Last weekend I was lingering in the middle of the northern Barkly Tablelands for a few days between gigs and took the opportunity to cruise down to Elliott for the launch of the debut album of the Rayella Band, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago here.

En route I ran into a couple of early-season Japanese cyclists, who flock in increasing numbers to cycle through the Territory from Darwin southwards. Usually they arrive later in the year, when the days and nights are cooler–but the downside of coming later in the season is that they spend the best part of 1,500 kilometres and more battling the strong south-easterlies that prevail in the dry season.

These two (unfortunately I don’t have their names) were battling an air temperature in the the low 40’s and were obviously doing it tough. I hate to think how much radiant heat they were being hit with off the roadway.

I tipped the nod to the two cyclists that there was a gig on in Elliott later that evening and was pleased to catch up with them later at the Gurungu basketball courts where Rayella and a few other local bands were playing at a wake for a recently passed local that also served as the Rayella Band’s album launch.

Before that however, I caught up with an old mate who has been kicking around this part of the country for nearly 40 years. We sat back with a few beers and the Elliott – “cheapest rooms on the Stuart Highway” – Hotel.

I’ve stayed in just about every roadhouse and pub in the NT–and have the bedbug bites to prove it–but never in the Elliott Hotel. And at $45 a night who’s asking? Who cares if the air-con takes two hours to cool down a tin hot-box to outside air temperature? At least they have a pool …

But back to business and the launch of Rayella’s debut album. I’ve been to more than a few album launches but never one in this far out in the bush, but I’ve been to more than a few bush gigs in my time so I knew that a relaxed attitude was the best way to enjoy the night. A couple of beers in the back yard of the Elliott pub sorted the attitude.

The WNK All Stars from the Winanjjkari Music Centre at Tennant Creek kicked off with a hard-rocking set. They were followed by The Barkly Boys, another band from the Winanjjkari stable. The crowd was nicely warmed up and the drinkers were all-happy-drunk, the kids were having a ball and the rest of us were waiting for the main act.

Soon it was time for Rayella to launch their album and for anyone expecting the usual glitz and glamour associated with a city-based record company launch they’d be well disappointed. The merchandising stand was a box of CDs next to the barbecue with a single sign–“Rayella CDs $20“–that had fallen to the ground and trampled underfoot when last I saw it.

Production values were basic at best. The sound mix was a spartan and ugly we-set-it-and-forgot-all-about-it affair blasting through a  crappy set-up that rendered vocals  as a sorry screech and the drums as dull thuds and scratches. The lights shone more upon the audience than the band from some cheap LED lights with an appalling palette. Rayella’s album launch had every chance of being a total blow-out. Sure, the  two 10 minute renditions of the “We-are-tuning-up” song didn’t help things much either.

But none of that shit mattered on the night. Rayella did their thing and were lauded to the glorious night sky above. Sometime during the night a bear of a man loomed up in front of me and said “Gosford, you remember me?” “Jesus,” I thought, “I’d better get this right or I’m finished.” I took a correct stab in the dark – I knew the face but I’m shit with names and I’d not seen this fella for years, and it was dark and he was very black. “Mark!” I said, half hope, half guess, and was rewarded with Mr Raymond’s very winning smile.

Mark Raymond is a deserved legend in these parts. He is an ex-copper and lead singer of the great and sadly retired Kulumindini Band, who made three great albums (one with the best title – “You’re Not Useless” – I’ve heard in a while) in the late eighties and mid-nineties. Kulumindini gave us a long “tuning-up-song” intro and then launched into their greatest hits and more.

The crowd, as they say, went wild.

Mark is a health refugee–he is on dialysis and has to live 250 kilometres south in Tennant Creek in order to get his thrice-weekly treatments–but his love of his Mudburra-Jingili country and countrymen is undiminished. After about ten songs he told us that he was getting “short-wind” and as he’d have to drive back to Tennant Creek that Kulumindini would only play “two more songs.”

That provoked howls of protest and a flood of requests. The band played on and as I was leaving an hour later I heard Mark tell the crowd, for about the tenth time, that they’d only play “two more songs.”

And “two more songs” they got.