Archive for April, 2012

Sometimes the best things in life (and music) come from wrong turns. The Beatles trying to replicate Motown hits and getting it so gloriously wrong. The Ramones‘ attempt at being a bubblegum band, botched but ultimately birthing a new direction for rock. It is said the ‘blue’ (or flattened) notes in early blues – the basis for so much in the vernacular of popular music – came from slaves’ inaccurate hearing of distantly played Western classical music. Who knows?

Joe Camilleri set out to make a Hank Williams-inspired record in Nashville. Instead, he ended up making a triple-album set, holding 24 new songs, with almost everyone who ever played in his band The Black Sorrows, and housing it in an art book with original paintings by Sydney artist, Victor Rubin. This wrong turn (or series of wrong turns), led to Crooked Little Thoughts. All hail the wrong turn, summed up neatly in Camilleri’s lyric, “The world’s a sea of stories and nothing goes to plan…”

Camilleri says of his beloved Black Sorrows “On a good night we’re a great band… On a bad night, we’re a train wreck. And I reckon that’s the way bands should be… I’d rather fall on my face than be the same every night.” It is this mission statement that not only gives Crooked Little Thoughts its restless ecleticism (covering rock’n’roll, reggae, country, blues, gospel etc), but also its rollicking and blood-pumping live feeling across all 24 tracks.

From horn-and-string-laden funk opener ‘Money Talkin’ – with great blues-guitar from Claude Carranza – the ‘family’ vibe is evident. The lead vocal is shared by Camilleri and Sorrows newcomer (and quite a find!), the wonderfully named Atlanta May Coogan, with big bad backing vocal from the Wolfgramm sisters, Eliza, Kelly and Talei. There are 14 people on this track, yet they are all driving the same bus, all working towards making the song live its own life for 4:36.

This ‘family’ vibe is all over Crooked Little Thoughts – some tunes are sparser of course: the Tex-Mex ‘Our Town’, the Nashville ballad ‘The Spell is Broken’, the Bakersfield boogie ‘Dustbowl Blues’ – but every tune has just what it needs; the gumbo cooked up from the amazingly rich pantry of the Sorrows wonderful instrumentalists: Rockwiz’s James Black, jazz guitarist James Sherlock, tenor man Wilbur Wilde, drummer David Jones.

And they can rock too: ‘Shelley’ cooks with Stonesy guitars, ‘I’m the One’ takes us back to the humid Melbourne days of Camilleri’s hit band, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, ‘Waitin for the Hammer’ bristles with Stax soul excitement. Unlike too many double- or triple-album sets (of which it is often said that they would have made one great single album), every song here counts; the riches on Crooked Little Thoughts are many and varied. The moods, colours and stories here are tied together by something as simple as ‘heart’ – all the characters, streets, towns, kisses and sads are real, and very human.

Mention needs to be made of two huge talents, apart from the raggedly glorious Mr Joe Camilleri, that contribute indelibly to the album: that of vocalist Atlanta Coogan and artist Victor Rubin. Atlanta May Coogan (her name could come from a Camilleri tune!) is a great voice; her stamp is all over the music here, whether sharing lead vocal with Joe (‘Its Only Xmas’ is standout), or taking the lead on her own on the torchy blues ‘Lovin You’, one can hear why she made Mr Camilleri’s ears prick up when he first heard her on the Fogg album he produced in 2003.

Lastly, the other creative personality who undoubtedly makes Crooked Little Thoughts really something is painter Victor Rubin. The artworks he has created for each of the 24 tracks – they each face the song’s lyrics on double-page spreads – are timelessly modern, brilliantly original and full of a passionate lunge of feeling in their execution; in this they fit with the Black Sorrows’ music so well: nothing clever-clever, nothing too clean, slick or pointlessly polished. They are just right, and help to elevate this remarkable package of song- stories, story-songs and song-pictures into one of the great artifacts of Australian music.

The Black Sorrows website is here.

Victor Rubin’s website is here.

Crooked Little Thoughts is out on Head Records.

Published April 2012 on

Now in its 23rd year, The Byron Bay Bluesfest is truly one of the great festivals of the world. Grown from the vision of main man Peter Noble and developed over almost a quarter century, the lineups of current stars and the greats of the past get consistently better, year by year – the lineup this year seemed almost beyond belief.

Bluesfest is one of those rare festivals run by a total music fan (and of course a canny businessman) – Noble is now at the enviable juncture whereby his festival has almost become a vehicle for his wish-list. As an example, Noble personally sought out and secured original UK flower-child and faery-king Donovan Leitch for this year’s festival. Which is quite a coup, considering Donovan no longer tours!

The mix, as ever, was a delight – superstars, sentimental favourites, artistic must-sees, wildcards, local blues and roots artists.

We began with Keb’ Mo’ who, within two tunes, shot us from country blues to Steely Dan-slick funk blues. Sweet stuff. Then, sensing a dip in the program of our must-sees, we took in our first wildcard, the bouncing and boisterous Eagle and the Worm – a great mix of garage rock and soul horns whose party vibe masks some seriously ‘on’ musicianship.

From garage party to the bluegrass folk of David Bromberg – a star of the 60s folk revival and a cult hero ever since. His drummerless quartet was country clear and country simple, but the most riveting song was the duet (with bass) rendition of Jerry Jeff Walker’s evergreen ‘Mr Bojangles’ – a song, a story, a singer: you could have heard a reefer drop.

I sauntered around and met a man who had eaten a cheese sandwich with Stephen Stills the day before. Then it was afro-groovin’ with Angelique Kidjo who filled the stage with dancers and was our African Queen for that hour. From afro-ecstacy to rockabilly and grease – the buzz of a jewel-studded festival program. Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot was just that: teenage kicks with all the joy of a 1950s none of us have lived – hot rods, Peggy Sue and gang rumbles. Setzer had all the dancers dancing, the rockers rockin’ and all the guitar-players slack-jawed at his rockabilly Gretsch flash.

We left before the three double basses (!) came out to go and check Donovan who was of course as spacey and regal is expected – his swirling dance during ‘Season of The Witch’ was something to behold.

Easter Sunday we started with some local surprises – The Round Mountain Girls who were actually boys, got their bluegrass party on. Then the ‘demon blues’ of the Mason Rack Band – local but now doing things internationally, and it’s easy to see why: high-energy, howling shitstorm of the punkier edge of blues, they finished with a three-way steel beer-keg drum solo – what’s not to like!

Resigned to having our heads genre-bent by the amazing diversity of today’s lineup we went from this to the ambient wonder of French violinst/composer Yann Tiersen and his young band. It was one of those musical experiences where time truly stands still and you float (and no, I was not into the fragrant Byron Bay horticulture like many around me). I needed a little shakeup and the latin fire of Watussi gave me the shot up the jacksie that did the trick.

One of Peter Noble’s program picks of the festival this year was Australian singer-songwriter Richard ClaptonClapton’s songs, in his heyday (and even today, judging by the new tunes in the set) seemed, as Dylan did with American life, to perfectly capture and frame the Australian experience. His band was lean and hard rockin’, Clapton was boozed enough to be loose and witty and the whole crowd sang along when he sang his memorable Sydney-couplet ‘Sitting out on the Palm Beach Road / I’m so drunk and the car won’t go…’ from 1977’s ‘Deep Water’.

Our last day was centered around turning up late for the triple-whammy of John Fogerty, Dweezil Zappa and YES. Sloping in late we found ourselves before the beguiling Justin Townes EarleSteve’s boy – bespectacled, bright, witty and with a nice rock’n’roll chug to his country songs. For some reason his music, all mixed in with the Jim Beam, the humidity (a storm threatened and flashed a way off) and the general good vibes of Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm put us in a good good mood for what was to come.

For 25 years Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty did not perform any CCR songs – the band experience, souring and breakup had been too painful. But Bob Dylan and George Harrison (as well as, tacitly, millions of fans around the world) begged him to bring these songs out again. And to hear them live, with Fogerty in great voice and form made one realise that the CCR Songbook is one of the treasures of post-war pop – a perfect amalgam of psych, swamp, rock’n’roll and pop that many bands have tried but few have achieved. At times I couldn’t hear the band for the singalong around me. Magic.

And speaking of the treasures of post-war music, Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil has taken it on himself to keep the enormous, challenging and influential oeuvre of his father alive. Under the banner of Zappa Plays Zappa, he tours the world, spreading the good word with his (astonishing) band of young players. Early tech problems robbed us of a couple of songs but we were still treated to such radio-unfriendly FZ hits as ‘Carolina Hardcore Ecstacy’ and ‘Willie The Pimp’.

What better ending to such a blissed-out, bluesky and bounteous bluesfest than the expansive prog anthems of UK godfathers YES? With new vocalist Jon Davison filling in for original starship trooper Jon AndersonYES spaced us all out even further. There is a point where you surrender to ecstacy and it fills the world – if our souls could smile it would have been then.

It wasn’t only the nature-worshipping star-music of YES, it was the whole Bluesfest trip – the lack of hot-and-bother, the utopian flags snapping against the blue sky, the warmth of the earth and the sun. Thanks to Peter Noble and his wonder-workers, for another Easter weekend we were the beautiful people.

Published April 2012 on

After half a century of constant development, inspiration and hothouse flowerings, certain genres have found their perfect expression – soul-funk is one of them.

Sydney 8-piece Dojo Cuts are one perfect expression of this perfect expression. Lean, mean and heavy (in the true sense) there is not a bass-note or hihat-beat out of place – everything is slave to the groove, and what grooves they are! Working from, and building upon, the original late 60s/early 70s Stax/Atlantic rhythm-with-horns template, Dojo Cuts have joined current movers and shakers such as The Dap Kings in keeping this music not only alive, but bursting with blood, sweat and joyful tears.

Every band has their secret weapon and Dojo Cuts are blessed with two – the insistent and driving rhythm guitar of Nathan Aust and the startling vocal of singer Roxie Ray. The role of the rhythm guitar in this music cannot be overstated: the unadorned tone of a semi-acoustic through a vintage amp has that percussive chug and chop that links the harmonic with the rhythmic and ties it all together just beautifully.

And in a music known for its killer queens – Aretha, Mavis Staples, Etta James – Dojo Cuts’ Roxie Ray stands up proud. She has that perfect balance of soul and control and her voice is as highly individual as our own Kylie Auldist and Lanie Lane. Craig Charles of UK BBC6’s Funk & Soul Show says “Roxie Ray could sing the phone book and I would buy it”. Right on, Craig.

On his colourful liner notes to Dojo Cuts’ new album Take From MeRuss Dewbury (of Jazz Rooms fame) calls the band the “undisputed champions of the sound” and says “Dojo Cuts go route 1 to your soul”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

After the jumping horn funk intro of ‘El Entro’ the band get down to dirty business with the sweet soul strut of ‘I Can Give’ and the party is on. ‘Mamacita’ is one of many standouts – a thrill ride with tasty latin jazz-flute filigrees decorating the funky greasy pork chops. ‘Sonny’s Strut’ lets the band flex their groove muscles; ‘Sometimes It Hurts’ is late night city lights and sorrow over cocktails; title track ‘Take From Me’ is smooth as skin – the album is soul-funk riches from go to whoa. 

Such is the confidence of Dojo Cuts with this material that they cover the recently departed Etta James’ 1968 soul anthem ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ – and carry it off perfectly, with Ray delivering all the soul-preaching and testifying it needs. No mean feat.

By the time we are flung sweating off the roller coaster of closer Marva Whitney’s ‘What Do I Have To Do?’, Dojo Cuts have done their job of shakin’ our asses, squeezing our hearts and making us thank God above for James Brown, Otis Redding and all the soul saints in heaven for this music. Take a listen, have a dance, take the Take From Me ride.

Take From Me will be released April 16, 2012 on Record Kicks

The Take From Me album launch party will be at Sydney’s The MAC on 20 May.


Before posting this review, The OrangePress put a handful of questions to Dojo Cuts’ main man Nathan Aust. Here are his responses:

1. Your first album DOJO CUTS came out in 2009 – why so long between drinks?

We were all very busy!  Roxie went to Europe and did some shows, Guy the original bassist left to go back home to Manchester and Ed the original drummer left the band for other reasons.  So, I started up another band called The Liberators, also on Record Kicks.  Ed the original drummer played guitar in that band.

2. The new album has a nice ‘live’ sound to it – how was it recorded?

It was recorded pretty much live, everyone in the same room except for vocal overdubs.  Went straight to tape too.  We recorded the whole thing over two days!

3. You tackle a couple of killer soul standards. What made you select Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind?”

“I’d Rather Go Blind” was chosen by Roxie. Roxie and I would do little duet gigs around town and it was one of the covers we’d do. So we threw it in the mix and thought it came out sounding alright.

4. Dojo Cuts has always gone for a very authentic Atlantic/Stax sound – what are the modern elements in you music?

We’ve always just played the way we like and are obviously influenced by those records. When it comes to modern elements, we obviously influenced by Daptone, but they’re in the same boat as us when it comes to influences. Kind of a vicious soul circle.

5. What do you think the timeless appeal of R&B and Soul is?

I think a friend of mine Miss Sharon Jones said it right “What comes from the heart, goes straight to the heart”.  Plus it just sounds damn good!

6. Finally – what are your thoughts on the music scene today?

To be honest, I’m not really in a good position to answer that.  In regards to mass pop music, I’m clueless, I hardly listen to the mainstream radios or TV. However, I do think that there is a great underground Soul and Afro presence and keep my ears tuned to that.  Bands like Third Coast Kings, Deep Street Soul and all the stuff Record Kicks is putting out is feeding me nowadays.

Published April 2012 on

Nothing seems to divide modern rock guitar fans like shred-metal guitar. On one side of the rickety fence is the fragrant, hairy army of blooz-rock nuts who now and forever will believe Clapton IS God (with Duane Allman a wild St Peter) and no argument; they talk imponderables such as ‘taste’, ‘tone’ and ‘Fillmore’ etc. Over on the other side are the black-tshirted Van Halen freaks who cannot get enough insane speed, volume or distortion for their liking. It seems you just can’t like both. The blooz guys call the VH style tasteless and ‘widdly-widdly’ and much of the VH army barely knows one end of an Allman Brother from the other.

The Big Bangs of Rock Guitar are few but each has been nothing short of seismic, actually shaping almost all of rock music that came after. Chuck Berry’s boogie-shuffle, Kinks/Who powerchords, Jimi Hendrix’s atomic devastation of whatever had constituted electric guitar – and the last great stylist, Edward Lodewijk ‘Eddie’ Van Halen. Building on the Hendrix amp-overload template, Van Halen developed a singing, stinging style on a guitar he had bolted together from spare parts – he then set about inventing a range of techniques to exploit this impossible tone: string-tapping (and all its variants), harmonics, extreme use of the tremolo (or whammy) bar, etc.

All of this would have been ignored had not Van Halen carried it off with enormous musicality, humour and excitement (and David Lee Roth). Van Halen launched several armadas of truly awful guitarists (and some utter genii, such as Living Colour’s Vernon Reid) – and this is the rub with shred-metal guitar: How much is technique and how much is feeling?

Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion hosted three of the greatest living exponents of shred-metal guitar on Friday at the end of March. Touring as G3, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Steve Lukather treated the converted to almost four hours of fervent worship at the church of St Eddie.

Steve Lukather, a musical polymath who made his name with 70s soft rockers TOTO was up first. Despite being paired with Satriani and Vai for this tour, Lukather’s style is rooted more in the blues-jazz fusion style of guitarists such as Frank Gambale. He is one hell of a guitar player with a pedigree longer than most. Working through funk-rock and blues-metal material with his band, he laid out some gorgeous pre-Van Halen flavours with more than enough technique and flash for the shredheads.

Next up was the remarkable Steve Vai. Vai was discovered by Frank Zappa who first used him as a music transcriber and later for ‘Strat abuse’ on several 80s albums. (Long time Zappa keysman, Mike Keneally was also in Vai’s crack band tonight). A restless creative soul, Steve Vai is equally loved and loathed for his extreme technique and left-field personal philosophies. A contemporary and pupil of Joe Satriani, he has taken even Satriani’s extremes to the extreme. Eye-poppingly flash from the first note, Vai played hits from across his oeuvre – his rendition of the ballad ‘For the Love of God’ was proof that under all that dizzying space-circus acrobatics his musicality is beyond question: the arc of his solo was perfect in shape and utterly spiritual in voice. And the wonderful thing about a true virtuoso such as Steve Vai is they never appear to run out of places to go. I saw God, while the hairy gent beside me muttered “Fuck, he goes off”. Such is the appeal of Steve Vai.

Also, such is the over-egged nature of Vai’s style that when the true shred-master of the three guitarists, Joe Satriani, hit the stage, he seemed a little tame. But by the end of ‘Satch Boogie’ – a monster slice of metal-funk from his startling 1987 album Surfing with the Alien – Joe had put your head right. Satriani, more than any other guitar player has been instrumental (pun intended) in widening the Van Halen palette – a hugely popular artist, producer and teacher, he has spread the righteous word for years. It is worth looking beyond the amazing runs and unearthly fretwork at his music – this man studied with blind jazz-wizard Lennie Tristano, after all.

The G3 gig finished, as they all do (G3 has been an institution in rock guitar since 1996) with a series of triple-guitar jams. The Zappa connection continued with opening jam, FZ’s ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama’ – but cramming three larger-than-life guitarists into the same song can’t really work on any truly musical level. By the time the three had gang-banged Jimi Hendrix’s delicate and spacey ‘Little Wing’ to death, I was gone.

But what do I know? Everyone there utterly loved it – after all, excess is a key ingredient in this music – and went crazy for it. I am sure my hairy friend would agree that they fuckin’ went off. And they did.

Check out Katja Liebing’s great shots of the G3 show here

Also check Katja Liebing’s site here

Published April 2012 on

Sebastian Hardie were arguably Australia’s only truly progressive-rock band of the early 1970s. Sure, there are many bands that could take your mind way, way out to the outer reaches, and more Western Suburbs Pink Floyds that you could count. But, being wild colonial Australia, all of these bands had an undertow of hard blues that dragged the music band to Earth when it threatened to touch the firmament.

Sebastian Hardie were different – the passion and power were certainly there, but the flavour was more European, with less of that Celtic/Delta skin and bones to it. Their sound seemed to mirror the hugely popular UK and Dutch rock bands such as Holland’s Focus and the UK’s Barclay James Harvest.

By the time they finalised their ‘classic’ lineup they had been joined by guitarist and musical polymath Mario Millo, whose compositions pushed the band to a more symphonic sound and huge popularity. It also helped that he was a wicked guitar player, playing a lush, romantic style that fitted beautifully with the band’s musical soundworld.

After releasing two landmark albums (the Jon English-produced Four Moments and the second, 1976’s Windchase) the band split – Millo moving onto great success with soundtrack and production work.

The world turned. And turned. Thirty-six years passed. I heard that there was a new album. An album made by the Four Moments lineup of Millo, keyboardist Toivo Pilt and brothers Alex Plavsic (drums) and Peter Plavsic (bass). I had the usual mixed feelings that one does when any artist tries to add to their perfectly-made oeuvre – an oeuvre which was made at a time when they were young, brave and hitting their straps. I was happy they were back, but I didn’t want the new one to be a disappointment.

It isn’t. In fact the new album, Blueprint, is one of the best things I have heard this year. As when Steely Dan came back after 20 years between albums, Blueprint sounds as if Sebastian Hardie never took a breath in those 36 years. From the sea-wash Hammond organ and cello-like guitar of 6/8 opener ‘I Wish’ through thrill-ride ‘Vuja De’, down to orchestral closer ‘Shame’, the entire album is a delight. Majestic, spacey, classically beautiful by turns, it is everything I expected.

Album track ‘The Art of Life’ seems to be speaking about the band and its fans and the 30-plus hiatus between albums, quoting Oscar Wilde“Life’s too important to be taken seriously”. And Blueprint, like many ‘comeback’ albums by classic bands has that ‘serious fun’ vibe about it, with all youthful ego trips banished with childhood’s toys.

It is interesting to compare this superb offering by the veteran sound-warriors of Sebastian Hardie with another excellent Australian progressive release of this year, the young Brisbane prog artist Ben Craven’s Great & Terrible Potions ( Blueprint is very cleanly produced throughout and sounds deceptively unadorned (even though there is much going on) whereas Ben Craven’s Potions sounds more ornate and has the giddying dynamics of modern film soundtracks.

Neither work sounds ‘better’ for these qualities – it is just interesting to hear the markedly different timbres of two styles in the same genre, one mapped out prior to the prog-metal revolution of the 90s and one after. This to me is a sort of proof that progressive rock is alive and well and moving into the future that it, like science-fiction literature, has imagined and soundtracked ahead for years.


On behalf of The Orangepress I put a handful of questions to Sebastian Hardie’s Mario Millo prior to posting this review. Here are his responses:

1. Your new album ‘Blueprint’ is the first Sebastian Hardie album since 1976’s ‘Windchase’. What was the impetus for the reformation and recording?

Since the band reformed in 1994 specifically to perform as headline act at Progfest ’94 in LA, the band had often discussed the idea of doing more concerts, a new recording etc, however, we found it was much easier said than done.  As we have been pursuing our separate careers none of us had time to focus on the band, so nothing much happened until 2002 when I produced my second solo album “Oceans Of The Mind”.  This gave me the push to contact Japanese promoters to set up a tour with the intention to promote Oceans.  One thing lead to another and a complete show featuring Mario Millo Band and Sebastian Hardie was put in place.  Prior to the concert tour of Japan, I organised a one off concert for both bands at The Metro Theatre in Sydney where the debut performance of Oceans Of The Mind was filmed (DVD due for release soon).  It was also the first home concert performance by SH since we split in 1976.

Also, in the late 90s, our albums, including my solo album Epic III and Symphinity by Windchase, were re-issued in Japan through an independent label which thankfully has kept the flame burning.

After returning from the concert tour of Japan in 2003 and later that year performing as special guests on The Yes 35th Australian Anniversary Tour, we – Seb Hardie – were buzzing and felt inspired enough to embark on our third studio album.  We figured that if we wanted to continue touring, a new album would be essential. However, due to all of our separate commitments, production on the project stopped and started a number of times.   In the end, even though it did take years, we finally completed the recordings and Blueprint was finally released.

2. ‘Blueprint’ seems to take up musically exactly where ‘Windchase’ left off. Was it a conscious decision to eschew more current prog-metal flavours and adhere to the classic Sebastian Hardie sound?

As best as I remember, we were clear re the direction the music should take. We felt it was important to produce an album that reflected the definitive sound of the band and one that would hopefully stand up along side Four Moments and Windchase. Keeping in mind, when the band was a happening force in the mid 70s, we were young, passionate and determined to make our mark.

After this “lifetime between albums”, I guess we just wanted to hear that familiar sound again, this time without the need to make a mark, but we did want it to be good and the best that we could deliver.

3. What are your feelings regarding the mixture of heavy metal and progressive rock that revitalised the genre in the 80s and early 90s?

I need to digress a little –

In the early 80s my career took a significant change of direction. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I became totally focused in composing and producing music for film. I was enthusiastic and passionate writing orchestral music, totally engrossed. It was also a great feeling being welcomed and acknowledged by the industry and to be awarded many times for my work throughout the years.

So throughout those years, I sort of lost touch with what was happening in the prog rock scene. The mix of heavy metal and prog is evident to me these days, though as I’m not much of a heavy metal fan, I don’t really follow the scene. I’ve enjoyed watching the odd Dream Theatre DVD and find them fascinating, however, not what I would choose to listen to these days.

In recent years I’ve been involved in producing my daughter Jess’s band “The Vandabelles” debut album, “Outside Looking In”.  As well, producing and performing on singer/songwriter Nick Latta’s debut album, “Filling The Void”. Neither of these artists would be labeled “progressive” but their music in my opinion will stand the test of time. Both these albums are soulful and heartfelt and the sort of music that I prefer these days, listening to or producing. Both albums are soon to be released.

4. As with much progressive rock, Sebastian Hardie’s music takes as much from orchestral music as it does from rock and roll. Which classical composers are on your iPod?

Believe it or not but I don’t have any orchestral Mp3 music in my iPhone yet!  However, my favourite composer is Gustav Mahler. There are many specific compositions by various composers that I love, but in general the music of Mahler does it for me.

Looking back, SH was a great vehicle for my writing. The band was always happy to accept and follow my musical direction, performing the specific parts the music required. This, I feel, was the strength of the sound of SH.

5. Will the Sebastian Hardie reformation and recording of ‘Blueprint’ lead to further recordings and a full tour (or will we fans have to wait another 36 years?

Hate to say it, but I very much doubt there will be another album or any more performances by the band. I think we’ve all accepted that fact. Speaking purely for myself, SH was a wonderful part of my youth, great camaraderie and a significant part of my music journey/career.

Our intention was to tour and perform Blueprint, however, we’ve now accepted the release of Blueprint as a sort of finale to our journey.

6. Finally, what are your thoughts on the current state of music in general and the place of your own genre within the wider sphere of popular music?

There are so many different labels/genres in rock music these days that I actually don’t know where my music would fit, nor do I stress too much about it.  My taste in music nowadays is so broad that if I produce another solo album it’s likely to cross over into several different styles. Throughout my career, I’ve been inspired and influenced by such a diverse range of artists and composers from Hank Marvin (The Shadows) to John Lennon through to Hendrix, many of the prog rock artists of the seventies, through to Mahler, Stravinsky, Puccini, just to mention a few.

At the moment I’m very interested in songs that my daughter Jess writes and I absolutely love being involved with her projects and seeing her blossom into an amazing songwriter/ artist.

At this time in my life, when it comes to music, I do what I feel and cherish every moment. I also have a wardrobe full of unfinished and new ideas waiting for me to make happen and I’m determined to see them through one by one.

Published March 2012 on

Frank Zappa’s famous dictum of “Jazz is not dead; it just smells funny” was made at a time when Jazz had left the listener behind, cordoning itself off with fences of impenetrable theory and barbed wire tangles of unlistenable mathematics. Artists like Anthony Braxton, who named many of his compositions with symbols and numbers, chose to forget entirely about that function of music that activates the body below the cerebellum. The only way out seemed through fusing with rock, blues, funk and other, more vigorous mongrel-like musics.

Even though Jazz ultimately found its way again, it still intermittently reinvigorates itself by sucking on the funky, vital blood of other, more populist musics now and again – check current shining light Robert Glasper’s incorporation of hip-hop and urban favours into his Jazz, or our own D.I.G who mixed up House and Jazz so successfully in the 90s.

Sydney’s Vampires have long mixed reggae (Marley et al plus the Ethiopian skank of the great Mulatu Astatke and such) and African funk into their brew. Featuring compositions from altoist Jeremy Rose and trumpeter Nick Garbett their sound is beautifully open and spry – with no chordal instrument (piano or guitar) to thicken the sound, this allows the band to not only keep the jazzheads happy with some curly chromaticism in the solos, but helps the rest of us shake our asses to the surefooted grooves driven by Alex’s Boneham (bass) and Masso (drums).

Their prior releases – 2008’s South Coasting and Chellodene from 2009 – were hugely successful, pushing The Vampires out into the festival circuit and painting grins on the faces of all who heard them. The new one, Garfish is more of the same, thank God (and Ornette Coleman).

The title track opener, Nick Garbett’s ‘Garfish’ walks in with a beautifully  assured reggae stroll – the band, augmented by trombonist Shannon Barnett, moves between reggae, New Orleans march music and a joyous free-blown Dixieland section. Chilean percussionist Fabian Hevia introduces ‘Haiti’ and we are off into a Randy Weston-style Afrogroove. The ingredients are thrown in, the gumbo mix swirls and the album unfolds like a feast.

Much of this material was developed at the 2011 Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music under the direction of US trumpeter Dave Douglas – a musician known for eschewing genres and elitism: a righteous man, in other words. 

The calypso of ‘Dragon Del Sur’, the relaxed Cuban jump of Rose’s ‘Antipodean Love Song’ – it all reminds me of John McLaughlin’s statement that “all music is World music” – we all live in the World, don’t we? The Vampires take what they want and use what they want, to great effect.

And it is this which makes Garfish such a satisfying album – the solos and ideas are what is best about Jazz: adventurous, poetic, free and soulful; but the grooves and good humour here are also as valid as any other element. Seventy years ago, Jazz used to make the best dance records – in 2012, The Vampires make equally irresistible dance music. Garfish will have you shaking your ass while bright jungle flowers grow between your ears.

Published March 2012 on

The marketing for this World Tour by UK art-rock legends 10CC placed them as “the link between The Beatles and Gorillaz”. I am not so sure about Gorillaz but 10CC definitely opened the ears (and heads) of every art-pop band that followed, from XTC to the Arcade Fire.

In many ways a product of the early 1970s when commerciality and epic experimentation in many genres – jazz, pop, rock, even country – seemed to co-exist in a far happier state than at any time before or since, 10CC continued to stretch that which constituted “pop” music into increasingly unfamiliar shapes – an experiment begun by The Beatles in the equally heady mid-1960s. And just as The Beatles made great things from the frisson between bitter Lennon and sweet McCartney, 10CC had similar sparks flying off their four songwriters: the artistically restless Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, and the pop-worshipping Eric Stewart (Stewart had been in the UK hit group, The Mindbenders) and Graham Gouldman (who had written hits such as the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul” and The Hollies’ “Bus Stop”). Add in enormous (and sardonic) wit, instrumental smarts, fearless genre-hopping and a public (like The Beatles’ fans) who lapped up anything the band gave them, and you are left with a body of work that is one of the treasures of post-war music. 

I was at a loss as to why 10CC had chosen a string of smaller venues for the Sydney leg of this tour rather than one of the stadium/rock-barns, but as I settled back into my seat at Marrickville’s Factory Theatre, I was blessing the fact. The production and sound at the Factory has always been excellent and tonight was no different.

Beginning with the timely spit-in-the-eye rock and roll piece “The Wall Street Shuffle”, the 5-piece band was right on the money (no pun intended) from note one. Through the intensely complex “I’m Mandy (Fly Me)” and the McCartneyesque “The Things We Do For Love” to the richly sardonic rocker “Art For Art’s Sake” they handled the acrobatics of each song with ease – negotiating the tempo-changes, tricky vocal harmonies and micro-dynamics so perfectly and transparently that no-one (apart from the jaw-dropped musos in the audience) noticed (as it should be in pop).

A mini-symphony such as “Feel The Benefit” from their hit 1977 album Deceptive Bends actually has so many sections and recapitulations that at one point half the band was fading out one section at one tempo in one key, while the other half was fading in another section of an entirely different flavour (don’t try this at home kids). Not that any of this virtuoso crap made a jot of difference to most of the audience – which, as a capital-P ‘Pop’ group, 10CC never intended. Leave all that widdly-worship to the jazz cats and the prog rockers – this pop was about hooks, luscious Beatles’-style harmonies and music built to thrill and uplift.

The only original member of the original fantastic four left – Godley and Creme left in 1976 and Eric Stewart in 1995 – Graham Gouldman was joined by guitarist Rick Fenn and Paul Burgess who have been members of 10CC’s touring band since the mid 70’s (almost all studio work was done by the original four) and keys player Mike Stevens. On vocal is the remarkable Mick Wilson, who handled all the Eric Stewart song vocals and well as the higher falsetto parts – his lead vocal on the Zappa-ish doo-wop pastiche “Donna” (10CC’s first hit in 1972) was something to behold. To cover all the musical parts of their mosaic-like arrangements there was a lot of instrument-swapping and to-ing and fro-ing.

Much much more than a nostalgia act, 10CC (who’s last album was 1995’s almost ignored  Mirror Mirror) have had a lasting effect on pop music of all stripes, and – judging by the Factory’s mix-and-match crowd – still command a huge respect and love for their work. There were mums and dads here for the hits, intense muso-types here for the musical gymnastics, bespectacled art-pop nuts here for the wit and wisdom of Gouldman and co.

Like The Beatles – in fact like any enduring art-oriented act – 10CC are simultaneously both inclusive and exclusive, sweet-and-easy and clever-clever all at once. Their popularity hinges on that balance and, ironically, it is a commercial balance that only a true artist can hold.

Photos by Katja Liebing – see her site here

Published March 2012 on