Feel good hit of Ngukurr: Lonely Boys and their gig with Queens of the Stone Age

The Indigenous Australian group landed a support slot with Josh Homme’s band without even knowing who they were

“I never knew that band but my cousin told me, Ambrose the singer,” Lonely Boys guitarist Winston Joshua says. “He told me he heard a story we’re gonna go up to Darwin and play with a big band from America.

“We’re all excited. We get to see a band from America and get to know them and have a talk with them and spend time with them.”

It’s not often the local support act for an international headliner generates so much attention. But when a band from remote Arnhem Land not only lands a Queens of the Stone Age gig, but doesn’t even know who they are, it’s almost inevitable.

“I hope they’ll do something for us, take us out somewhere,” Joshua adds. “So we can go and see another country for a change, overseas.”

Lonely Boys are a hard rock band from Ngukurr, a small Aboriginal community on the banks of the Roper river, in the remote Northern Territory.

On Thursday they will leave Ngukurr on a nine-hour drive to Darwin before bumping in to the city convention centre for the sold-out Sunday gig.

The show is one of only three Queens of the Stone Age are doing in Australia outside the festival. How Darwin got on the list is something of a mystery to the headline-starved city but no one is willing to look that gift horse in the mouth.

The concert is such a big deal the local newspaper, the NT News, dedicated its Saturday editorial to pleading that people buy tickets to “prove your thirst” for big acts to tour there.

Joshua says the Ngukurr community is excited.

“Some want to come, you know, but they’ve got no car,” he says. “They can get the bus but they’ll all go and get stuck in Darwin.

“I’m thinking of travelling my little family here on Friday so they can see the show – me and my missus and my small daughter.”

All talented multi-instrumentalists, the members of Lonely Boys have been playing together for 17 years, rehearsing only sporadically and playing just a couple of gigs a year.

They have also been doing it without their own instruments after their entire kit – bought by the local Aboriginal corporation – was stolen from a community building and never recovered.

“Music is really important here,” Joshua says. “It used to just be music music music, live bands every weekend, not much disco.

“But these day [the kids] just want a disco and we can’t get instruments much. We’re gonna have to go to this boss and that boss to play at the shire place – the sport and rec area. We’re going to have to get our stuff to play out here.”

A couple of members also work with at-risk youth in the community.

“There was a bit of a gang problem here, so we formed the coolest gang – Lonely Boys,” Ambrose Daniels told the NT News last year. “We didn’t use our fist, like street violence. We want to show young people a pathway. It’s better doing music or football or basketball.”

Bush bands develop large, loyal followings across the NT’s Indigenous communities, with Lonely Boys one of the biggest, but there are few opportunities to play regional gigs beyond the odd NT festival.

Their hard rock incorporates traditional singing and didgeridoo, and has been inspired by local acts some of their family members played in, such as Broken English and Tribal Vision, as well as a few 80s metal albums lying around.

Since the Queens of the Stone Age gig was announced, Lonely Boys have attracted national attention.

“I done that interview with Triple J about that one,” Joshua says. “The girl give me a message and I was the only one available with a phone, and I had to talk for 20 minutes, I think, on the radio, and I was just working on my car too, doing my roof lining and all that.”

An online video report by ABC News Darwin went viral and was brought to the attention of the US band by the Australian hip hop artist Briggs.

“Love this band. @qotsa are about to get the best support act they ever had,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Can’t wait to share a stage… Incredible!!!!!” the band replied.

Can't wait to share a stage...incredible!!!!! https://t.co/QzQxsZo0ya

— QOTSA (@qotsa) June 25, 2017

While much of the focus has been on the funny side of Sunday’s show – that Lonely Boys had no idea who Queens of the Stone Age were – what the band will bring is something special.

“It’s huge for a bunch of guys from Ngukurr to stand up on stage with one of the biggest bands in the world and tell their story,” says James Mangohig, a Darwin-based producer, musician, label director and one half of the musical act Sietta.

“I think this is one of the first times they would have been on a big stage in front of a fully mainstream audience.

“Their lives are hectic, their lives in the bush are different, the rhythm of it, the way things work in the bush. Anything goes.

“They’re singing songs that are part of history. Stories of their fathers passing down skills of hunting and singing everything from really heavy traditional intros to punk rock format with girls rocking on the dancefloor.”

Mangohig, who now acts as a producer and project manager for Lonely Boys, came across them at the Barunga festival a few years ago.

“I just loved their energy and their rawness, and I had this idea it would be fun to take a band like them to a really amazing rock producer,” he says.

So Mangohig bailed up the Aria-nominated producer Forrester Savell at the engagement party of a mutual friend and told him about “a project that’ll blow your mind”.

Savell agreed to produce the Lonely Boys’ EP, The Hunter, at a Gold Coast studio.

In June last year Lonely Boys won the NT rock song of the year with Murray Island. This June they won again with Drop It Down Girl. They released The Hunter last month and will showcase its songs on Sunday.

• Queens of the Stone Age are playing Darwin on 16 July, Sydney on 19 July and Melbourne on 20 July.


Helen Davidson in Darwin

The GuardianTramp

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