Sarah McGuiness Soial Media

Antipodean Adventure 2011


‘Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing’, squawked the tannoy. Lower and lower we dropped, eyes glued to the windows, searching for a chink of city below us, but nothing could be seen but layers of thick clouds all around…Lower, even lower…and still nothing. We began looking anxiously at each other. More clouds and the familiar thunk of undercarriage coming down…then suddenly –whoomph!! With a turbulent bang we broke through the cloud over Sydney’s Harbour Bay to see that world famous skyline revealed.

Ar eighteen hours it had been by far the longest flight I’d ever undertaken – not a pleasant prospect for a claustrophobe like me. Between quarter-pills of ambien an dbouts of sleep-inducing tv I sat and stared out the window at seemingly endless night.The notion of ‘crossing the dateline’, especially on a date like 11.11.11, suddenly became very real. Full moonlight and our extreme height combined to show off the curvature of the earth. Dreamily, I half-expected a giant Virgin air stewardess to stepout of the clouds and tuck me in with a glass of milk… They didn’t, in case you were wondering.

It was the last rollout of the documentary in the final territory: Australia. I was thrilled to have the chance at last to visit this land at the other side of the world, and to perform two of the tracks from the soundtrack here. And the Sydney Opera House did not disappoint. We’re so used to the images of a place that the real thing often seems smaller, less impressive. Not so here! I rounded the corner en route to the soundcheck as the setting sun turned the extraordinary silhouette into a glowing spaceship. Inside, the concert hall was like a gothic cathedral with honeyed wood panels soaring heavenward. I stepped onto the stage.

When I was very small, my parents would wax lyrical on the wonders of Joan Sutherland, the world famous opera singer, at the Sydney Opera House. I had no particular memory of this until, walking though the backstage area, I stumbled upon a huge photograph of La Diva herself, taken down for cleaning and left in the passageway. With a rush of memory I realised why I felt so emotional about this gig. It was the magical promise of childhood encapsulated in that photograph…ticker tape clouding the air around her head, the fantastical costumes of the chorus behind her,her regal aspect as she acknowledged her applause…and the rare happy memory of my parents listening to her brilliance and sharing it with their friends…who wouldn’t dream of recreating that moment?

But life intervenes and those dreams seem more impossible with each passing year. Ironic, then, that by such circuitous means I had ended up in this place, however briefly, to complete a circle begun so long ago.

No wonder, either, that despite a great rehearsal in a room overlooking the Harbour Bridge, my hands were cold and clammy and my breathing short. I had abandoned my band and changed to performing acoustically, and it certainly makes you feel completely exposed. The payoff is the sense of emotional honesty it forces you into, which reminds one almost of confession – but it’s scary as hell. And now it would be rude to back out after the compliment of being asked back to perform one last time.

We stood in the wings, Alister (Spence) and me, awaiting our cue. A hundred thoughts rushed through my brain: would I forget the new arrangement of the songs we’d done that day? Would I trip in my high heels on the cable lines lying in waitby the piano? Would I open my mouth and hear nothing but a croak? This last did actually happen once, when I’d been in the blast of very cold air-conditioning for too long before a gig. I began confidently – but oh! – the horror etched into the faces of those watching when a weird triple-note bullfrog squawk burst from my lips will stay with me for ever…

And suddenly there we were, walking onto the stage. The opening Ave Maria-stylechords of ‘Mama’ started up and my brief moment had begun. I could see nothingin the darkness but a few pairs of feet caught in the edge of the spotlight – and tried not to be distracted while I sank into the words of the song that had tied together along, long musical journey for me on the documentary. In what seemed like barely seconds, ‘Mama’ came to an end and I sang my original version of ‘No Tears’, slightly different from the one on the soundtrack.The Sydney audience were receptive and enthusiastic, and my heart was light. I felt like I was surfing a wave, the way I’d seen them do on Bondi Beach the day before ,with all the satisfaction of takeoff, flight, and successful landing. As I walked off stage after my bow – without tripping over any of the cables – I smiled to myself: Daddy would’ve been proud.

Sarah x



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