, just in case the Botanic Gardens weren’t as far as I thought. We were walking up Edinburgh Avenue when I suddenly noticed that between us and the Botanic Gardens was only really the University and a main road, so it was do-able, before the concert start time.
Actually it is a bit of a dander to be honest, but you tend to dander a lot in Australia anyway, so it was no big deal. On route we passed the Australian National Film and Sound Archive. And behind that we were suddenly in the deserted grounds of Canberra University, or to give it its proper title, The National University of Australia. It reminded me totally of Loughborough University in the middle of England, where I once attended a weekend awards ceremony. Actually the National Student Television Awards, and that was FIVE years ago. A fact that I now struggle to believe.
The layout was the same and the road structure and buildings had the same appearance as “Lufbra”, only two things struck out at me on our walk through the university. The first was the surprising sight of a “soccer” pitch, or football as sensible people know it as. It was nice to see and there were nets up, I wanted to find a ball and boot one in, but there wasn’t a ball around. The other was a pretty green building, which I liked for some reason. It was called the Hugh Ennor building.
The walk through the university took us little over 20 minutes and we had passed through the area known as “Acton” (though hardly anything resembling this uninspiring suburb of west London, thankfully). Now we were on Clunies Ross Street and there opposite was a car park full of cars and the entrance to Australian National Botanic Gardens. We barely need reminding that everything in Canberra is “Australian”, or indeed “National”, yet Canberra likes to remind us of these two obvious adjectives, for whatever reason.
We walked up the Botanic Gardens to the free summer festival. On the sheet Neil had, it said “Summer Concert Series 2010”, it was also the final date of the series so we had made it to the culminating moment in Canberra’s music calendar, well maybe. Lots of people walked up the hill with us, it was busy. Ish. Most of the people were either under 12 or over 40. Somehow the three of us were representing our generation.
Once at the top of the hill we were in a pleasant grassy area known as Eucalypt Lawn. It was a warm summer’s evening. You couldn’t smell any eucalyptus, not like that sweet sweet smell next to our Parramatta flat. It was a floral ambiance in the air, as we reached the top, found somewhere to sit and got ready for the music to begin. The band we were told, on the flyer would be Karismakatz. Some form of blues and jazz music.
We got a good location, quiet and relaxed on the bit of grass opposite the main stage, which was under a canopy in case of rain (it was unlikely). It seemed to be like a family or community event. There were drinks available, but no food. Everyone had brought picnics or camped out for the occasion. So I used my Northern Ireland flags as my rug and lay down in the faded sun. I bought myself a very reasonably priced tin of beer, just $3 from the vendor. She was a lady from Manchester in England and it was her who gave me directions to our next ports of call – pubs PJ O’Brien’s and the Wig and Pen.
I sipped on my VB, as the band Karismakatz came “on stage” (rather walked onto the grass) at the Eucalypt Lawn. I’ve seen many bands and performers in my time, in many different places. This one is up there with the most random ones. Other random moments like this consist of the night I missed my train in London and ended up with a cheap ticket from a guy in a pub to watch The Morning After Girls, back in 2006, and there was the night me and a few mates got Tim Wheeler of Ash to yell “We’re Not Brazil We’re Northern Ireland!” in till a microphone at a gig in Southampton. Nothing would be quite as good, funny or spontaneous here, in Canberra.
But the Karismakatz did get me reminiscing when they started their set with an excellent version of Van Morrison’s Moondance. They also played Sway, Night and Day and Mama’s Joy in the first part of their set. It was good music. Lots of different instruments. Even if it wasn’t my taste and didn’t exactly have a guitar riff of a “Motorcycle Emptiness” or a “Lithium” (MSP and Nirvana, for those stupid enough to not know the songs), it was pleasing. I took time to speak to the band during the break, I got a business card, saw their set list and said how I was enjoying the evening. The evening almost worked its way into Northern Irish band Ash, from there, as on the setlist glared out a “burn baby burn” to me. Of course, it wasn’t the Ash song, but a song with the same title, but a jazzed up Ash cover would have made the evening complete.
Then I asked the lady from Manchester directions to the two pubs. I wanted to visit PJ O’Reilly’s pub because it apparently sells Harp (or at least used to) and also cos it’s known as “PJs”, and the pub job I left just a few days earlier was also known as “PJs” and was an Irish branded pub. It would have been nice to go there. We were also told, by Evan of a pub which makes their own beer and the pub was the Wig and Pen. We got directions to both, both on opposite corners of the same street.
First though we watched to the end of Karismakatz set. They finished with a flourish, getting kids and oldies alike up and dancing. They also wished happy brithday to “Noah”, though it could easily have sounded like “no-one”, so either a guy with an Ark had a birthday; or nobody did. We left pretty quickly, back through the university campus and in search of a wee beer at PJs or the Wig. We got to Alinga Street, and couldn’t fin either pub. Then suddenly I spotted PJs on a corner. It totally wasn’t in any style of Irish pub – the exterior decor looked more like a birthday card shop to be honest. And it was dark and dead. Yes – it was closed. At 8.10 pm. Apparently Canberra city centre is so quiet on Sundays that pubs generally don’t open.
I at least saw the Harp sign on the outside window, which in 8 months (the last time I was in Northern Ireland) is the closest I’ve been to securing a pint of Harp. A photo of the sign serves for a good memory, at least. So with PJs closed, we headed across the road where the Wig and Pen was on the same side as PJs, and was open, marginally.
ON ordering our drinks, “it’s last orders” was told to us. So by 8.45 pm we had to leave the pub. The pub was British in decor and very traditional. The nicest I seen in Canberra, though we were only in 3. The beer was good. I had Wig and Pen Pale Ale. Dan had a more “normal” lager and Neil opted for the strawberry beer. They were sunk quick and with the sky darkening, our minds were cast on Melbourne.
Just before midnight we would catch a Greyhound Bus to Melbourne. It would be my first ever trip to Melbourne, home of Neighbours, the place where New Zealand rock band Crowded House began, and the big rival of Sydney. We now had a few hours to kill. All we did was buy some food in the corner store, head back to the last hostel (Canberra YHA on Akuna Street) to collect our bags and watch (in King O’Malleys open Irish pub) Scotsman Andrew Murray lose a tennis tournament to Roger Federer, who in 14 hours time we would meet.
From Eucalypt Lawn to Roger Federer, Ob La Di, Ob La Da, Life Goes On…
Who Went – Jonny Blair, Daniel Evans, Neil Macey
What Was It – Free LIve Music Concert in Canberra
Where Was It – Eucalypt Lawn, Botanic Gardens, Canberra
Bands – KarismaKatz – [email protected] or www.karisma-katz.com
Favourite Song – MOONDANCE
Bars Visited – “The Bar” at Eucalypt Lawn, PJ O’Brien’s (even though it was shut), Wig and Pen, King O’Malley’s
MOONDANCE LIVE AT CANBERRA SUMMER CONCERT:
WIG AND PEN PUB: