Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band
Back in 1979, a fatal truck crash brought to an end the reign of one of Australia’s more quirky groups in the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. For the whole of the preceding decade, Captain Matchbox, a folk/vaudeville/jug band of sorts had stormed the word of Aussie rock (“We’re really a folk band who ended up on the rock scene by accident,” laughs founding member, Mic Conway), transcending genres as it went, engaging audiences and media alike with their blend of pretty much everything. The aforementioned truck crash killed one of the band’s crew members though, and despite the fact they spent the next six months gigging in order to pay off their debts, it effectively ended the spirit of the group, the physical entity not far behind.
However, time dulls most wounds, and so when the Woodford Folk Festival, for its 25th anniversary, approached Conway and his brother Jim to reform the group, despite some initial reluctance, Captain Matchbox came out of retirement, some 30 years after its initial demise. “Well the big thing was, we didn’t know how it would go down,” tells Conway on the band’s first sets back at Woodford, this New Years just gone. “It was pouring with rain, it was a really difficult festival, but we just packed them in…we weren’t sure how it would take, but it did immediately, we were absolutely flabbergasted, people were just singing along.
“I actually didn’t want to do this revival originally, but Jim was into it, and it’s been really fun, I’ve really enjoyed it,” Conway goes on regarding the initial approach. “But basically, Jim (who was in the Backsliders for 18 years, and currently fronts Big Wheel) has MS and it’s becoming increasingly hard for him to tour, so he’s been saying for years that he’s coming to the end of his touring life, and he wanted to go out on touring…he can still play beautifully, but he feels he wanted to go out in the way he came in, so that’s sort of the main reason why we put it together again.”
Since Woodford, Captain Matchbox have stormed stages at the Blue Mountains festival, and also Bluesfest over Easter, and as Conway says, it’s been fantastic, particularly, to him, the amount of young people at the shows, people who wouldn’t have even been born when the band were first chugging along, laying down classic records like 1973’s Smoke Dreams and 1974’s Wangaratta Wahine. “Yeah, we’ve had lots of young kids, teenagers and early 20s singing along, and they wouldn’t have even been born when we were first around,” Conway laughs.
“So it’s been a real eye-opener to have all these young things grooving on to us and discovering us for the first time,” he goes on. You can’t blame them really, a Captain Matchbox show is as far encompassing as you can get within one band, it’s no wonder people of all ages are getting on board. However, if they’re yet to do so, then they’d best be quick, for this reunion (of which the Conway brothers are the only remaining original members) won’t last that much longer.
“Yeah, we haven’t got any plans to take it much further,” Conway attests. “I mean, we haven’t set any dates, and Jim and I just want to do it for a bit of fun and to celebrate what was a good time, so we’re not planning on taking it any further than this year. I mean, it’s possible we’ll do something net year, but we’ve got our own projects, we’ve got lots of things we do, Jim has his own band, I have my own band and some duets and I write a lot of stuff for the Wiggles (he’s also been the voice of Wags the Dog for the past 20 years)…so with Matchbox, were just seeing where it takes us, we haven’t set any rules about it.”
Samuel J. Fell