penny and gregGreg Sawers & Penny Ikinger - photo by Loene Carmen

Siolo artist and ex-Wet Taxis and Sacred Cowboys member
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

2020 started with a bang! I was treated to an ear-splitting performance from X at their Bushfire Relief Benefit show at The Spotted Mallard. in Brunswick, Melbourne. It was like travelling through a time warp littered with gritty rock n roll riffs and howls. The ones that X do best. They’ve still got it!

I was taken on another spin by a stellar line up of Guitar Wolf (Japan), 5,6,7,8’s (Japan) and Rocket Science at The Tote and also saw Japanese band The Jetboys at the same venue. Guitar Wolf and The Jetboys, arguably two of the best punk influenced rock bands of this day and age, are brutal. They play loud & fast with utmost conviction. Whatever it was they were singing about I was sure it was sacrilegious. It felt that way and that’s what counts.

The Schizophonics (USA) also performed in Melbourne (The Tote again!). This relatively youthful three piece exploded all over the stage and reassured that rock 'n' roll is not dead. Not that I ever thought it was, but that’s what ’they” keep telling me…

Pop Crimes - The Songs of Rowland S. Howard, The Corner Hotel.:A dark, angst ridden version of rock 'n' roll and a fine tribute to one of the best.

Kim Salmon and his new band featuring Claire Birchall, Douglas Galbraith and Jeff Hooker at, you guessed it, The Tote. Kim Salmon launched his book "Nine Parts Water One Part Sand. Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge" at the end of 2019. “2020 – The Aftermath Tour” featured new line ups for Kim on this Australian run to promote his new book and new single releases. Kim has re-invented himself with startling results - again - and his new band really did the songs justice.

Things were looking good in the sphere of unabashed, sweaty, heaving, hanging from the rafters type rock n roll gigs until lockdown hit. Then everything changed. 

Stuck at home. Indoors. Alone but not alone. Unwillingly thrust into experiencing live gigs sitting on a couch with a hot cup of tea. It’s not the same, is it? It sure ain’t the Holy Grail I’ve been chasing most of my life.

There was some respite with a string of intrepid live streamed performances from Dave Graney and Clare Moore. I think they cooked up 54 live streamed shows at last count. Necessity is the mother of invention so they say and Clare and Dave managed to step up and entertain every Thursday without fail, surprising their audiences and possible themselves with their inventiveness. True survivors!

There was a lull in the lockdown in Melbourne and we were allowed out somewhere, sometime in the middle of the year. I bravely ventured Northside to see Claire Birchall launch her new single on a makeshift stage in her back garden. Claire performed solo as singer/songwriter, keyboardist and guitarist. The gig was a brooding and moody affair which highlighted her versatility as a song writer and instrumentalist par excellence. So great to hear some live music and see real people in the flesh by an open fire in the wilds of Coburg.

Then the second lockdown hit. 230 days of restrictions and rules and fear of the unknown. The invisible, omnipresent virus that lurks everywhere. Even amongst the purist of rock’n’roll revellers and the establishments they inhabit. Accordingly, every venue was closed and every punter was locked down inside their homes, only allowed out for an hour a day for to stretch their legs via a walk to the bottle shop with an 8pm curfew to boot.

I was temporarily saved by the Melbourne Film Festival which was on-line or obvious reasons. I watched The Go-Gos documentary directed by Alison Ellwood which was well researched and included a wealth of archival material and footage combined with some intimate and revealing interviews. This documentary chronicled their journey from the underground LA punk scene to becoming the most commercially successful all-female band of our time. The Go-Go’s also happened to be the first all-female band to write their own songs, play their own instruments and see their debut album "Beauty and the Beat", go to No. 1. The meteoric rise, the drugs and booze, the egos and pressures and, finally, the fight over money and song writing credits that tore them apart, was told with disarming honesty.

I also saw the "PARIS CALLIGRAMMES" documentary. It was an enchanting journey through German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger’s eyes, about Paris and its art scene in the1960s. Evocative viewing for armchair and time travellers such as myself stuck indoors on a remote island far away from the rest of the world. Mind you, there are worse places to be stranded in, under current circumstances.

By now I am almost married to my computer. A couple of great live streams from Tokyo included Keiji Haino’s incendiary covers band The Hardy Rocks featuring Keiji on vocals, Masami Kawaguchi (guitar) Shingo Naruke (bass) and Toshihiko Katano (drums). Keiji Haino is a Japanese musician, singer-songwriter, whose work has included rock, free improvisation, noise music, percussion, psychedelic music and drone music. Masami Kawaguchi has been playing guitar with me in Japan and in Australia for around 10 years and also played on my “Tokyo” album. The Hardy Rocks re-invented classic songs like ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” which was artfully turned into a tormented ballad of tortured frustration. 

Japanese band Hallucionz also played their unique and quirky brand of rock/pop/psychedelia streamed live from Outbreak in Tokyo. It sounded both loose and tight - something the Japanese do so well.

Monday Night Gunk from Moshpit, Sydney (Live stream). The real deal from Sydney with a team of afficiandos dedicated to the cause. I am hoping to see more of this program in 2021. A classy affair!

There were some fantastic new album releases from expats Suzie Stapleton (now based in the UK) with ‘We Are The Plague” and Belle Phoenix, (based in Finland) with “The Glorious Dead”. Mick Medew (Brisbane) released “Psychopharmacologist”. All three albums throw their own unique perspective on rock n roll, which only goes to prove, yet again, that rock is not dead. It is, in fact, a vibrant, contemporary art form which continuously and triumphantly modulates itself into the now. 

From France multi-instrumentalist Alexandre Alquier released an album of collaborations with four other songwriters (including myself) under the moniker AA & les Oneiroi. The Oneiroi are: myself, Eric Becker, Barclau and Benoit Courribet, with special guest Georgio Valentino contributing to a track. Progressive, neoclassical, rock that takes the listener on a mysterious and exotic journey.  

Some single releases worthy of mention - from Hawaii, recorded in San Francisco, James Williamson & Deniz Tek released their hit-bound single “Stable” from their “Two to One” album. Johnny Casino (Sydney/Spain) released an awesome version of the song “Sailor’s Dream, composed by Louis Tillett, originally released by the first band I played guitar in, Wet Taxis. Haunting and sleepy it had a real “gone fishing” feel to it. Melbourne based bohemian Malcolm Hill released his pop gem “Eyes That Stare Forever” and Andrew McCubbin recorded a stellar cover of the PIL song “Rise”.

“Small Moments of Glory” autobiography by Jack Howard. I can’t think of anything that trumpet player Jack Howard (Hunters and Collectors, Midnight Oil) does not do well, and writing is one of them. Honest and humorous, it was a real pleasure to read.

“Almost A Mirror” novel by Kirsten Krauth. Set against the backdrop of the Crystal Ballroom in Melbourne and the post-punk scene of the 80’s, with forays to Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Castlemaine. A wild ride - street wise and raw.

Once lockdown was lifted, I played support to Tendrils (featuring Joel Silbersher and Charlie Owen) who performed a compelling live set at The Dog’s Bar in Melbourne. ’Twas a challenge to be at a show after so long (and in day light!) but oh so wonderful to feel that familiar tingle in your spine and the glow in your heart that playing and listening to live music provides. A feeling difficult to emulate by other means. I guess you know what I mean.

R.I.P. Greg Sawers. Greg was much loved by all whose paths he crossed. He was a dear friend who had an enthusiasm for life like none other. He was also stalwart in the Sydney music scene. He organised many tours in Sydney for me and helped me in so many ways with my music. His support in the early stages of my career was critical to my development as a solo artist and gave me a reason to keep going. He made my life a better place. The support of our friends is so incredibly important to musicians. Without them we would not be able to do the things we do. Thank you Greg Sawers for being you. Arms around you!

R.I.P. Stephan Fidock - another dear friend who was a master drum maker and drummer for The Reels and Sacred Cowboys. Stephan was a very gifted musician with a sharp laconic wit and an ultra-cool demeanour. He was the Steve McQueen of drummers. I was fortunate to play with him in the Sacred Cowboys.

R.I.P. Mike Noga - drummer from The Drones, Legends Of Motorsport & solo artist. Gorgeous and talented, he tragically passed away at the tender age of 42.

R.I.P. The Dogs Bar, St Kilda, The Dogs Bar served as an oasis for those of us living Southside. The proprietors Gavan and Sonya Breen knew how to run a successful bar and venue and treated the musicians who played there with generosity and respect. I wish I could say the same for all venues in Australia, but unfortunately it is not always the case. Mostly we are seen as vehicles to sell more beer. Gavan and Sonya were held in high regard by both the musicians who played there and by their clientele. The Dogs Bar will be sorely missed.

R.I.P. Ennio Morricone - Italian composer, conductor, trumpet player. He was versatile, prolific and fascinating musical genius. Morricone was an influence on my “Tokyo” album where I played around with his idea to combine unusual instruments together.

Here’s to 2021 everyone! May the force be with you!