Story transcripts

Air Heads

Friday, July 23, 2010

Reporter: Liam Bartlett
Producer: Howard Sacre

Come on, admit it — as a kid, you wanted to be a rock star.

Who hasn't turned up the volume and let rip in front of the mirror with a hairbrush microphone or an invisible guitar.

If the memory's embarrassing, don't let it get you down. Here's something to make you feel better about all those juvenile fantasies.

There's a place where rock dreams come true, where the air guitar gets the respect it deserves. The air guitar world championships, no less.

Here virtuosos from all over, including Australia, are judged on their charisma, technical skill and, of course, their "airness". And there's not a single real guitar in sight.

Full transcript:

STORY -

MC: This is the greatest event in the entire world!

LIAM BARTLETT: And they came in their thousands to witness it - Finland's night of nights, contestants from every corner of the globe, a balmy Nordic night, a frenzied crowd, a big stage. Then, lights, cameras and... ..nothing! Welcome to the world's only guitar competition where there are no guitars.

LIAM BARTLETT: It's a heck of a long way to come and a lot of money to spend to play nothing.

DAN CRANE: It's incredible. I mean, some of these guys, you know, the Australian guys, the New Zealand guys, it's 10, 20, 30 hours on an airplane to show up, to play air guitar on this stage for 60 seconds. You know, that's crazy.

LIAM BARTLETT: It's not crazy at all at this house, back in Melbourne. It's a week before the titles and Aussie hopeful Clay Connelly is tuning up his routine.

BRETT PROVOST: Let's just hold it for a second there, my friend. That was excellent, outstanding. That's very good progress, but that hand and strum sychronisation, mate, we've always got to make sure that's in sync, okay? We're not milking a cow, we're keep it nice and fluid, but not too strong.

LIAM BARTLETT: When this humble courier driver wraps his hands around his invisible instrument, the transformation is complete. He's our national air champion, known simply as 'Bangers', and he's got the trophies to prove it.

BRETT PROVOST: That was excellent. I love that point to the crowd. They're appreciating you and you're appreciating them, plus staring down those judges. You're not here for a haircut. You're here to take this baby out.

LIAM BARTLETT: The supercoach and mentor is Brett Provost, but he's worried his charge is spending too much time imbibing rather than improving.

BRETT PROVOST: As long as he doesn't have a stopover in Bangkok, number one, he'll be fine. Number two, if he can just get it there and hold it together, be at one with his air guitar, I think we'll see gold coming back to our shores very, very soon.

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: I don't want to give up until I actually win this thing. For 'Bangers', this will be his third crack at the world title and, luckily, his biggest fan is his partner, April, and the three kids. Do you admit all this to your friends? Do you say, "My partner's is going to Finland because he wants to be world air guitar champion?" Once I explain it all to them, everyone gets a laugh.

LIAM BARTLETT: They say, "He plays what?"

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: Pretty much. You explain it to them three times and some of them still don't get it. They're just like, "What, so, air guitar? What's air guitar? They still can't gather that there's actually no guitar.

LIAM BARTLETT: Whatever's in the air in the quiet Finnish town of Oulu, it's working. The Fins created the competition 14 years ago, and they've been hosting it ever since. The good burghers of Oulu are holding a special reception for their honoured guests. And, with that, the Marcel Marceaus of the guitar world revelled in their new-found civic status. With his opponents sleeping off their jet lag, Bangers was up early the next morning, working off a serious hangover. It had been a long flight to Finland and, after the Mayor's party, Bangers needed to clear his head.

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: This is commando training, I'm going that extra step.

LIAM BARTLETT: This is going to sharpen up your guitar arm.

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: Yep, I've got the -

LIAM BARTLETT: You'll put us in the drink in a minute! 48 hours to go, and the pretenders to the air guitar throne are immersed in an intensive workshop, inspired by retired guru American Dan Crane.

DAN CRANE: The vibrato - let me see the vibrato. Nice! That's good.

LIAM BARTLETT: Outside, Dan offered to teach me, and who could refuse the Elvis Presley of air guitar?

DAN CRANE: Na, na, na, na, you know what I'm saying? It's a low chord, high chord. Let's see that motion. This is gonna take a lot of work! Maybe we should go get a beer first!

LIAM BARTLETT: Dan says the world champ will have to have stage presence, charisma, and an 'X' factor that I'd never heard of.

DAN CRANE: The really important thing is 'airness'. I don't know if anybody has explained airness to you yet, but it's that elusive quality.

LIAM BARTLETT: Airness?

DAN CRANE: Airness, yes. It's when an air guitar performance goes beyond the imitation of guitar playing and becomes an art form in itself. It's when you're watching somebody and your mind is blown, your face has melted and, all of a sudden, you're like, "Is that guy playing an invisible guitar? I don't even know, 'cause it was awesome." So, you were just miles from airness.

LIAM BARTLETT: The night before the big show, the contestants joined in some twilight bonding and last-minute guidance from the guru.

DAN CRANE: We recommend three beers, and this will put you in the right mental state to relax.

LIAM BARTLETT: Tonight they may joke but, tomorrow night, it's war. All keyed up, they headed to a night club in Oulu for the final curtain-raiser, and a chance to try out their acts on the judges. The scoring system, by the way, is based on Olympic figure skating, with judges giving points out of six. Next day, the contenders are in their hotel rooms, trying to find their airness. This is the Kiwi entrant, Gat 'Rockin Randy' Reaper, and his air roadie. Down the hall, the pride of Japan is happy to leave it in the lap of the gods, but now entirely.

LIAM BARTLETT: What's your secret weapon? MAY: : My weapon?

LIAM BARTLETT: Your secret weapon? MAY: Maybe sexy movement.

LIAM BARTLETT: Sexy movement!

LIAM BARTLETT: Down in the sauna, the reigning champ is limbering up. 'Hotlixx Houlihan' is going to be hard to beat, but it's Bangers who's starting to sweat.

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: I only went out for one beer but one beer turned into two beers, and then three beers, and then a good 10 or 20 beers later.

LIAM BARTLETT: 10 or 20?

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: Yeah, and it was eight in the morning by the time we got to bed.

LIAM BARTLETT: But you're only supposed to have three, just to get the airness, not 33!

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: I drink a lot of beer.

LIAM BARTLETT: Banger's plan is to play on the year's theme of peace and love, dressing up as a soldier and pretending to shoot the audience.

LIAM BARTLETT: The whole thing's coming together now. Alright, Bangers. Good luck, mate. Fly that flag.

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: Thank you. Let's do it for Australia, eh? Bottom's up.

LIAM BARTLETT: It's just like the Olympics, except without the athletes. This is the world's best guitarists who have never played. We're heading down to the stage now to decide who's going to be the ultimate champ. And, I can tell you, you can feel the tension in the air...guitar. And, so it was that so many managed to turn so little into something. One after another, they tried to turn thin air into talent. Hotlixx, the reigning champion, was good, but nowhere near good enough. The Kiwi played a blinder, and thought he was a real chance. May's moves weren't nearly sexy enough. But, then, the shock of the night. Bangers's third attempt at the title set him up and he's one of the odds-on favourites. But the routine that worked so well in his loungeroom seems to be falling apart under Finnish pressure.

MC: Major Bangers, all the from Australia.

LIAM BARTLETT: Bangers died on stage, in every way.

MC: 5.4, oh! What do we think about the judges? Booo!

LIAM BARTLETT: He'd tried to write himself into the air record books. Instead, he wrote himself off. In the end, the ultimate airness belonged to the Frenchman. And, aside from the glorious title, the prize for the world's air guitar champion, well, it's obvious.

MC: Check out this beautiful guitar.

LIAM BARTLETT: We caught up with Bangers just before he was mobbed by air groupies.

LIAM BARTLETT: Bangers, what happened?

MC: Judges didn't know what they were talking about, mate.

LIAM BARTLETT: Dead air?

CLAY 'BANGERS' CONNELLY: Yeah, I hit the dead air. The crowd like it - that's what it's all about. They enjoyed it - they didn't agree with the judges. That's air guitar, what can you do?

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