Monday, January 20, 2014

The ever-so Victorian Turramurra Folk Music Camp - the view from the land of no-necks

It's nearly midnight. Half the audience have now bailed, but we are on, second last in the last set. It'll be after one by the time we get on. It is easy to be pissed off, but I am over that. Besides. Do you know how difficult it is to sing (as the audience does here) whilst typing on this noisy machine (keys tap tap tap). I think I'm a bit weird, and this perhaps confirms it, a performer, who is engaged, yet illicitly typing on a computer at the back of the room in breaks. The girls around me (aged 9-26) are intrigued. No. You cannot read it. Only when it is online.

The Turramurra Folk Music Camp Sunday night concert is legendary. Packed, literally to the rafters, tables and benches stacked into raked seating all along the walls in this small homestead. Jane and I are here, guest visitors after two years ago being formal ukulele tutors. We got a raincheck on the guest tickets from last year (Beela the cat was dying. Priorities). But we are back with a vengeance this year: participating in the New Orleans style parade on trumpet and banjo; joining the basses (pffffttt) and altos in the amaaazing choir; doing the Americana guitar workshop; helping the eminently equable, legendary and sublime Dani Rocca tune the beginner ukulele group's ukuleles; conducting a guerilla ukestration workshop then performance; and playing / reading music for the intermediate ukulele group performance. Jane banjos, sings and ukes her way through the evening, getting voyeuristic pleasure from peering over the shoulder of an acquaintance audient who compulsively doodles every act in quirky detail, next to the acquaintances who knit, or weave. Maybe the guy at the back on the computer isn't too weird after all.

The room is full for two of the three sets. Maybe 200 men, women and children, crushed in, OH&S be damned. Each participant is generally only allowed to contribute one song. Regardless, each set takes an hour or more, and so, at midnight after the second set, half the people leave.

And then, almost as a coda. Jane and I. Second last. Until the MC (self interest uppermost in mind) decides to bump us ignominiously to last - just before the limbo. Our performance of one of my songs to a captive attentive audience proves its immediate gut-wrenching quality just for a moment. The applause is preceded by a barely audible grunt or groan of self-acknowledged pain from the audience, one that only comes from lyrical self-recognition. Success.

The concert is composed of the results of all the weekend's workshops, plus much some. It is the plus much some which floors me occasionally, and that gives me so much hope for the future of music. At least in this tight little valley.

Turra is my idea of family. For a weekend it is my idea of heaven. So many aspects are heavenly, idyllic and idealistic. The music, the environment (masses of finches, cockatoos, dawn raucous), the all-in-family atmosphere, the acknowledgment of death, to the circle of life that is in your face, if only over decades of watching. This is my third time here. But I have known this community for maybe 15 years. In Australia I'm sure that this thing can only happen in Victoria. Damn Victoria. Damn Victoria and your compassionately diverse and creatively wonderful social consciousness. Damn you and your increasingly insufferable climate. How I wish you were in NSW and next to our beaches. Alas. You are not.

If only we NSW no-necks could forsake our jet-skis and do and be something like this. If only.

What makes Turra so?

This. These.

  • The two girls at tonight's concert, frail in their age and confidence, almost tweenies, the youngest maybe 11, the eldest? 14/15?. A song, delicate, probably original, slight celtic affectations (so popular at these folk festivally-type events), perfect barely audible harmonies. The girls, frail in their reluctant acceptance of the uproar that follows. I smash my aluminium drinking bottle on the timber floor for a full minute, unable to stop bashing out my delight and approval. The MC restrains them from leaving, at least until the applause has ceased. Now. Now you can go.
  • The New Orelans style street band parade - 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, umpteen ukuleles, myriad other instruments, saxes, guitars, voices, clarinets, innumerable dancers, jiving their way through the tall trees
    of this narrow north-south valley down near the Victorian west coast. We stop near the memorial tree planting which is accompanied by a vegetated mural. The mural will blow away in the wind, as did Ebenezer - a refugee 11 year old boy whose family was sponsored to be included at Turra last year and then he was killed a few weeks later in a car accident. His mother leads an Ethiopian drumming grieving dance, us whities trying to help join and salve her pain by poorly emulating the passion of her home culture. We are so not-Ethiopian at that, but at least we are here, a year later, a community still including and acknowledging her in her/our grief. Tears. Lumps in throat. Some success must be there if we are feeling such emotions.
  • The inter-generational baton passing is the most impressive thing about Turra. It has been going maybe 30 years, and people born over the life of this camp are now taking responsibility for its spirit. Not so much taking responsibility, for they are glad for it, they own it. It is a natural consquence of their life in this community, of this place. 12,000 trees have been planted out of a culture has been nurtured by a few families of note in the Victorian and Australian folk music scenes. The names Rigby, Gruner, Vadiveloo and Wise are replete. Stars have come out of this place, younguns who still deliver, make Turra acoustic music offerings here, but are the core of the funk, rock and electronic youth scenes in Melbourne. Folks cross over don't you know?
  • Early on in the concert three-quarters of the audience leave. The choir has to get ready for their two songs, to become reacquainted with their unorthodox musical parts that have been put together over two days by idiot choir savant leader Stephen Taberner. He is utterly brilliant, and is no idiot. But 'idiot savant' conveys so much more than 'eccentric savant'. The songs he wrote, only possible from him, cross rhythms that I didn't think I could do. But I did, as did all of us other singing novitiates. Brilliant. whada we do now, whada we do? … where do we go, what do we do now? what do we do …
  • It is hard to distinguish between audience and performer. This is as it should be.
  • The hobbit driven bass marimba. Straight out of a Peter Jackson film, the mere mortal stands on a
    chair to play it, assembled from enormous plastic drain piping, structural framing and about ten carved strikers (the notes). Long after I go to bed its tones resonate along the valley, almost rising through my mat on the ground, about 500m away. The younguns still stomping to its insistence. 3am, 4am pass bassfully.  Please, go to bed. Please, someone murder the marimba hobbit.
  • Throughout the camp, long haired barefoot kids whizz, exploring the creek, making and destroying swiftly made bridges, becoming trolls on the main footbridge only letting you pass when you scream like a harridan or speak in a foreign tongue, waking you at dawn with their plotting and playing.
  • Teens flirt with their trombones and trumpets, sharing music and time with their parents and other musical compadres, saving sly glances for the girl / boy who is their weekend adoration. Collaborating and experimenting musically, and maybe in other ways should parents, and time, allow.
  • The night ends with a massive limbo competition. The domain of supple youth backs. For 25+ years the limbo has segued out of the finale, probably previously driven by mandolins, fiddle, bodhrans and whistles, now by vigorous 15-25 year old horn players, horns, bass and snare. Jane refuses, she respects her back. I have one token go, and then as the stick gets lower and lower, and the competition fiercer and fiercer I go closer and closer to marvel and cheer. The two left, at less than my knee height, battle it out to chiropractic depths, abs rippling (I didn't know that's what you needed!), ankles floor sliding, heads hanging backwards. I barrack for Alistair Watson, lanky and still growing at 14/16 years old, and upcoming musician, treading the respected steps of his father. He just loses to Dan of the Impossibly Taut and Rippling Abdominals, equally lanky, equally impressive musically
I wake in the morning. Stuffed. Sick. Exhausted. 2 nights of little sleep. No alcohol. That must be it. No alcohol. Maybe if I had drunk I would feel better. I am now insufferable, but Jane persists with her loving and I appreciate this, in packing up the campsite, in driving, in tolerating the whinges.

In the loo (mobile phone in hand) I try to come to terms with the reality - that another world will intercept us when we leave this wireless-free refuge. Vestiges of emails (for the moment disconnected) remind us that tarred roads, wars, supermarkets, jet skis and a job awaits, jaws to hell open at the gates of the valley. 

Oh the pain.