BARFLY TOP TEN: Sydney scribe Edwin Garland
2018 was a shit year but with some amazing gigs intertwined.
We have a sub-culture, in which fragments of our past local music scene survive from a time that was exciting (as Damian Lovelock said) “as England in 1966 or NYC in 1975”.
The folk who peruse and read this website are either musicians, sound engineers writers or rock pigs mostly from a by-gone era. Generally, a generation that was made of weekly trips for vinyl hunts on Sydney's Pitt Street, in particular Ashwood’s and independent record shops like Phantom and The Record Plant. A generation that had subscriptions to RAM Magazine, or Rolling Stone and read fanzines.
Our world was pre-gaming, home computers, no Netflix, no Internet, no YouTube. What mattered was music, and it was our obsession. We were playing in bands, producing bands, writing about music, collecting vinyl records before the hipsters made it expensive.
December 2018 saw the passing of Anthony O’Grady. As the mainstream celebrates Molly and his claim that he introduced ABBA to the Australian market. There is much floss there and the reality he never really was bringing street music to the masses.
The real media gurus behind our music scene were folk like O’Grady .
With him at the helm of RAM magazine, it was an institution. His work captured the tidal wave of Dragon, AC/DC, Midnight Oil, Birdman, Scientists and Paul Kelly, as his title turned up fortnightly for almost two decades in newsstands in every corner of Australia. The magazine also featured some other damn good scribes. An era is long gone.
It has been a shit year on many levels. Spencer P. Jones leaving us. Representing much from my earliest days seeing bands, witnessing North to Alaskans, later The Johnny until the last years, watching Spencer solo at the Cherry Bar. He was our scene’s heart ‘n’ soul. So too Brian Hooper, such a top fella who always had a smile. I remember doing gigs and after I played, he’d always come and make a point to tell you how much he liked your band. And then so many gigs I saw with Brian playing. Greatly missed. At same time a couple of mates are really crook in our scene: talented blokes too. Top blokes who, like me, have music as part of their souls.
After reading Robert Brokenmouth’s round-up this year, it inspired me. To add a bit of social commentary on what really pissed me off this year. Drum roll. THE BLOCK. Yes, that reality TV show with that presenter that sorta reminds me of the worst features of Scomo and used car salesman. This year really hit at new low with most annoying, chattering- class contestants, but with its level of moral high ground. In reality, it highlighted a real issue of this country which was not the intention. The homeless.
The promos for “The Block.” ran for weeks, with all this hype about the evil Gatwick, from its days as a classy hotel in the 1930s to its slip into the most degenerate squalor as a home to criminals and junkies that even the police would not venture into.
The first episode was all about the horror of the contestants as they made gushing noises and remarked “Oh how ghastly” again and again as they stated their distaste of the state of the rooms. That place had been peoples’ homes for decades. Great television for the masses. Ugly voyeurism Never let the facts story get involved with the real story. The reality, the real story was featured in the ABC documentary based on the real-life sisters who ran the hotel. “Gatwick: The Last Chance Hotel”.
Yes, they had let the building fall into disrepair, yet here was real maternal concern for their tenants. “The Saints of St Kilda”, as they were known.
A home to the eccentrics, artists and yes, those who were falling to the edge with substance abuse and mental illness. It was a place people could stay for 200 bucks a week, and be housed. And the many long term tenants, of course, were found alternative accommodation – or so we were told by a concerned, whimpering voiceover on “The Block” that sounded like Rick from the Young Ones. Bullshit.
As the months have gone by, it has emerged that most of the female ex-tenants are back in goal and many are now on the street. I am saying the Gatwick was not ideal place and, yes, there were issues. In reality in 2018 and it was home to almost, mostly 100 disadvantaged in our community. Now it’s part of the gentrified St Kilda and boasts eight, $2 million dollar apartments. A story being repeated all over the country. All over the world. Well, “The Block” had great ratings. That is what matters; the advertising dollar.
Ok. Time for music. I jotted down a few of the highlights. As we still have live music to forget the shit times.
Bob Dylan at the Enmore
His Bo’ness is in his best form in years and to be standing near the stage gave an insight into how he takes control and nothing is by accident. Intense expressions, as he throws a grin. Dylan does give a fuck. Planted on piano for the two hours with one of the world’s most accomplished bands to hit any stage. Dylan was intense, spitting out his lyrics and not missing a noun. The band played around and improvised every night with variations to the songs arrangements. Bob wanders here and there across the stage - with a slight jig as band ignites in long jams.
It was Dylan and his phrasing that blew me away, reinterpreting lyrics written over 50 weathered years ago. Pounding his baby grand and launching his superb harp solos. Standing ovations for almost every song. “Visions of Johanna”, “Simple Twist of Fate”, “Early Roman Kings” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” And a finale we knew was going to be special and spoken about by Dylanolgists for years. Finally, the appearance of “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Blowin’ in The Wind”. Dylan takes us through the history book of American music; this is his re-interpretation of Chicago blues, country swing, surf guitar. He’s crooning ballads and then playing straight-out rock and rockabilly as he spits and whispers his words. He’s been riding that cultural tidal wave for 50 years and hanging out over the edge.
P. P Arnold at the Factory Theatre.
Could I honestly claim I really knew much about P.P Arnold before this gig? No. I only knew a few of her songs. That was it. And this actually turned out to be, with his Bobness, the gig of the year. Drenched in gospel and a British mid- ‘60s hipness. A back story of how ruthless the music Industry really is, but P.P. Arnold has the voice, the vibe and songs. If the album she made with Barry Gibb had been released at the time it was recorded, she’d be a household name.
P.P Arnold took to the stage her powerful, emotive voice and took the venue by the throat. “The First Cut is the Deepest” was stunning. She delivered with emotive ballads to her salute to Tina Turner with “River Deep Mountain High”. She belted that out from depths of her lungs.
The band featured crew from Rock Quiz with a couple of chaps from You Am I. I salute the approach, as it was seasoned indie and pub musicians from an authentic and vibrant local scene. It so could have been like a RSL club act like so many artists of this vintage tend to end up as.
There was sense of the vibrancy that PP Arnold would had performing in the clubs of London in 1967. Apparently, this had a bit to do with Tim Rogers’ vision and he hit the mark. P.P Arnold just blew us away – with her voice as well as her candid tales of one times when there was a sense that the world could be changed with music. “Tin Soldier” with Rogers on lead vocal finished the night, with P.P. Arnold providing backing vocals as on the original record. It was just ace.
Chickenstones at North Narembeen Surf Club
Lobby Loyde once said to me about the early gigs of Midnight Oil that there is something about Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Maybe it’s the sand between the toes but the bands from up there simply rock!!!
I love this venue. The local surf club what was back bone of local gigs with the band set up on floor, cheap beer and over-looking the beach. The Chickenstones have been the best bar band in Sydney for close to 10 years, on a par with a handful of others including Dallas Crane. They’re like George Thorogood and The Destroyers meeting The Clash. At times swampy, and then giving a big nod to mid-‘70s R and B like Dr Feelgood. Johnny Street Light rocks, and lands into the territory of tough urban blues with blistering harp.
The schooners of VB are downed (no designer beer at their gigs, folks) and the nips are being swallowed. Never been to Chickenstones gig without the crowd going off. Phil Van Rooyen and Andy Doc are our hardened, tradie blue singlet version of Strummer and Mick Jones. They hollowed their songs with rawness and both are damn good guitar players, and the interplay is well crafted and tough with the backdrop of a tough 4/4 rhythm section. Most underrated band in Sydney.
Tamam Shud at Marrickville Bowlo and
Yet, another chapter in Taman Shad’s career over forty years, arguably with The EasyBeats , Radio Birdman and Midnight Oil the most influential band that has emerged from Sydney. Standing on stage with five members, you have 200 ,years of live experience. In Lindsay Bjerre’s case, dating back to Merewether Surf Club in 1962. Lindsay is on a mission. He writes 10 songs a week. He wants to get his legacy out there.
I make no secret that Taman Shud are my favourite active Sydney band. The simple reason is that they are on a fresh run of creative identity. Still evolving. Starting with a 10-minute workout of “The Ship” - akin to a mid- period Pink Floyd epic, as it builds and builds before emerging with the darkness of a Nick Cave meets Edgar Allan Poe storyline.
They played eight songs off the new album, a couple from the previous and selected tracks right back to “Evolution” and “Lady Sunshine” from the debut from 1968. Watching Tim Gaze is like a master lesson at a guitar seminar, inventive and pulling licks out everywhere, and the melodic arpeggios all entwined with counter melodies from John Cobbin.
Lindsay pulls pre-Shud song “Hot Generation” – it’s our own “My Generation” and probably the greatest garage song come out of Australia. Live, it pumps, with its swelling organ and snotty attack. The new songs are more reflective and immediate, at times reflecting back to 1972 and the “Morning of the Earth” period and at other times melodic rock. Every Shud gig is an event not to be missed.
Johnny Moonlight's (Cobbin's) Party at a particular discreet Brookvale carpark
This was old school. The old days when there were so many gigs...in pubs, squats and in car parks a time when you could see a dozen bands a week. Musos would jump up and jamming with make shift bands would same bill as established acts. With your own BYO.
John Cobbin is a busy bloke as he in about six bands as well as running his rehearsal and recording studio. He has been up the beaches since the early 1980s. Tonight a rare appearance with Lindsay Bjerre playing bass and then the sight of The Oils Jim Mogine nursing his telecaster that he brought over from his studio joining in with Bjerre. With different players at different times.
Big Al Creed made an appearance in a solo stint with hard acoustic folk punk, belting out impassioned tunes. Then there were art bands and then Pink Floyd work outs and stray garage songs. All mates just playing music. Time for another event, maybe in few month, was my parting word.
The Aints! - Marrickville Bowlo
OK Ed is not going retire any time soon. His career is back to the heights of the early ‘90s. The master has been busty since then, based in Brisbane and producing his sublime, critically acclaimed albums, He’s even had a stint as Nick Cave’s axeman. Then came The Aints!
I suppose the message Ed was walloped with was: “Mr Kuepper we want to see you rock hard again !!”
The first set I saw was essentially comprised of the first three Saints albums. The songs were reconstructed and redefined with the rhythm section of Peter Oxley and Paul Larsen. For me it was the “Prehistoric Sounds” songs that really stood out, not forgetting it was my favourite Saints album.
These songs have an impact musically as the band were so ahead of the game than any other Australian peer of the time. They delivered social reflections in the lyrics. The band was also hot. The second set was to debut songs from new album, “The Church of Simultaneous Experience”. They were more sonically developed and arranged. Most were songs Ed had written before or during the first band’s life that were not recorded or released. For the last year, The Aints! have been the band everyone has wanted to see and they’ve packed venues. It easy is to understand why
Suzi Stapleton and Simon Day at Moshpit in Newtown
Suzi now resides in England; leaving our shores well over three years ago and a local gig in her home country is a rare occasion. After releasing two sublime EPs locally, both critically acclaimed and in many ways ignored. Both EPs and recent singles are dark brooding, intelligent and stunning.
Simon Day sets up and it takes some one very clever that simple two chord or three chords to write pop that stays in your head for days. Simon Day is the master. He takes the stage in solo mode. This gig really worked for him - seen solo on larger stages he seemed to be at a loss. This show was perfect. It was that feeling of how the classic indie pop gems were written with guitar in his bedroom. Terrific.
Suzi Stapleton as a live performer is on her own planet, alone with her pedal board and her Les Paul. She shows a combination of intuition and inspiration in her performance. The lyrics are so spat out and then refined to a whisper and the soundscape is overlaid . Highly original and full of sonic shades.
Steve Balbi at the Street Market Crows Nest.
I don’t think Steve turns up on the I-94 Bar very often. Yet, Steve ticks all the boxes for as one of most credible consistent songwriters in this country. Hitting the traps as full time musician at age 14 in the late ‘70s, he ended up in Noiseworks. Maybe they will never be accepted by those too cool for school, in reality it was only a few years of his career.
That is his greatest asset as it meant songs that he penned managed to be a soundtrack to middle Australia, and that also means that having had commercial success, he will never fit in with the ultra-cool set. Well who gives a fuck?
I realise Balbi was a force to be reckoned with his late ‘90s band Universe that he formed with Cathy Green of X of fame; that band was untouchable. The songs had intensity and emotion. So much so that Patti Smith was a fan and tracked the band down to meet them in Balmain. Along the way, Balbi has worked with Bowie and hit the bullseye with a residency with Louis Tillett at the Sando which was sublime.
Steve Balbi in 2018 is the troubadour, the freewheelin Steve Balbi. Never tied down to one type of show, bringing in guest musicians - or playing tonight in solo mode with just his old battered Maton acoustic for almost 100 minutes.
Balbi is a crafty performer, with a voice unmatched live, as he builds the layers, his emotions on show. He’s always exploring with dark tales of junkie-hood and loneliness to celebratory singalongs - at the same time busting his own self- image with humility and confessions that that this rock star thing was just full of bullshit. Life is worth living.
Covering over 30 years songwriting, highlights are “She’s Got a Gun” and Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Steve Balbi always has his audience eating out his hands with his humility and talent.
Dave Tice Trio at the Street Market in Crows Nest
The street market in Crow Nest is hip little venue with seating for about 70 people, with reasonable bar prices. Such a rarity on the gentrified business district of the Lower North Shore . A little oasis in blandness. Tice has assembled two exception musicians to flow through his exorcism of the blues. A virtual songbook of American blues and a magnet for ardent musicologists as he channels the British classic blues rock of early Fleetwood Mac, Yardbirds, Them and The Animals, as well as classics from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters plus a few selected originals.
Dave has some amazing players in this trio: Adrian Keating has been on the world stage as a classical musician. Fifty years after his first lesson, he has played orchestra pits around the world, yet what sets him apart is an amazing ability to improvise and sit in on all types of music. In rock circles, Adrian is Jim Hendrix on violin. Mike Gubb on keyboards is another seasoned musician who works well with Keating on improvisation. Dave sits with a Dobro or his acoustic with standard and open tunings, a solid blues rhythmic player underpinning Gubb and Keating. Tice is great blues singer and his is an original take.
Dr Feelgood at the Vanguard.
This proved a controversial gig on Facebook
Are there any foundation members? Answer: No.
The Barman typed a message to me: “Say Hello to Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson”
I just had to wait and see. It will be what it is, was my attitude. It was never going to be the Feelgood of 1976 without Wilko. A different time, and can you reproduce that? There is only one Wilko. In many it is AC/DC without Angus. I went with mate who did actually see the band at the time a lot. He didn’t care.
Lee wanted the band to keep going and two the members were from that last line up. Many albums have been released since. The band also plays the annual Dr Feelgood remembrance night for Lee every year, so it is fair dinkum and to a certain extent approved by Lee’s family. Not a cash in any sense.
The classic Feelgood songs were pulled out: “She Does It Right”, “Milk and Alcohol” and “Riot in Cell Block Number 9”. The band certainly have that razor blade intense edge of 40 years. The Feelgood of 2018 has evolved and is more white blues and Chicago blues. At times, you hear the harder edge Yardbirds and even early Fleetwood Mac. I asked my mate how did they compare to all those years ago; and his verdict they as good as the ‘80s line-ups after Wilco left. The band was still “on” and I was damn glad I went.
Yes I must be getting old, or well into middle age. There were very few new releases that I have included, or more importantly new bands that stood out this year. It gets worse - two of these releases were recorded in 1969 and in 1974.
P.P Arnold - The Turning Tide.
This is a masterpiece. An album that was stuck on my turntable for months after I bought it. Recorded with Barry Gibb with an array of superstar musicians, the bona fide gospel tinged classics “Bury Me Down by The River “ and “Give a Hand and Take a Hand” are great but every track should have been a hit on this album. Perfectly produced with one of the best voices of her generation.
Bob Dylan - More Blood, More Tracks. Bootleg Series 15
Over the years I had gathered some of these recordings on bootlegs. In fact, when the first bootleg series came out, I must have played the acoustic version of “Idiot Wind” from these sessions 100 times. It is sublime. Dylan’s phrasing and his chord progressions are immaculate and he swings from angst to tenderness. No more needs to be said. Superb and essential.
Taman Shud- Resonate
There will a long review shortly for I-94. This is the best recorded album I have heard in some time. How do you make a record that sounds warm and analogue with digital technology? John Cobbin should be teaching this in audio college. “The Ship” is a salute to mid-period Floyd and then there’s some great REM-style pop circa “Document”. Other songs throw-back to “Morning of The Earth” with much more thump. The lyrics are at time sentient and deeply emotive. Throw in the swirling keyboards and the guitars of Tim Gaze and Johnny Moonlight and…
The Aints! Possible album of the year. The Church of Simultaneous Indifference
I always felt that Ed Kuepper’s career was closer to Neil Young then any artist in Australia - not musically, but in his ability to show extreme diversity. We know the story and I have been amused with some reviews when this was called “the debut album of THE AINTS.” We have all been Aints fans for 30 years from way back to that first gig in 1988 at The Harold Park Hotel. This band is The Aints!
This album does not try to capture the past - no matter how good the original Saints were. Ed is the sonic architect and has created another masterpiece. Simple.
The Light Brigade – Going Underground
When I first heard a few tracks of Bob Short’s album I did comment on the muddy mix, and lack of definition. It certainly needed a great mastering engineer. Bob snarled back thinking I was given him a caning. I simply have good ears on stuff like that. That said, I realised Bob is pushing the classic do-it self punk ethos of 1977. If that was goal, and he hit the mark. I like his songs, the arrangements are inventive, dark and some damn fine guitar lines. It really has strong moments.
And a book:
Roadies by Stuart Coupe
With this book, Coupe has really captured the ghosts and yarns of a time long gone. The culture of Roadies was not dis-similar to the real outsiders of the entert.ainment – the “carneys” who moved from town to town with a circus or tent boxing troupe. That said, they were different - they were talented tradies, and had great ear for sound.
“Roadies” is sad, funny and at times gritty the relentless unhealthy diet of pills, speed, booze and shit microwaved food at servos at 3am, The book flows like a Kerouac novel and I read it in almost one sitting The inside story that is unromantic and unglamorized world of the Australian music Industry. A page turner of a book. There was no APRA for these folks. Sad.
2018 for me recalls the words of Rob Younger. When I would talk about how good some younger band in their teens or early 20s was, he would caustically state to me: “But they will still be putting posters up at 40.”
Younger was right. The term now is “Lifers” for those that have to create, to go onstage... The folk who were born to make music (and in Stuart Coupe’s case, to write.) Whether it be Bob Short’s do-itself 1977 punk ethic, Ed Kuepper, Steve Balbi , Lindsay Bjerre , Tim Gaze, Dave Tice and even Doc and Phil from the Chickenstones. They are all fair dinkum, the real-deal, and pretty talented folk that you always know that they will deliver. Like meat and potatoes, they are damned good...