Mick Thomas

Album retrospective #1: Dead Set Certainty

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Dead Set Certainty

I received an online order today for the album Dead Set Certainty and upon going out to where the merchandise is stored realised it was one of the last copies we had – and so that means it is officially deleted. Ad this to the last couple of times I have approached Universal Music (who distribute Liberation’s catalogue) for stock and they tell me there’s no more physical copies of my last two titles and so it’s pretty easy to wonder about the shelf life of albums in general these days – mine or anybody else’s. I know they will all survive and be available in digital download format, or by streaming, but it’s hard not to feel some nostalgia for the tiny bit of plastic I pulled out of the first box and danced around the lounge room to all those years ago.

And so I thought with the compilation album These Are the Songs set to go into production any tick of the clock it’s timely to start a series of recollections of the various albums of my life. I’ll start with Dead Set Certainty seeing as that is the one that got me thinking in the first place.

Track listing:

Sunday Too Far Away

Comb and Cutter

In the Dead Letter Office

When You Go

Brandy…You’re a Fine Girl

Island of Dreams

American Sailors/ Ship in The Harbour

Jim Jones at Botany Bay

Billy Boy

Big Geographical

Moreton Bay

This was the first studio album I made post Weddings, Parties, Anything and as low key as I tried to play it expectations were always bound to get the better of me. Initially it was going to be a song by song re-creation of another extant album called ‘Moreton Bay and Other Songs, Mainly of Convict Origin’ (catchy title, I know!) This was a record made by folk troubadours Brian Mooney, Martin Wyndham Read and David Lumsden released in 1963 and one that had an enormous effect on the Thomas kids at the time. It was inspired and uncompromising – very raw and folky.

But when it came down to it in 1999 I just didn’t quite have the courage to go the whole way with the idea and so I settled for appropriating the album cover print and two songs from that original cache of traditional tunes and set about finding bunch of others to put in there. There was so much I felt I had to say about the situation I had found myself in at that time this seemed a lot more credible than an entire record about shearing, mining, droving and convicts. Perhaps I should have gone the whole way. As it stood the first two tracks on my album Sunday Too Far Away and Comb and Cutter were both shearing songs anyway. But looking at the spread of covers and the couple of originals on there I think it holds together well enough.

When You Go is the song of mine I feel most attached to from that record and I still have a memory of Peter Hayes (manager of the Weddings, and myself for a time) turning up to the studio where we were mixing out in Warrandyte and saying he thought my voice was sounding particularly good – I think he meant comparatively speaking to the guttural croak the large tours with the Weddings had often reduced me to. It was one of the things I was really conscious of with the first few records and tours after the band had split. I wanted to pull the backing down a bit, drop the keys to a few of the songs and see if I could actually sing rather than just use all my available vocal power to get above the good natured raucous din. As part of my new found desire to have my voice not overshadowed we toured that album as a three piece – sans drums. I think it was a couple of rowdy nights that convinced me the band was going to need to be able to play at volume (with drums) and that for me there will always be a trade off between keeping things pumping and having a pristine set of vocal chords. I don’t lose my voice quite as much these days (baring a recent trip to Queensland) but seventeen years later it’s still an issue.

So when we began work on that record in my tiny backyard bungalow I think I was in a quandary of not wanting to give too much away, but still prone, as ever, to being expansive about my personal situation. When You Go was written on the back of so many recent tragic deaths in and around the music industry and I guess Brandy was included out of total respect to Steve Connelly ( from The Messengers ) who had spoken so eloquently and fondly to me of that particular song. Sunday Too Far Away was for Darren Hanlon who was playing in the band at the time who was a big fan (and later, friend ) of Bob Ellis. Comb and Cutter was from The T-Bones who were pretty active around that time recording a few albums with me out in the same backyard bungalow. American Sailors/Ship in the Harbour made sure the Weddings (and therefore Triffids) connection wasn’t lost totally as was Big Geographical which was written about a particular relationship that had occurred with an actual band member. Billy Boy was from a film (Left Luggage) I was working on with my brother and Jen Anderson. And Island of Dreams was just how I was feeling at the time. Was it ever.

Even though it’s pretty much a covers album, it still paints a picture of where I was at in 1999. Even though it was a pretty simple pared back recording and destined for a totally independent release I know that at some stage I got to thinking maybe this was the one. And why not? Donkey Serenade was the record that dug the Weddings out of years of financial hardship and that record was constructed in the same ad hoc fashion and released independently. And for a lot of people in and outside the band it is a quintessential album. And so, Dead Set Certainty represented life after the weight of the big career had been lifted and consequently anything seemed possible. People were still buying CDs at my shows in those days and after a good period sitting on my hands I was getting ready for record launches and tours – of Australia, England, Canada and Europe. I was feeling optimistic, bullish even. Dead Set Certainty – I guess the title says it all.

Mick Thomas


January 2017