100 Strangers Project - 79/100 / by Michael Pung

Al is sitting on a bench enjoying a coffee on a busy street. And as I do when I discover an interesting character, I approach him to ask for a photo. He happily obliges. He tells me that recently, his niece found a picture on a website of him busking on the street and was surprised at the discovery. He tells me that he enjoys photography and that he used to get A’s in photography class back in his school days.

“I heard someone say ‘It’s a frozen moment in time.’ I really like that. If I went back through my negatives and printed one, it would still be the same person 25 years ago. Nothing would have changed.”

He tells me about how his old drinking habits:

“I don’t drink anymore, I haven’t drunk for 30 years.

I’m 71 and I feel 29. When you start drinking or taking drugs in order to cope with life, not just as a recreational thing, you stop growing emotionally. I started taking drugs at 21 and then 27 started drinking and I thought I was a genius! I was going to write a book about how to beat drugs: Just drink alcohol…” he laughs, “and it slightly backfired.”

And expresses his love of the Beatles:

“Recently I just bought my 50th anniversary of Sergeants Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I remember buying it in 1967 along with Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, but I haven’t heard it for 45 years. Even Jimi Hendrix sounds dated to me, as great as he was, but the Beatles’ music sounds like it was recorded last week. It’s just stood that test of time and they still sell for top dollar. Like Eric Clapton puts up a new album, 6 months later it goes down by 10 dollars. And I said over to a guy at ‘Hum On’ how come you still charge all this money for Beatles records and he said because they can… What can I say?

I used to get really smug, there was a young guy playing a Beatles album and I said ‘I bought that album in 1963!’ which is not very smug it just means that I don’t have as much time left as he has.” He laughs.

What was your perception of the Beatles back then?

“Back then they put Elvis Presley into the army and then they got ALL of these Italian guys and gave them Anglo-saxon names and they were dreadful. And the only thing we had Cliff Richard and the Shadows from England. And One day I was home I heard a Beatles song called ‘From Me To You’ and it sounded it like it was recorded in a 44 gallon drum it was just so rough and raw and I rang a friend and I just became a fan and then the album came out and I bought the album in September 1963. I recently bought George Harrison’s 'Living in a Material World' and I didn’t realise how good he was. Even the great jazz player, Les Paul said 'For every Beatles song he had a great riff,' The thing about the Beatles is that they didn’t have a virtuoso musician among them and yet they were so original. Especially when you heard it back then, it was just like: who is this? I was in a band and we used to try imitate them and after a while I said: let’s just stop singing Beatles songs.”

Al is a passionate and proud owner of 28 guitars, which he has collected throughout his life. For him it’s an addiction, “My girlfriend said to me after my second guitar: ‘If you buy any more, that’s it!’ and when I got up to 17 she kicked me out.”

Al is making plans to travel to New York in the near future to explore and to buy some more guitars! He explains to me that this is because they are cheaper to buy over there than it is over here in Australia.

Thank you Al for taking part in the project and I hope your travel plans come together soon!