Saturday, November 12, 2011

Benito & Gerri host a roundup of this week in Sydney theatre (with Benito even panelling this time.)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Newtown Cheat Sheet

Ciao Magazine ( recently asked me to do a Newtown for dummies type piece in the lead up to the Newtown Festival this Sunday November 13th (where I will be MCing the poetry event in the Writers' Tent at 11am.) If you can't read it my own (unedited) copy is below.

Ciao Magazine’s Cheat Sheet to Newtown.
by Benito Di Fonzo.

“I never knew where I belonged … [but] on King Street I’m a king…”
John Kennedy’s Love Gone Wrong, 1985.

Newtown essentially squeezes Melbourne into a suburb of Sydney’s inner west, sans the climate of course.

Victoria Park Pool, where we will begin our tour, has been referred to by locals as Newtown Beach with it’s musicians, artists and nearby Glebe backpackers sunning themselves amongst the summer ants. Some argue Newtown begins here outside Sydney University, although it is literally Darlington. More correctly Newtown begins at Gould’s Books. Here at what is now pricier North Newtown, Socialist activist extraordinaire Bob Gould spent many a decade eyeing loose-fingered students lost amongst the aisles searching disordered piles for their own cheat sheets, perhaps pocketing some vintage porn in the process.

Now walk on, trying to forget what you said to that dame at the Jeff Duff gig at The Vanguard as you stumble past it, and grabbing one of Sydney’s friendliest falafels from Rowda Ya-Habibi. If you’re pedalling get your bike checked at Cheeky Monkey as you gaze down the majestic Moreton Bay Fig-lined Georgina Street at the once grand homes of Colonial gentry, now trophies for lawyers.

You’re hovering around the 1980s artist’s collective Alpha House, now commercial apartments (Alpha’s residents pushed to South King when it was redeveloped). You may want to grab a quick hair clip at Noddy’s On King whilst here. It won’t matter how it comes out because in Newtown you’ll probably be donning a dead man’s fedora. You can wander to the nearby St. Vinnie’s but your chances are better at C’s Flash Back, next to the neat little vegetarian restaurant lined with Buddhas.

Time for your first beer since the Lansdowne, so have one at the Marlborough. This formerly grungy hole for locals is now more for tourists, but it’s close to RPA if you feel the need to get your liver checked. Likewise a little further south the Coopers, formerly The Coopers Arms, formerly The Shakespeare. The ‘Shakey’ was once riddled with local musos (The Whitlams’ Tim Freedman still lives a few doors down if you’d like a refund) with a lobster ($20) grabbing one a ‘foil’ of grass in the back room. The Coopers is now glitzier and more law abiding. However local artist Val Nart’s King Street mural (which legend says he painted over many months for beers) still adorns a wall of the roofless upstairs bistro, old windows giving a fine view of the wildlife.

Some pubs look like they’ve raided Fox Studio’s props department for their outfitting. Kelly’s Irish Pub for example, called by locals The McDonald’s Pub as it is on the site of that rare thing - a McDonalds run out of town. Likewise the ZanziBar (formerly The Oxford) looks constructed from leftovers of a Baz Luhrmann remake of Lawrence of Arabia. The Bank Hotel is more Moulin Rouge upstairs now than the tough Islander bar of past days. However The Town Hall Hotel (AKA The Townie) whilst losing it’s heritage horseshoe bar, still remains largely a locals’ late-night hole of choice, with bands several times a week and a great view of the camel toe of King Street and Enmore Roads. The Sando also, which lost it’s way during the Pokie plague, has under the steerage of Tony Townsend become one of King Street’s best music venues, with headliners playing upstairs and free bands downstairs. Let’s stop and have a cheap Sando Lager and catch Australia’s sloppiest band The Hoo Haas, fronted by dishevelled local painter, reprobate and Newtown cafe addict Phil Ricketson.

Speaking of caffeine you’ll need some by now to soak up the alcohol. You’re nearby Buzzzbar, with it’s regular exhibitions, but why not sit outside Corelli’s across the road, a much loved haunt of those who wile away whole sunny days over frappes.

Speaking of musicians it’s important to note that, like New York cabbies, King Street buskers will be expecting their share of your change - be it locally raised Ilya and his crew scat-hip-hopping over live loops, or Maddox the bearded jazz bassist killing time between gigs. Your change may take them down into the dark centre of South King street, the feral end most tourists avoid. Grab pastizzis at The Maltese Cafe, a show at Newtown or New Theatres, some kitsch at Faster Pussycat, or bands at The Union, behind which hungover artists count change in communal gallery, studio and hovels of the new Alpha House to get them to The Botany View for beer and Rockabilly.

You’re more likely to find affordable ironic 70s body shirts and 50s fedoras down here, as well as the better of Newtown’s ubiquitous Thai restaurants.

You could even grab a guitar from Pete’s Musicians’ Market and some concoction from the Happy Herbs shop and join the buskers!

Newtown ends as it began, in a park, this time the smokestacks of Sydney Park beaconing the deadly Hume and St. Peters.

The alternative route from Newtown Station would take you up Enmore Road for a show at Notes, Enmore Theatre, or The Sly Fox. Perhaps one of Ali’s fine pide at Saray’s, or a classier meal amongst candlelight at Banks Thai or from New York trained local chef Sophie at Pickwick’s.

New mini bars such as The Green Room Lounge sit alongside bizarre op-shops such as The Cat Protection Society’s.

After grabbing a book from Better Read Than Dead, Berkelouw's, Art On King, or Gould’s, best to end your sojourn by veering off King at Newtown Square (dodging Hare Krsnas and ad hoc flea markets) and head up Australia Street. Grab a long-neck at the Courthouse Hotel, then wander through Camperdown Park (where Newtown Festival will be gated) for a traditional drink in St. Stephen’s cemetery. Poets like the late Michael Dransfield scribbled here, reclining under the ancient Moreton Bay, or the grave of Eliza Donnithorne (Dickens’ inspiration for Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham.)

'As night falls you’ll be accompanied by a murder or emos or perhaps resident poltergeist Bathsheba Ghost who has haunted the cemetery since 1848. The former head nurse was once described to Florence Nightingale as a “Sluttenly alcoholic.” She fits right in on King Street.


Tribes of Newtown (in chronological order)

- The Ancient Greeks
Newtown was reputedly named after a 19th Century tailor on the ZanziBar site called New Town Fashions, but it was the Greek migrants of the 1950s that gave Newtown it’s cosmopolitan feel. The Greeks began moving out in the 80s but wisely kept the leases. Aside from a multitude of houses they still own sites such as The Hub, The Cyprus Club (with it’s backgammon basement) and the tram sheds behind Newtown Station. The sheds and station are being developed into shops and flats so no doubt alleged familial bickering over The Hub will eventually end. There are even still a few, formerly illegal, Greek card clubs.

- The Students.
Newtown’s locality to Sydney University has always drawn students to it, creating the basis for a share-house culture of bars, bookstores, bands, and op-shops. They grow into yuppies, or never grow up and become artists.

- The Artists & Ferals.
With the late 1980s gentrification of Surry Hills artists and their ilk moved west for cheaper rents. Warehouses such as Alpha House and share-houses became their garret-studios. The colour, excitement and vibrancy of these alternative life-stylists combined well with the Mediterranean feel, making Newtown Sydney’s Bohemian epicentre.

- Young Urban Professionals (Yuppies)
Ironically, by the end of the 20th Century the cosmopolitan bohemianism created by decades of poor migrants and artists made Newtown a smart investment. The accompanying rent rise, and Pokie plague, meant that many of those that had given the area it’s unique flavour were driven to Marrickville, Redfern or Melbourne (AKA Mexico or Shelbyville).

Perhaps continuing gentrification will make Newtown unrecognisable in coming decades, but the migrants and bohemians will just be somewhere else by then, waiting for the real estate agents to follow.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Artists, Exhibitionists and Underbelly Rediscover Sydney's Vicious Razor Gangs (CNN Go)

This article was commissioned by CNN Go and originally appeared at
Razorhurst | (click blog post headline to go to the CNN original)

Mum's the word on 'Razorhurst's' female gangsters

A play is being staged in secret in former sly-grog shops and brothels around the inner city, as a book, TV series and exhibition see unprecedented interest in Sydney's sleazy days gone-by

By Benito Di Fonzo 3 June, 2011

The stylish East Village Hotel in Darlinghurst has gone up in the world since it opened in 1918 under the name that still adorns its façade, “The Tradesman's Arms.”

It was an underworld criminal capital in a time of partial prohibition. After the introduction of strict anti-gun laws, gangs fought for control of the sex, cocaine and sly-grog trades with cutthroat razors. Inner city Kings Cross, Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills were collectively termed “Razorhurst.”

It was a time when female gangsters, Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, lorded it over their respective bootlegging and brothel empires.

The notorious 1920s and 1930s era is now receiving unprecedented, retrospective attention in Sydney.

A play, "Mum’s In: Stories from Razorhurst," is due to begin in the former sly-grog shops and sex dens around the inner city. True to its underworld content, Sydneysiders have to unravel the secret venue from the Internet and give a password to enter.

This year’s Underbelly TV series will be based on Larry Writer’s book, "Razor." A photographic exhibition from the era is touring and even an opera is rumoured.

The Six O’clock Swill

The Tradesman’s Arms was once, as Larry Writer records in "Razor": “A bloodhouse with sawdust on the floor to soak up the spit and vomit.” It was populated by “prostitutes, pimps, pickpockets, muggers, con men, SP (starting-price) bookies and drug dealers.”

At sunset, things grew ugly. Temperance movements, unable to achieve full prohibition like their American counterparts, had nonetheless convinced politicians to enforce a six o’clock closing rule -- resulting in the infamous "six o’clock swill."

“You could buy as many beers as you wanted before six o’clock,” explains playwright, performer, singer and songwriter Vashti Hughes, who performs in the upcoming "Mum’s In: Stories from Razorhurst." “At quarter to six you could say I want 10 schooners and they’d sell them to you, and then you’d have to try and skol them because they would kick you out and shut the doors at six.”

Anyone not content to follow church leaders’ suggestions and use early closing to spend more quality time with their families, or for those who didn’t have families, there was a huge hole in the market.

“People wanted someone to kick on to,” says Hughes.

The Female Gangsters

Notorious hooker Nellie Cameron, photographed by police on July 29, 1930.

Kate Leigh escaped to Sydney from her abusive family in Dubbo at the age of 10. Tilly Devine was a London prostitute by the age of 12 before emigrating "Down Under" with a Digger who claimed to own a kangaroo station.

The women became two of the wealthiest, powerful and most ruthless people in Australia.

Kate Leigh operated a score of illegal "sly-grog shops" during the 1920s and 1930s across “Razorhurst.” Tilly Devine became a brothel matriarch.

"Mum’s In." (That’s the password)

Vashti Hughes (and only Vashti Hughes) stars in "Mum's In: Stories from Razorhurst."

Leigh and Devine are two of several characters Hughes will bring back to life in her one-women show "Mum’s In: Stories from Razorhurst."

Hughes will embody in monologues and songs (co-written with partner Ross Johnston) the lives of Sydney criminals. Sly-grog queen Kate Leigh, brothel matriarch Tilly Devine, Sydney’s most sought-after prostitute Nellie Cameron, as well as the equally ruthless Frank Green and leader of the Darlinghurst Push razor gang, Guido Caletti.

Hughes will be staging her show amidst Tilly’s former brothels and Leigh’s sly-grog shops. In keeping with the underground nature of the original venues, audiences will have to find the location via a website (

Upon reaching the door they will have to give the traditional password, "Mum’s in" before being allowed entry and sipping their first jam jar of sly-grog.

Hughes won’t be shying away from that violence either.

“It is comedy cabaret,” says Hughes, “but it’s got a lot of grotesque violence in it. Comic grotesque violence, with songs.”

Those who turn up in 1920s and 1930s clothing will receive a discount, which is appropriate given that both Tilly and Kate were seen as exotically glamorous in their time. In fact when Kate Leigh was arrested at the Melbourne Cup, her rich furs and jewels received as much attention as her crimes, and Tilly Devine was reported to wear twice as many rings as she had fingers.


Hughes is not the only artist pouring life back into the anti-heroes of depression-era Sydney. Australian TV screens will soon be awash with "Underbelly: Razor," the Nine Network’s adaptation of Larry Writer’s non-fiction "Razor," first published in 2001.

“To have two women crime bosses who were so tough and so ruthless ... They clawed their way up to the top in a hard man’s milieu,” says Larry Writer in "Razor," “They had to be tougher, smarter and nastier than the male of the species.”

Writer puts this renewed interest down to the death of the cultural cringe concerning our criminals.

“For so long,” says Writer, “there has been a feeling that our criminals and our heroes could not be as interesting as those overseas. All of a sudden there’s a realisation that in Tilly Divine and Kate Leigh and Guido and Frank we have some really wonderful characters."

"You can walk down Palmer Street, you can walk around Kings Cross, and though a lot of it’s changed, a lot of it hasn’t.”

Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal

Nerida Campbell, curator of the Justice & Police Museum’s nationally touring exhibition, "Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal," feels Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine may be perceived as being crueler because of their sex.

“I think society’s expectations of them were so much higher because they were women. They were expected to be feminine [but] these women were ruthless and violent.”

A journey into Sydney's sleazy foundations

“Mum’s In: Stories from Razorhurst,” 8 p.m., June 8–11 and June 16–18. Contact "Mum" at for secret Darlinghurst location. $30/$20 for those in 1930s attire –- cash only at the door (just like the old days).

Pan Macmillan will publish the “Underbelly” tie-in rerelease of Larry Writer’s “Razor” in July.

“Underbelly: Razor”
is scheduled to air on Channel 9 in September.

“Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal”
is touring nationally until June 2012. See for locations.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Benito talks with Simon Stone and Thomas M. Wright re "Baal" at the STC for CNN Go

Below is the unedited copy of an article I wrote for
The edited article originally appeared at

by Benito Di Fonzo.

It’s raining on the stage of The Wharf theatre, literally gallons of water galloping down upon a dirty mattress where five naked women and two men, one in stilettoes, caress and kiss one another. Facing them a sixth girl in dark glasses plays an electric guitar, standing upon an amp somehow unhindered by the storm splashing down. A man named after one of the Old Testament’s seven princes of Hell sings them a dark ballad from the opposing corner, then downs a can of bourbon and coke, before bludgeoning the head of his male lover. Welcome to Baal’s house.

At the tender age of 20 Bertolt Brecht, still a university student in 1918, penned his first play Baal. Baal is a beautifully dark poem chronicling the decadent downward spiral of an almost-famous singer and poet on Munich’s debauched cabaret circuit. Baal is a primitive monster, a fallen god from an earlier time, but of a different order to his Old Testament namesake.

“He’s a social misfit,” says translator and director Simon Stone. “We meet [Baal] at the point that he’s already an outsider and it’s unsure whether he’s ever got along in some socially condoned way with the rest of the world. By the time we meet him he shows no desire, as well as a complete incapacity, to live amongst people in a healthy, social way. He’s an antihero and really anti-social and that’s what a lot of his work as an artist, poet, songwriter derives from. He’s constantly questioning the way things in society are set up in his art, and people find that fascinating.”

35 years before Brecht penned his tale of Bacchanalian decent countryman Friedrich Nietzsche had written of the Übermensch, the Superman, a man beyond societal mores who creates his own life code.

“I have absolutely no doubt Brecht would have been reading Nietzsche,” says Stone, “but people get when they see this show that there is absolutely no condoning whatsoever of Baal’s behaviour. It is a desolate view. People love watching Don Giovanni, going ‘How many women has he slept with now, 3,042?’ And it’s funny, but Brecht had the bravery to paint a picture of someone who actually behaves like that and portray the reality of the consequences for someone who has chosen to opt out of the social contract. I think it’s not a mistake to assume that Brecht was being fairly scathing of the idea that there are certain people who are allowed to behave in certain ways because of a certain kind of socially important output they can give in the form of their creativity.”

However like so many other artists in the public eye – be it a Sheen, Manson or Cobain – the public disapproval is only equalled by their fascination with such a protagonist. Why is that?

“At a certain point in our upbringing,” says Stone, “we learnt that it’s easier to get on in the world by accepting the rules that adults were teaching us and yet there’s a massive instinctual part of us that wishes we could have just done whatever we wanted for the rest of our lives. So when we come across someone who actually never grew up, who never accepted the rules that were being laid down, who said no, fuck this, this is my way of living, if you don’t like it then move on, then there’s this amazing allure. You go (sighs) maybe there is a version of life where I don’t have accept to do things I don’t want to do?”

Thomas M. Wright who plays Baal adds, “Mike Tyson or Charles Manson or any of these people become like a fractured prism through which you can see a human being, they’re like a million pieces of shattered glass and we’re shining a light through it and watching it dance, these people who are eaten alive and eat back.”

Wright has no doubts about just how dark a monster he is embodying.

“I have people come up to me all the time and say ‘oh I’ve known a few Baals in my time,’ and it’s like this guy wakes up in the morning a rapist and a murderer and goes to bed a rapist and a murderer, he didn’t [just] sleep with your friend after he told you that he liked you!”

However while not condoning the actions of a man who Stone prefers to call omni or poly-sexual rather than bi-sexual –

“I think he wouldn’t necessarily turn down having sex with an animal,” he says.

“Or a tree,” adds Wright, “or the ground. The difficult thing for Baal to accept is why can’t we fuck plants? Literally, why can’t we?”

Brecht seems to be saying that it is perhaps part of the artist’s role in society to explore these dark, wet woods.

“I think what he’s saying about artists,” says Stone, “is that they sign a very dangerous pact with the devil. If you want to be able to bring the brutal truth, if there is such a thing as truth, to the surface, then you need to accept that that truth is going to start weighing on you and will start affecting the way your brain works. If you open yourself to the void the void will eventually swallow you up. And the dangerous thing in being an artist is that you do have to look at the incredibly dark parts of human existence because that’s what good drama is about, and if you do that too often you’ll go mad.”

“By the time we get to Baal,” adds Wright, “he’s so open to that black hole that it’s totally inescapable.”

“Yeah,” says Stone, “you’re watching a man in the last instance before he gets sucked in [to the void.]”

Composer Stefan Gregory has arranged Brecht’s original songs for electric guitar and Baal delivers these dark ballads in a style reminiscent of a meeting between Kurt Cobain, Tex Perkins and Nick Cave as he swings betwixt poet and caveman. Surely playing such a monster night after night must take a toll on Wright’s own psyche?

“No, you know, the show goes for an hour and then I go and have a coffee.”



written by Bertolt Brecht.

Directed by Simon Stone.

Sydney Theatre Company, The Wharf, Pier 4 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay.

Now until 11 June, 2011.

$30 - $77

(02) 9250 1777

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Critical Stages take on Chronic Ills for National Touring

Critical Stages are now handling "The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman, AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie): A Theatrical Talking Blues & Glissendorf." Their first production was last years Seymour Centre season, after The Chronic Ills won one of two places in BITE (Best of Independent Theatre.) Info on upcoming productions will be posted here and on Critical Stages Chronic Ills page -

(insert below or click on title of this post)

Friday, April 15, 2011

30 Great Short Stories30 Great Short Stories by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a young man I read Somerset Maugham's novel 'Cakes & Ale' and it did not, from memory, make an outstanding impression upon me. Perhaps I was too young to appreciate it, or perhaps the novel is not Maugham's medium?

I have decided now that the latter is the case since, whilst on holiday in the Southern Highlands at the country home of a generous patron, I started reading Maugham's collected short stories (three volumes of the four volume set occupying the lake-side cottages small library) and was blown away not so much by the stories events as by Maugham's magnificently elegant writing style.

Reading one of Maugham's short stories is like lunching in the tropical sun with a glass of Pims or Pastis de Marseille (both of which were on hand in Burrawang, near my reading-hammock) whereupon you are joined by the most witty, erudite and charming person you're ever likely to meet. And then he tells you a tall tale.

I particularly like the way Maugham switches between long, almost ramblingly convoluted, many paragraphed, sentences. To short tight ones. A literary music of the highest order.

Upon my return to the big smoke I rushed to Gould's Book Arcade, Newtown, and finally, amongst the piles of mouldering tomes and kipping inner-western addicts that occupied the aisles of the last of Sydney's great second-hand book warehouses, I found this old hardcover. Whilst not the Complete I was looking for it is rather a selection of thirty of the best stories from the four-volume set. I will, at some later time read all four volumes, but this is a good start, and a great traveller.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A review of Keith Richards' 'Life' in the form of a 2,500 word monologueness spoof, AKA "One Day In The Life of The Human Riff.”

Life: Keith RichardsLife: Keith Richards by Keith Richards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A review of Keith Richards' 'Life' in the form of a 2,500 word monologueness spoof, AKA "One Day In The Life of The Human Riff.”

So by lunch time we’re driving through Stangefruit, Mississippi. We’ve got three runaway Mexicans in the boot, each carrying 25 balloons of charlie up their jacksy, and a 15 year old transsexual Moroccan kid Bill Burroughs had left in the back seat with a beaker of smack in shim’s silicon tits. Just another day in the life of the human riff let me tell you.

We were stopped outside town by a couple of cops who looked like they hadn’t slept in weeks. When we explained we were preachers from England - hence the hair, the communion wafers, and the kid - they confiscated the vehicle and threatened to throw us across the pond, till my lawyer turned up with a drunken judge, the senator for Mississippi and a series of Polaroids of a non-descript scene involving a yak, seven acrobats, and a lawn trimmer. So they threw us back the keys and told us never to burrow through their borough no more, but I just spit and nodded, fucken coppers, all queers, and not in a nice way let me tell you. But that’s just the way life is when you’re the greatest rock guitarist of all time. I’m sweating, it must be the humility.

Let me find the 1 and begin at the in then.

I was born at dawn in a scum pit on the outskirts of Dartboard. We were beaten awake by the police and made to cover ourselves in the muck of the pit and make our way to the local school where they would teach us naught but how to be muck gleaners for the land owners thereabouts. With that soot and shit on my face from my early morn I knew in my heart I was a black man, never a proper pale English git.

By the morning tea horn, a sound our landlord created with a cat, a leather strap, and my younger cousin Nathan, I’d decided to do a runner, and by mugging a rich git I met on the tube and stealing his ration card I pretended I was an arts student called Jagger where I fitted right in amongst the reprobates of aspiring bohemia.

By lunchtime I was bored with the whole bag and teamed up with some likely lads who were playing guitar under a tree in the school’s yard. I beat them silly until they let me join their band and so that rolling bag of bones was born, Brian on sitar, Ian on keys, and me on a guitar I’d stolen off the local vicar. The teachers began saying something about getting back into class so that could get us gigs designing advertisements for Babylonia or some such guff, so we did a runner and moved into the basement of a pub on Dean Street, Soho called The Pirate’s Bitch. They wouldn’t serve me at first as I was naked but for the stain of black muck, so I wandered into the street, threw on whatever rags I found lying around, and went back in and told them firmly that we were the entertainment for the evening. When they asked where was our rig Brian was stumped until a boy named Wyman wandered in and tried to sell the publican a stolen PA system, to which we all plugged in and climbed the charts, wallpaper peeling.

We hung at The Pirate’s Bitch for much of the afternoon, sucking on the leaking pipes of Watney’s Red Barrel and eating the crisps that fell through the grate from the firm of lawyers what lived upstairs from us. One day the lawyers came down and informed us that through the magic of the radiogram what had been perfected during the war our last six jams where a hit in the United States, and they wanted to fly us over the pond. We didn’t have the heart to tell them they weren’t our songs, what with them being rather old negro spirituals and blues what white devils in the US had through some physical peculiarity bestowed on them by Jehovah been unable to hear until they was played by us sons of the dying Empire. An anomaly that still baffles biologists to this day, or so I hear.

The lawyers bunged us all into a plane so swiftly that I still hadn’t had time to wipe the pit muck from my features, so when we did arrive in the States there was still some confusion as to my native hue, and hence we were played on both the coloured and white radio stations, most Americans assuming London was some borough of Boston or some such guff. Charlie the maître d' at the hotel where they bunged us was short of a buck so we let him sit in on drums, and it turned out he had quite a talent for it, even though he admitted he hated the music. Likewise little Mick the bellboy who tagged along beside him, a thick git with a minuscule prick but elephantitis of the bollocks what gave him a unique style of dancing that strangely endeared me to him, god bless the little bugger.

Halfway through the first set I realised I had no more Chuck Berry numbers up my sleeve and all the boys were looking to me. I said, “we’ll be back after this break,” and I ran to the bog only to find the destitute and whistling 300 pound form of Howlin’ Wolf whitewashing the johns in his paint-spattered overalls. As I spattered the rim of the bowl with a little of my own London smokestack I told him my predicament, and he in return taught me how to play the blues.

He said, “Just pick up that guitar Blind Boy Slim left by the water cooler and strum it with that broken bottle neck on the floor. You don’t have to know no chords or nothing, it’s in banjo tuning, open G slide, just wipe off the blood before you start.”

“What about the words Mr Wolf?” I said.

“Damn boy, make a little story over the top about how ragged, sad and horny life can be and you’re with it.”

So I wiped me arse, thanked the Wolf and stumbled back to the stage, grabbing said guitar from beside the water cooler. I grabbed it a little too eagerly, resulting in my breaking the sixth string and smashing the bottle-neck slide, so five string guitar in slide tuning it had to be, I’d just figure out the fingerings as I went along. And so it is and so it will always be.

Later after the gig when John Lennon dosed us on LSD and gave us a lift to the airport in his Bentley he verified that he’d had much the same experience, only with Muddy Waters in a Dole office in Liverpool while he was bashing McCartney for his milk money.

When we got back to Old Blighty we’d gained a few hours and a few thousand quid, but 98 per cent of it would have to go to Her Majesty for the sour milk we’d been given as kids and the new teeth my granpop had got on the National Health, or so Mick informed me, so I banged the poor blighter with a rifle I’d picked up in a Texas drug store and he has never walked the same again. I apologised as I put the dosh in a brown paper bag and we went looking for somewhere to hide it.

We decided on a place in the country, a straw thatched cottage outside Stonehenge, and hung there the rest of the morning having all the drugs and women we could eat. We had a dandy lot round for pink gins and a pet junkie that we milked hourly for heroin, everything a Englishman could need. But of course by the time we were telling Charlie what to cook up for lunch Mr Plod had to turn up and piss on the whole damn scene.

The cops dragged us up into the Old Bailey but it turns out they’d forgotten the pot. All they had was Marianne Faithful’s smack-soiled bathmat and some dead spliffs. The judge sentenced me to life nonetheless, deciding I was the ringleader of the whole shebang, which I was.

Luckily the prison van got a puncture on the way to Wormwood Scrubs and while the boys were changing tires Ronnie Biggs and I did a runner. We decided we better part ways to throw off the beagles so he went to Spain and I holed up in a lovely little hashish palace in Tangiers were Brian’s old bird Anita and I picked up a nasty case of Bill Burroughs for our troubles.

During a game of Missouri Lame Mule Snap I’d won a palace in the South of France from some dispossessed Russian royal, and when Anita and I arrived there we learnt that by providence both Charlie and Mick had gained employment once again as bouncer and busboy, so I pulled out the old Telecaster and we jammed on a few tunes whilst in exile in rooms in the basement.

Things got ugly however. Anita and I had become hooked on hummus whilst in Tangiers and unbeknownst to the rest of us she’d had a container load of the chickpea based junk flown in and transported by the portable studio truck back to our palace where she had had the engineers and photographers, who circumstance demanded we employ now, not to mention her bevy of pet tabouli addicts she kept in a mini-bus outside the East wing, fill the swimming pool with the Levantine Arab spread as an early afternoon surprise. But Brian, who we had left in a veterinary clinic outside Paris during our Moroccan sojourn, had jumped into the pool and drowned in the wheaten coloured sea of chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. He was found by the gardeners who immediately informed the gendarmes, so I decided to split.

I jumped in my speedboat, pointed it due South, and stuck my Telecaster in the steering wheel while I had a siesta. When I woke it was almost din-dins and I was on the filthiest shore I’d seen since that childhood holiday in Bournemouth. I wandered through the faecal sea-water and finding a young lady with a packet of Mandrax and an eye dropper lolling by the Pavilion I was informed I’d discovered St. Kilda Beach. So I claimed it in the name of Her Majesty and went back to this bird’s house on the outskirts of Melbourne suburbia. I must say I adapted nicely to suburban Australian existence that afternoon and within the hour I was signed on to the rock n’ roll and spending my first fortnightly payment on VB and pudding for her sprog what I done sit while she scoured the city for quaaludes and greens. It was a happy dinner indeed and I would have stayed the night if Mick hadn’t turned up suddenly with my suitcases and I realized the silly queer had been trailed the whole way by Anita and the bevy of gendarmes what now followed her, not to mention a horny black-faced Marlon Brando on a bicycle looking to gun down Terry Southern. It would be an ugly scene if they found me so I jumped back into my speedboat and didn’t stop till I reached a Jamaica, where I knew they wouldn’t let Anita in on account of her accent. It was late evening by then and the only light came from the crown of an enormous volcano above the beach from which a pungent odour emitted.

Suddenly I was surrounded in the night and I realized that I had been taken hostage by a band of vicious Rastafari pirates. All looked dire till I pulled out my five string and strummed a little Jimmy Cliff. I explained that I wasn’t really the white Babylonian devil I appeared but rather a brother musician blackened deep in his soul by the muck of working class London. The leader of the band, who called themselves the Legless Angels, pulled a reassuring smirk then passed me a hookah pipe that I observed went into the ground at the mountains feet. The Rastafari pirate king explained that this pipe went straight into the volcano. Jah, he explained, had seen fit to fill the bowl at the volcano’s crown with the most powerful cannabis plants in existence. This hierophant herb was constantly heated by the molten lava stirred by the white devils Jehovah had imprisoned beneath it, all for the medicinal service of the pirates and their kin. If I truly was a brother then Jah would grant me the power to pull the cone, but if I was a Babylonian devil attempting to deceive them Jah would see that I was sucked through the hookah the moment my lips touched it and hence into Satanic service in the volcanic basement.

It was quite an effort but I pulled the cone cleaner than Haile Selassie’s underdaks and a roar of cheers and drumbeats arose as they carried me to their mountainous kingdom on high where, they explained, no gendarme or Mr Plod of any proportion would dare take arms against them.

And that’s where I remained the night, smoking through till the morning and jamming for Jah with the Legless Angels. At dawn they had me pay for my board and whatnot by making it over to the USA in various guises so as to flog a few of my musical wares and the odd bag of weed. The shit I sold Mick was just parsley.

So that’s just a normal day in the life of a human riff, honestly, no exaggeration.

I’d love to chat but I’ve just dropped a blue, might be time for a kip. Catch you on the next tour, cheers, and if the Shepard’s pie arrives just wake me up.


by Benito Di Fonzo.


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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From the vaults of Fonzo Journalism, 2004: FBi Radio Play, live from The Sydney Opera House.

Broadcast live from the Studio at The Sydney Opera House, September 19, 2004. Written by Benito Di Fonzo. Starring Brendan Cowell, Kate Mulvany, Damon Herriman and Tug Dumbly as Napoleon Hangover. Directed by Laura Milke. Music by Brett Maverix. Foley (SFX) by Miles Merrill. Produced by 2FBi-FM and The Studio at The Sydney Opera House.

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part 2 of 3

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