Saturday, October 1, 2011


That's me on the right
I’m an Australian visiting Melbourne from California. I have been addicted to RocKwiz, a quirky, Australian TV music quiz show for years.  I have come 10,000 miles to try and be a contestant on the show.  And now I stand, nervously excited, in the Gershwin Room of the legendary Esplanade Hotel, where two tapings of the show will be completed tonight.  There is electricity in the air.  It’s the buzz of anticipation of those wondering who the musical guests will be, mixed with the racing adrenaline of those daring enough to want to try out for the show.

I’m standing at the bar close to the stage, elbow to elbow with a friendly, and so far, very civil crowd. Looking around, I see a sprinkling of 20 year olds thinking RocKwiz is the coolest thing going and they would be right. RocKwiz aims for cross generational appeal with its mix of established artist pitted against a young up and comer.

Wandering through the growing crowd I get the feeling that everybody here wants to tell you their special music story. Wants to tell you about an album they recently heard that excited them. I overhear snippets of stories and music chat everywhere in this room. "You were at Sunbury?" "No way!”  And "I saw Split Enz at the Sundowner mate! ‘75 I think. They were bloody incredible.” I even hear a woman remark, "Brod Smith’s harp sound is so unique." Against a wall some guys are having the inevitable guitar god argument, “Andrew Pendlebury is the best.” “What about Mossie? He’s the real deal”. I'm reminded how passionately Aussies take their music and how California has made me soft in the head. I'll be lucky if I get one question right.

 The women are all great looking, music smart, with great haircuts and mighty handshakes. One thing is for sure, everyone here has one aim in mind. To have as much fun as is humanly and legally possible, that will combine generous amounts of alcohol, great music, unadulterated nostalgia and silly and smart music trivia, courtesy of the co-creator and co-host of the show Brian Nankervis … a charismatic, former primary school teacher, Julia Zemiro … the host, a magnetic presence, or as one patron described her “the thinking man’s ideal woman” and the crème de la crème of Australia’s musicians … James Black, Mark Ferrie and Peter Luscombe.

I’m on my third gin and tonic and I’m getting a little buzz on. I start chatting to some couples seated at one of the rare tables at the venue. They like my story of coming to Melbourne to be on RocKwiz and nominate me as their representative. All of a sudden I see Brian Nankervis stride to the mic to begin warming up the enthusiastic audience. He has an easy going manner and an unassuming banter with the crowd. He’s done this warmup a thousand times before but you smile and take notice. Within minutes he has the crowd under his control. He explains that four contestants out of a possible twenty-four will be chosen for the first show. I am in the first round of tryouts. Think positive, I say to myself, as I take a huge gulp from what is now my third or fourth gin and tonic and bound on stage, slightly tripping a bit. I hope that will be the only humiliation for the evening.

I take my seat, adjust the mic slightly. I try not to remember there are probably a couple of hundred people watching me now. It is much more comfortable watching the show from one’s own living room. I look sideways for a second. There’s a really good-looking woman seated at the other end of this panel. I wonder what she’s doing after the show. Focus you idiot. Focus!

Already Brian is saying “Are you ready?” I barely hear the first question before someone has buzzed in. I miss the second question. A question about some obscure local band I’ve never heard of. Fortunately, I get the next question right “The song ‘Green Onions’ was made famous by what group?” “Booker T”, I blurt out. Brian says “And?” “The M.G.’s,” I reply. The next question is, “The album ‘Rattlin’ Bones’ is associated with what artists?” “Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson” I confidently say. “Right” Brian says. Then there’s a musical segment. A riff is played from a pre recorded CD. “25 or 6 to 4, Chicago”, I say with confidence. “That’s right, he’s on a roll ladies and gentlemen”, Brian says to the crowd. I’m sure I’m the only person in the building who listened to Chicago’s second album. 1971, I’m guessing.

I’m feeling good … but whatever good karma I had suddenly disappears. There’s one of those super cool guys, looks like a young James Reyne, spiky blonde hair, probably surfs and reads Proust in his spare time. He has a different girlfriend every week and has 40,000 songs on his iPod. I hate him. He answers about four questions in a row, two of which he guessed and then laughed about it. I panic. The next question is “James Brown had a hit in the Seventies with a song about a brand new  what?” I’m so ruffled by mister super cool that I say “Brand New Key”, which I immediately recognize as the Melanie song. Brian says something like “Interesting answer, but wrong”. I’m shattered. The good-looking woman at the end of the panel answers the next few questions. Then it’s over.

As I step off the stage the good looking woman says, “You were really good”. I smile a halfhearted smile. I just know I’m doomed So much for that drink after the show. I return to the bar and down my drink and order another. I’m so angry with myself. Could it be possible that Melanie has ruined my chance at getting on the show? Of meeting Julia? Melanie! I didn’t even like her and that damn cutesy song. I see Brian coming to the mic, he’s got a RocKwiz tea towel in his hand as a consolation prize.

I miss by one question. Like a kid who’s been picked on I retire to the back of the Gershwin Room. Deflated, sulky. With my tea towel. There are more tryouts and two shows to do still. This is going to be a long night. I watch the monitor in the back and get caught up in the entertainment on the screen in front of me. Suzi Quatro is bashing out that old chestnut ‘Devil Gate Drive’. I smile. Then I’m laughing at the banter between Julia and Suzi. Then someone tells a dirty joke. I laugh again. I look at the people around me. They are laughing to. And that’s the beauty of Rockwiz. It makes you feel happy. Then I run into old, dear friends and life is good again.

The show is over. People start filing out. I stay behind for a while. Happy drunk and totally drained.  My friends understand. Then I steal off into the St.Kilda night, needing to be alone with my feelings. There’s always next year. I even start whistling that damn song, ‘Brand New …’ What?

Santa Monica


  1. Great story Craig. I saw Melanie at Dallas Brooks Hall. I'm sure she sang Brand New Key , but I'd like to hear her version of Papa's Got A Brand New Bag! Better luck next time!

  2. Good yarn, Craig. As you say, RocKwiz 'makes you feel happy', even amidst the disappointment of missing out on being a contestant. Here's hoping the RocKwiz tea-towel takes pride of place in your Santa Monica kitchen.

    As for Melanie, I might have seen her at Dallas Brooks Hall all those years ago too - or maybe I just spent too long staring at one of her album covers while enjoying her prolonged version of Don't Think Twice It's Alright.