Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bag's Groove

It seems like the whole of Australia has caught Baghdatis fever.

Even our five-year-old ("this time tomorrow you will be six"; "I know"; "how do you feel about that?"; [totally deadpan] "very excited") came home a few days ago telling us about a tennis player called Bag. Of course, back then we had no idea what he was talking about. We don't "do" tennis. But will we be on the Bag-wagon tomorrow afternoon? You bet.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Virtual Mixtape: October 2005

Here we are again, with another futile, and out-of-date, exercise:

Yellow Magic Orchestra, “Technopolis”: in an ideal world, this would have been the theme music for a long-running current affairs television show. It deserves to be as ubiquitous as it sounds like it is.

DAF, “Der Mussolini”: one of the last of my itches to have remained unscratched. Thundering early-1980s German electronic dance music that makes fascism seem like a damn fine idea. Oops.

Lindstrom, “I Feel Space”: more electronic dance music, this one from 2005, which will answer most of your questions about why you should listen to music of this century even if you have passed 40 years of age.

Television Personalities, “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives”: comes down to one word - “aaaaaahhhh”.

Kevin Ayers featuring Syd Barrett, “Religious Experience (Singing A Song In The Morning)”: there is some magical VU-style guitar riffage in here, which I assume to be Barrett’s contribution, although I’m no expert here.

Kevin Ayers, “Lady Rachel”: this is Ayers in a much darker, gothic, minor-chord mode.

Bird Nest Roys, “Jaffa Boy”: here we have what is, along with “Pink Frost” by the Chills, the lasting achievement of the golden age of NZ pop. Which is not to discredit others whose contributions may have been more lasting, more prolific, or more solid and/or brilliant overall than the shortlived Roys. But one cannot deny that this is a perfect, moving Pop Moment.

Robert Scott with Barbara Manning, “B4 We Go Under”: and here we have a little lo-fi obscurity from one of those prolific others, Robert Scott from the Bats, singing with Ms Manning who, if memory serves, ran off with one of the Jefferies boys, who covered her “Scissors” on one of his own records. Where this recording fits in with that chronology I do not know, but it does provide another small piece in what is a rather complicated puzzle.

The Roches, “Hammond Song”: our hopes of this being the Roche girls doing their thing in company with the mighty Hammond B3 were sorely, but only temporarily, dashed. There is not an organ in sight here (ahem), and the Hammond they are singing about is a place. But the song itself turns out to be slow and lovely, and makes up for the 95 percent of songs that get held out by (some) bloggers as being worthy of your time but which turn out not to be.

Donovan, “Colours”: interesting to note that hot on the heels of Dylan’s “Chronicles: Volume One” comes an autobiography by Donovan. It looks like Donovan is always going to be Stuart MacGill to Dylan’s Shane Warne.

Fred Neil with Gram Parsons, “You Don’t Miss Your Water”: you could collect versions of this song, like you could (if you were me) collect versions of “A Man And A Woman”, or “Love Is Blue”. Artists as disparate as the Triffids and Brian Eno have had a go. But Fred and Gram would be a tough act to beat.

Opal, “Hear The Wind Blow” and “She’s A Diamond”: two from Opal’s “Early Recordings”, a disc which continues to elude me and which I am therefore reduced to picking up in dribs and drabs by way of this thing we call the interweb.

Tom Ze, “Brigitte Bardot”: with summer in full flight, it would be remiss of us not to include at least a little piece of Brazil.

Rachel Stevens, “I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)”: one of the singles of 2005. A perfect pop song never did anyone any harm. (Except when it gets wedged in your head and keeps you from going to sleep.)

The Comateens, “Nightmares”: pure pop from another era.

The Smoking Popes, “I Need You Around”: the ghost of Morrissey hovers above and slightly behind this song, giving it the dose of passion without which it might not have registered.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Solar Fire”: ah, the psychedelic psixties.

Morgen, “Of Dreams”: there were two songs by this band floating around in the ether at the same time. I snaffled this one, but the other one got away. If the words “prog rock” turn you into stone, try this. You can feel the difference.

Spanky & Our Gang, “Leopard Skin Phones”: ah, the early days of stereo.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

In response to your recent inquiry:

1. Rowan Marks was solely and exclusively responsible for locating and procuring the sheep’s heads. To the best of my knowledge it was his idea as well. The first I knew of it was when I came home and saw them sitting on top of the fridge, looking forlorn (not to mention devoid of skin or bodies, but at least they still had their eyes).

2. No, I don’t know whose idea it was to impale the sheep’s heads onto the gateposts as a welcoming gesture.

3. I have a feeling that Russell may have had some hand in the engineering that was required in order to attach one of the sheep’s heads to rope and thence suspend it over the lamppost on Nicholson Street, hanging as it then was not a great height above the tops of passing cars, and especially trucks. I am not sure who physically tossed the rope from the balcony over the lamppost, but if I said I recall it as being “the usual suspects” you would know of whom I speak. I may have been guilty of urging them on.

4. It was Andrew Jowett who threw the other sheep’s head (or maybe it was the same one - come to think of it, what did happen to the second one?) through the open door of the passing 96 tram, as it stopped to let off passengers at the tram stop out the front of the house.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Friday, January 20, 2006

How Does It Make You Feel?

An oft-asked question around here is: What would I think of X record if I hadn't heard Y record first?

It comes up again now with my belated acquisition (legal, man) of the second Air long-player, "10,000Hz Legend". Given that it was universally bucketed at the time, including by a person of my acquaintance whose judgment is generally spot-on, I was happy to keep listening to "Moon Safari"That is, until "Talkie Walkie" came along, was written about, in terms that simply could not be ignored, by Marcello Carlin, and promptly changed my life (I hadn't been as emotionally affected by a record since I know not when).

In which context, the only possible response to "10,000Hz Legend" in 2006 is, What was all that about? Critics, and listeners, decided at the time that it was practically unlistenable Prog Rock, with no concessions whatsoever to the audience (who must have been, to a person, dutifully expecting "Sexy Boy Pt II"). Obviously, given what we now know, this was a load of bollocks. It starts off with four unquestionable pop gems that sing in perfect harmony with anything on albums 1 and 3. Okay, it meanders from time to time, and tries a little bit of this and that, but then again neither "Talkie Walkie" or "Moon Safari" were pallid forays into the LCD (i.e., lowest common denominator) mainstream.

But what would have happened if I had listened to the albums in the order in which they came out, therefore being ignorant of the cushion provided by albums 1 and 3 that album 2 now sits comfortably astride. That cushion, retrospectively at least, gives "10,000Hz Legend" room to move. Room that it may not have had when the tunnel did not yet contain light at its end. We will never know. All I can say for sure is, kids, don't make the mistakes in your life that I have made.

Plus, as Led Zeppelin said, it makes me wonder: If there ever is a third Portishead album, will it make "Portishead" clear? (Yes, I still come back to it once every few months, to see if its secrets, which your average seasoned music listener can tell must be in there somewhere, have been revealed. Nope, nope, and nope. Not yet, anyway.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006


I first met Russell at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, on the first day of "O" Week, 1982. Russell and I may or may not have been the token country-high-school intake to the College for that year, but in any event we gravitated towards each other by reason of a common farmboy background, and mutual interests in music, cricket and science fiction novels. I got to visit Russell's farm at Wangaratta on several occasions, and he came down to Fish Creek more than once.

We spent a lot of time going to watch bands together (I soon lost count of the number of times we had seen the Models, following in minute detail all of its complex web of line-up changes; and we were two of the very few people to witness David Bridie's short-lived Not Drowning, Waving offshoot band, Easter). We also, as was the custom, wandered up to Lygon Street at late hours, to Twins for souvlaki and to l'Alba to play the machines. We could also be found, late afternoons, at Naughton's Hotel, nursing a quiet beer and playing Centipede, or Galaga, or whatever games were built into the tables over there at any given time.

After a year and a half we had both outgrown college life (it became too demoralising to see the first-year girls jumping into the beds of seemingly all of the older guys at the college except ours). A house became available at 166 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. Five of us got together and took out a lease of that house. Russell and I stayed there for two years. During that time Russell and I, and Russell's long-lost friend Roger, who had recently left the Australian defence forces, rented a room in the Nicholas Building, on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane, just round the corner from the original site of Missing Link Records. This room was known to us as "The Studio", and was used for the purpose of forming a band. Russell, I think, saw himself as Paul McCartney to Roger's John Lennon, even to the extent of paying a large sum of money for a left-handed Maton guitar. (Perhaps I was their Ringo Starr.) We called ourselves The Drought. Much fun was had. Eventually I recognised my limited ability to contribute, other members came along, and my interest in the band became that of a close outsider. I moved to the country, where, as host of a radio program on the local community FM station, I was able to get them a live-to-air slot, at a time when they were sounding like a "real" group (and if anyone happens to have a tape of that performance I would be very grateful for a copy). An eight-song recording exists as proof of The Drought, on which I can be heard playing some wayward keyboards on one track. That my contribution wasn't edited out is more a testament to Russell's sense of loyalty and fair play than any endorsement of my playing ability.

Greg Clark, Ed Kuepper's number one fan, became a friend of Russell's during the Nicholson Street years. I liked Greg. The only problem with Greg was his friendship with the Willy Boys (named for their shared history as Williamstown residents). At the second annual Nicholson Street party, the house was briefly, and unpleasantly, invaded by the Willy Boys, who kicked a hole in our backyard dunny, and who, once we managed to get rid of them, terrorised us by bashing on the back gate and throwing sticks, stones, beer cans and other solid objects over the back fence and up onto the front balcony, before eventually going off to perform other acts of humanitarianism elsewhere. Russell, of course, was terribly apologetic and remorseful for days afterwards, even though it clearly wasn't his fault that any of this had happened.

Russell was too level-headed to have crises of identity; but when I had mine, which inevitably reached its pinnacle at three o'clock one morning, it was Russell I turned to. I am forever in his debt, which cannot now be repaid, for the way he was prepared to hear me out, offering some of his typically gentle, non-judgmental wisdom, and never speaking of it again. (None of you know anything of this. Nor will you ask.)

Russell, Roger and I took a summer job at Erand Couriers, in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, working on the conveyor belt that sorted packages for delivery to the (if they were lucky) correct locations (not always unbroken - upended tins of paint make a heck of a mess - but what can you do?), and loading and unloading trucks. It was good, hard, cash-in-hand work, and we met some fun people there, one of whom invited the three of us to his house in Hawthorn for a barbecue one Sunday. Roger drove, he being the only one of us with a car. Alcohol was consumed. More alcohol was consumed. At some point a device for the communal smoking of marijuana appeared. Not being dope smokers, we underwent a crash course in bong etiquette and smoking technique. Whether the weed had any effect is impossible to tell. The afternoon spun out of control. Roger drove home, the only way he knew how to drive: fast and lurching. He dropped us off at Nicholson Street, and as soon as we got inside the front door we staggered off, one to the upstairs toilet and the other to the aforementioned backyard dunny, to vomit our naive little hearts out. It was a salutary lesson for both of us. Clean living was the only way forward.

Shared houses cannot last forever, and at the end of 1985 we went our separate ways. I stayed with Russell a couple of times in a terrace house in Best Street, North Fitzroy. And then Russell moved to the UK, met Tracy, moved back (briefly) to Melbourne, and then left for the United States, where he and Tracy started a family. Russell, Roger and I had a reunion of sorts one night at Mario's in Brunswick Street when Russell made a flying visit back to Australia to see his ailing father. I spoke to Russell over the phone during his last trip back. I was looking forward to our next catch-up, whenever it may have been.