Venue: Thornbury Theatre
Venue: Suttons House of Music
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And here’s anothery: Album recollection #4 Riveresque
It’s somehow fitting this album opens with the song Houses. Because it was recorded in a house where we were all staying together. A house where we’d done pre-production for an earlier record and decided that we should perhaps be making our own records in a place like that. And because at the time we were all getting on well enough to be in a confined place for a couple of weeks without throttling each other. Strange.
As we pulled up to the house I whispered to Jen Anderson to run up the stairs before anyone else and turn left at the top meaning she would claim the primo renovated bedroom looking out across the valley. Instead she turned left after the first flight of stairs at the mezzanine and ended up in one of the dusty under-reconstruction dog boxes (former servant’s quarters most likely) and Stephen O’Prey managed to claim the palatial suite. But somehow this was all right and such was the humour of the band as it was back then everyone seemed to see the funny side. Even though Stephen got the good room.
That big old sandstone house in northern Tasmania had been such an important place for me, and inadvertently the Weddings. Looking back to 1984 after a fledgling WPA had done a few shows around Melbourne and then fallen flat, it was in that very kitchen I sat with my brother, his wife, and her father and a couple of other friends, and played and played and dissected, discussed and deconstructed just what a repertoire a band like the Weddings might have and what it could sound like. I recall it was Christmas and to date the only one I have ever spent out of Victoria actually. Also strange.
And so it was significant to be back there 20 years later recording with the band. Even though Pete Lawler had departed the previous year I think the line up felt strong and invigorated at the time. There was a sense of unity and purpose that was served well by being sequestered in a small town in the Fingal Valley. We were here to make a record. A statement. The last band in town. The only band in town. Ever.
A lot of the album was tracked with people in various rooms of the sprawling old former country Inn but that song Houses was recorded in the big kitchen with everyone in together. Six people sitting facing each other with a slow combustion stove crackling away to heat the water for our showers and our evening meal. And I think you can hear it all. It was a few days into the session and we had set up ‘in the round’ to grab a few informal B-side type tracks but something about the informality and the sensitivity of this song just seemed to lend itself to this format.
To his credit, our engineer Cameron Craig was all too happy to go for it. Even though it was well into the nineties it should be remembered those draconian studio principles of keeping the instruments separate (‘separation – so we have control when we mix them all together’) and making sure everything was 100% on the beat (‘not moving around too much’) were still really dominant and compulsive elements in the way people judged their recordings. And so it was good we were in a position to really say how we wanted it to sound. We wanted it to sound like us sitting around a kitchen. Even more strange.
So often you read about bands ‘making the record they always wanted to make’. And here we were doing it. Sadly, like so many of those records, it turned out to be a valedictory address.
I think we were there in the town of Avoca for about two weeks. In that time Stephen O’Prey managed to get barred from the pub and we had to play an actual gig there to get him allowed back in. The phone booth down the street was given a fair working over as everyone made their daily three minute connection to loved ones back on the mainland (Oh, how heavenly the time before mobiles). We received one request for a booking for a 40th birthday party on the strength of being called Weddings, Parties, Anything (little did I think that 40th birthday parties would become a staple later on in my performing career). We worked hard. We made a record. And although at times personal hygiene was compromised it was an invigorating exercise.
Surreal that six months later we found ourselves sitting together not in a half renovated nineteenth century rural Tasmanian kitchen but around the table at an Albert Park restaurant. And it was here the people from Mushroom Records told us that the album was finished as a commercial proposition and that a ‘Best Of’ compilation was to be our next release. It suddenly felt a long way from a sandstone kitchen in Tasmania.