It’s a scene from an Aussie fever dream.
Deep in the outback, you’ve just played one of the great pub shows on a cross-country tour.
And then you realize you’ve stuffed the logistics.
Now you’re driving through the night to make it to your next gig, an eye-watering 700 kilometers away, and ‘Tracy’, the bus you bought from a retirement home, is chugging fuel at what seems like an unsustainable rate.
It’s all part of the fun on a Guts tour, which first dissected the country from south to north along the Stuart Highway in 2016, drawing inspiration from Midnight Oil and Warumpi Band’s legendary 1986 Blackfella/Whitefella tour.
Guts will be back on the road for the first time since 2017 next month, playing 36 shows from the tropics to Tasmania with 19 bands, and putting on 20 music workshops in towns and communities across the outback.
The tour begins it’s 7,000km journey in the town of Jabiru, on Kakadu’s edge, on August 15 and includes artists like Bad//Dreems, Black Rock Band, Children Collide and Birdz.
‘Play some Chisel’
The idea for a tour that snatches up and drops mostly southern bands into some of Australia’s most remote locations, the tour’s creator Jack Parsons says, was a nod to a time when things were a little different in the Australian music scene.
“We wanted to tour regionally and with a real sense of adventure and go to some places off the beaten track, like bands used to tour, and that famed pub rock era of Australian music where it was really a plug-in-and-play ethos,” he said.
“And it didn’t matter if there were 10 people or 100 people or 1,000 people, you toured.”
So on a Guts tour, Parsons says, bands will gig wherever they are like their life depends on it
“There’s been some tough shows,” he recalls. “Coober Pedy springs to mind, you know, sort of eight people in the crowd, one of which was yelling out to these Melbourne bands to play some Chisel.”
But in the bush, open-air desert shows can give way to special moments for bands and the host communities, which have little access to touring artists.
“The kids have a beaut time and the response is always fantastic,” Parsons says.
“I do remember one showing, when we did pay in Barunga the kids were going absolutely bananas and they were sort of all over the stage and playing the drums.
“The walls were down and it was pandemonium.
“There have been some very memorable shows, and we’re so lucky this year to have grown to a point where we can ask these great bands to be a part of it.”
Shows, workshops and swags
Getting kids in communities excited when the bands are rocking out is one thing, but much of the tour’s energy is directed towards workshops, where band members share technical expertise and some music industry 101 with kids.
The Northern Territory leg of the tour includes gigs and workshops in 10 remote communities.
“The workshops are a beautiful thing,” Parsons says.
“We get kids who have never played drums before and we put them on a drum kit, we show them a basic beat, and they can play and get the feeling of being in a band.”
Richie Guymala, the lead vocalist of the Black Rock Band out of west Arnhem Land, says the workshops uplift spirits in communities, where there are already a lot of great young bands.
“There are a lot of issues around communities in the Northern Territory, but stuff like this, it helps,” he says.
“It’s a good opportunity [for kids] to refresh their mind and to say, you can do this for yourself — whatever it is… you can follow your dreams.”
The touring bands, Parsons says, are grateful for it too.
“We’re really blessed that the people we speak to in these communities welcome us with open arms, and we’re putting on shows and workshops, and we’re being looked after with accommodation and places to roll out the swags,” he says.
“It all comes back to that Oils and Warumpi Band tour, being able to take great music and great artists to these wonderful places that have great music in them.”
‘There’s good music out there’
Guymala and Black Rock Band will play through the whole Northern Territory leg of the tour, finishing at Kalkarindji Freedom Day Festival where they will share the stage with artists like Paul Kelly and Ripple Effect Band.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on the road again, sharing our music again with the community, and also just to run into other countrymen,” Guymala says.
“It’s also good because the [bands] come up from down south and they get to see a bit of Black Rock’s family, where we are connected from.”
Guymala says he’d love to welcome touring bands more often.
“I think it should happen more. I think it will be a good way to promote smaller bands from smaller communities,” he says.
“We’ve got that many bands in Arnhem Land, and there’s good music out there, and I think tours like this will open up opportunities for other bands that want to get their music heard.”
Coco Eke, a board member of Music NT, says the rarity of regional tours through these parts of the country is what makes Guts exciting.
“It’s really difficult to tour regionally and especially remotely coming in, and for bands wanting to tour outside of their communities, it’s expensive,” she said.
“The roads are tough and it’s hot and to get a band from one community to Darwin takes tens of thousands of dollars sometimes.
“So this is a really exciting tour to see the bands and the rest of the crew that will be in the bus go through to the communities to really lift the spirits and bring music back.”