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Peter Combe

Ok. It’s time to let you know what I was doing last Sunday night when I should’ve been at home in bed like a good little girl. I was at The Corner in Melbourne at a Peter Combe concert. Yes. That’s right.

For the uninitiated, Peter Combe was the number one Aussie children’s entertainer of the 80’s and 90’s, long before The Wiggles and (the truly awful) High Five came along. We had a few of his albums on cassette when I was a kid and they got my sisters and I through many a long car trip. They probably drove our parents nuts, but I’m sure it was loads better than listening to us whinge “she breathed on me!” and “stop looking out my window, Elspeth!” Instead, they would’ve been treated to gems such as ‘Toffee Apple’, ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise’, ‘Newspaper Mama’, ‘Juicy Juicy Green Grass’ and my personal favourite, ‘Mr Clickety Cane’. It was these fine songs, and many others, that I had the good fortune to see performed live last Sunday night.

I reckon it was around this time last year that I began to hear rumblings about Peter Combe doing some pub gigs, in which he’d perform all his old favourites to crowds of 20-somethings like myself who were thrilled to be reliving their childhood, albeit with beer in their hands this time. And ID. It’s since become a bit of a cult phenomenon, with sold-out gigs set to criss-cross the nation over the next couple of months.

Now, I can hear some of you asking yourselves “Why on earth would a 24 year old of reasonable intelligence and mental stability travel nearly three hours all the way down to Melbourne on a Sunday night, when she has to be up at 6:30 the next morning, in order to see some ageing ex-children’s entertainer sing about food and grass and newspaper?”

Take a breath now guys. That was a long question.

And Mum and Dad, if you’re reading this, look away now. Your little girl is about to be rude.

Because it was fucking awesome.

Let me paint the picture.

Elspeth and myself and a friend of hers – we’ll call him ‘M’ to protect his anonymity – headed down Sunday evening and arrived about half an hour before the doors were due to open. We decided to go get some food, and as we wandered along Swan St searching for suitable victuals, we noticed several groups of people wearing newspaper hats on their heads. We weren’t worried. They looked just like ours. We made instant friends with a bunch of them, gave quite a few of them some masking tape and Elspeth even lent her newspaper-hat-making talents to a bunch of people outside The Corner, who were having some serious difficulties. Peter Combe…uniting the masses.

For those of you reading this who were there on that night, you may remember us actually. Elspeth and I were there with the guy wearing the newspaper vest. We know you saw us, you weren’t very subtle. Neither were we, come to think of it.

Once inside, amidst a sea of newspaper hats, we were all treated to warm up music over the speakers that included The Smurfs theme song, Zorba’s Dance and (my favourite) The Muppet’s ‘Mahna Mahna’. Very funny. As each song would finish, the chant for Peter would begin, and it wasn’t long before the Juicy Green Grass Band, minus Peter, appeared on stage.

They played a Dire Straits-sounding intro that immediately made me realise that this was more than just a play-along-with-a-kid’s-song outfit. These guys were serious musicians. I don’t know all of their names, but there was a drummer and a bass player, plus Phil on the piano, Peter’s son Tom on electric guitar, and his daughter Alice on backup vocals.

Peter appeared as the intro drew to a close, to thunderous applause and immediately launched into ‘Big Yellow Ball’, which I’d never heard before. Wanna know the great thing about not being familiar with a children’s song? Ya sure as hell know how it goes by the time it’s finished! ‘Big yellow ball….that’s what you are…’.

Peter was highly interactive with the crowd, introducing most songs with an anecdote about their origin or other interesting fact. He commented that his song ‘Baghdad’ was played constantly on Baghdad radio during the height of the Gulf War in the 90’s. Where’s your bag Dad? Your bag? You left your bag, Dad, in Baghdad. Classic.

He ran through many old favourites, including a couple I’d completely forgotten about until I heard the opening notes, like ‘Tadpole Blues’, about a tadpole who’s lamenting the changes to his body. Yesterday I had a body and a tail, a body and a tail, a body and a tail…Another one I’d forgotten about was Jeffrey Hill, in which Peter asked us to excuse his over-acting.

Jeffrey cooked a cake for his mother on Mother’s Day
It was to be a big surprise
He tried not to slop things all over the kitchen
But it’s hard when you’re only five

He still got eggs on his legs, milk on the chair
Sugar on his nose, flour in his hair
Eggs on his legs, milk on the chair
Sugar on his nose, flour in his hair

One I don’t remember hearing before, and now appreciate on many levels, is ‘Down In The Bathroom’. Not only is it a heart-rending story of a toothbrush making a last-ditch plea for salvation before being thrown  in the bin, it also features a very interactive call and response section, as well as wailing guitar and tinkling keys.

Really nice toothbrush (REALLY NICE TOOTHBRUSH!)
Lovely toothbrush (LOVELY TOOTHBRUSH!)
Hardworking toothbrush (HARDWORKING TOOTHBRUSH!)
Friendly old toothbrush (FRIENDLY OLD TOOTHBRUSH!)

‘Mr Clickety Cane’ was the final song in the set, which Peter described as his own ‘American Pie’, the song that he’s played more than any other. I am being totally serious when I say that it was awesome. Every single person in the place was totally into it throughout the whole evening, the sheer enthusiasm was outstanding, and when he played this, the crowd went ballistic.

Mr Clickety Cane plays a silly game
All the kids in the street, they like to do the same
Wash your face in orange juice (wash your face in orange juice)
Clean your teeth with bubble gum (clean your teeth with bubble gum)
Fix the fence with sticky tape (fix the fence with sticky tape)
Brush your hair with a toothbrush (brush your hair with a toothbrush)
Fry an egg on a slippery dip (fry an egg on a slippery dip)
Belly flop on a pizza (BELLY FLOP ON A PIZZA!! EWW YUCK!)

And as the band was silenced and the crowd erupted with the final line Peter stood, arms wide and bellowed into the microphone “That’s what you all said…..SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!” Ah….such simple pleasures.

All jokes and self-deprecating babble aside, I’ve never had so much fun at a gig. I knew nearly every song, and if I didn’t, it wasn’t hard to pick it up! The music is catchy and fun, the band were outstanding and everyone was there purely to have a good time. I’ve no doubt that the enthusiasm everybody showed that night was partly due to the bucketload of childhood memories floating around in there, and to the true showmanship of Peter Combe. He performed each song as he would to a crowd of six year olds, allowing us for a couple of short hours to believe that we still were.

Newspaper Mama (Live) – Peter Combe

Down In The Bathroom (Live) – Peter Combe

Mr Clickety Cane (Live) – Peter Combe

A similar of review of this gig can be found here. And for vids showing live footage of similar gigs, check out Peter’s myspace.