Ronnie James Dio dead, Jeff Martin live

So I’m just about to say how much I enjoyed Jeff Martin’s gig at Ruby’s last night, and I see that Ronnie James Dio has died from stomach cancer. The little guy had a massive voice — anyone who saw him tour with the Heaven and Hell Sabbath tour had nothing but praise for him (alas, I was elsewhere, and now the opportunity is forever lost).

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that Jeff Martin’s Requiem-Hurt combo was a highlight of last night’s two-hour acoustic set, accompanied by Armada bass player Jay Cortez. This was their third night in a row, and Martin’s voice had taken on a huskiness that added to the impact of the slower tunes, but he didn’t favour it, giving each song everything he had.

This was my first outing at Ruby’s, an easy 30-minute drive from home and plenty of off-street parking, at least at eight on a Sunday night. It’s an atmospheric and intimate club, lots of black and red, and a wicked timber staircase down to the basement loos. Naturally, as it is these days, it seems, the crowd had its share of tossers who got more vocal during the night: I’ve never seen bouncers come to the front of the stage at a Jeff Martin gig before, and it was a relief when the manic-depressive domestic in front of us finally decided to take it outside.

But they managed to contain themselves for the opening songs, Morocco and the aforementioned Requiem. The set canvassed Martin’s career, including Tea Party favourites The Bazaar and Sister Awake rubbing shoulders with solo songs The Kingdom and Stay Inside of Me (a duet with support act, Brisbane singer pear), and Armada tunes The Rosary (written for his dead grandmother) and Line in the Sand, and a stomping encore double of Going Down and Black Snake Blues. Add a second duet (regret I didn’t catch the singer’s name), on the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush hit Don’t Give Up (a RockWiz hit with Tina Arena), and a cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable, emotionally charged concert. But then, his usually are, which is why, despite the aggravation of arseholes who chatter and elbow and take their flash photographs, I keep going back for more of the same (but never quite the same).

Martin is said to be withdrawing for a few months to work on a new album. Can’t wait for that!

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Phillip Island, penguins and cool beach retreats

phillip island beach

A weekend sojourn to Phillip Island shows why the outcrop off the coast of Victoria is such as a popular destination for Melbournites looking to escape the big smoke.

We hadn’t even reached the island, a mere 90-minute drive down the M1, before we were lured off a side-road at The Gurdies to sample local wine and cheese at Ramsay’s Vin Rose cellar door — quite presentable cab sav and pinot noir accompanied by mild brie and blue, amongst others.

As if that wasn’t enough temptation, the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory lurks on the main road, just after you’ve crossed the bridge from the mainland, and it’s wares are very tasty indeed.

We spent the night at the Banfields motel, a very tidy, very friendly and very quiet conference centre boasting the only cinema on the island, though alas we’d missed the Sunday matinee. Not that we had time. We were on a penguin mission! A stop to see Captain Grossard’s lonely cliffside grave — and feel the icy wind blowing in from the sea — was enlivened by the presence of two quite unconcerned cape barren geese as we made our way to the parks complex at the Nobbies.

We arrived in plenty of time for our dusk penguin parade viewing. No pictures are allowed at the wildlife centre, a welcoming commerical building with oodles of duckboards to ferry the crowds to their stations. We forked out for Penguin Plus tickets, giving us a secluded, small stadium by the beach where the penguins have worn a wide track as they make their way from the sea to their burrows littering the foreshore and surrounding cliffs. There are some 60,000 of the little birds in the rookery — the last on the island. (The little penguins were once known as fairy penguins, but political correctness has apparently kicked in.)

The penguins were awesome, coming up in waves. It was like something from the D-Day landings, with little penguins advancing in platoons, flankers and point men out, a little hesitant about entering our softly lit viewing area, then charging: some hobbling, some weaving, some tripping, others darting forward at a furious clip. Some went under our platform, others paused at the very edge, only metres away, to give us the beady eye. We had about an hour of viewing before having to make our leisurely stroll back along the boardwalk to the complex.

Pino’s Trattoria, still open post-penguins on a Sunday night, provided the perfect remedy for the night chill, though the beachside viewing platform hadn’t been as windy nor as cold as we’d expected.

On Monday, the breeze was still up, but we found it fell away to nothing on the lee side, offering very pleasant conditions for beachcombing — not a bad way to spend the day after our seal tour was cancelled only two hours from departure. We had time to only see a few of the parks and beaches, but it was enough to know we want to return and spend more time taking in the natural sights. Red rocks, black basalt formations, wild flowers, and some truly amazing waves got the cameras clicking.

We topped up with a massive coffee at the Lil’ Honey Cafe at San Remo before cruising back to Melbourne.

This was my first real sample of regional Victoria since moving to Melbourne, so it bodes well for further exploration. I can certainly see myself hitting the island again — but not at Grand Prix time!

More Phillip Island pictures are on Flickr.

Vale Lisa Lamb

Lisa Lamb by Mark Greenmantle

Lisa, photographed by Mark Greenmantle at our book launch in 2007.

I just got back from a trip to Phillip Island and was all fired up to share the penguin fun, when I got an email telling me that our gorgeous Lisa Lamb has died. So the penguins can wait.

Lisa was a pal from Brisbane, a comedian and a reporter and a writer and a performer and an event manager and, most importantly, a mum. But it was her performance that led me to know her, a vivacious, vibrant personality who was grabbing the world with both hands, wowing the adoring boys of France with her burlesque, lighting up rooms with her presence, cracking laughs over massive steaks a person of her petite size had no right to be able to tuck away.

We’re told it was a cardiac arrest that put her into a vegetative state that has been enduring for months, and one can only imagine the heartache that must’ve brought her family, to have this huge personality contained in such a way. It feels like the death of Superman, honestly.

In life, Lisa blazed, and in her passing, she throws a long shadow.

Vale, Woolly, and godspeed.

The Cult rocks Melbourne with Love

Oh, my.

The Cult played a full house at Melbourne’s grand concert hall, The Palais on the St Kilda foreshore, tonight, and it was everything I hoped it would be from the seminal ’80s rockers. Their music has filled many a mile of lonesome highway and provided a backdrop to plenty of get-togethers, so to see Ian Astbury strutting his stuff alongside guitarist Billy Duffy was just magic after all these years.

Astbury, still wielding one of the most distinctive voices in rock, wore black: black pants, shirt, jacket, gloves, sunnies. From my seat in the back row — and how well is the Palais designed, with its sloping floor and staggered seats, so the view was still phenomenal — he looked a little fuller in the face than in the band’s heyday, kind of a melding of, say, Jeff Martin and Bill Oddie, and of course a touch of Jim Morrison, whose swaggering shoes he’d filled out the front of the Riders on the Storm (the Doors tribute band, featuring members of the Doors) (I think I can get away with that gentle jibe, given the Cult’s roster has rotated around Astbury and Duffy).

At least he wasn’t hidden under a hoodie ($100 at the merch stand — men’s thin cotton tees $50, women’s $55) as he was in Brisbane.

Duffy looked remarkably unchanged, still playing his trusty Gretsch White Falcon (“the whole Love album is played on a Gretsch, it was the only guitar I owned’), given a rest only in the second set for a couple of ‘heavier’ numbers from the group’s later and largely ignored albums.

While Astbury didn’t scramble over the rather depleted Marshall stacks nor writhe upon the floor as in clips from the days of yore, he did groove, he did yarn, he did flick that long black hair, he did chuck the mic when it played up and he did give the tambourine a bloody great hiding: the heart of soul was still beating.

The band played two sets: the first consisted of the entire Love album, their breakthrough album from 1985 featuring singles Rain, Revolution and the Goth club favourite, She Sells Sanctuary (big cheers from the crowd for this one!). It took about an hour, the concert lit with basic lighting and a big screen of complementary video.

The second set, slightly shorter, was a ‘best of’ that wowed the crowd, hitting a slight lull during songs from Beyond Good and Evil and Born Into This (the latter album deserved more attention, IMHO), before ending on a wicked high with Fire Woman and Love Removal Machine. As Astbury said, they don’t play ‘pretentious’ encores, and after that set, it would’ve been superfluous anyway. (And encores are a bit wanky, aren’t they? They’re expected now, formula, no longer an accolade for the deserving.) The sunglasses had come off for the second set, so he could kind of get away with poking fun at pretension.

Earlier, Astbury, still showing a bit of an 80s touch with critters’ bushy tails hanging from his belt — the kind of thing you’d expect to see flapping from a bogan’s car antenna or perhaps wrapped around an elder Lady’s neck, its little black eyes staring at you from beside her bejeweled brooch and powdered cleavage — remarked how rock concerts weren’t as intense as they used to be. No ripping up of seats. In the US, he said, the audience tended to stay seated. Not so in Melbourne, though he did poke fun at a few who somehow defied the driving rhythm section. And at the time I thought he was coming across as a bit of an old whiner, harking back to the good old days. But then, as the phones came out and the texting and the tweeting took off, and the bint next to us insisted on flashing off her camera every three bars or so for the entire duration of the song, I realised he was actually quite right. It’s not enough to be there, headbanging with the thrill of hearing Astbury scream out Wildflower (though this take tonight was a little muddy, to be honest); you’ve got to take pictures of your pals during the song. You’ve got to let everyone know RIGHT NOW that you’re there. That’s if you’re not noodling off to the bar and missing it entirely. Dangerous ground for a man now blogging his rapturous headbanging experience? Maybe.

Bottom line is this: The Cult came, they rocked, it was awesome. (Andy, I wish you could’ve been there, brother.)

I’d be tempted to hit tonight’s gig at The Palace, if I wasn’t gonna be elsewhere.

PS Sydney’s Black Ryder supported, and also looked pretty good, and sounded just fine, though I regrettably missed most of their set, having been in line for the slightly over-priced but very fetching Cult merch. I hope they have more tricks up their sleeve than the fuzzy guitar.

Foodie aside: before the gig, we hit amigos and got fired up on cajun chicken burritos and extra jalapenos, washed down with Crushed Fairy cocktails (key ingredient: absinthe) and Sol beer. Rockin! I love the way you can walk down these cafe streets in this town and just pick one, and find it sweet.

World Goth Day

Apparently, May 22 is World Goth Day. I’m not sure what that entails — I thought every day was Halloween for the children of the night. The website suggests it’s about music and shopping. Maybe it’s mainstream appropriation that’s pushing the subculture, or a motivated part thereof, to stand up and be counted, even if it’s better known for slouching in the shadows, content to be, if not revelling in, not understood. But hey, if it means someone’s playing Siouxsie and the Mission and the like, well, I’m all for it. And the good thing is, I can go as I am.

Talking vampires at the Melbourne SF Club’s mini-con

poster for vampire movie Near Dark

The Melbourne Science Fiction Club is having its annual mini-convention on May 22, and yours truly will be a joint guest of honour, sharing the stage with Kirstyn McDermott. I’ll be giving a wee talk on the evolution of the vampire (from Dracula to, um, Edward et al). And Kirstyn will, I believe, be giving her first reading from her forthcoming debut novel, Madigan Mine (spoiler: there is no vampire per se in the novel, but it’s good and dark and there will be blood…)! The mini-con is a gathering of the fan clans, with support from some key purveyors of SF and fantasy goodness. Sounds tasty!

Writing notes, and a nod to Ego Likeness

It’s one of those windy, now rainy and chilly, days in old Melbourne town, and I’ve been tapping away at adding new flesh to old bones fuelled by copious amounts of coffee and the new album by the superb Ego Likeness. The clip is of a tune from the album, Breedless, distinctive and easy on the ears while the rain patters on the roof.

  • Emerging writers might like to check out the awesome manuscript workshop collaboration between the Queensland Writers Centre and Hachette Livre which is now open.
  • Like some passion with those fangs? Ticonderoga Publications want your paranormal romance short story for their follow-up anthology, More Scary Kisses.
  • On a sad note, Australian small press Brimstone reports it won’t be publishing Australian Dark Horror and Fantasy 4, nor will it be continuing with the series.
  • But in good news, Ben Payne has released issue 1 of his new, free, online mag, Moonlight Tuber.
  • Right then. Back to the bones.