Brisbane G20: Music like no other, Mr President

Brisbane is hosting the G20 summit this weekend for world leaders including US President Barack Obama who not only runs a country and writes so well he makes me weep; he also loves music. And you know when visitors are coming and you’re trying to work out what to do with them? Well, a musical tour might be just the thing, especially for the President, whose eclectic tastes, from Coltrane to Q-Tip and Springsteen to the Stones, might find a fit with our rich musical heritage.

You could start at Redcliffe north of Brisbane, an easy drive from the Marriott, and since the President creates travel mayhem wherever he goes, closing entire freeways for his hermetically sealed armoured car, known as the Beast – imagine the sound system – it might be good if he went away from rather than towards the G20 Brisbane City traffic. He could take the old Hornibrook Highway, give the local fisher-folk a story – the motorcade was this long! Redcliffe was where our most famous sons the Bee Gees grew up. The President could visit Bee Gees Way, which was opened by Barry Gibb last year. Although the Bee Gees may not be in the US President’s iPod ouvre, I’d challenge anyone to listen to Words and not be moved, or to Stayin’ Alive without moving themselves. The Bee Gees, Mr President, went from their local speedway (performing from the back of a pickup truck, which might also have been named the Beast) to selling 200 million records, more than anyone except your man Elvis and David Cameron’s Beatles.

On an evening stroll, the leader of the free world might do well to take the riverside path to the Go-Between Bridge. On the streets of our town, he might download the unofficial anthem of our city, by the critically acclaimed indie-pop band that quietly transformed Australia’s and the world’s musical sensibilities. The Go-Betweens don’t figure like the Bee Gees in sales, but every critic worth his or her salt lists them among their all-time best bands.

The Go-Betweens played their first concert at Baroona Hall in Caxton Street, now Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall, right near where some of the G20ers are staying including that hip physics PhD German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On the next corner, Milton Road and Petrie Terrace, is a little old house that was home to Brisbane’s first punk band, the Saints. They took the world stage with (I’m) Stranded, released before the Sex Pistols were out of diapers.  Your Mr Springsteen covered their Just Like Fire Would on his latest album, Mr President, and, as it happens, opened his Brisbane concert earlier this year with a rendition of Stayin’ Alive – even the video will give you chills. 

I know world leaders work weekends but for my money a musical tour won’t be complete without a trip to Esk, west of Brisbane, which you can easily do on the way back to Amberley Air Base. In the Beast, you could visit a couple of song places en route. You've already been to the University of Queensland. The Library there – good coffee – is where Karen the librarian from the Go-Betweens song worked, and then you then could take the Indooroopilly Bridge of Kev Carmody’s Thou Shalt Not Steal. But I think if you travelled in one or two helicopters named Marine, you’d add something, and if you’re a world leader who thinks about what goes on behind the scenes of the museum that is lived life, the Kransky Sisters will take you there. Maune, Eve and Dawn Kransky combine Addams-family humour with musically impeccable covers of songs heard “on the wireless” before it stopped working in the eighties. Their rendition of Stayin’ Alive, for tuba, guitar and musical saw, will bring you full circle.

The word 'summit' to describe a meeting became popular during the Cold War when leaders wanted to signify the momentousness of what was needed, to reach a mountaintop. I don’t know what the G20 has achieved but can I suggest, for the dawn of your last day with us, a walk up our own little summit, the bushland park around Mount Coot-tha where you will be greeted by music like no other, Mr President, Brisbane’s late spring birdsong, a must-hear before you go home.