Tag Archives: Canberra

Happy Birthday Tim Ferguson

Happy Birthday Tim Ferguson

 

Writer Elle Russell profiles Tim Ferguson, born 16th November and the Doug Anthony All Stars.

Pilfering money from punter’s wallets. Running off with babies in prams and then accusing the bewildered mothers of bad parenting. Setting public rubbish bins on fire. Leading a crowd on a shop lifting tour through David Jones.
No, it’s not a rap sheet; it’s the Doug Anthony All Stars Canberra busking repertoire circa 1985.

While the description of the All Stars street performances read like a witness statement, these shambolic and subversive shows thrilled and terrified Canberra shoppers. It is precisely why on Saturday mornings, they had crowds of up to 150 people waiting for them to start busking at Petrie Plaza in Canberra’s Civic.

The Doug Anthony All Stars aka DAAS, clearly made an impression, as they are probably the only buskers in Australia, if not the planet, to have a plaque commemorating their antics. In 2003, the plaque featuring an image of the trio with the words ‘The Doug Anthony All Stars were born and died here” was installed where they used to busk at the intersection of City Walk and Petrie Plaza.

DAAS on YouTube

Richard Fidler, Tim Ferguson and Robert Piper started off doing comedic acoustic covers in the early 1980s but morphed into more of a darker performance group once Paul McDermott replaced Piper who had left to forge a career in the diplomatic corps.

After some success at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1986, DAAS relocated to Victoria but found the Melbourne public more difficult to engage in their frivolity. The group jetted off to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival via Covent Garden and literally set the place on fire. DAAS famously incited a riot at the Bear Pit theatre and word spread about the Australian comedy rock stars who knew no fear.

DAAS Dead and Alive

Prior to returning to Melbourne, the DAAS had been phenomenally successful in the UK but in 1988, had to work hard for a crowd on Bourke and Swanston streets.

While Canberra audiences were savvy to the anarchic stylings of the comedy trio the rest of the country only caught up in 1989 once the ABC started showing the Big Gig on Tuesday nights.

Teenagers across Australia, many of who were listening to the Violent Femmes, The Dead Kennedys and Nick Cave, instantly embraced the DAAS with their entirely inappropriate but much beloved songs such as I Fuck Dogs and I Wanna Spill the Blood of a Hippy.

The irreverent All Stars were internationally successful comedians who gave fans their biggest shock when they announced that they would quit after a farewell tour in 1994.

The group reunited for a once off charity special in 2003 and again in 2008 and 2013 for DVD releases of their performances on The Big Gig and DAAS Kapital respectively.

While Richard now an ABC radio presenter, Paul stayed on our screens with shows such as Good News Week and Tim with Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and Funky Squad. Tim also teaches comedy. In 2010, Tim revealed that he’d been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis prior to the group’s split.

In 2014 the All Stars reunited for a 30th anniversary tour starting at Canberra’s Comedy Festival with Paul Livingston, better known as his alter ego of Flacco, instead of Fidler on guitar.

DAAS Wikimedia Commons

Now in their second year of world tours since reforming, AAMP spoke with Tim Ferguson about the Doug Anthony All Stars and their busking history.

What was a Doug Anthony All Stars busking performance like in Canberra?

“Busking in Petrie Plaza was always great fun. We’d have big revivals and marches, spontaneous protests, laying hands on people and exorcising their demons. I did a psychic act which I’m sure would be illegal in the Bourke Street Mall these days. I’d use my psychic powers to solve people’s problems. We’d reenact the burning of Joan of Arc. We’d put Paul in garbage bins and set fire to whatever was in them. We did this regularly.

One of the reasons why the Doug Anthony All Stars were so in your face and jumping up and down was because we built our act on the street where you need to do that to get attention.”

How did you manage to get away with that on the streets of Canberra?

“Canberra was the cocaine/heroin capital of Australia. There was also a punk scene in Canberra. The punks in Melbourne and Sydney revered the Canberra punks. They were tough. There were weekly brawls, fights and riots. All that stuff happened in the nation’s capital. We had several battles with the cops. Singing one more song, talking over them. It was a time when risk was possible. I guess that the cops thought, ‘At least they’ve gathered together. We can watch them all here.”

Do you think that you were able to get away with it because it was the eighties? Do you think it would work now?

“If you put someone in a bin and set fire to whatever else is in it, you’ll get a crowd. I love it when people talk about the eighties like it was some golden time. It was a time of the same old oppression. Australia had just lurched out of the Fraser era. It was the same old thing. There were laws. People were backwards. Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a serious contender for the prime ministership. This country has not changed at all. What’s happened is that comedians are just interested in different things. They’re not so interested in shocking for the hell of it. They’re talking about different issues but their performance style is not based upon making people feel in fear of, you know, their lives. In fear of being robbed. We’d take people’s money from their wallets and they’d come up and say, ‘Can I have my money back?’ And we’d say, ‘What money? There was no money in there.’ We were terrible.”

Did you actually keep the money?

“Hell yeah! It’s because they didn’t put any money in the guitar case.”

I take it you never got a busking licence.

“We didn’t have a busking licence. We just busked. Would you give a licence to the Doug Anthony All Stars? Oh, what’s that song? It’s about dogs. Lovely.

There wasn’t a permit system that we recognised. Nobody ever, oh, a couple of times cops would say ‘Oh you can’t do that.’ But they never asked for a licence.
We didn’t know you needed one. People coped with us.

We busked in the Bourke Street Mall outside Myer or David Jones or both. Sometimes the crowds would get so big, the trams would be dinging away. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. We were like, ‘We’re mid-song, pal.’ It was chaos. We would have been moved on if we were busking now.”

What were the Melbourne crowds like when you were busking?

“Melbourne crowds were a bit standoffish. They didn’t quite know what to think of us at all because we didn’t mention the football in any of our humour. They weren’t quite sure what it was all about. In fact, Melbourne proved to be the coldest crowds we ever busked for. Because Melbourne, Queensland aside, is the heart of conservative Australia. So the antics that we were up to didn’t so much shock them as unnerve them. They’d laugh, but it was very hard to get them to come a bit closer so we wouldn’t have to sing so loud. Once they’ve got alcohol in their systems they’re fine but Melbournians in a public place tend to be quite standoffish. “

Apart from Canberra, where is the best place that you have ever busked?

“Covent Garden is hallowed ground for busking. It’s a beautiful plaza with no traffic sound so your voice can be heard. And people turn up to watch buskers. It’s the best place on earth to busk and you get lots of money from Italian tourists. “

What did you think of having a plaque dedicated to you?

“Great! It came completely out of the blue. We never thought that what we were doing was particularly important. The All Stars came from very different backgrounds. Paul was an artist, I was a gun enthusiast. Richard was a madman. He was out of control. I was just an anxious young man from the country, doing what country boys do. Paul was the most fucked up Catholic in Australia. The only thing that we agreed upon was that everything has to go. Society has to change. We had to change. We started doing comedy by saying ‘Everything you believe is wrong and here’s why.”

What made you decide to get the band back together?

DAAS Doug Anthony Allstars“When we launched the DAAS Kapital DVD in 2013, the tickets were sold out in 24 hours. “(In fact the launch had to be moved from RMIT’s Capitol Theatre to the Melbourne Town Hall to accommodate the demand)
“We thought, we have to go on tour! For some reason, no one else was doing anything like it. People had said, ‘Oh you’re pushing boundaries.’
We thought we’d opened the door. But we closed up shop and The Wiggles took over. Australia returned to its natural conservatism.

We were all about inciting crowds to do things that they would never otherwise have thought of doing. We nearly got thrown out of the Edinburgh Festival because we were getting crowds to come and dance around a bonfire outside of the theatre we were performing at. People were dancing and the next thing we knew, people were screwing in the shadows just beyond the light of the flames. Of course once the Festival heard about this, the Police were called and said something about inciting public orgies. But the public loved us.

It doesn’t take much to get people to do things that they weren’t planning on doing. Nobody says, ‘I’m going to see the Doug Anthony All Stars. I’m going to dance naked ‘round a fire, burn my credit cards and have sex with strangers.’ It’s not what people say.

People seem to want that frisson of anarchy and we provide it. Sure, I do it in a wheelchair but that’s only because I can. But we all have matches.”

Once you returned to Melbourne in 1988, you continued to busk? Why’s that?

“It’s a great place to rehearse. If we had new songs, doing them on the street was a good way to see if they made people laugh and if they could grab people’s attention. If they did, they’d stay in the show. If not, we’d rework it and come back and try again. So it’s a free audience, a free rehearsal space and you get paid for rehearsing. It works beautifully.

I encourage all of the comedians that I teach to get on the street, stop people and practice their routines.“

Have any of them taken this advice?

“None of them have done this. Because they’re all panty waste nitwits. But the one who decides to do it will end up running the field. It’s on the street where you find real people who would love nothing more than two minutes of comedy for a dollar. If I stopped you and said ‘Excuse me madam, I’m working on a comedy routine. If I tell you my jokes for two minutes and you think it’s funny, will you give me a dollar?’

If I seem ok and I’m there with a girl who is holding a hat, you’re in a public place and then I start, ‘Light bulbs…What’s that about?”

My primary advice to all aspiring performers is to do it on the streets.
You have a ready audience and if your material works on the streets where people are free to just turn around and walk away, if it engages their attention and makes them laugh or smile or even better, makes them think that you’re worth a gold coin, then it’s done its job. It’s the best training ground because if you’re no good, you won’t get a crowd. Or you’ll get a crowd and they’ll walk away very quickly. And if it’s stand up comedy, for god’s sake, shout! What do I care if the trams are noisy? You stand on a box. Put a little sign out saying ‘Stand up comedian. Come closer’ and away you go. “

What can we expect from the current shows?

“It’s even more awful than it was before. I’ve got nothing to lose except for a Star Wars toy collection. It’s been great to work with both Pauls again. We’ve all got different skills. I’m still good looking with a fancy Colonial accent from growing up in Singapore. Our characters have changed. We could always pick on Richard. We can’t pick on Paul Livingston. He’s on painkillers. That and my wheelchair adds a layer of nervousness and uncertainty. Paul McDermott is much more panicked and nervous. He’s got two guys either side of him who are off their faces, but not on the drugs that he’s had any experience with. We may be toothless old lions but we have guns.“

Tour information: the Cheeky Monkey  – DAAS Live Tour Dates

 

Tim Ferguson’s advice for aspiring performers

Image-1

  1. Wear pants – “I’ve tried it the other way and people just get distracted.”
  2. Go busking – It’s a resource that is there all of the time. Other people queue for an open mic gig because everybody else is doing it. The only way to get ahead of the crowd is to break from the crowd.
  3. Don’t wear polyester in a garbage bin full of flames.
    “We’d put Paul McDermott into a rubbish bin filled with paper and promptly set it on fire. One time, he wore polyester…”
  4. Sell merchandise “Working in show business is all about the money. It’s about having a career and a livelihood. We may have had vague political agendas but we were wholly in it for the money. In my screen writing class, the first thing I put on the board is a dollar sign. I point to it and say, ‘If you want that, shut up and listen to me.”
  5. Don’t hang out with comedians. “Comedians are the most depressed and jealous people on the planet. If you’re good, they want to kill you, or they want to sleep with you, which is why they’re telling you that your act is great. Go busking instead.”

 

 

Midnight Oil Exhibition

Midnight Oil Exhibition

Midnight Oil went on the road in 2015 in the form of a travelling exhibition visiting Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Canberra, Riverina, Southern Queensland, and Wollongong. Ross Heathcote, Curator & Public Programs Coordinator, Manly Art Gallery and Museum, spoke to AMMP about one of the most successful mobile museums Australia has ever seen. The Midnight Oil exhibition showed everything from the famous Sydney 2000 Olympics ‘Sorry’ suits – to long-forgotten posters.

Courtesy: Newcastle Museum - Midnight Oil exhibition
Courtesy: Newcastle Museum – Midnight Oil exhibition. The Making of Midnight Oil!

The exhibition of Midnight Oil’s was a huge success at the Sydney exhibition hosted by the Manly Art Gallery and Museum – what were the final numbers?

Yes, a huge success in many ways, not only big numbers (18,000 in Manly over a short few weeks, and even more at Newcastle), but really rich visitation with great experiences and some genuine interactivity.

There were thousands of Oils fans visiting of course, but also visitors who had never heard of the Oils. At Manly there was much interstate and overseas visitation. We were thrilled. We hosted several special events include a world premiere screening of the full ‘The Making of 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1’ documentary by Robert Hambling, and some great Q&A evenings which featured Rob Hirst and Jim Moginie from the Oils.

Making of Midnight Oil - Touring in 2015

How was your Newcastle season?

We have just pulled down the The Making of Midnight Oil exhibition in Newcastle. It looked great in the old train sheds (now Newcastle Museum). Our exhibition is based around stages and risers…real ones, with the real Midnight Oil roadcases converted into showcases. Along with the graphics, a hundred or so gig posters, original lyric scrawls and many brilliant audio-visuals, the band’s instruments and other artefacts, the exhibition had a truly authentic and unique rock’n’roll look.

Newcastle was a perfect host venue for the show. The town has a fine pub rock tradition that is maintained there. One of the highlights at Newcastle was an evening event focussing on songwriting: the panel consisted of Rob Hirst, Dave Faulkner (Hoodoo Gurus) and Dave Mason (The Reels). Apart from the fascinating, revealing and iconoclastic discussion, each of them also played or sang. I’ve never seen a happier museum audience.

Did you and the other exhibition organisers Rob Hirst, Virigina Buckingham and Wendy Osmond make any major changes to the Newcastle exhibition?

We worked closely with Newcastle museum staff to adapt the show to their space and add some local content. How could we go to Newcastle and not refer to the earthquake gig and the legendary Redhead Beach gig?

 Each venue on the tour is different, so Wendy and I will assess each space. Rob will inevitably tell us a ‘war story’ about the Oils and every town that the show will travel to, so we will try to include local references and stories.

In talking to host museums and galleries, I have encountered people who have their own Midnight Oil story to tell, as well. In the exhibition there is a facility to leave your Oils story on a fan wall.

Making of Midnight Oil - Touring in 2015

What’s your favourite part of the exhibition after all this time?

That’s really hard to answer. The icons in the show include the Sorry Suits worn at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony gig, and the giant Exxon Oil spill protest banner that the band played in front of, at their guerrilla protest gig in new York City. These are great things but I also love Ray Argall’s beautiful film piece which has wonderful concert and crowd footage from the mid 1980’s. The the ’10-1’ doco is brilliant. I love the band’s gear as well – Jim’s Gretsch, Martin’s Strat, Giffo’s Bass and Peter’s skyscaper one-piece mic stand. The gig posters are also great: they are a magnificent collection that tell us about a rich  social history of accessible world class live music, lost venues, lost bands, and of course the amazing career of the Oils.

There are a couple of soundbites including an unreleased Midnight Oil track, and a recording of Jim, Rob and Bear as teenagers in their trio Schwampy Moose. Jim offered that piece saying that ‘people need to know what we sounded like when we were shit’. I’m proud of the text in the exhibition where I had the pleasure of collaborating with the band’s biographer Mark Dodshon. The hand-scrawled lyric sheets are revealing and compelling; a rare insight into the process of the band’s three main songwriters. The hitherto unseen footage of the band playing at Tanelorn in 1981 is awesome….I could go on!

What about the piece which Rob Hirst described as follows:
“The piece de resistance is a replication in a box which has sticky carpet, three screens when you walk in and a curtain you pull behind you. It has footage of the band playing at the Tanelorn Festival in 1981 and there’s two sets of headphones you can choose from – one is loud, the other is really loud – and you can stick to the carpet. There’s elbows that come out from the side of the box so that you can be elbowed in the ribs. What I was trying to do was replicate what it was like coming to see Midnight Oil back then at the Mawson Hotel, the 16 Footers or the Ambassador or whatever.”

This was Rob’s pet project! He wanted a space in the exhibition where visitors could get the feel of an early Oils gig. He suggested a bizarre kind-of ‘bush shower’ to begin- steamy, smelly, loud…as if you were at the Royal Antler Hotel in 1978. I talked him out of that, and we compromised on a portaloo. That wasn’t going to work either. Wendy Osmond (3D designer) suggested we make a big roadcase that you can walk into. It was put together by some helpers including Grant Pudig (a former tour manager for the Oils). Rob had some old pub carpet, but it just wasn’t nasty enough, so we regularly spill a middy of Toohey’s Old and some cigarette butts into the floor to give that special Sydney pub smell.

It’s cramped and heated, and you’re surrounded by three screens featuring crowd scenes from the Hordern and the Oils at Tanelorn playing Cold Cold Change. Rob’s dogged persistence made this ‘Antler Room’  happen, but we have reserved the right to tease him about and it, so it is known as Rob’s Folly. I need to add that without Rob Hirst and his remarkable energy and penchant for collecting, MoMO would never have been born.

Other efforts toward making exhibitions about rock bands have not had the privileged position of having band members at hand, supportive and involved, and yet hands-off when it comes to telling the true stories and avoiding ‘vanity pieces’. Rob, Jim, Peter, Martin, Giffo, Bear and Bones have all been really helpful and generous along with the Oils’ management. The fact that they are as fearless in telling their story as they were as a musical force has given the exhibition project particular grunt.

Making of Midnight Oil - Touring in 2015

I once would have thought of Midnight Oil as a very serious band, with their songs and stance on indigenous issues, homeless youth and the environment (many of us might have been introduced to some of these issues through their songs). These chaps turn out to be relaxed, funny, creative, witty, self-deprecating, super-literate (Rob corrected some of my text panel grammar and he’s meant to be a rock drummer!) and very easy to work with.

Given your hands-on experience with the Oils’ exhibition lately, your ideas about an Australian Music Museum – particularly the venue, format, funding, space and viability would be very interesting to a lot of people.

The interest has been enormous. It’s not just about the Oils, there is broader interest in some recent times when Australian music (rock in particular) was a massive part of our identity. The Midnight Oil story included the politics and issues that band traversed, which gave the show an added dimension. However, the great thing about exhibiting the stories of popular music is how that resonates within our memories, generates intergenerational conversations and cross-cultural conversations (and this is all beautifully documented in our visitors’ writings in MoMO).

I imagine an Australian Music museum having some of the authenticity of MoMO; a place that can feel like a pub in Adelaide, or the Sydney Stadium or Cloudlands or the Countdown set or The Palais at any given opportunity. To do this you need great designers like Wendy Osmond and Virginia Buckingham, the involvement of audience,  and willing and brave contributors like Rob.

I’d like to see the music museum go beyond one space. Perhaps a ‘mothership venue’ with pop-ups around the country. There must be capacity for performance and recording in this space and it must be alive (therefore acoustics and accessibility are important). The key space needs much flexibility. It should be built by roadies as much as by museum makers. A smart government would take on the support of such a venue. We had some good corporate support from Sony Music, perhaps it’s time the music industry to get behind the physical museum project.The benefits are great.