Hey there friends of The Offtopics, it’s Polash aka “The Funk Dynamo” here… though, to be honest, I haven’t been feeling very dynamic for most of this year. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard any updates from us and I apologize unreservedly. There have been some events besides the obvious global happenings going on for us that have made me want to gnaw off my time tapping foot rather than do a mail-out. This isn’t me substituting sounding mysterious for being interesting. Neither am I having a moan (who needs to hear that right now??) I’m just trying to keep things “real” for a moment.
It’s still hard for me to talk about it but I promise I will bring everyone up to speed over the coming weeks. Rest assured, we Offtopics, have been making plans to get some new music out there. It’s complicated by the same pressures that have been affecting everyone but it WILL happen.
In the meantime I want to share something super positive with you all. During lockdown I teamed up with my buddy Darius Kedros to record a solo EP which I’ve called “Polash From The Garden”. The EP has six songs on it, three of which Offtopics fans might recognize from our live shows. I really hope you enjoy these stripped back acoustic versions. The other three songs are originals from beyond The Offtopics’ wheelhouse though they may get funkified after the zombie apocalypse.
It wouldn’t be one of my projects without some beautiful visuals to go with it so I was absolutely thrilled to team up with Rebecca Stewart again and she’s come through with the goods. Here are some of her concept roughs to spark your interest.
There’s a whole story behind the visual ideas for the EP cover and if you’re keen I’ll do a deep dive in another email.
For now I just want to let you all know that the first single off the EP is called “Isolation (Tonight)” and will be available on all streaming platforms THURSDAY 19 NOVEMBER so SAVE THE DATE!
That’s it from me for the moment. Please write back to say g’day. Don’t be like me and go quiet ‘cos the world is getting you down. Right now, nothing would please me more than to have a bit of back and forth via email.
I hope you’re all hanging in out there. Lettuce know!
Back in May of 2020 Jennifer Barry asked for people to contribute to her Artshub article about how artists were adapting to the conditions of Covid and the Melbourne lockdown. You can read the article here.
Polash found as he was responding to her call out more and more emotion poured out of him and you can read what he sent her below.
These days a week feels like a lifetime.
Like many in the initial faltering steps of the lockdown I held out faint hopes that somehow my projects would be spared. “OK,” I thought to myself, “I get that huge gatherings will have to be banned – but I’m just a small time guy. I only need a handful of people in a room to ply my trade. People won’t stop needing that.” But as the news started coming in about the behaviour of the virus, how it was transmitted and which parts of the community seemed most vulnerable, the implications for the performing arts sector and companion industries like hospitality seemed pretty clear.
For me, everything came crashing down on what was shaping up to be an extremely active and successful year. To understand it fully I feel like I have to give some context. Some years ago I had pivoted away from theatre and festival directing to focus on making music. 2018 had been a whirlwind of activity with four vinyl releases, a video, something like 94 radio interviews and a series of live gigs carefully managed by myself to make sure my eight-piece band were in tip top music shape. Then, at the start of 2019 one of my guitarists was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I was struck with a combination of grief and exhaustion from everything I’d set out to do in the previous year. Nevertheless, I’d started to bounce back after a couple of months. The middle of 2019 saw me accepted into a mid-career professional development for multicultural artists (Project ReWIRE). Despite a patchy run of inactivity through the year the band managed to launch a live EP. I gave myself a working holiday volunteering at the Ubud Writer’s Festival. At the end of 2019 I took a trip to Mumbai to explore the possibility of performing there with the band. My batteries were well on the way to recharging and I set about exorcising the last of the malaise I’d felt at the start of the year. I did this by helping some of the other artists I’d met at the professional development apply for Creative Victoria grants. I ended up having a hand in five applications including one I threw together to help the band travel to Mumbai at the end of 2020.
If you were to ask me what my creative practice was through this period, I would have to say it centered around business development, coaching and management. Hardly core business for someone who is happiest writing songs about sexually rampant wombats… Nevertheless, I was feeling successful again. As my father said to me once, “Success is a great motivator.” With that in mind I booked a series of gigs, both for the band and myself as a re-emerging solo artist. Because of the logistics involved with an eight-piece band I tend to work three months out from any performance. Just prior to the lockdown the band had confirmed bookings through till July. I had a good fistful of solo gigs. I was hatching a plan to finance the recording of an album of new original material. There had been a bit of turnover in the membership and some effort had been given over to recruiting suitable new players. That had all been sorted out more or less which meant we could now pursue our plans in earnest.
And then the lockdown came into force. Gigs everywhere were cancelled. Tickets were refunded in full to patrons (though ticketing agencies somewhat uncharitably continued to extract processing fees from artists). Given the size of our group we couldn’t even gather to rehearse without breaching lockdown conditions.
I spent a week grieving for the last six months. Tearful emails came through from venue bookers as they explained their cancellations and expressed their fears that they would no longer be in business after the isolation. With so much of my practice revolving around keeping my band together and the monthly cycle of management, promotion and logistics I was at a loss.
But a writer is never without material. I am also extremely fortunate in that my financial position is relatively secure. My partner still had her job in academia and I have my savings and investments. There were plenty of unfinished solo projects for me to embark on. Unfinished projects often stall for hidden psychological reasons and I found myself without any great desire to tackle them despite now having a wealth of opportunity to do so.
A sound engineer friend was telling me about how they had just had their busiest year entirely wiped out. 2020 was going to be the year he toured as Tim Minchin’s live engineer on top of which he’d be designing sound for two mainstage productions. All that was wiped out. I hatched a plan to record some songs I had lying around. Not everything I write is suitable for a large funk, soul and rocksteady group. I also wrote a response to Isolation. Here it is – I’m quite pleased with it.
As I was getting stuck into this project another friend approached me to help him test a new system for monetizing live streaming for performers. Naturally I was aware of performers making a living from Youtube but I was reluctant to go down that path myself.
It’s an arduous process and very much its own application of art. You also have to spend an inordinate amount of time editing videos and acquiring subscribers plus you have to sell sell sell! Either you’re selling your own physical merch or you’re flogging someone else’s crap through affiliate links. Not very on brand for me but also, it doesn’t happen overnight. There’s no way that the traditional methods of monetizing digital performance were going to immediately fill the gap of lost revenue. In order to test the Sparkstreams.tv system my friend needed to call on a performer who had three qualities:
a) A solo performance they could do on a livestream
b) An audience willing to pay via a ticketing system to see that performance, and
c) The technical ability to transmit vision, sound etc at a reasonable quality.
So, in the course of a couple of weeks I embarked on a steep learning curve of self-mixing, livestreaming with OBS studio, building a backdrop that wouldn’t fall down during the show on top of which I had to familiarize myself with a ticketing system that still had a lot of bugs. We leaped into the alpha test with just a few days’ notice. For the very first test a full quarter of payers failed to receive their confirmation email with the link to the livestream. I ended up chasing these issues right up until the moment I went “on stage” er… into my shed in front of my desktop computer. There were sound issues, I forgot the words to songs I’d written and performed hundreds of times, I couldn’t see the audience’s comments but despite this the audience was warm and appreciative. There were twenty-five payers but approximately fifty viewers as whole households tuned in. Viewers were spread across Victoria including a couple of families on the Surfcoast and central Vic. The first test was on the 17th of April, so only a couple of weeks into the lockdown – which may have contributed to the sense of community and gratitude. I gathered as much feedback as I could taking on board both comments about my performance and the technical platform. My second test was two weeks later on the 1st of May. I suspect by this time people were starting to work out that there were other entertainment options. Nevertheless, I had 31 payers this time including viewers in Chiang Mai and Mumbai. I’d bought some supplies from Bunnings and a bit more fabric which allowed me to build a serviceable, if rickety backdrop. The performance was more assured and there were less tech glitches for me to follow up prior to the performance (though it still wasn’t perfect).
If you’re interested here are some links to my first and second live tests.
Up to this point I’ve talked a lot of about technical and business issues which are, to be frank, not very stimulating examples of “creative practice”. There were some aesthetic adjustments to my performance of course. My prior persona as a “funk dynamo” in front of a large band simply wouldn’t translate when beamed out of my tiny shed onto someone’s even tinier screen. Here’s the funk dynamo in action:
I found myself revisiting why THIS audience might want to see me in particular and what was really important for us. I had to let go of a couple of things. Not only the hyperactive, bombastic persona but also the strict commitment to playing all original songs. A musician’s commitment to originals is a signifier of many things. As a writer I’m backing my own brand. Playing originals is also supposed to attract a more sophisticated audience (yes, even if you’re singing about someone who really needs to go to the toilet!)
By insisting the audience listen to your original songs you’re sending a signal that you’re not a crass covers player playing to an audience standing in sawdust and vomit. You have an artistic “soul”. You’re not just a warm prop pumping out a Spotify playlist. You have “something to say”. If a cover is to be played then it has to be musically obscure to express artistic credibility. This isn’t just about the artist’s ego of course as members of the audience will get off on knowing the track with extra points added for knowing the provenance, which session musicians played on the original etc. In its own way, the obscure cover, also breeds a sense of connectedness for the audience. But originals are what the singer/songwriter hangs their identity (and wallet) on. As a songwriter I collect royalties from APRA whenever my song is performed in a registered venue. These royalties have been an important part of my annual income for many years and there’s a subtle pressure for me to include as many of my own songs in any given performance as a result. Performing via livestream makes this a less pressing concern. It may shock some of you to discover that I have not registered my shed with APRA as a performance venue…
Playing songs down a fibre-optic cable, from my shed to someone’s loungeroom with the knowledge that the person watching may not have seen anyone they know besides their partner or their family for weeks changed my perspective. Allowing myself to be more intimate in my performance gave me permission to play songs just because I thought the audience would enjoy them. I even took requests (usually an undignified no-no if you’re a serious originals musician). The first cover in my second show was “I’ve Got My Glasses On” by The Wiggles. Let me assure you, as a childless, middle aged man, that song was NOT part of my standard repertoire!
People would shout out to each other in the comments during the livestream. Greetings became precious offerings underlining that the way artists bring people together (as it always has been) was the central concern. I was reminded that I was giving a purpose to the audience. This is an easy thing to forget in the semiotically complex performance venues where people go to get drunk, pick up, eat a parma, play pool, hang out and THEN listen to music.
As much as I got the sense that my audience appreciated what I was doing I was reminded of how much I need my audience too. This mutual dependence is something I’ve always been aware of. My performances with the band usually incorporated a ritualized element where I would acknowledge the symbiosis. Usually what I do is I start the performance by dancing through the crowd onto the stage. At the end of the show I’ll leap back into the audience, dance with people and hug them. Even low-key solo gigs include a bit of time afterwards having a beer and a chat with the audience after the set a la the La Mama post show experience. Livestreaming doesn’t allow for that. The show ends and Elvis has left the building. I wonder if the King felt as lonely as I do when I turn the camera off?
I still miss my band and I miss the creative cycle of writing a new song, workshopping and arranging it with my bandmates and then performing it in front of happy, slightly drunk people. Collaboration has become difficult. Despite attempts by APRA to link together songwriters for online writing sessions it just hasn’t worked for me. The back and forth via the net pre-supposes an existing skill level with software such as Logic, Protools or Ableton and I’m just not there yet alas.
I’m still seeing how I feel about these solo livestream gigs. They’re definitely no substitute for the fun and euphoria of a full band show in front of a big crowd but with no surety on the horizon for live performance any time soon they may be all I have for the foreseeable future. The aforementioned EP is close to completion and may even have a launch show via the sparkstreams.tv platform. It’s not ideal but when it’s all you CAN do you might as well embrace it.
Polash – 14 May 2020
Since writing this, Polash, has continued his experiments with livestreaming with an aim to solve the problems of those early shed shows. In December The Offtopics played via Zoom with sound and lighting by Darius Kedros and Shane Grant.
Another by product of 2020 has been the “Polash From The Garden” EP which will be available on all streaming platforms from the 21st of January 2021.
Here’s the first newsletter for 2020. Anyone tuned into our Instagram will have seen that we’ve resurfaced and we’re working on new tunes for the new year. There’s plenty more to report vis a vis forthcoming gigs, recording plans and our funk dynamo’s India trip but before we get underway we have a bit of sad news to relate. Keyboardist, ofttimes guitarist and founding member Mark “Bretho” Bretherton has announced that 2020 will be his last season playing midfield with The Offtopics.
He has some burning personal creative projects (including finishing that novel he’s been working on) to get through this year. Obviously we’re very sad to see him go but we support his endeavours. On the positive, he’s committed to playing the following two gigs so make sure you get along to those to wish him well. We’re also looking for someone to fill his jumbo size converses so forward any recommendations if you know someone seeking to become a new hot topic…
BIG BOOTY AT THE BOWLO
The band is kicking off the year with a fun, family friendly show at the Thornbury Bowls club on Sunday 16th Feb. We’re very excited to be entering into, what will hopefully be, an ongoing relationship with the promoters, Rinkydink as they seek to activate Bowls Clubs across Victoria.
This is a ticketed show that includes barefoot bowls and bar prices that haven’t changed since the 1970s. The band will play two funny, funky sets from 2:30pm. You can BYO a picnic and there’ll be prizes and giveaways on the day including a copy of our Back on the Zine Collection (valued at $100).
SHEPP GOT SOUL 2020
Friday 27th of March we’re travelling further afield to The Vault in Shepparton for The Shepparton Festival where we’re collaborating with our good friends the Deans of Soul to put on a night of original, funky disco and dance music. Punters who came along to our show at Bar Open last year will have an idea of what’s in store as The Offtopics put out a vibe that’s kooky and rambunctious followed by the Deans being smooth and unctuous. Great fun WILL be had.
Plans are afoot to record and digitally release some new songs this year. As you know there are stalwart tracks that get a good showing live like “The Love Wombat”, “One More Time (Now With Feeling), “Mr Tonight” or “Tomorrow is a Month Away” haven’t immortalized in code. We’re going to try to get these onto the world wide web this year. Make sure you stay in the loop for news about digital launches and download giveaways!
PARSI THE DUTCHIE ‘PON THE LEFT HAND SIDE
In the “Not entirely confirmed but geeze I hope we pull it off category” some of you might be aware that Polash went to Mumbai before Christmas to pursue a bizarre opportunity to play on a pair of floating restaurants moored outside the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway to India for a luxury yachting event. He’s always had smooth music leanings but this is probably ridiculous… Anyway – if the stars align we’ll be flying to Mumbai for the last weekend in November to play some gigs in India. Stay tuned…
Special guests, long-form performance, theatricality and hijinx… These are all the things you get to flirt with when you have an ongoing relationship with a venue. We’re very excited to announce the commencement of our residency at The Moldy Fig! Dorelle, the owner and chef, enjoyed our first outing there featuring Tony Pain and Richard Giles from our buddies The Short Order Schefs so much that she invited us to be regulars once a month.
We’re looking forward to playing some laid-back New Orleans themed tunes during dinner and then serving up some crazy funk for dessert. And, of course, playing at The Moldy Fig sees the return of our signature cocktail “The Stormy Steamboat”.
More details on the Facebook event. We hope to see you there sometime in the coming months!
Coming up this Friday at Cross st is a funtacular winter warmer. Your loveable purveyors of punch-drunk funk and unsteady rocksteady are doing an earlyish show at Cross St. Supporting The Offtopics will be the delightful ex-Adelaide import Mary Webb.
Polash met Mary a couple of weeks ago at the I Manage My Music workshop and hit it off almost immediately (meaning she displayed a high tolerance for his Dad jokes). Mary’s voice has hints of Angie Hart and Suzanne Vega. We’re hoping she adds a bit of class to our otherwise shambolic act.
Here she is a few years ago back in Radelaide:
Friday’s gig will be an EARLY one with Mary taking the stage around 7pm. All the details are here on Facebook (if that’s your jam).
In other news, Tim our bass monster, has developed an obsession with this song:
What do you reckon? Should we cover it? Was Ian Dury taller than Polash? Let us know!
We have a few little announcements to make and the picture above is related to one of them. More than just a gig, our resident Funk Dynamo, songwriter and showrunner has been working up a solo show of stories, songs and images. It’s an intimate and personal journey through his life, his musical influences and how they relate to the songs he’s written over the years. It’s also an hilarious account of his parents’ marriage, their subsequent divorce and that time he took his father’s ashes to be scattered in the Ganges.
This showing at The Brunswick Green on Sunday 7 July is the second rendition of the show since the first one in May at Red Betty (see below).
He’s taking a slow and steady approach to this by presenting it in small venues every couple of months but eventually the plan is to take it around the country performing it in people’s living rooms. It’s all about that search for a feeling of being at home…
Here he is feeling at home at Red Betty:
Find out more about the showing at The Brunswick Green here.
This focus on solo work doesn’t mean that The Offtopics are on hiatus – far from it! Your favourite vendors of punchdrunk funk and unsteady rocksteady have shows coming up on Friday 12 July at the Cross St Hall. Friday 2 August sees The Offtopics start a monthly residency at The Moldy Fig.
Why is the featured image a picture of Kraken rum? Well it all has to do with the gig we have coming up at East Brunswick’s The Moldy Fig.
We’re playing for the first time at this delightful New Orleans themed bar, and to commemorate the occasion, their clever mixologists have come up with a signature cocktail called “The Stormy Steamboat” involving Kraken Spice Rum, passionfruit & lime charged with ginger beer and a spritz of grapefruit bitters. Egad! Surely a couple of those will make you as unsteady as our Rocksteady?!
This gig is happening on Saturday 1st June at 120 Lygon St East Brunswick. The first set is at 9 and hopefully you can join us for what may turn into a beautiful relationship over time. More details about the gig here on Facebook. Let us know there if you’re coming (if that’s your jam) or just drop us a line via email. We’d love to hear from you.
Besides the inaugural signature cocktail we’re being joined onstage by a couple of guest players from The Short Order Schefs – Richard Giles on Sax and Tony Pain on guitar. Fans of the Schefs know just how good their musicianship is so you’re definitely in for a treat. Music historians might recognize Tony from this 90’s era music video at about the 2 minute mark.
His hair’s a bit shorter now and he’s rocking a more blues funk approved axe but the question remains… “What is Australian culture?”
Maybe The Love Wombat will know? Or Funky Grandma? Debuting in the first set will be a new song introducing another quirky character to The Offtopics repertoire called “Mr Tonight”. Don’t miss it!
This should be a really fun one. With all the doom, gloom and disappointment of the last couple of weeks we’re really looking forward to tearing it up at The Moldy Fig on Saturday 1st of June.
While we’re only a few days into December we all know how crazy things can get in the coming weeks so I, your conscientious correspondent, thought I’d jot down a quick note about the year that was for our favourite purveyors of slapstick soul, punch-drunk funk and unsteady rocksteady.
The Offtopics played their last gig for 2018 at the legendary Festival of Folk, Rhythm and Life in Eldorado. It was a tough slot that day on the Camping Stage as they had to follow a popular young act in the form of “The Northern Folk”. Just as the Offtopics took the stage the capacity audience drained from the tent like someone had pulled the plug from a bath. Where did they go, you might ask? It just so happened that a true giant amongst troubadours was starting his set at the same time. Archie Roach was on the famed Creek Stage and you could hardly begrudge the audience for voting with their feet. Only those too listless to get up in the 33 degree heat remained at the Camping Stage… but get up they did as The Funk Dynamo’s antics demanded a quick caper in response.
Slowly a crowd gathered – perhaps drawn by a certainty that the suited one would succumb to heat stroke? Those happy few who witnessed The Offtopics debut at FRL were left wanting more. After the end of the set the tent refilled with perennial folk festival favourites “8-Foot Felix” just as a cool change came through and the temperature dropped to a more tolerable 26 degrees.
It was tough but, on balance, perhaps others had it harder? Literal giant (as opposed to “true giant” – though perhaps he qualifies at that as well), and old mate of Linc and Polash – Kutcha Edwards had a prime time slot at dusk. Unfortunately his audience also included a swarm of moths attracted by the stage lighting. Kutcha was spitting wings and kid-friendly curses while still managing to put on a great show.
I make it all sound like a slog, actually, FRL was LOTS of fun and it represents a milestone for The Offtopics as their first gig away from Melbourne. 2018 had a lot of firsts. The band completed its first series of releases – the much touted “Back on the Zine” records. In what many might consider a radical departure from the norm, the band put out three vinyl singles and then an EP. To tie them all together the EP came with a fold out poster that pulled all the comic strip art together into a satisfying whole.
The Offtopics also launched a video clip to go with their third single, “A Man Needs Cooling (Girl)” shot by the inimitable Patrick Stapleton and featuring Donna Dimovski-Kantarovski as “The Woman”. When the afore-mentioned Kutcha Edwards saw the video his response was “Har! That is so COOL!”. We hope you’ll feel the same way…
2018 was also the first time the band performed live on radio at one of 3PBS FM’s “Live in Studio 5” sessions.
A forthcoming first will be a four-song, live EP from this performance due out in 2019.
Another first was the band’s first overseas sale of a physical record. A fine, funk enthusiast in Yorkshire bought himself a copy of “A Man Needs Cooling” on vinyl seven inch. 2018 also marked the first time the number of live gigs done by the band in one year entered the double digits. It’s a fair effort for an eight-piece band made up of busy family men and motivated artists.
Outside of activities directly associated with the band we had some firsts for our individual members. Tim’s band Johnny Longshot released their first album. Howard was honoured for the first time by Moreland City Council for his leadership and service to the municipality’s musicians through the Moreland City Band. Polash and Tony Champagne’s side project “Quasimodo’s Dream: Adventures in Australian Pop” podcasts went live after threatening to do so for a very long time indeed. Polash also played a couple of solo gigs for the first time in an aeon.
So, as you can see, 2018 has been a year of firsts. What will 2019 bring? There are already mutterings about the 4 song EP of live material but in addition there are plans to record an album (of more than 8 songs this time!) with Kalacoma frontman and engineer Nick Hererra manning the desk for us again but with a twist. What will that twist be, dear reader?