In 1988/89 I spent some happy weeks and months in Italy and Mexico performing and immersing myself in Latin culture. The food, wine, people, music, dancing, singing, women. Everything was so foreign and exotic to this younger me from Sydney Australia and it turned into a love affair that lingers to this day.
The fundamental ideas for the pieces that would become Song and Dance No. 2 came to me during that exciting period when the swell of anticipation of a new adventure reaches its peak and preparations for the big tour are underway, but it was in Italy and Mexico where those fragments turned a corner to became true souvenirs of one of the most magical times of my life.
In Mexico I was to represent Australia in the annual Festival Cervantino in the city of Guanajuato in 2 concerts that had been scheduled on consecutive days in a wonderful room that could have been purpose built for a Classical Guitar concert but was in fact, a very old Spanish Chapel. I’d arrived in Mexico City and a few days later I was on the bus to Guanajuato, some 5 hours north accompanied by an Argentinian Tango band and an Austrian Women’s Choir. An hour out of Mexico City the bus broke down and there we were, an Austrian Women’s Choir, an Argentinian Tango Band, an Australian Classical Guitarist and a bewildered bus driver on the side of this Mexican freeway, surrounded by cactus, awaiting delivery from this hot and dusty abandonment. What had gone wrong? It turned out we were out of fuel. The petrol had been siphoned off by thieves while the bus had been waiting for us to leave the hotel. Eventually a Petrol Tanker came alongside and very kindly put the tiger back in our tank and we were off again.
My first concert was on the next afternoon and the jet lag had me awake at 4.00 am and with nothing else to do, I practiced. A lot. The old chapel was full of sunshine and very enthusiastic Mexicans who were in the company of the Australian Ambassador and the Austrian Woman’s Choir. The concert was a great success and I felt very pleased with myself and after the concert, the Austrian Women’s Choir presented me with a miniature but perfectly formed guitar complete with mother of pearl inlays.
After my second concert I became a tourist and that night my interpreter and I got tickets to see the Tango Band from the bus. It shames me to admit that I can’t remember their names but their music haunts me still. The exciting music was as it should be, exciting but the sad, melancholic music simply cut through to the soul. I had never experienced anything quite like this. To be so unashamedly raw and honest on stage. To speak publicly through music of such intense pain and heartache was for me a liberation. And so, the Song from Song and Dance No. 2 is this Aussie boy’s attempt at reaching the depth I saw on stage that night in Guanajuato.
Syracuse lies on the east coast of Sicily and has been at various times owned by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Christians and of course, the Italians. Syracuse can lay claim to influences from almost every part of the Mediterranean and those influences are there to be seen in the city’s extraordinary architecture.
I spent 6 weeks there performing around Sicily and stayed with my host, the great Italian Guitarist, Nello Alessi. You cannot be in Syracuse for six weeks and not be affected by it. It’s like immersing yourself in a bath of virgin olive oil pressed from the olives harvested in the hills behind Syracuse by maidens with coffee tanned thighs. As you emerge from the bath, the olive oil sticks to your skin and works its way into your body. It owns you for a while and while it owned me I wrote Fantasia Syracusana, the dance from Song and Dance No. 2. Its influences are Mediterranean from Spain to Sicily, Toledo to Turkey but the memory that lingers is the exquisite Black Ink Pasta Nello’s mother prepared for our lunch one day as we gazed out over the deep azure of the Mediterranean Sea.