Baraza Upstairs - 4th Feb, 1996
By Nathan O'Neill

A balmy summer Sunday night was the perfect setting for the freeform ambient jazz which greeted us at the Baruza Upstairs club. The very new venue in Surry Hills was putting on a series of shows called 'Loudspeaker - Word On Groove' ... and Steve Kilbey was going to be performing some 'poetry', which I had only discovered the night before.

Anyway, we arrived there around 9ish, as ambient music washed the large warehouse upper floor, which was still relatively empty. We took a table near the front, and shortly Boris G. walked on stage with his trumpet, and improvised with a cone designed to deliver a high squawking sound. He was wearing a tribal gown of sorts, with thin tassels at the bottom.

A series of short films were being played on the stage backdrop, and on one wall of the warehouse floor. They provided tasteful accompaniment to the music.

Boris left the stage for a while, then the rest of the 'band' came onstage, a keyboardist and drummer, in addition to the sequencer. For the next hour or so we were treated to a series of ambient jazz funk improvisations mixed with poet Andrew Barnum's readings and improvisations. An interesting mix where the poet would read from his small book and then wander into improvised poetry tailored for his audience. He left the stage a few times, allowing Boris and Co to play with more substance. They were joined by a soprano saxophonist, who interleaved with Boris' trumpet, and occasionally melded in harmony.

By this stage the room was filling up, with no tables left and a few standing at the back. The temperature was rising too, and chatter and smoke filled the air. One of the film reels was now being played backward.

The horns left the stage and Steve K. walked on, wearing a dark blue shirt and pale jeans sans belt. He had grown his beard back, and his hair was longer too, at times covering his eyes. He was carrying a bunch of folded pages, and he began to read without any introduction.

Steve read a prose piece, a story of sadness and loss which I will now attempt to recount (apologies to Steve!).

There once was a musician, who worked during the day as an accountant, and who had no real desire to do more with his music. Then one day, the musician came into possession of the sheet music of a beautiful and haunting melody, which was an ancient song sung by the elven fairies off the coast of Ireland, and which had been transcribed ages ago, and had somehow passed on to the musician. Even though it had been transcribed, however, no mortal had ever played this tune.

Each day, the musician would play the melody on his piano and the song was so magical it would transfix him, and satisfy him completely with its spell. The song was simple enough to play, yet after the musician had played it he could not remember how the melody went. For some time the musician played his song, but only ever to himself, for it was so beautiful he could not bear to have others hear it, nor had he any desire to do so. He let the world pass him by just so he could play his special melody.

Then one day, a couple moved in to the apartment across the hall from the musician, a fat, dark curly haired balding man and a young woman. The musician was unaware, as usual, of this, and went ahead playing the magical tune on his piano. The fat man heard the song from across the hall, and, being in the music business, was interested in the tune.

And so the fat man visited the musician, and as he entered he could still hear the echoes of the song settling in the corners of the room. He introduced himself, and the musician offered him a glass of sherry, which the fat man sipped as he puffed on a cigar, which poured smoke through the room. The fat man mentioned that he was in the music publishing business, and he asked the musician if had written the song, and that if it hadn't been published yet, would he be able to do so.

The musician lied and said that, yes, he had written the song, and that no, it hadn't been published yet, and so they agreed upon a publishing deal, with the musician receiving a cheque for now, and more money depending on the sales of the song.

As the weeks went on, the song was released nationally and then world wide, and became a huge hit, with the beautiful melody being sung far and wide by everyone, and was played all over the world on a variety of instruments, from brass bands in parks to sitars in India to bazoukis in Greece. The song made masses of money and the musician now lived in a mansion and the fat man would visit him regularly to drop off the latest cheque.

After a time, however, the people in the world became bored of the song, as they had heard it too many times, and it had made far to much money, that all the magic had disappeared from it. Soon, the musician's cheques became smaller and smaller, and the fat man visited less and less.

And the musician was desperately sad. Now, when he sat down at his new piano in his new mansion, and played his song, he no longer received the magical feeling he used to. He could no longer get his daily fix. So it was no surprise when he was found dead at his piano, emaciated and unshaven. Only a few of his new friends attended his funeral. The fat man didn't, but he did send a large bouquet of flowers, quite out of character, and was amazed at his own humanity.

Steve then left the stage and the band played on, improvising more ambient jazz.

The band took a break for a while, and the films rolled on, then the music started again and Andrew Barnum spoke some more poetry. Steve left shortly after his performance, only briefly stopping to talk to a table of friends. I have to agree with him that it's very hard to be a musician and deal with the music industry and not be cynical.

Return to Reviews Page