Wanna Sit on my Dick? - Cultural Sensitivity and the Touring Musician
“DOMESTIC CHECK IN?”
“Oh yes, we’re flying to the South Island”
“Put your beer gut here” - indicating the weighing machine.
“PUT YOUR BEER GUT HERE”
“I’m not sure I under…..”
“PUT YOUR BAG UP HERE”.
As I get older, touring gets harder, especially as I have a slight hearing impairment which requires a hearing aid. The above conversation actually happened at a New Zealand airport: our band plays well over 100 shows a year and that means a lot of travelling. It also means a lot of time hanging around.
If you're not familiar with the world of showbiz/rock’n’roll, watching the movie ‘Spinal Tap’ will give you a good insight into it - the film contains so many scenes that have happened to bands in real life, that it has become the bible for touring musicians.
New Zealand is the furthest place on the international tour circuit (from the UK, that is) - it is also a beautiful country - my oldest friend lives there (he probably wont be speaking to me after he reads this) but here are a couple of incidents from the last time we were there.
On the second day of the last tour, the band were kindly invited to a barbecue/jam session by a local uke group at a swish place in Auckland. Richie was approached by the host, who with a pair of barbecue tongs and a friendly smile asked:
“Would you like to sit on my dick?”
Nonplussed, Richie paused for a moment, and decided what he must mean was “would you like to eat your barbecued meal on the decked area of my garden?” - and sure enough, round the back of the house was a large area of garden decking.
Later on during the same tour, Hester found herself at a ukulele jamboree and someone said “what shall we play?”
“How about Tinker Taz” came the reply.
Hester, who grew up in and around folk clubs, knows hundreds of songs about tinkers, highwaymen, poachers and sailors, but she'd never heard of that one.
“Yeah, Tinker Taz!” chorused everyone before launching into the song
It turned out that “Tinker Taz” is “Ten Guitars”, an obscure Englebert Humperdinck B side from the 1960’s, which has achieved cult status amongst Kiwis and is almost a second national anthem.
Mind you, quite often we are the ones who are incomprehensible to our audience. Having lived in France a long time ago, I sometimes get consulted on matters french when we play there (my french is rusty). A few years ago we played in the Theatre de Ville in Paris, a beautiful place where we actually changed in the same dressing room as Sarah Bernhardt - “the divine Sarah’ (idol of Oscar Wilde).
Jonty had a gag, whereby he held up his bass ukulele and said “Let me introduce you to the bass ukulele”. He asked if I would translate it for him.
The correct french for this is: “Je vous presente ma basse ukulele!”
Unfortunately, your idiot correspondent (me) told him to say “Je veux vous introduire la basse ukulele” which roughly translates as:
“This is my bass ukulele and I would like to put it inside you!”
As the oldest and most well established Ukulele Orchestra, riding the current wave of ukulele popularity (which is giving us all a living, until the world decides to start playing the pan pipes) the UOGB are to a certain extent, ambassadors for our instrument. That is why we often like to pop out after the show, to say hello to fellow uke players, pose for photos and, lets not kid ourselves, sell merchandise and sign CDs.
Meeting people is fun and we’re all sociable individuals, but the further you travel the more the potent mixture of exhaustion (jet lag) and (post gig) adrenaline makes you dangerously vulnerable to hysteria, while trying to be culturally sensitive.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Richie (again) was approached by a cute asian kid clutching a ukulele.
"Hello", he leaned down like a genial uncle - "would you like me to sign your ukulele?"
The girl nodded.
"Whats your name?"
The child made a low growling sound, a bit like an animal.
“I’m sorry I didn’t quite get that - I hope I haven’t offended her?” he said to the mother, who was standing by.
“Sorry one more time?”
“How do you spell that” - thinking there would be some complicated phonetic rendering which would render it comprehensible.
"G U R" she said.