Gods Walk (And Roll) Amongst Us
Warning: This blog contains strong language
On Friday night I was lucky enough to see the Doug Anthony Allstars – DAAS as they are abbreviated - live at the Shepherds Bush Empire. When people say they were ‘lucky’ to see an act, they usually mean that they managed to hit the refresh button at just the right moment and sniped some tickets before they all sold out. But when I’m talking about having seen DAAS I’m talking about Tim Ferguson, one of the members, who has multiple sclerosis. Last year, which was the first time I ever saw them perform, everyone watching them assumed that it would be the last time the group came to the UK. There was a strong feeling of a group doing their final, farewell tour, it was emotional, compelling, and Tim had a kind of angry frustration I’ve never seen on stage before. Not with what was happening to him, but what was happening to us. The message to the audience was very much one of ‘if you want to do something, do it!’ As he said then and still says now “Tick Fucking Tock!” Time is not a limitless resource for any of us, and you’ve no idea how much you have left in the bank. It was a staggering night and I felt privileged to have been in the audience for their final UK tour. And then Tim didn’t die! DAAS announced they would be attending the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe and one date in London. So yes, very lucky indeed!
Sitting here now and typing this I still struggle to describe what I saw. I could tell you about the jokes, or how I stood just before the finale clapping wildly as my hands screamed back in pain. But that isn’t what really moved me. DAAS are far more than the sum of their parts. Their jokes really aren’t clever, nor is there anything subtle in what they are doing. In essence they are three guys insulting each other on stage and occasionally singing songs. Yet if you watch their performance you are moved, deeply and perhaps even profoundly. It comes as a complete surprise, and feels almost like a violation! Why do I suddenly have a lump in my throat when all you’ve been doing is messing about on stage? This should not be.
Men are notorious for displaying affection in a peculiar way, teasing those they love. Paul McDermott – the second and last member of the original three - was only different in how harsh he was. Throughout the show there was an onslaught of barbs hurled at Tim. Cripple, dalek, and human beanbag are three of the most publishable. But the teasing went past the verbal. He would fawn and mollycoddle. Pushing Tim’s fringe back, straightening his shirt, or picking imaginary lint from his shoulder. The casual infantilization of a grown man perfectly mocked the patronising attitude many have to those who need assistance. But underneath it all, behind every snide remark and shocking insult, was a level of tenderness I don’t think I’ve ever seen on stage in my life. These men love each other. Really love each other. Yet the ghastly, self-evident truth is that one of them is going to die very soon. And this inevitability of death is further reflected in the way Paul now talks about himself. DAAS first started performing around 35 years ago. I don’t know anyone who, after that long, wouldn’t be occasionally staring in the mirror, wondering where past glories had vanished to. The standard jokes were made about aging, as we might have expected. Going grey, body hair, the usual. But then, towards the end of the show, the screen at the back showed DAAS in their glory days. With this old recording three young and very attractive men were suddenly singing with their older selves. The song was "Throw Your Arms Around Me", by Hunters and Collectors. It’s a song DAAS have covered many times, and their acoustic version is lovely. But as I watched, I stopped thinking how brave these older men were to perform ‘alongside’ their younger selves, and instead was struck by the different understanding they brought to a song. Of course someone in their early twenties can sing beautifully about love in the moment, and its ephemeral nature, but a person in their 50s understands it in a very different way. They also understand that that fleetingness can be applied to so much more than physical passion. On Friday the 1st of September 2017 at the Shepherds Bush Empire, three men making filthy, childish jokes were able to show us pure platonic love and move a crowd of about two and a half thousand. We left that show stunned by what we had seen. Privileged to have been a part of something so special and intimate.
I walked home frowning and thoughtful. Here was a group whose songs include "I Want to Spill the Blood of a Hippy", "Mexican Hitler", and "I Fuck Dogs". They should be a joke enjoyed only by teenagers who think they’re edgy, yet I’d just experienced a deeply personal, highly emotional show that will stay with me forever. If these men from Australia can elevate jokes about incontenence bags to that kind of level, what excuse do I have for trotting out the same, tired tricks that every other magician performs at weddings and parties? That show taught me that trueness to yourself, performing what it is that moves you, is the only way to move other people. It’s time for me to be true to myself, so that I can be true to everyone I’m lucky enough to perform for.
Tick Fucking Tock.