Tuesday, 9 July 2013

#17. Chinese Whispers – The Extreme Sprinklers

Jade McLaren: vocals.
Matt Neal: guitar, bass, drums.

Music and lyrics by Matt Neal.
Written in September/October, 2001.
Recorded at Studio Study-o and The Shed, Warrnambool on November 11, 14 & 24, 2003 and July 8 & 26, 2006.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.

On a rainy night early in 1999, I wandered into the Jazz Blues Restaurant in Warrnambool. I was putting off the 20-minute drive back to the farm, plus I could hear music coming from the venue, which hadn’t been open for very long.

The lighting inside was low, with most of the illumination coming from red stage lights at the rear of the club. They lit up two men – one a short, skinny white guy with dark hair and a casual grace with an electric guitar, and the other a burly Maori-looking fella with an acoustic guitar and a husky yet booming voice that was impressive on first listen.

This is apparently the only photo of the Jazz Blues Restaurant on the internet.

I ordered a coke and took up a seat in one of the many booths that ran along the wall opposite the bar. The place was practically empty – aside from myself, the two musicians and the two bar staff, there was only about half a dozen people in the club, and known of them were paying much attention to the music.

A song ended – something familiar that everyone knew, performed pleasantly and enthusiastically – and I clapped in appreciation. This triggered the other punters in the bar to applaud belatedly, as though it was an activity they hadn’t been bothering with prior to my arrival.

After a couple more songs, the duo took a break, headed to the bar to collect a drink each and then made a beeline to my booth. They introduced themselves – the electric guitarist was Danny Grigg and the guy with the big voice was Andy Shirtcliffe. I told them that they sounded good and we made polite conversation until one of them asked if I was a musician in a way that suggested this was an obvious assumption to make.

They sounded like this.

I mumbled some kind of affirmative, saying by way of explanation that I’d played in a couple of short-lived bands but was mostly just a bedroom guitarist these days. One of them suggested I get up and play a couple of songs while they took a break. I was reluctant, they were mildly insistent, and soon after I found myself on stage with Andy’s guitar, singing a couple of sings (the only one I can recall was Smashing Pumpkins’ To Sheila, which I had learnt a few weeks prior).

It was only the second time I’d ever performed solo and I was scared as hell, but Andy and Danny clapped with vigour after each song and after I’d finished what I was certain was a terrible set, they were very encouraging. They told me the bar was starting an open mic night the following week, and that I should come along and play.

So I did, and every fortnight after that I was there at the Jazz Blues Restaurant. Andy and Danny continued to encourage me, and they probably didn’t realise it, but they taught me a lot and gave me a hell of a boost in confidence. As the weeks progressed, I moved from lowly opener to special guest of the house band on regular occasions, joining them on stage for the final numbers when the place was pumping, belting out some mundane but enthusiastically played rocker like Wild Thing or an amped-up drunken version of Tainted Love.

The house band at the Jazz Blues Restaurant (l-r): 
Brett Holbrook, Danny Grigg, Anthony 'Slippers' Porter,  Ben McDowall and Andy Shirtcliffe.

During that 12 months or so at the Jazz Blues Restaurant, of which I was social club member #0001, I learnt a lot about performance, singing, song selection, engaging a crowd, playing guitar, and jamming with other people. If not for the ongoing encouragement of Andy and Danny over that time, I doubt I would be the musician I am today.

All of this has nothing to do with this week’s song, which is a simple 6/8 ballad about unappreciative and uncaring friends – the very opposite of Andy and Danny. But I relate this story about the Jazz Blues Restaurant and Andy and Danny because Andy died last week after a long battle with cancer.

I feel bad that I never told Andy how important his support and friendship and encouragement during that time was to me. He helped me believe that I could be a musician and probably didn’t even realise he was doing it. Andy was just friendly and kind and supportive and it was exactly what I needed.

Around this time (1999), Brendan Hoffmann and I started 21st Century Ox.

After the restaurant closed, I only saw him occasionally, but he always greeted me warmly. He was such a charming and wonderful guy with a voice I’ll never forget. And I wish I’d said thank you before he passed away.

So this song is dedicated to Andy, even though it’s not about him and has nothing to do with him. But I played bass, guitar and drums on it, produced it myself, and did it all with an unwavering confidence that I this was something I could do on my own. Jade asked to sing on the track when I showed it to him, and he did it justice, far better than I could ever do.

But that perhaps misguided confidence and belief in my musical ability stems back to Andy and Danny. They were the first guys who enthusiastically encouraged me musically, and for that I’m very grateful.

RIP Andy Shirtcliffe. Thank you.


I am running 'cross the divide only to be hit from behind
All the secrets come back different, Chinese whispers, voices unkind

It's a given that I've given up reaching out and caring for you

Vision blurry, prey or quarry, we're so friendly, at war all the time
All the secrets come back different, Chinese whispers, voices unkind

PS. I'd like to point out again that the song is nothing to do with Andy - it's just the song I happened to be up to alphabetically this week, and I wanted to pay tribute to the man. Also, apologies for nicking the photos to whoever I nicked them from.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely tribute to a great man. I loved his big, husky voice too and I also loved the big, husky man behind the voice - thanks for sharing x