The ageing seventies once chic now dated casino conference hall is buzzing with fans, mostly matured into their wrinkling sixties, though some females are younger and there’s more females than males. Most females glammed up in ways their minds tell them suits their age. Some have not listened to that voice or cared to think about it. The males wore mostly in tees and jeans. How many trans, lesbians gays bisexuals queers or intersex my indiscriminate eyes couldn’t tell, but there was definitely a buzz. They’re here to see Air Supply, Russell Hitchcock and Graeme Russell, on a whirlwind return to their homeland.
The conference hall has no incline to the stage, it’s perfectly flat, ballroom dancers and diners need to feel quite horizontal when gorging or waltzing. For the gig goers though, this means being closer to the front in the temporary seating is preferred to get the clearest view. However the neck strain’s excruciating.
No warm up act. The audience had come to be taken right back to their youth or their parent’s youth, maybe even the youth of their grandparents.
“I realize the best part of love
is the thinnest slice
and you don’t care for much
but I’m not letting go
i believe there’s still much to believe in
So lift your eyes if you feel you can
reach for a star and I’ll show you a plan
I’ve figured it out what I needed was someone to show me…………”
Nearly every opening riff is greeted with spontaneous applause. Russell appears, childlike, gnarled, in the way most rock stars of the seventies now look. Is it the drugs, the alcohol, the sex? If it’s any or one of these then Cliff Richard’s clearly the antidote.
Young Russell Old Russell………………………………………………………….Young Cliff…..Old Cliff
The voice stretches to capture the well known melodies and where the higher notes are a strain for current vocal limits, the audience is encouraged into a karaoke style sing-a-long. So who can critique the performance when you’re part of it!
“I know just how to whisper
And I know just how to cry
I know just where to find the answers
And I know just how to lie
I know just how to fake it
And I know just how to scheme
I know just when to face the truth
And then I know just when to dream……………”
Through a fantasy wonderland of past romances and memories, the crowd sways, shouts, rocks in the aisles, cries, and blabbers. Lyrics which have been the background themes to tragedies celebrations, intercourse, breakups weddings and first dates roll on. There’s a momentary lull in momentum when tracks off of a more recent unknown album are played to this nostalgic Aussie audience. These are their Aussie hero’s made good in the States where for these fans they’ve remained too long.
The chance of fame transported them to the stadia of the USA. Concerts in auditoria ten times the size of any in Australia were a far cry from suburban Melbourne‘s Festival Hall.
Russell’s stage life got an early start in high school when he and Angelo Angeli had bit roles in “Gift from a Stranger,’ directed by Chris Lofven starring his best friend David Poon and Frank Thring. Perhaps Frank’s appearance was a favour to Chris, or his sister Kirsten who moved in the same acting circles. Frank had starred in Hollywood block busters such as Ben Hur and King of Kings
Russell’s early marriage to Jean someone or other was a mysterious affair. Russell had asked me to drop by from my suburban Ringwood home to his fiancée Jean’s parents’ flat above an office block where they were caretakers in St Kilda Rd down by the west side of the Shrine of Remembrance. The train into the CBD was a red rattler, the connecting number 96 tram not much better but much draftier as they speed down the centre of the city avenues. After dinner we took a cigarette onto the courtyard surrounding the fading seventh floor flat. Above the tree canopy the tram ways electricity wires below spun spider weblike from pole to pole.
“I been unfaithful to Jean,” he blurted out after a while, drawing down deeply on his cigarette.
“Phheeww,” in a low tone of exhalation through pursed lips was all I could manage.
We stood there overlooking the darkening far horizon, wondering what any or all of this meant. I had no idea. Getting married so early, even having a girlfriend was beyond my experience, but here was my high school bestie of just a year or so ago telling me stuff I couldn’t comprehend. Looking back I can imagine now why he had called me to unload this. My guess now is that Jean was pregnant, hence the marriage of the shotgun variety and for this storeman, subsequently to become a singer, a wee bairn was not in the equation, not Jean’s not anyone’s. I was well outside his circle now. I was safe.
We’d not seen each other for a year or so after high school as I went to college and he pursued clerical work and acting. A role in Jesus Christ Superstar was where he met Graeme Russell the other half of the Air Supply duo. And from there it was off to the races.
We must have talked more piffle garnished with more small talk, stubbed out our cigarettes and parted. I went downstairs and caught the 96 tram back to Flinders street. It was the last I was to see of him until tonight.
Being my one somewhat cursory brush with imminent fame I clung on to this memory. That I can recall such a trifling detail after so many years fascinated me.
The years between had been uneventful. I’d once tried to go to a concert at Tweed Heads. My efforts were insignificant and I arrived at the venue a week late. I bought a “Best of “CD and nostalgically played it over the years. Fortuitously I’d made contact and was given two complimentary passes to this concert with a chance to meet after the show.
After multiple well worn encores the crowd dispersed. A line of folk were arranged much like a receiving line for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. They must have been FM ONE “O” something listeners who’d won a quiz, or super fans that had paid for the privilege. As the line inched forward, time passed. The bouncers and flunkies made sure the obligatory selfie was taken and the door shown to the recently touched.
Within moments of greeting we too were gone. Perfunctory politeness, but none of the nostalgia I had brought to the meeting were shared. Forty plus years of waiting to catch up swept away with his need to get a drink. His entourage whisked him away.
We wandered out into the cool car park, realising the cheery “Must catch up sometime, get in touch” were just words.
My brush with fandom and fascination evaporated in the Sandy Bay sea breeze.
At home the once frequently played CD “Air Supply- Greatest Hits” rests silently.
Life has moved on.
If I’d been smarter I’d have known it was already time to move on when I boarded that number 96 tram.