Monday, August 3, 2009

Sound Level, Ultimo, Sydney, 1996

Band: Flak
Members: Maddog (v), Robbie (b), Rod (d), Carl (g)
Setup: Gibson SG, Mesa Mark III head, Mesa Quad, Mesa V Twin preamp

Sound Level left a great impression on me. It has a coke machine that dispensed VBs.

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Sound Level was typical of Sydney rehearsal rooms; a microcosm of the musicians world, a music shop in the front, pies and sausage rolls in the bain-marie, a caravan of instruments migrating between rooms, Hiaces and Toyota Crowns... But it was the double sealed doors that said it all - You chose your fate, now deal with it.

Sound Level was one of the more deluxe rehearsal spaces in town, I believe that there is a room with full length mirrors. Mercy.

Robbie chose Sound Level because it was where his rig was after his tour of Europe with the Died Pretty. We'd rattle through the cage to get his gear out.

Maddog, Robbie and I shared a house in Newtown, and there was all manner of itinerants there. We had great nights with the guys from Nunbait and Midget, who we knew vicariously from Brisbane. Here's a picture of Flak waiting for the Town Hall Hotel to open.

I recall a birthday party at our house for Ivan from Nunbait, where his girlfriend Liz facetiously asked
'How old are you Ivy?'
'30?!?...Jesus, how obscene... I won't be 30 for a thousand years!'
That still stands as the best sledge I've ever heard.

A common pattern at that time was to go and see a band at the Sandringham Hotel (free music seven nights a week), with any luck Lunacide, Midget, Harpoon, Daisycutters or Whopping Big Naughty, and wind things up with a drink at the Town Hall, The Oxford, The Bank and invariably a pide from Saray's.

Flak were a good rock band, but not that any of the individual ideals were aligned. In some ways it was transitional, Maddog was finally getting the US-indie beaten out of him, Robbie had discovered a new passion for Mondo Rock basslines, Rod was considering selling his second floatation tank and I came to the realization that my sixties guitar twang would not be discovered at the next Woodstock - that opportunity had expired 30 years previously.

We played once at the Annandale Hotel. Some originals, but a standout was a cover of Leadfoot by the Scientists...and that ain't no easy thing to pull off.

Flak disbanded, Rod disappeared from the scene, but not without introducing me to Starless by King Crimson. Red is still one of my favourite records today.

I've never been back to Sound Level. That might have something to do with the $50 we still owe them for forfeiting our last practice.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Woolloongabba, Brisbane, 1995

Band: Carl and Wendy
Members: As above
Setup: Gibson SG, Ibanez GB10, Roland JC100

The last rehearsal room in Brisbane was one of mystery and wonder, Barsony black ladies, beaded curtains, plastic ribbon shades, cups of tea, biscuits and a record player. It was Wendy's loungeroom.

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I had met Wendy through Spank, a nostalgia for Jazz was shared, and we formed a duo.

Wendy was courteous to the point of formality when I went around, always ensuring I was comfortable with offers of green tea and cheese platters in her broken soprano voice.

But something changed when she sang, a visceral confidence, her voice transformed into a powerful musical instrument, with the added talent of adopting vocal characteristics of those torch singers she admired, some phrases almost a mimic. Wendy was the greatest vocalist I had ever performed with.

The songs included jazz classics like Black Coffee and Cry Me A River and some Lovs E Blur songs, In My Head, Paranoia. There were no recordings of some of the Lovs E Blurs tunes, so to work them out Wendy phoned Tony, who told me how to play them over the phone.

We played at Art Exhibitions, Wedding Receptions, parties and had a residency at a bar in the city. It was the first time as a musician that I was treated with respect at venues, and the compensation was better in the two piece than any of my previous rock bands.

The more we practiced and performed the more Wendy would ease the condenscention, and I would listen wide-eyed about the touring, the photoshoots, the boyfriends, the fashion, the homebake.

We were recorded onto a fourtrack tape by a friend of mine, Justin. No rearrangement of the room, just a milkcrate for the Tascam, two mikes, one headphone for the mixer.

I met Wendy and her boyfriend Brian once in Sydney when I moved down south. At the Judgement Bar. I had other things to do musically, I was too young for a jazz gig, I thought. You make your choices, don't ya.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Windsor Castle, Red Hill, Brisbane, 1994

Band: Spank
Members: Stewart (g), Id (k), Simon (d), Wendy (v), Carl (s)
Band: Rubber Glove
Members: Maddog (v), Ross (b), Carl D (d), Carl (g)

Windsor Castle was Dirt's residence on Windsor Rd, in which he had built a soundproof room.

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Dirt had a revolving door of residents, let alone musos for his room.

Spank was Id and Stewart's band, and their speciality was rock and roll sleaze. It was played to perfection, and every song had character. I was asked to play saxophone, without audition, on one of their recording sessions and the only dictum was to play like the crazy sax on The Stooges 1970. Fortuitous, as thats the only way I knew how to play.

Their songwriting was a mix of Stewart's passion for Detroit and Id's for the psychedelic and twisted. They had previously enlisted Angelo from Sister Christmas in an incarnation called Krank, but he went west, unfettered, they snared the vocal luminary Wendy, from Lovs E Blur.

The energy in the cramped and carpet lined room was tangible and uncomfortable, but of a good kind. Wendy seemed intentionally distant, perhaps as protection from the aggression of the music. I think that drove Stewart and Id into an even greater dissonance. Not that I or anyone could tell where they were going musically, they were a songwriting unit unto themselves, munted. Hearing the completed songs from them such as Song In A Dead Arm was a privilege. Hey, it felt like a privilege at last to play in a band where I didn't have to write.

I played sax with them at the Roxy in the Valley and bass for them at the Normanby Fiveways, which I think was their last. They were an awesome band, and Stewart continues in Kewpie Doll.

As a rule, I won't include cover bands in the blog. But Rubber Glove deserve a mention. They supported Dirt at his CD launch at the Oxford. It was Rubber Bug, without Big D, who was touring as a mixer for Pop Properly at the time, with Carl D on drums, and Rosco on the bass.

It was a one gig event, Carl D wore a shirt made of rubber gloves, Ross dressed as a Mexican (with an impressive sombrero), Maddog, the closet fag, in a dress, and I decided to wear a sleeping bag. I had heard the Butthole Surfers had a guy who played in a mattress. Not wanting to be a rippoff, I chose the bag. Holes at the top for the arms, wormy like feet on the wah-wah, hood over my head. It was hot in the bag, and for the last song I decided it was coming off, only to be met with a chorus of punters imploring me to put it back on.

Galveston, Silvia's Mother, Freedom of Choice, I Didn't Know I Loved You Till I Saw You Rock and Roll (Carl D on vocals, Mad D on drums), I'm Bored, Fly On The Wall.

Dirt was watching and was most distressed when he had to go on, the greatest compliment, he was enjoying himself so much he forgot he was playing next.

I don't think Dirt lives at Windsor Castle anymore. I hope that room downstairs is still getting some good use.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bridge St, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1994

Band: Rubber Bug
Members: Maddog (v), Ross (d), Big D (b), Carl (g)

This room was a strange elevated garage on a dead-end street.

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And we have a picture of it, courtesy of Big D

The drum kit on the left is Ross's, the amps are probably Hateman's, we shared the room with them and Six Ft Hick.

Now it seemed to me that a common passtime for Brisbane bohemians would be to go 'up the mountain', meaning Mt Glorious. It was green up there, away from the city, away from the cops, and there was always someone up there with the gear. It was suggested we should record up there.

What an ideal place to record, except, there was no recording studio. Not to be stopped by minor hindrances, a recording studio was improvised in Marks house. The drums were setup in the basement, guitars in the loungeroom, mixing desk in the kitchen. We communicated with Ross by knocking on the floor. Maddog was later relegated to the basement for vocal overdubs. Mark and Big D did the mixing. There was only one pair of headphones between the five of us. None of us had ever heard of Trout Mask Replica, but this recording setup was not dissimilar. Mark got infuriated, the Bug got wasted, tensions flared and at about midnight we'd had enough and drove down the mountain. Drove. Fast. Midnight. Clifffaces. No street lighting. Skid marks. On my trousers.

I recall trying to record again with the Bug before they broke up, in some kind of house in the valley that was either under construction, or being torn down, I couldn't tell which. I don't believe any of these later recordings have survived.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Boulder Lodge, Brunswick St, Brisbane, 1993

Band: Rubber Bug
Members: Maddog (previously known as Gary) (v), Ross (d), Big D (b), Carl (g)

I think the owner went to the optometrist who shared a floor of the Warehouse with Ross. Whatever connection it was that got us in there, Boulder Lodge was an incredible rehearsal room.

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Boulder Lodge was an old theatre converted into a live music venue. The room was subterranean and cavernous. Best of all it has velvet curtains.

Gary had become Maddog, not a label he earned in the pen serving a sentence, it was because of a minor resemblance he had to a vivid history of Maddog-types with menacing dental and mental conditions. You see, his pet dog had jumped at him while he was laughing and broke his front tooth off in diagonal, which while on public health, could not be fixed for several weeks as it was deemed cosmetic only. Gary (as he was at first) was understandably not impressed by this imposition of the public health, but he found that it became an experience in social identity, and ultimately relished in it.

Commuters would jump out of the way on the bus when he opened his mouth to say 'excuse me'. Bank Tellers would twitch nervously when he asked to make a withdrawal. Parents sheltered their children from the maniacal grin of the generally congenial and cheerful Gary.

In six weeks, he had become Maddog, and even subsequent to the tooth being fixed, the name, and some would say traces of the caricature, Maddog, remained.

Back to Boulder Lodge, we rehearsed in it, we wrote in it, we performed in it (voila - no load-in) and in a demonstration of poor character assessment by the owner, we worked in it. Behind the bar. Ah, the old Dracula in the Blood Bank trick.

To pay for practice we were asked to work behind the bar when there were gigs on. Ridiculous. Punters were getting double shots, triple shots, we were getting quadruples, we'd work for two hours and then have to go to sober up or sleep off a resurgent hangover. I don't even know if the place was licensed, actually, now I think about it, there was no draught beers, no taps, no fridge, the beer was all cans in ice, the till was ancient, it was on a trolley on wheels. What was going on there, I can't honestly say.

But it made money. For a while, then it went bust and we had to move again.

Here's Rubber Bug Live to Air for the 1994 4ZZZ Radiothon. OK, so the recording starts in the middle, some knob forgot to turn the tape recorder on, don't point fingers at us, we were playing at the time. Be thankful it's been cut short, On Its Head is a multipart odyssey even as it stands. Nevertheless , this snippet has a little of everything Rubber Bug was trying to do back then, and it was cookin'. Engineered live in the studio by our long-time mixer, Thirsty Hirst.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Target Building, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1993

Band: Rubber Bug
Members: Gary (v), Ross (d), Big D (b), Carl (g)

Even the bohos couldn't tolerate Rubber Bug practice. So we moved to the abandoned Target Building on Brunswick Street.

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The load in was a treat. Up the old car park on the Chinatown mall to the second floor, then manoeuvre the gear across the two story gap to the Target Building. The building was in excellent condition, but abandoned, and bands and junkies lived in the hallways and rooms. We got a lock on one of the rooms, a great one looking out on the Brunswick Street Mall, and practiced there.

It was a risk leaving your gear there, as we discovered, on the way to rehearsal all of our amps were piled in a shopping trolley down a hallway, making their way to Cash Converters. We never left our guitars there.

Around this time we were playing all over town, and even interstate (Whippedoo!).


Heyzeus, we played gigs there. Everything went titsup it that town, I'm surprised we weren't lynched. Gigs cut short, venues withdrew accommodation, nights in incarceration, checks were torn up (by venue management instead of band members, for a change). There were even times we went down there with mates and girlfriends, but they didn't come back with us.

Quickly relegating the experiences of Lismore to the past, we played on the next Livid, advanced further up the hierarchy, this time playing at 3PM instead of 8AM. The Bug put on a good show, Gary even had a vomit onstage, which he claimed was unpremeditated. When we were finished we bolted over to the second stage to see Kim Salmon and The Surrealists. Kim had declared himself a God on his album Essence, and he was. Shame the promoters couldn't spell his name right on the poster.

Here's a song we played on the day, a favourite

The Warehouse, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1992

Band: Rubber Bug
Members: Gary (v), Ross (d), Big D (b), Carl (g)

Rubber Bug and Greenacres were quickly shunted from the Church, I can't imagine why. The next rehearsal room was at Ross's new residence, the Warehouse.

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This was a crazy joint. I don't know if anyone paid rent, there seemed to be residents migrating between floors, performance artists, installation artists, graphic designers, computer programmers, optometrists, architects, lawyers, musicians, boho central, there was art exhibitions, gigs, roller derbys, bashings and a lot of substance abuse at The Warehouse.

Ross used to practice there during the day. Many times I went to visit and he'd have the stereo on full blast, jamming with Helmet's Meantime, and nailing the chops. He was, and is, a machine of a drummer,and went on the play with the Go-Betweens, Grant McLennan (no relation) in FOC, and with some of the guys from Powderfinger in The Predators.

Once we were rehearsing on the third floor, the Rapeman song Hated Chinee, and a tall lanky dude had climbed up the fire escape to listen at the door. I couldn't see who it was, I never play with my glasses on. He was jigging, smirking, giggling and getting into it. We started another song and he gave the thumbs up, waved and left. Our audience with Tex Perkins.

Someone got us a gig as models. Laugh, I dare you, it's true. Models for the cover of a blank videocasette. Remember them?

7 AM we had to get to The Warehouse for the photoshoot. Ross, of course, although he lived there, was late, asleep, still half drunk. When he arrived the first thing he did was light a ciggie and was told that was not allowed on the set. One last drag, fuckit, stub it out.

It took about 10 minutes, we earned $70 each.

There we were, anonymous rockandrollers on a videocassette cover. And thats where we stayed, in fact.

Here's a pic of the site where the photos were taken, without a hint of cliche, the four of us against a wall with graffiti on it. The art installation pictured on the site, Wasteland by Craig Walsh, wasn't there at the time of the videocassette shoot, he set it up later that year.

Here's a Rubber Bug song. Lame start, admittedly, but the chorus is worth the wait