Ben Folds adds flight risk to request show

BEN FOLDS PORTRAITBen Folds is asking his audience to take aim at him.
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Halfway through his set, the musician will watch as a sea of paper aeroplanes float through the concert hall and land on his stage.

It’s risky, not least because of the potential paper cuts, but because each plane bears a song request which Folds is expected to play. In fact, the whole second half of his show, which kicks off in this week, will be dictated by whatever song he sees written on these airborne suggestions.

“It’s good and scary. I like to be scared,” Folds told AAP in Sydney.

Scary because Folds is often expected to remember songs he hasn’t even released.

“There are some of them that I wrote when I was 16 years old that come up. I guess they got out on the internet,” he said.

However, being put on the spot like that seems to be something he relishes when he’s alone on stage with his piano. His only concern when those teenage songs are requested is that he doesn’t bore the audience.

However, that hasn’t happened yet.

“By design it’s always a success because it makes every show absolutely unique,” he said.

“The prettiest part of that to me is the stage just littered with paper aeroplanes. There’s something really interesting about it. It looks like a set design that somebody would have thought up.”

Folds’ last album release was the semi-orchestral So There in 2015 but he’s not working on another record yet. His next project will be a book, a way to educate people about music through his own story.

“I’m writing a book that’s basically sort of in memoir form but it’s lessons. I’m working on that tightening it up and trying to make it a real book.”

* Ben Folds kicks off his n tour in Sydney on Thursday February 1 at the Sydney Opera House, then heads to Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Melbourne.

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Drought in the Lower and Upper Hunter

Farmers in survival mode: Hunter battles awful drought | PICS, VIDEO WATER SHORTAGE: Dams on the Stork family property are in crisis. Four out of the five dams are empty.
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DROUGHT: Farmer Danny Stork stands on the family property at Glen Oak pondering the landscape. Pictures: Belinda-Jane Davis

DRY TIMES: Brown grass everywhere.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Farmer Danny Stock in the creek bed that should be full of water.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Farmer Danny Stork in another dry creek bed.

DAM: A dam that is almost dry.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape at Glen Oak.

CREEKS ARE DRY: Another dry creek.

HOPE: Some green grass shoots among the dead grass. They will also die if there is no rain soon.

BROWN GRASS: Farm dogs take a stroll on the grass.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

VEGGIE GARDEN: Pumpkin crop is looking for water.

VEGGIE GARDEN: Pumpkin crop is looking for water.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: Corn crop looking miserable.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DRY TIMES: View of the landscape.

DAM SUPPLY: The water level in the dam has dropped significantly.

DAM SUPPLY: The water level in the dam has dropped significantly.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle at Glen Oak.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle step into the shade to cool down at Glen Oak.

FOOD SHORTAGE: Cattle step into the shade to cool down at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: Another dry creek bed.

DRY TIMES: View across the paddock at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: View across the paddock at Glen Oak.

DRY TIMES: Dry creek bed.

SHADE: Cattle sitting in the shade.

SHADE: Cattle sitting in the shade.

SHADE: Cattle in the shade.

DRY TIMES: Cattle are being fed with forage to survive.

DRY DAM: A dry dam at Glen Oak.

DRY DAM: A dry dam at Hinton.

WATER SHORTAGE: A dry lagoon between Phoenix Park and Largs.

TweetFacebookBelinda-Jane Davis reports

HUNGRY: Cattle are looking for food at Glen Oak. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

It’s strange to look around and the leaves on the trees are the most vibrant object on the horizon.

Drought isn’t a scenario we encounter often in the Lower Hunter.

I’ve lived on the land my whole life and I’ve experienced way more floods than droughts, but here we are battling a crippling drought that resembles the dry times of the early 1990s.

HUNTER DROUGHT: 33 per cent of the region is in drought, 39 per cent is at the onset of drought and 28 per cent is borderline and could slip into drought or recover. Picture: NSW Department of Primary Industries

The further you travel into the countryside from Maitland the more the landscape dramatically changes.

There are barren pastures, dry dams andhungry cattle.

Already two Slow Food Earth Market Maitland farmers are totally out of water and another is relying on suitable salinity levels in the Hunter River to keep vegetable and lucerne crops alive.

Vegetable growers Tom Christie and Dominique Northam, who have a farm near Dungog, had been using a dam to irrigate their crops until it went dry. Now they are praying for rain.

Dams are drying up and cattle are hungry across the Lower Hunter.Somefarmers around Dungog and Gresford have already run out of water and been forced to sell their cattle despite prices being right down.

Read more:How you can help Hunter farmers battle the drought

Read more:Dairy farmer paying $100,000 a month to keep his herd alive

As more cattle hit the market the price declines, and right now farmers are losing $200 on an average animal.

Take a drive west to the Upper Hunter and things are just as dire–the landscape looks like a desert. Farmers are hand feeding, dams are dry or drying up and winter, which will bring even more challenges, isn’t far away.

Read more: Everybody’s looking for rain

ARID LANDSCAPE: Farmer Danny Stork stands among the dry pastures at Glen Oak. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis.

Maitland has recorded its driest January since 1932, with only 6 millimetres of rain.Paterson has done little better with 10 millimetres of rain –it’s lowest January rainfall since 1903.In Cessnock things are not quite as dire, with the driest January in fifteen years recorded after only 6 millimetres.

“The dams are dry everywhere around here,” Ms Northam said.

“We haven’t had decent rain since autumn last year,” Mr Christie added.

Oakhampton farmer Austin Breiner has lost most of his crops because of a lack of water and is carting water to the property to keep some tomatoes and eggplants alive.

WATER SHORTAGE: Tom Christie and Dominique Northam pictured at the Slow Food Earth Market in Maitland during better times last year. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

Matthew and Liam Dennis are closely monitoring salinity levels in the Hunter River so they canirrigate their crops.It’s the driest Matthew has seen it since he moved to East Maitland 28 years ago.

After months with little –or no rain –the land isscreaming out for it.

Unrelenting hot weather during January has also burdened farmers, ripping moisture out of the groundand forcing the grass to die more quickly.

BIG DRY: The hot weather helped killed off pastures more quickly. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

While it often brought storm clouds, and lightning shows on the horizon, there was precious little rain and on the rare occasions when it did fall, it wassporadic.

When grey clouds formed this week hopes went up, but there is barely any rain predicted.

It’s a frustrating situation for the Stork familyat Glen Oak -29 kilometres out of Maitland – who desperately need decent rain.

Five of their six dams are dry and the many creek beds are barren.

WATER SHORTAGE: Five of the six dams on the Stork property at Glen Oak are dry. Picture: Belinda-Jane Davis

The paddocks are scorchedand there are only 20 bales of hay left in the shed.

Their 100 head of cattle are being hand fed light rations in the hope that rain will come soon.

If it doesn’t, and they run out of water, they’ll be forced to sell the entire herd.

If their water supply holds on they can buy in hay, but that’s a very expensive, short-term option.

Farmer Danny StorkEveryone’s in survival mode waiting for that good fall of rain. We have to get a break in the weather and we have to keep our eyes looking to the sky and hoping. We want 100 millimetres pretty much straight away. We usually get a break in February so let’s hope that happens,

Tony Bowe

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Premier defends NSW school-building plan

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN SCHOOL VISIT SYDNEYNSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has defended her government’s education infrastructure plan amid claims it isn’t keeping up with Sydney’s burgeoning population.
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As more than 800,000 students began to walk through the school gates on Tuesday, Ms Berejiklian and Education Minister Rob Stokes visited the newly-built Wentworth Point Public School in Sydney’s west.

It was an example of the 1500 classrooms to be delivered through new or upgraded schools in the next four years, the premier said.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley claims NSW is in “crisis”, with an additional 280,000 students needing classrooms over the next 15 years.

But Ms Berejiklian said there had already been a net increase of 600 classrooms since her party formed government.

“We’re able to do this because we’ve worked so hard to have a strong budget position,” she told reporters.

“We’ve done a lot so far but we’re re-doubling our efforts over the next few years.”

The Wentworth Point school has also been criticised because classrooms are not air conditioned.

Mr Stokes said the site used passive design principles and its waterfront location to help ease the heat’s impact in summer, referring to it as “deliciously cool”.

“As and when air conditioning is required, of course we will look at it and we have a clear policy in relation to its provision,” Mr Stokes said.

Ms Berejiklian said the government had inherited policies that dictated when air conditioning should be installed, including a school’s location, average temperature and demographic.

“This is part of good sustainable development which will last us another century,” she said.

The Wentworth Point project took longer than anticipated due to remediation works on the site and local government approvals, Ms Berejiklian added.

New syllabuses in English, mathematics, science and history will be taught for Year 11 students in 2018.

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Trump to tout strong economy in address

USA GOVERNMENT AZARPresident Donald Trump, battling a probe into his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia and struggling to sell Americans on his leadership abilities, will take credit for US economic gains in the past year in an address to Congress.
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Facing a looming deadline on an immigration controversy amid strong Democratic opposition, Trump on Tuesday night will also call for a bipartisan compromise of the type that has eluded him during a turbulent first year in office.

Aides said the Republican president would use the televised speech to take credit for advances in the economy since he took office and tout the benefits of a tax overhaul approved by the Republican-controlled Congress in December that was his first major legislative victory.

But the atmosphere in the House of Representatives chamber where Trump will speak could be tense. Several Democratic lawmakers have said they would boycott the event. Some Democratic women who will attend plan to wear black in support of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

Ahead of Trump’s speech, Republicans and Democrats were deeply divided over immigration. Lawmakers are facing a February 8 deadline to try to reach a compromise on the issue and pass a new budget measure to avoid a second government shutdown.

To attract Democratic votes for an immigration deal, Trump has said he is open to letting “Dreamers,” a group of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, stay in the United States.

In return, he has demanded funding for a wall on the border with Mexico and measures to curb family sponsorship of immigrants, proposals that have failed to gain traction with Democrats in the past.

Trump will also promote a $US1.7 trillion plan to rebuild America’s aging roads and other infrastructure, but he is not expected to offer many details.

He will speak at a time when he is being buffeted by a drumbeat of headlines about US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign using hacking and propaganda to attempt to tilt the race in favour of Trump. Russia has denied meddling. Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has called the Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” and “hoax.”

Americans, at the same time, are voicing concerns about Trump’s fitness for office. His job approval ratings are about 40 per cent, an alarming number with congressional elections coming in November that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the US Congress.

Trump is expected as well to address the various global crises that have persisted during his watch, such as North Korea’s nuclear challenge and Iran’s clout in the Middle East.

Trump’s drive for more reciprocal trade with China and other countries is also expected to be a dominant theme.

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Foo Fighters review: Grohl & Co live up to high expectations

One of music’s more affable, often flat-out hilarious frontmen in Dave Grohl. Photo: James BrickwoodFoo Fighters
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ANZ Stadium, January 27

Reviewed by George Palathingal

★★★½

It has been noted before that American rock titans Foo Fighters might be incapable of giving a bad show.

They’ve been pretty consistent with their output for nearly a quarter of a century, with at least a couple of enormous tunes coming with every album, so they have plenty of songs from which to choose. They’ve been touring long enough to have honed their craft as a live unit to a formidable standard.

Plus, of course, they have one of music’s more affable, often flat-out hilarious frontmen in Dave Grohl.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Photo: James Brickwood

Sure enough, the band explodes out of the blocks with a dizzying barrage of anthems that forms perhapsthe best start to a rock concert you’ll see.

The riotous roll of their latest song built for stadiums,Run, heads straight into the meaty guitar riffery ofAll My Life, Grohl screeching with such larynx-shredding intensity you wonder how he’ll make it through the first 10 minutes, let alone an entire tour.

The dazzling opening continues with the irresistibleLearn to FlyandThe Pretenderbefore another tune from last year’sConcrete and Gold,The Sky Is a Neighbourhood, holds its own in such exalted modern-rock-classic company with its blistering, seedy stomp.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Photo: James Brickwood

Then, however, things take an unexpected turn.

Grohl had warned us that there would be lots of jamming on this night but by extending the already underwhelmingRopeinto a 10-minute snoozefest complete with drum solo, the realisation dawns that this is going to be a different kind of Foo Fighters experience; maybe even that unthinkable bad gig.

What is confirmed for longer subsequent stretches of the show than you’d hope is that on this tour, this group of ultimate crowd pleasers isputting their own enjoyment before their audience’s.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters play Sydney at ANZ Stadium, Homebush Sydney. Photo: James Brickwood

This may not sound unreasonable but, for all Grohl’s casual boasts of three-hour sets, you can see in the relatively static audience during, say,Let It Diethat a few track omissions and significantly less jamming might have made this evening even more fun for everyone.

But there’s plenty of that anyway. The band intros come with mini-covers of rock classics (the opening of Van Halen’sJumpfor keyboard player Rami Jaffee​, the Ramones’Blitzkrieg Bopfor guitarist Pat Smear, and more), while Grohl gives us an unparalleled thrill by playing the opening drum riff of his old band Nirvana’sSmells Like Teen Spiritduring a cameo behind the kit.

Poignant nods to the country we’re in come with Grohl’s gorgeous acoustic instrumentalThe Ballad of the Beaconsfield Minersand a scorching full-band tribute to the late Malcolm Young in AC/DC’sLet There Be Rock,while the audience’s spine-tingling backing vocals onBest of Youadd to an unforgettable climax.

The Foo Fighters, then: incapable of giving a bad show indeed.

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Tomic may never play for China again

Ten Davis AustAfter all but ruling Bernard Tomic’s Davis Cup career over, Lleyton Hewitt admitted he is not sure whether the controversial tennis star will even continue playing the sport.
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n team captain Hewitt said he doubted whether Tomic would play Davis Cup again after causing a stir since joining reality TV show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here.

Tomic told Network Ten that could not win the Davis Cup title without him and that Hewitt knew it.

Tomic’s comments didn’t go down well with two-time major winner, who is preparing a Nick Kyrgios-led team for their Davis Cup first-round tie against Germany in Brisbane starting on Friday.

Asked if Tomic would play for again, the former world No.1 said: “It’s highly doubtful.

“He’s made some mistakes. It will be a long way back.

“He’s digging a big hole for himself that he may never get out of.”

Kyrgios joined the squad on Tuesday but Hewitt said team members already in camp had laughed off Tomic’s claim that they needed him to be successful.

“I don’t watch a lot of those kind of shows but a couple of boys have kept a close eye on it (I’m a Celebrity) and it keeps them in good humour at night and gives them something to talk about,” he said.

“The team camaraderie is as good as I have seen for a long time.

“We believe we can go a long way and I back these boys.”

Asked if could win without Tomic, Hewitt said: “Everyone knows he couldn’t help us right now”.

Baffled by Tomic’s reality TV stint, Hewitt said the former Wimbledon quarter-finalist had to commit to the sport to ever be considered for Davis Cup again.

“It’s strange. You either want to be a tennis player or you don’t,” he said of Tomic’s TV reality show appearance.

“I don’t know (if he will play again). He still wanted to play the n Open and tried to qualify and good on him for that.

“But it is pointless if he is playing in quallies and you are not committed to the sport.

“He’s wasting not only his time but also everyone around him.

“He’s got to commit to the sport if he has any chance of coming back.”

Tennis CEO Craig Tiley said it was up to Hewitt to assess Tomic’s Davis Cup prospects but admitted “he’s got some work to do to get back”.

“It’s not the first time I have heard Bernard make negative comments toward the organisation – I can pretty much guess what Bernard is going to say,” Tiley told SEN Radio.

The draw for the first round tie at Pat Rafter Arena will be held on Thursday.

lead 4-3 in head-to-head Davis Cup clashes but Germany won the last tie, a 2012 World Group playoff 3-2 in Hamburg.

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