Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Grant McLennan's last stand

Some of you may have once attended the Licorice Lounge which was held every second weekend at Ric's Bar here in the city. I named it such out of a tribute to the Liquorice Lounge, a short-lived club which was held at the Treasury Hotel (and other venues) around '89-'90. The Liquorice Lounge of then played host to the Holy Ghosts, Small World Experience, Wondrous Fair, the He Dark Age and many other links to the Brisbane post-punk music scene of the late 70s and early 80s; a time and space which I've researched for more years than I can remember.

I bumped into Grant McLennan one night and told him about this night I have, and whether or not he'd be interested in playing some tunes. He was quite amazed at my play-lists and the French and German New Wave films I would show on the big screen upstairs at Ric's. "Do you really play Orange Juice and Dusty back to back?"

He wanted to be billed as MC Lennan, and so it was done. Little did anyone know that it would be his last public appearance. I recently recalled a CD I had put together of some of the songs he and I played that night, so here it is.

The Velvet Underground - Who Loves the Sun
Bob Dylan - Queen Jane Approximately
Tim Hardin - Hey Joe
The Concretes - Can't Hurry Love
The Byrds - So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star
Orange Juice - Falling & Laughing
Bob Dylan - Country Pie
The Rubettes - Sugar Baby Love
Dusty Springfield - 24 Hours from Tulsa
Television - Venus
The Ronettes - Baby I Love You
Bobbie Gentry - Ode to Billie Joe
Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin - Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)
David Bowie - Starman

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Venom P. Stinger - What's Yours Is Mine


MICK TURNER - guitar
JIM WHITE - drums





ABE 911

224KPS vinyl rip

Delivering a curious blend of early 80s US Hardcore and the blurred jazz post-punk stylings of Laughing Clowns, Melbourne's Venom P. Stinger have yet to receive their CD reissue dues.

Following up on their 1986 debut, Meet My Friend Venom, and 7" single released a year later - Walking About/26 Milligrams, What's Yours Is Mine was the last release to feature the vocals of the maniacal Scotsman, Dugald MacKenzie. Replaced by Nick Palmer, the band went on to tour the USA, releasing various titles on American indies which are noticeably in print today.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Godlike Genius of Danny Kirwan, or a review of Hello There Big Boy!

Just about every band worth their weight in antipasto has at least one insane or eccentric member in their line-up at one point or another. Easy example - Keith Moon of the Who. Fleetwood Mac were lucky to boast three of them: Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. All of them played guitar. They sang songs. Loved Elmore James. They played in the band well before Buckingham-Nicks found their way out in front of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and created an AOR monster.

Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac for many reasons. One of them was because the rest of the band didn't feel they should be donating their profits to the struggles in Biafra. Peter Green was wearing white robes around this time. As fitting as it looked for someone who's known as the Green God among guitar aficionado circles, Greeny drifted away from music for almost ten years before coming back into music in the 1980s to only drift away for a few more years to be found wearing silly hats.

Jeremy Spencer went for a stroll through downtown Los Angeles during one of Fleetwood Mac's American tours in the early 70s and was deemed a missing person for five days before the police found him safe and sound within the Children of God cult of which he's still a member of today. In a way, it puts you off from listening to too much Elmore James, really. If you end up seeking God after listening to his amazing slide guitar work, then it's not really worth donating 10% of your weekly income to. Spencer released some interesting records in the 70s and in more recent times, but that's another footnote for some other time.

When it comes to rock 'n' roll's acid casualties, we're often made note of Syd Barrett and to a lesser and just as significant extent, the great work of Roky Erickson. People like Danny Kirwan get swept under the carpet, even though his amazing guitar work on Fleetwood Mac's Kiln House still holds ground today.

Monterrey was a great event, as Eric Burdon and the new Animals attested to. Joni Mitchell via CSN&Y's Woodstock spoke of similarly exciting events. And then there's another little festival which could've been.

The Bavarian Woodstock which Rainer Langhans planned never did quite happen. This was in March 1970. The HighFish / Hai-Fisch / Stoned-Shark commune had made a rendezvous with Green and Kirwan at Munich airport in a (strange) attempt to get Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones to play a festival with sauerkraut instead of mud. What became an innocent request to ask members of the penguin-loving Mac to request the services of these two artists to play at his little festival had turned and tuned into a giant LSD binge of which neither guitar-playing gents have managed to recover from.

Not too long after this event (okay, two years and a few months to be a little more exact), Kirwan threw his guitar against a wall in the dressing room and decided to stand in the audience and watch Fleetwood Mac attempt to play a set without him. Mick Fleetwood decided that it might be a good idea to fire him, and off he went.

Kirwan released Second Chapter in 1975 and followed it up a year later with Midnight in San Juan.

It's Kirwan's last album, 1979's Hello Big Boy! which is the focus of attention here. Peter Green at this point had just released his second album, In The Skies and Jeremy Spencer released Flee with fellow members of the Children of God cult. Of course, Fleetwood Mac released the sprawling double LP, Tusk - the commerical flop that had only sold a million-odd copies.

All three guitarists had seen 1979 as the year of AOR, and Kirwan's work is no exception to the fact. Kirwan's guitar work was rumoured to be faded out of the mix almost entirely, and the work of 70-odd musicians turned a mentally-fragile Kirwan recording session into something interesting - kind of like what Phil Spector did to the Beatles last album, one could say.

Today, Kirwan's rumoured to be living in a men's shelter in London, drinking away his Fleetwood Mac royalty cheques and refusing any interviews about his music career.

When you think about it, there's precious few bands from the 60s whose original members are still alive today. There's a few Bluesbreakers line-ups, Cream, the Kinks and Fleetwood Mac - the band who will go down in history for having more nutters on the six-string than any other.

And as much as Peter Green stands head and shoulders above Kirwan and Spencer in terms of adulation and respect, Danny Kirwan's light shines brightly for creating the best lost album of the late 1970s.

Hello There Big Boy! has the Jimmy Buffett sea-breeze, the Steely Dan tightness, the Paley Brothers harmonies, the sensiblity of Gerry Rafferty, and the catchy choruses of Christopher Cross. Naturally, Kirwan didn't like the idea of touring to promote this album - and in fact, the album was almost shelved due to the erratic behaviourisms of Danny's, so the album sank without a trace.

Have a listen, and tell me what you think.

The Verlaines Corporate Moronic

The small town of Dunedin plays host to a myriad of wonderful groups since the late 1970s, and the Clean seems to sit right at the top of that ladder. In fact, they've released a new record this year, and the Bats have done similarly. Strangely, too - the Verlaines have released a new album via a new independent label, Dunedin Music.

Once upon a time, the Verlaines released an album called Over the Moon through New Zealand's Sony branch. And at last count, about five people own this 1998 CD, and I know one of them. It was quite an interesting record - it kind of crossed the delicateness of 1991's Ready to Fly and the overcooked guitars of Way Out Where. You could feel the glue of tobacco paper seep into the microphone from Graeme Downes's lips during Writing On The Wall when he says, "don't say it's over."

Then the giant wait for Potboiler, released on the Flying Nun label nine years later. I have only played it once. Not feeling terribly game to play it again, it kind of left me stone cold. The ghastly cover doesn't help matters - but then again, Way Out Where has a rather shocking cover as well. Bob Dylan's 1981 LP Shot Of Love looks like Roy Lichtenstein's vomit but it's one cracker of a record. Judge, cover, et cetera.

On a recent trip to Christchurch, I walked into an independent record store to find the just released Verlaines album, Corporate Moronic. This worked out pretty famously as I had not planned to take any music along with me to listen to in the rent-a-car for the return trip to Dunedin. I played this album almost non-stop between both cities, pausing for small periods to listen to some classic AM rock on an FM station.

Every rock band I've grown up with in school have disappointed me in one way or another. Sonic Youth really lost the plot after Experimental, Jet-Set, Trash and No Star. Dinosaur Jr really into the ether after Where You Been? There's countless more examples to lay out, and the Verlaines sadly fall under this disappointment umbrella. I hope for each new Verlaines album to sound better than Bird Dog, and they never do. In hindsight, I guess it's that good after all.

After the departure of Robbie Yeats in 1989/90, and Jane Dodd in 1988, the Verlaines have lost a terrible amount of their poetry and zeal for complex arrangements. Some might just put it down to progress. The Velvets got more and more conventional as the years rolled on, so I guess this isn't anything too scandalous.

But in the case of the Verlaines, and Graeme Downes in particular - the band's leader, musical director, composer, lyricist, vocalist and occasional oboe player, it is as if the band of 2009 have forgotten what made them so beautiful - those countless references to cigarette smoking and pub-drinking is one major loss. And I don't think it's a good loss, either. Downes still finds room for doomed love songs, so not all is removed from the lyrical topics of yore.

Corporate Moronic completely removes itself from the Flying Nun era of 1982-1990, and all that's left is Graeme's voice. Thankfully, it's still in good form. So in today's terms it's Verlaines by name and not by nature.

Perhaps Graeme's moved on, and I haven't? He's already written Slow Sad Love Song, Just Mum, and Baud to Tears once - so why am I wanting another song along these similar lines? Selfishness more than likely.

In modern rock terms, I'd much rather listen to this album than the latest Kings Of Leon offering - so as much as this all seems like a giant whine, I should be grateful that the Verlaines exist at all.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tony Bennett - The Beat Of My Heart

This 1957 record by Tony Bennett is an unlikely record to have inspired the Laughing Clowns and their quest for brilliance, but with its array of drummers - Art Blakey, 'Philly' Joe Jones, Chico Hamilton and Billy Exiner; it's little wonder that after a close listen, you begin to hear the influences. For my crooner dollar, it's hard to beat Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours, though this baby comes pretty close.

This title was released on CD in 1997 as a part of Columbia's Best Value series and Bennett's own Master Series alike. Naturally, it's out of print on the convenient format.

Side one
  1. "Let's Begin" (Otto Harbach, Jerome Kern) - 2:00
  2. "Lullaby of Broadway" (Al Dubin, Harry Warren) - 2:24
  3. "Let There Be Love" (Ian Grant, Lionel Rand) - 2:03
  4. "Love for Sale" (Cole Porter) - 3:08
  5. "Crazy Rhythm" (Irving Caesar, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Joseph Meyer) - 2:07
  6. "The Beat of My Heart" (Johnny Burke, Harold Spina) - 2:24
Side two
  1. "So Beats My Heart for You" (Pat Ballard, Charles Henderson, Tom Waring) - 2:49
  2. "Blues in the Night" (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) - 2:50
  3. "Lazy Afternoon" (John Latouche, Jerome Moross) - 2:21
  4. "Let's Face the Music and Dance" (Irving Berlin) - 2:47
  5. "Just One of Those Things" (Porter) - 2:03
I have chosen not to include the bonus tracks, as they wouldn't have been able to fit here

Was Everett true? Laughing Clowns 25 years later (...and greater)

To put things into perspective, this band formed in 1979 with former members of the Saints, a school chum with a horn and two cousins from Melbourne. Many line-up changes, record labels and a string of flawless records before the band imploded with little fanfare in December 1984.

Precious few books reference the band, while rock journalists ranging from Clinton Walker, Ian Macfarlane and Everett True (more on him later) have often elevated this band to Godlike status.

The ABC documentary on Australian rock 'n' roll Long Way To The Top acted like this band never existed. It was as if Ed Kuepper did nothing when the Saints split and decided to open a bookshop for six years and suddenly appeared out of the ether to release a dozen plus records under his own name?

Some people called this music jazz, others called it punk; while many called the Laughing Clowns jazz-punk. The Go-Betweens tried to copy their style on their first record. The Birthday Party took similar cues. The band wore suit jackets well before Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds applied them as their uniform of choice.

Having been lucky to see Louise Elliott play an epic fifteen minute blast of 'Eternally Yours' with Ed Kuepper and Jeffrey Wegener at Dingwalls in Camden two years back, I figured that a Clowns reunion wouldn't be too far off. After all, it was the friction between the two men that saw the band disintergrate (amongst other conspiracy theories).

Nick Cave curated this year's All Tomorrow's Parties for its Australian festival debut. It's well known that Cave is indeed a fan of the Saints, often stating that 'This Perfect Day' is one of his all-time favourite 45's. Yes, the original Saints did indeed appear at ATP and recieved mixed reviews, mainly from Chris Bailey's refusal to take things seriously. And that's another story entirely, and one not worth worrying about here.

It was little surpise that the Clowns were asked to play at ATP, given the fashion tips and overall musical and lyrical influence that appears in Cave's music since the late 70s.

With Louise Elliott living in London, Les 'Bif' Millar happily teaching the art of bass in Adelaide and Jeffrey Wegener residing in Sydney, a reunion of at least the 2nd line-up of the band wasn't going to be easy. With Peter Doyle awol, the line-up that appeared on the Everything That Flies 12" seemed like the line-up Kuepper was going to put together at Cave's invitation.

When a band's had so many line-up and sonic shifts in such a small period of time (five years, if anyone's counting), the thought of the band playing a carbon copy of a particular vintage seemed stupid. Thankfully, this never took place.

Having been a fan since the early 90s and having been a little too young to have experienced the band in their prime, I was expecting a great deal from whom I regard as my favourite Australian band.

Everything was there on stage: Kuepper's flattened fifths, Wegener's 16th note rolls, Elliott's borderline overblowing of the tenor, Millar's enthusiastic fretless runs, and so on. Sydney keyboardist Alistair Spence filled the empty spaces with his washes of synth and piano.

The bottom line is: the Clowns didn't make me feel embarassed for loving them in the same way the Velvet Underground did for me in 1993.

To this day, I still can't fathom how the Clowns would have been received in 1979 around the Sydney venues when they walked out from their season-long rehearsals and to the stage. But in 2009, there were more people at ATP witnessing the Clowns than the fashion-savvy Spiritualized, but who's really complaining here?

Their show at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art held a week after their ATP shows in Sydney drew a crowd of close to 800 people, with one known walk-out from Everett True - an English writer well known among rock music readers who recently published a rather interesting review of the said show for the Guardian.

True Tales: Why I walked out of a Laughing Clowns Gig

The salt 'n' pepper beards were there in the audience, true. The band are no longer a secret held by a precious few record collectors and rock writers, true too. The sound was fine from the middle of the room, coming out of the PA and the band alike.

He's right about the fact that they are "the greatest live rock'n'roll band in the world ever, full stop." Yet, he's wrong about everything else.

I'm glad I could witness this moment, and I look forward to the three shows that've been penciled in for the winters. The days will be dragging along until then.