KEEPING THE APPOINTMENT -- An Interview with Graeme Connors.
A little while back I was writing a column for the now sadly defunct country music magazine Country Update. It was a series of interviews with songwriters.
I really enjoyed chatting, and writing about, Graeme Connors, one of Australia's finest songwriters. Check it out here...
There are few artists in this great southern land who are “bigger” than Graeme Connors in country music. The benchmark for the industry is arguably the Golden Guitar Awards, held annually during Tamworth’s Country Music Festival. Graeme has won 14 of those little statues, sitting around 5th or 6th on the list of all-time winners.
There are two things to say about that. Firstly, it is an extraordinary achievement given that for the great majority of his stellar career, Graeme has been an independent artist. And secondly, whilst he absolutely gratefully acknowledges those awards, they are not what define him. He is, first and foremost, a songwriter. He’d be writing songs whether or not the Golden Guitars were sitting on his desk.
To say that Graeme has always done things differently is a bit of an understatement. Originally signed to a major label, several decades ago he made the decision to become totally independent, releasing albums without the support of a major, organising his own shows and tours. Has it worked for him? Well, he’s 19 albums down, and still in the ring swinging hard.
Nineteen albums. You have to take a breath and sit back and think about that for a moment. There aren’t that many artists globally who can lay claim to such an incredible body of work.
Another thing that defines his independence, is his choice of location. He is a born and bred boy from the north, living his entire life in Mackay, hardly recognised as a music mecca. Yet he has produced world class material on a regular basis, over a long period of time, driving through the cane fields of the tropics, finding songs, and an extraordinarily loyal audience.
But my job is to talk about songwriting, the influences, the inspiration, the process. When I call Graeme, he is just walking in the front door of his house, having come back from picking up a piece of vintage equipment, which he is planning to use in the making of album number 20. Stay tuned….
ST: Graeme, you’ve just been sourcing some vintage equipment. Have you got a studio at home?
GC: Yes, but it was built in the 90s. It has a Revox 8 track, so we are talking that sort of technology, but all still functions perfectly. When I make music with (producer) Matt Fell, everything is Pro Tools. But part of my next project, my 20th album, has the fundamental premise “no digital equipment was used in the making of this recording….!”
ST: So are you going to record that album basically at home?
GC: Yes, and probably turn it out on vinyl, as my first album was a vinyl record, so it will be basically closing the circle, and that will sort of become the demo album before I get together with a production team to work on the same songs. Anyway, that’s roughly the plan – we’ll see if the money runs out….
ST: I like to ask this question of all writers I talk to. What was the very first thing you heard that made you want to turn to music?
GC: I have to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Louis Armstrong. Louis and Bing Crosby who were in a musical film called “High Society”, and I must have been seven or eight years old, and I think maybe Grace Kelly was in it, and Louis Armstrong played that trumpet, and had that permanent smile, and Bing Crosby crooned his way into the heart of the girls. I was watching it on an old black and white TV with bad reception, but I kept thinking, that’s the sort of life you want, isn’t it? So, inspired by Louis, my first instrument was actually the cornet, and the bandmaster of the Mackay City Band lived down the road from us, so I started playing with them.
ST: In relation to song-writing, what was it that made you think to yourself “that’s what I want to do, I want to write a song like that”? What was the turning point that made you want to actually be a writer?
GC: Television was a new thing when I was a kid, and there were many musical variety programs, like the Val Doonican or the Johnny Cash show, and songs just really spoke to me. I found their power in the combination of melody and words utterly enchanting. So this was just bubbling away, and every time a song came on, I would just stop and listen, no matter what it was – the radio, my dad’s old records, I’d listen to everything. Kris Kristofferson was a turning point for me, because when I was around thirteen years old, I heard ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ and ‘For The Good Times’, and it seemed like a contemporary conversational style that I hadn’t come across previously. Everything prior to that was a bit theatrical, and this to me was like these simple, humble words that were incredibly powerful. It wouldn’t have hurt also that at the time, I was getting interested in girls, and these songs were like, wow, so that’s what love is. So around that time, in fact for my 13th birthday in April that year, I asked my parents for a guitar, and they bought one for me. And that was the beginning of a lifelong love affair.
ST: Do you play any other instruments, like keys, piano?
GC: I play piano, in fact, most of my repertoire has been written at the piano, rather than at the guitar. Early in the piece I wrote on guitar, and if I showed you those songs now you would pick them straight away, they have a sort of cross-picking style. But eventually I got to the point with songwriting, where I would get up at 5.30 in the morning, without an instrument because the children would still be asleep, and I would basically write the song in my head, so, the melody and the lyrics and the general feeling. And I found that really liberating, because once you know a bit about an instrument, you have a tendency to wander around the same progressions, and it’s so much nicer if you are going from a position of trying to work out what you are hearing, than sitting down at an instrument and trying to create something. But that’s my perspective.
ST: I can really relate to that, but I’ve rarely heard that from other writers.
GC: Well, whenever I am experiencing a block, I generally get in the car and go for a drive, and essentially it opens the windows somehow. You’re doing something with your hands, your mind is obviously alert and you aware of your surroundings, but somehow the sub-conscious starts to work. A good 90 minute drive will sometimes give me a pretty solid outline for a song. It means that you use your memory a lot more than people realise, which is something I say to up and coming writers – do not have an iPad on a stand to read the words of your song. If you haven’t committed your song to memory, as far as I’m concerned, the song doesn’t mean enough to you.
ST: I so agree with that – I hate that look on stage!
GC: Yeah it doesn’t do it for me, mind you, I’m getting to an age where I might need an autocue – but not yet!
ST: Graeme, taking that one step further, once you’ve been through that process and you have these melodies and lyrics and ideas buzzing in your head, do you have a routine with writing? I love asking this question of writers, and that is, could you work like in the old Brill Building days, as in get up in the morning, have a coffee and breakfast, and go to work to write songs 9 to 5?
GC: Absolutely. I think that’s the best possible way to maintain your creativity over a long period of time. I keep saying, you’ve got to keep the appointment. And if you are reliant on some sort of dazzling inspiration, you either have to live such a chaotic life that it will wear you out, or you will have such long gaps between what you produce and the quality of your work will be haphazard. All my favourite writers, like Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, or John Prine, these guys hopefully write a song a week. They throw them out, they put them aside, they bring them out again, but they are doing the job. If you are a songwriter, you’ve got to write songs, you can’t be calling yourself a songwriter and not doing the job.
ST: That’s fascinating. So many writers I talk to and work with only write when they get inspired about something…..
GC: I understand that, and I’m sure there have been some fantastic songs written that way, but there’s also been a lot of one-hit wonders, and I look at it like this – just because you keep the appointment, doesn’t mean you are some sort of machine, it just means that you are there listening, you’ve got your pad and pencil, your instrument, and even if what you come up with on the day is absolute rubbish, you have learnt something. You have learnt never to write that piece of rubbish again!
ST: With Kris Kristofferson being one of your major influences, it must have been an amazing experience to open for him on his first tour of Australia. He produced your first album, is that right, in 1976?
GC: He produced four tracks on that album. And yes, it was incredible experience to be picked up as the support for him on that tour. He would get me out at the end of his show to play ‘Rock & Roll Time’ with him and his band. He was a very generous man, and he ensured that for the entire tour, I travelled with him and his entourage. Wherever they went, I went too. Anyhow, Billy Swan, who was his rhythm guitarist at the time, as a casual side remark after one show, said “we should help Graeme record a version of ‘Rock & Roll Time’”, you know as a bit of a keepsake for what happened on the tour. Kris said, “yeah, let me look into it”, and it transpired that Festival Records paid for them all to stay over, provided the studio. It was really the efforts of Kris and Allan Healy, the head of Festival at the time, and a real music person, and when he saw an opportunity like that, he just grabbed it. And it rolled on into Kris producing those four tracks for my album.
ST: Have you kept in touch with Kris?
GC: We’ve caught up a few times, but not on his most recent tour. I’ve heard that he hasn’t been in the best of health lately but hopefully that is only temporary - he is a remarkable man and a powerful spirit.
ST: Have you done the Nashville thing at all Graeme, recorded or done any writing over there?
GC: I’ve recorded three albums in Nashville. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and made really good friends, guys like Bruce Bouton who plays pedal steel for Garth Brooks and Reba McIntire.
ST: The other thing I really wanted to ask you is, how important has it been for you, or how beneficial has it been to your writing, to be based where you are? I mean, Mackay is not thought of as a music town per se, it’s not a capital city with all those perceived advantages. How has it impacted on your writing?
GC: For the writing process, absolutely beneficial, because I made the realisation around 1987 or 1988, that up until that time, I’d been trying to chase the hits. Whatever was a hit, I’d be trying to dismember it and put it back together a different way, to try and get a ‘hit’ record. And let’s be frank, that can be a great thing to do to learn about the nuts and bolts of writing a powerful song. But nothing beats intimate knowledge and emotional investment in a subject, and I had both – intimate knowledge of the tropics where I grew up, and a vested interest, because when I made the album ‘North’, I was actually looking at retiring from the music industry. I thought it was going to be my last word, and I specifically wrote it filled with localities, because I wanted my sons to know a bit about what I did, and where I came from and all those sorts of things. We had four boys at that point in time. And lo and behold, what I thought was going to be the full stop to my career, turned out to be the capital letter.
ST: That was the album that really changed things for you, wasn’t it?
GC: Absolutely. And no one at that time had really explored tropical Australia as an inspiration. But that wasn’t why I made it, it was made as a deeply personal experience, and with each one of those songs, I can take you to a place, or I can tell you the story behind it. And that continues.
ST: When I look at your catalogue, I see these themes that run through your writing – family, love (obviously), travel, and real people, real characters. Do you write much from a fictional perspective, do you think?
GC: There’s a lot of made-up threads that hold songs together, but the core is real experience. That’s the best way I can explain it. As I said, I can take you to various places that have inspired songs or stories, but I’m a creative person, I’m not just relating a news story. I’m looking for archetypes, I’m looking for a result from the experience, so that the audience can maybe find that classic “a-ha” moment where it all comes together. Then there are other songs where it’s just trying to describe as well as possible an event or something that’s happened with people. I don’t know, I mean it’s a risky thing, I’m not a journalist. And as such, there’s going to be a bit made up as much as there is absolutely concrete.
ST: I know you have done your most recent album back with ABC Music, but for the majority of your career, you have pretty much been an independent artist. And that’s pretty unusual for someone with the degree of success you have had. I mean, most of the very successful people in country music in Australia are still signed to big labels. Do you think remaining independent has helped with the creative process, not having to bow to record company pressure?
GC: Absolutely, having total control over the process… I mean, without being critical, record companies have many artists to work with and essentially need to work to a schedule, with releases one and a half years apart or whatever it might be. But there is nothing like having a vested interest in the whole process, where you’ve spent your money, and you are looking to get the return as quickly as possible. Having said that, it’s getting increasingly difficult in this era of streaming - the returns are minuscule and song rather than album driven. I’m not a fan of what has happened to the music industry, and record companies have bought into the process so there’s no going back. Up until recent times, if I have been able to make a good living out of releasing 19 albums both independently and through major record companies, the process was going well, it wasn’t my talent alone.
I also had the privilege of working as a professional manager for a music publishing company called Rondor Music for several years in the early to mid ’80’s - being on the other side of the desk for a while was a real education. Sometimes as artists we forget that there is a whole team of equally talented people who are trying to market what we do - not every artist is destined to be a worldwide household name and there are smaller but viable ways to do what we do.
ST: All the shows you are doing these days, do you still control all that yourself?
GC: Totally. I have lived through this industry, and plan to do what I do until I drop. I know what works for me, and I wish for every artist to have a sense of creative freedom. It’s the best food for the creative process. At the heart of it, that’s what it’s all about…..
A SHORT LIFE AND A MERRY ONE
Ned Kelly remains Australia's most famous bushranger, as we called our outlaws here in Australia. The Kelly Gang -- Ned, his younger brother Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart -- ruled the roost in the country's eastern states during the 1870s.
There has been much written about Ned, and how and why he came to be an outlaw. There are many excellent books, a couple of movies, and numerous songs about the Kelly Gang, with the main focus, appropriately so, on Ned. It was his gig, after all. Joe Byrne has always featured pretty heavily, given his close mateship with Ned, and also because it was Joe who was rumoured to be the true author of a couple of famous letters Ned sent to the authorities at the height of the gang's supremacy.
But I was always fascinated by the two youngsters in the band -- Dan, who was only 18 years old when things came to an end, and his close friend Steve Hart, who was not much older at 21. The Kelly Gang reign came to an end on June 28th, 1880 when the four of them were involved in a fatal shootout with the police at the tavern in a Victorian country town named Glenrowan. Joe was killed, Ned was wounded and captured after a spectacular solo onslaught against the troopers, and, as far as the history books are concerned, Dan and Steve took their own lives when the tavern was set alight, and all hope of escape or survival was lost.
I always wondered what it must have been like for the two youngsters, as they saw their lives hurtling towards a fiery end. How scared, how hopeless they must have felt. Steve was famous for one thing though -- coining the legendary phrase "a short life and a merry one." He and Dan were a couple of carefree lads, who for sure, got themselves into a bit of mischief from time to time, but this quickly escalated into serious banditry as Ned's run-ins with the law escalated.
Steve was also "famous" for something else -- being a cross-dresser. History is divided on this matter. Some say that Steve dressed as a woman a few times to disguise himself from the police. Others maintain he simply enjoyed it. Either way, it adds to his charm and legend.
At the end of the Glenrowan siege, two charred bodies were found, in amongst the bodies of several innocent people who got caught up in the firestorm, and the body of Joe, which was clearly identifiable. It was always assumed these remains were those of Dan and Steve, and that they had made a pact to kill each other as all hope of survival vanished. History wrote it up that way.
Over the years, there have been numerous theories and rumours suggesting that Dan and Steve did, in fact, escape the inferno, and went on to live anonymous lives elsewhere in the country. A few people have come out and confessed on their death bed, to being Dan Kelly, in particular. One theory purported that Steve fled to America, and set up a new life in California.
In any case, it was my attraction to the lives of Dan and Steve that led me as a songwriter to pen a song a couple of years ago, adopting Steve's famous catch-cry as the song title -- "A Short Life and A Merry One". I recorded the song and have been performing it at gigs these past few years. It is written as a duet, a conversation between Dan and Steve at Glenrowan. In the studio, I took the part of Dan, and I brought in one of my favourite singer-songwriters from the region where I live (Byron Bay) named Ash Bell, who took on the role of Steve Hart. When we play the song live, my dear mate and longtime bass player John Barr sings the Steve Hart lines. Which is very appropriate, because JB is also a cross dresser. Just kidding....
In the final verse of the song, I suggest, tongue-in-cheek, that Dan and Steve did in fact escape the final siege, with Dan re-settling in Queensland, and Steve making it to California. I never really believed it of course, I just wanted to put a humorous twist at the tail of an otherwise serious contemporary folk song.
But something happened a little while back which absolutely floored me. We were playing a concert over on beautiful Macleay Island, and at the end of the show, a man approached me and thanked me for singing "A Short Life". He was a quietly spoken, gentle character --- and he told me he was Dan Kelly's grandson. My jaw dropped. The man, Barry, said that Dan did survive Glenrowan, he did escape, and he did set up a new, quiet, anonymous life in a small country town called Mitchell, in Queensland. Barry said that he didn't find out himself until he was in his 40s.
Furthermore, Barry maintained the family had proof that the man who called himself his grandfather, was Dan Kelly. Significant research had been undertaken, and a book actually written about the family in Mitchell. I had heard about this book, but then I had heard about other similar stories over the years. But this was different....
Barry was, as I say, a dignified, decent person, not some "nutter" trying to capitalise on a great story. He simply knew what he was saying to be true. And you know what? I believe him. The ending of my song took on a whole new meaning.....
Danny I can hear the train is slowing
And Curnow never went to help his wife
You were right to doubt that scheming little bastard
I believe we’ll be fighting for our life
Stevie I can hear the troopers calling
And Ned and Joe are prepping for the fight
We will wear these heavy sheets of plated armour
But I wonder if we’ll make it through the night
Danny drop your head there’s bullets flying
Mrs Jones has lost her little boy I fear
And Ned has disappeared into the darkness
I’m thinking that the end is very near
Stevie have I told you that I love you
Like a brother who has borne the Kelly name
And now as I see the dawn approaching
I’d rather live than have this cursed fame
Do you remember when we used to pan for gold?
Long before the coppers made us run
It seemed to be ‘twas everyone you told
“here’s to a short life, and a merry one”
Jaisus Christ they think they’ve seen a monster
As Ned comes fully armoured through the haze
He’s firing like a madman at those troopers
God bless you Dan this is our final day
When Ned goes down we hear the bastards calling
“we’ve got your man and now he’s going to hang”
Joe he steps outside and he is laughing
He cries “here’s to the bold Kelly gang”
Do you remember etc
Danny now the fire is a-blazing
I can’t breathe and there’s smoke in my lungs
Do we run or do we die together?
Put your finger on the trigger of this gun
My mother and my sisters I will miss you
I am proud to be a Kelly just the same
Stevie as we take this step together
Life was short but a truly merry game
Do you remember…etc
Dear sir, how is life in sunny Queensland?
I hear you survived another war
I wish you were here in California
A merry life could be for evermore
I think I’m a lapsed Protestant. I went to an Anglican school – a great school, I should say upfront – but didn’t really follow through.
Then I married a good Catholic girl, but eventually became a lapsed Catholic too.
I’m a spiritual person, not a religious person. As you may know from my songs, I’ve spent a lot of time in countries where Hinduism is the main religion, I’ve travelled extensively in Buddhist nations, and spent much time in communities where Islam is the only faith on offer. I get something from all those places, from all those people, all those philosophies. But I guess I just got out of the habit of the Sunday ritual.
And in recent times, let’s face it, the Catholic Church has had a lot to answer for. To be fair, the Anglicans haven’t exactly been squeaky clean either. No excuses for either of them.
But a couple of years ago, I went back to church. It was Christmas, the grand-kids were here. It just felt it was time to go back. So on Christmas Day, the collective family went to Mass at the local church. It was, well, nice. The service was nice, the message of goodwill was nice. The priest was nice.
Then at the end of the service, a funny thing happened. Father Jones (not his real name, of course) cleared his throat and said to the congregation, “before I send you away with a final Christmas blessing, could I please ask you a favour? Could you please say a prayer for me?”
The church fell silent. Well, it was already pretty silent, but it went dead quiet. No one moved a muscle. We all focused completely on the priest. He moved forward a few steps, sort of came down on the same level as us punters, and spoke quietly.
“I know the Church has got a lot to answer for. I know some very bad things have happened and have been covered up. I know some of my colleagues have behaved very badly, shockingly in fact -- but I’m not one of them. I’m a good man, and I do my job to the best of my ability. And, I’m a little bit tired of walking down the street, and people calling me ‘paedophile’. I’m a little bit tired of people at the bar of the local hotel throwing beer over me, or spitting on me from the balcony. I don’t abuse children, I’ve never abused children, and I deplore the abuse of children. I will do everything within my power to stop it from happening. So, on this Christmas morning, could I ask you to spare a thought for me, perhaps say a prayer for me, and to ask God to continue to give me the strength to do my job as He would want me too.”
And with that, he smiled, gave us all a blessing, wished us Merry Christmas, and sent us on our way, to enjoy our Christmas dinners, the laughter of our children, and the love of family. The congregation remained silent until we were all outside and on the way home.
No religion is perfect, we all know that. This wasn’t meant to be a dialogue about what’s good and what’s not good about the Catholic Church. The different branches of Islam tear each other apart. Buddhists in some countries have committed terrible atrocities. And wars between religions have been raging for centuries – still are. But abuse of children in what are supposed to be civilised countries, by persons supposed to be in positions of trust, really strikes at the core of our fundamental belief in what is good.
As far as I know, Father Jones is still the local priest. He’s still doing good work. I hope he isn’t being spat on or soaked in beer anymore. Regardless, I thought he deserved a song……
If Jesus has reasons then I’m left alone in the dark
I sure try to please him but it’s not like a walk in the park
I will turn the other cheek
They stand at the bar and they spit out their misguided fear
They scream from afar and they hose out their hatred with beer
But I will stand amongst the meek
Yes I will turn the other cheek
Brothers you’ve torn down the walls
They are coming to settle the scores
I am scarred by your demons
But I need to re-open the doors
If I doubt this vocation then tell me that I’m doing right
If I go through the motions then show me it’s all worth the fight
I will stand amongst the meek
And I will bare my smarted cheek
Brothers you’ve torn down the walls
They are coming to settle the scores
I am scarred by your demons
But I need to re-open the doors
If Jesus has reasons, I’m scarred by your demons
If Jesus has reasons, I’m scarred by your demons
Brothers you’ve torn down the walls
They are coming to settle the scores
I am scarred by your demons
But I need to re-open the doors
Slavery. Could there be any more abhorrent practice in the history of civilization? The very thought of one human being owning another just defies the most basic premise of the human condition – the right to be yourself.
We associate slavery with ancient cultures, with marauding Vikings, with early Middle Eastern populations, with Africa, with the European Middle Ages, with the Ottoman Wars, with the cotton fields of America. Modern slavery still exists in the form of sex-trafficking of women and children, the most despicable of practices, not only in ravaged Islamic countries such as Boko Haram, but unbelievably, in supposedly more sophisticated western nations.
And despite my knowledge of Australia’s dark past with the genocide of our Aboriginal people, I never knew that our country had its very own slave trade, somehow missing from our history books. Until I went to Tasmania.
For some reason, I only visited Tasmania for the first time a couple of years ago. Let me just make the qualification once again if you aren’t familiar with Australia. Tasmania is the heart-shaped island state located to the south of the mainland. I guess, like a lot of Australians, we take the view that we can see our own country anytime, so we should do all the overseas travelling while we are young and fit enough to endure thirty-six hour flights.
So that’s why we hadn’t ventured that far south before. But wow, it was sure worth the wait. I know I bang on about everywhere being beautiful and amazing, but Tasmania is truly a very spectacular piece of planet Earth. A kaleidoscope of landscapes crammed into its 68,000 square kilometres, from mountains to lakes to rich forests to winding coastlines, to maturing cities offering some of the finest food and wine in the country.
For nature lovers, Tassie offers a smorgasbord of opportunities, due mainly to the fact that a huge proportion of the island is given over to national parks. Cradle Mountain, Freycinet National Park, Bay of Fires, Coles Bay, and Bruny Island all offer remarkable hiking, camping, wildlife observing, kayaking, climbing and just about any other outdoor activity you can think of. Just sitting and looking at the spectacular scenery on offer is pretty damn fine also. The Huon Valley and areas around the Tamar Valley are beautiful places just to hang out in. Great eating and the aforementioned really good wines.
Culturally, there are plenty of options to see great art, attend cool music festivals, or check out live theatre. One of the most spectacular galleries in Australia is here in Hobart, Tasmania’s capital city. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is a privately-owned and funded exhibition space, contained in a building which is a work of art in its own right. Cutting edge paintings, sculptures, installations, and cinematic works are exhibited alongside a great restaurant, neighbouring winery and riverside accommodation pavilions. A very unique experience.
On the west coast of the island lies the hamlet of Strahan, a really pretty village with superb wilderness railway journeys on offer. In a little theatre on the harbour, a play called “The Ship That Never Was” is performed virtually every night of the year (I think they take a short winter break). It is the longest running play in Australia, telling the story of the last ever convict escape from the nearby penal settlement on Sarah Island. It’s been showing for just over 25 years, and it is a lot of fun.
Which leads me to Port Arthur, an important place to visit to get a handle on Australia’s convict history. Located in the south of the island, on the Tasman Peninsula, the penal settlement was established in 1830, and quickly grew to establish useful industries, considered the pathway to prisoner rehabilitation. Timber milling and shipbuilding became important to the whole region.
Several significant buildings were constructed by convicts during the 1850s and 1860s, and most of them have been beautifully preserved. The entire site is now an historic museum, where details of convict activities, including escape attempts, are faithfully recorded. Given its isolation from Hobart, and certainly from the mainland, it was virtually impossible to escape from Port Arthur. That didn’t stop some prisoners from trying.
Sadly, Port Arthur is also famous for another reason. It is the location of the largest mass murder in Australia’s modern history. On April 28th 1996, the country reeled in horror as we all heard the news that a lone gunman had shot and murdered thirty-five people in cold blood, and wounded a further twenty-three, in the Port Arthur museum café and surrounding areas. His victims were innocent people of all ages, men, women, and children.
Rough Red was playing a gig that Sunday afternoon in a pub on the outskirts of Brisbane. It was only a couple of months before we were due to head off overseas on our first European tour. I remember were collectively grumbling about how we hadn’t played particularly well that day, and that we better lift our game before we hit festival stages in Denmark. We were packing up just after the gig when the news came through about the massacre. All of a sudden our “problems” didn’t seem that important after all.
In the café today, there is of course a memorial to the victims. One of the most important things about the words that are written, is that the killer is not mentioned by name. The people of Tasmania have chosen not to allow this pathetic excuse for a human being the satisfaction of seeing his name glorified in some way. May history just remember the event, acknowledge the lives lost, but never the worthless, wretched individual. I certainly will not add to his “fame” by mentioning him by name here.
The words of local author Margaret Scott are included in the memorial …
“Death has taken its toll
Some pain knows no release
But the knowledge of brave compassion
Shines like a pool of peace.
May we who come to this garden
Cherish life for the sake of those who died
Cherish compassion for the sake of those who gave aid
Cherish peace for the sake of those in pain.”
Immediately after the tragedy, the Australian Government initiated a scheme to buy back guns in this country, a move aimed at essentially abolishing the personal ownership of automatic weapons, similar to those used by the loser in Port Arthur. The scheme has been universally lauded as one of the most successful in the world. What a tragedy in its own right that such a thing will never happen in gun-crazy USA.
Darkness does linger in Tasmania’s history, despite the wonder and beauty of the place. Although it was never recorded in any history books during my time at school, the systematic extermination of the Aboriginal people from the island is today acknowledged and recorded for all to see.
There have been many books, essays and studies about this turbulent period in Tasmania’s past, so I don’t wish to expand on what happened in any detail. But from the period of 1824 to 1831, what became known as the Black War, ravaged the young settlement of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania’s original name). And by the end of that “war”, the Aboriginal population of the island had been virtually eliminated.
But how to apportion blame? How did this come to pass? In the end, it was sheer weight of numbers, as more and more free settlers arrived in Tasmania, that ensured the eventual demise of the black tribes. Was it the settlers’ crime, they who had been promised extensive land holdings to farm by the British Government, only to find themselves under constant attack from the local natives?
And how could the Aboriginal people react any differently? Their land, the land they had walked for centuries, was suddenly occupied by these strange new white invaders. Was it not perfectly natural that they would fight to keep what was theirs?
In the end, the systematic slaughter of the black tribes was authorised by the British Government. Ultimately, the buck must stop there. Rightfully so, this terrible period in our country’s history is at least properly acknowledged today. It still makes for harrowing reading and viewing in the many documents now available. In my view, it blackens the name of many settlers who became prominent in Australian society, but who played central roles in the “cleansing” of Tasmania.
It was in a book in the excellent Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, that I discovered the little-known history of our country’s horrific slave trade. I have since read a number of essays and articles specifically about the subject, and I still shake my head in bewilderment as I write about it now.
I mentioned at the start of this story that Tasmania is an island state. In fact, it is made up of several islands, more than three hundred. Importantly to this tale, there are fifty or so islands in Bass Straight, between the mainland and the primary isle. In the late 18th century, huge colonies of seals were discovered in these waters, and sealing became Australia’s first significant export industry. But conservation was just a word back in those days, and within a couple of decades, the seal colonies were largely depleted.
But many sealers stayed in the region, basing themselves on the various Bass Strait islands, to continue eking a living. These were tough men, mainly ex-convicts, and they all lived in isolation, almost driven mad by lust. They became obsessed with the exotic-looking, essentially naked black women of the northern Aboriginal tribes. The sealers began raiding these tribes to steal women and young girls, taking them back to their islands. In a twenty-year period up to 1832, they killed hundreds of black men – the sealers would approach camps and simply open fire – and abducted several hundred women and children, forcing them into sex-driven slavery.
As seals became scarcer, the sealers realised the Aboriginal women were skilled workers, and exploited them to grow crops and hunt, dive for shellfish, cook, make garments, crew boats. The sealers also adopted the centuries old Aboriginal practice of mutton-birding, forcing the women to catch the short-tailed shearwaters, which were a food source and produced a form of oil. So whilst lust and sex initially fuelled the slave trade, the need to find alternative ways to supplement sealing income took the business of slavery to whole new level.
This became a slave “trade” in the true sense of the word. Sealers would swap amongst themselves, women or young girls for certain goods. The practice escalated, and cruelty was commonplace. Horrific accounts of brutality were recorded -- beatings with whips, being tied to trees and flogged, flesh cut with sealing knifes. For disobedient slaves, death by shooting or incineration was not uncommon.
Rebellious, lonely men of low intellect, eking out a miserable living in barren, tough conditions, largely operating in a lawless, wild frontier. What an horrific set of circumstances that led to such an abominable, shameful period in our country’s history. Eventually a man named George Robinson, who was largely responsible for saving the remaining black tribes on Van Diemen’s Land and re-settling them on designated “safe” islands in Bass Strait, lobbied for emancipation of the enslaved women. It was said that when emancipation finally occurred, there we were but a handful of women and girls remaining in all of the northern tribes, so many had been stolen. Many slaves were killed before they could be freed.
Ironically, this terrible tradition also produced the first generation of mixed-race Tasmanians. The descendants of these people today have a very powerful political voice in the state.
The Aboriginal word used by the tribes in the north to describe the women enslaved by the sealers, was Tyereelore. So moved was I by this anguishing slice of little-known history, I had penned this song by the time we left the Apple Isle. The “characters” in the song are real. Their names are found amongst the official records of slavery in Tasmania.
They were sealers from the islands right across the wild Bass Strait
The ruthless lawless traders who would seal the black girls’ fate
And became the cruel slavers, and the targets of deep hate
Takartee and Jumbo, Little Kit and Ruth and Sal
Just children who were stolen and faced a living hell
Sold, abused and tortured, if they ever lived to tell
Mad John Harrington his evil knew no bounds
He had a dozen women through the islands on his rounds
When came emancipation, most were never found
Tyereelore, please take me home
Mannarlargenna all hail the mighty chief
On Preservation Island he came searching for the thief
Who stole his three young daughters, made a world of pain and grief
Isaac and brave Judy watched their masters fall asleep
Across the bay of bleak Green Island with the waters lapping deep
They stole the sealer’s vessel, and made that faithful leap
Proud Thomas Beeton he had an island wife
He said to the Governor I provide a better life
She has given me two children, and I claim this as my right
Tyereelore, please take me home
From the fire at north Peak Hill the black men send the smoke
From the islands they can clearly hear their wailing womenfolk
And they wonder if their tears show the horrors that they cloak
Tyereelore, please take me home
Drugs and music. Seems they have always been partners. Like a rocky marriage, for some, I guess it must be like, “can’t live with you, can’t live without you.”
I’ve seen careers de-railed and lives shattered by drugs. I’ve also seen amazing players and writers who maintain that their work has been enhanced by them. But plenty more of the former than the latter.
I’ve never done drugs. No, that’s not true. I have had two joints in my entire life. The first was when I was at the University of Queensland, watching a band called Heart & Soul at a concert in the refectory. I had the joint and then went outside and threw up. My friends reckon it had something to do with the twelve beers I’d had before, but no, I blame the dope. Thereafter I was wary, let’s just put it that way.
Several years later, I was living the life of a full-time touring musician in the band Felix. We were in Townsville playing a six-week stint at the Mandarin Club. The Mandarin wasn’t exactly a high-end venue, it was a night club where we played six nights a week from 8pm to 3am. On Mondays and Tuesdays, if things were quiet, the gig might wrap up at midnight. The club was located in the dicier end of town, down near the railway yards.
Back in those days, the late 1970s, the bands on the circuit would all stay in the designated “band” house, supplied by the venue owner. I can’t remember the name of the guy who owned the Mandarin, but he was a Chinese fellow and he had interests in a few businesses around the town. We never saw him at the club, he left the running of the place to a manager named Henry.
On our first Monday, we met Henry at the venue, he gave us the key to the band house, and we headed off in our vehicles to move in. We didn’t have the money for a truck at that stage, so we travelled in our keyboard player Dave’s Kombi, and my ancient Valiant. The first thing we noticed as we dragged our bags towards the front stairs of the old timber two-level joint, was, there were none – stairs, that is. They were in a pile below the front door. But there was a rope hanging down from the door, which was apparently the expected method of entry. Fortunately, there was a back set of stairs, even though they shook from side to side as you went up or down. They were fast heading in the same direction as the front stairs.
We opened the back door to a place that stank to high heaven and was an absolute pig sty. It was unliveable as is, that’s for sure. Slightly pissed off, I decided to head back to the venue in town to tell the manager we could not stay in a shithole like that. We didn’t have time to muck around, as we had to head back to the club anyway to set up. But we had an ace up our sleeves, as it turned out.
Dave was a pom, although he had been living in Australia for a long time. Just before we were about to head north to Townsville after a stint on the Gold Coast, Dave announced that he had a slight problem. His Mum was coming over from England for a visit, and he couldn’t just abandon her in Brisbane while he headed off for six weeks.
“So, what’s the problem exactly?” I asked him.
“Well, she’ll have to come with us,” said Dave.
“Seriously? Your Mum is going to come on the road with us?” we responded collectively.
“I just can’t think of what else to do. I can’t just leave her behind the day she arrives from the UK,” Dave shrugged. “She’ll be no trouble, really.”
So Mrs Johnson, a diminutive little Englishwoman, threw her bag in the Kombi and that was it, she was coming on the road with a rock & roll band. As I was about to head off back to the Mandarin Club to give the manager a piece of my mind, Mrs J stepped up.
“Look, don’t you worry boys, I’ve seen lots of places much worse than this. Why don’t you all just head back to town and set up your equipment, and I’ll deal with this.” She quickly ushered us out the back door with the broom she had located, and we headed back to the club. I was still feeling mightily unhappy about the state of the house.
We strode into the venue and straight up to Henry.
“Mate,” I said, “that house is a disgrace. It’s unliveable. For starters, it doesn’t even have stairs!”
“Really?” he answered quizzically, “I thought that’s how you blokes liked it?”
“What do you mean, ‘you blokes’?”
“Musicians,” he said seriously, “I thought that’s how you all live.”
“You’re kidding, right? Just because we are musicians, you think we enjoy the concept of living in a filthy shithole?” I was angry, but reasonably contained, after all, this was the guy who would be paying us for the next six weeks.
“Well, the last blokes didn’t mind. The place was spotless when they moved in, and the front stairs were there. But that’s how they left it, so we assumed that’s how you blokes lived and there was no point getting it all cleaned up.”
Well, the penny sort of dropped. We knew who the previous band was, and quite frankly they had a reputation as being a bunch of grubs, not only in terms of personal hygiene, but also just as human beings. They had gotten a lot of people, venues and other musicians, off-side.
Anyway, the conversation continued along the lines of me assuring him that we all came from good homes and we weren’t used to living in filth, and Henry good-naturedly apologising, and promising to arrange for someone to come by tomorrow to help clean the house. All good, we moved on and set up our equipment.
We arrived back at the house a couple of hours later, and we weren’t sure we had the right address. Mrs J had completely transformed the place, it literally shone it was so clean. She had remade beds with clean sheets, she had banged a few nails into the back stairs so the wobble wasn’t so bad.
“And I’ve cooked dinner for you boys, so you just relax now,” she said, putting the final touches to the magnificent smelling food emanating from the sparkling kitchen. And that’s how things were for the next six weeks, Mrs J would clean up after us, she would cook for us every night – frankly, she was amazing. And she turned a blind eye to some of the after-hours activities.
“Don’t you worry about that boys, you just carry on as if I wasn’t here,” she smiled. And we sort of got used to the missing front stairs. It became a bit of a game for us to try to swing up to the front door on the rope. Hilarious.
Anyway, back to the point of the story, which was my second encounter with dope. Felix had a routine, where we would rehearse in the club every second day, working on the intricate arrangements for some of the songs we were writing at the time. Rehearsals became pretty intense.
One day I was hanging out with a local musician listening to some new music he had introduced me to. I had an hour to kill before meeting the rest of the band at the club for rehearsal. We were talking all things music, when suddenly he produced a joint from his pocket.
“You want to smoke?” he asked.
“Aah, no thanks,” I replied, still being very gun-shy following my first experience with Mary Jane.
“Come on, man, give it a try,” he cajoled, “you know it makes the music amazing.”
Now I was pretty much in awe of this guy. He was one of the finest guitar players I had ever come across. For mine, I considered myself to be a songwriter before a guitar player, and I knew my limitations, which I only really started to address many years later. So I was a bit intimidated. And I gave in.
Being stone cold sober, I had no problem with the throwing up thing. I didn’t really notice all that much to begin with, I think partly because I had never been a smoker of cigarettes, so the physical act of smoking was foreign to me. I grew up in a household with a mother who never smoked, and a father who smoked a minimum of sixty a day, sometimes eighty.
Because he was a radio celebrity, my Dad used to get his cigarettes for free. All the big ciggie companies would just provide him with whatever he liked, on the hope or expectation that if Russ Tyson smoked Rothman’s, or Craven A, or Peter Stuyvesant, it must be the cool brand. Getting them gratis, he just smoked all the time.
I can’t say his smoking really bothered me, I wasn’t vehemently anti-smoking as a kid, but it just didn’t appeal to me, and my Mum must have known something, because way back then, in the 1960s, she would say to me and my brother, “don’t start smoking, I don’t think it could be good for you, all that smoke going into your lungs.” Smart woman my Mum.
So I never took it up. I think I tried it once and almost threw up then as well. Eventually, my Dad must have realised how bad it was for your health – maybe the first true research was coming out around that time – but in 1968 I think it was, at the age of 48, he went cold turkey after a serious bet with one of his fellow announcers, and never touched a cigarette again.
Anyway, I left my musician friend feeling pretty happy, and I headed off to rehearsal with the band. I still wasn’t feeling anything particularly trippy. The band kicked into gear under my direction – and things very quickly fell apart. I blew every song. I stuffed up every arrangement. I missed verses, left out middle-eights, I played like shit.
My band mates just stopped and looked at me. Noel, our drummer, always one to call a spade a spade, stood up from behind his kit.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he said, “you are messing up everything. You never do that, these are your songs, man! Are you sick or something?”
I can’t remember if I told them the truth or not. I think I did, but I’m not sure. I apologised and we cancelled the rest of the rehearsal, and I went back to the house and slept.
And that was the last time I ever smoked dope. It scared the crap out of me, the fact that I totally lost the plot and blew every song just told me that dope was not for me. It didn’t enhance anything, it just created a monstrous problem. I could never, ever trust myself to play music properly if I chanced trying it again. So I never have, and never will.
I have absolutely nothing against people who smoke weed. I have plenty of friends who smoke it regularly. There is no doubt that there is a strong case for the legalisation of marijuana, and the medical benefits are being slowly accepted around the world. For many musicians, dope doesn’t seem to affect their performance. It never ceases to amaze me how some of the greats like Eric Clapton could actually play while being so totally wasted. His level of addiction went way beyond cannabis of course, and that is a whole different frightening world that is completely foreign to my way of thinking.
I have witnessed plenty of scary things with musicians I know who have wasted their talent, indeed wasted their lives, on the harder stuff. Thankfully in my inner circle of players it hasn’t been an issue. But I’ve seen marriages wrecked, kids abandoned, and fortunes lost thanks to the demons disguised as drugs.
It can be really funny though, seeing the effect of dope on some performers. Incredibly, the two guys I have spent most time in bands with, John Barr (JB), and Dave “Mash” Parnell, have never taken any form of drug, or even smoked a joint, in their lives. Like me, they both like a beer on a hot day, and post recording sessions or gigs, good red wines or whiskeys have been consumed in copious quantities. Plenty of folks could be down on that, but the three of us have never been drunk on stage.
In the very early days of Rough Red, we were playing a gig at the Irish bar in Brisbane that we would ultimately be banned from (that’s another story). This was just prior to our first European tour, so Peter Hudson was still our drummer, and Mashy was doing sound.
After the first set, Huddo, Peter Harvey our keys player, and front man John Fegan decided to head out to a nearby alley and try some new dope that Pete had brought along. Apparently, it was pretty strong stuff. When they came back in for the second set, they were looking very happy.
We kicked off into the first song, and within a minute or so, I was looking across at JB who also wore a frowned expression. We both looked at Harv, and mouthed to each other, “is he all of a sudden twice as loud as he was in the first set?” We both looked out front to Mashy at the mixing desk with our eyebrows raised. He got what we were on about straight away, and nodded. Yep, Harv’s on-stage volume had gone through the roof.
All of a sudden, Huddo started throwing in some interesting stuff, sort of Billy Cobham (the great jazz drummer) fills in between my simple mandolin lines. Okay, that’s different, and Huddo could get away with that stuff, he was a great player (still is). The only problem was, Huddo’s rhythms had obviously pushed John Fegan into a new stratosphere, and he started wailing like a banshee – out of tune, and out of time.
JB and I looked at each other, then at Mashy, who was shaking his head (not in a good way), and then back to observe our dope-laden band mates, who were all grooving away thinking the band was sounding amazing, when in reality, it sounded like dog poo. The set went through some very strange phases, but somehow, we managed to get to the end of it.
I can’t remember which one of them said it, but they were collectively nodding away, agreeing that we had just played the best ever in our short history together. Very, very funny. Fortunately, that was a very rare occurrence with The Reds.
I mentioned earlier about never being drunk on stage. That’s also not quite true. Certainly in Rough Red, the twentysevens, my solo shows, or any other important gigs, I rarely had (or have) a drink before going on stage. Maybe a quick beer, or a settling whiskey, but never drunk. I told you in a previous blog about the drink-spiking incident.
But there was another time I played drunk on stage, and I have absolutely no excuses. It was early 1980s, and Felix had imploded. I joined the touring band of a couple of Brisbane friends trading as Moscos & Stone who had tasted success with a few radio hits, but that eventually petered out after a couple of years. So I landed a day job selling advertising for a Brisbane newspaper. It was a crappy job, but it paid the bills.
I had been there for a short while when my old mate JB called me with an offer to join a hard-working covers band he was playing in, called Person to Person (named after an Average White Band song). They had a residency playing six nights a week at a huge BBQ/restaurant place called The Barn, and the band’s guitarist was leaving. JB had put forward my name to the guy who was the undisputed leader of the band, Barry Howarth.
I did an audition and got the gig and settled into a routine of working both the day job, and playing every night from Monday through to Saturday. After a few months, the gig was scaled back to four nights a week, which became a bit more manageable. Person to Person was a covers band in every respect. We wore uniforms and played all the current radio hits. Barry ruled with an iron fist.
He was a strange fellow, very highly strung, and during the day ran his own printing business with his wife. It was a fairly demanding job from what I recall, and Barry always seemed to be under the pump. He smoked heavily, but he was fiercely anti-drinking. He had very strict rules about drugs and alcohol in the band. He was fine with you having a drink, but made it very clear that if you turned up drunk, or under the influence of drugs, you faced the sack.
I remember one night he called a band meeting after the gig, and accused JB and Howie our drummer, another delightful human being, of passing drugs to each other on stage before we kicked off. Howie, like JB, had never touched drugs in his life. Such was Barry’s paranoia.
After a few more months, I had become increasingly disillusioned with the newspaper job, and was approached by an old friend about returning to my previous day time work in the property industry. I had worked in property all during the 70s, up until going full time into music with Felix. I jumped at the opportunity.
Came my final day at the newspaper, a Friday, and a few of the lads I worked with decided to take me out for a few drinks to wish me well. They were a lively bunch, and a few drinks turned into several drinks. I was having a grand old time, before one of them said, “so you don’t have a gig tonight?”
Oh shit, yes, I did have a gig that night. I don’t think I forgot, it just sort of got pushed to the back of my mind with the exhilaration of leaving the lousy day job. But I was well primed by the time I left for The Barn. Luckily, I could walk there in about a half an hour, and all my gear was already on stage and guitars locked up in secure storerooms. I figured by the time I got there I would have sobered up.
Not so. JB and Howie picked up pretty quickly that I was under the weather, I just had to stay out of Barry’s way before going on stage. Somehow I managed to do that, and got through the first set. I stumbled over a few things which earned me an admonishing look or two from Barry, but nothing too serious. During the break I got into a conversation with some friends, again avoiding speaking with the boss.
We started the next set, and about third song in, Barry (who never wrote set lists, he just called out the next song) announced we would play this Beatles medley. Now, this was probably the most complicated thing we did. It involved multiple song and key changes during the piece which probably went for about ten to twelve minutes. Not only that, I had to sing a couple of the tunes, which I rarely did in this band. Barry sang probably 95% of the stuff we played.
It didn’t go well. I stumbled over chords, forgot lyrics, missed key changes, and ended prematurely. Barry was fuming over on his side of the stage. There was no avoiding what was coming at the end of the set. Sure enough, as we finished the last song and put down our instruments, Barry stormed over towards me, slumped on the front of the stage. I had only one chance here, not a very good chance, but it was all I could think of at the time.
As Barry was about to launch into me, I went on the front foot.
“Geez, I’m so sick, I’m really sorry Barry, I’m just really crook. I must have picked up a bug. I didn’t want to come near you in case I spread the germs. But I didn’t realise how sick I am. I’m really, really sorry about the screw-ups, I’ll soldier on and get the job done.”
Fully expecting a “don’t you bull-shit me, you’re drunk,” I couldn’t believe it when Barry’s demeanour changed instantly, and he said, “that’s okay mate, sorry to hear that. Just take it easy and we’ll get through it.”
Talk about lucky. Somehow, I got out of jail. JB and Howie were amazed at how I had avoided Barry’s wrath and likely sacking, but sometimes, the cards just fall the right way. And I can honestly say, that is very definitely the last time I have ever performed drunk.
There is no denying that some of the greatest songwriters – or indeed, artists, poets, authors – lay claim to the fact that drugs helped them reach new creative heights. The Beatles, for example, were clearly under the influence of LSD during the Sgt Pepper’s period. Ginsberg, Kerouac, William S Burroughs all produced their finest works during times of extensive drug use.
And time and time again over the years, I have had it said to me by others, “try this stuff man, it really makes the music amazing.”
Whenever that happens, I always remember the words of a great musician and one of my mentors, drummer Peter Miles, who played in legendary Brisbane band The Coloured Balls in the late 60s, early 70s. He was regarded as the go-to drummer in Brisbane back then, influencing a whole generation of players. Peter went back to the UK and to this day, is still one of the most in-demand players in the blues and jazz scene over there. He has never touched drugs in his life.
Whenever someone would make the comment about drugs making the music amazing, Peter’s response would be, “music is already amazing, it doesn’t need any help.”
And although that became my life-long mantra also, it didn’t stop me writing the song “Stoned Again”, a few days after throwing up in a garden bed outside the refectory at the University of Queensland.
(“Stoned Again” was originally performed by Gentle Art, Rough Red did a version of it, and it also appears on my GREEN SIDE UP album.)
A SPIKED DRINK AND THE ARRIVAL OF CHRIS BAILEY
I never met Chris Bailey. We came from different times and different places musically. But he made a lasting impression on me….
It was late 1976, and my then Brisbane-based band was Gentle Art. We had a pretty good profile around town. We had come second in Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds a few years before (although I can’t claim any credit for that – it was the 6 months I was actually out of the band plying my trade in a rock&roll group called Spike, before returning to reform Gentle Art). So we had a following. We played a strange mix of what you would call Americana these days, mixed in with the blues and a healthy dose of funk. Three-part harmonies, a jazz saxophone player. They were my early songs, and influences came from far and wide. We had played support gigs for Billy Joel, The Average White Band, Black Sabbath, and Canned Heat – so, we could play alright.
One night we were the headline band on a three-act bill, playing at Brisbane’s historic and soon-to-be-demolished-in-the-middle-of-the-night venue Cloudland. The other two bands were an unheard-of outfit from New Zealand called Mother Goose, playing their first ever show in Australia, and a fledgling full-on rock group from the tough south-western suburbs called The Saints. Mother Goose were a theatrical, costumed band of very good musicians, playing intricate time signatures and bizarre comedic songs.
With Gentle Art’s original fusion of funk and blues, it was a very strange and very diverse bill. The gig was a Friday night, and late afternoon before the show, I met a few mates at a drinking establishment in the city called the Moon Bar and had a few beers. I say a “few”, because when I knew I had a gig to play, I was always very circumspect and sensible with the amount of alcohol I consumed. I reckon I had five beers, probably right at the limit of what was acceptable. I got picked up by Mick our roadie, and we headed to the gig. On the way there, I started to feel very light-headed.
“Are you okay?” asked Mick, sensing my discomfort.
“I’m not sure,” I answered, “I feel a bit strange.”
The strangeness accelerated, and by the time we arrived at Cloudland, I could barely walk properly. I felt like I was on some weird trip as I watched Mother Goose, who absolutely floored the audience with their show.
Then The Saints took to the stage. The singer was this sort of pudgy guy with attitude, spitting out words to a slightly disinterested audience. I walked past the front of the stage at one point and Chris Bailey leant down and snarled in my face. They approached their music-making with an aggressive, fast and loose approach that the world soon came to adopt as punk music.
My bandmates were pretty unhappy with me, thinking I was simply drunk. I can’t even remember trying to defend myself, it was all I could do to try to get my head into some sort of order and focus on my guitar. Anyway, we took to the stage, and I remember starting the first song in the wrong key. Halfway through the set, I played this solo and it turned into a ten-minute screeching, howling wall of feedback that I must have thought sounded pretty good, but in reality sounded like rubbish.
It was no surprise that both The Saints and Mother Goose blew us off the stage that night, but the reality is I made it pretty easy for them. Post-gig, my bandmates were very pissed off with me, but I was still in a very weird place, and it wasn’t until I faced them a few days later that I told them what I think happened.
I’m almost certain someone spiked my drink that evening at the Moon Bar. I know I would never put a show in jeopardy by sabotaging myself like that. To feel the way I did after five beers – and I’m talking Queensland size 7 oz beers, not pints or midis – it just doesn’t correspond with that small amount of alcohol. The fact that the weirdness kept increasing as the night went on just adds weight to my theory I reckon. At the Moon Bar that night was a guy renowned for dealing in uppers and downers and party drugs for office workers in the city. He was a smart-arse, and although I would never be able to prove it, I’m pretty sure he was the cause of my demise.
Ironically, within a few months, The Saints went on to have a global hit with their song I’m Stranded, credited with virtually kick-starting the British punk revolution. And Mother Goose quickly became one of the biggest bands in the country. So maybe we didn’t stand a chance anyway!
But the thing I do remember through my haze, was the reception The Saints got. They started with a whimper, the crowd virtually ignoring them, but after a couple of songs, they couldn’t take their eyes off this hypnotic front man daring them to take notice. Chris Bailey had arrived…