Saturday, 29 November 2014

Ice Sea Dead People split up

Recent favourites of mine Ice, Sea, Dead People have split up. The band had been touring around the UK as support to Traams and many other bands, and out of the blue an announcement came via the band's Facebook page that the band had split.

Starting about 2009, ISDP started with a focus to play loudly, but with an arts focus. They incorporated their music with fine arts and clever visual arts ideas on their records, not least with their 2013 7-inch single release "You Could Be A Model".

The band made a tentative start with the self released LP "Teeth Union" in 2010 but the band nailed their sound in 2013 with a thumping, squalling noise fest befitting its title "If It's Broken, Break It More".

I'm sure being totally independent, touring and releasing your own records in 2014 was a real challenge and probably brought the band members to boiling point. I am, of course, surmising as the band have given no official reason for splitting up. This is a clear example of a band with a unique sound and a unique vision about their art whom I thought deserved a bright future. Alas it's not to be. The band whose name described the plot of the film "Titanic" with the precision of a haiku is now no more.

Go over to their bandcamp page and buy some music. Check out the band's latest blaster of an album below on Spotify.

Icehouse in the National Archive

The National Film and Sound Archive have just announced their 10 selections for their annual intake. Among them are the sounds of a howling dingo, two erotic electronic pieces, "Khe Sanh" and Icehouse's track "Great Southern Land".

I've written about "Great Southern Land" extensively elsewhere and the story of the song's genesis is fascinating. The fact that such an iconic song is being recognised is wonderful, but why is there only 10 every year? There's a lot more that could be done by the national archive to maintain our musical heritage than just logging a mere 10 songs (or at least that's how it looks). They have a huge collection but there is a lot of great material made by Australians that we don't want to see lost, so i do hope to see more local music making the archive in times to come.

The versatility of the work of Icehouse is an oft-overlooked aspect to the band. The fact that their music rocked hard and yet could be remixed in a number of different styles successfully. Not being a fan of remixes myself, it takes a pretty special remix to capture my attention and this one is probably the greatest thing ever. It is the "BIRRALKU DHANGUDHA" remix featuring indigenous performers singing in language that elevates the song to heights it had only previously hinted at.

Take a list below. Enjoy!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Russell Morris: The Real Thing

All the hoo-hah surrounding the release of Molly Meldrum's autobiography has reminded me of what I consider to be his finest achievement. It's not his contribution via Countdown, or as a rock writer or as a band manager, but rather his work as a record producer.

In my view, Ian "Molly" Meldrum's career high point was his production work on the Russell Morris single "The Real Thing". It is also one of the high watermarks of Australian pop music production, considering the limited studio technology available in 1969.

Molly started in the music industry as the roadie for Brian Cadd's band The Groop. He learnt all he could about the production process by sitting on the band's recording sessions. He then moved onto being the manager of Russell Morris, around the time he left the band Somebody's Image. Molly had produced a few other records, notably Ronnie Burn's massive number 1 "Smiley" and the modest selling "Little Roland Lost" by Zoot.

Molly was looking for the perfect song launch Russell's solo career and he heard it when (former pop star and future Young Talent Time host) Johnny Young was jamming on the idea backstage of a music TV show . Johnny was saving it for Ronnie Burns, but Molly demanded he use it for Russell. Allegedly, he turned up to Johhny's house with a tape recorder and refused to leave until Johnny had recorded a demo of the song.

Molly enlisted his mates in The Groop to play on the record, however they were denied a label credit as they were signed to CBS and Russell's single was to be released on EMI. Molly holed up in Armstrong studios in Melbourne with house engineer John Sayers and set out applying his crazed vision for the song...

Johhny Young's original vision for the track was to be a modest chamber ballad, acoustic-based with strings, somewhat like "Yesterday" by The Beatles I imagine. What it became, to perpetuate the Beatles comparison, was more like "I Am The Walrus". How the originator and producer saw the end product were at polar opposites.

The song was a scathing indictment of the ideas being imposed on musicians at the time. "You have to do this, because it's real". On the companion CD to the ABC's Documentary series "A Long Way To The Top", Johnny says it refers to the marketing of the soft drink Coco-Cola, "You can't beat the real thing". "When you look into it, it's all bullshit" he says. Thsi is reflected in the lyric:

"...There's a meaning there, but the meaning there doesn't really mean a thing..."

Russell was also quoted in an interview with the Coodabeen Champions on ABC radio that "Molly is a maniac". His vision for the piece was to create something indicative of the social climate. He wanted to include flanging into the piece (no small feat in 1969), as he loved the sound of it on "Itchycoo Park" by The Small Faces. He ended up including air-raid sirens, sound effects of exploding bombs, a Winston Churchill impersonation (done by Molly) and the Hitler Youth Choir singing "Die Jugend Marschiert" (Youth on the March). Towards the end of the epic song, Russell's voice is backward-masked.

Groop guitarist Brian Cadd also had a guest speaking role on the record, reading the warranty conditions off the reel-to-reel tape box through a megaphone with a faux-German accent.

The entire piece of inspired lunacy lasted for 6 minutes and 20 seconds and cost over AU$10000 and 8 months to record. This was unheard of back then, when most albums were completed in under a week and for an average cost of $2000. When EMI executives came to Melbourne from Sydney to hear the finished product, Molly freaked out and ran out of the studio with the master tape and hid in the bushes of the park across the road from the studio. After seeking him out of the dark with a torch, he returned and played the tape for the EMI people who left without saying a word.

EMI reluctantly pressed the record, but in two formats: one with the first part of the song on side 1 and the noise collage on side two, and one copy with the entire piece on side 1 and "It's Only A Matter of Time" on side 2. Russell had to make many personal appearances at radio stations to persuade them to play the record, the longest Australian single ever made (despite radio stations playing The Beatles' 7-and-a-half minute "Hey Jude" the previous year). It became the highest selling Australian single of the year in 1969 and was in the charts for an unprecendented 23 weeks.

The follow-up single was an explicit sequel "Part 3: Into Paper Walls" which tops out at 7 full minutes, also produced by Molly, but, like most sequels isn't anywhere near as compelling as the original. "The Real Thing" has inspired covers by Midnight Oil and Kylie Minogue and the original has been included in the National Film and Sound Archives as a landmark in Australian music history.

Take a listen again below. Enjoy!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Countdown: Do Yourself a Favour

Countdown: Do Yourself a Favour
ABC1, concludes Sunday 23/11/2014 at 7:40pm.

For those not in the know, Countdown was THE pop culture show to be part of in the 1970s and 1980s in Australia. If you were in a band, you wanted to be on it. If you were of an age where you could work the controls of the television and you were into music, you absolutely had to watch it, and then you debated endlessly the merits (or lack thereof) of the bands on that week. They gave the first television exposure to AC/DC, ABBA, Rose Tattoo, Skyhooks, Iggy Pop, Cold Chisel and thousands of other bands and artists.

The lynchpin of this program was a bloke forever known with a girl's name, Ian "Molly" Meldrum". He started with the program as a talent co-ordinator, selecting the acts to appear every week. But after a while, he was thrust into the spotlight as the presenter. On screen he was bumbling, incoherent and random, with his hilariously incompetent interview style that really has to be seen to believed.

It is the kind of spontaneous, semi-live television that is rarely attempted anymore. Its style has been attempted many times in the intervening years but rarely has anything matched up to it (although the Dylan Lewis-hosted "Recovery" in the late 1990s came close).

It was a program that was not only a reflection of the culture of the day, but it had a great effect in altering it. It led Australians to take their own talent seriously, by having it beamed into homes around the nation every Sunday night at 6pm. It gave exposure to a lot of great bands that really deserved to get noticed, and a lot of acts who probably didn't. Dictating the taste wasn't the objective, but rather reflect it back to Australia, and occasionally shape it. It shone a spotlight on the world of music that Commercial television and radio were missing out on. If a band was on Countdown, invariably their sales went up the following week, and commercial radio were basically forced as a result to play the record soon after.

Putting aside the nostalgia for a moment, the one thing that sticks out about this program is how much the world and music in general has changed. Even for pop stars in the 1970s, live performance was an important part of what they did. And not the large stadium sized events either. They needed to be able to present themselves to a small, localised audience and come across successfully. So a lot of Countdown stuff was mimed is irrelevant - stage presence was the key.

Not only that, music has so many things going on that it would be extremely difficult to nail it all in a single one hour slot every week. Countdown had a focus on the mainstream and top 40, but it allowed space for those on the margins and the fringes, such as La Femme, Painters and Dockers, Iggy Pop and (at the time) AC/DC. There's so much going on in music right now that i imagine it would be extremely difficult to capture the feel and excitement of what is going on.

Teenagers are also discovering music under their own steam these days anyway. There is also so many other things demanding their attention that there is every chance that a one hour program of this type would appeal to them in the way that Countdown did for teenagers in the 70s and 80s. A countdown styled program may not be the best way for young people to hear new music. Conversely, there are a hell of a lot of new bands out there who would benefit from the kind of national TV exposure that a show like Countdown would bring.

For all the sentimentality for a long finished show, the celebration of Countdown, in my view, is wholly necessary because it shows a portrait of a period when innovative TV programming was encouraged and that local music and culture was highly valued. Many bands have Countdown to thank for their success, although many like Radio Birdman, Midnight Oil, Nick Cave and Richard Clapton all avoided it like the plague and it did nothing to hurt their careers.

I look forward to seeing the next installment next Sunday.

Do yourself a favour and tune in.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

News Roundup 18/11/2014

I must apologise for the lack of posts lately. It's been hard to break away from life to get anything written in here!

Anyway, I'm going to condense down a few stories into one post for you all to take a look at.

The archetypical celebrity charity project Band Aid are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first release with a re-recording of the song for Ebola relief. The new version of the song features almost none of the original artists (except Bono) and, if Geldof is to be believed, made a million pounds within four minutes of going to air on British X Factor on Sunday night.

In other Band Aid news, Adele was supposed to be in it, but was a no-show at the recording. Make of that what you will...

The winners of the 2014 Mercury Prize for new music in England were a Scottish Hip-hop act called Young Fathers. We're still trying to find out why they won...

In Australia, it's been announced that the publicly funded ABC network will be hit with a $50 million budget cut for each of the next 5 years, representing about an average of 5% of their overall budget. This is in clear contrast to the promise of the prime minister, who pledged not to cut funds to ABC the night before the election on SBS. Ultimately, programming will suffer, and preliminary reports suggest that the ABC's classical music station ABC-FM will be hit the hardest, along with overseas terrestrial broadcaster Radio Australia.

Iconic Australian music program Countdown is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a special on the ABC over two Sundays. The first episode is available here on ABC iView. Hosted by Rockwiz host Julia Zamero, it runs the gamut of memorable performances and crazy antics, as well as host Molly Meldrum's train-wreck interview style. As the title says, "Do Youself a Favour" and take a look. The second episode airs next Sunday 23rd at 8:30pm. We'll write about the show a bit more shortly.

We recently wrote about the up and coming Texan band Purple. Their debut album landed last week and it is all killer and no filler. Check it out below.

Have a good one. We'll see you again very shortly, we promise!