The album recollections continue – this week it’s Anythings, Sure Things, Other Things I’m putting under the microscope….
I hadn’t heard from Stephen Cummings for some time but one day, out of the blue he rang to say he had been doing an acoustic album for Liberation Records and that it had been a really rewarding experience. He’d even gone as far as to suggest they should contact me about a similar release. Or I should contact them he said and see if they were up for it. And so I did and his advice proved to be spot on. After six releases under my own steam I was now back with a properly funded label. Back with the Mushroom Records/Publishing group where the Weddings had finished up. And where I couldn’t help but feel I had unfinished business.
It was to be a retrospective collection of tunes – but as with all these things, it’s easy enough to find your own angle and your own interpretation to make it an interesting proposition. I discussed the track listing at length with the people at Liberation. They were pretty open about the fact they wanted it to be a good spread of WPA tunes and I was as keen as possible to get some of the newer catalogue in there. It seemed a tough call at the time although now I think it was a generous enough gesture on their part to allow me three songs from the post WPA repertoire. Coupled with the two covers (Australian Crawl’s Man Crazy and The Kink’s I’ll Remember) meant a third of the songs were not directly from the WPA era. The title of the record was important as it had to reflect the Weddings, Parties, Anything association with actually calling it that. But really once all that was decided and we had a budget worked out it was smooth sailing.
My last album as an independent was The Horse’s Prayer which was done out east of Melbourne at Doug Roberts’ studio. At that point I felt The Sure Thing had consolidated as a line up and even though I had worked with Craig Pilkington on various projects at his studio I felt he should be simply a guitarist. But with Anythings, Sure Things, Other Things I was putting together a group of musicians specifically for that release and so was happy for Craig to be the one to engineer and produce the album. Consequently, Audrey Studios in Richmond would be the venue and the core acoustic band would be Stu Speed on upright bass, Jen Anderson on violin and Jeff Lang on any variety of things. As it transpired, my thinking the Sure Thing was a solid outfit was mistaken and by then Michael Barclay had actually left the band so the idea of doing an acoustic record – sans drums – was actually rather convenient.
I can still recall Jeff Lang rolling up to the studio his car absolutely crammed with all manner of crazy unorthodox stringed things. He was literally squashed against the driver’s door in order to fit them all in. I really couldn’t tell you what half of them were even called but he had strong ideas about where any or all of them might fit and he had really done his homework on the tracks and had some fantastic thoughts on new arrangements for songs that were pretty much set in stone as far as Jen Anderson and myself were concerned. With any given ensemble of players people find their own roles and levels pretty quickly. Jeff had really made an effort to ensure this record would have a personality of it’s own and as such ended up being a sort of third producer to myself and Craig.
And so the sessions were pretty enjoyable as we began to pull apart and then put back together some old favourites. Monitoring in a totally live acoustic environment can be trickier than it seems. Some instruments are naturally louder than others but without drums there is the scope to place people in convenient locations around the studio to overcome these difficulties. Initially Jen Anderson found it hard to work out her place in the process and toyed with the idea of overdubbing her parts once Jeff had constructed (or deconstructed) the bed tracks with myself and Stu Speed. After some experimentation she quickly adapted to the general tone of the album and I’m glad to say the majority of it went down as full band takes which you would hope would be the case with musicians of that calibre.
Getting the final touches on the tracks proved tricker than usual in that this was a band of musicians I had chosen as instrumentalists without a lot of thought to on-going performance. The Weddings and Sure Thing had always had really strong second and third vocalists in the actual band to help construct the harmonies – Dave Steel, Michael Barclay, Mark Wallace and Darren Hanlon had always been the ones I had looked to when records were being finished. And so it was only natural Barclay and Wally would come in to help in this department but I think I was pretty happy that Kavisha Mazzella was around to sing some bits as well as the Git women who had been pretty prominent with the Sure Thing in a touring capacity.
Anythings, Sure Things, Other Things was a significant record for me in that it involved me working with Craig Pilkington in a production capacity and that it reignited my relationship with Liberation Records – both associations that have continued to this day. Also significantly, it was the first record where I had to confront the legacy of the WPA catalogue head on, again a conundrum that continues in my life. As I prepare to release a retrospective album (and book) the blurred line that sees my work classified as ‘before’ and ‘after’ has never seemed more prominent – or irrelevant. The songs all come from somewhere, they were all written with the same hope, intent and inspiration, but I am fully aware there is a history and an industry that claims them for it’s own. The important thing is to be finding people new and old who want to come to the tunes with a sense of creative ownership and responsibility and I think this was an album that helped me cement that ideal.
The post release promotion for the album saw me reshuffling personel a further time with Marcel Borrack coming into the live touring band to help with the slide guitar parts and the harmony department. Liberation Records were instrumental getting Jen Anderson and myself on a national Day on the Green tour with Joe Camilleri, Steve Cummings and Elvis Costello. Their promotional influence extended as far as managing to wrangle Jen and myself onto the live music component of the NRL Grand Final that year to play the song I’ll Remember in honour of a whole swathe of rugby league players who were retiring – which is an entire other story for the telling.
As I write this record has just been declared officially deleted (as a physical entity) by Universal, who now manufacture and distribute Liberation’s product. It is a sad fact of life in the year 2017 that more and more of these titles will be disappearing in some regard so it is a good exercise for me to be considering the effort and the expectation that went into them in the first place. Anythings, Sure Things, Other Things was definitely a turning point for me. But maybe all good records are.
Step In StepOut
The Lonely Goth
The Rain in My Heart
For a Short Time
Tilting at Windmills
A Tale They Won’t Believe