Friday, 29 November 2013

Back Bar Blues

Rust & Dust In The Back Bar… Seven Months, Seven Thousand Songs… The Power Of A Tune To Bind A Small Community…

You’re lucky if you get a slice of pizza. Gone before I can have at it. Bar snacks elusive, you need to be quick, nimble on your feet. Four dollar schooners of Coopers, Thursday night in the Back Bar at the Brunswick Heads pub, a sweaty mélange of oddballs and miscreants, a faintly fishy smell mingling with perfume and fried food, beer dregs and smoke tendrils sidling around the doorway, looking to hide near the ceiling. Smells like home.

Dan sits on the makeshift stage in a space which, seven months ago, was little more than a patch of carpet with no other claim to fame than it held a couple of small tables, stools surrounding, just another spot in the bar. Now though, on a Thursday night, it’s where people gather to sing and sway, to watch a man at work, the product of his toil the happy elixir which soothes savage breasts, bringing together people who on any other occasion, would pass each other in the street with nary more than a raised eyebrow of vague recognition, perhaps a grunt or mumble. The power of a tune to bind a small community is something which cannot, and should not, be underestimated.

Things get loose in the Back Bar on a Thursday night. The single table out the back where everyone decamps to smoke gets sticky from overuse, a cloudy film of beer and ash coating its surface, continually wiped clean with sleeves only to be smeared once more. Talk is cheap, gets cheaper as the night wears on, well lubricated and so stories abound, told and re-told and you learn about the inner workings of people you’ve only met an hour prior, their tales mingling with those coming from inside, amplified and set to music, the life of one, shared with so many.

Ostensibly, it’s locals night, but anyone is welcome. During the school holidays when the town heaves with outsiders – sunburnt and loud – the Back Bar is fuller than usual, people perhaps surprised to come across such a scene, one as free-flowing as this one, and so they join in with reckless abandon, dancing down the front, spilling beer on a carpet which has seen more than its fair share.

The locals part to let them through, carrying on as they normally would – the crew who have been here since the dawn of time, every one to a man salt of the earth, whether they be following a good path or otherwise. The newer locals, those who have lived here for less than a decade, younger, quieter, no less a part of the action. The blow-ins, those who know someone and whose faces are at least a little recognisable… a seething, roaring, shouting mass – a small one – hawking their slurred wares to a backdrop of country-tinged blues ‘n’ roll.

Dan seems unfazed by it all, takes it in his stride, finds himself a home. The Fishing Song becomes an anthem and is sung every week by all and sundry with a passion and gusto before thought untenable and yet such a simple song is the glue which binds it all together. Musical guests are treated as family and dancing isn’t uncommon, people tripping over one another in an effort to carry the movement on, dodging around others playing pool at one of the tables over on the side, the bar being sturdily propped up by a range of suitable characters, those working behind it all smiles, as much a part of the melee as anyone else.

Seven months ago it began, and tonight it draws to a laughing, stumbling close, people spilling into the carpark come midnight, sharing the last of the drink, bumming smokes, patting backs, reliving songs and weeks past that seem to have already faded somewhat, but which will be back once more. The Back Bar at the Brunswick Heads pub home for so many – seven months and seven thousand songs perhaps (close to), Rust & Dust from Dan covering a time we’ll no doubt not forget.

Samuel J. Fell

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