A few months back, the ABC ran an almost continuous promotion for The Librarians. The promo gag centred on a gormless Kym Gyngell taking seriously his garage cover band, channelling a flailing Peter Garrett. Along with a lot of weekend cover band tragics, I’m afraid we just didn’t see the joke. About six years ago, my cover band The Original Faux Pas, emerged from secret afternoons in our guitarist’s living room to play classics such as the Swallows’ It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion at my wife’s 50th.
Polite friends mumbled that we weren’t too bad, so there was then no stopping it. After a few parties, an election night where we renamed ourselves Howard’s End, eight gigs in 2010 including one to 400 payers, $68,000 raised at health charities where we played and regular brushes with fame at Alexandria’s Stagedoor rehearsal studios, we are still hard at it.
Our nine-piece includes two professors, a neurologist and a bass player who knocks the socks off the Who’s John Entwhistle in My Generation, our anthem to zimmer frame rock. Irresistibly, people try to put cover bands down, just because they get around. Several times we’ve played with earnest bands playing their dreary “original material”. But when the crowd hears the ghosts of Roy Orbison and George Harrison jangling out the opening to Handle with care, they are instantly on their feet. A few of the youngest then head for the door, but for the rest cover bands are a connection with a lifetime of songs that are hard-wired in our heads. The Stones’ Hey McLoud get off my ewe has not been No.1 in New Zealand for 40 years for nothing.
You have to wait till page 491 of Keith Richard’s biography to read the essential lines that resonate for anyone in a band. “The real release is getting on stage. Once we’re up there doing it, it’s sheer fun and joy … feeding off the energy that we get back from an audience. That’s my fuel … I get an incredible raging glee when they get out of their seats. Yeah, come on, let it go. Give me some energy and I’ll give you double back.” Anyone who’s played air guitar power chords to Hunters and Collectors’ Holy Grail or belts out the Young Rascals’ Good Lovin’ or Acca Dacca driving down the highway knows how far you step up when you play to room full of people wanting to let loose on the weekend. It’s exhilarating.
Now it’s true that there are some differences between us and the Stones. We still have to lug our own gear and some of us are nearly the same age. As support act at Wamberal Surf Club to some local favourites (who unforgivably played a Neil Diamond), we were each serially approached by a rather drunk 45-year-old woman. Forty five is indecently young for most of us, but we all drove home to Sydney content with the desk recorded CD on high rotation, all wondering if this was the same sonorous outfit that an hour ago had that discriminating room — quite unaffected by alcohol — crying out for more. When we sing to the smiley one in the one-row-deep mosh pit that we’re “a king bee who can buzz better baby, when your man is gone”, it may not have quite the same potential as Mick singing it. But the Canada Bay Cub, where we played to 35 mostly non-dancers, was our equivalent of the Stones’ Crawdaddy Club in the 1960s. The barman who said he was the brother of a member of the original AC/DC, swore we had the same potential. So we played a blinder in the second set and hit them with our rhythm sticks.
Wednesday nights at Stagedoor rehearsing is the best $25 a head of fun it’s possible to have. In the three years we’ve been regulars, we’ve had silverchair, the Angels, the Choirboys, various Idol winners and even that astute judge of talent Marcia Hines all book adjacent rooms on the same night to quietly pick up tips. We just walk past them and they look cool pretending not to know us.
In my mid-50s, a sports car proved an empty illusion. When I brought it home, my wife named it the Jeff Fenech mobile. “Why didn’t you just pick up a megaphone at a disposal store and walk down the street telling everyone you are worried about your dick? It would have been a lot cheaper,” she said. But a cover band is the real thing. After several Nellie Melba departures as a back-up singer, she’s now as addicted as the rest of us. Our sax player is a senior partner in Australia’s biggest law firm. His wife says he is now helpless after just six gigs. Our new lead guitarist, a political lobbyist, played Brisbane pubs in the ’80s and then tried writing love songs for Filipino pop singers, but he can cut it like Carlos Santana. Sort of. Just before Christmas, I saw a band of guys in their late 60s singing crooner and 2CH hits and memories to an enraptured room at my mother-in-law’s nursing home. One was a state parliamentarian. Not our demographic, yet. But each generation defines itself partly by the music that refuses to leave its collective heads. Cover bands will Not Fade Away.
The details: The Original Faux Pas play the Petersham Bowling Club on February 20 and the Cat & Fiddle, Balmain on March 4.