This is a scene from an Aussie fever dream.
Deep in the backcountry, you’ve just played one of the great pub shows on a cross-country tour.
And then you realize that you stuffed the logistics.
Now you’re driving all night to your next concert, 700 kilometers away, and “Tracy”, the bus you bought from a nursing home, is burning fuel at a rate that seems unsustainable.
It’s all part of the fun of a Guts tour, which first dissected the country from south to north along the Stuart Highway in 2016, taking inspiration from Midnight Oil and Warumpi Band’s legendary Blackfella/Whitefella tour in 1986.
Guts will be back on the road for the first time since 2017 next month, playing 36 shows from the tropics to Tasmania with 19 bands and hosting 20 music workshops in outback towns and communities.
The tour begins its 7,000 km journey in the town of Jabiru, on the outskirts of Kakadu, on August 15 and features artists like Bad//Dreems, Black Rock Band, Children Collide and Birdz.
“Play the scissors”
The idea of a tour that picks up and drops off mostly southern bands in some of Australia’s most remote locations, said tour creator Jack Parsons, was a nod to a time when things were a bit different in the Australian music scene.
“We wanted to tour regionally and with a real sense of adventure and go to places off the beaten track, like the bands that were touring, and that famous pub rock era of Aussie music where it was really a plug -in-and-play ethics,” he said.
“And it didn’t matter if it was 10 people, 100 people, or 1,000 people, you were shooting.”
So on a Guts tour, says Parsons, bands will play wherever they are as if their lives depended on it.
“There were some tough shows,” he recalls. “Coober Pedy comes to mind, you know, like eight people in the crowd, one of whom was yelling at these Melbourne bands to play Chisel.”
But in the bush, outdoor performances in the desert can give way to privileged moments for groups and host communities, which have little access to touring artists.
“The kids have a lot of fun and the response is always fantastic,” Parsons said.
“I remember one performance, when we paid at Barunga, the kids were going absolutely crazy and they were kind of all over the stage and playing drums.
“The walls had fallen and it was pandemonium.
“There were some very memorable shows, and we’re so lucky this year to have reached a point where we can ask these great bands to be a part of it.”
Shows, workshops and swags
Getting the kids in the communities excited when the bands go wild is one thing, but a lot of the touring energy is directed to workshops, where band members share their technical expertise and some aspects of the music industry with children.
The Northern Territory leg of the tour includes concerts and workshops in 10 remote communities.
“Workshops are a beautiful thing,” Parsons says.
“We take in kids who have never played drums before and put them on drums, show them a basic rhythm, and they can play and feel like they’re in a band.”
Richie Guymala, lead singer of the Black Rock Band of West Arnhem Land, says the workshops boost morale in the communities, where there are already plenty of great young bands.
“There are a lot of issues around the communities in the Northern Territory, but stuff like this helps,” he says.
“It’s a good opportunity [for kids] to refresh their minds and tell them, you can do it on your own – whatever it is… you can follow your dreams.”
Touring bands, Parsons says, are also grateful.
“We’re really lucky that the people we talk to in these communities welcome us with open arms, and we put on shows and workshops, and we’re supported with accommodations and places to roll out the swags,” he says. .
“It all comes down to this Oils and Warumpi Band tour, being able to take great music and great artists to these wonderful places that have great music in them.”
“There is good music there”
Guymala and Black Rock Band will play throughout the Northern Territory tour, ending at the Kalkarindji Freedom Day Festival where they will share the stage with artists like Paul Kelly and Ripple Effect Band.
“I can’t wait to get back on the road, to share our music with the community again, and also to meet other compatriots,” said Guymala.
“It’s also good because [bands] come from the south and they kinda see the Black Rock family, where we are connected from.”
Guymala says he would like to host touring bands more often.
“I think it should happen more. I think it will be a good way to promote small groups in small communities,” he says.
“We have so many bands in Arnhem Land, and there is great music, and I think tours like this will open up opportunities for other bands who want to have their music heard.”
Music NT board member Coco Eke says the scarcity of regional tours in these parts of the country is what makes Guts exciting.
“It’s really hard to tour regionally and especially remotely, and for bands that want to tour outside of their communities, it’s expensive,” she said.
“The roads are rough and it’s hot and bringing a group from a community to Darwin sometimes costs tens of thousands of dollars.
“So it’s a really exciting tour to see the bands and the rest of the crew that will be on the bus going out into the communities to really lift the spirits and bring the music back.”