Saturday, 30 August 2014

Albert Productions turns 50



Australian Independent record label Albert Productions is celebrating their 50th Anniversary currently, with a lavishly produced 5 CD boxed set and a reissue program of sorts to follow.

Albert Productions was the brainchild of 4th generation music publisher Ted Albert, of music publishing firm J. Albert and Sons. Their stock in trade was largely sheet music sales but Ted saw a future in recordings, and so put pressure on his father to let him start a label in the family name in 1964.



What followed was a legacy rich in great (and some not so great) records that have made more than their fair share of impact on music both locally in Australia and around the world. As such Albert Productions is rightly regarded as one of Australia's most seminal record labels.



Their first signing was the fledgling Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, who had just had a number one single, "Poison Ivy" on a tiny indie label "Linda Lee" in early 1964. From there, Ted signed a group who started in the Villawood migrant hostel who went by the name of the Easybeats.

They also handled some hardcore R&B and Beat groups that other labels wouldn't touch, like the Missing Links and the Throb. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the label churned out records of heavy boogie and rock by the likes of the Ted Mulry Gang, Dallimore, and Newcastle band The Heroes (the band playing on stage the night of the Star Hotel Riot in 1979). However, the label's biggest success were in a few bands whom, as per tradition, no-one else would touch: Rose Tattoo, The Angels, and a little band whom no-one thought would do any good...AC/DC.

They also gave a start to the Choirboys and Dallas Crane, and issued later career albums for Knievel and The Cruel Sea.

From 1970 onwards, former Easybeats George Young and Harry Vanda had a major role in shaping the label's catalog. They wrote many songs for the label's young solo artists and, from 1973, started producing artists on the label, including the two comeback albums for former Easybeats singer Stevie Wright.

Alberts were a canny label, inasmuch as they were clever enough to keep one foot in the heavy rock camp, while keeping one firmly in the teen pop/top 40 camp with artists like Alison McCallum and William Shakespeare. During the 1970s, one of the label's major successes was a big seller to teenage girls: one John Paul Young, whose 1978 single "Love Is In The Air" (written by Vanda and Young) is well known around the world thanks to its inclusion in a Baz Luhrmann movie.

By the 1980s most of the stalwarts of the label had jumped ship or split up. AC/DC being the only major constant. Aside from them, the labels releases hardly troubled the charts during the 1990s, with a couple of pop releases from the likes of soapie star Daniel Amalm towards the end of the decade making any real waves. The label hit back in a big way with Knievel and Dallas Crane in the 2000s.



It is interesting to chart the ups and downs of the label and the new 5 CD box does that nicely. It is effectively a replacement article for the 1988 release "Good Times: 25 Years of Australian Hits", including all but two of the 34 tracks on that release. Some of the mastering sounds to me like it has some in-built digital distortion to it, as is the case with most modern album releases. The digital remastering still leaves behind a lot of the tape hiss and certain tracks do sound a little bit digitally over-processed, leaving a few strange artifacts. However, it is great to see not only the label's most well known tracks, but plenty of rare tracks on CDs 4 and 5, with certain EP tracks and B-sides making their first appearance on CD. For $40, you really can't go wrong with this.

Happy 50th Albert Productions. May you stay around for another 50, and then some.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #40: Something for Kate - "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes"



February 1998. I'm in Surfer's Paradise with a couple of mates. The penultimate day of the trip and I'm waiting for the bus to a local theme park. I've had a bad night, with little sleep, after a dodgy feed at a Mongolian barbeque place in Mermaid Beach. Fatigued, and on the verge of throwing up, an unwelcome earworm is slowly consuming my sanity. One short fragment of music and lyrics playing over and over...

"...at a million miles an hour..."

At that point, I hate that song. The band has a stupid name, the music doesn't make much sense. I just don't get it.

And yet, at that point, I would rather have been sent to build a colony on the planet Pluto* than I would have being on the Corkscrew at Dreamworld. In hindsight, the earworm was wholly appropriate.

Upon returning home, I went and purchased "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes", the first album by Something for Kate on double vinyl. Maybe the earworm was a sign...

Within the sleeve was an album of music that was colourful, tuneful, intense, passionate, literate, poetic, depressing and compelling all at once. With such a limited palette of just one guitar, bass and drums, Paul Dempsey and his bandmates weave intricate musical tapestries that are beguiling and confusing on first listen, but slowly unravel as they are consumed further.

The aforementioned earworm was the album's centrepiece and lead single "Captain (Million Miles an Hour)". After a couple of listens the all-consuming passion of the song is unavoidable. And, if you have musicologist tendencies, the song construction is extremely clever. Where English teachers teach you to write poetry with a meter and with evenly spaced lines, Dempsey dispenses with traditional lyrical form but rather weaves lyrics as he feels they need their emotional directness. To wit, the uneven and un-rhyming couplets in the opening verse:

"...Built an aeroplane,
It was just like the real ones that I saw when I was younger,
But it was too small for me,
To crawl inside the cockpit and fly away...
At a million miles an hour."

The song is pure escapism; a child's mechanism for escaping the ills of his little world, using elements of his environment to inform his more comforting imaginary scenario. The plane a symbol of his desire one day to get the hell out of where he is.

"...and it's just a model,
built with plastic and with glue.
But every day I go down to the airport,
and I'll fly away from you."

The emotion is real. For the listener it is gripping.

Paul spends his time ruminating on Love in many forms: lost love, unrequited love, relationship breakups, turbulence in relationships, all done with earnestness and passion. On stage, he stands up with his guitar, eyes closed, playing complex guitar lines all over the fretboard while these emotionally-wrought, almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics leave his mouth with a dream-like fancy to them. In terms of the great Australian music cannon, it is truly unique.

Paul's lyrics are at once deep, profound and mystifying. He has such a literate way of describing the cracks appearing in a relationship heading for the rocks: "Not much time has passed, but already she likes concrete better than grass". On the other hand, fans have spent hours trying to work out what the hell he is on about. One lyric that has kept fans guessing is from the song "Pinstripes": "You're the last day of April every year...". What? Huh? But it is delivered with such conviction that, whatever it means, Paul is absolutely, dead set certain of its meaning and its placement within the song.

From the darkness of "The Last Minute", the swooping beauty of "Paintbrushes", the joyous melancholy of "Roll Credit", slamming rock of "Working Against Me", the longing sadness of "Strategy" and the intense guitar onslaught of "Prick" this is a truly remarkable record and one that is outstanding in a catalog of outstanding albums, if only because this is the one album where Paul has his whole heart on his sleeve, delivered in purity without cluttered production. The band's playing is tight and complex. To this day I have no idea how Paul plays the guitar part on "Prick" - it is truly a force of nature, only to then sing over the top of such a intricate piece at the same time. It's breathtaking.

Be warned, for most people this will not be a one listen album. It wasn't for me at first. This is worth a good few listens. It is worth the effort.

Take a listen below. The version below is the 2014 20th Anniversary reissue with the original 12 tracks plus all the b-sides taken from each of the singles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vale Jay Curley

Jay Curley, bassist for Wollongong rockers Tumbleweed has been found dead in his home. He was 42.

It's truly sad to hear this news. From all accounts the party never ended for him, whatever that means....

Tumbleweed were a crushingly loud band, anchored in Jay's rich, sonorous bass. He was the lynch pin on which pivoted a very tight, very heavy band.

In a live setting, the band's high volume riffage was cathartic. The band's two finest records, 1995's "Galactaphonic" and 1997's "Return to Earth" are probably the best examples of the band's work, with Curley's deep pulsating bass runs vibrating through your rib cage - there's nothing finer.

Jay, you will be missed. Vale.

Friday, 22 August 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #39: Richard Clapton - "Goodbye Tiger"



It seems to be the season for anniversaries within Australian music circles right now. Something for Kate celebrating their 20th anniversary, Albert Productions celebrating their 50th, and Richard Clapton celebrating 40 years.

Despite being influenced by the Rolling Stones initially, Richard Clapton (a stage name created as a nod to Keith Richards and Eric Clapton) fashioned himself as a narrative story teller and songwriter, in the mold of Jackson Browne or Neil Young. With arrangements lush with delicate and intricately woven guitar lines and deep, image-heavy lyrics, Clapton seems at once out of place in the context of the classic Pub-rock era, and yet so inextricably part of the same scene that it's hard to imagine it without him.

Album number four for Richard (not counting the surf movie soundtrack "Highway One" to which he contributed 6 songs in 1976), "Goodbye Tiger" was issued in 1977 and was his first to go platinum (selling over 70,000 copies domestically). Being a seasoned European traveler, many of his experiences abroad inform the lyrics of this album. From debauched nights stranded in Holland ("Wintertime In Amsterdam") to general madness elsewhere on the continent ("Out on the Edge Again"). One of the songs "I Can Talk To You" was worked up in the studio on a bet.

Most of these songs were written while snowed in at a resort in Denmark. Fueled by beer and isolation, the songs just poured out of him. Probably having respectful distance from Australia at that point, it makes songs like "Deeper Water" and "Down In The Lucky Country" sound nostalgic and longing as opposed to jingoistic.

Despite the fact the songs originated from afar, the album was recorded at Festival Studios in Sydney. As per the aforementioned description, the guitars are lushly arranged and copiously applied throughout this album. The production still sounds fresh and the sound on the original vinyl sounds warm and inviting. It rewards repeated playing because of the fact that there is so much tastefully going on in these songs, both in the music and in the lyrics.

Songs like "Deep Water" are so embedded in my psyche that I can't help but recalling the last half of the song whenever I'm in Palm Beach, looking out to sea, even though I'm inevitably sober and my car is in good working order...

"...Sitting out on the Palm Beach Road,
I'm so drunk and the car won't go,
My crazy eyes still looking out to sea..."

Take a listen to the album below:


Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Dave Miller Set - "Mr Guy Fawkes"


In the history of Australian Music there is always going to be someone who is all but forgotten about amid the rush to celebrate anniversaries and define legacies. It's hard to remember every musician who ever released a single, but the history of popular music created in this country is so deep and rich that inevitably someone is going to miss out.

The Dave Miller Set released a number of singles for Festival sub-label Spin between 1967 and 1970, pushing the barrow locally for Psychedelic music. They largely performed elongated covers of overseas hits, like "Get Together" by the Youngbloods and Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?". However, their biggest success was taking an obscure album track by an odd British act and turning it into one of the defining psychedelic singles this country has ever seen.

The band took a track by a now-forgotten band called Eire Apparent (who apparently were championed initially by Jimi Hendrix). The song "Mr Guy Fawkes" was a strange experience in the hands of its original creators, the vocalist having a rather odd timbre to his voice. In the hands of Dave Miller and pop producer du jour Pat Aulton, it is a masterpiece.

Taking a slight left turn away from the typical sunshine-y psych pop, this song takes a melancholic, almost sinister edge to it, making for some compelling listening. As such, it is highly regarded as a classic freak-beat single in high demand for collectors (with the inseparable high prices that go along with it).

It sounds as though house producer Aulton threw every resource they had available at the time into the production of this track, almost as if to compete with Russell Morris' hit "The Real Thing" which was also released in 1969. Bomb blast sound effects, strings, phasing and flanging, you name it - its all on here, crammed into 4 and a half short minutes. Considering the very limited, 4-track mono recording equipment Festival Studios had to content with, the richness of the production is truly a marvel of audio engineering.

It is a strong arrangement, with plenty of instruments hogging the limelight, but the runaway star of the record is the bass player, who is running all over the fretboard for the entire record, creating counter-melody after counter-melody. The use of the strings is chilling, giving an extra dimension for added goosebump effect.

I discovered this song in 1991 in the resources of the music department at my high school. It completely fried my little teenage mind and it still sounds fresh today.

Take a listen below.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Nickelback...?

Yesterday I was asked why I hate Nickelback so much. It must be said that what followed was purely my viewpoint and not a definitive article on the merit of the band.

The roots of this start around 1999-2000 when I worked in a Sydney office where the radio was always on, with the dial welded on Triple M - the station for all things rock. At the time Post-Grunge was a "thing". Bands mining this sound were a dime-a-dozen. 3 Doors Down, Stonesour, Staind, Matchbox 20, Live, and a bloody awful but thankfully short-lived band called Default were all given gracious amounts of airtime. Nickelback were also part of this esteemed group.

The problem with these bands is that, after a while, if you shut your eyes and listen you'd think they were all the same band. Such was the lack of personality they all shared. Add into the mix the constant repetition that commercial radio have turned into an art form and you have a recipe for disaster with me. If familiarity breeds contempt, what does ubiquity breed? Pure hatred?

All these years later, a new Nickelback record sounds like an old Nickelback record. As I think their sound was contrived to start with the fact that they haven't evolved their sound in 15 years leads me to think that they have designed and calculated their sound for maximum sales potential. You might think there is nothing wrong with that, and maybe there isn’t. Personally I just don’t think there is any integrity in it, and that is not what I look for in music.

I'm looking for bands and artists who create music as the purest expression of their souls and emotions. I want to hear musicians playing at the peak of their powers, as opposed to creating something that adds up to less of the sum of all the parts. The counter argument is that the players in Nickelback are very talented. I agree, but they don't demonstrate it on their albums. If they're that talented, they are capable of far more than the mediocrity they've shown us already.

Still, Nickelback are resilient enough to ignore the haters. They're rightfully not going to care what I think. And more power to 'em for that.

Again, this is one writers view and not a definitive statement. Like everything else on these pages, it is the start of a discussion. Counter arguments welcome as long as they are tastefully supplied.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Vale Robin Williams

Well, didn't this one just take the wind out of everyone's sails?

I'm not going to say much, because there have been plenty of other people who have said it more eloquently than I am able to. 

But I will say this: as a creative whirlwind, an inventive comic and a genius performer, this is a massive loss to the world.

And I'm really feeling this loss deeply. I mean, we all expect to die at some point. It's one thing to die from old age, or illness, or even an accident. I just find that when someone dies by their own hand to be particularly tragic. I don't find it to be very romantic, either.

Most stereotypes fall way short of the mark, but they do ring true to a degree. The overarching thing that struck me is the idea of "Tears of a Clown". The idea that the funniest people amongst us, the ones we think are always funny, always there for our amusement (or so we'd like), are the ones with the darkest demons - they often just don't let on that they're in pain. This isn't the case for every comedian, but there is an overwhelming number of comedians that you could name to support the theory...



In light of this sad event, what was undeniable was the man's talent. Here is a live performance of his work as a Stand-up comic, on stage in New York in 2002.

Vale Robin, you will be sorely missed, my man.