The Punctuation of Performance: A Guide to Clapping


You’d think clapping would be a pretty straight-forward, intuitive behaviour that’s pretty much foolproof. After all, every human being on the planet has done it for as long as they can remember. Along with things like waving and pointing, it’s one of the very first social interactions you get taught as a child.

But there’s a complexity to this punctuation of performance – and a bunch of situations where it all goes wrong.

So you are up the front watching the coolest new band in town and you’ve been swaggering around in your concrete undies and then the song ends and you start clapping – maybe a little too enthusiastically – but then BANG! it’s just a false ending which everyone else in the room is wise to and you have to suddenly quit your clapping, awkwardly find something else for your arms to do and quietly, slink off into the shadows.

And there’s plenty a band with a song that just suddenly finishes and there’s this awkward, pregnant pause as the audience tries to work out if the song really has actually ended.


And I may not be the best person to talk about this subject because I may be one of the only people on the planet to suffer a “clapping injury”. And regrettably, I have witnesses to prove this. I’d been to the football the night before and got a bit excited. The next day I was riding with some mates and noticed my hands were hurting and there were these distinct bruises on both my palms.


There are usually three types of clappers in an audience, and by “audience” I mean enough people you might call a “crowd”. So there’s: 1) Hyper-clappers 2) average-clappers and 3) lazy clappers.

Hyper-clappers are always the first to break into a clap. They clap long and they clap hard. They’re leaders – or at least they want/think to be. They know the subject. They APPROVE. They almost want to demonstrate there’s not much difference between whomever’s up there on stage and themselves. In the audience of a speech – sometimes hyper-clappers will attempt to “raise an applause”.  In an effort to sway the rest of audience to (the speaker’s) and their agenda – or perhaps just cause they thought whatever was just said – really quite funny – they will go into hysterics and launch an impromptu clap. But beware – sometimes the only ones who follow are the ones who aren’t paying attention and just instinctively clap as well.

Average clappers are just there for the ride. They dutifully – well, do their duty. They make up the numbers and don’t think much more about it.

Lazy clappers get a bit annoyed at clapping and just make the motions. They manage a few barely audible slaps – or sometimes just make a show to look like they’re clapping – but they’re generating no sound whatsoever. There might be more complexity to this reason that means they are not actually “lazy” but just not really approving but just willing to engage to the point of appearing social and pleasant.


At school we’d have this weird ritual which can only be described as “endurance clapping”. The idea was to clap in our new prefects and we’d just stand around clapping for what seemed like hours – but maybe closer to 10 minutes – and periodically someone would start up a big fat heavy slow clap which everyone would join – smacking their palms together as hard as you could. And then that slow clap would get faster and faster until it was indistinguishable from ordinary clapping. And then the slow clap would start again. By the end of this ritual you’d look at your hands and they would be swollen and throbbing red and your arms would feel like they wanted to drop off.


We all know performers will give cues for applause. Indeed sometimes there are big signs above the stage saying “APPLAUSE”. But there are subtle cues. The cues to clap are obvious. You take a swig of your beer, you say thank-you, you walk off stage. But in the stop-start song, the performer actually might want to save the audience a bit of embarrassment by trying to avoid premature applause.

Another weirdness with clapping I have found was the various performances by the Fiery Furnaces i have seen over the years. The band deliberately strung all their songs together so there was no gaps. There was no opportunity for clapping. It was relentless music. Kinda like a James Joyce sentence or a Jack Kerouac stream of consciousness. And so I am not instinctively a hyper-clapper, but I found myself desperately wanting  to demonstrate my gratitude at this amazing display. But in the end I had to suck it up. This was ART I was experiencing and I was grateful.


I know this seems ridiculous but some people can’t actually clap. I have learned this by once having to record hand claps for my band in a recording studio. A girlfriend of a bandmember had come to visit and after hours and hours – was looking distinctively bored. Perhaps even more bored than we were – because recording is perhaps THE most boring activity ever. Parliament Question Time looks like it’s on speed compared to recording.

So I wanted to include her. But it became an effort. Initially she had trouble with the timing, but then I realised it’s not just the rhythm people get wrong. They bring their hands together but don’t make any credible “clapping noise” or the noise they make sounds like slapping a wet pillow. To make a nice sounding clap – you need to clap like you are putting your hands together to pray – but have your hands parallel to the ground. And even those instructions might not get the job done.

Sometimes a tiny bit of moisture on your palms will help. And then make sure the distance your hands move to make the clap is always about the same and then obviously try to make the force of the clap about equal too. Others may have more to say on this subject. I guess I am essentially saying, clpping is a musical instrument – one of the very first – and it takes practice and skill. Some people I know who are drummers, who have been a a billion bands and who are sober and willing just FAIL. Some are even infinite musicians but they still have trouble fucking clapping. It is insane! As a musical skill – many of us take for granted and don’t train. And training is the key to any endeavour – be it artistic or physical.


I really don’t want to get into this subject cause it is so appallingly contrived and old-school. So I will leave it at that.

The first and only time I have been on the TV news

It was a Saturday night about a decade ago and my GF Liesl and I were watching The Bill – which is not very rock n roll, but in those days apart from actually being in a rock n roll band – we were definitely NOT rock n roll. So I was just lounging around, already just in boxer shorts, cause you can be pretty daggy in the safety of your own home.

Anyway. There was this dinner party going on across the road. They were a bit rowdy, but no big deal. This particular house was in the process of being renovated and they had this new deck which had previously been enclosed. And this was their very first party. In many ways, after years of building – this was their opening night. But then something unusual happened. It was loud enough to draw our attention away from some crucial scene in the Bill. It was like someone dropping a pile of wood. “Why would someone be carting wood around at this hour?” I thought. And then there was this shouting. Maybe it was screaming. We weren’t sure. For a second I thought maybe the party was getting a bit “excited” by fireworks but something else said I should investigate.

So I grabbed a pair of trousers and a shirt and hurriedly dressed. From outside the door I knew the screaming was actual “screaming” so I told Liesl to call 000. I ran across the road jumping across another neighbour’s fences and then I was right there – the first person not involved in the chaos – on the scene. It became quite ridiculously apparent that the brand new deck had collapsed. About 4 people were on the ground tangled up in planks of timber, the dinner table (which remained whole) and what was left of the drinks, plates, cutlery and meal.

Immediately I saw an old woman was stuck up on what was left of the deck. She was being protected from falling by a man behind her – gripping her in a bear-hug.

Another woman on the remaining portion of the deck was hysterically talking to what I assumed was 000. She was going nuts and perhaps exaggerating how dire the situation was – but I did not complain. So I went up to this old guy, obviously in pain, closest to me and I ripped a cushion off a chair to put under his head.

And here is where it gets surreal – I then noticed him looking at my pants and I looked down and my fly was undone. So I smiled and said. “Whoops – sorry about that.” And I fixed myself up. He looked at me like I was dirt, didn’t say anything at that point – nor at any point later. It was like he was appalled that his rescuers were such goobs.

About 60 seconds later the whole neighbourhood was flashing with firetrucks, cop cars and ambulances.

A fireman was first. He assessed the situation and said…and this is verbatim. I cannot make this shit up. He said:

“Has anyone got a ladder?”.

I would have LOL’d if it wasn’t such a serious situation.

So feeling I should do something I went searching for a ladder. I instinctively chose my neighbour’s house (who wasn’t home) and just guessed they might have a ladder underneath.

I grabbed this dusty wooden structure which was at least two metres high and literally seconds later presented it to the fireman. I felt like Face from the A-Team. (Who had this uncanny ability to conjure up anything the team required in the most ridiculous of situations)

So the Fireman rescued the old woman just as this dude from down the road arrived shouting “I got a ladder!” And it was a three step ladder. Totally useless.

The next day in the paper this dude was quoted as saying he got the ladder that rescued the woman. NONSENSE!

So later I was on the news cause nothing much happened that day (in the news). Just for train spotters – I was wearing a Custard t-shirt. Cause that was the style at the time.

Life on an Island (Shipwrecks, Cyclones and Lighthouses)

Stay with me here dear readers. This is a big story which needs some context and has some more relevance now I have got hold of my Poppa’s photos and records:

One of my earliest, earliest memories was visiting my aunt, uncle and cousins on Lady Elliot Island – which was an island at the very lowest point of the Great Barrier Reef. Actually, Lady Elliot isn’t even an island – it’s a coral cay. If I knew this at the age I was – 4 I think – I might have been even more impressed.

See my aunt and uncle were professional lighthouse keepers – just in the twilight of that career before the job was automated and relegated to a romantic history of times gone by.

They managed lighthouses on Booby Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Pine Islet, and Dent Island in the Whitsundays.

So as a kid visiting an ISLAND meant I wasn’t just “impressed” – it was actually pretty profound. And this is not an exaggeration cause these events have stuck with me all these years later. Even smells of the island have travelled with me and brought me back over the years.

The trip there was supervised by my Aunt Em and it involved my very first plane flight (to Bundaberg), then a wait for a tiny 5 or 6 person carrying Cessner to complete the journey. I remember the pilot showing me the ocean around the island and saying the sea melted away and all this I could see was land at low tide. I didn’t believe him. It was too fantastic. At that age it was perhaps the only time an adult told me stuff I dismissed as ridiculous. And this was said by a pilot. I must have had a pretty healthy sense that adults lie. (Even though as it turns out he was telling the truth).

So we landed on the Island. And I was a 4 year old mind you and don’t remember very much. But I will tell you what I can. I met my cousins – Steve (8 months older) and Coralie (12 months younger) and immediately I was introduced to the wilds of island life. Us three kids jumped on the tractor’s trailer. It was just a flat bunch of planks with no rails. My uncle Phil was at the tractor’s helms. Suddenly it was bumping along at an incredible speed. I screamed in protest. I was buffeted around so much, and no one seemed to care about my distress, I dove against the wood – lying completely flat, prone, and I desperately stuck my tiny fingers into the grooves between the planks in some vain attempt to hold on lest I be thrown off. Meanwhile my two cousins laughed at me in uncontrollable fits, managing to stay on this ridiculous contraption effortlessly.

After that there was a trip to the top of the lighthouse. After the many steps was suddenly a ladder to the top. I baulked. It was only a one storey ladder. Maybe 10 steps. But we were so high and I just lost it. My cousins just did it without any fear and I was left behind. Meanwhile I was just a puddle of patheticness stranded below while they all made it clear they were having the best time upstairs.

I KICKED MYSELF for ages after. I can remember back at kindy a few weeks later and seeing a ladder and deliberately climbing up it and thinking, “That was so easy – what were you thinking before?” UGH!

The other incredible thing about that visit was that there was a real-life SHIP-WRECK on the island. We went for a walk one day around the beach to visit it and although I wasn’t allowed near it – I was still gobsmacked.

And finally, thanks to my Poppa keeping all my Aunt’s correspondence – here is some insight into life on the island.

It was tough going there. As a lighthouse keeper you often shared the island with other keepers and often they weren’t such good neighbours. There was no phones, just radio. All water was by tanks – so shortages were common. Mail was sometimes lost in delivery and sometimes lost in outbound transit. Ships to deliver supplies sometimes didn’t arrive on time or not at all.

The kids needed to be taught a curriculum by their parents, and later there was a “school of the air”. So “school” was never quite regimented.

Isolation was pretty profound. My aunt sent lists of incredibly basic goods for my poppa to buy and send to her. Just news we take for granted with the internet or daily tv news was never a given.

So here is an extract from one of my aunt’s letters about a cyclone and subsequent shipwreck.

Dear Granma,

I think that you may have been worrying about us the last few days so I am writing this to assure you that all is well with us…You have no doubt heard of the arrival of the missing yacht here yesterday morning on the news.

At 8:30am one of the tourists noticed the yacht off-shore heading for the island and came over to let Gordon know. Phil (my uncle) then went over to the other side of the island while Gordon stayed at the radio to keep in tough with the rest of the world. Phil had his 2-way radio with him so there was no need to run back and forth with messages. It was still fairly high tide when we got there, but quickly dropped enough for Phil to walk, or wade, or swim, he did all 3, to get out to the yacht. The main problem was that it was shallow out there, but the men did not know that and someone had to go out and show them as we couldn’t talk to them on the radio. As soon as they saw that they could walk to shore, they jumped overboard and made their way in. They are now safely rested, fed and bathed, and sleeping at Robyn’s place. They were at sea without sails or motor for 34 hours, in a cyclonic sea, so little wonder they kissed the ground first thing.

As far as the cyclone went, it was scary for a while, I’ll admit, but then we went through as bad at Booby (Island), just sounded worse here because of the noise of the wind in the trees. The cyclone actually passed within a mile or so of the island…unfortunately when morning came and we could see the damage, it made me cry. There were trees uprooted, branches broken off everywhere, big ones too, and so much general damage, it was heart-breaking to see. 

One of my fave music blogs

This is it:

I can’t really describe it other than it marries a scene (in HD wide-screen) from a movie with a song. Most of the time the song and the scene have no relevance – to me at least. But I’m pretty stupid. Often the music is old school – but the new stuff is pretty spot-on. The old stuff is worth understanding, but just doesn’t always grab me. One song that defied that was this:


Frida Hyvönen

I just spent quite a bit of time trying to make an umlaut for the “o”. Anyway. This is Frida’s new song!

If you are new to Frida, I think “Enemy Within” is a good start – a song that sends shivers up my spine.

Hype Machine or YouTube that shit.

Frida is a tough pop-Scandinavian in a sea of not-so-tough-pop-Scandinavians. I know that might not be true – but I said it.

The day the wind changed

“The day the wind changed” is a documentary conceived, narrated and filmed – I assume – by a resident of Strathewen where dozens and dozens of people died. Perhaps over a hundred if yopu include the surrounding districts. I watched half this documentary during my lunch break today, and the rest just then.

It opens with some pretty compelling footage. It’s told from a local perspective. It’s a human story rather than a traditional history. It has a lot of tears and a lot of conflicting opinions about what this all means.

At the time I was really angry that so many people died in cars. And there is a guy that wants to cut a million trees down just to prevent some idiots dying trying to out-run fire at the last minute. But then there is an awesome dude who says that the trees in fact protected a lot of people and it was paddocks that gave the fire more impetus. But at the end of the day, I am not really sure if there is an answer. The bush is the bush.

I don’t know if this link works – but here it is. Worth seeing.

The Honey Pies

I really, really like this band. From Adelaide. They have 2 albums. If you want an introduction try “Girl”. They have other clips – and one that is DEFS “NSFW”. But it is amazing! Anyway here is “Girl” and I love the Apple “waiting-wheel” for the chorus. GENIUS.

They are so rich in sounds, so diverse, so natural. I cannot help but thinking they have that irreverence, that “element of crap”, that freshness, and that overwhelming sense that these kids up there on stage – are just like you, only transformed into rockstars. They’re just “having a go”. Just writing shitty, personal songs – pilfered from a wide range of crazy influences – and putting it down without really worrying if anyone liked them.  You might even tag them with that Q word. The one Custard got labelled with. Yep, “QUIRKY”. It was a bit passe back in the 90s, a bit of an albatross around a band’s neck – but I have said it. I can’t take it back now.

This is their blog:

Can i just say – they are an amazingly SEXY band too!