Gig 24: Afghanistan: Tarin Kowt

Last year I sat down with my manager Erin and informed her that I couldn't bear the idea of going to the Adelaide Fringe in 2013.  This was nothing personal to my hometown but I had attended every Fringe since '92 and performed at every Fringe since '96.  If I had found myself out the back of the Rhino Room having the same conversations with the same people (or worst: the same conversations with new people) there was a possibility I was going to go postal.  It was time to do something new.  A couple of weeks later Erin called me and asked, "How would you like to tour Afghanistan?" Touché Erin.

I've had a number of good friends in the past perform for the troops and they all spoke very highly of the experience.  The tour was also going to contain science boffin Doctor Karl and professional rock star Ben Gillies with his new band Bento.  It was too good an opportunity to knock back.  All details were kept quite hush hush until we flew out on the 5th of March.  Our first night in the United Arab Emirates was a night of acclimatising and was pretty laid back.  Nothing really to report here.

The following day we boarded a Hercules to fly to Tarin Kowt which can be found in Southern Afghanistan.  I'm happy to report the dry Australian sense of humour is on show amongst the soldiers. When I asked how long our flight would take I was informed by one soldier it was four hours.

"So it is essentially Melbourne to Perth," I replied.

"Yeah, except no one shoots rockets at you in Australia," he stated matter of fact.

Oh that's right, I'm flying into a warzone.  The casual ease in which you are reminded you could be blown out the sky (no matter how unlikely) is quite sobering.

The four hour flight was broken up by a visit to the cockpit where the instruments and control panel suddenly transformed from science fiction into science fact.  Otherwise the excitement of flying in a Hercules slowly dissipates as you deal with the noise and the uncomfortable seating arrangements.  For someone who is annoyed when has someone sitting next to him on a plane this was a gentle reminder to be less picky.

All of us were kitted out in our armour and helmets staggering about like new born giraffes uncertain of our size and weight.  Upon arriving in Tarin Kowt we were given a briefing on how to conduct ourselves at the camp.  Soldiers receive briefings on a regular basis.  Our initial briefing in U.A.E. felt relatively standard but this one shocked us.  We were shown what to do if a rocket was fired at the base.  We were told what to do if fires broke out.  We were told what not to do in the case of an emergency.  We were shown footage of the type of damage that could occur if you didn't follow the rules.  When you're looking at filmed footage of a man missing his lower jaw from a missile attack you feel your head clear of all bullshit and a new focus kick in.  That focus pretty much says, "Follow the rules and do whatever you can to avoid catching a rocket in the face."

By the time it was ready for the show I started to feel like I was getting back on track. We had decided that I would host the show as I was the most suitable for the job.  In fact it was one role I was definitely keen to embrace. Guitarist Adam Miller would play a small fifteen minute set followed by Doctor Karl with his funny presentations and filmed footage. We would finish the night with Bento.

The gig was set up in the gym and we had a few hundred people attend the first of two shows there.  I went out pretty hard at the beginning for two reasons.  I wanted to stamp my authority on the gig and I was also over the moon to be finally doing something that I knew back to front.  I'd taken in so much information and been a part of so much travelling that it was a jolt of adrenalin to get the microphone back into my hand.  The setlist was as follows:

 

Set One

Gig brief

Flying on a Hercules

"Stay safe"

Hen's Night

Biker Gig

Old Lady and Scrabble

Gym Conversation

Turning 40

Car Crash in Adelaide

Hairy Baby

Invite Who You Want To Parties

Being An Arsehole

Little Boy Joke

 

Set Two

Tripping and Farting

Getting Angry as I Get Older

No Need to Share All Your Opinions

Glitter in Invitations

People wearing your glasses

Spooning

There was a third set but that was between Doctor Karl and Bento where all I did was some housekeeping so the band could finish off the night.  I had a ripper of a gig and felt pretty good afterward especially after some of my observations of the base found their targets.  After the gig I chatted with some of the soldiers and when the lights came on I noticed how much dust I was covered in.  I honestly don't think I have been that dirty at a gig since I had last seen Ben Gillies at the Big Day Out in his "other" band Silverchair.

 

 

A few interesting tidbits from the night.  The advertising of the show was kept to the last minute because they didn't want any locals finding out where it might take place in case of rocket attacks.  Makes sense.  If you wanted to take a big number of your enemy out you would wait until they had a show on as well, right?  After the gig finished we had a red alert which is basically a warning to get to your bomb proofed room.  I am not ashamed to admit that Usain Bolt was the third fastest man alive when journalist JaMo and I hightailed our way out of the gym and back to the safety of our rooms. Soldiers around us found it very funny but we were more interested in having a laugh when the alert was over.

 

 

When we were finally told that everything was fine and we could go about our business again I changed into my casual clothes and made my way down to the bathrooms to brush my teeth.  I was exhausted and not far from sleep.  As I stood on the balcony that night I watched in the distance as red flares lit up the night sky.  Uncertain of what I was watching I felt a little bit of trepidation and exhilaration mixed into one.  A soldier who was walking up the stairs to our dorms turned to look at what I was watching.

"It's actually quite beautiful," he stated.

He was correct, it was indeed quite beautiful regardless of what it all actually meant.

Justin Hamilton

7th of March, 2013

Tarin Kowt