South East Asia (First Night) – is the third release in the Sneaky Singles Club series and it is out now. It is released on 7″ vinyl which importantly comes with a super download package – another three tracks including a medley of the Hank Locklin/Lawton Williams songs Geisha Girl/Lost to a Geisha Girl which we have developed into a fine duet between Mick and Ayleen O’Hanlon. After that we have a pretty interesting version of the Shane McGowan tune Sayonara which Ayleen sings and then a thoroughly impressionistic reading of the Noel Coward poem Bali which is recited by Mush Lawler (Pete’s brother). And as well there is a PDF of the first edition of the Roving Commissioner on line newspaper which gives you a nice run down on the people on the record, the tracks on download EP and what is coming up generally. It’s a good deal – the vinyl is $15, the download on its own is $5 and the new tea-towel for $20 gets you the download as well.
It was at the briefest of rehearsals for the 2016 Brown River Spectacular show and we were working through a song called Brunswick Street Girl – sung this year by Jemma Rowlands. When banjo player/singer Ayleen O’Hanlon enquired as to who wrote the song in the first place everyone seemed to jump in with great enthusiasm – as Melbourne musicians, this was a song we all knew. It’s from an album called Talking in Your Sleep – by The Warner Brothers, released in 1990. So, now I am asking, do you know this album? Because I am aware plenty of people don’t.
But as myself and organizer of the Brown River show Jon Von Goes tried to explain how significant and important this song (and that album) was, it occurred to me that quite a few records I hold really dearly were constructed, promoted and purchased outside of what is normally considered legitimate channels. By today’s standards they were simply records that never got a commercial release. Maybe it was because the discovery of them was so personal and memorable these became records I truly love.
As the proponents of music streaming are claiming to give you ‘every song ever made’ I am prepared to argue there will necessarily exist a litany of absolute gems that don’t find their way onto Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music.
Here’s the story of four albums: How I got ‘em and why I like ‘em.
(ex) Cat Heads: Our Frisco:
There seems to be a lot written about this album and this band on the web. It appears they are/were in some way an important part of the San Fransiscan local music scene in the early nineties. But the night we wandered into their gig there weren’t a lot of people there. It didn’t feel like an important show and we were surprised when we spoke to the band and they said it was their last performance.
We were travelling home from about four months in North America and we had a night to kill in San Francisco. The band was fried and I think by this stage of a long tour, particularly insular and troubled. Lawler was fed up and had even gone as far as to physically accost a drunken Paul Thomas as we checked into our hotel so all in all we were not a happy band. After sitting in our respective hotel rooms for a while we decided to head out and see what the town had to offer. We had a meal, saw some bands, drank some beer and contemplated the final leg of the journey home. It ended being a fun night and it was late when we stumbled into one last venue and met the (ex) Catheads. They were a nice bunch of guys and their show was really enjoyable in a very low-key way. As I said the place was hardly packed. We started talking to them and before we knew it we were buying their record – this was still just pre CD so it was vinyl all the way for us. Through the years I have owned it on CD as well and now as a download (with an extra three cracking tracks I might ad).
The record is a weird classic to my mind – strangely-lo-fi and quite unsettled it seems to jump between a fully-fledged concept album about San Fransisco (bookended by two instrumental tracks Fog Rolls In/ Fog Rolls Out) and a collection of demos (three vastly different versions of one song). It’s sprawling and ambitious, as pretentious as it is unassuming and when I hear it I am back in San Fransisco at the end of a tour. Or in the van driving up the Pacific Highway three months later listening to a cassette dub of it.
Lowest of the Low: Shakespeare My Butt: I have written about this record a hell of a lot over the years but it continues to be one we play at our house at certain times and it never seems to lose it’s appeal. Although it came into our lives well after we’d become regulars in downtown Toronto it still speaks to me of our time there. It still tells the tales of that city. We were handed the CD (1992 – and the CD format had taken hold) by a great friend and promoter Bruce Eaton one tour and it will always take me to times we spent hanging around his house in Kensington Market. It reminds me of the Grange Hotel and The Cameron House, The Siboney and The Horseshoe, and of the times that were not so good. So broke, so cold and far from home,1990 coming in from a long drive out east drunk and hungry and finding the town pretty well shut up on a Sunday night. And then the Hungarian Goulash Party Tavern was magically open but payday was five days away and then for the first time in my life realising that they would take a credit card and wasn’t that the start of something else totally? The Hungarian Goulash Party Tavern is gone now but my credit card debt seems a constant and Shakespeare My Butt still sounds as good as it did back in 1992. Weddings, Parties, Anything only ever played two shows with the Lowest of the Low. It was nowhere near enough.
In 2012 Wally and I were lucky enough to be able to go and help a reunited Lowest of the Low tour the twentieth anniversary of that record and wasn’t that a mighty time? The first night of the tour in Buffalo, Wally and I kept bumping into each other excitedly running in and out of the band room as those beautiful tunes rolled out one after another. And each time we took another fine North American craft beer with us until we vowed to try and keep one beer per song as our nightly quota. But they’re quick songs and there’s fifteen of them in all and we are old guys and it was bound to end badly. The last night of that tour was at Massey Hall in Toronto and we wrote a song especially for the occasion called The Streets of Toronto. It finished with the verse:
I saw The Replacements in San Diego and that was quite nice
Saw Alex Chilton in Memphis, yeah that will suffice
But we saw ‘The Low’ at Lee’s Palace twice
So the rest can all got to hell
Oh the streets of Toronto we loved you so well
It is not my finest piece of work I will grant you but we meant it with all our hearts. It got a standing ovation and we haven’t touched it since. Still play Shakespeare My Butt regularly though.
The Warner Brothers: Talking in Your Sleep
Here’s the one that got me started on this rave. I first heard it being played at the Musicians Swop Shop in Carlton and in retrospect I figure it was no coincidence it was on loud and proud as they knew I was coming in to return some guitars they had lent to the Weddings one morning when we had a television appearance and hadn’t been able get into the band’s lock up. I guess they knew I would like it as I immediately asked who it was playing on the stereo, they explained who the band was, I bought the CD and it went from there. We did a stack of shows with them through the years – both as the Warner Brothers, then as Overnight Jones and ultimately back to the Warner Brothers again. They made a great record after that one, Dan and Stuey, the two writers made great records under their own names as well but it’s still Talking in My Sleep that means the most to me – and also to a lot of people who were around Melbourne at that particular time. They reformed recently as a thirtieth (!!!) anniversary of their inception and it was pretty much that album that got the majority representation.
Sean McMahon: Welcome to Gippsland
I was walking past the Last Record Store in Smith Street when I noticed this one in the window and I guess being born in Gippsland it got my attention. I went in and quizzed Alex about it and he explained to me that Sean had just turned up one day with the record finished and pressed and asked did he want to put it in the rack for sale. No promotion, no distribution, no live band to support the release – just a single unassuming CD. I’d just become aware of the band Downhills Home at this stage and had no idea that Sean was from there or any other band to be honest. But here was this brilliant concept album with guest character parts sung by Matt Walker, Liz Stringer and Laura Jean and when they finally played it live it was billed as a Downhills Home show and so it was a confused foray in a promotional sense but the record itself is really self-assured and quite timeless. The playing is understated, the singing is evocative, the songs are interlocking and self supporting, the whole thing totally lyrical.
And weirdly I think these albums all have something in common. They’re all sprawling, conceptually ambitious and in a weird endearing way, flawed pieces of work. All four are sonically imperfect as I guess they were all recorded without anything in the way of designated budgets. Anyone coming to them critically for the first time might very probably suggest some editing is in order but it is their unhurried breadth that gives them so much character and appeal. I know both The Lowest of the Low and The Warner Brothers for years were quite disparaging when discussing these records always claiming the next ‘properly recorded’ album would leave them for dead. But I think it is the absence of a commercial release that has let these albums be the idiosyncratic oddities that might resonate with a punter so thoroughly, so permanently. And certainly with three of the four albums I have written about here, they have lead to a lengthy association with the particular artists and a subsequent stack of releases I admire and stand by in every way.
In a general sense I think the point of this essay is to argue that how you discover and experience music is a really important part of why you might choose to like something. It’s not to say that you won’t buy a record from iTunes that you heard on a video hits channel or a commercial radio station and love that as well but I think the saving grace for me in the past couple of decades has been the mail order and the merchandise table – places where people can come to my recorded output in their own particular way, as their budget and ever-decreasing time frame might allow. It’s an experience that leads you to wonder mightn’t it render music a touch impersonal to suddenly want to own every song ever made at the touch of a computer mouse? I am about to finish writing this and head to the post office and then we are off to play a few local shows and see if we can sell some of the new single. So I’ll see you at the merch table folks – it doesn’t get much more personal than that. And anyway, back to the albums I have been writing about: who needs ‘every song ever made’ when you’ve got these four?
Very pleased to announce our brand spanking new piece of vinyl, Damo’s Working in the Mines is OUT NOW!!! Of course it comes with a download (which you can buy on its own) that has THREE tracks on it: Damo, the other Aqua ProfUnda, and a newie that I wrote with Ayleen O’Hanlon called River Again. It’s great value all round and you can buy it here:
There’ll be a few new merch items we’ll be putting up over the next few days that will also come with the download. Believe it or not there’s a high-vis cycle vest and a new high-vis ‘Damo’ tea towel. We are determined to bring you music via the medium of items that can’t be streamed on Spotify.
How nice to have a few shows on the horizon for no other reason than it’s a good feeling to get out and play occasionally. The line-up of the Roving Commission seems to be consolidating nicely with Michael Hubbard on the bass and Dave Folley on the drums. Joining us on banjo, guitar and vocals for these shows (and hopefully a few more down the track) is Ayleen O’Hanlon from the Low Road and the Goin’ Back project. Read more on “And I Think That Should Do…” »
The trip to Africa seems a distant memory now – luckily we have a nice fifteen track official bootleg CD to remind us just what a trip it was! And to celebrate Mick and Wally are going to do a quick Safari ’round the country playing in glorious informal duo mode. You’ll hear some of the odd tracks from the current release and pretty much anything that comes to mind on the night. After that it’s Christmas and time to get the band cranked up in support of a brand new vinyl single that’s at the pressing plant as we speak.
Careful What You Ask For
There are two requests that immediately spring to mind listening to the bootleg disc of Wally and myself live in Southern Africa. They were pretty much the first and last of the entire tour and I’m happy to say we were able to fulfill both of them. Read more on “Careful What You Ask For” »
It was the evening of our first Safari in the wilds of the Thornybush Game Reserve in the Northern part of South Africa and the drivers unexpectedly pulled our two modified troupe carriers over in an idyllic spot just as the sun was setting. They proceeded to fold out a small tables from the vehicles upon which they placed table cloths and a startling array of South African craft beers, local wines and assorted snacks. This was safari Tourica style and who were we to scoff at such brazen luxury? Three days into our musical expedition and the whole group seemed to be getting on remarkably well. We’d already spotted a whole heap of critters in the wild and so we all had to conclude life was good.
And of course it was inevitable after a few beers someone would need to relieve themselves. It was me actually. And so I grabbed Mark Hopper and asked if he was feeling the same call of the wild and would he care to accompany me a respectable distance from our merry group. We walked into the fast encroaching dusk for maybe forty metres and as we began the manly pursuit of ‘pissing in the wild’ I noticed something from the corner of my eye. It was a darkness, a sort of slow moving malevolent black shape about ten metres away. Although indistinct it was enormous and sort of threatening as it moved closer and closer. Hell – it was a black rhino!
And as it came toward us my life began to pass before me as I thought back a year to meeting Matt Collins from the Tourica tour company in the beer garden at the Yarra Hotel as he set out to convince me a musical tour of southern Africa could work. As the malevolent beast came closer and closer I thought back to the painstaking task of trying to find enough people to sign on to make the trip a reality. As we quickly interrupted our ablutions I relived the long haul flight from Perth and subsequent arrival at the luxury casino complex in Johannesberg and then as we scampered back to the party at the vehicles I began to project on all the fine experience mapped out for us in the weeks to come. Babbling excitedly I think perhaps there was a thought we were joking but when the tour guides realised just what was taking place their congeniality turned to alarm. Suddenly it was all go, go, go, get in the vehicles. They were not mucking around and this wasn’t some sort of show for gullible first time safari people. The biggest casualty on the night was a few spilt drinks but it was kind of sobering and in essence a great reminder that we were somewhere that was a long way from home. A long way from the well beaten paths we normally trod as performers.
It wasn’t to be the last time any of us would have this realisation in the weeks that followed. Playing to a wonderful mix of peoples on our last show at a backpackers in Zimbabwe, sitting in a bar people watching all night in Long Street Cape Town, watching herds of elephants, giraffes and hippos on the savanna in Botswana or playing on a boat in the Zambezi. By the time we’d finished the tour our heads were spinning. There’d been so much playing, so much sight seeing and so much trying to get our heads around a completely new and foreign place.
Three weeks after we’d come home we played an Anzac Day show at the Caulfield RSL and it was amazing to see a large representation of the Tourica Tours African Safari there. All still firm friends, all keen to relive the trip they’d all just been through. Black rhinos and all.
Farewell, No Fo
Farewell ADAT Machine. I never liked you. Our’s was a tempestuous relationship, fraught with my impatience and technical incompetence. To that relationship you brought a temperamental transport mechanism and a hefty price tag. Read more on “Farewell nOfO” »
Rehearsing my bass parts for a show backing Melbourne singer songwriter Chris Pickering a few weeks back I was confronted with a sweet tune called simply New York. It’s a wonderfully crafted paean to that bustling metropolis of North America. It’s honest and frank in its explanation of his ambition as an artist, it’s affectionate and sentimental on a purely personal level. And so every time we play the tune it makes me evaluate my experience of the place itself.
Read more on “New York New York” »
The Road to Port Fairy
By the time we got to Little River and the people who had spent the weekend at the Golden Plains Festival joined in with the mob returning from Port Fairy the traffic was ridiculous – just awful. The roadhouse was overflowing with people staring vacantly, contemplating the weekend just finished. The music performed, the nights spent sitting up imbibing. Read more on “The Road to Port Fairy” »