By Chris Mineral
The Burke and Wills monument had been removed, hoardings had been placed around City Square, Chautaqua had won the TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick racecourse and nearby at the Athenaeum Library on Collins St, a full house awaited the arrival of the singer/songwriter Stephen Cummings.
The Melbourne ambience was overcast, grey and cold.
Cummings arrived at the oldest library in a dark grey suit and the literate rock musician noted to the audience that an edition of his memoir Will It Be Funny Tomorrow Billy? (Hardie Grant 2009) was on the shelves of the library. Accompanying Stephen Cummings at this concert on guitar was Robert Goodge. Goodge was a foundation member of the very influential (amongst underground musicians) Essendon Airport, the brilliant post-punk outfit from the late 70s. Essendon Airport also included David Chesworth, on keyboards, who later would help create the sound installation at the bridge at Birrarung Marr, the William Barak Bridge.
With his memoir nearby, and gazing across the audience and all the vast books and bookshelves in the library, the Lovetown musician began to reminisce and recall places, buildings and people from back in the 20th century.
With the audience joining the dots for any gaps in Cummings’ rock memory (perhaps on occasion more igneous than basaltic) the gig became a rare occurrence where the audience and performer riffed with one another between songs.
Goodge seemed bemused on occasion as Cummings and the audience recalled distant flotsam, jetsam and ephemera.
Cummings was in a great band called Sports, from the same era as Essendon Airport. Sports were so good with their angular, acerbic, guitar-driven, post-punk drive that a bloke called Gudinski was able to launch Sports into the US and European markets. The memoir tells some tremendous anecdotes about this.
The highlight song was Some Prayers Are Answered Unexpectedly, From Time to Time. The interplay of the guitars chiming in the Reading Room was warm and beguiling. Before too long, Cummings and Goodge were at the last song and, being somewhat inspired Cummings began making up lyrics and singing Thank You For Coming To The Library.
The finish was brilliant, like watching Manikato flying along the Flemington racetrack back in the day when Sports began.
The Athenaeum Library Reading Room was graced by the presence of one of the best musicians in Melbourne. Cummings writes phenomenal songs and his timing, phrasing and staccato delivery reminds sometimes of Frank Sinatra. Cummings swings and grooves. As Gudinski would have realised when he first saw Sports, Cummings has it.
Whatever it is, in an ecliptic, ellipsoidal, diffident manner, Cummings has got it. Listen to Stephen Cummings Stuck On Love, Don’t Throw Stones or even Gymnasium, where his tongue is in his cheek. He has a sublime lyricism. He once sang Baby Blue on Rockwiz with Isabella Manfredi. Baby Blue is the type of song Cummings loves.
Afterwards, someone mentioned that it felt very special, like a mythical Crime And The City Solution gig in a New York loft … as good as cruising in a Citroen.