Touring Tango


Friday 21

I've arisen early with a tint of negative thinking rippling in at the back of my mind. The 'what if' taunt, the 'perhaps' provocation, the 'god-help-us if' goad. The phone rings. I almost don't want to know!

Saturday 22

To really understand the depth of this 'passing the time whilst flying from Brisbane and Melbourne story', we need to rewind the tape four days.

It may also be valid to explain just how far the Narasirato musicians and dancers had travel to be with me, as I feel their plight, sitting behind me in rows 17 and 18. I've been lucky, I have the exit row seat, along with its responsibility to pull the Emergency Use Only handle, in the unlikely event that "we have an unlucky afternoon". An extra three hundred millimetres of leg space.

.....Wednesday 18

Speeding along Tonkin Highway in Perth, driven by the tattooed Serbian cab driver, chatting about the Gucha Festival in Serbia. Four days, 24 hours a day of gypsy brass bands and dancing. My driver explains that he couldn't hear anything by the time he departed Gucha.

My mobile phone piped out its ditty from deep within my pocket and Sophie, the Artists, Delegates and Publicity Manager for the Australasian World Music Expo, exchanged a quick pleasantry before delivering the 'bomb'. It was a standard form for business communication, soft kind words followed with a "you're now redundant Mr Keelan", usually followed by something positive again. What do they call it, the "positive business communications sandwich", or something like that!

I hadn't met Sophie, yet we had exchanged a half century of emails, and several quick calls, all in the pursuit to have the Narasirato Pan Pipers showcase at the Expo.

I asked the cab driver if we could turn down the (tinny synthesized Serbian lolly pop music) CD player, and he obliged just in time for Sophie to deliver the news that her travel booking agent had just advised her that Narasirato had not boarded the flight from Honiara. I calmly thanked her in tandem with the grey matter firing shotguns of thought into the left and right fields of my brain.

The short list of possibilities, the reasons, were rattled off in the mental typewriter, as I fired up my laptop, inserted the mobile internet card, and quickly sent off a series of emails, whilst simultaneously making calls to the Solomons on my mobile phone. I downloaded all available emails, yet there was nothing from my Solomons liaisons, John Maneniaru or John Bosco. I couldn't even get a line into the Solomons, and the maths told me that it was telecommunications peak hour over there. They were five hours ahead of me.

I entered the vacuum of time; the quickest cab ride I had ever taken from Freo to the airport.

After check in I set up email communication again and tried the Solomons a few more times by phone. Nothing. No word. No communication. I called Sophie and we changed their domestic flights so as not to lose their fares, reorganised ground transport, hotels, and I boarded the flight from Perth to Melbourne.

A last minute mobile call as I boarded allowed me to breathe, with the news that they had rebooked their Solomons to Brisbane, Brisbane to Melbourne flights for two days time. They could still make it for their "showcase concert". The angst subsided, although I was itching to know what, why, how?

I updated their itinerary and mapped out a new plan for Melbourne, both as a delegate to the Expo and for Narasirato, who would now arrive two days later.

My first logistical question was who would meet them in Brisbane International Airport and direct them across to the Domestic Airport. Actually, it is so much more complicated than this, but I'll leave that to your imaginations, considering that one of the musicians had never seen a car before and that the "moving stairs", signs, masses of people, shining fluoro lights and metal detectors, being told to remover belts and shoes and hats, were all as far from their reality as you could imagine.

On arrival in Melbourne I gradually carved out a framework as to what had gone wrong. In a word, visas.

It was soon decided that I would now need to fly to Brisbane to help them transit. Flight connections ruled that we now were to add an overnight accommodation into the logistics. They would arrive in Brisbane at 5pm, and leave at 5am the next morning for Melbourne.

Gone were the workshops, the performances by favourites such as Archie Roach and Blue King Brown. Gone was the schmoozing and a list of meetings with Festival Directors from Malaysia, Korea and the all important European Union of Festivals. Kaputz! I was entering "harm minimization mode".

I soon found myself in a major traffic jam en route to Melbourne airport, with wild gusting winds, an all encompassing brown dust storm mixed with heavy bullets of rain, and at one stage a large tree branch diving down and smashing against the side of the car. It was wild.

I loved logistics. That sterility, cleanliness and exactness, which fed balance into my life. I would arrive at 4pm, make my way to the International terminal, meet the band, take them to the hotel, eat, sleep, wake up at 3am, pack, taxi, unpack, trolley, check in, fly, trolley, collect, pack, travel, unpack, and all would be on track again. Smooth. The well-oiled machine of a professional outfit.

On arrival in Brisbane I enquired about the cost to hire a maxi taxi, and very quickly decided to hire a van instead. It would cost us sixty dollars more, yet would allow an extra hour of sleep, and make the "hunting and gathering" for dinner so much easier. I transacted with the van hire people and said that, although it was a one day hire, that I would be delivering the vehicle back by 4am the next morning. The efficient and bouncy blonde put that on the contract.

I arrived with time to spare and strode in to the Arrivals lounge with my video camera poised and a good feeling at seeing my Solomons friends again.

The Flight Arrivals sign said Delayed, the Estimated Time of Arrival said 1000hrs. An equally confused Solomon Islander standing next to me met my eye, and almost simultaneously we questioned the arrival time. In aeronautical speak this was a definite pointer for the morning. Ten o’clock AM! I believed it should read 2200hrs. We decided to drop in at the Solomon Islands office. Closed.

On the front was a small typewritten piece of paper, shabbily and quickly sticky taped to the front door, telling us that the flight would be delayed overnight, arriving at 10am next morning.

What I didn't know at that stage was that way across the seas in Honiara, the passengers of the now ill-fated flight IE701 had waited patiently from 10am in the morning, passing through the extreme midday humidity and heat, and into the afternoon, before being told at 5pm that the plane required fixing. Mechanical problems! Go home.

The flight was rescheduled to depart Honiara at 7am next morning, Saturday. Time was still on our side.

Saturday morning the 22nd

So, we're back to the beginning of this communiqué’.

We land in Melbourne. It feels surreal, with a cocktail of a restless nights sleep in Brisbane, arising from slumber (half stupor) at 5am and making my way to the international airport again, and the fact that when I arrived the sign said Delayed! I almost collapsed into the phoetal position!

What I didn’t know, is that their flight was scheduled to depart Honiara at 7am, yet was delayed one more hour till 8am.

As the disgruntled and land-lagged passengers were heralded to "board the plane" a small roar of ecstasy, a tinge of sarcasm and a huge dollop of relief, arose into the thick wet air. Yet, like the old "steak knives routine", there was more.

The security guard had forgotten to bring the key which opened the door from the lounge and on to the tarmac. Deflation, exhaustion, anger from the western diplomats and businessmen, and a sense of indifference, a passive resignation to "what is", from my Solomon Islander friends.

Another fourty minutes wait while he sped home to retrieve the key!

Saturday night the 22nd

From a village with no electricity, no keys and a single tap for a whole village, to a five star Executive Apartment on Flinders Street. They had arrived in Melbourne at 7.30pm and would, after an epic journey (did I mention that they had departed their home village of Oterama four weeks earlier, just in case the "ship never arrived"?) would spend just 32 hours in Melbourne, before being woken at 3am, trolley, bus, trolley, check in, wait, fly, arrive, transfer from the domestic to international in Brisbane, trolley, check in, customs, wait, fly back to Honiara... errr... wait a week, catch a ship, paddle a canoe, walk up into the village…tell the tale!

It didn't feel good to me!

Sunday

Breakfast, ground transport, unpack and set up instruments, soundcheck, return to the Executive world, eat, rest, shower, and back for the backstage call at 6pm.

They had come through all this for just one thirty-minute performance, in the best (and in my opinion the most stunningly beautiful) acoustic venue in Australia. Paul Petran and the ABC Music Show were there to record the show, a near full house, and a film crew were filming. The scene was set.

I waited with them backstage until half way through the first act, the Shakura Stringband from Vanuatu, and then left to take my position on the upper floor so that I could film the performance. And as I sprinted up the stairs and approached the theatre entrance, a young man stepped in front of me and said that I could not enter without a ticket (even though I was wearing an official Expo Delegates tag around my neck and bright red Recital centre security tag on my wrist. It was his day, his performance, his moment to be who he wanted to be.

In eleven seconds I told him the complete history of Narasirato and pleaded with him not to make me look for a ticket. He refused.

I could hear the MC announcing Narasirato, so I used the old magicians trick.. I looked behind him and screamed, as if someone was about to strike him with a baseball bat, and seized the moment to slip inside, and quickly into the quiet of the hall.

Narasirato received a standing ovation... here is what Jessical Nicholas from the Age Newspaper said: the Narasirato Pan Pipers leapt on to the stage and immediately created an irresistible polyrhythmic pulse as they blew into, pounded on and danced around their amazing collection of bamboo instruments. They send a wave of energy through the auditorium, eliciting a spontaneous standing ovation from the thrilled crowd.

The feeling in the hall was electric. I could sense that something had just happened, something unique, important for Narasirato and all Solomon Islands, yet had pre arranged to meet my younger brother in the foyer at interval. I scooped up the camera and tripod, nestled myself in the departing throng to avoid the usher, and went to the ground floor foyer to find Paul.

I had walked just a few meters before a wave of people came to congratulate me for "the best thing at the Expo". I shook hands, joked, gave and received business cards, and was torn between the excitement and my planned liaison with my brother. I continued to scan the huge crowd for Paul.

As I excused myself from one wave, including some directors of the biggest festivals in the world, another would swarm at me. Journalists, directors, European booking agents, and tipsy Scottish lady who said something like "a record deal, publicist, European tour in 2011... and Bob Geldofs manager".

I shook hands, agreed on a price and conditions with the director of the Sarawak Rainforest Festival in Malaysia, confirmed a concert at the Brisbane Powerhouse, The Dreaming Festival, and the Artistic Director of the Byron Bluesfest bought me a glass of red wine and then announced that he wanted to fly out two extra (we had agreed to a contract some two months ago) Narasirato musicians... he wanted "the full kit and caboodle".

Our dreams and plans were coming true... and isn't that the way...

Addendum. Today, ten days after Narasirato departed Melbourne, they have been invited to some of the world's great music Festivals, in Belgium, Holland, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Czech Republic and the famous Glastonbury Festival in the UK.