The Wombat Switch.
I don’t even know if it is a term that is still used. Back about 20 years ago “Wombatting” was something you did to the support band to sabotage them. You know, turn the amps down a bit or pull down the master volume on the EQ or something. Sometimes it was because they were a threat to the main act, sometimes just because it was fun to watch their crew try to work out why the PA system is suddenly a lot quieter than it should be. A test if you will. A bit like sending the apprentice to the shop for a can of striped paint. I can honestly say that I have never done it and never been asked to do it by a band but I have been the victim once or twice when I was first starting out.
The first time was a beauty. We (Bandanna) had picked up a gig supporting Mad Gorilla at the Greenfield Tavern.
This was big for us as the Gorilla’s had been around for a while and were a bit of a name in those days. They had “show” which involved dressing up in whacky costumes, fancy lights, smoke machines, pyrotechnics, intro tapes etc.
The lads in costume in Sticko’s loungeroom.
It was a band I had been to see as a punter on quite a few occasions and they were always great. This was the first time I’d ever actually met the band and as it turns out, I made a couple of friendships that have lasted since that time. Langs the drummer is a great mate as is Sticko & Zack Flack, not to mention the amazing Jimmy Bourke, their lighting guy who I had the pleasure of working with many times since. Jimmy is a topic that deserves a web site all of its’ own! What a character. He can drink his own weight in bourbon and still work like a trojan. I’ve seen him do it many times. Jimmy’s classic line was “who wants to chuck in for a bottle of boubon for the load in? No-one? Oh well, I’ll get it”.
Anyways… the production itself was quite impressive for those days too. It was a double or triple three way system with lots of foldback & heaps of lights. Myself and the other crew couldn’t wait to get our hands on the system. Does anyone remember the JANDS JM8 mixing console? It was an impressive looking bit of gear and I couldn’t wait to get behind it.
The Gorillas didn’t do a soundcheck so it was up to us. It took me a little while to get my head around this massive system but with a bit of help from the ever helpful Gary, their sound guy, I got things sounding ok.
Well show time came around and off we went. Things did’t go quite according to plan though. The venue had a noise meter installed that would cut the power to the PA system if you went beyond a “reasonable” level of volume and the thing was cutting out on a fairly regular basis. This involved running backstage to turn all the amps down before the power came back on a few seconds later so the thump didn’t blow any speakers then running back through the crowd to the mixing desk. I was not having fun. The band was not having fun. We seemed to be very quiet yet were still tripping the sound meter.
Eventually we reached the end of our set and it was all over. I was in a bit of a lather and was hanging around the desk trying to figure out what had gone wrong since sound check. I felt like a bloody goose. Gary the Gorillas sound man was standing with his back to me when the publican came up and said words to the effect of “I’ve turned that meter back to where it was for your band OK?” The bastard had wombatted me!
Mad Gorilla came on and the sound was enormous. They played brilliantly as well which combined nicely to blow us off the stage completely. And guess what? The sound meter never tripped once during their set. I can laugh about it now but on the night I wanted to kill someone.
Big thanks to Sticko & Dave Owens for the Mad Gorilla pictures.