Darcy Hay’s Wheatbelt Touring Circuit diary
The Wheatbelt Touring Circuit encourages local WA artists to tour alongside headlining acts in the Wheatbelt region, like the WAMAward-winning Daniel Susnjar and his band headlining the first tour for 2017, happening soon (more info here).
Last year Pete Byfield launched his single Atmissphere on the Wheatbelt Touring Circuit, accompanied by Darcy Hay – an award-winning Geraldton-based artist. Also a journalist, Darcy Hay shared his experience with us with this tour diary, giving an insight as to what goes on behind the scenes of the tour, including highlights, the unexpected “wobblies” that he and his Dad roadie encountered, and whether it’s okay to give the Elephant In The Wheatbelt cuddles…
My first tour started with a lesson in what I gather is a near universal principle of the game – expect hours upon hours of travel, punctuated by comparatively short, sweet bursts of musical gratification. After 565km of driving from Geraldton to Quindanning, finally meeting Pete Byfield and forging friendships with his band over sound check was one such moment – another was finally fulfilling the major life goal of seeing my name in chalk!
I overheard some local wisdom, just before jumping on stage, that it had been the coldest winter around these parts for several decades, and that a balmy 1 degree or so overnight low was expected, just to compliment the pouring rain. While the turnout of souls who braved the weather to be there was subsequently a bit small, they more than made up for it in intensity and warmth for all three acts that night. I was staggered to later hear that crowds of 1000 or so people were apparently nothing too exceptional at the Quindanning Hotel, particularly after a sweep through town revealed about three houses, and Wikipedia giving a rough figure of 165 odd people in Quindanning. Live music was said to be the key – Quindanning’s reputation as a local hub for good gigs was the drawcard for people flocking in from a good 60 or 70km away from any direction. After a solid sleep, we were ready to roll again the next morning – Pete and company on Pete’s tour bus, and my father and I in our bus, on a 300km drive to Merredin.
Our constant companion on the road to Merredin – which, if not the boundary of the Wheatbelt heading East from Perth, must be fairly close to it – was the C.Y O’Connor pipeline, which supplies water all the way out to Kalgoorlie. A major engineering feat of its day, it remains an impressive – and inescapable – link between the past and present, and a symbol of connection between Perth, the Wheatbelt country, and pastoral/mining country.
This photo stirs some happy memories within me! One of the best things about the Wheatbelt Circuit is WAM’s recruitment of local supporting acts, which both gives something back to the town in seeing their own stars on stage, and gives us a great slice of the local music scene. After Narrogin-based act Tides2Music in Quindanning, we were treated to The Mhindels in Merredin – evidently a popular duo, as we had a turnout that Pete later described as about 16,000 times larger than Quindanning. I was lucky to have The Mhindels warm up the crowd so effectively – by the time I jumped on, the mood in the room was a very happy one indeed. After an energetic performance that pretty well soaked my shirt with sweat, I – in a feverish bout of inspiration, after chattering away to the crowd all night – asked if I could grab a photo to remember them by. This shot’s a great snapshot of the good people and hospitality in Merredin, who treated Pete and his band with the same sense of sheer fun and celebration as myself and The Mhindels.
Here’s one of the particularly exhilarating parts of keeping to schedule between drives – making sure the car’s not going to chuck a wobbly mid-way. I was lucky to have a fearless roadie – he also has the dubious distinction of being my father – who didn’t mind battling the cold to make sure the engine oil and brake fluid was hunky dory for our 300km trek to Moora, to play the Moora Agricultural Show.
Speaking of chucking wobblies, I thought this was too much of a harrowing – and unexpected – tale to not share. In the small town of Meckering, in 1968, a devastating earthquake (6.9 on the Richter Scale) broke out that, from what I understand, pretty well destroyed the entire town. I don’t know much about seismic strife, but certainly in my mind, mountains and earthquakes seem like natural partners – if there is an association, the gentle, rolling fields of crops around Meckering emphatically buck that trend. My own dear Mum, who would have just turned 11, reckons that the tremor was felt up in Geraldton nearly 500km away. This ruined homestead was the site of something of a miracle. A sign amongst the rubble marks out where 17 month old Debbie Snooke was asleep in her cot when the quake struck, right next to a solid brick wall. It was going to fall one way or the other, but thankfully, fell outward from the room, away from the cot. There might be a song waiting to be written, based on the ambiguity inherent in that tale, and its happy ending.
About 100km from Moora, I got the idea to show off the burgeoning bumper harvest that’s expected all over the Wheatbelt. Prise your eyes from my smug squinting mug, if you can, and just look at that sea of green which might just be coming to a plate near you in the next couple of months. That sight feels almost as good to behold as the rush after playing your heart out on stage.
Here’s another snap with a lot of gravity in the Wheatbelt. Rock up to an event like the Moora Agricultural Show and you might come face to face with this big bertha. Just to clear any confusion, said bertha isn’t me, towering in stature as I may be, or Moora Agricultural Show president David Hall – rather, the colourful Elephant In The Wheatbelt behind us. The Wheatbelt has some tragic traffic accident statistics, including an alarming number of deaths on our country roads that RAC thought the Elephant might spur some conversations on. Given the distances involved in our Wheatbelt tour, and the ever-present reality of road safety surrounding it, how could I not duck in to give our Elephant a quick cuddle?
Moora was a blast! While the open-air setting – not to mention packed oval, with cars lined up down almost every bit of land down the main street – couldn’t have been more different, the reception was just as sweet, with people of all ages stopping to listen to a few songs. Ledge Point legend Kelly Gardner grabbed that floating audience from the start, with intricately layered piano, jazz vocals and some corkers of original songs that brought a wry smile to more than a few faces. A tough act to follow was made tougher with the nightmare I’d been anticipating for quite some time – a string unceremoniously relieving itself of all tension and giving up the ghost right in the middle of the set. I’m going to curse myself spectacularly though, and say that my faith in how quickly I can change and tune a string received a major boost that day though – 3 or 4 minutes flat, I reckon, a record for me. I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed cranking up the volume to string-snapping levels on that oval either – Pete and his band ripped into a monster set, with any instrumental restraint that might have been needed in the previous two venues smashed to pieces.
Come 5.30pm, after lending a hand with my designated post-gig job of tracking down and folding all of the extension leads and 240 power cords, it was time to part with the gang and make for home. Three shows, just shy of 1500km for this Geraldton boy (and his decent old Dad), and a wicked lust to keep the tour ball rolling with future shows down in the South West, and further afield. I think I’ve learned that once you go start me up, I never stop, and I want to thank WAM for unleashing my touring genie from the bottle, Pete and his merry band for the memories and company, our great support acts, and each and every person who came down to give us a fair go at rocking your socks off!
The next Wheatbelt Touring Circuit kicks off on Friday 17 February with headlining acts Daniel Susnjar Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group and Bri Clark, with supporting acts Georgie Sadler, Michael Pratt-Guyan and guest artist from Narrogin Musicians Association Russell & Tom.