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SNIPPETS FROM THE ARCHIVES OF A BYGONE ERA
No matter what side of the mix you’ve been on, either performing or tweaking knobs, most of us know how cold some audiences or even venue management can be. But reality really hits hard when you’re left out in the cold, bogged and stranded in a snowstorm.
Playing a hard-core repertoire of Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple in a country RSL will often elicit a cold response. Such was the case when an entire RSL audience walked out on my first metal band, totally unappreciative of the cool sounds emanating from our Marshall stacks. And who could forget the frigid look as the manager terminated the performance, summoning us to the office, coldly and begrudgingly counting out the money.
In the cold winter of 1978 our band did a couple of gigs at Iceland, which was the ice skating rink at Prince Alfred Park, Sydney. At Iceland you did the load-in during the ice hockey game, and the open-air stage was on the opposite side of the entrance. Ice hockey, known for player aggression and punch-ups on the rink, attracted a similar audience in the bleachers; and we’d get abuse hurled at us having to lug all the gear across in front of them.
After the ice hockey game the venue was turned over to the skating public, and we’d be the background music. You might say the reception was as cold as the ice.
It was, however, a double booking by the Iceland management that left us without a gig for that week. I rang our agent who offered us a support gig on the south coast of NSW. At first the band didn’t think it was worth doing, but being a skiing aficionado I convinced the band to combine the gig with a skiing trip.
Since it was a support gig, we didn’t have to lug our PA or lighting rig, and there was a vacancy at Lodge 21, a ski resort in Smiggin Holes; four bunk beds in one room, but we weren’t complaining.
As support gigs sometimes go we got the ol’ cold shoulder from the main act’s crew at the south coast venue. I won’t name the act, but it was a familiar drill: six par cans out of the 16 can rig and virtually no foldback. So with that gig behind us we headed off to the snow country.
It was the first time any of the other band members had skied, and since nobody wanted to take lessons I became the crash course instructor. One of the band (who shall remain nameless) fancied himself as a comedian on the slopes; he didn’t understand that being cool was an integral part of the ski scene. On our first T-bar ride up the slope he set his sights on a female gun skier garbed in you-beaut ski apparel who was rocketing towards us. As she sliced across the T-bar in front of us he waived his ski stock comically at her.
“Watch out, watch out!” he jested. But the skier was so surprised at his uncool demeanour that she totally wiped out, continuing to tumble down the slope.
“You’re going to get us arrested,” I said.
Marcia Hines was booked to play at a venue in nearby Perisher the next evening, so we made the trek in my Toyota HiAce van to see her. We arrived to find that her flight had been cancelled due to a severe weather warning; a blizzard was headed our way! The venue was all but deserted but we stayed, heedlessly imbibing while watching the house band until closing time.
Upon returning to the van, it became evident that the predicted blizzard was now a reality and in spite of the fact that the van was fitted with snow chains we didn’t get far before we were bogged to the doors in snow. There were frivolous attempts by the guys to dig the van out, but the blizzard kept intensifying.
One of the guys didn’t like the idea of staying with the van as the snow piled up. He was also complaining of not being able to feel his fingers, and convinced he had frostbite after the unsuccessful dig with his bare hands. So he declared that he was going to walk from Perisher back to Smiggin Holes, which was two kilometres away; a walk in the park on a fine day, but a potentially deadly trek in sub-zero temperatures in a blinding blizzard.
“No,” I said, “We have to stay on the road with the van until help arrives.”
“What if nobody comes?” he said as he headed off.
There was no identifiable road and he had only advanced a few metres trudging through deep snow when I hurried after him. The entire landscape was blanketed in snow, and the wind was so strong that the snow was being whipped horizontally. I held my hand up to my face to test the old adage that in a fierce blizzard you ‘couldn’t see your hand in front of your face’. It wasn’t that far wrong.
“Mate, I can’t let you go. You’re going to get lost and they’d never find you; you could die out there.”
A tussle ensued accompanied by an exchange of unprintable expletives before he relented and rejoined our marooned group at the van.
It was amazing how quickly the snow was piling up. And I was later to learn about snow drifts, which in addition to the falling snow, a drift is an uneven distribution of the snow caused by strong winds. The van was starting to bury in snow, and it was getting scary!
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before we heard a distant roar and a 4WD with huge tyres equipped with snow chains and emblazoned with the insignia Kosciuszko National Park burst through the haze.
“Can you tow us out?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? If you guys want to get out of here you’d better climb in the back,” the driver shouted, trying to lift his voice above the howl of the wind. So we piled into the tray on the back of the 4WD, which was already half-filled with snow, for our ride back to the Lodge.
The next morning I visited the NRMA station at Smiggin Holes, and being a member, I asked if they could help me salvage the vehicle.
“Sure,” said the attending technician, and he handed me a shovel, adding, “You’ll need this to dig your vehicle out.”
Carrying the shovel, I walked the two kilometres back to Perisher but couldn’t find the van. It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that this was a company vehicle, and the company had a strict policy that vehicles weren’t to be taken out of the metropolitan area on weekends or during vacations.
Whilst trekking back to the NRMA station I contemplated how I would explain the disappearance of the company vehicle in the Perisher snow fields.
“The vehicle’s gone. Can you tell me where it would have been taken?” I asked the NRMA technician.
“It hasn’t been taken anywhere. It’s under the snow; that’s why I gave you the shovel,” he said.
I again walked along the path where the road used to be until I came upon the white roof of the Toyota HiAce barely protruding from the snow. It took me all morning to dig the van out on my own, never begrudging my fellow band members enjoying their day on the ski slopes. Yeah right!
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