Two albums full of piss and vinegar
Address to the Nation - Chris Masuak and the Viveiro Wave Riders (I-94 Bar Records)
Bomber Down - Bomber Down (self released)
“Address to the Nation” and “Bomber Down” come out of the blocks, fiery and roaring, full of piss and vinegar. Tight strong songs, stuff that belongs on the stereo, in the car, loud at parties and annoying pimply neighbours who ruin the neighbourhood and go to bed at 8.30.
“Address to the Nation” is Klondike's fourth long-playing solo band CD; the others, although most readers of this site will have them, were Klondike's North 40: “The Straight Path”; Chris Klondike Masuak “Workhorse”; Chris Masuak and the Viveiro “'Brujita”.and now this all issued by the website you're reading now.
Full Disclosure nonsense: I like Chris too. Also, I knew the members of the immediate precursor to Bomber Down, Phil, Sean, Rob and Tony. Rob and Tony are no longer with us - it's not been a good year.
However. There are two connections here, and the first is Radio Birdman.
Masuak used to play with Birdman, and doesn't anymore. Birdman were a huge influence and, like X and the Saints, and were a sudden splash in a mostly still, stagnant pond. Since the band dissolved in acrimony in 1978, we can take it as read that they did not fulfil their potential which at that time (one imagines) would have involved conquering the US and the rest of the world, groupies a-go-go and tales of glamour, squalor and excess. After them, The Detroit sound had its imitators... and then, there were those who were profoundly influenced by them.
Back to Adelaide, where Birdman and, in 1981, New Race, made a huge impact on the underground music scene. Not just live, I should add: Birdman, New Race, the Stooges, MC5, the Saints, X, the Ramones and so on all figured large. Bands formed, dissolved, reformed, and strands unwound and rewound and so on. Some weren't very good, some were brilliant. One strand lead to Grudge, with frontman Tony Hayward ...
... who is the second link here. Tony co-wrote the songs. Without him, Bomber Down wouldn't exist. However, veteran musicians Rob, Sean and Phil have given their songs a permanent life. As we all know, it's one thing to do a series of great gigs. You've got to get the recording done, done well, and out there. It ain't as easy as it sounds.
A few years ago Phil Illman (drums), Rob Szkolik (bass) and Tony were asked to do a reunion kinda show. They called the band, jokingly, Picnic Casket. After Yogi and Boo-boo's obsession, one assumes. Then, realising what an eruptive blast they made, they got a bit more serious, and called themselves The C-Bombs. Gigs followed. However, lives slowly went in different directions and the band broke up.
Then Rob got sick, and was diagnosed as terminal. Phil, Sean and Rob decided to record the songs and release them, something Rob could be proud of. After all, the C-Bombs were one hell of a tight unit.
And Rob should be damn proud of “Bomber Down”; it's a great CD. “Brad Pitt” opens; Birdman how they might've been? “Royal Teez” pours out next ... you'll be pinching yourselves for comparisons (Hitmen? Heartbreakers?); “Watch Out’”reminds me of ... but again... doesn't matter. But c'mon, really, it's clear there's a unifying force here. Barman? Put this on, mate; you'll so wish you'd come down to Adelaide just to see these fuckers, just the once. Sure the place is a joke, but we have great bands.
Now, because I know many I-94 Barflies think that Sydney is the only place that produces good rock'n'roll (apart from, of course, Detroit), I asked Phil Grudge to tell me how Grudge, and the C-Bombs, and thence Bomber Down, came about.
I grew up in Maitland, rural SA, and loved music from a very young age. Loved 'Countdown', commercial radio, magazines anything I could get my hands on. Loved exciting music, Hendrix, Cream, AC/DC, The Who, Creedence, Sabbath. all the '80’s stuff ... and then I heard 5MMM community radio (now 3D ) which was hard to receive in Maitland ... and my whole world changed.
Now I was hearing the Birthday Party, The Clash, The Ramones and Radio Birdman and I wanted to play music. I wanted to be a part of it. I was 15 when my mates at school started a band; originally wanted to play guitar, but the other guys had already bought guitars, so at the thought of missing out on this rare opportunity I quickly borrowed some drums and got a few lessons and picked it up pretty fast.
As soon as we played a few songs together in a band situation it was mind-blowing, I was hooked. I was now doing what I had always dreamed of. It was a great awakening, a defining moment in my life. We went on to play covers in a band called Strontonium Dog and soon played to packed rooms in all the local hotels on Yorke Peninsula. I thought I was a rock star.
When I moved to Adelaide at age 17, 1986 I went out for the first time to see a local independent band. I was green and had no idea what local Adelaide bands were like. We went to the Woodmans Inn and saw the Exploding White Mice. The crowd was very different from what I was used to and as soon as The Mice started playing the room erupted.
There was moshing, the speakers were shaking and it was fucking loud, fast and loud. I was totally in awe. This was the second defining moment in my life. I wanted to do this music, wanted to be a part of it. From that night on I started to go out to all the gigs, the Mice, Iron Sheiks, Lizard Train, The Mark of Cain, Fear and Loathing, I just soaked it all up. At the time there were so many bands and great venues, big crowds, interstate bands every weekend. It was a great time.
Tony Hayward (aka Tony Grudge), a guy I knew from Moonta, joined my cover band Strontonium Dog, rehearsed but he was just too wild for the other guys. Our first gig in Adelaide he rocked up in full glam attire, Billy Idol meets Adam Ant complete with face makeup. He went on stage and went crazy, like Iggy Pop he was gyrating on the floor, screaming his head off and strutting back and forth. Signs of things to come. He was sacked after that gig, the other guys in the band were appalled. I loved it.
We met by chance at a party 6 months later and started talking music, and discovered we loved all the same bands, we talked shop until the sun came up. He had started up a band playing original material and needed a new drummer. I was desperate to start playing original stuff and had started writing songs. This was the night that Grudge was born.
We went on to play for ten or more years from 1991 until the early 2000’s in one form or another. Went through a lot of guitarists and bass players. Grudge was a sonic, out of control, punk rock disasterpiece. I wrote most of the music and Tony wrote the lyrics, he was always such a great lyricist. He was also a great front man. Punters would often come to our shows just to see what mayhem would take place. What was Tony going to do this time...?
We played with everyone, never got paid, always got drunk and almost always had a good time. I think we played 100 gigs in a year at one stage. Some memorable gigs include Powder Monkeys, Cosmic Psychos, Freeloaders, Blood Sucking Freaks, Buella’s Fix, Ghouls, Muff, Granny’s Lips and two of my all-time favourites The Iron Sheiks and the Exploding White Mice. Playing with The Mice was a dream for me.
We played a residency at the Wheatsheaf Hotel on Sunday arvos for years while Darryl Brown was running it. We played with whoever was in town that weekend and then off to Tony’s for the legendary after parties that always followed. Seems like everyone has a story about those parties. I had a lot of sickies on Mondays back then. Rob Szkolik played in the final line-up of Grudge and Tony, Rob, Sean Tilmouth and myself later went on to form Picnic Casket which then became The C-Bombs. We all played a part in Bomber Down. Rob, Sean and myself recording the songs we all wrote in the C-Bombs but hadn’t recorded.
I’m currently writing songs and looking to get a new band together. I’m also playing sporadically in the Gordons with Coops (ex Grudge), Bum (ex Strontonium Dog) and Scotty (ex no-is-y). An old side project from the Grudge days.
Producer Matt Hills has given Rob's bass the kind of good clear sound he deserves, Phil's drums sound Thor-like, Sean's vocals are magnetising, arresting, and will have your ears and mouth gaping - then there's his guitar, which sounds like your classic twin guitar assault to these ears. But that's the big rock'n'roll guitarist for you, they always want to do the apparently impossible, and, having achieved that, forge forward. First time I heard “Shut the Front Gate” I'm afraid I lost it rather, and had a quiet little cry.
This review has been very difficult to write, not just me but for Phil and Sean. I'd known Rob yonks back, and then again for the last four years or so before he died. He had the kind of character you don't forget in a hurry. I knew Tony for the last four years; turned out we lived in the same street so we saw him a fair bit until he moved north before he, too, died. I miss both these men, and my heart goes out to both Deb and Tahlia, and to their bandmates, Phil and Sean, who have endured one utter shit of a year.
Anyway. “Bomber Down”. You simply can't ask for anything else, except more, which none of us can have. If you see any of these men, buy them a beer (and give Sean a packet of throaties).
After that, I'm a bit wiped out. So it's a no-brainer what to put on next: “Address to the Nation”.
Forty years after 1978, a rather different version of Radio Birdman tours regularly; while many of the members have their own projects. Chris Masuak has a new CD which (as with “Bomber Down”) if the clock were turned back, the music industry wonks and gurus would be beating a path to his door, chequebook a-flutter in one hand and suitcase filled with drug 'samples' in the other.
The press release says it's "music to kick your arse while the world goes to hell in a handbasket", and it's hard to disagree. There have been a couple of other reviews here, but really ... just put “Address” on and try to stay seated. You won't succeed. As with “Bomber Down”, you'll be up and spilling your drink on the carpet in no time. If the wife doesn't join you (harmonies!), the CD will finish and you'll be wondering how to get scotch and Coke stains off the ceiling.
Take it as read: everyone I know who's heard this CD is raving about it. 'Address' is a mature, smart album; Masuak is clearly reflective of the past (as you do when you have multiple kids and realise you've lived longer than you probably expected to), but it ain't sombre, it's light, strong, good-natured (though I wouldn't want to be the target of “Lead Singer Syndrome”, one of the extra tracks). 'Address' is more a sonic adventure featuring Masuak's broad palette of sound, his soaring voice and that relentless combo. “Trance” is a particular favourite, but that's me; I just like putting the thing on over and over.
So, I asked Chris a few questions:
I-94 BAR: You're a working man with a family, which includes small children. How do you find time to work on songs?
KLONDIKE: Musical ideas will usually come in a torrent and if my Portastudio isn't set up, I'll record it on my phone so I don't forget it. I don't have the luxury of a space where everything is just ready to go. Plus, I'm not a fan of the “home studio” thing. Everyone and their dogs use the same plug-ins and it predisposes them to not only sound the same, but it eradicates spontaneity in the actual recording process.
Lyrics seem to be suggested by some arcane subconscious process that I'm not aware of, or through association due to an arbitrary phrase that I've attached to the music to help me remember the metre of a vocal idea. My family possesses an unusually vigorous energy and activity so it's impossible to hold a thought. So, writing mostly happens when the family is out (ie at school/work) or late at night when everyone's in bed.
I-94 BAR: Okay, so how do you work on rock'n'roll when everyone's in bed? One assumes that feedback in this situation isn't an option?
KLONDIKE: Headphones! Sounds glorious ... like this! [Masuak sent me a working track] The household is in oblivious slumber!
I-94 BAR: My god... So, you're telling me that, in the wee small hours of the morning, you're crouched over your guitar and amp with a lamp above you and a beanie on your head, and over that you're wearing headphones, as you plunk out rock'n'roll?
KLONDIKE: That's pretty much the image!
I-94 BAR: How hard is it to run a band in Viveiro? that's on the north-west coast, what looks like a spine-jolting bus ride from the big cities... what on earth made you live there?
KLONDIKE: After (backing band) Los Eternos turned out to be less than reliable, competent, and professional I discovered that there was talent right at home.
The other band had an agenda that was antithetical to honesty and professionalism and left me in a position where I had obligations to fulfil and no band.
Then I discovered I had a drummer living across the street from me who had a friend, etc. Viveiro is crawling with musicians!
Sure, Viveiro is a bit off the beaten track but the roads are fine and distances nothing like in Oz. Plus, gigs typically come with meals and accommodation in Europe.
Also, Viveiro is my wife's home town. It was infinitely easier to move here than to penetrate the mysteries of Australia's prohibitive immigration processes. I mean, it only took two years and several plane trips to get residency. Then life took over and became significantly more complex.
I-94 BAR: You're a naturopath; do you have a consultancy there?
KLONDIKE: The Spanish revere their doctors like they revere their saints. The medical profession sees themselves as divine ... the surprise and shock on their faces when I speak to them 'normally' is gold! They have actively managed to suppress and discredit natural therapies of nearly every kind. It wasn't worth the effort to swim against the tide.
I-94 BAR: Are you like almost every musician on the planet, then; working a day job and beavering away on the real thing at home? also, how quickly did you pick up Spanish?
KLONDIKE: I do what I can. And, my Spanish is rubbish. That is to say, I get by but not being a multicultural society, the Spanish literally don't understand me when I speak their language. Unlike say, Aussies, they aren't familiar with hearing Spanish mangled by other language speakers. It really is weird but true.
I-94 BAR: I'm tempted to ask if they call you 'the gringo'
KLONDIKE: I thought that they were taking the piss at first. But, you really need to get all the inflexions absolutely correct. 'Gringo' is something said in the Americas.
And, people here refer to me as 'The Australian'. Anyhoo ... Lunchtime here. Then I'm off to film a video.
I-94 BAR: These rock stars...
Some of you will prefer Bomber Down. Some will prefer “the good old days: of Grudge. Doesn't matter. Bomber Down are as fresh and compelling as Grudge and the C-Bombs ever were. “Bomber Down” is a cracking release.
Some of you will prefer Radio Birdman's reunion shows, and memories or fantasies. Some will prefer Masuak, who is far, far more in your face, new, pointed and good old-fashioned riotous fun. This, also, is a cracking release.
- Both. I'd give more, but I'd be accused of favouritism