From the Australian Musician magazine archives
After more than two decades in music media it was finally time for Australian Musician Editor Greg Phillips to view life from the other side of the stage. In the winter of 2009, he signed up for a Weekend Warriors program and lived to tell his tale. Photos by Ros O’Gorman
Time to fess up! Editor of a national musicians’ magazine … never played in a band. That’s right, my plucking endeavours never ventured beyond the bedroom. Sure I know one end of a guitar from the other and I get to play around with the latest gear that comes to us via the magazine office, but to never have known the feeling of swapping licks with a bunch of musicians on a stage … that’s a buzz I’d always yearned for.
What to do about it? Simple really, find other lost music souls in the same boat. But where to find such bemoaning beasts? Weekend Warriors is a mighty fine place to start! The Weekend Warriors program began in Brisbane in 2001 and has grown to be a national phenomenon. The program is aimed at people who want to get together in a band and play music in the spirit of fun. Participants might be lapsed musicians who may or may not have played in a band before, perhaps got married and started a family and now realise they have time on their hands to dust down their instruments. Maybe it’s just that The Blues Brothers’ syndrome suffered by Jake and Elwood, driven by a voice in their head urging them to join a band. The Weekend Warriors program is run by numerous musical instrument retailers around Australia (visit www.weekendwarriors.org.au for info).
The WW folks will provide you with the gear to play with, the rehearsal space and will sort you with compatible band members. At the end of a four week rehearsal period (two hours per week) the reward for your efforts is a fully staged gig. After threatening to join a Warriors program for many years, I finally bit the bullet and showed up at an initial jam to see what all the fuss was about.
Night One-the Jam.
It’s a Sunday afternoon. I’m at Allans Music store in Bourke St Melbourne. Around fifty people are standing among racks of new gear, getting to know each other and awaiting instructions. The trepidation is tangible. Coach Bob Spencer, former Angels and Skyhooks guitarist is running the program for Allans. Also there to help out is Dave Maxwell from the store, Victorian Warriors club president Geoff Wilson and Paul Keats, who has been through the program a few times before. One guy pulls Bob aside and whispers that he’s just a novice and has never played with anyone before. Bob puts him at ease immediately and simply suggests that he is perfect Warrior material. He also takes the opportunity to announce to all that if there are any professionals in the gathering, then they need not be here but out there working.
This afternoon’s session is all about jamming, allowing Bob to suss out everyone’s skill level and ultimately matching up like-minded musos in a band. There was Frank (in fact numerous Franks), who if pressed for a genre he was into, preferred funk. In his twenties perhaps, he just wanted to ‘give it a go’. Then there was Allan, an older gent who runs his own business. Allan is a keyboard player who has a studio ‘out the back’ of his place which stores around a dozen different vintage keyboards. He unleashes his music on his employees once a year but told me they were ‘unappreciative’ of his style. I asked Rob why he had come down to the Warriors jam and he said ‘ it’s just so hard to find people to have a play with’. Rui was another participant. He’s a young Portuguese guy who has been in Australia for only a month and spoke just enough English to get him through. When asked what style of music or bands he was into, his answer was Metallica. When coach Bob Spencer suggested that it may be difficult to find other players who know Metallica tunes and recommended he think of another band. Rui’s answer was still ‘Metallica’. So Metallica it was, as Rui played solo with a drummer stepping in half way through to offer Rui a beat. Tonight’s debutantes are predominantly male, however there’s Cassady a vocalist who is into The Stones and Beatles, and Ming who slings on a crimson Gibson SG for a play.
The song selections written up on the whiteboard are nothing tricky … ‘Mustang Sally’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, and ‘Summer of ’69’. The first few jams sound surprisingly good. Prior to coming to the jam, I knew I was going to need all the help I could get. My first move had been to acquire a decent guitar. During the week, the good folks at Maton had fixed me up with a MS503 Mastersound in Honeyburst. The thinking was that even if my skill level didn’t cut it, at least I’d look impressive. Finally it’s time for the band I was allocated to to have a fang. It’s the shuffle beat of the Creedence/Clapton blues standard ‘Before You Accuse Me’. Coach Bob joins us on his guitar and runs us through the first few bars. I thought we fitted into a slot fairly quickly, although others may beg to differ. We sound like a band godammit! The Mastersound with Humbuckers in bridge and neck positions gave me ample output and plenty of tone options. After all the anguish and fear, I was done. Bob took notes. He will decide who belongs in which band, and will inform us by the next session. I’m told, out of this group of around 50-60, in general around half will reappear next week to officially begin the program.
Night Two – Meet your band
Perhaps two thirds of those who attended the first night are back to sign on for the program. Bob gathers us around and outlines the rules and regulations, then finally places us into bands. Three guitars, bass and vocals. A drummer will be allocated at a later date. I’ll be playing rhythm guitar. Rhythm … “a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound” says my computer dictionary. Yeah, I think I can do that … just!
There’s Rob on guitar, a doctor who works in intensive care at one of our major hospitals. Frank, another guitarist, is a former cab driver who now runs his own town planning business in the Melbourne CBD. On bass is Mark, a truck driver who has come all the way from Gippsland. He’s used to it, traveling 500 km a day in his truck. Then there’s our allocated vocalist Tom, the former church organist whose daytime title is (wait for it!) Policy adviser – technical activities and professional development for the National Institute of Accountants. Bob thinks he’ll call up Neville, a long time Warrior to fill the drum position. Once Bob had decided who was with who, we were done for the night. It was time to head next door to the pub for a get-to-know session and talk set lists. As you’d expect for a group of disparate musicians, the musical tastes of the 5 members are wide and varied. Some are keen on the tried and true Warrior classics, others more keen to play something a little less obvious. A song list of around 50 is created which is to be narrowed down to 7 or 8 for a thirty minute performance in just 5 weeks time at the Central Club Hotel in Richmond.
Night Three – Rehearsal one
After a week of animated email discussion about song selection, we decide we’re going to give the Otis Redding classic ‘Dock of the Bay’ a run through. Tonight we’re joined by our drummer Neville for first time. He’s a rep for a local car parts company and seven time Warrior participant. Beginning in ‘G’ we get through Dock of the Bay relatively unharmed. There’s a collective sigh of relief as we all realise that musically, perhaps we’re not going to embarrass ourselves at the gig after all. ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ is Mark’s selection. Rob and I are Neil Young fans and opt for the grungier ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’. We’re struggling to decide upon the next tune to play. Tom likes ‘Proud Mary’, so we gave that a shot. It’s amazing what Bob’s ear picks up. What I thought was an out of tune guitar was me applying too much fret pressure. The band dynamic is a wondrous thing. It’s almost like the Darwinian theory of evolution, where the singer assumes a leadership role. Not that anyone minded. Tom was very generous with his time outside of band hours gathering the music materials we needed.
Night four – Rehearsal two
Although ‘Proud Mary’ had been a no-brainer to get through last week, we decide to drop it. Too obvious Weekend Warrior fodder. We get through the three other songs from last week and add five new ones. Now it’s a matter of fine tuning, giving songs light and shade rather than all playing at once. The Maton MS500 offers me a fantastic Midnight Oil style surf sound for the big strum chords of ‘What’s My Scene’ and ‘I’ll Make You Happy’, and I switch to a grungier setting for ‘Rockin in the Free World’. Bob Spencer continues to offer invaluable gems of advice as we go. Rob wants to give the Neil Young classic ‘Cinnamon Girl’ a go before we settle on final songs. I love the song but feeling reticent about being able to cut it.
Night five – Rehearsal three
It’s rehearsal number three, with only one more official session to come before the gig. We begin with ‘Dock of the Bay’, the first song we had ever played, and it was rusty to say the least. It’s a simple song, but we need to shake the cobwebs off. Another crack at it and we were OK. Time to try ‘Cinnamon Girl’. Last week, we were all concerned that the variations on the main riff might be a bit much, however it works a treat, mainly thanks to Rob’s excellent lead work. It also helps when you get to play a song you really love. Bob throws me out of whack as he shows me an easier chord configuration. I’m sure it will work a treat once I get to practice it. That’s Bob Spencer way though, always pushing, trying to get the best out of us all. We run through ‘Cinnamon’ three times and I’d have to say it’s probably our best sounding song. Spirits are high as we realise we don’t sound too bad at all. We’re getting to know the songs inside out and the tricky changes and cues are finally being remembered. Tonight I’ve brought along a beautiful LAG GLA 300DC acoustic/electric. It is a dreadnought cutaway acoustic guitar, with a Shadow Five Plus preamp and Nanoflex pickup. It’s the Autumn model from their Four Seasons range. It’s perfect for ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’. On this occasion I have to suffice with it amplified out of a Marshall, but on the night we’ll run it through the desk for a less harsh sound. We resume the band meeting at our corner office and decide we’ll throw in an extra rehearsal. Frank has some sort of involvement in a new night club which hasn’t opened yet, and we’re able to use their stage on the weekend. We’ve cut a chorus and solo from ‘Takin’ Care of Business’, meaning we can now probably fit all nine songs into our set. In the beginning, I’d never dream that we would have nine songs gig-ready in just 4 two hour sessions. Kudos to Bob for getting us here.
Additional rehearsal – Neverland
Now things are getting serious. We’ve thrown in our own ‘unofficial’ rehearsal day on a Saturday, albeit drummerless. Frank’s connections to the yet to be opened multi-million dollar night club, ‘Neverland’ has been a real bonus. We set up in the enclosed bar area. Carpenters are at work on the other side of the glass. Well they were until we started playing, then it was suddenly tools down. Surely it wasn’t our fault? Perhaps not having Neville there to keep time had something to do with it. Of course we’d never tell the drummer we missed him that much … but we did. It was a good chance to iron out some glitches anyway and walk through some songs. ‘Cinnamon Girl’, the song I thought we’d never get our head around is sounding amazing. We’ve got Tom to try singing a lower range so Rob can do the higher harmony bits. Tom, inspired by the whole Warriors experience has bought himself a new Ashton acoustic/electric guitar and a Zoom recorder during the week. The lack of drums highlights how much of a dirge ‘Dock of Bay’ is sounding and the thought is to drop it. On to the final (official) rehearsal next Tuesday.
Tonight we run through tracks in set order. We’re also flying without nets. No notes, just memory and intuition. Neville is back, giving us a beat to follow. We try ‘Dock of the Bay’ again and it scrubs up OK this time. After merely ten hours of practice time under our belts, this is as gig-ready as we’re going to get. Bob’s suggests we take note of our amp settings. Unless we’re first up on gig day, there won’t be a soundcheck. After seeing these guys every week for the last month, our after-rehearsal time at the pub has become something I look forward to. Tonight’s excuse for being home late? We have to choose a band name. I offer ‘Mark’s Got A Truck’. It seems we’ll settle on ‘Bobsquad’, in honour of our coach.
The nerves become really obvious as I sit in traffic wondering if I’m going to be late. Yet another lesson learnt. Always leave yourself more time than you need to get to the gig.
The gig venue is the Central Club Hotel, a venue I had been to many times before to see some classic Australian performances. It possesses character and history. We meet the partners, family and friends of band mates. The picture is become clearer. We watch the first band nervously knowing we’re up next. Time to hit the stage. We’ve never had proper sound levels in our rehearsals, just our amps set to our own personal preferences. Tonight we have a mixer, a light show and guys tuning and passing us guitars. The JVM410C, 100 watt Marshall amp is set at more volume than I’d ever played in front of before. Boy, did that thing ring. The Maton really shows its output potential tonight too. I’ve become quite attached to it. Normally it takes the second go at a song for the band to get into the groove. No second chances tonight.
We kick off with ‘Bad Case of Lovin’ You’ and there’s no turning back. We’re getting through songs surprisingly well. Everyone fluffs something but they’re minor glitches. Tom is full of beans and almost in Las Vegas nightclub singer mode. Plugging the LAG GLA 300DC into the front of house, the sound is awesome. Chords strummed with much bottom end, while single string picks were bright. Adjusting to get the perfect sound took no time at all. It is quite the buzz receiving a roar of approval at the end of a song, even if they are friends and family. We launch into our final song, ‘Goodbye Astrid’ and I make a mental note to self … enjoy the moment. We’ve concentrated so hard on getting the songs right, now it’s time to really lap it up. The after-gig feeling is difficult to describe. All I’m thinking is … this is why bands do it! As we crouch over guitar cases packing up, a woman of around 60 years taps us on the shoulder and tells us she really enjoyed the set. We even have a fan … the Warrior experience is complete.
Visit www.weekendwarriors.org.au for info
AFTER THE DUST HAD SETTLED …
I contacted the guys to get their thoughts on being part of the Warriors program.
“I enjoyed the challenge and am a much better person for it. Not only is it a great exercise musically but it is – quite frankly – one of the best team building exercises that I have been a part of. There’s nothing like it. Would I do it again? Yes, and without any hesitation whatsoever.” said our vocalist Tom Ravlic.
Rhythm guitarist Frank Perry had this to offer. “It’s very exciting to hear pleasing sounds that you have produced. It’s even better when you work with others in a band. Everyone in the band had a higher level of competence than me, but it provided me with the incentive to work harder and this is the kind of stimulation I enjoy. It’s really nice to know there are other people out there that have similar interests and motivations. I had a great time.”
“The program encouraged me to consider and play material that I might not normally play, so it broadened my playing style as well as enabling me to improve on my technique. It was great getting to know people from different walks of life that you might not otherwise get the opportunity of meeting,’ said lead guitarist Rob Citroni.
Warrior veteran Neville still gets a kick out of every program. “From somebody who has done the weekend warrior program a few times, I still find it a great buzz, I’ve met all types of people, mechanics, doctors, salesmen, all sorts, but everybody becomes the same within the Warriors. We
all play and love music, how can it go wrong? I cant speak highly enough about this program.”
Bassist Mark Daly liked the discipline involved. “I could play a few tunes and licks at home to a metronome, but could stop whenever I wanted. With a band you don’t have that option, you’ve got to keep going. I liked the structure of the rehearsals too, you got things done.”
Here’s a video of Bobsquad performing Goodbye Astrid at our Weekend Warriors gig.