Stringmansassy featuring Aaron Hopper
One phrase was all it took to change my life. Jan Oates said it to me in a park one sunny Saturday in 1980. 'You're good at that' she said, 'you should do more of it'. Six months later I'd thrown in my secure job as a teacher and was driving to Melbourne in a baby-poo-yellow Datsun 120Y to take up a three month contract as a clown with a small suburban theatre company.
My wife was by my side. She was pregnant and had left her equally secure government job where she worked as a speech therapist to live in a caravan in an as yet unidentified location somewhere in Melbourne. Why did we do this? In retrospect it seems a bit rash. But in effect it started me on a thirty year journey in the arts. I've been employed every year and Andrea and I are still together. And the baby is now 29. If anyone is to blame it would have to be Jan. And her one phrase.
We all like to think we make a difference, even if only a small one, don't we? So what does it mean when someone you haven't seen in thirty years contacts you and asks 'Is that the Mr Capelin from Ascot State School - year three 1980?' Aaron Hopper had heard me being interviewed on ABC Radio. I was their "Meet the listener" for the day and I'd told the running away to join the circus story. He's heard it and recognised the voice? the name? part of the story? and sent me an email to say hi. He's added ' I remember your classes, they were fun.'
When he says 'they were fun' he means we did a lot of art and plays and music making and notoriously set fire to the school swimming pool mid way through the year. We'd built some clay sculptures using raku clay and I'd done some research and found out that you could use a large metal rubbish bin as a kiln using sawdust as the fuel. So I found a bin and bought a barrow load of sawdust and loaded up a layer of sawdust followed by a layer of clay sculptures, more sawdust etc. Before this I'd drilled a series of twenty odd holes in the sides to allow it to draw air to make sure the fire survived. Once lit, the theory was it would slowly burn from top to bottom and reach high enough temperatures to convert the clay to pottery. It did. It worked a treat. Unfortunately it was not a quick process. For two days and two nights a plume of smoke billowed from the deep end of the empty school pool much to the concern of of the headmaster and staff of this very conservative school. I am still adament that I resigned and was not asked to leave.
Aaron was seven I was thirty. I ran away to join the circus. He went on to become an outstanding contemporary guitarist. I can't claim any responsibility for his guitar career, but perhaps I did play my role in helping sow a seed, a love of art and creativity, which played its part in his later choices.
Tonight he was in town for a one off performance. I went to see him perform. It was a great night. Four guitarists of widely differing styles each did a twenty minute set and then combined for a finale. Afterwards it was like a mini school reunion. I said hi to Aaron. His mother introduced herself and it turns out I know the young woman who manages his performing career. 'It was clear you didn't fit into Ascot' his mother told me. 'You were different. Though I was glad Aaron had you as his teacher.' I took that as a compliment.
Not fit in. Tell me about it. I had loved teaching primary kids but that school killed me. It was a rich kids state school pretending to be a private school. There were 'certain expectations' which I was aware of but not interested in conforming to. setting fire to rubbish bins in swimming pools was definitely outside the guidelines. Running around in parks wearing a red nose and being assailed by anklebiters was like being let out of prison. It was a dream.
In a strage way my posting to that school was a blessing. Perhaps I'd still be a primary school teacher if that hadn't happened.
I can identify a whole range of other moments each of which turned me in a new direction. Some were people I met, some were travel experiences, some were serendipitous crossing of paths no one but a fatalist would believe could happen. What or who was it for you?
To listen to Aaron playing 'Beautiful Day' as his duo Stringmansassy click here or on the image above.