Friday, 29 November 2013

Back Bar Blues

Rust & Dust In The Back Bar… Seven Months, Seven Thousand Songs… The Power Of A Tune To Bind A Small Community…

You’re lucky if you get a slice of pizza. Gone before I can have at it. Bar snacks elusive, you need to be quick, nimble on your feet. Four dollar schooners of Coopers, Thursday night in the Back Bar at the Brunswick Heads pub, a sweaty mélange of oddballs and miscreants, a faintly fishy smell mingling with perfume and fried food, beer dregs and smoke tendrils sidling around the doorway, looking to hide near the ceiling. Smells like home.

Dan sits on the makeshift stage in a space which, seven months ago, was little more than a patch of carpet with no other claim to fame than it held a couple of small tables, stools surrounding, just another spot in the bar. Now though, on a Thursday night, it’s where people gather to sing and sway, to watch a man at work, the product of his toil the happy elixir which soothes savage breasts, bringing together people who on any other occasion, would pass each other in the street with nary more than a raised eyebrow of vague recognition, perhaps a grunt or mumble. The power of a tune to bind a small community is something which cannot, and should not, be underestimated.

Things get loose in the Back Bar on a Thursday night. The single table out the back where everyone decamps to smoke gets sticky from overuse, a cloudy film of beer and ash coating its surface, continually wiped clean with sleeves only to be smeared once more. Talk is cheap, gets cheaper as the night wears on, well lubricated and so stories abound, told and re-told and you learn about the inner workings of people you’ve only met an hour prior, their tales mingling with those coming from inside, amplified and set to music, the life of one, shared with so many.

Ostensibly, it’s locals night, but anyone is welcome. During the school holidays when the town heaves with outsiders – sunburnt and loud – the Back Bar is fuller than usual, people perhaps surprised to come across such a scene, one as free-flowing as this one, and so they join in with reckless abandon, dancing down the front, spilling beer on a carpet which has seen more than its fair share.

The locals part to let them through, carrying on as they normally would – the crew who have been here since the dawn of time, every one to a man salt of the earth, whether they be following a good path or otherwise. The newer locals, those who have lived here for less than a decade, younger, quieter, no less a part of the action. The blow-ins, those who know someone and whose faces are at least a little recognisable… a seething, roaring, shouting mass – a small one – hawking their slurred wares to a backdrop of country-tinged blues ‘n’ roll.

Dan seems unfazed by it all, takes it in his stride, finds himself a home. The Fishing Song becomes an anthem and is sung every week by all and sundry with a passion and gusto before thought untenable and yet such a simple song is the glue which binds it all together. Musical guests are treated as family and dancing isn’t uncommon, people tripping over one another in an effort to carry the movement on, dodging around others playing pool at one of the tables over on the side, the bar being sturdily propped up by a range of suitable characters, those working behind it all smiles, as much a part of the melee as anyone else.

Seven months ago it began, and tonight it draws to a laughing, stumbling close, people spilling into the carpark come midnight, sharing the last of the drink, bumming smokes, patting backs, reliving songs and weeks past that seem to have already faded somewhat, but which will be back once more. The Back Bar at the Brunswick Heads pub home for so many – seven months and seven thousand songs perhaps (close to), Rust & Dust from Dan covering a time we’ll no doubt not forget.

Samuel J. Fell

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Record Review - The Lachy Doley Group

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday Nov 22.

The Lachy Doley Group

With the release of his second solo record, renowned organist Lachy Doley has well and truly stepped from the shadow of the myriad big names with whom he cut his teeth.

Armed with his trusty Hammond C3 and the very rare Whammy Clavinet D6 (of which there are only around twenty in the world, Doley having the only one in Australia), and backed by bassist Jan Bangma and drummer Adam Church, he proves that he’s so much more than just a keysman for hire – he’s entirely comfortable taking a leading role.

While the record itself is rooted in soul music, it traverses a fair bit of territory, from the churning, bass-driven ‘The Walking Dead’ (vaguely reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’) and the rock ‘n’ roll ‘Paper Plane’, to more introspective, vocal-driven numbers like ‘Six Feet Under’. And it’s his roughhewn vocals, as well as some fine songwriting, which really show how far he’s come on his own, S.O.S allowing that to come through unfettered. One to watch further.

Samuel J. Fell

For more info on The Lachy Doley Group, head to their website here.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Record Review - Old Gray Mule

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, October 25 2013.

Old Gray Mule
No Sleep ‘Til Memphis

Texan CR Humphrey, aka Old Gray Mule, proves he’s not one to sit idly by, releasing his fifth cut, No Sleep ‘Til Memphis a mere nine months after late 2012’s Like A Apple On A Tree. With this new one, he also proves that there’s more to boogie blues than meets the eye – this is an evolution.

Bringing in drummer JJ Wilburn and enlisting a range of guests, Humphrey this time uses boogie as a base form which to build. They inject a gospel feel to the vocals of ‘Funkyard Dog/Stay With Me’; the hip hop lyrical addition on ‘My Lyin’ Ass’ (courtesy of MCs Manateemann and dR K@OS) works surprisingly well; the acoustic treatment of ‘Howlin’’, courtesy of the sublime Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, is a masterstroke; and the psychedelic stretch of ‘Lyrics By J-Dub’ caps off a winner. This is a blues party of a record at its heart, but CR is evolving solidly as he powers ahead.

Samuel J. Fell

Old Gray Mule are currently on tour in Australia - check out tour dates, and more info on the band, here.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Q&A - Spiderbait

Published in Rolling Stone, December 2013 (November)


Spiderbait’s Kram rolls around the corner on his old bike, his long hair wet given he’s just come from the beach, no shoes, ever-present aviators perched on his face. We’re meeting at a small café around twenty clicks north of Byron Bay, just down the road from where Kram lives these days – the staff know his name, he’s become a fixture in this part of the world.

He’s in a good space, and well might he be. Spiderbait, a good nine years after their last record, 2004’s Tonight Alright, are this month releasing a new, self-titled cut, a booming return to the scene, almost “another debut”, as Kram pronounces with a laugh.

It comes nine years after its predecessor because, as he says with no small amount of incredulity on the hiatus the band has been on during this period, time just slips away. Work began on Spiderbait a good three years ago though, and so to say it’s ready to be unleashed, would be an understatement indeed.

So why has this new record taken three years to make?
It just took a long time to put together – you can blame Franc (Tetaz, producer) for that, he’s way too meticulous (laughs). We looked at all the songs in great detail, and would have no hesitation scrapping something if it wasn’t right, even if you’d worked on it for ages.

Franc obviously worked on Gotye’s Making Mirrors record – how did you come to bring him into the fold?
I did the Nick Cave tribute thing for Triple J and Bertie Blackman was making her record with [Franc] at the time and was raving about him. We were thinking about doing it ourselves, because at the time we just wanted to make something pretty fucked up and punky. But I eventually took him some demos and met him, and we just hit it off straight away… we started writing, jamming, we knew straight away he was gonna be perfect.

Over the past 24 years, no doubt your goals, hopes and dreams for the band have changed, so how did you want to approach this rebirth, so to speak?
It’s pretty much the same, I don’t think our goals have changed that much. We’re lucky that we can remain a successful band in Australia… we enjoy doing it and people seem to like us, they seem to want to hear our music, and that always helps.

You guys recently played support to Pink on her last Australian show, which seems an odd pairing – how did that come about?
That was insane. We got asked to do the whole tour, which would have been something like 65 gigs… but we were in LA doing the record at the time. So when we came back, they asked us to do the final show, and we were like, “Fuck yeah,” and the crowd was just great to us.

In 2004, at WaveAid, you played in a supergroup call The Wrights, doing a version of Stevie Wright’s ‘Evie’… if you could assemble around you a supergroup today, who’d be in it?
OK, well I’d be on drums. I’d have to say Dan Sultan, we’ve jammed a lot… he’s the one guest we had on the record too. Abbe May on second guitar. Bass player, shit… it’s not just Australia, right? Yeah, Lemmy, definitely (laughs). You’ve gotta have a lead singer, I’d go a young Ozzy. Can you go back in time? Ozzy Osbourne.

Your version of Lead Belly’s ‘Black Betty’ was a killer cover, your highest selling single too… if the three of you were to revamp another of someone else’s songs, what would it be?
We love covers. The thing is, you get that thing of what you’d love to do, and what actually sounds good, and you want something that’s both. I think it’d probably be ‘Ace Of Spades’ by Motorhead, and I’d get Janet to sing it.

You’re sitting here with Tony Abbott, instead of me – what are you talking about?
Not much (laughs).

Next year, Spiderbait will have been around for 25 years, which is more than half your life – does that blow your mind?
Yes, it’s epic dude, epic. We feel like we should do an anniversary thing… we’re planning it at the moment. Maybe in the past, we would have gone, “Fuck, that’s heavy.” But now it’s like, “This is awesome.” We feel really proud of it, I think partially because we’ve still got all our hair and still feel relatively sexy. I guess what I’m saying is we still feel, in some ways, relevant to what’s going on.

Samuel J. Fell

Record Review - The Baker Suite

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 15 November.

The Baker Suite
Your Dreaming Self
Independent / The Planet Company

Acclaimed Adelaidian duo The Baker Suite return with their fourth full-length cut, having lost none of their subtlety or playful songwriting prowess with the passing of time.

I say playful because, even though the music itself – largely driven by John Baker’s voice and simple acoustic guitar, and Gayle Buckby’s sparingly used accordion – is sparse and quiet for the most part, it carries itself jauntily, a skip in its sonic step, songs that burrow into your ear and stay there, long after the record is done.

There’s no one genre you can wedge The Baker Suite into, which has always been a large part of their appeal. On Your Dreaming Self they carry on this mixed bag approach, enlisting a number of fine guests in Shane O’Mara (who also produces) playing guitar and mandolin (the bluegrass-ish ‘Four Sisters’ a picker’s delight), Kate Ceberano on extra vocals, Paul Grabowsky on piano. The Zephyr Quartet fill the record with lush string sounds, rounding out a great effort from these quiet achievers.

Samuel J. Fell