Darren Middleton – One thing tour – Mojos Fremantle.
Before I jump into writing about the concert (which is shuffling around, currently sitting at number 2 on my best concerts ever list: just behind Powderfinger’s last ever Perth show, and sitting just above being entranced under the stars on my birthday, standing just metres away from Paul Dempsey) I should probably set the scene a little for any friends and readers that have either been under a rock for the last 25 years, or live overseas and might not have a clue who or what I’m on about.
Darren Middleton was (I still shudder at the past tense) one of two guitarists in the Australian rock band Powderfinger. The other guitarist being Ian Haug, who flaunts Pink Floyd -esque riffs and I don’t mind admitting is a bit of a bloody spunk (that’s Aussie for really good looking). Darren is a total spunk too, but it’s much easier to fawn over somebody you haven’t met yet and who might not actually read this. Erm… anyway… back to attempting some journalistic integrity, if such a thing exists…
Powderfinger were a multi- award winning Australian band from Brisbane who were together for a little over 20 years, and who wrote some of the countries biggest anthems, such as the eternally popular “These Days” for the Heath Ledger movie “Two Hands”. I won’t go into too much detail, you can Google it and go buy the albums. I particularly like Dream Days at the Hotel Existence, I don’t care what others say about it. Listen to that amazing guitar bit in the middle of “Ballad of a dead man”!
The band broke up in November 2010 after a huge farewell tour around the country, ending back in Brisbane. On September 24th, 2010, I saw Powderfinger live for the very last time and I wrote about it here on the blog. Be kind, I’ve had 4 years practice writing since then.
Leaving a band that’s such a big part of your life takes a toll, and a hell of a lot of courage to pull yourself up again and work out what comes next. I applaud Darren for being so open when speaking of his depression. Darren released his first solo album, Translations, in late 2013. He took those songs on tour in April 2014, teaming up with young Melbourne musician Kelly Lane, of Skipping Girl Vinegar.
The rest of this very long blog post is about my experience with the album, and the last show of the tour. All photographs were taken by me on the night after seeking permission from the venue, and have been posted here with permission of Darren.
I hope you enjoy reading.
June 1st 2014.
Jason and I had absolutely no idea what time the concert was going to start. All we knew was that due to my messed up body, and his back, standing for a couple of hours was completely out of the question. So I emailed the bar’s manager, Shane, ahead of the show and asked if we could get some chairs. He assured me he’d do his best, but we’d have to be there early. The doors opened at 6pm.
Naturally, I panicked that we wouldn’t get seats at all and it’d be an awful night, so this meant that we got to Fremantle about 5.30pm. It was foggy, and misty, a little wet, and I was thankful for a thick coat and hat. We huddled in the doorway for a while, with me wondering where everyone else was and hoping that it was going to be a sell out. After all, last time I saw this guy play, I had to share the space with 10,000 other people!
I could see Darren and Kelly inside, and I contemplated signalling them from the window, but I suddenly got stage fright. I’d painstakingly wrapped gifts for them, but I was hit with a wall of shyness and didn’t want to draw attention to myself and say hi. Especially when they were technically still on their own time.
Yeah, you read that right. I took along gifts. Is that not the done thing? Who cares, they seemed excited by them. Darren had made me years of breathtaking music and it was a big occasion (end of tour). I figured heart, soul, and passion had gone into the music, so the only way to reciprocate was to exchange something that I had poured that same amount of passion into – my photographs. I took along a wildflower photo and card for D and some handmade wildflower photo earrings for Kelly. It was a huge night for her, first trip to Perth, end of a really special tour and all. I just wanted them both to have something special to remember the trip by. I didn’t think I’d actually get to give them the gifts I made. I thought they’d just end up back in a drawer along with the TAFE video clip I made for “Sail the widest stretch” that I carted around all night at Sunsets and am now glad nobody saw.
The door opened about quarter to six and I came face to face with one of my biggest musical idols. My heart, jaw, and common sense hit the floor. We all said hello to each other, shook hands, and I passed on pressies they promised to open when out of the rain. D & K went off to dinner and I tried to return my face to a normal expression whilst praising myself for not saying anything dumb. Jason is still giving me a hard time for what I said to Bobby Despotovski 12 years ago.
Jason and I were finally let inside and crashed on the very comfy couch right by the stage, and preceded to while away the next hour and a half or so until The Morning Night took the stage. They were brilliant, but I’ll write a different post for them.
The concert was really something special; not just because I was right at the front, not just because I met Darren before it started…
which pardon my language is a huge f*king deal. The guy was in Australia’s biggest rock band, and he co-wrote/contributed to the songs we got married to….
but mainly because of how comfortable and relaxed Darren seemed. This is a guy who had to have his mates (pause for a moment to bow down to the legend that is Paul Dempsey. I’m not worthy!) convince him that he could sing and should release his own songs.
When you hear just how wonderful his voice and lyrics are, you can grasp just how bad some of those dark days were for him to feel he needed the push.
There are so many layers going on when you listen to the actual album that I was initially skeptical of how well it’d work with just two performers and acoustic instruments. What I often forget, as a completely musically inept person, is that guitars really are quite complex. That, and the fact that this guy really is one of the best. I stand by my personal opinion that you could put him in a room with George Harrison, Richie Sambora, The Edge, and Eric Clapton and he could hold his own. I don’t really know where I’m going with this other that they’re all on par talent wise in my mind, except that the Edge is probably the only one that pulls off wearing a beanie. Brian May is so good he’s probably an alien so I’m going to leave him out of my analogy, no offence to the others.
Anyway, the setup worked so well. I adored the combination of the guitar and the violin. It even made me enjoy “Let go”, which to be honest is my least favourite song on the album. Sorry. The violin lent such a soulful tone to the night and it was so warming to see Darren beaming at Kelly’s playing with brotherly pride, just filled with awe at how well it all clicked.
I said that I don’t like “Let go”, Oh but “Storms”! “Storms” is another story! It’s my second favourite on the album after “Failing Now” (which they didn’t play). “Storms” is Darren’s reassuring letter to himself, and in the times since it was released late last year, the line “you’re going to be fine” has become a little mantra to me. I’ve often listened to the song when I needed a lift, especially in the uncertain few months over the Christmas period. The live version of “Storms” was so beautiful and I was so lost in it, I took no photos or video. I was just at one with the music. The violin on this and Lover’s Shoes sounded like whalesong, the guitar like the wind…. it was serene.
Around the middle of the set, Darren chose to cover a Crowded House song, speaking passionately of his love for Neil Finn’s lyrics, his face lighting up into a huge grin. He spoke of Neil’s inspiration and how he himself aspires to write on that level. Neil is one of my favourite songwriters and I grew up on a heavy diet of Crowded House – they are right up there with Powderfinger and U2 for writing my life’s soundtrack. I was just so excited to hear one man I admire so much gush about another. It made me think of this quote:
Darren spoke of how blessed he’d feel to play alongside Neil one day, and my mind couldn’t help dwelling on the crushing story in the Powderfinger biography, Footprints, which told of Powderfinger opening for Crowded House’s “Farewell to the world” concert in 1996, only to have to jet off to another commitment before Neil and the boys took the stage. Darren, I hope you get your wish to play with Neil, I’ll definitely be putting my hand up for a ticket when the time comes.
Speaking of covers… or rather ‘stripped back’ songs, see if you can find a video online of their version of JC. Quite extraordinary! I was also pleased to discover that “Drifting further away” from the album “Dream days at the Hotel Existence” was one that Darren had taken to the band. I should have known really, it has a softer, more melancholic tone. There really seems to have been a Lennon/McCartney-esque vibe to the songwriting in Powderfinger. it would be interesting to hear the songs re-recorded as originally intended. Consider the Beatles version of Help to the heartbreaking version sung by John Farnham, for example.
The night was so lovely and intimate that I didn’t mind that Paul Dempsey didn’t appear to join in singing Sunrise. It’s probably just as well because I didn’t bring him a gift and that might have been a bit awkward. I was surprised to learn that Sunrise was written about Darren’s daughter, but apparently so was he when someone pointed that out! Gorgeous song, they must have a very special bond.
I just have one more insight to share with you before I get into the soppy personal part of the night…. “Lover’s shoes”. Oh my! So stunningly mournful. On the album, the lead singer of Powderfinger (Bernard Fanning) duets. Live, Kelly lent it a sweeter tone, and haunting violin. Here is a video I made on my phone:
The highlight of my night was so surreal that I’m not entirely sure that it actually happened, though I’ve been assured that it did. Darren pointed me out to the crowd and both he and Kelly thanked me for the gifts, before dedicating “The Metre” to me. I nearly died from blushing, as it was really unexpected and overwhelmingly touching. After the show I got a big hug from each of them, and got to have a bit of a chat and some photos.
At this point I’d like to issue a public apology to my husband, Jason, who listened to me babble on for months before this concert, drove me there, stood in the rain, took photos, and still managed to find enough love to forgive me for getting so excited and caught in the moment that I didn’t once introduce him, take any photos of him with Darren etc. But he was there, I promise. He completely embodies every line of “Pick you up” which is why we chose it for our wedding ceremony.
Four years ago, I stood for five hours, on my own, exhausted, with thousands of other people behind me, to watch Darren Middleton get up with his mates and play his guitar. September 24th, 2010 was one of the most emotional nights of my life. I bawled my eyes out and I sang until I was hoarse. To have Darren back making music, in an intimate concert, and actually get to meet him? A dream come true… to put it in context……. it’s like meeting Paul McCartney and have him play at your local pub after the Beatles split up. This is my Paul (Ok probably more a George but you get the idea). I don’t care if you agree or not, it’s that much of a big deal to me.
Thank you so much for such a special night Darren. It was such a delight to meet both you and Kelly, and I really can’t wait for the next volume of songs. Please come back and visit us again soon.
If you liked this post, you might like my earlier post about Powderfinger’s last concert, Tim Ferguson’s Carry a big stick, or simply to wander around and look through the “My place in time” project. These “One Thing” photos aren’t for sale at all and are not for re-publication/distribution without permission from me and the artists pictured. I have plenty of fine art photos you could buy instead though.