BARFLY TOP TEN: James McCann from James McCann and The New Vindictives
James McCann leading The New Vindictives in Europe. JUXE photo.
1) The Damned @ 170 Russell St, Melbourne
I’ve always loved The Damned: the rush of energy of their first few singles and albums. My wife is a big fan and she educated me on all things Damned. I missed them last time around so I was pumped to see them finally, to say the least.
I didn’t want to be disappointed so I did my homework and watched recent live shows on YouTube and read recent reviews. By all accounts the band was on fire , so I was ready for it and they didn’t disappoint.
They are still Punk Rock weirdos at heart and it was side splitting when Captain Sensible talked about Kurt Vile playing before them at Golden Plains: “It used to be Phil Collins and Paul Weller , but I’ve found a new one KURT Fucking Vile , what a fucking tosser “ It's true so much contemporary underground music is middle of the road , like Bread in the 70’s or LRB , this shit is still the enemy, even though I’m sure Kurt Vile is a lovely guy.
Also, the following day after the show I was very hung over and received a call fro Spencer P Jones asking me if I would play acoustic guitar with Dave Vanian to record a Spencer song. They had talked after the show and Vanian was keen to do it. The recording was to be part of a SPJ tribute album I have been involved with.
I practised and waited all day by the phone; the call never came; I was disappointed and relieved at the same time. I think Dave had gotten tucked into the Bourbon the night before and was in his dark hotel room sleeping it off. Oh well.
2) The Aints @ The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
The first three Saints albums left their mark on me in my teens , like the Damned. "Prehistoric Sounds", I have decided, is my favourite album of all time , and the song "Swing for the Crime" possibly my all-time favourite. I’ve always loved Ed Kuepper's music too and had not seen him play since 1991 (slack I know.)
The band were on fire and the young brass section nailed it. I was dancing all night long. Ed stuck mostly to his rhythm guitar playing on the Gibson SG - sheer power - I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.
3) New Christs @ Marrickville Bowling Club, Sydney
I’ve been a fan of the New Christs since "Distemper" was released, then I started buying their earlier singles and the EP "Divine Rights". I find Rob Younger's vocal delivery pointed, barbed and mesmerising, his nuance and vocal inflections can’t be beaten, not to mention the lyrics. He has been a true influence on me for 30+ years. It was really special to play this show with them.
The band's line up is on fire and they are making some of the best music now that they have ever made. I don’t look at New Christs as being a retrospective act; they are a band moving and evolving. The last album, "Incantations", blew my mind, I can’t wait for the next one.
4) Danny McCaslin Band @ Toff in Town, Melbpurne
This gig was part of the Melbourne Jazz Festival. It was a 6pm gig then they played again at 9pm. The band was Donny on sax accompanied by a drummer, keyboardist and bass player. These guys are famous for being David Bowie’s backing band on his last album "Blackstar". It is hard to put into words how powerful, and with Bowie's passing, how moving this show became.
Improvisation meets arrangements: drummer's kit set side on so you could really watch the power of his articulated beats. These guys have a psychic connection with each other - just listen to Bowie’s "Blackstar" album and you can hear that. That’s why he chose them, maybe.
Towards the end of the show, they played Bowie’s song "Lazarus" instrumentally, those low, prowling sax lines that open the song sent the hair on the back of my neck up. I was waiting for Bowie to walk out and start singing...this was something else, something I will never forget.
5) Kabbalah @ Zumarraga, Basque Country (Spain)
The Basque people will tell you: "We are not Spanish." They speak a different language and are a different kettle of fish to the rest of Spain , being a separatist state.
We played in the mountainous regional town of Zumarraga in a giant tent packed to the rafters, on a line-up of five bands. As we soundchecked I noticed three girls sitting quietly watching. I asked the promoter who they were. "The first band on," he told me. So we soundchecked then looked for food a block away. Then I heard this rumbling, Black Sabbath sound in the air, coming from the tent. Kabbalah were soundchecking. Immediately my heart rate picked up and I told everyone at our table: "We can’t miss these guys, at least I can’t miss them."
These three women performed one of the best sets I have ever seen: Sabbath-like and equally psychedelic with three-part harmonies that soared. Drums, guitar and bass, they took turn on lead vocals. The drummer was heavily pregnant and this was her last gig for sometime. They had vinyl so I asked if they would trade one for one of mine. The album is "Spectral Ascent" and I love these guys from Pamplona, Basqueland.
6) Leadfinger's Madrid and Barcelona shows.
I’ve known Stew Cunningham for a long time, since my Harpoon days in the early 90’s in Sydney. We get on well, both born in Glasgow, Scotland, so there was an immediate connection with him and that connection has grown over the years. I love his passion and focus and his sense of humour , and he is a true gentleman.
I have played numerous shows with Leadfinger over the years in NSW and Victoria, so it was special to play two shows with them in Spain.
They played it tough and straight down the line: ripping raw rock n roll, I could not take my eyes off them, guitars getting louder each song and the momentum growing. What a band and a cool bunch of guys. the Spanish love them, too.
7) Happy Lonesome/Claire Birchall and the Phantom Hitchhikers
I have put these two bands together because they are pretty much the same band. It’s hard for me to write objectively about these guys because I love them so much as people.
I have know Matt Green, who sings for Happy Lonesome, and his partner Claire Birchall for around 13 years,from when they were in the Happy Lonesome duo and Paper Planes. We did many shows together then lost contact. In the last few years we have knocking about the traps together again. Happy Lonesome duo is now a fully fledged rock n roll five-piece band and The Phantom Hitchhikers are the latest vehicle for Claire Birchall’s amazing song writing.
We have all released albums this year and they were all recorded in our then bass Dan Sullivan’s studio in Collingwood Melbourne. I guested on the Happy Lonesome album on guitar. What strikes me about these guys, who are originally from Geelong, is their total dedication to writing and recording , Claire and Matt are constantly creating. Matt did the art work for my latest album , their commitment to their art is astounding.
Claire made the video for my song "Sheena Says". They have some cool videos too , check them out. They do all of this amazing stuff out of their own home , like a creative production line.
They have started their own label, too, called Night Owl Records. Our three bands have a close affiliation with Off the Hip Records and Mick Baty has worked with us closely, he is a champion in the true sense of the word.
8) Liz Reed, Photographer
Where do I start? I met Liz at Ian Rilen’s second-last show. She was in the crowd crying. I put my arm around her shoulder. I didn’t know her but I knew she must be close with Ian and was so sad that he was dying. From that day we became friends and our lives have been interweaving for the last 10 years.
Liz is working on a book on her photographs mainly from the 70’s. She was close with Lobby Loyde and some of her photographs grace his album covers. She also documented Rose Tattoo’s early days , all black and white pub gig shots, up close and personal. She has incredible photos of the band recording "Bad Boy for Love" with Ian Rilen on bass.
Also amongst her early photographs are a fledgling Cold Chisel, Lou Reed, a very young Paul Kelly, Iggy Pop, Hunter S Thompson and Hells Angels Australian Chapter, X and the Beasts of Bourbon.
She took the photo for the back of my new album.
Liz has the stories and has documented an amazing piece of Australian and international rock n roll history. She is also very protective of the rockers she knew or knows, very sage-like and fun to hang out with. When her book sees the light of day, people are going to see a documentation that they have never seen before. She is a true artist and plays her cards close to her chest, basically she is sitting on a goldmine of information. Stay tuned.
9) Yeah Don’t Care
I first played a show with these young punky upstarts in 2016 and as I watched them, I could feel my smile broadening. I love that feeling; it doesn’t happen too often. Yeah Don’t Care reminded me of the scuzzy punk bands I watched when I was a kid in Perth, WA.
Total abandonment for musicality, subversive with attitude for miles and usually a belly full of booze and pills making for an entertaining though ramshackle set But don’t be fooled as their guitarist Adam is quite an accomplished musician , he can rip like Greg Ginn then play bass in more melodic bands like Sub Tropical Thunder. Singer and bass player Josh and drummer Harley hold the ramshackle rhythm not so much down but more holding each other up.
They are great guys too and I love that they are not ageist playing with a crusty old rocker like me , they have no pretensions and can be fucking hilarious and a great punk band at the same time.
At a recent gig we did together at the Tote, drummer Harley rocked up blind drunk with no sleep. He told me an incredible story of how he got into this situation (which involved a prostitute, drugs and an ambulance.) After the show they apologised for it being so messy. I said to them that it pretty much sounded like all their other gigs.
10) Pleasure Model @ Tramways Hotel, Melbourne
This was my first outing into public after our European tour. Jet-lagged and needing something. I didn’t know what, though.
Pleasure Model are a new band I have gotten to know. I like their music and I like them as people. They have developed a Detroit rock sound mixed with a touch of hardcore. Guitarist Marcus is a dead ringer for Ron Ashton and can really rip on guitar. He did a spell in the Lime spiders in the '90s. They are also the tallest band I have ever met hovering around the 6’4"/6’5" mark.
They have just self released a brilliant 7” single. It sounds tough and raw. They nailed the mix to the single down. Fans of SRB and Mc5 would really dig it, but it is more than the sum of its parts. Tags and categories don’t do them justice.
Pleasure Model are hard working and it’s their lead singer-guitarist Olof’s first foray into songwriting. Good things to come, I think.