louis remembered

This year I honour my dear friend and musical collaborator the late Louis Rohan Tillett (13 March 1959 – 6 August 2023), whose music most readers of this webzine will be familiar with. Louis was a singer, song writer and multi-instrumentalist, who was based in Sydney. Sadly, he passed away in August 2023.

If it wasn’t for Louis’ encouragement and support of my music, I most probably wouldn’t have embarked on the musical path that has consumed my life over the last four decades.

Louis taught me many things about music itself and widened my musical horizons by educating me in many different styles of music, ranging from Mose Allison to John Coltrane, Ray Charles to Nick Lowe, Destroy All Monsters to Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, amongst others. His own music was also critical in my musical development.

Louis first learned how to play classical piano when he was around four-years-old. He also played soprano saxophone, violin, and harmonica. According to Louis, saxophone was his first instrument. He started singing sometime around the early 1980s. Louis taught me to play bass guitar and guitar even though he was not technically speaking a guitarist. I had so much faith in his abilities that I believed that he was the right teacher for me, even though he couldn’t play the instrument himself. Either way, he sure knew more about music than I did!

louis 2

When I first met Louis, he emerged from behind some columns in the sandstone quadrangle of Sydney University where we were both studying. It was in the heat of summer, and he was wearing a long grey heavy overcoat. He used to lurk around the recesses of Sydney University in a cloud of Camel Plain cigarette smoke, in the days when you could afford to be a student who smoked tailor made cigarettes. Louis and I were studying similar subjects at uni and we shared a love of Archaeology and Ancient History. Louis had come second top in the state of NSW for Ancient History in his final year of school.

Louis had a unique character – intelligent, talented, and at times tormented. He had a magnetic presence and a quirky and engaging sense of humour. His large build belied his gentle and sensitive nature. He was also an exceptionally generous person who would literally give the shirt off his back to someone in need.

wettaxis 1Wet Taxis.

When I first moved to Sydney from Melbourne to study at Sydney University, I didn’t know a single person in Sydney. Louis was my saviour and my friend, and he helped instil in me a confidence in my own musical abilities. I had no female musical role models in my immediate world, so his support was crucial to my musical development.

In fact, Louis was a big supporter of female musicians throughout his entire life. In the 1980s there didn’t seem to be much encouragement for any of us. Neither had the concept of political correctness been articulated yet. The men were the gate keepers and Louis held the door open for so many of us living in Sydney to storm through. 

"[T]here are so many hot female musicians in Sydney and none seem to be getting a go. It is not just a gimmick"
                                   - Louis Tillett, "Nothing Damp About the Wet Taxis"The Canberra Times. 10 July 1986.

Louis incorporated many female musicians into his musical realm. This included an all-female brass section comprising Dianne Spence on tenor saxophone, Glad Reed on trombone, and Kathy Wemyss on trumpet. They appeared on Wet Taxis recordings and at our live performances. Dianne also played on Louis’ solo recordings. Louis played and recorded with female vocalists Mary-Ellen Stringer and Jade Da Silva on his solo material, and later with his partner Rachael Slattery. He also performed with vocalist Rebecca Hancock in Paris Green, alongside Violinda on violin. In addition, Sarah Peet played cello on the recording of the song Louis wrote for me: “Penelope’s Lament”. 

louischarlie1Louis with Charlie Owen.

After finishing Uni, I joined my first band Wet Taxis in 1983, as rhythm guitarist. I was the only female electric guitarist in my genre of rock in Sydney (perhaps Australia?) in the early '80s and I got the opportunity to play in Wet Taxis thanks to Louis. Wet Taxis played our own vibrant interpretation of '60s psychedelic punk music. Louis was the singer in Wet Taxis during this period before he made the transition to singer/songwriter. His vocal deliveries and stage presence were gripping and at times terrifying. He was blessed with an emotive and deep baritone voice.

Louis went on to form his solo career around 1986. As a solo artist, Louis released a number of albums - "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" (1987), "A Cast of Aspersions" (1990), "Letters to a Dream" (1992), "Cry Against the Faith" (1998), "Learning to Die" (2001), "Live at The Basement" (2001), "The Hanged Man" (2005) and "Soliloquy" (2006), "To Ride A Dead Pony" (2018). He often worked with Charlie Owen, releasing two albums, "The Ugly Truth" (1994) and "Midnight Rain" (October 1995). Louis sung and played piano and keyboards on these recording as well as other instruments.

I was fortunate to play guitar on some of those albums and to tour in Australia and Europe in Louis’ backing band. The brilliant Charlie Owen was also the guitarist on these recordings. I was honoured when Louis invited me to take over the guitar duties on his album “Cry Against The Faith”.

From a musician’s point of view, there could be nothing more difficult than being a solo artist. It is no easy path to follow and not for the fainthearted. It is an entirely different experience to being a band member, and in my opinion, much more taxing and demanding. Although he was an exceptional musician with the potential for an illustrious future, Louis was vulnerable to the vicissitudes that being a solo artist with a sensitive disposition entailed. This was exacerbated by the harsh reality of trying to eke out a living from playing music in Australia. For this he suffered greatly. The music industry has a lot to answer for, and Louis’ life was yet another shameful example of the industry’s refusal to address its responsibility to adequately care for and nurture its lifeblood. After all, without the musicians there would be no music industry. 

wettaxis 2Wet Taxis.

The first solo show of my own music I ever played was in Newtown in Sydney supporting the formidable duo of Louis Tillett and Charlie Owen. It was the first time I had sung my own material in public and was the most terrifying gig I have ever played. That show was somewhere around the year 2000. Louis continued to give me advice and encouragement which helped to enable me to make the transition from guitarist to singer/songwriter. This transition was for me extremely arduous, but since then I have never looked back.

I have been following the path of a solo artist ever since and have played with many talented musicians from around the world and recorded my own solo albums. I have recently released my fourth solo album “Travels and Travails” which documents aspects of my career and travels as a solo artist.

Louis’ words of wisdom about the essential nature of music, how to play music, and how to lead a musical life still resonates with me today.

Thank you, Louis, for everything you did for me and my music. I will be grateful forever! 

May you rest in peace.

My Top Ten favourite Louis Tillett songs are:

Ship Of Dreams – Originally released on Louis’ third solo album “Letters to a Dream”, it features the quintessential Louis theme of setting sail into the night. This is a song I would love to cover one day! 

Sailor’s Dream – Wet Taxis. It was our second single and the first song I know of that Louis wrote both the music and lyrics for. Similar in theme to Ship of Dreams but with a rollicking sea shanty feel.

Condemned to Live – released on Louis’ second solo album “A Cast of Aspersions” and as a single, it’s a co-write with guitarist Charlie Owen in 5/4. Louis tells a dark tale from the perspective of a slave owner from the Deep South. Something to send shivers down your spine!

From Me To You – album “A Cast of Aspersions”. A beautiful lilting ballad in 6/8 with some stunning guitar playing by Charlie Owen and brass arrangements by Jackie Orszaczky. 


Midnight Rain – recorded by Louis Tillett and Charlie Owen. Both music and lyrics create a wistful, soulful, melancholic yearning – sentiments that oftenresonated throughout Louis’ music. 

Penelope’s Lament – released on “Letters To A Dream”. What can I say? This song was written for me! 

Trip To Kalu-Ki-Bar –– from the album “Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell”, it’s brisk and energetic. This track is steeped in jazz, blues, and R & B, overlaid with otherworldly mystical overtones. 

Dead End Street In The Lucky Country – from the album “Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell”. Features a fabulous vocal delivery by Louis with his signature piano style. 

Dream Well – from the album “Egotripping at the Gates of Hell”. Louis wrote the words and melody, and I wrote the chords to this one. Complimented by some brilliant drumming from Louis Burdett, bass playing by Lenny Bastiaans and a killer guitar solo by Charlie Owen. 

Chained To The Stone – from the album “Cry Against The Faith”. Classic Louis in a spiritual crisis, with an uplifting dose of inspired up tempo classic blues/soul /R & B overtones thrown into the mix.

Penny Ikinger and her band Marbles play MoshPit in Sydney on Saturday February 24 and Smiths Alternative in Canberra on Sunday, February 25.

Marbles 2024