No Expectations: The Rolling Stones C90

Jones, Jagger and Richards recording 'Sympathy For the Devil'

In the age old argument of the Beatles vs the Stones, I am a Rolling Stones man. One of the reason this seems incredulous to people is when you look at the Stones today, they are a bit of a joke.

Hence the C90 test.

No Expectations: The Rolling Stones C90 (click on the link to play in Spotify)

Taking a cue from the old 45 minutes-a-side cassette, if you were to throw my favourite 90 minutes of Stones tracks onto a tape, and did the same for the Beatles, there would be no contest at all for me.

In this digital era, I can easily recreate a C90 for the Stones on Spotify. 10 tracks a side, under 45 minutes each. It’s not like the Beatles are digital anyway.

So many great tracks missing – Angie. Brown Sugar. Honky Tonk Women. Time Is On My Side. Play With Fire. Under My Thumb. I just couldn’t fit them in. The Stones would hold up in a C180 test. Heck, I could even live without (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

I have also avoided later era gems like Beast Of Bourbon, Waiting On A Friend, Start Me Up etc. We kept it to pre 1973 – so we are still dealing in roughly the same number of years that the Beatles worked in.

What we do have is some of the biggest and best singles. The era defining, genre trashing, mind blowing highest achievements of the Stones canon. The yet to be beaten evil of Sympathy For the Devil. The far-better-than-Satisfaction riff of Jumping Jack Flash. The psychobabble intensity of Paint It Black. The mean streets soul Gimme Shelter. Is there are more beautiful song than Wild Horses? And You Can’t Always Get What You want has become part of our every day language.

I’ve mixed that in with some lesser known tracks. Not to be clever, but these are some of my favourite songs. In fact, Moonlight Mile is my favourite Stones song. The bittersweet Dead Flowers has been covered by every country artist worth a damn. She Smiled Sweetly is pop bliss.

The breadth of which that band travels is amazing – from 7 minutes soul, 2 minute blues punk and perfect love ballads and back. It’s a pity since 1974 they have been rewriting It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (not included here) – both musically and in sentiment. They played the dumb rockers card and are still playing it. But there is so much more to the Rolling Stones

The tracklist (and tracknotes) for those without Spotify. And if you don’t have Spotify and you live in a country that has it, you’re an idiot.

Side A.

1. Sympathy For the Devil

It could open with no other song. Their greatest achievement – their Day In the Life. But instead of peace and love, they rip it all up. The percussion track is fantastically devilish, Keith Richards is tearing it up on bass and Jagger is at his vocal and lyrical best. Best to avoid the strange Jean Luc Goddard movie that captures the recording of this song.

2. Bitch

Before it became a joke, the Stones mastered the blues rocker. With it’s frantic riff, it rocks the place.

3. Ruby Tuesday

It’s forgotten how great songwriters the Jaggers/Richards team were – and it was this song that first proved it for many.

4. No Expectations

One of their very, very best songs. The romance of things never returning, a beautiful country guitar – the Beatles could never get this direct and emotional.

5. Paint It Black

Whole books have been written about this song. Anti-war? Depression? Drugs? Who knows. But how many 1st year guitar players have learnt that riff?

6. Sway

Stones at their bluesy, sexy best. A ballad of sorts, it’s sweet and enveloping. One of many highlights they hid away on album tracks.

7. Gimme Shelter

Thanks to Scorsese, this song just sounds like violence. And rightly so. I feel like ducking behind a car when the intro starts.

8. Rip This Joint

Exile is a great album, but hardly the place to start with the Stones. But this side of them, the bar-room honky tonk punk, is something they do better than anyone else.

9. Get Off Of My Cloud

A product of the times, but still a clear sign they were more dangerous than any of the other bands in the era, with their naff matching suits and dated old men producers.

10. Moonlight Mile

One of the best songs I’ve ever heard, full stop. As cinematic as Springsteen, as deep as Dylan but still Stones all the way. Ending with a string section climax that proves the Stones are far, far more than a good bar band.

Side B

1. Street Fighting Man

One of the greatest side two, track ones ever. If a knife fight in a phone booth was a song, it’d be this one.

2. Let’s Spend the Night Together

The Stones invent glam rock. That chunky, chunky guitars and urgency propelled it 6 years into the future for Bowie to take it to the net. An early song, it was when the stones really hit their stride.

3. She Smiled Sweetly

A lovely folk rock number, showing a tenderness not usually thought of as very Rolling Stones.

4. Love In Vain

An update of an old blues song, this is a showcase for the guitarists – Richards and Jones, just riffing like mad, as Jagger sings the blues as soulfully as a white man can.

5. 19th Nervous Breakdown

They spent the mid 60s being the brats of the UK “pop” scene. And put-down songs like this was what made the working kids love them. A shimmering riff as good as anything by the jangling 60s.

6. Jumpin’ Jack Flash

If you look up the word ‘riff’ in the dictionary, it would just be the tablature for this song.

7. Wild Horses

Used in a million movies and touched a million hearts, this is not just their best love song, but one of the best love songs ever. Without resorting to wussbag sentimentality or flowery sentiments either.

8. Live With Me

Manager Andrew Loog Oldham creating a media storm with the headline “Would You Let Your Daughter Date A Rolling Stone?”. It’s songs like this, playing up the careless, useless, rock n roller image that helped cement the fear – and excitement – in young girls.

9. Dead Flowers

For a song about death, it’s surprisingly upbeat and positive. Used in a million weddings, and played for a million musicians passing away. And yet another hidden away track.

10. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Alright! The full blooded, seven and a half minute version. Rock ‘n’ roll gospel, a hymn for the hipster, a bit of warm relief in a cold. It’s been covered to death and the phrase is now clichéd. But the original version is still a knock out.

30 for 30: The Late Show

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


The Late Show cast (from l-r): back row - Tom Gleisner, Rob Sitch, Mick Molloy, Tony Martin. front row - Judith Lucy, Jason Stephens, Santo Cilauro, Jane Kennedy

In Australia in the early 90s, there was a Saturday night sketch comedy show called The Late Show, on ABC. 10pm every Saturday, without fail, I would sit my ass down and watch it. It lasted only two years. And, like Monty Python, I have followed the careers of everyone involved in that show.

I’m not the only one. This show truly touched a generation of Australians. Everyone who was around at the time knows it. It was groundbreaking, taboo smashing, mind bending stuff. And it made me laugh my ass of.

Amazing to think The Late Show only lasted two years, but I guess the Office and Fawlty Towers were even less than that. The Late Show team consisted of Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Jason Stephens and in the second year, Judith Lucy.

Based in Melbourne, this crew all had radio backgrounds. Again like Monty Python, it was the coming together of various writing teams. After the Late Show, those teams broke up again, to do amazing things in other fields.

But let’s talk The Late Show.

On the whole of it, it’s a pretty standard sketch comedy show. If anything, there was an overload of them on Australian TV at the time – Fast Forward, Full Frontal, The Comedy Company. But it was just – better. It made fun of itself. Maybe it helped that it was on the ABC.

So many great sketches. Shitscared. Graham And the Colonel. Pissweak World. Most of that probably means nothing to many of you. At the end of this post there are some clips. It’s a very Australian sense of humour.

Everyone at school watched it. Every Monday was always a game of ‘did you watch the late show?’, and some of the more talented smartasses amongst us would re-enact the scenes. We knew the classic ones by heart, and some forward thinking kids also taped the show and traded them.

It wasn’t just the kids at my school either. Everyone cool I know loved it. Isabelle loved them, and from memory, had a crush on Tony Martin. She even saw them once doing a vox pop but was too shy to talk to them.

They did one precious episode in Sydney, and everyone was keeping an eye out for them. These guys might just be on the street I walk home on! It was really quite a phenomenon.

I would still kill for a The Late Show t-shirt. They made them when the show was on air and I was far too young to buy stuff like that. I see one around and I almost want to offer money right there and then to strangers in the street. The ABC finally released two volumes on video, which I memorised every word.

Finally, a nice DVD was released, but it’s only 3 hours in many. Your heart would break the first time you watched it, as you realised they didn’t include your favourite sketches. To this day, it’s the only official relic of this magnificent show that we have.

I carried around the newspaper article declaring the Late Show break-up in my wallet for months. I didn’t get it. Why would they end. I decided in my head it wasn’t true, but a new series never came.

The writing teams split off. Tony and Mick ended up (back) on radio with the Martin/Molloy Show. It was on after school on the dreadful 2Day Fm network, but I still listened everyday, putting up with bad pop music. By now I was already discovering obscure music. But I would never miss Martin/Molloy.

I called up one of their competitions once and actually won some CDs, Soul Asylum’s second album and a Brownstone one.

Rob, Tommy G, Jane and Santo formed Working Dog Productions, pretty much the best TV production team in Australian history.

The first was Frontline – a no-laugh-track mockumentary of Current Affairs shows – with a bumbling host, a cynical network and the dangers of broad appeal journalism. Oh, and laughs.. Airing when I was 14-16, it did a lot to form my views on politics and the media.

One episode, the Shadow We Cast, was a defining piece of television for me, one I think about almost everyday. Anchor Mike Moore wants to reverse the damage done to minorities by Current Affairs shows. He is oblivious to his own hypocrisy, attacking Pauline Hanson, then following with stories about foreign investors. He makes a list of all the minorities he wants to help.

Prowsie, his boss, in a moment of anger, writes on a whiteboard what Current Affairs is really about. Stereotypes. Chinese are Triads. Vietnamese are drug dealers. Aborigines are drunks. And so on. Mike almost discovers this, and is pushed away and led out of the room. The camera hangs onto the whiteboard for a second before the episode ends.

You can watch the end of the episode here.

Working Dog’s best work was, of course, The Castle (1997). Their first movie, it’s the story about an Australian family who is ordered by the government to move to make way for a new airport. But the eccentric family refuses and fights the government for the right to live in their homes. It was an allegory for Aboriginal Land Rights. And the funniest Australian movie you will ever see.

Working Dog only made one more movie – the very good The Dish (2000). But they concentrated on TV instead. The talk show The Panel, the game show Thank God You’re Here and the recent, extremely good The Hollowmen. The latter follows the work lives of a fictional Australian government department – it’s a lot like the UK’s The Thick Of It.

Mick and Tony flirted with movies too. After a hosting his own failed talk show, Mick played lead, wrote and produced Crackerjack (2002), and BoyTown (2006). Tony wrote and directed Bad Eggs (2003), also starring Mick. All those movies were met with only minor success.

Mick is now a host for hire. Tony had a second day in the sun with the Get This radio show on Triple M. Running for three years, it really showed off his voice and writing talents. A runaway ratings and critical success, it’s little wonder Triple M always hated it and dumped it.

I am still excited about any project by any member of the D-Generation. I only just discovered Santo, Sam and Ed’s World Cup Fever, which brought back the news and sports of the Late Show with some fantastic sketch comedy.

I don’t know if the idea of a reunion has ever been floated around. I guess everyone is older, and all have healthy careers to some degree. But to see all of them on screen together again, playing some of these classic characters, would be a dream come true.

Because, 17 years after it went off the air, I’m still the same kid hoping for that 3rd season.

Some clips! Not just boring text!

My favourite recurring sketch is ‘Shitscared’. About Rob and Mick, this terrible Evil Knievel types, always interviewed by Tom.

Here’s the very first one

Movie world

A car stunt

Pissweak World! This is not too far from the truth in Australia.

Marine World.


Guides. Here’s Christmas Parties and one of the three Dinner Parties.


What’s All That About

REM Song

Billy Joel

Mick and Tony Vox Pops

Shirty The Slightly Aggressive Bear

Charlie the Wonderdog

Random sketches

Still Number Four, a comment on rival Channel 9’s tagline of “Still Number One”

20 Inappropriate Love Songs

30 for 30: iPods

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


The "photo" iPod

Like everyone else, I got an iPod. It changed the way I listened to music.

I was planning this blog for later in the series but circumstances dictated otherwise. My iPod died. Gone. Just wiped to zero. 5 years of play counts, artwork, playlists etc – no more.

It was a 160GB silver ‘classic’ – which made it sound dated as soon as it came out. It’s travelled with me everywhere, and I used it for around 5-6 hours a day – at least. In the last week, it’s battery life was down to about half an hour, and it would turn itself off for no reason. Until today, when it decided to give up the ghost for good.

So, goodbye iPod. 24,000 songs, all gone. It was fun.

I was late to the iPod. Most of my friends had one by the time I did. I even bought one for a girlfriend before I got one for myself. I only really decided to get one when I decided to do some travelling. So I bought a 60GB one, in 2005.

Oddly, I did get an early mp3 player as a present. It was very hard to use. It made me resist “going digital” for a while.

I prepared by ripping some music to my computer before I even got one. In an ill made decision, I decided to start with Elvis Costello. Not just ALL his albums (up to Delivery Man, 21 of them), but all the Rhino bonus discs. Get Happy itself was 50 tracks. My iTunes had 20 versions of Watching the Detectives, what with all the demos and live versions. When I finally got the iPod, it was basically an Elvis Costello iPod.

So I wiped all that and started again. I tried to be more democratic about it the second time around. Basically, I would put one album on by every artist I really loved. Live with that for a bit. Then choose another album by them, and spread the net wider to artists that I liked. Then again, another round. It was like the nerdiest NBA draft picks.

I managed to hit 24,000 songs on my iPod, including several thousand I deleted over the years, before she died. I think by the end of it, every Elvis Costello album was back on there.

I wasn’t that excited by the iPod to begin with. I remember looking at it, on my sofa, in my house, thinking, I kind of just want to put these albums on my stereo. But I figured it might be handy.

The click-wheel was clever though. That alone got me past the gate. Much like the iPhone later, the iPod wasn’t only easy to use – it was kind of fun to use. Looks at me scroll!

I quickly took to it. I could listen to music in the garden! I could listen to music when I go for a smoke! I could listen to music on that walk from the train station to home. I could even listen on the train.

In fact, the biggest negative is that when I got an iPod, it killed my reading. My reading has still never recovered. Maybe it might now.

I got the first ‘Photo iPod’. Hilarious to think of it now. I remember how Tom, an early iPod owner, had this two colour one, with buttons across the top. We used to listen to stuff in his car. And that geeky pleasure of thinking ‘mine is cooler’.

The best thing about this new iPod was that you could load colour album covers on there and it would come up on the screen. This was exciting at the time! And it wasn’t that long ago. It was the same year the FOURTH Harry Potter film came out. Yet it was exciting to get colour on the iPod.

I remember showing my friends who were musicians their own albums, with artwork, on this iPod. So wanky. But we were all fascinated.

This first iPod travelled with me overseas. I have hundreds of memories of walking through Europe, listening to music. Maybe I missed some of the sounds of a city, but as a music nutter, I couldn’t be happier.

60 GB turned out to be not enough. I had to keep deleting things. Finally, I had a car accident and found myself in a wheelchair for months. I got an iPod and meticulously imported all the info across to a new, 160GB monster. It took weeks.

I keep breaking headphones. Glasses and headphones. Geez, I have spent so much money on those things. And I approach headphones the same as glasses – buy something cheap because it will break or you will lose them.

I bought a really expensive pair once – Seinnheiser somethings. It had a case. A very complicated folding motion would collapse the headphones and you would twirl the lead around it’s body. It was as fun as folding a map. I had it for two weeks before I left it in a cab.

So I usually go for the second cheapest pair there is. I use James’ theory on this. If you buy the cheapest one, everything about it is bad. But if you buy the second cheapest, it means at someone thought about these headphones on some level (could have just been the price).

No wonder they keep breaking all the time though. Usually the bit near the pin, that goes into the iPod, goes first. But sometimes the headphone itself falls apart. But dozens of pairs of those is still cheaper than that expensive pair.

In recent years, I’ve discovered (cheap) in-ear headphones. Odd at first, now I’m used to shoving rubber things in my ears. Sure it blocks out a bit of noise and sounds stronger, but it just stays in the ear and bit better.

My second iPod, the 160GB monster, lasted me until this week. It recorded 5 years of my listening habits. I got quite obsessed with looking at it statistically.

For example:

Most played song was Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. 78 plays.

Of 24,000 songs, only 1000 had never gotten at least one play.

However, half that collection was 4 plays or less. So there’s a lot of junk on there.

Poor ‘Sunday Girl’ by Blondie, was added to my iPod 4 years ago, and I never listened to it once.

I would add roughly 20GB of music to my iPod every year.

It was fun, looking at listening habits through maths. Well, fun for me anyway. I’ve lost all that now.

For the last few years, every morning, I listen to five songs that have zero plays. I get a lot of albums, and I still buy plenty of them. It’s one of many tricks I had to explore my collection.

And it’s great to have all those songs in your pocket. Whatever thought tickles your fancy can be there. God knows there have been times when the sun is shining and the only thing that could make me feel better is to hear Make Me Lose Control by Eric Carmen. And before the iPod, how would you ever hear that song?

Mainly though, I would just shuffle. Thousands of songs, what will fate dial up? Whether I’m on the a crowded train on the Circle Line, or walking around Berlin, lets see what song I can pin this memory to.

Trish mentioned today that I was taking the death of my iPod well. For some reason, it didn’t really matter to me all that much. I did try for an hour to save the thing, but in the end it was easy to let go of. I think, maybe, I was in need of a change.

The iPod death was always the biggest worry. I remember Jon, with an early iPod, losing everything, and paying big money to computer experts to no avail. I have almost lost my iPod many times, and those were scary moments.

I’ve put Born to Run (the album with Thunder Road on it) on my new 160 GB iPod. I’m going to put some records I’ve loved from this year. And start the draft again. Five years ago, the first Velvet Underground album I reached for was The Velvet Underground & Nico. I’m thinking now it’s got to be Loaded. But even part of me thinks maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe it’s time to find another new path altogether.

Maybe the shuffle thing should go too. Maybe, like many of my friends, I should just rotate my collection. Who knows. Without music being my job, I don’t need half of that stuff in my pocket. Hell, having gone through cassettes the CDs, I’m not even sure iPods will last that much longer.

So, It’s kind of exciting to start again. I get to rediscover all my music. Or maybe I will finally get some reading done again.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

This is an interview I did for WGTB Georgetown radio in Catherine Degennaro. It was very random – she found my 100 for 2000 article about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and got in touch. I have been involved in a lot of radio in my life and was missing it – so I jumped at the chance.

Re: Stacks – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by WGTB Blog

Check it out and the rest of the Re: Stacks series.

How odd to have this online, possibly forever.

30 for 30: Yum Cha

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Some Yum Cha dishes - l-r: Spinach & Nuts Dumpling, Spare Ribs, Siu Mai, Har Gau and some Cheung Phun up front

I am a big fan of Yum Cha – it’s my favourite type of food. In the US and the UK it’s known as Dim Sum.

Why the two terms? I have no idea either – but I can tell you what each one means.

Yum Cha” literally means “Drink Tea”. Tea being a big part of this kind of eating. Basically, Chinese (or specifically Cantonese) people will say “let’s drink tea” and it will mean let’s go to a Yum Cha.

Dim Sum” means the dumpling things that make up a bulk of the meal. Har Gau, Siu Mai etc.

If I have to hazard a guess, Yum Cha is tied to the experience. In Hong Kong, Yum Cha places are used like cafes. People will meet up over a tea, a small amount of dishes, and carry on with their day. Even teenagers after school might stop in for a snack. Which is why outside of the US and UK, Yum Cha is used. The whole dining experience is where you can get this kind of food.

In the US and UK however, there is an abundance of choice. And if people wanted those types of dumplings and things, they would ask for Dim Sum, and maybe at places other than Yum Cha places. Also, the lack of trolleys, the way the cost is worked out, all differs from the traditional Hong Kong experience.

That is just a guess, anyway.

For my purposes, I’m calling it Yum Cha. So many things are not technically Dim Sum, and it’s the whole dining, and this whole Chinese Food subculture, that interests me.

It is fun for me to see how places spell Yum Cha foods. I’ve seen various variations. It is confusing for me, and confusing for my friends who don’t speak Chinese. I’ll use the ones I see the most often.

Here are my favourite things to eat at Yum Cha.

Siu Mai (Wikipedia calls it Shumai – sounds nothing like the actual words.) and Har Gau. Siu Mai is the pork dumpling in a yellow wrap. Har Gau is the prawn dumpling in the white, almost clear skin. It is pretty much essential to have these fantastic dishes at every Yum Cha experience.

Har Gau and Siu Mai must have actually gotten married at some point. They are always tied together. They are sold together. Always in the same trolley. The ladies yell out “Har Gau, Siu Mai” even if there’s other things in the trolley. If they yell out more, these two still get top billing. They are the Lennon and McCartney of Yum Cha. I’m not quite sure why they go together, but they do. They are delicious. I love them.

Then there’s Cheung Phun (literally, “sausage noodle”). Three strips of soft wide noodle, wrapped around beef, prawns or pork. There are other variations and they are stupid. Dollop on a lot of soy sauce and you are off. You know you have gotten chopsticks down when you can chop these babies in half. There is a lightly fried version too.

So most people like those, easy to eat things. My next favourites are a bit weirder. Steamed Spare Ribs and Fung Jiao (i.e. Chicken feet). So they might look scary to some – and they take a bit of effort, but are so worth it. Essentially, you strip the meat off the bone in your mouth, then spit of the bones. Not something to do on a date, then. But the steamed meat falls off the bones, and the sauces are delicious. Having lots of friends who don’t like these dishes mean more for me.

Lucky for my British friends that I have not been able to find the Mixed Cow Tripe Stew. The most disgusting looking bits of cow stomach, liver, intestine, in the best sauce. A favourite of my Dad’s and mine, many Sundays have been spent stuffing our faces whilst my Mum looks on, slightly disapprovingly.

With those standards out of the way, the rest is usually what tickles my fancy on the day. Steamed Meatballs are a great, simple dish. The Sticky Rice that comes wrapped in leaves is great when you’re really hungry. In London, there is usually other dumplings to try.

I usually ignore anything that is deep fried. I’ve never been a big fan of Congee, which I guess can be called a savoury rice porridge. The popular Char Siu Bao – roast pork buns – are great, but I usually don’t bother with them either. This is mainly because all kids love them, and I want to feel like I’ve grown up and eating the more complicated stuff. It’s the shadow of my Dad there.

Don’t forget the Tea, too. There are lots of different types of tea – and I know none of them. My Mum has somehow taken the role of tea chooser in our family. The waiter asks, and we all look to Mum. I’ve asked her why she chooses certain ones (“I wanted something sweeter”, “I don’t feel like something strong”), but for me, tea is just something to wash down the chili sauce. My tongue at Yum Cha doesn’t really deal with subtleties.

Deserts are an uncommon treat for me. I almost never have them. But who doesn’t love a good Egg Tart? Kylie loved these Pastry Balls In Cinnamon. The various jellies on offer look, even at the best places, shit. Why would you go to Yum Cha to have Jelly?

Growing up, you would wait for Sundays because more often than not, those were Yum Cha days. Sometimes just my family, sometimes with another family and heck, sometimes just me and Dad. We would travel far and wide for the best places, driving for hours. We’d get there early, get our ticket number and wait.

It strikes me that Yum Cha is a lot about waiting. It is, really, one of the least efficient ways to eat. For those who have never seen it, the real way to Yum Cha is to have ladies with trolleys of food running around the tables. So the food is sitting around getting a bit cold. It takes ages for the food to actually get to you, and as an impatient kid you’d be looking around for that damn Cheung Phun lady to come around already. And imagine how many more tables they could fit in without needing those trolley lanes.

That said, having had eaten at places when you order, it’s no fun having no trolleys. It just feels like a meal. You want to marvel at what is in those trolleys. It’s almost like a strip bar – you wave a lady down and ask her to show you what she’s got.

Yum Cha ladies are either horrifically unattractive or look like a 15 year old girl in a Manga. There’s no middle ground. It’s completely sexist. In thirty years I have never, ever, seen a male Yum Cha Trolley Attendant. I thought at one point I would like to be the first – a pioneer –  and maybe Sean Penn can play me in the movie of my life.

James and I suspected as kids that the men who worked in Yum Cha places were actually Ninjas. The way they set a table is pretty amazing. Take a 3 metre wide circular table, and one guy can lay out all the cups and bowls, thrown from one spot. Seeing a group of them working as a team is like watching the London Philharmonic just fucking nailing it. It also makes sense that Ninjas would need a day job and it would be a decent cover. I am still waiting for that Jackie Chan movie where he crashes a Yum Cha place, and the waiters turn into Ninjas. Called Yum Cha Ninja. This shit writes itself.

Tash made a very good point about Yum Cha a couple of years ago that has stuck with me. She never knows how much she is paying. Payment is a piece of paper with Chinese words, and a whole bunch of stamps. There’s no correlation between what you ate and what is on the sheet. There is no indication of how much each dish costs. My Dad knows a lot of cooks and manages to wrangle a discount. The discount is in the form of some dude scribbling his name on the form. I looked at one once and thought – yeah, never paying full price here again. He just wrote a fancy letter ‘S’.

(UPDATE: James points out that discounts are always free tea, not an actual percentage discount.)

Sydney Yum Cha is so great, it’s hard to pick a favourite based on food. There are some famous ones – Marigold on Sussex Street, the one above Market City. But my favourite one is one I don’t know the name of. It’s at the north end of Dixon Street in Chinatown. There is a Chinese Pagoda, and you have to walk through it and up the escalator.

It’s a Yum Cha restaurant that lives next to pokies. It looks like an RSL. It has the cheapest décor you can imagine. But I like it’s simplicity. There are very few non Chinese people around, or tourist rabble. Just genuine, proper Yum Cha. And yes, we should definitely go one day.

London seems to have given up on trolley service, mainly. The one place that still has it is New World in Chinatown. I am there every second or third Sunday.

But most places, you have to order from the menu. The food is alright. They’ve also introduced some fancy cooking – chef’s special dumplings etc. I try to care, but it’s hard. Then there’s Yau-At-Cha, renowned chef Alan Yau’s deluxe Yum Cha restaurant. (This) Yau invented Wagamamas. Yau-At-Cha is the only Michelin star place I’ve ever been too that didn’t involve work (and I only went twice with work). It cost Jo and I around £80 each and it wasn’t that great.

Then there’s Ping Pong, a chain Dim Sum place. Not even close to the Yum Cha experience. On Sundays that have Dim Sumdays – £16.50 for all you can eat. Dan Ryan reckons he was once in a table of 8 and destroyed 83 dishes. We tried to repeat it and got to 79. Although I blame Lou for ordering vegetables and was too busy actually talking and being nice.

Like I said earlier, Yum Cha is a family thing. I’m amazed how many of my friends love it though. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. And I love taking people and showing them how it’s done. It’s amazing how they see it though. For some people, it’s their hangover cure. And it works.

Lately, I go on my own. Must be weird for the people at New World on a busy Sunday. Me, a book, table for one, thanks. It’s always the dream. No filler, no sharing. Just the dishes I want, and not only being able to have one of each thing. It takes up so much time so it’s perfect reading time.

Hopefully by the time I’m 60, and I revisit these blogs, I will have introduced my own family to this stuff. Trolley culture has not died off completely. I’m still able to have the odd meal on my own. And maybe, if we as a planet are really lucky, they will finally settle on a name and just call in Yum Cha all over the world.

Dim Sum my arse.

30 for 30: Guitars

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Kurt Cobain with a Fender Mustang guitar

I play guitar, and have done so for fifteen years. I have owned several over the course of my life.

My first guitar was a Fernandes Les Paul. Now, Les Paul guitars are usually made by GibsonFernandes was some knock-off company.

I only got the guitar because Neil Finn played a similar one. It broke down a lot, and it was very heavy. At this point, I thought all guitars were this heavy. Trying to do jumps and rock moves were very hard. I didn’t realise Pete Townshend’s Rickenbackers were a lot lighter.

I did my first ever gigs, in high school, with it. In my first ever band – Parker. But the guitar was just a pain. I don’t think I ever even sold it, and it’s likely at the bottom of the stairs at my parent’s home.

My second guitar was my first acoustic. It’s a lot easier to practise on an acoustic as you don’t need an amp. My poor parents put up with me and my amp for long enough.

I don’t even remember the brand of this guitar (maybe Takamine). The cool thing about it was it was black – not like ordinary wood colour – a la Johnny Cash.

It was an ok guitar. It did the job. But by then I was playing around Sydney a bit and needed a decent guitar. I was also about to meet Casey, who knew more about guitars than anyone I ever met. I sold this nameless acoustic to the drummer of some band I was in that went nowhere.

And I never bought another bad guitar again.

The Maton EB808

My first proper guitar is still my favourite guitar. Maybe there is something in that – maybe she’s affected how I feel about guitars. She’s a Maton EB808 – with no cutaway or pickup.

I was never a great guitar player, but I loved playing this guitar. I know a lot friends who learnt guitar in their teens and 20s and have given up save the occasional strum. And they always have average guitars. A cheap Yamaha or something.

This guitar cost me almost every cent I ever saved up to that point. I never bought ANYTHING even a quarter of the price. And she was totally worth it.

Again, I decided to buy it because Neil Finn uses it. It’s slightly smaller than a normal guitar (three-quarter size) but it sounds rich and full. There’s no strap bolt where the neck of the guitar meets the body, so you need to strap it to the headstock – old school 60s Dylan style.

I think every musically hearted person just needs to find their right instrument. This Maton EB808 is mine. I learnt everything cool on her. Finger picking, Travis picking, harmonics, odd tunings and more. My guitar playing got a lot better very quickly. I wrote my first ever songs with her.

It’s with her that I started my practise of putting stickers on guitars. I know some people who think this is horrific. For me – I figure I’m never going to sell them. I liked customizing my guitars. So this Maton EB808 is covered in stickers of bands that I’ve collected from many years. And it’s something I did to all my guitars.

I also had to get a pickup installed (A pick-up is the bit of electronics that’s added to this essentially wooden box, so you can plug it into an amp). Jeff worked at Maton at the time so it was sent to the proper factory for a proper Maton pickup system. It’s a little thing, but it now means you can’t find one in a shop quite like mine – no cutaway AND a pick-up.

This will be my last possession on earth. The one thing I would save in a fire. Please bury me with this guitar. It is, in short, the most important physical item I have in the entire world. What else would it be if not a guitar?

A '69 Thinline Telecaster

My first decent electric was a reissue of the ’69 Fender Thinline Telecaster. Small, thin – it’s like a spear or a machine gun. It’s a very sexy guitar.

As usual, these were bought because heroes had it. This time, both Sloan and the Posies played 69 Teles in photos. I had no real idea about electric guitars at the time, but I was learning. And I knew I wanted to sound like Sloan and the Posies.

(Photos are, of course, misleading. Who knows why they are playing a guitar live, and if it has anything to do with their recordings. Annoying case in point was the Zombies, where the front of their box set Zombie Heaven, has Chris White holding a Gibson SG bass. But that amazing bassline in Care Of Cell 44 was played on a Fender P-bass. False advertising, I say)

I still have this electric guitar and it’s the electric I’ve used the most. Telecasters are such well used guitars – they are work horses. They are tough to break – and tough to sound shit. They were light and I battered mine around, sometimes hitting it on things to make sounds.

It’s my favourite electric guitar. I’ve flirted with other things, but this is the meat-and-potatoes of electric guitars for me. I’ve bought other guitars for strange or particular sounds. But 99% of what I like can be used on this fantastic guitar.

Before I got pickups in my Maton EB808, I needed to get an acoustic guitar I could use to play live. For reasons unknown, I decided to buy a whole new guitar. A Maton 325.

The Maton 325 is the guitar that everyone in Australia has. Maton being an Australian company, and the 325 being the entry level model. It’s a very good guitar, but nothing special. It’s good to have a spare but I could live without it.

I have no idea why Maton calls their guitars crap things like 325. How good are names like Stratocaster and Mustang? I have the same problem with companies like Nokia and their 4410s, 5510s, 8847s and crap like that. Just idiotic.

Chris Murphy of Sloan with a Mustang Bass (cherry red with racing stripes)

At some point, I realised I was never going to be a great guitar player, so I decided to go wide. I bought a piano, a drum kit, and even cooler – a Fender Mustang Bass.

Again, it’s a small body bass – bass guitars are usually big and cumbersome. But I found the Mustang to be very playable, and it sounded great.

I chose the Mustang bass because, again, Sloan used one. The Rolling Stones also had one – but both had these cherry red coloured ones with two yellow racing stripes. I couldn’t find one of those, so I bought a simple white one, and used it for years.

My band always had problems finding bassplayers and there was times I’d play bass. Then Lazy Susan needed a bass player and I took it up very seriously. I often think that I am actually a bass player – I love everything about bass.

Playing bass opened up my musicianship as well. I got to play for a variety of bands that needed a fill-in guy. From the blissful Australian rock of Modern Giant, the clever indie of Arbuckle, punk bar band Free Beer, the fiddly and melodic songwriting of Bryan Estepa, and the weird tunings but stunning songs of Josh Pyke. With guitar I have a style (I call it Teenage Fanclub), but with bass I’m a confident soloist and versatile.

I did eventually find a cherry red one with those all important racing stripes – and I sold my white one to Joel. After my Maton EB808, this is my favourite musical instrument. I can not wait to get back to Australia and become a bass player properly. Who wants me?

I was gigging so much at one point, I decided I needed a spare electric guitar. Because I was in love my with Mustang bass, I got a Fender Mustang guitar. Bright blue and has racing stripes. Mustang guitars are the sexiest guitars in my book.

It’s kind of a weird guitar. It’s got a particular, jagged sound. Similar guitars are favoured by Elvis Costello and Kurt Cobain. It’s an attack guitar – and I wrote some very nasty songs on her.

Unlike the Tele, this guitar is odd. That oddness led to an amazing moment for me. My friends, Red Riders, supported the Shins, and they let me guitar tech so I could meet them. I got my records signed and they noticed my guitar, and asked if they could try it. So there I was, Sydney’s Metro theatre, wacthing the Shins play amazingly with my guitar.

I must have been earning too much money at one point. I went guitar crazy. I ended up buying a 12 string Rickenbacker 330 off eBay. It’s what George Harrison uses in A Hard Day’s Night, the Byrds on Mr Tambourine Man and so many more. This was a weird colour too – cherry red with black details.

This was a mistake. I never used the thing. I spent more time tuning it than playing it. 12 string guitars are a pain. The sounds it makes don’t interest me – but I had to learn that. I sold it when I left Australia. It was a cool guitar to own, but it was not a guitar I loved.

I also acquired a Fender Lap Steel. Why? No idea. I thought I’d learn. I can make sounds on it, but I know nothing about playing it. It’s very cool though – it came in a very cool case. I thought about selling it, but now I think I will spend some time learning this instrument. It might take, it might not. We’ll see.

My Art & Lutherie Ami guitar, with stickers

When I decided to stay in London, I bought a guitar. I went down to the legendary Denmark Street and played around on several guitars. In the end I decided on an Art & Lutherie Ami. It is again quite small – the size of an old fashion parlour guitar – and blue. Again, no pick-up and I am looking at getting one installed.

It’s covered with stickers now – when I travel, I buy a sticker from a souvenir shop and put it on this guitar. Paris, New York, Morella, Rye – wherever I am. It’s now the souvenir of my travels. I have played it live in London pub open nights and written some songs on it. It sounds great.

It’s a weird shape so I’m looking at options of how to get her home. I might need to pay for a custom guitar case. We’ll see.

I went one step further than a sticker with this guitar. I superglued a music box to the frame. It plays La Vie En Rose and the body of the guitar amplifies the sound quite nicely.

There’s no guitars I have my eyes on at the moment. Maybe one day – but right now I’ve lost the dream of owning a fuckload of guitars. I don’t go to guitar stores all the time anymore. I don’t use all my spare change on guitar strings.

God, there’s even a good chance I will never buy another guitar again. Is there a better sign that I’ve found my instrument?

Italian restaurant

The girl from the Italian restaurant
Gives me a smile every time I go out for smoke.

We say silent “hi”s to eachother from afar
And I always give her my best smile back

And over the course of each smoke I try to catch a glimpse of her
And she does the same thing back

I know because we sometimes catch eachother
Looking at eachother
And we smile at eachother again.

I know nothing about her
Other than she works across from my building

And she is cute as a button
And she has a smile that makes me feel great and nervous

And she knows nothing about me
Except that I like to smoke

She counts how many, and holds up her hand to remind me
One, then two, then three so far

And I’m up for killing myself faster, four, five
To get a few more smiles a day.

I know we’ll never actually talk
I can’t imagine ever knowing her name

I don’t know why she started smiling at me
Yet I wonder why people don’t do it more