The Ballad of Uncle & KB

October Long Weekend. I’m not sure what Labour Day is and the Monarchy holds about as much relevance to me as the world’s greatest recipe for mayonnaise – To quote a bloke named Jules, ‘Sewer-rat may taste like pumpkin pie but I wouldn’t know cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherfucker…’ To me the weekend upon us is about two things. The Sydney Rooster’s playing for back to back premierships in rugby league’s big dance and embracing a cosmic country weekend on the farm at Dashville Skyline. I got a lot of friends playing this one, perhaps more so than usual. Carl, Andy, Jen, Paddy, Fanny, Freya, Stan, Crighto and me old mate Magpie to merely scrape the froth from my soy flat white. There’s a couple favourites coming too Archie and Henry. Emily Wurramura will also be along who I’m yet to see, but who’s debut album of last year left a wonderful mark on me, so I’ll be hanging out for her set as well. But buried here amongst this festival of perfectly curated artists is my mate Kevin Bennett and his band The Flood. On this stage, at this magical venue, for me, this set will be special. I reckon there’s a fair chance you might see a tear stained eye on this bloke’s face.

I used to spend a lot of time in Bateau Bay on the Central Coast of NSW. My grandparents bought and built there before it became the much desired destination it is now. It was home for my uncle Scott. A funny bloke. A solitary man, he liked to be left alone. He was a songwriter. ‘Scotty Boy Leece.’ I reckon he might be the very reason for my own writing aspirations. He wrote about rugby league and land rights, conservation and loneliness. All the things that I find myself inspired to write about. We’d travel down from the bush most summer holidays and spend weeks in the apartment upstairs while uncle came and went from the flat below us. We’d live off the remains of Christmas ham and fresh Chittaway Bakery bread and run on the sand in the sun until it disappeared in west behind us. There is magic in that house. I’ve felt things that I can’t really explain. A certain spirituality that even as I say out loud sounds a little crazy, but it’s there alright. Others have felt it too and I know Scott had a line to it. There always was a certain air of mystery surrounding Uncle. He never cared for people poking about his business and while you’d be excused for thinking he wasn’t particularly fussed about yours, he was. He cared. He would gift me my first surfboard, my first fishing rod and my first guitar. When it came time to leave home as wide eyed teenagers he gifted me, my sisters and my cousins furniture and appliances he’d found and repaired from the side of the road. Couldn’t bear to see a perfectly good dryer end up in landfill. He gave me a lot of the music that has stuck and shaped me. Funk n soul, blues and classic rock. James Brown, Tina Turner, Buddy Guy. One car trip home he’d dubbed me a cassette of Deep Purple’s Made In Japan. Dad and I sat in the front blasting Highway Star while my sisters sat in the back crying, pleading for us to turn it down. I can still see dad looking over at me and smiling. I’m not so good with my dad these days, but I keep that moment with me. In 2000 I was living in Sydney and had a little time back and forth from that house in Bateau Bay. That year my friend Dub had loaned me a CD that rarely left my Discman – Chris Whitley’s Dirt Floor. Scott had given me a record that partnered up with it real well – The Ballad Of KB by a band called The Flood. In addition to sound tracking a country kids departure from the bush into the big smoke, both these albums managed to break the unfortunate nu-metal period I was in and begin to steer me back down the path I find myself on today.

Twelve months ago Uncle was found dead, alone in his car. Quite like him really. To take off without a fuss. Alone. And he tried you know. To reach out I mean. He’d checked himself into an Emergency Ward. He was turned away. Full house. 56, alone, hanging by a thread and turned away. ‘You need to make an appointment.’ He did. A 2 to 3 week wait was just too far away.

A week after we learned of Scott’s death I attended the DAG Songwriters Camp in Nundle. Busted by the news I almost didn’t, but, unaware of the revelation, my mentor Shane urged me to still come along. I walked in the door of the mess hall and the first face I saw was Kevin Bennett’s. I’d forgotten he’d be here. In a split second I got back all these precious memories of time growing up with my uncle. We’d never met, but we were friends by the end of the weekend. We talked about First Nations politics, State Of Origin and Latrell Mitchell’s rising star and the wonder of Judee Sill lyrics. I had saltwater streaming down my face, overjoyed when KB led the group around the fire in a red wined version Son Volt’s Tear Stained Eye. Scott would’ve loved looking down on that.

Though the line-up doesn’t look exactly how it looked in 1998, I’ve seen The Flood many times over the last 20 years – thank you Tamworth Hotel. Since July 2018 KB and I have hung out a bit. Rugby League and the legend of Willis Alan Ramsey dominating conversation. He joined Left Of The Dial on stage to sing that Lowell George joint Willin’ and a while back he took me to school dueting on the Stones’ Let It Bleed, paying tribute to our mate J. Walker. There’s something different about this weekend’s gig though. I think something to do with the magic of that farm and the shared darkness in the months since I’ve seen them. Everyone in this scene knew Glen Hannah in one capacity or another. I was only just getting to know him personally, but he’d made his mark. He stood behind me with the General Waste on Shane’s stage earlier this year, playing a song I wrote. I can only describe that feeling as one of safety and freedom – I felt like I was flying. The plethora of folks that found themselves lucky enough to play music with Glen will understand what I mean when I say that. I last spoke to him here in Newcastle. Of course he was on stage. As we said goodbye his last words to me were, ‘I really love your album. Felicity and I play it all the time.’ Trying to keep my cool, all I could respond with was an awkward smile – imagine one of the greatest musicians this country, nay this world has ever seen complimenting my little old record. He continued to roll his leads. No fuss. Business as usual. Just Glen.

It’s been a funny old year. I’ve lost more friends since Uncle and I’ve parted ways with someone who has been by my side and supported me for half my life. Yeah, ‘king oath it’s been rough, but I’ve also met new friends and made movie like memories that I’ll replay for as long I’m still here. Friends that have taught me about the world and my place in it. About a life worth living. So you know, good with the bad and all that. Uncle Scott continues to live with me while I continue to try and reconcile it all. Walk on.

So right now I’m packing my bag for Skyline and I’m painting a scene in my head. Uncle is standing on that Dashville stage, afternoon sun warming the backs of the crowd. He has one arm around KB, the other arm’s hand cupping a glass red wine. Their heads are pressed against each other, belting out Don’t Look Back At Me. Killer is off to their left, Glen on their right, safe as he ever was. I’m off to the side, in the wings watching on and I’ve got my friends around me. Uncle looks over. Raises his glass, smiles and winks. He is happy. I am happy.

‘As I drove away it was like a dream

I was in some movie that I’d never seen

And I said my line… said don’t look back at me

Now the picture fades the highway is gone

I feel your skin life goes on

I wake up crying… but don’t look back at me…’

Go out and make some memories this weekend. When it all comes down to it, when it’s all done, that’s all we really get to keep. Make them happy, make them count. Don’t let the bastards get you down and go you Roosters.

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