Paco Erhard … a Bloody Funny German!

One of the world’s mysteries – German people are very funny (yes, yes, I know, I know), when you live and mix with them, but the thought of a German comedian baffles most of us, even Germans! So the opportunity to see a real live German comedian in Perth, as part of the 2014 Fringe Festival was too good to pass up.

Paco Erhard appeared at Rosie O’Grady’s Irish pub on Sunday night, with his one hour show, A FIVE STEP GUIDE TO BEING GERMAN and he is very, very funny, dangerously so, plunging headlong into the verboten subject of Hitler and WW11, with wit, charm and pathos – his story of being a school kid preferring maths to history brilliantly illustrated the burden of modern history for German people. And how refreshing to hear a German fight back against insufferable English moral superiority – I told you he was dangerous.

Gloriously self-deprecating, the audience never stopped laughing, Germans recognized themselves, we them. All of us instantly knew the truth of his banter and not just about being German, he had us pinned as well, he’d done his homework, with a marvellous joke about Rudd, a couple about Abbott, not to mention Perthites… “Macchiato loving ponces from Mt Lawley” … God, I think I might be one!

Yes Narelle, there is a German comedian, his name is Paco Erhard, he’s bloody funny, makes you think, he’s likeable, bounces well off the audience and is very, very clever. He’s got another show DJERMAN UNCHAINED coming up at Rosie O’Grady’s, from 13th – 23rd February at 8.15pm, don’t miss him, he’s that bloody good.

The Boss Pile Drives into Perth.

Springsteen Concert Perth 7 February 2014

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Pile driving rock and blues for the blue collar worker – the miner, the truckie, the factory hand and every financially strapped mum and dad the world over. This guy cares, this guy knows the hard road and mate, can this sucker rock!

The show started late and given his propensity for three hour shows, I wondered how he’d cope with noise curfews – simple, they never stopped for an interval. Three hours later, soaked in sweat, Springsteen finished acoustically, alone, the band had left the stage, but somehow these final songs, including an astounding acoustic version of Thunder Road, were even more powerful than the full on kick ass sledge hammer of the 18 piece rock band. Speaking of which, my only complaint would be that the sound techs had wound it up too loud for the first couple of hours, to the point where Springsteen’s voice was distorted. They obviously backed things off in the final hour, still incredibly loud (ears constantly ringing 12 hours later!) but crystal clear.

I’ll leave it to others to talk of exact set lists, suffice to say, the band’s repertoire is enormous and incredibly rehearsed, several times, Springsteen took posters from audience members with song requests on them, showed the poster to the band and they inevitably segued straight into the requested song. You’ve also got to dip your lid to his lyric memory, as far as I could see, there was no auto cue.

The stand out feel of the night, something I’ve never experienced to this extent in any other concert, even surpassing Leonard Cohen, was the empathy and involvement this man has with his audience. He is that working class hero, who has never turned his back on his roots. The audience adores him and he loves them, it’s that simple. Several times he wandered through the audience, singing, shaking hands, high-fiving and laughing. He’d met a little boy while swimming at the beach the day before and the little tyke had sung a song for him, Springsteen had him at the show, called him up, sat down centre stage with him and got him to sing the song again, before hoisting him on his shoulders and dancing him back to mum and dad. Later, he invited several audience members up on stage to dance, even handing guitars to two of them. At one stage, after he’s been handed a bag full of Aussie stuff, including Vegemite, he crowd surfed back to the stage. I can’t imagine Mick Jagger ever trusting the crowd to that extent, the Stones are fantastic live, but they don’t do blood, sweat, tears and laughter with their audience like the Boss does.

It was interesting to hear my partner’s reaction, whilst she knows and likes Springsteen’s hits, she’s never been a fan as such. Suddenly she found herself plunged into the unique world of Springsteen – sledge hammer rock and roll with stories of American working people. She loved it, loved the power-house band and loved his genuine empathy for his audience.

This man is Rock’s answer to Steinbeck and Salinger, he paints vivid searing images of American life, no air brushing, no holds bared, no prisoners – from Born in the USA, a song people often misinterpret as a jingoistic chant, rather than the bleak criticism it really is:

I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go”

through My Home Town:

They’re closing down the textile mill across the rail road tracks

Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to

Your hometown, your hometown, your hometown, your hometown”

There are times when Springsteen sounds like Dylan and of course, there should be homage, Dylan broke the mould, melding songs of the people with electric guitar, but Springsteen takes it in a different direction, the sneering, snarling, viper like brilliance of Dylan is replaced with equally brilliant cries for help and pleas to understand what life is like on the factory floor, the rented house, or the drought-ridden farm. In a way, it’s still folk music.

The parts are the sweat of an honest working bloke, the love and empathy of a war zone nurse, the words of an Arthur Miller and the rock and blues of Presley and Diddley. The sum is Springsteen. He IS The Boss – one of us done good.

There were so many moments, including the play between Springsteen and the lovely guitar and violin playing lady, who I mistakenly thought was Patti Scialfa, (Springsteen’s wife), my thanks to Paul O’Neil for pointing out that it’s actually Soozie Tyrell, but a couple stand out just a fraction amongst the brilliance, High Hopes with Van Zandt and Morello’s guitar on The Ghost of Tom Joad. Try to imagine pile driving rock and roll, the auditorium shaking and The Boss singing, screaming, crying:

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy 

Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries 

Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air 
Look for me Mom I’ll be there 
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand 
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand 
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free 
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.” 

Glory Days, The Boss is with us.

PS: We bought the USB stick – a great idea, $40.00 and 72hrs after the concert, you can download the actual concert you attended.

 

 

 

Is Mining Safe? (As published in WAtoday 23 Jan 2014)

Is mining safe? How long is a piece of string? It’s hard, dangerous work and the hours are long and arduous – breaking rocks in the hot sun, the pale moonlight, or underground has always, and will always be, high risk.

Falling rock kills, and so does complacency.

Haulage, the roadtrain operation of moving ore from the mine site to the crusher plant, is just one of the operations of a mine site, but it is classified as one of the most dangerous.

The following job description might put things in perspective

As the road rises the 300-ton roadtrain slows. You might come down 12 gears on the 18-speed gearbox before reaching the summit, all the while watching 20 gauges to monitor differential temperatures, pyrometer, oil pressure, oil temperature, coolant temperature and so on, while listening to two-way radios and watching for oncoming traffic – the other roadtrains hauling iron ore on this private dirt road. The beast crests the summit and begins the inexorable climb back up to top gear and top speed (90km/h).

Each roadtrain is made up of a prime mover, with three drive axles and three trailers, two with dolly units.

The entire vehicle is 55 metres long, weighs 85 tons unloaded and around 300 tons loaded. The trailers are side tippers – the right side tips hydraulically and you tip on the run – travelling about 20km/h, dropping the rear (dog) trailer first, then the second and the first last.

Often when you’re dropping the dog, there’s so much dust, you’re just winging it, watching the mirror in the hope of seeing something.  There’s the ever-present danger of rocks tumbling back under the wheels, ripping tyres apart, or worse, damaging brake boosters and springs. You “listen” with your backside, alert for the through the seat feel of trailer wheels riding up over a rock.

Safely unloaded, you take the rig around to the go line and inspect tyres (all 74!) for damage, spring packs for breakage, air bags for deflation and wire ropes and hydraulics for wear and breakage. With luck, you’ll have time to grab a coffee and find a new album on the iPod before pointing the beast at the haul road once again.

100kms later you’re back on to the mine ROM pad and starting to load. It usually takes about 15 minutes to load 200 to 220 tons on the three trailers.

Loaded, you walk around the rig (that’s a 110-metre walk) to ensure no rocks have fallen under wheels, where they could rip a $1000 tyre apart in a split second, then, (the only time you’ll use the clutch, until you stop), engage crawler gear and gently ease down on the throttle. Too much power and you could break drive shafts trying to get 300 ton off the line. Any gear other than crawler will also put too much strain on the drive train.

Then it’s thunder time, pedal to the metal. We do 12-hour shifts, three round trips a shift (600+ kilometres) day and night. Each round trip takes about three-and-a-half hours.

Passing an oncoming roadtrain is always a time of considered thought – it takes a kilometre to stop from 90km/h. Even though there’s up to five metres between you, the reality is it’s usually less than that and dog trailers sometimes get a swing on them of a couple of metres. Pedal to the metal means safety: if you back off, the whole rig will start to swing, as push/pull forces exert themselves at every sway point on the rig.

If two road trains were to meet head-on, at a combined speed of 180km/h with a combined weight (one train empty) of 385 tons, both drivers would die. No ifs, no buts. It has happened. If you accidentally ran off the road into the surrounding woodlands, your only hope of survival would be to keep the hammer down – come off that throttle and three trailers would smash into the prime mover cabin, although it’s likely the off-road excursion would rip the drives out of the prime mover anyway, leaving the trailers to crash into the stalled prime mover.

The company is beyond stringent with safety – it’s drilled into every pre-start and toolbox meeting and any incident, no matter how small, has to be reported and investigated. Each rig has a forward-mounted camera, constantly recording the vehicle’s progress. Drivers are called up and monitored throughout shifts, especially on night shift, when all sorts of factors, such as poor visibility and sleep patterns become vital parts of the safety equation, not to mention the emotional well-being of the operator.

Drug and alcohol testing is of course mandatory.The call by the Australian Manufactoring Workers Union for less stringent drug and alcohol testing is stupid – there can be no place on any mine site for serial recreational drug users or heavy binge drinkers.

Good companies monitor and encourage their people to seek help in times of stress and send people home on full pay. It’s an economically sound decision, given the possible outcome of a stressed, tired driver unable to concentrate on the operation of the vehicle. Each rig is worth around $1.5 million, not to mention the 200+ ton payload of iron ore.

And of course, haulage is only one facet of a modern mining operation.

Most people work what’s known as two on, one off (two weeks at work, then one week off). The first week consists of seven 12 hour days and the second week, seven 12 hour nights. At the end of the two week period you’re so tired the break is absolutely necessary and, to clear up a common misconception, you’re not paid for your week off.

So, is it safe? The answer is a qualified yes. Generalisations can be way off the mark, dangerously so, however it’s fair to say that severe injury and deaths on mine sites, (catastrophic equipment failure aside), usually occur when safe work practices have either been ignored or have not been put in place.

The greatest advice anyone gets on a mine site is, “If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. Stop.” The only heroes on mine sites are the cautious.

Greg Ross started work on mine sites in the mid 1970s and has worked at gold, nickel and iron ore mines across the state. He currently works at a WA iron ore mine where he is the health and safety representative for his crew. FMG'S Haul Road 156-001Kooly by Night 004-001

Read more: http://www.watoday.com.au/comment/is-mining-safe-working-in-a-high-risk-industry-where-complacency-kills-20140122-318aw.html#ixzz2rBGHQ8vX

The lazy 79 year old bastard in a suit still gives great gig – three hours plus!

Leonard Cohen Concert Perth November 2013

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wp-content/flagallery/leonard-cohen-concert-perth-november-2013

Cohen’s back in the Land Down Under and the Land of the Long White Cloud and if anything, the concert is more sublime than ever. The opening gig in Perth was a gentle affair, somehow more musically precise than before, there was a clarity of instruments and voice, giving the feel of a classical music master-class.

The violin of Alex Bublitchi has been accorded more prominence, reminiscent of the soaringRaffi Hakopian violin days of Cohen’s tours in the late 1970s and the music is all the better for it. At the same time Neil Larsen’s Hammond B3 is more restrained, while Rafael Gayol’s percussion remains peerless, so damn sympathetic it’s almost a shock when a heavier rock and roll beat thunders in with the likes of “First We Take Manhattan.” Mitch Watkins on guitar at times laid down a distinctly Wes Montgomery sound, indeed jazz and blues influences are apparent throughout the concert. Then there’s Javier Mas on guitar, laud and archilaud and bandurai. This man is a tour de force, every time I hear him, I am reminded of the passion and intensity of Manitas de Plata – something about the Spanish master’s playing stirs very deep in the soul. It would be easy to neglect Roscoe Beck on bass, such is the finesse of his unobtrusive but essential laying down of bass patterns, only occasionally, usually in the theatre of his double bass, does Roscoe take any sort of centre stage, yet he is Cohen’s long term musical director, the man who put this outstanding group of musos musos together, including the Webb Sisters on harp and guitar. Mention must be made of the boss. Cohen is playing his Canadian-made guitar with more attack than usual, his distinctive strum and pick is now accentuated with very strong individual string attacks, that resonate as musical exclamation marks to his lyrics.

Then there’s Cohen’s voice, an intoxicating, beyond the grave rumble – if a didgeridoo could talk, surely it would sound like Leonard Cohen. Can he sing? Try singing “Bird on the Wire” or “Hallelujah.” The voice is at once compelling, enveloping, lived in, as smooth as a 20 year old single malt and holding up remarkably well, although, perhaps naturally, towards the end of the three hour concert, his voice was becoming husky and the angels stepped in, carrying him to soaring heights. Yet just when you thought he’d stretched his vocal chords to the limit, after the poignant end-of-life’s journey “Going Home,” he broke into a scintillating “First We Take Manhattan” and you were left shaking your head, thinking, “Where the hell did he pull that from? Under that shiny black Fedora?”

Speaking of voices, Sharon Robinson, muse, collaborator, co-writer, perhaps even guardian, is stunning, “Alexandra Leaving” their take on Anthony and Cleopatra, is a tour de force that takes your breath away. Cohen has never disguised the fact that female voices add spice and beauty to his sepulchral tones and he has no fear of standing back, hat off, head bowed in respect, quietly taking in velvet – voiced woman interpreting his lyrics and music. Inevitably these chanteuse are sublime gifts to the world of music – think Jennifer Warne, Perla Batalla and Robinson, a one time backing singer for Ann – Margaret. There is a moment when the Webb Sisters take ownership of “If It Be Your Will”, I first heard them perform this in 2009 and it still makes my heart stop.

Songs? Where does one start with Cohen? Like so many in the audience, I grew up with his work, walking the streets of Auckland as a 16 year old boy, “Songs of Leonard Cohen” under my arm, but one song always breaks me with its intensity, truth and unnerving ability to set scenes in my mind. Javier Mas inevitably rips your heart out as he lays down a show-stopping lead-in performance. I defy anyone with a soul to stop the tears when the story unfolds … “An old woman gave us shelter, kept us hidden in the garret, then the soldiers came … she died without a whisper …. through the graves the wind is blowing.”

Some will tell you Cohen’s music is monotonous, even suicidal, that he cannot sing. They are at once, both right and wrong. One thing is for sure, there will never be another quite like the Montreal Monk and surely and decently, the time to smell and write of the roses must be closing in our man. Do not miss this show, Lenny may not pass this way again.

Greg Ross

The Seekers in Concert … Still Magic After 50 Years!

The Seekers 50th Anniversary Perth Concert Sat 2 November 2013

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It came to me as I sang along with ‘Morningtown Ride’, not only do The Seekers write and sing beautifully crafted melodies and sensitive lyrics, they somehow embody a sense of decency – make you proud to be an Aussie and although they can rightly claim Superstar status, there is none of the diva arrogance, they are our bloody talented mates we grew up with.

The Perth show on Saturday night, was the first of their rescheduled 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Tour, following Judith Durham’s brain haemorrhage in May. It was hard to reconcile the shocking fact that just six months ago she could not write her own name, with the reality of the waif-like beautifully-voiced happy woman now gracing the stage.

The group took us on a Baby Boomers’ journey of memories, with Judith, Bruce and Keith taking centre stage for short solo performances. Sometimes the group played along to old video clips screened on a stage curtain behind them, yet 50 years later, the sound, the voices, the harmonies and the musicianship are just the same, perhaps better, with the pathos of life experiences adding shade to lyrics. Now and then, rehashed groups from the 60s go on tour, with one or two original members, it’s always fun, but the magic has inevitably gone, along with voices. These guys … and Judith! … have still got it.

Sure there were a couple of miscues, (it was the first show), but they were in themselves very funny. In some ways, it’s probably a shame they’ll be polished out, the warm humanity of the group shone through, with Bruce Woodley at one stage declaring to the others, “I think I’m able to sing this on my own!” and sing he did, including the song many, including myself, think should be our national anthem “I Am Australian”. At that point, with the audience singing along, I wondered what my German fiancée (in her late 30s) was making of it all, sure she knew the songs, her mum loved them and still has Seekers albums, but would the wonderfully warm, inclusive lyrics of love for Australia and Australians mean anything? They did, she loved it and understood how Woodley’s lyrics tapped into our ethos of a fair go and quiet pride.

The two and half hour show, plus interval was one of the most memorable, lovely nights I’ve ever spent at a concert. We had radio and ‘West Coast Promo Guy’ royalty in the seats beside us – Paul Gadenne, Lionel Yorke, Eoin Cameron and his long-term producer Brad, all of us were singing, clapping and perhaps, like me I wondered, silently shedding a tear. I later told Eoin I’d had tears in my eyes during a couple of songs, “Mate,” he said, “I was bloody howling!”

The Seekers, their music and their performances are a national treasure. The tour heads to the east coast after the final Perth performance and finishes in Brisbane on the 4th of December. Do not miss this show, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be uplifted and to quote Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” (another 60s hit), you’ll understand “It’s still a beautiful world.”

I should add as a rider, that Keith Potger is a much loved mate and gave us our tickets as a gift – we were going anyhow!

Greg Ross

Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson Show … Sadly Sycophantic

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I’ve always loved Cirque Du Soleil shows, including the Beatles Love show, which I caught in Las Vegas a couple of years back, so I was looking forward to seeing what they would do with Michael Jackson.

Sadly, it has left me cold and disinterested. With the Love show, they took the Beatles music and wove a story – a magical mystery tour of sorts, but this was a somewhat sycophantic homage to Michael Jackson, all a bit ‘saccharine Hollywood sweet,’ maybe because it’s a joint Cirque Du Soleil / Michael Jackson estate production.

I took one of my daughters to see Michael Jackson live back in the 1990s and remember then that the music was incredibly loud and it was very much a sound and light show – far more an entertainment, than a music concert and that apart from a couple of songs, the music didn’t do much for me. Nothing’s changed.

Certainly there were several fantastic circus highlights and the costumes with LED fibre optics were out of this world, absolutely stunning to watch. However the sound system at this show was a disappointment, often distorted, wth no real sense of ‘surround sound’, it was very one directional, although perhaps this can be attributed to where we were sitting.

It was less a breath-taking acrobatic show and more a show featuring acrobatic dance moves in front of video clips of Michael Jackson, although I must mention the acrobat with one leg performing on crutches. I’m sure this was a genuine disability, apologies if it’s not. He was stunning and the crowd rightly loved him.

Unfortunately I was bored for much of the show, which shocked me, but my fiancée and my daughter (both in their 30s) loved the show and it was obvious Michael Jackson fans were enthralled. I became very uncomfortable with the constant portrayal of Jackson as some sort of God-like benefactor. If you’re a fan (and seemingly many in the audience were), then I am certain you will love it, if not, don’t waste your money. I never thought I’d say that about a Cirque Du Soleil show!

Greg Ross

 

Ute Lemper … The Hottest Vamp in Town

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Ute Lemper might have thought Perth was cold – she told us twice – in German and French, but the lady on the night was hot and the Perth crowd warmly enthusiastic. The New York based girl from Münster (the northern German university city), took us on a very personal journey through the love poems of the Chilean Noble Prize winner, Pablo Neruda and after interval, into songs from the likes of Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel.

In so many ways, this was musical theatre at it’s very best. Ute – pronounced “oota” – Lemper gave us the lover, the vamp, the siren, the lost and even the dangerous. And the musicians were of the same master class as the musicians Leonard Cohen plays with, each instrument a voice of its own. There was a moment, as Victor Villena’s bandoneon took over from Micha Moltoff’s violin, when it was impossible to tell which instrument still had the note. Vana Gierig’s jazz influenced piano, John Benthal’s guitar and Steve Millhouse’s double bass are central to Lemper’s performance with the bandoneon and violin adding haunting pathos, you’d go to see these guys even if Ute couldn’t be with them.

She sang the love poems in Spanish, occasionally breaking into the more accessible, (for this enthralled audience member), French and English, but love and heartache is an international language and Lemper gives wonderful theatre, so little was lost. The last of the poems, “The Saddest Poem / NR.20” was a tour de force and her scat singing beyond astounding.

Interval over, the lady reappeared, the blood red gown of tempestuous love, replaced by shimmering cabaret black and Lemper went back to her roots, simpering into Berlin dialect with Marlene Dietrich’s “Die Fesche Lola”, segueing into Lili Marleen.” I have to admit her interpretation unaccountably brought tears to my eyes, as she lent on Villena’s shoulder and sung the haunting, beautiful song. Then she led us into the brothels of “Amsterdam,” with Brel’s bitter/ sweet portrait of sailors, ports and prostitutes. Not many people can pull this song off, however she equalled Scott Walker’s version, singing in both French and English. Gierig then left the keyboard, exiting stage right, returning with a bowler hat and cabaret was on in earnest, as the musicians began Kurt Weill’s Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (“Mack the Knife”). Lemper blended this into “Cabaret”. It was utterly spellbinding.

There was more ”Milord”, but not enough. This lady is at the top of her game, giving us an unforgettable night of love, poetry, music, theatre and passion and I swear she looked at me in my second row seat and said “Et toi’ as she bade us farewell. Ne me quitte pas!

Eastern States audiences still have the opportunity to catch one of her magnificent performances, in Melbourne: Wed 18 September at the Arts Centre, Adelaide: Sat 21 September at the Barton Theatre and Sydney: Mon 23 September at the Sydney Opera House.

Greg Ross

Springsteen & I – a gentle, wonderfully different Rock Movie

The movie trailer:

http://youtu.be/HVQUeCi9V0s

Way back, even before Adam played fullback for the Arabs, I was in Melbourne and had just bought a new album. It blew me away, pure magic, fabulous rock and roll, a hell of a band and a singer / songwriter with a rock anthem voice and gutsy blue collar lyrics.

The year was 1975, the album was ‘Born to Run’, the band was the E Street Band and the singer was Bruce Springsteen. I loved it, still do. I remember writing to my mate Gordon, who was off travelling through Asia, especially to tell him he had to listen to this guy Springsteen and his music. Later, there was the dark, brooding Steinbeck-like album ‘Nebraska’, an absolute masterpiece. Springsteen tells stories of working class people, songs of hope and loss, that can make you weep, or dance for joy. One always gets me yelling along is ‘Glory Days,’ a song which has become more relevant as I’ve grown older. As a lyricist, for me he ranks alongside Cohen and Dylan and I was saddened when he didn’t make it to Perth recently, he’s the one act I desperately want to see – like Cohen, he gives everything in three to three and a half hour concerts to his audience. And in a sad note, I will now never get to see the fabulous Clarence Clemens play his wild, wonderful sax with the band, I guess it’s some recompense that his nephew has replaced him after his passing.

Anyhow, on a whim, I thought I’d pop out to the cinema on a wet winters Wednesday and watch the movie / documentary ‘Springsteen & I,’ as it’s been getting great reviews.

It’s very different and won’t suit everybody – my son Gordon walked out after half an hour, as he loves Springsteen, but thought it was going to be a concert, which it isn’t … for most of the movie.

It’s made up of Youtube ‘Selfies,’ short amateur videos people have made of themselves, talking about their love of Springsteen and his music and how it’s affected their lives. Admittedly disconcerting at first, I must admit for a while I thought it wasn’t for me either, but gradually I began to be drawn into the stories, featuring people from all over the world (none from Oz or NZ as far as I could tell). It became utterly fascinating and sometimes, so poignant tears would well in my eyes. I won’t describe the vignettes, rather if it interests you, I’d like you to experience it for yourself.

The format continues to break any rules, in that half way through, the credits role, but it’s not the finish. The screen goes briefly black then we roll in to last years concert at Hyde Park in London for 35 minutes of great concert work – that is going to be a helluva live concert DVD when it’s released! And after that there’s an Epilogue which yet again tugs at the heart strings.

For any fan of popular music, this film is a must-see, it shouldn’t work, but it does, probably for the reality that so many of us have grown up with musical heroes and music which identifies us and we identify with. Go with an open mind and heart, the emotional reward is both unexpected and soothing.

Reminiscing … Vampires and Audis

Great mate, Tony McManus, now Breakfast radio king in Cairns, has just written, reminding me of the Audi A4 launch I dreamt up way back in 2001, his words; … I recall the BEST Audi A4 launch was presented by you at Midland? Not long after I arrived in Perth? Still never been to a better car launch.”

Audi A4 Launch

[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l1.jpg]20The minimalist entry
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l2.jpg]00The "Art of Audi" display
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l3.jpg]00Walkin through the display, you had no idea you'd end up in the shed.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l4.jpg]00Out into the main shed, note the candelabra
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l5.jpg]20The steam engine comes hissing and puffing into the crowd
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l7.jpg]60The Leshenault Lady restored to all her past glory
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l8.jpg]30Ghouls and vampires descend into the crowd hunting the girl
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l6.jpg]20
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l9.jpg]20The victim surrounded
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l10.jpg]00Count Dracula appears.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l11.jpg]00He's got her!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l12.jpg]10The Audi A4 and Bond to the rescue!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l13.jpg]00The only way to deal with a pissed-off vampire - a gun won't do it!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l14.jpg]00Saving the girl, as you do!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_a4l15.jpg]00The Audi wins
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/audi-a4-launch/thumbs/thumbs_image.jpg]00The Inside Cover story from the West Australian!

 

Audi wanted the launch to be something different, away from the dealership showroom, so I poured myself a large glass of Shiraz and ‘thunk.’ I decided I wanted a desolate, wrecked sort of place. Went to visit the old East Perth Power Station but it was too derelict, too dangerous for people. Then after a day or two of searching, somebody suggested I take a look at the old Midland Railway Workshops. I rang the guy (Kieran Kinsellaheading up the newly established Midland Redevelopment Authority and arranged an appointment – he seemed bemused / intrigued.

When I got there, there was this massive shed, several of them, long and vast enough to park several Indian Pacifics in, huge! “Hmm,” said I to myself. “I like this. What could I do?” I noticed there was a railway line into the shed and said to Kieran, “Can I get a real train in here?” He said yes, quizzically, asking me what I was thinking. I couldn’t tell him just then, as a mad, mad idea was fermenting in my pea brain. I needed more red wine.

Back at the bar, the concept formed … in the fog! I wanted to have the invited guests inside the building, sipping champers and nibbles, then a train whistle would sound outside the building. The roller door would go up and a real steam engine would charge in pulling one carriage. The carriage would be full of ghouls and vampires, who would descend and walk through the crowd. Planted in the crowd, would be ‘the beautiful blonde victim”. Then as the ghouls surrounded her, Dracula would appear above everybody, demanding the girl. I know, I know, at this stage, I should have been locked up!

Then as Dracula just about claimed the girl, way down in the depths of the other end of the shed, literally about half a kilometre away, headlights would switch on and out of the darkness, the hero would come speeding up to rescue the girl.

Kieran liked it, (he was looking to have something happen there for the publicity), my boss thought, quite rightly, that I was off the planet, but Audi loved it and gave me permission to go with it.

There were almost insurmountable problems, but hell, that’s never stopped me, not the least being no power on site (more of that later!!) and finding a working steam engine was almost impossible. But I found the Leschenault Lady, a little old steam engine enthusiasts were slowly putting together. They needed funds to compete the restoration, easy. Then I needed actors, WAAPA was the answer. Then there were safety issues, we had to have volunteers to protect people – bringing a live steam engine into the middle of a crowd has certain complications, especially when they’re not expecting it! We also needed a real driver – racing a speeding car up to guests inside a shed has it’s own complications!

Driver lined up, we took the exhaust off the Audi – sound effects inside the shed, besides, the steam engine would be making a fair bit of noise, letting off steam as it were – and started practising. If I say so myself, the car looked spectacular, coming out of the blackness at a thousand miles an hour and David got the end slide perfect.

The big night arrived. We had signs up on the Great Eastern Highway, as most people had no idea where they were going. The debonair, impeccable, unflappable Peter Holland was MC (more of that later). Guests were ushered in through a small door, into a very modern setting of eclectic Audi things and associated luxury goods – watches etc – we had to have guards on duty as some things were very valuable – not that the invited guests would have touched anything! As always, in my events, Faith Nicholls from Comestibles did the catering.

So there it was, guests had wandered through the displays with drinks and food, then eventually found themselves in the vast shed, lit with a few lights, and candles and candelabras everywhere. Then as they were all wondering when the usual boring reveal would be, the lonesome whistle sounded outside the shed, most people didn’t take too much notice, as the major east – west rail lines are very close. Then the roller door opened and in came the steam train right into the crowd. The crowd went wild, more so when the vampires and ghouls came out of the carriage all heading for the blonde girl in white, who’d just been amongst the guests. I used the soundtrack from Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent Dracula film.

With the girl surrounded, the music built to a crescendo and then way above everybody, on a scissor lift, was Dracula, bathed in a red spotlight. He beckoned for the girl and slowly descended. Just as he was about to take / bite the girl, way out in the blackness , headlights went on and the Audi without any exhaust, started speeding towards the crowd. Great theatre if I say so myself (sorry!, I’m just laughing remembering it all). The car swooped to a stop in a fantastic broadside, a James Bond type bloke jumped out, grabbed two bits of wood, shaped them into a cross, warded off Dracula, grabbed the girl, threw her, elegantly! – into the car and they sped off.

The crowd loved it, wild applause broke out, then … then … the lights, sound, power, everything, except the steam engine went out. I panicked, this was not in the script. I ran / stumbled over to the generator, it was still going but no power. The manager I’d hired to oversee everything was baffled and panicking, bosses were yelling at me, I had no idea what to do, so I did the only thing possible. I thought, “I don’t know anything about power generators, they’ll fix this, I can’t contribute, so I’ll pour myself a wine and get some fresh air, while the experts deal with it.”

Within about five minutes, they fixed it – some dry ice, from the container next to the smoke machine, had fallen onto a connector point and blown a fuse. Most in the crowd thought it was all part of the show, Comestibles kept serving food and Peter Holland was completely, wonderfully, unfazed.

The next morning, I got a phone call from Inside Cover at the West Australian and found myself in a starring role the next day!

I’ve posted some photos I’ve still got of the event, they were taken by a Sunday Times photographer – Stuart? Apologies, I just can’t recall his name and from memory, there were just on 500 guests. Audi always said it was the best launch. And as a postscript, I now live in an apartment that’s part of the old railway workshops complex, indeed the railway line that goes right past the balcony, is the same one the steam train came in on. The Leschenault Lady went up to Kalgoorlie to do tourist runs on the Kalgoorlie – Boulder line, but I’m not sure where the grand little lady is these days.