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Archive for the ‘Festivals and Holidays’ Category

Zee Avi

Zee Avi was the first performer on stage at the Byron Bay Bluesfest. Quite an honour. The petite Malaysian/American girl pulled the strap over her shoulder for a guitar that just about matched her in size. After playing Poppy, and a cover of Interpol’s Slow Hands Avi played her “only love song” Honeybee. She explained that the lyrics were about two non-conformists finding love. After a couple more tunes, she switched to an instrument much more her size – a ukulele. Zee Avi was a gentle, happy beginning to the five-day music celebration.

Neil Halstead

Neil Halstead added a drum beat to what had been Avi’s guitar only set. He rocked up to centre stage, thick bushy beard, fisherman’s hat, checkered shirt like he had just hopped off his fishing boat. Just like Zee Avi, and a lot of the Brushfire Records artists, his tunes are laid-back melodies that are easy to listen to without too much effort. Just smile, sway a little and maybe bop your head to the beat. Easy.

Matt Costa

The third and final act from the Brushfire Records was Matt Costa. Just like his two predecessors, Costa was just another musician (okay, a really good musician…) looking to have a good time and share his music with a largely new audience. They played songs shouted out from the crowd, they told stories about their lives – like moving and getting random strangers knocking on their doors selling Bibles, and they drank beers on stage.

Jen Cloher and the Endless Sea

After a little wandering around, I found myself standing in front of the stage for Jen Cloher’s band. A big difference from the Brushfire beginning where jumping around on stage would definitely not have seemed logical. Not so in Cloher’s case who spent her set jumping around jamming with her bandmates for song after song. In keeping with the trend, Cloher listened to her audience and seemed to truly appreciate her existing fans showing up to the festival. She played Better Off Dancing requested from a man in the crowd called Sam (also the name of the drummer’s dog, but Cloher insisted that the dog was really cute so the connection shouldn’t be taken the wrong way).

Narasito Pan Pipers

I left Jen Cloher’s tent and went exploring again. I eventually found myself in the First Nation tent and I’m so happy I did. The Narasito Pan Pipers –farmers and fishermen from the Solomon Islands. They combine their traditional music and dance with contemporary styles to create some of the most fun, can’t-help-but-dance-and-feel-good music I heard at the festival. In fact, I saw these guys twice during my days in Byron Bay. The energy and fun that came from their performances was irresistible. Near the end of their set, they explained that since they were at a Bluesfest, they wanted to play a blues song. Sounds logical. Except that they’re pan pipers from the Solomon Islands. So what do they do? Invite Jeremy – a tall, blonde haired man on stage to help them out. Okay, it wasn’t as random as that, Jeremy has worked with these guys in their village and afterwards. He brought his guitar and played a true blues song with the band. Probably something about his dog, but I can’t quite remember.

Daniel Champagne

Daniel Champagne was one of the Bluesfest lineup that is already well on his way to becoming a true guitar legend. I’m not a guitar player myself, but everyone, myself included, stood in awe in front of the Apra stage as his fingers moved across the guitar strings with unbelievable speed. During Pendulum, an instrumental song, Champagne’s face was clenched and his tongue was out with the effort. I wouldn’t have looked twice if the guitar had started smoking. Not kidding.

Jack Johnson

After Daniel Champagne, I had time to check out a little of the Buena Vista Social Club although I didn’t stick around because I knew I’d be seeing them later in the weekend. Then it was time to stake out my piece of grass at the Mojo Stage for the headlining act, Jack Johnson. What can I say? It’s Jack Johnson. He played all the crowd favourites, I sang along to every one, I got pushed and shoved, I was offered drugs. Everything I expected from the big act at the end of the night. I love live music, and I particularly love seeing the smaller lesser known acts. There’s that sense of intimacy and exclusivity that you don’t get anymore with a guy like Johnson. But you know, with all that, the night definitely ended in a high. Sometimes it’s nice to see a band play and sing along to all the songs with thousands of other people at the same time. A sense of collective appreciation.

Welcome to the Bluesfest.

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Now that I’m in Byron Bay I’ll be doing my best to update you all on what’s going on at one of Australia’s biggest music festivals – the Byron Bay Bluesfest.

Yesterday was the first day of the festival so I spent the afternoon/evening trudging around in the muddy fields flitting from tent to tent to check out some of the amazing music that is taking place here this week.

The selection is amazingly varied; I’m actually curious to find out what the criteria for performing here is, since there are plenty of bands that certainly do not fall under the category of ‘blues.’

From solo guitarists to folk bands, traditional pan pipers to Cuban 10 piece bands there’s something for just about everyone here.

Keep checking back for more details of how I spend my days. But for now, I’ve got a bus to catch for Day 2!

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As I’m sure often happens with travel writers who are on the move, I have, for a few days, neglected this blog and have received plenty of comments, E-mails, and other messages of concern. My only excuse is that I became quite unstable (in regards to my location, not my mental health…), so first, my apologies.

I’m actually very eager to begin telling you about my current situation – living and working in Yulara: a ‘town’ (I don’t know what else to call it…a settlement? A village? A random group of buildings set in one of the most unlikely and uninhabitable places on Earth?) in Australia’s Northern Territory that exists for only one reason: Ayers Rock.

But first: a catchup. There’s a lot to fit in. I’ll try to keep it short.

The last time I wrote, I described the hard life on the coast of Australia. After that grueling weekend, I spent about two weeks in Canberra. Thanks to my lovely network of £10 Poms, I was able to sleep on a surprisingly comfortable Australian swag in my friend Toby’s living room.

My first full day in Canberra also happened to be Australia Day.* After a good day of celebrations, I spent my time learning a bit more about Australian history and listening to some groovy tunes.

I was actually the third £10 Pom to grace Toby’s floor, and a few days after my arrival, another one, Tom, arrived for a one-night visit from Sydney.

After Tom, the Brits kept coming. Chris, Kerri and Kat (who spent just a bit more than £10 to fly Down Under) arrived in their camper van after exploring Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. I count Chris among my STA connections thanks to Cam and the lovely people at STA Travelbuzz.

During Tom’s visit, and again during the camper van crew’s stay, I visited Canberra’s War Memorial Museum and went to the top of Mount Ainslie. There was also a brief drive-by sighting of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The ‘tent’ part of that should be a clue –this embassy is actually a tent city of activists who have been living outside Canberra’s old Parliament building more or less constantly since the early seventies. Not a recognised embassy at all, it is a group campaigning for the rights of Australia’s indigenous population. While they are not, of course, fighting the same issues, it reminded me of the campers that live outside London’s Parliament. I suppose hanging out directly on the path of every politician’s morning commute is a pretty effective reminder.

I was really impressed with the War Museum, which is surprisingly enormous. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was more or less oblivious to Australia’s involvement in any wars past or present, despite their participation in just about every major war I’ve learnt about in school, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. Their perspective is very interesting; especially when it comes to the First World War. From what I saw at the museum, it seems the central most important event during WWI, to Australians, is the battle at Gallipoli. This was Australia’s first ever serious conflict. Were it not for my dad sending me the film ‘Gallipoli starring a very young Mel Gibson a few months ago, I would have walked into that room completely clueless. The battle brings up a few sore points in Australian history and at times I actually felt rather uncomfortable as a British person in the room. Luckily I left my Union Jack at home…

Next was Mount Ainslie for a birds eye view of Canberra. The city was built after Melbourne and Sydney couldn’t agree on which of them should be the nation’s capital, so somebody had the bright idea of building another city in the middle of nowhere. From the mount you can clearly see the perfect triangle that makes up the Parliamentary Triangle, leading down from the Parliament building across the manmade lake to the CBD, past the War Museum, to the Defence precinct and back across the lake to Parliament again.**

After all this guidebook following, I managed to spend one evening enjoying some jerk chicken and cold beer listening to my new Canberra friends DJ at a local café/art space/bar where I also acquired some funky retro heels. Who said backpacking was all about practicality?. Then on my last night in Canberra, Toby, his housemates and I found our way to a conference room at the Rex Hotel to see the launch of a band named Cousin Alice, after Alice – the person whose home I relaxed in during the tough weekend I’ve mentioned before. Alice described the band as ‘kind of a funky jazz and soul band’ so I’ll go with that. All I know is that they performed a very smooth version of Rihanna’s ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ that actually made the lyrics sound good during an evening of the kind of music everyone loves to sway to. Not a bad way to end my time in the ACT.

Phew. There we go. Next stop: the Northern Territory.

*To see my article about Australia Day, head to Go Girl Magazine and check out my post published on February 1.

**Check out Chris’ blog about our day in Canberra for some more good writing.

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On Thursday morning I became one of the 1.5 million people to ring in 2010 in Sydney, Australia. One of the first places in the world to enter the new decade. Pretty cool.

At about 11 in the morning, I headed out with a backpack full of good food and cheap wine to meet up with everyone at Thornton Park in Balmain East. It was the perfect spot – not too big, and apparently not too well known, so our group had plenty of room to spread out our blankets, pump up the iPod speakers and get comfortable for our last day of 2009 with a perfect view of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.

If you read my Christmas post, you know that the weather here hasn’t been exactly cooperative lately. Christmas day was cold and rainy, then the 27th – 30th were gorgeous, sunny and perfect. Dcember 31st, New Years Eve…..overcast with showers. Of course. Just to put the icing on my weather nightmare cake – I STILL managed to get sunburnt and am now sporting some pretty fabulous burn lines.

I can’t even tell you what we did to pass the time all day except eat, drink and take a few naps. The high point of the entertainment was a few of the boys choosing to strip down to their boxers and jump off the ferry port into the harbour water below. Unfortunately they chose a time when a large ferry was on its way. I’ve never seen a ferry reverse so quickly as this one did, but I’m happy it did and there were no casualties. Good job boys.

Nine o’clock rolled around and round one of fireworks exploded over the bridge. Apparently there was some controversy about the timing of the fireworks for fear of them overshadowing the Auckland fireworks, but they certainly saved the big show for midnight. It was really incredible, although it’s hard to describe fireworks in words and make them sound like more than just a few flashes of colour, but the show I saw was definitely more than that. I’m afraid I’ve had trouble uploading photos, but they are all to come soon, so I’ll keep you updated!

The next day, thanks to my promotions job, I had a free VIP pass to the Space Ibiza party in Sydney to dance and party with the likes of Sam Sparro and Pete Tong. Not bad. Good new year indeed.

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Christmas Day on Bondi Beach. I’m thinking of a blazing summer sun, white sand, Father Christmas surfing the waves, and plenty of food and drink. Or not…

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean it can’t be cold, grey and rainy. Apparently.

Christmas Eve we were full of big plans. Collecting our money together for a Christmas feast, packing towels and sun block into our bags and donning our swim suits under our clothes. We celebrated the night before Christmas with a little party and a late night swim in the apartment building’s basement pool, which turned into me racing Christian in Butterfly across the pool (I still have perfect form even if I’m not the fastest thank you very much!) before a sing along of all the cheesiest songs we could think of. After all, what’s Christmas without a sing-song!

Then it arrived! Christmas morning! I woke up to the beautiful….grey, cold, wet and windy Sydney?! Okay, not exactly what I expected. But it’s not every day you’re in Australia for Christmas, so we weren’t going to let a little weather deter us. After all, it was pretty much like every day of my life in the UK. We’re used to this kind of stuff.

I headed to Bondi Beach which was noticeably less packed than predicted thanks to that chilly wind. We gathered under one of the few wooden pavilions and huddled together to enjoy our Christmas feast. At least the weather couldn’t stop us eating good food. Roast chicken, smoked salmon, pasta salads and plenty of wine. Yummm…  I felt like a real flashpacker at that point, even if I was freezing with my towel wrapped around me for warmth.

A few people decided to grab tickets for Sunburnt Christmas – the ‘official’ Bondi Christmas party. I did without, although the shelter of the pavilion did look appealing…  Apparently our food was a lot better than theirs anyway, so I feel pretty good about my decision.

So in general – Christmas was fun, although not exactly what I pictured. This is my second Christmas away from home. Last year I was in Thailand, this year Australia. Next year… who knows! Perhaps I’ll make it back to the family, although there’s no telling what continent they’ll be on come next year either, so you’ll just have to keep reading!

Now it’s that strange time in between Christmas and New Years when not much makes sense. I posted this last year, but it’s still my favourite skit about this strange week from Michael McIntyre. And finally, thanks to everyone who sent Christmas cards from around the world to me here in Sydney. It means a lot to know you guys are still thinking of me, and please know I’m thinking of you too! I promise, postcards are slowly but surely on their way. There’s a very long list of you, so patience please!

I have high hopes for my Sydney New Years Eve and New Years Day, so watch this space for the story of what should be an epic welcome to the new decade!

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I know that my last Travel Article of the Week featured Scotland, and I promise I will branch out, but I wanted to stick to the Scottish theme for one more week for two reasons.

First – regarding my post last week about Glasgow trying to get ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status for chicken tikka masala. The issue actually got quite heated with different groups of Indians claiming it as their own (click here for the article in The Telegraph). A chef who is a descendent of Indians from the Mughal period claims that the tikka masala dish has been passed through the generations for hundreds of years. A food expert says the dish is about 50 years old and has its roots in Punjab. Who knows! But this is just more reason why MP Sarwar should stop wasting time over something so silly. If there hadn’t been such a big fuss about it, Glaswegians could have happily gone on claiming it as their own invention with little challenge and everyone would be happy. Oh well.

Second – On to the new topic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. About an hour by train from Glasgow, Edinburgh is a much smaller city. I happen to be partial to Glasgow but I will admit that Edinburgh has a certain old world charm to it. The Royal Mile and the Edinburgh castle are both beautiful sites to see. Unfortunately, if you walk the other way down the Royal Mile you come to the Scottish Parliament building which is perhaps one of the biggest eyesores in Britain. Sorry, but it is.

Every August, Edinburgh puts on the biggest arts festival in the world with singing, dancing, theatre, comedy and much more including some very entertaining street performers. Even if you don’t have tickets to see any of the evening shows, you can walk up and down the Royal Mile enjoying the dozens of street acts then find a place in one of the crowded pubs or restaurants – it’s quite likely that you’ll get a mini-performance here too as acts go around promoting their shows with songs and short versions of their plays.

I’ve attended the festival a couple of times myself. I saw a low budget versian of ‘A Chorus Line’ my first time there, I’ve seen singers, a man juggle basketballs while ride a unicycle and a couple of comedians. I once saw a guy swallow a massive sword…yummy

This piece in The Guardian gives some locals tips on how to go about your festival holiday. I’d say the tips in that link are pretty good. I definitely agree that the more people you talk to the better. The Scots are a very friendly chatty group of people and they’ll be happy to share what they know with you!

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Last night, a couple of friends and I took advantage of some serious discounts for an evening out. After seeing The Hangover (for the second time…it’s VERY funny) on ‘Orange Wednesdays’ where Orange mobile phone customers can get two-for-one cinema tickets, we went to Pizza Express where we used our cinema tickets to get two-for-one main courses for supper. It’s amazing how many money saving opportunities you can find when you are unemployed and running out of money! I even had free entertainment on the walk back to the tube station. On Fulham Road last night, about one hundred rollerblading individuals came racing down the street accompanied by a guy on a bike with a huge sound system on the back blasting techno music down the street. According to the safety vests worn by the parade marshals, they were all from Club Blue Room which, I found out today, is a retail store that sells rollerblades and skates. Quite an advertising campaign!

London can be a seriously expensive city, but there are a lot of ways to save money, like the two I have just mentioned. Especially when it comes to eating, I only find out about deals by walking past restaurants and seeing their signs in the windows advertising happy hours and specials. For instance, there’s a pizza/pasta restaurant about 15 minutes walk up the hill from me on Archway Road that I’ve never been to before, but yesterday I noticed the huge signs in the windows telling me that from 9 – 11 p.m I can get pizza or pasta for £3! I’ll let you know how it is, no doubt I’ll go there in the next few days.

I also subscribe to what is sometimes an annoying amount of mailing lists, but they do occasionally help me find things to do for little or no money. Like the Transport for London e-mail that I get weekly about what’s happening this weekend. This Sunday is Opera Holland Park Open Day apparently, which is free. The 1234 Festival in Shoreditch looks like a great deal as well, with ticket prices including access to several after parties too. I may be attending this one myself.

I just found these two websites that may help too: http://www. londonisfree.com, http://www.londonforfree.net

Anyone else know of any good deals on food or evenings out, or any cheap/free events going on in the city?

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