LUKE: I certainly didn’t predict the popularity of Canbeurovision last year (who did?). All I knew was I hadn’t been performing much and this felt like a fun way to get back into it. Plus as one of Queanbeyan’s top three songwriters, I had to rep my hometown. I do recall Nick being skeptical when I first told him I was entering – though he came around quickly to help me with my entry – so it wasn’t without a smirk that I agreed to be involved in his bid this year.
The first thing to note is Nick’s song was brilliant – a hilarious, honest and hook-filled history of Braddon’s ongoing transformation. He gave me carte blanche with the arrangement, so I drew the chords into my DAW, then played around with different accompaniments. I started with one – the organ and shakers you hear on the bridge, my attempt at a Loaded vibe – and then I did another one… and another one… and another one. Pretty soon I had takes in styles including punk rock, techno, soulquarian, trap, and 70s piano ballad. The only one we didn’t use was a Pavement-does-reggae thing, which, you know, it’s time will come. It felt like developing Casio presets, though way more fun than that sounds.
Chris Finnigan and Nick came over and we had a fun session arranging it – I suggested it open with a tinny drum loop a la Stop Making Sense, which they both got excited about. That gave the whole performance somewhere to build, opening with just Nick, before me, then the dancers and lastly some tasty lashings of Fossil Rabbit.
I ended up doing all the backing track and the video, partly because I am bad at saying no, and partly because I really wanted to perform at the Playhouse and didn’t trust anyone else (maybe Lou is right?)
The video was a whole different beast – syncing superimposed text is not hard, but it’s mandrolic to put together. Still, if we were to have a video, it made the most sense. We knew a video would definitely up the slickness of the whole endeavour and set us apart – though Nick told me not too make it too slick lest we be seen as tall poppies (yes, we were very confident).
Video also allowed us to double down on a few gags but I mostly played it straight – it was a supplement and I didn’t want the audience distracted by it. Reuben’s footage of Braddon’s vacant lots, construction sites and pre-boom government flats added a poignant counterpoint to all the frivolity.
All my heavy-lifting was thus done before the performance, so I was left to be, well, ‘Handsome Luke’ onstage. Nick would welcome me on after the first verse, at which point I walked on and ‘cued’ the track from my laptop. I learnt enough of Zev and Nickamc’s choreography to chime in at key parts but mostly I did what I do at Babyfreeze gigs, lip-syncing along with Nick with dramatic poses thrown in. The backing track was hardcoded into the video, but when I walked onstage with my laptop – strictly a prop – I freaked out Bevan who hadn’t factored it into the sound set-up. He told me afterwards, feigning a heart attack.
The night of the heat was great – Smiths was at capacity and I had to peer in through the door just to see the other acts. When I saw The Murray Darlings, I felt sure they had it in the bag – the song was catchy as, the costumes fabulous and they had a horn section. It was a scientifically engineered crowd-pleaser. I attribute the fact we WON our heat over them to fortuitously playing last and thus being at the forefront of voters’ minds.
I was excited to play the final as I have never performed on the Playhouse stage – a capacity Playhouse would also be the biggest crowd I’d have played for in some time. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I had a funeral to attend that day. Rather than cutting my bit, Nick got Sweaty Pits wunderkid Miriam Slater to play ‘Handsome Luke’ – proof that codifying my stage look down to a few irreducible elements has been successful! When I got to watch the performance later, I was blown away – they’re more Handsome Luke than me!
NICK: Me, I’m the one who predicted the popularity of Canbuerovision! Or more accurately just assumed it, as it’s the perfect trifecta of what gets Canberrans excited:
- Anything that makes art a competition
- Anything that allows Canberrans to talk about ourselves
- Anything with a generally Rock Eisteddfod-y ‘put-an-item-together’ vibe
As the Mean Average Canberran I am particularly susceptible to these vibes, but more importantly NO ONE was going to do a song about Braddon before me. I moved to the suburb in 2010, meaning my life here has tracked almost exactly to the gentrification cycle that has played out across the decade. As an arts producer who works in a gym and eats all his meals I am as culpable as any developer for what has been wrought here. If I was ever to be the Bard for a moment than now was the time.
You all know I love a restrictive songwriting brief. Writing a song about this specific a topic, with a huge singalong chorus and actually funny punchlines throughout, was either gonna expose the limits of my ability or be one of fastest songs to ever tumble out of me. I used The Violent Femmes as a reference for how to make extremely wordy pop songs that people will sing along every word to. As always I set myself the most restrictive rhyme scheme possible and that did most of the heavy lifting. My only songwriting tip ever is just BECOME A MACHINE THAT RHYMES.
After the black belt effort Luke put in on the track and the video it was gutting not to have him on stage with us for the final, but our performance squad did every perfect thing to help me live my Talent Show Dreams. The sold out crowd of 600 seemed to be made up of 10 Smiths audiences smooshed together, I’ve never felt such a home ground advantage. In the end we took third place behind the truly righteous Murray Darlings and the titanic West Belconnen team (check em out check em out check em out!). Judging by the type of people who came up to me at the after party, we were the favourite act among the bitter and disaffected. Which I will happily take.