Flowers’ classic single I Can’t Help Myself is almost thirty years old. The band became Icehouse and Iva Davies is now famous around the world, but when they started out, they were shooting their film clips in Sydney suburban car parks and playing taverns.
Part of a continuing online exhibition about Australian New Wave.
The New Wave in 1980
Can’t Help Myself was released in May 1980 by Flowers, reaching #10 on the Australian Singles Chart. Flowers were Iva Davies, Michael Hoste, John Lloyd and Keith Welsh. The single was produced by Iva Davies and Cameron Allan.
Iva’s parents, Neville and Dorothy Davies, speaking to Spellbound, remember Flowers –
Spellbound: When did you first realise that he (Iva) was gaining notoriety in the Sydney area?
Mrs. Davies: When he asked us to come and watch the filming of his first film clip in that car park in Chatswood.
Mr. Davies: Can’t Help Myself.
Mrs. Davies: We saw makeup people floating around and doing things. It was just a very great experience.
Mr. Davies: So we didn’t see one of those, but probably the first time we ever saw Flowers in concert was after they’d already released their first record and they were supporting XTC at the Capital Theatre in Sydney. We were actually invited to go.
Mrs. Davies: He virtually was saying to us, “I have got my toe on the first rung of the ladder. You can come now.”
Mr. Davies: By that time the first album was out and they were quite well known and I think that particular concert line-up was the Divinyls and then Flowers and then XTC.
Flowers were part of the New Wave circuit around Australia from the late Seventies to early Eighties, playing small venues with other bands – like The Reels – who specialised in wildly original music, sleeve art work, film clips and styling.
Flowers and New Wave
Flowers, Divinyls, The Numbers, INXS, The Reels, Sports, Mental as Anything and other bands crossing over from post-punk 1978 to the Eighties, were part of the New Wave.
Flowers won the 1980 TV Week / Countdown Rock Awards Johnny O’Keefe New Talent Award, beating INXS before they had to change their name to prevent confusion with the Scottish group, The Flowers. They became Icehouse.
“From the late 1970’s, until its controversial demolition in 1982, Brisbane’s Cloudland Ballroom became a regular venue for rock concerts. Some of the fledgling bands who played at Cloudland during this period went on to achieve chart success and establish longstanding careers in the music industry. One example is the concert of July 28, 1979 featuring three talented up-and-coming bands: XTC, Flowers, and The Numbers. State Library of Queensland is fortunate to hold several photographs taken during this concert.”
Flowers (later known as Icehouse) performing at Cloudland, Brisbane 1979. (Keith Welsh on bass guitar and Iva Davies on leader guitar and vocals). 29127 Paul O’Brien Collection 1970-1987. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY
Iva Davies on the Eighties
Speaking to The Australian, Davies summed up the era: “I know it’s very easy to look back through rose-tinted glasses and say that period was good, but it’s accurate to say it…The energy that came out of the punk movement in England transferred here. When we started we were doing Sex Pistols songs alongside T. Rex songs. It was quite a weird collection of stuff. That whole energy ran into the new synthesiser technology as well.”
The Elvis Costello Songbook
With modern Australian acts like Cut Copy and Jet declaring what an influence Flowers was on them, the band (signed to Regular/Festival, above) remains seminal. But how was the group created?
As a trained musician, Sydney-based Davies was approached to music publishing companies to write the sheet music for Elvis Costello, among others.
Speaking to Stuff, he remembers, “These music publishing companies discovered there was a young fella – me – who could read and write music and they started sending me reel-to-reel recordings of every song in the Australian charts and then lots of international music as well – we’re talking about the days when sheet music was quite in demand, people wanted to buy the music for their favourite song and go home and try to play it. I wrote entire song books for Little River Band, Dragon, Sherbet, Cold Chisel, and then Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads… My life was pulling apart songs and putting them down on paper which was very instructive.”
With Icehouse and in his own right, Davies has become known worldwide for his work, including his composition of the score for the Russell Crowe/Peter Weir film Master and Commander.
Flowers in Roadrunner
Roadrunner is one of the few global music publications from the New Wave era to be published online. Find more on Flowers in this issue – and in their cover issue.
Programmed on Rage by Toby Cresswell, Craig Mathieson and John O’Donnell as an Australian classic, extended to nearly seven minutes since it first appeared in 1983, I Hear Motion is now 35 years old.
From the Top 20 album, The Pleasure of Your Company, produced by the soon-to-be-famous Nick Launay, the single reached number 16 in the Australian charts. Andrew Duffield, James Freud, Sean Kelly and Barton Price found themselves adopted by Countdown and appeared in this film clip on 25th September, 1983, just as the song became an unforgettable Australian summer soundtrack.
The Melbourne Art-Rock Experiment
The most subversively odd pop group in Oz musical history, Models have had more line-up changes than recipe ideas in Nigella Lawson’s head, but Sean Kelly has remained steadfast front and centre stabbing at his stuttering staccato guitar. Originally an art-rock experiment, Models moved into commercial territory without selling out. I suppose they did eventually but that was a few years after this single.
Andrew Duffield has always been my personal favourite amongst keyboardists and the sequenced opening riff to I Feel Motion, nodding in appreciation to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, is some of his finest work. Kelly’s voice is strangled and bursts out after what seems like an argument in his mouth. The chorus is Ebola catchy, the verses peculiar as always.
One of the tracks on the sublime The Pleasure Of Your Company LP, this was Models at their best appealing to pop and rock fans alike. It was a memorable time for Melbourne bands. Hunters and Collectors, Australian Crawl, the list is long.
Michael Witheford is a freelance writer and author. He has been published by RAM, Juke Magazine, On The Street, Beat, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, the Launceston Examiner, The Melbourne Sunday Sun, Melbourne Times and various periodicals. His novel Buzzed was published by Penguin in 2002.
He wrote songs, played bass guitar and sang in the Fish John West Reject and ARIA nominated Lust In Space, among many bands.
He now lives in Tasmania and is working on a memoir and personal account of the Tasmanian and Melbourne Music scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
This is just a small selection of photographs of public tributes to Chrissy Amphlett in both her home towns, Geelong and Melbourne. Pictured are early shots from the first street art at Amphlett Lane, off Little Bourke Street, Melbourne – and at her memorial off James Street, Geelong.
This walking tour will take you from Amphlett Lane to The Vault and give visitors to Victoria all the information they need to find more tributes to Chrissy beyond Melbourne – with expert commentary from very special guests.
Referencing Chrissy’s autobiography (with Larry Writer) Pleasure and Pain, the 30-40 minute Melbourne walk will include important landmarks in her life – from Collins Street to Melbourne’s famous laneways – passing Flinders Street Station – one of the city’s gateways to Geelong, where Chrissy grew up.
Melbourne Lanes in Chrissy’s Life
“It was the most wonderful thing; I don’t know why they don’t do it nowadays. During our lunch hour, we’d see bands such as The Easybeats, The Wild Cherries, The Purple Hearts and The Loved Ones.” Mary Renshaw, Live Wire, Allen & Unwin 2015.
Mary Renshaw was a close companion of Bon Scott’s in the same era that Chrissy Amphlett was discovering Melbourne’s inner-city music. Mary was visiting clubs like 10th Avenue on Bourke Street, and The Bowl, beneath a bowling alley in Degraves Street, near Flinders Street Station, en route to today’s Music Vault.
It was at 10th Avenue that Mary made friends with Bon Scott and made him hippie beads and a velvet bolero, while he was in The Valentines’ share house with Vince Lovegrove (later to manage Chrissy and Divinyls).
As part of Chrissy’s tour, you’ll be passing the Flinders Street and Swanston Street intersection that was immortalised by AC/DC in their flatbed-truck clip for (It’s A) Long Way to The Top.
Also on the map – Spring Street, which fronts onto Little Bourke Street, off Amphlett Lane. It was at 1 Spring Street that AC/DC had a residency at Bertie’s. It opened, alcohol-free, in 1967 to ringing endorsements from someone who could come to know Chrissy well – Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum.
“I can only say that in my vast experience in the disco scene in Melbourne, and indeed the whole world, that unquestionably Bertie’s rates absolutely first class,’ Meldrum raved at the time.
You can read more in Live Wire, which is a great guide to the city and decade that Chrissy knew so well.
The Chrissy Amphlett Tour podcast is produced by Jessica Adams and Charley Drayton with funding assistance from the Victorian State Government. Thanks to @AmphlettLane on Twitter for the Geelong images.
The Corkman in Carlton, Melbourne was never going to be a classic hipster band venue (although it was once home to the ‘hanging judge’ who sentenced Ned Kelly, upon whom most hipster beards are based). Instead, it was a regular haunt of Irish musicians in the city until it was illegally demolished. Asbestos warning signs are all that remain.
And these photographs. Do you have any unseen photographs of The Corkman? Let us know.
Dylan, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra all played at Festival Hall, Melbourne – and Patti Smith recently picked up her plectrum there, literally picking up where Lou Reed left off, last century – but Australia is about to lose her piece of global music heritage to (you guessed it) yet more expensive high-rise apartments.
One of my first stories as a music journalist was about XTC playing at Festival Hall. It’s been at the heart of so many more stories since then. In fact, the Patti Smith gig there was nominated by some Australian critics as one of the best gigs of the year.
There is no other venue in Australia where young bands can pick up that timeline of tradition. Who wouldn’t want to play on the same stage as Dylan, the Beatles and Sinatra?
It’s not enough for people defending the demolition to say some Australians are just being nostalgic and they get to keep their memories.
Festival Hall, Melbourne is a world-class historic venue which is on a par with the Budokan in Tokyo, the Apollo Theatre in New York and The Hollywood Bowl.
In fact, many of the same acts which made them famous, made Festival Hall famous too.
The Beatles Connection
Nippon Budokan (日本武道館 Nippon Budōkan), often shortened to Budokan, was originally built for the 1964 Summer Olympics. This Tokyo legend has parallels with Festival Hall, Melbourne, which was also a boxing and wrestling venue for many years.
The Beatles were the first rock group to play at the Budokan in a series of concerts held between June 30 and July 2, 1966. Several live albums were recorded at Budokan, including releases by Bob Dylan, Cheap Trick, and Ozzy Osbourne.
Festival Hall, Melbourne has seen exactly those huge names grace its stage. Tokyo has hung onto the Budokan and made it work.
The same might be said for the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York, which began life in 1914. In 1983, both the interior and exterior of the building were designated as New York City Landmarks, and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is estimated that 1.3 million people visit the Apollo every year.
It was resurrected after closing in 1976 then in 1983, it was bought by Inner City Broadcasting, obtained federal and city landmark status , then in 1991, purchased by the State of New York, which created the non-profit Apollo Theater Foundation to run it.
In 2009-10, in celebration of the theater’s 75th anniversary, the theater put together an archive of historical material, including documents and photographs and, with Columbia University, began an oral history project.
This (below, from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) will be what Melbourne ends up with, instead, if demolition goes ahead.
Older Than the Hollywood Bowl
Festival Hall is older than the Hollywood Bowl, but California has chosen to preserve and cherish the latter.
So, what is Melbourne about to lose? Some of the story you may know – some you may not. No matter if you saw Sinatra here, Lionel Rose or The Clash, though – this is what Australia is about to trash.
From The Who to Lou
The Who sang My Generation here, on 25th January 1968. Lou Reed, above, toured Festival Hall in 1975.
Frank Sinatra and Festival Hall
Festival Hall is where Frank Sinatra made the notorious speech to the crowd attacking the Australian media – and particularly female journalists – that would see him in turn get bound up in politics with Bob Hawke, later the Australian Prime Minister. Sinatra is pictured here storming his way past the media, into Festival Hall. (Image: Fairfax/SMH)
The Who and PM Sir John Gorton
Festival Hall, Melbourne is also where The Who played with the Small Faces on 25th January 1968, attracting the wrath of another Australian Prime Minister, Sir John Gorton.
The Festival Hall story is also the story of the Wren family, though . Frank Sinatra sang My Kind of Town when he played their hall onJuly 9th 1974, but is Melbourne the Wrens’ kind of town, and if so, why has it taken just two years for this part of the city to go from celebrated local history, to yet more high-rise?
The Wren Family and Festival Hall
Frank Sinatra did it His Way in the Seventies (above, a famous limited-edition bootleg of the Festival Hall concert). So how are the Wrens doing it their way? The story’s changed a lot since 2015.
“Managing director John Wren, the grandfather of the man who bought the stadium in 1915, told the Herald Sun in 2015 that there was no plan to change things.”
“I’m honoured and privileged to carry on what my grandfather started,” Wren said at the time. “As long as there is live music, we’ll be here.”
And now? It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. The City of Melbourne has this in their hands again, just as they had The Palace Theatre. Also marked for demolition.
Bob Dylan at Festival Hall, April 19th 1966
Festival Hall saw Bob Dylan grace the stage on April 19th 1966 (the bootleg of the concert survives). He was following The Beatles, who had stunned Australia there, two years previously.
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. Poets and boxers have both graced Festival Hall.
The Beatles at Festival Hall
Australian teenagers of the Sixties had their coming of age at the Beatles concerts at Festival Hall, Melbourne in June 1964. Fans jumped onto the police to land on stage. John Lennon shook 19-year-old Brent McAuslan’s hand before Paul McCartney told police to ‘let him go’. He was nineteen.
Pink Floyd – Quad Sound in Melbourne
Melbourne Festival Hall was home to Pink Floyd’s quad sound on August 13th 1971. Unusually, they had support bands drawn from the local music scene – Pirana and Lindsay Bourke.
Australian support acts, not to mention headliners, have had a long, proud tradition at the venue – one of the few mid-sized spaces in Melbourne where fans can get close to the front of the stage.
Nick Cave and Chrissy Amphlett
Melbourne locals are rightly wondering what has happened, within the space of two years, to change this part of their city from a heritage precinct(honouring Nick Cave, Chrissy Amphlett, Michael Hutchence, Angus Young, Kylie Minogue, Daniel Johns) into a new demolition site.
In recognition of Festival Hall’s long standing contribution to live music in Melbourne, Dudley Street was even renamed Wren Lane in honour of the Wren family, after 100 long years of faithfully maintaining Festival Hall.
Australian artists who performed at the ‘House of Stoush’ (harking back to its wrestling ring past) or as it is has also been known to generations, ‘Festy Hall’ were celebrated at the time. And now?
It’s cultural heritage. But even in Melbourne, where some buildings qualify as ‘Heritage Overlay’ it does not protect places like Festival Hall.
Once it’s gone, as Melbourne’s heritage activists say, it’s gone forever. Welcome To My Nightmare, as Alice Cooper might have said (below, on tour in Australia in 1977).
Brisbane versus Melbourne
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald reported that proposed apartments, retail and office space would hit 16 levels if passed by the City of Melbourne.
Speaking to The Age, Helen Marcou, co-founder of SLAM – Save Live Australian Music, said it would be “a tragedy for Victoria” to lose the venue.
“When Brisbane are rebuilding their Festival Hall because they see how important it is to culture, it would be an absolute travesty to lose ours in Melbourne,” she said.
Support Acts Lose Out
From Patti Smith‘s 40th anniversary Horses tour with Australian Courtney Barnett. all the way back to Pink Floyd’s choice of (unusually for them) two local Australian bands as support, Festival Hall has been a unique place for local music to find its place on a world stage. Not just a Melbourne one. They will also lose out.
The Internet Reacts
Goldie @goldie_fm wrote on Twitter, on 23rd January 2018, the day of the official announcement – “As I look out my hotel room all i see are apartments being built. That west end (docklands) area is a lifeless concrete hole. Keep culture/history alive.”
“This city will be nothing but poorly built apartments in 10 years. #festivalhall”
Festival Hall was known as the original House of Rock and Roll, from Beatles, Bill Haley and Johnny Cash to the Lee Gordon “Big Shows”, through to Frank Sinatra, Liberace and Shirley Bassey. It’s also seen Red Hot Chili Peppers, Powderfinger, The Foo Fighters, The Script, Lily Allen, Ed Sheeran, and Lorde.
It’s part of Australian boxing history. As the Budokan in Tokyo hosted judo, so the Festival in Melbourne saw famous biff.
Lionel Rose was here. So was John McEnroe at a first for Melbourne – an indoor Tennis Exhibition featuring John McEnroe.
The Ballad of Ringo Starr
Beatles fans around the world know Festival Hall for other reasons. The Beatles Bible – “At 8am on the morning of 15 June 1964, Jimmie Nicol left the Southern Cross Hotel on Bourke Street, Melbourne. Accompanied by Brian Epstein, he was driven to the airport where he was given a final agreed fee of £500, as well as a gold watch with the engraving: “To Jimmy, with appreciation and gratitude – Brian Epstein and The Beatles.”
“Nicol didn’t say goodbye to The Beatles; they were sleeping off the previous night’s party, and he felt he shouldn’t disturb them. The group was celebrating their reunion with Ringo Starr, who had missed the early part of their world tour after being struck down by acute tonsillitis and pharyngitis.”
The Melbourne 17th June concert at Festival Hall was recorded by GTV 9 and broadcast as a TV special The Beatles Sing for Shell.
This is it. Ringo Starr might now be Sir Ringo Starr, but none of the descendants of these Melbourne fans will ever see music here again. This is that venue. Are you or your family in the audience?
“I do believe this is my interval, as we say… We’ve been having a marvellous time being chased around the country for three days. You know, I think it’s worth mentioning because it’s so idiotic, it’s so ridiculous what’s been happening. We came all the way to Australia because I chose to come here. ”
“Frank Sinatra was in the wrong country at the wrong time. He arrived in Australia for concerts in July 1974, just three years after Germaine Greer had published The Female Eunuch and only 18 months after Melbourne singer Helen Reddy had a worldwide hit with I Am Woman, virtually the theme song for the then rapidly expanding women’s liberation movement. It was hardly the right moment for Sinatra to get up on stage at Melbourne’s Festival Hall and describe Australia’s female journalists as “buck-and-a-half hookers”.
Only after the involvement of Bob Hawke, then leader of the ACTU, did Sinatra agree to sign a statement to the effect that he regretted any inconvenience caused. You can read more here.
The Age and Men’s Style have both immortalised the Sinatra Festival Hall stoush. In fact, it was even made into a film.
The Night We Called It a Day is “Based on the true events surrounding Frank Sinatra’s tour of Australia. When Sinatra called a local reporter a “two-bit hooker”, every union in the country black-banned the star until he issues an apology.
Starring Dennis Hopper, Portia de Rossi and Melanie Griffiths it’s part of Festival Hall legend. For now.
“Prime Minister John Gorton sent Pete Townshend a telegram telling The Who not to come back to Australia; Townshend reportedly sent back a fruity reply and left Australia swearing never to return — a promise he has kept faithfully to this day! Once in New Zealand, things calmed down briefly, although they again ruffled establishment feathers in Auckland when Keith Moon indulged his famous penchant for wrecking hotel rooms.”
X is for XTC, because this is where the band delivered a blistering concert before stage fright stopped lead singer Andy Partridge touring. You can see it on YouTube.
And Z is for Frank Zappa who played here in 1973.
If you want to help save Festival Hall please follow AMMP on Twitter @ammptv or sign the petition above. Thank you.
The Easybeats’ Stevie Wright was born on 20th December and was a massive star in Sixties Australia. Just one news story about The Easybeats would make the front cover of Go-Set in the Sixties and he was mobbed by young women, as The Beatles were mobbed in London. They called them The Easys and Wright had a gift for projecting happy-go-lucky, easy charm. Wright was British and his Beatle DNA is obvious in all the old clips, but The Easybeats’ sound was raw and powerful. Bruce Springsteen would later cover Friday On My Mind. The song reached Number One in Australia and Number Six in Great Britain. Wright’s energy had a lot do with it.
David Bowie and The Easybeats
Later on he would make headlines as an addict, but Stevie Wright has been a massive influence on musicians and been widely covered. In a song that lasted around three minutes (Friday on My Mind), Wright and the Easybeats found a song David Bowie wanted to sing too – and summed up an Australian working class attitude that Jimmy Barnes would attempt with Working Class Man, years later.
Stevie Wright Tributes
Stevie Wright and The Easybeats continue to inspire cover versions and tributes. Easy Fever in December 2017, Australia, is just one example. Something about Wright still speaks to singers and musicians today, beyond David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen who delighted Sydney audiences with his version of Friday.
Wright was a fascinating frontman who also took to the stage in Jesus Christ Superstar. Not the average rocker. Steve Hoffman’s website is an excellent Wright resource about this period.
I’ll Make You Happy
I’ll Make You Happy is just one Easybeats classic which put Australian music on the Sixties international hipster map. It stands the test of time, as does The Divinyls’ blistering cover version which Chrissy Amphlett made her own.
I Give You Love
The Easybeats wrote as they spoke. They created three-minute poems about Australian life in the Sixties which Stevie Wright drilled into the camera, then onto the transistor radios of the time. He was Australia’s first international star. Happy Birthday Stevie.
Mental as Anything first played at The Unicorn Hotel on Oxford Street, Sydney and went on to become one of the country’s best-loved, most critically acclaimed bands.
Guitarist Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty) has become the most recognised artist in the band, although the Mentals have also been immortalised by Paul Worstead (1950) a graduate of East Sydney Technical College, where he studied alongside the Mentals . Both Mombassa and Worstead went on to design for Mambo as well as pursuing exhibitions in major Australian galleries. Mombassa’s Australiana is instantly recognisable, below, in a beachside pouch.
The $1950 Vanilla Slice Poster
The vanilla slice poster advertising a gig by Mental as Anything at the Bexley North Hotel is one example and in 2017 the sale price was AUD$1950.
Band Portraits by Paul Worstead
There were two series of posters produced by Paul Worstead to promote Mental as Anything’s Get Wet and Creatures of Leisure albums in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This Australian homage to Andy Warhol is now in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia.
“They didn’t do anything. Hung around drinking beer at each other’s houses. That’s where the band got its impetus from, all that time listening to records thinking ‘we can do that’. I don’t know where the art came in. Art came in on the t-shirts and album colours later on.”
His brother Reg Mombassa, aka Chris O’Doherty, remembers his family childhood elsewhere, “I drew all the time on little square blocks of butcher’s paper which is a sort of a thin grey paper that my mother bought, with an HB pencil.”
Peter: “As kids he was always drawing dismembered soldiers. That was one of his popular themes.” The idea of themes is important in the work of both brothers and the bands they played in and wrote for. Peter wrote Berserk Warriors, but it is Reg who is in the clip here, part of his general Viking obsession, which later revealed itself in his work for Mambo. The BBC Mental As Anything file is here
Peter was inspired by his childhood enthusiasm for Viking stories to write the satirical tribute to ABBA. ‘Berserk Warriors’, written by Peter and sung by Martin Plaza, was one of three singles to be released on Mental As Anything’s 1981 album, ‘Cats and Dogs’. Peter still performs the song with his brother, Reg Mombassa, in their band Dog Trumpet.
The Mentals in Australian Galleries
Beyond Vikings, Reg Mombassa’s nostalgic and patriotic landscapes and portraits, many inspired by his childhood in New Zealand, are characteristic of his work.
I once met Grant McLennan for lunch in a Thai restaurant in Sydney in 1991 with Annette Shun-Wah (a Queenslander, like him). I didn’t realise he was compiling The Grant McLennan Library at the time.
Annette was hosting the Australian music TV show The Noise for SBS. I was writing about both music and astrology for Elle magazine. Grant was working with Steve Kilbey on Jack Frost.
The restaurant was just down from The Bookshop at 207 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst – and Grant had a suspicious-looking bag under his arm. I suspect one of these mighty tomes, below – perhaps Outback Women? – may have been hidden within. (These is just a small selection of the Grant McLennan library, below, featured on the band’s British website).
THE MAN WITH THE SERIOUS BOOKSHOP HABIT
I’m fairly sure inside Grant’s bag that day, was a book. I know, I know, it might have been drugs. People talk a lot about Grant McLennan’s use of heroin, after Steve Kilbey’s revelations. Never mind the drugs, though, what about the bookshop habit? We now know that Grant left behind 1800 books in his 48 years on the planet, when he passed so suddenly in 2006.
PETER PAN AND PETER CAREY
Nobody knew about Grant’s vast library, until 600 books (many signed, or with autographed bookmarks from Robert Forster) were given away to early purchasers of the G Stands for Go-Betweens box set. Fans were then told there were 1200 more.
Those who were first in the queue to buy the box set sometimes ended up with not one – but two – of Grant’s paperbacks. On Twitter, one fan ended up with this, below (Image @country_mile on Twitter).
ADDICTED TO BOOKS
By my reckoning, that means Grant McLennan was buying one book every week – at least – from the time he first learned to read. Now, that’s quite an addiction.
When Grant’s stash of paperbacks and dog-eared hardbacks was given away, randomly, to the first purchases of the box set G Stands For Go-Betweens, writer Greg Adams was fortunate enough to end up with a signed Angela Carter novel.
Grant McLennan was a songwriter’s writer. Also a reader’s songwriter. This was part of his one-time muse, partner and colleague Amanda Brown’s statement at his funeral:
“Grant’s songs captured an Australia that was influenced by his love for contemporary American writers like Cormac Macarthy, Richard Ford and Raymond Carver and songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. These writers inform his images of Australia, which range from the landscapes tinged with nostalgia and loss (Cattle and Cane and Bye Bye Pride), suburban life (Streets of Your Town), epic narratives (The Wrong Road, Black Mule) and of course, exquisite love songs like Quiet Heart, Stones for You, and Bachelor Kisses.” (The Sydney Morning Herald).
THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC HISTORY INSIDE GRANT’S LIBRARY
What is really interesting about Grant’s vast library is that it’s a window into Australian music history. His own, and the band’s. His interest in everything from the bush, to Ted Hughes, turns up in the songs too. And what songs.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard put a Go-Betweens single on an iPod for former President Barack Obama. The current Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was in the audience for the last concert The Go-Betweens ever played.
Years after that lunch with Grant, I found myself joining the campaign for an Australian Music Museum. It was 2013 and like so many other people I was concerned about the way historic venues were being demolished – and everything from rare singles, to rusty old badges – were ending up on eBay, rather than in the nation’s archives.
Grant had been gone for 7 years by then (although of course, the spirit remains). By that time, a copy of People Say, the second single by The Go-Betweens, was selling for hundreds of dollars to private collectors. Not to the nation, though. By 2017 the asking price for People Say was $835. (The current asking price for a vinyl edition of the box set, G Stands For Go-Betweens, is over $2000).
Fortunately, as I write this, it now looks as though we may have a potential home for at least some of The Go-Betweens’ possessions. Melbourne and Sydney have at last begun finding permanent spaces for – what it’s hoped – will be a proper archive.
The Go-Betweens were so much more than a band. Yet – 11 years after he passed and left all those books behind, Grant McLennan’s only presence in Australian galleries, museums and the rest – is a recording of Cattle and Cane in the National Film and Sound Archive, and a handful of photographs held by the State Library of Queensland. This is one of them, taken by Paul O’Brien. It’s wonderful. But really – is that it?
MUSIC FOR OUTSIDERS One of the reasons The Go-Betweens matters, is their role as a channel for outsiders in Australia, from the 1970s onwards. Together with their feminist drummer Lindy Morrison, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan helped to change a nation. Nobody had ever seen a female drummer on the ABC-TV series Countdown until Lindy turned up. I don’t think anyone had seen a man reading what amounted to poetry on Countdown, either.
It went on. Robert dyed his hair Monroe-blonde and occasionally wore corsets. Grant read Angela Carter. We had songs about menstruation and bookshops. Finally, it seemed, Australia had a band to take its place alongside Germaine Greer, on the world stage.
Together with their remarkable drummer, The Go-Betweens were a Mod Squad all of their own, fighting an entire nation’s fixed ideas about what men and women should be. This is another photograph from Paul O’ Brien’s archive, taken from that time.
THE BOOKS BEHIND THE SONGS
Look around Grant’s library, partly distributed with the box set – and it quickly becomes obvious that there are a lot of books behind those songs. I’m sure if you look at the books you will find something that speaks to you personally to the point where it gets you, where you live.
As an astrologer I have always been curious about the lyrics in Quiet Heart: How on earth could Grant McLennan have known so much about one particular sign of the Zodiac on the Ascendant of a natal chart? (Not to mention its association with the Eighth House and reincarnation).
Doesn’t matter how far you come You’ve always got further to go
Lindy Morrison has since confirmed that the Scorpio Rising lover in Quiet Heart was Amanda Brown. Both women were born in November under the zodiac sign of Scorpio.
Grant owned not only The Birthday Letters by the poet and astrologer Ted Hughes, he also owned at least two volumes in Anthony Powell’s cult series, A Dance to the Music of Time.
Hughes was married to the Scorpio, Sylvia Plath. Powell’s central character in the final book in the series, Hearing Secret Harmonies, was an astrologer called Scorpio Murtlock.
The Birthday Letters is partly a collection of poems about fated twists and turns in the horoscopes and lives of Hughes and Plath. You can read more here, by my friend Neil Spencer, in The Guardian.
Neil, the former editor of NME later became the astrologer for The Observer.
The reason I am picking out this tiny detail which tells a long story, is that Grant had a head like a library and someone will always find their life on a Go-Betweens’ old vinyl shelf. He and Robert found each other and also found us, which is why people will queue – and queue – to talk to Robert today, about the band and about the music. At the Louder Than Words weekend event in Manchester in November 2017, Robert invited people in his audience to come and talk after his gig/interview – no matter if they bought a book or not. Needless to say, the queue stretched out of the door and the waiting time was long, because together with Grant, Robert had/has the personal touch. This is intimate music for people who are outsiders in some way. In Manchester, Robert said he was looking for someone like him – and he found him in Grant. They were two students far, far outside the Queensland/Australian mainstream. Maybe that has something to do with the way so many fans of the music feel included. Both men knew what it was like to feel apart from what was around them.
CHRISSY AMPHLETT’S LANE AND LINDY MORRISON’S DRUMS When I met Lindy Morrison to talk about an Australian music museum in May 2014, I was there to discuss Chrissy Amphlett’s Lane (Amphlett Lane, Melbourne) and the planned destruction of the historic Palace Theatre, backing onto the lane. Lindy had known Chrissy, of course. This photograph was taken in 1988 by Tony Mott (Sydney Morning Herald/Twitter). It’s just a moment, on a night, but it’s also this wonderful picture of a certain kind of wake-up call in Australian music, and Australia, at the time…
The Go-Betweens marched to the beat of a different drummer, literally. So – the conversation a while back, about a museum, in Sydney turned to Lindy’s Ludwig drum kit, and where to house it for posterity. This is a conversation which will go on for years in Australia, I guess – about so many other iconic drum kits, and guitars – not to mention wardrobe items, posters and photographs.
GRANT MCLENNAN, PAPERBACK WRITER
Speaking at The Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2017, Robert Forster noted, “Grant was going to write a novel and he never did.”
True, but he did become a paperback writer, in the end. My friend Nick Earls asked Grant to contribute a piece to our Penguin anthology Big Night Out in aid of the charity War Child – and you can still read it today, in the latest anthology in the series, Girls’ Night In – The 10th Anniversary Collection.
Nick Earls’ stage adaptation of his novel about a former rock idol, The True Story of Butterfish, features music from both Robert Forster and Adele Pickvance so the Go-Betweens beat goes on. It probably all started with Nick’s classic Bachelor Kisses, named after the song, though – and you can find it here.
I have in my possession a small mountain of e-mails about Grant McLennan’s involvement in Big Night Out and I’m sure Penguin and Nick do too – but again – the question remains, where in Australia can we find a space to preserve these tiny bits of musical history? There must be so many more. Thousands of saved memories about this crucially important band, some of which may be in your pocket.
Dorothy Parker and Grant’s Party Piece Party Piece by Grant McLennan in our Penguin anthology for War Child, begins like this.
when dorothy parker and lord byron invite you over, you should arrive early and smell like an orchid, be sure to bring some peaches for your horse, because you can never have enough friends at these kinds of things.
Here Lies by Dorothy Parker was also on Grant’s shelves at the end.
BOOKS DO FURNISH A ROOM In his tremendously sad/funny autobiography Grant and I (Penguin) Robert Forster remembers his old friend habitually carrying records, magazines, novels and poetry books under his arm at university. At the end, Robert remembers (in Manchester in November 2017) Grant ‘walking towards’ a particular destination, thanks to his drinking, noting that we all have friends like that. They get to their forties, and they don’t stop. Grant also had depression, Robert remembers, as so many songwriters, authors and painters do.
“I’d drive over to his place to play guitar and he’d be lying on a bed reading a book. Grant never felt guilt about this. The world turned and worked; he read. That was the first message. He’d offer to make coffee, and I knew – and here’s one of the great luxuries of my life – I knew I could ask him anything, on any artistic frontier, and he’d have an answer. He had an encyclopaedic mind of the arts, with his own personal twist. So, as he worked on the coffee, I could toss in anything I liked – something that had popped up in my life that I needed his angle on. I’d say, “Tell me about Goya,” or, “What do you know about Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry?” or, “Is the Youth Group CD any good?”
The Little Something
Perhaps that is one of the many keys to the success of The Go-Betweens. They had a little something – and it was always intensely personal – no matter if it’s astrology, or Queensland farming, or Eighties haircuts, or heroin, or Frank Brunetti, or feminism – for everyone. When I first heard the line ‘Scorpio Rising’ in Quiet Heart I nearly fell off my chair. And not only that, Grant McLennan actually seemed to know what it meant, as any astrologer would attest. This is one of so many, many personal song stories. I wonder what yours might be? Because…
Australian surfers of a certain age who spent their youth wearing Lee Cooper Jeans and reading Tracks probably feel exactly the same way about the band’s later work – like Surfing Magazines.
It’s The Go-Betweens Effect. It’s from them, to you. Even now, when Grant is physically gone from the world, the music still has that power. Robert and Grant thought the band would be a temporary activity before they moved onto other things, like films. In the end, fans put a stop to that idea. Even after Grant has gone, maybe partly as a result of that, the music seems even more personal and powerful than it ever did.
Queenslander Kriv Stenders’ documentary about The Go-Betweens with unforgettableinterviews with later band members,John Willsteed and Robert Vickers, captures that personal touch, perfectly.
BUILDING BRIDGES AND SAVING BUILDINGS
Other bands have plaques. The Go-Betweens have not only a plaque in Brisbane, but also a bridge. The missing ‘s’ in the name is a minor source of regret for fans – and the band – but otherwise, as Robert Forster has said, it’s a beautiful thing.
Speaking to the ABC, he reflected, “The Go-Between Bridge, it’s almost, well, you know, when Grant and I first sat around in 1978 thinking about the things we’d get from being a rock band, a bridge wasn’t one of them. I can’t remember him saying that. And a bridge is a beautiful thing. It’s better than the Go-Between Sewerage Works.”
At Grant’s funeral, Forster delivered a eulogy in which he said McLennan’s songs would last 1000 years. Acknowledging his friend’s presence in spirit at the service, he quickly added: “Grant’s just told me 10,000.”
It would be nice to think that in 1000 or 10,000 years from now, Australians could still see some of Grant’s mountain of 1800 signed books, safely under dim-lit glass.
The house where Grant McLennan lived, in Highgate Hill, may have gone by then. Nothing may remain of the foundations of 10 Golding Street, Toowong, where he began writing songs with Robert Forster. Even so – there are other ways, to make sure we’ll never forget the books that helped make The House That Jack Kerouac Built. Collect, collect and keep collecting.
Grant & I by Robert Forster is available at Booktopia.
Australian music and politics have been intertwined since Vietnam and its aftermath. Khe Sanh is sometimes called the alternative Australian national anthem. Only Nineteen, by Redgum, continued the tradition set by Don Walker and Cold Chisel, in the Eighties.
THE OILS IN THE EIGHTIES
The early-mid 1980s saw the rise of People for Nuclear Disarmament in Australia. Midnight Oil played strong songs that sold the anti-nuclear message and toured the country widely, educating a generation about nukes. This laminate, from the collection of Marshall Cullen, dates from that time. Hobart was a focus for the anti-nuke protests of the mid 1980’s after the controversial visit of the U.S.S. Enterprise – Peter Garrett was there.
STOP THE DROP, 1983
U.S. FORCES GIVE THE NOD
U.S. Forces lyrics which the crowd sing word-for-word in the Stop The Drop clip can be found at Midnight Oil’s official website . The song was written by Jim Moginie and Peter Garrett.
The anthem U.S. Forces name checks Shakespeare (‘dogs of war ‘) as well as the Wall Street TV-speak of the early Eighties (‘market movements call the shots.’) You can see the crowd mouthing the lines “People too scared to go to prison” at Stop The Drop which was also a reflection of the times. This T-Shirt, below, is in The Powerhouse Museum collection in Sydney.
The Stop the Drop concert held at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl on Sunday 13 February 1983 was attended by the T-shirt donor you see responsible for the Powerhouse Museum archive donation on this page – Kevin Fewster – who also happened to be one of the organisers.
The 1983 concert was attended by 8000 people. In 1984 Peter Garrett was to run for the Australian Senate in NSW for the Nuclear Disarmament Party but was not elected.
Also at this concert, members of Goanna, Midnight Oil and Redgum recorded an impromptu song to protest the proposed damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River. Released as ‘Let The Franklin Flow’ by Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble, it reached number 15 on the charts in May that year.
The line “Superboy takes a plutonium wife” might just be one of the most mis-heard in Australian music, but ‘sing me songs of no denying’ is something most Australian music fans would automatically attribute to the band. The album was huge in the early 1980’s and together with Red Sails In The Sunset (which shows Sydney after the bomb) politicised part of a generation.
THE RANGER URANIUM MINE
Between 1979 and 1984, the majority of what is now Kakadu National Park was created, surrounding but not including the Ranger uranium mine. The two themes for the 1980 Hiroshima Day march and rally in Sydney, sponsored by the Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM), were: “Keep uranium in the ground” and “No to nuclear war.” Later that year, the Sydney city council officially proclaimed Sydney nuclear-free.
The Nobel-prize winning Australian novelist Patrick White led one such march, and was photographed with Tom Uren, pictured with dark glasses, bag and stick. This is his novel The Eye of the Storm.
RUBBERY FIGURES, RONALD REAGAN AND MIDNIGHT OIL
By 1982, there were 350,000 Australians at anti-nuclear rallies, focussed on halting Australia’s uranium exports, removing foreign bases from Australian land and creating a nuclear-free Pacific. The visits of U.S. nuclear warships – as far as Hobart – was also a major early Eighties issue and Midnight Oil sang the soundtrack.
The comedy puppet series Rubbery Figures (ABC-TV 1984-1990) satirised U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the same period. To put Midnight Oil’s anti-nuclear albums 10, 9, 8 and Red Sails in context, it’s also important to remember that in 1984, shortly after both records (still vinyl) were released, President Reagan joked in a soundcheck on National Public Radio, ‘My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.’
Rubbery Figures – Ronald Regan re Anzac Day
THE BOMB AND THE EIGHTIES
Writing in Meanjin, Simon Castles remembers, ‘In 1984 the Doomsday Clock kept by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was moved to three minutes to midnight, its most dire position since the invention of the hydrogen bomb. Midnight Oil released Red Sails in the Sunset the same year, an album whose cover shows Sydney after a nuclear strike.’
‘In the eighties there was a stack of pop songs about the bomb. To name just a handful of tracks on a list that ran long, as if to a mushroom cloud on the horizon: ‘Breathing’ by Kate Bush (1980), ‘1999’ by Prince (1982), ‘Seconds’ by U2 (1983), ‘99 Luftballons’ by Nena (1983), ‘Walking in Your Footsteps’ by The Police (1983), ‘Two Minute Warning’ by Depeche Mode (1983), ‘Forever Young’ by Alphaville and then Laura Branigan (1984–85), ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984), ‘Russians’ by Sting (1985), ‘Guns in the Sky’ by INXS (1987) and ‘Everyday is like Sunday’ by Morrissey (1988).’
Red Sails in the Sunset was a title more associated with Bing Crosby and Fats Domino in the Eighties – until Midnight Oil took it over with the help of a Japanese artist who was years ahead of his time. American blogger Sam Wade, writes at The Vinyl Odyssey:
“Japanese artist, Tsunehisa Kimura, created the post-apocalyptic vision of Sydney Harbor – no water only craters from nuclear bombs and a giant fireball near the bridge. It’s one of the coolest photomontages I’ve seen and it stuck with me even more because I have family in Australia. But remember, this record came out in 1984, six years before Photoshop 1.0 would ever hit the streets. In this digital age, it’s easy to forget that this type of art was much more painstaking and analog to create.”
Dr Sarah Engledow, Historian and Curator at the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, wrote in Portrait magazine.
“In 1983, in an international climate of increased public involvement in protest, the Australian local news was dominated by environmental demonstrations on two fronts. The first was the Tasmanian NO DAMS campaign, making highly professional and effective use of photographs by Peter Dombrovskis,a wilderness photographer mentored by Olegas Truchanas. The second was the anti-nuclear movement. In February 1983 Midnight Oil helped organise the Stop the Drop concert in Melbourne, and headlined the event. That year, Tom Uren and Peter Garrett marched together at the head of an anti-nuclear protest. In 1984, when Tom Uren and Patrick White walked side by side at the front of an Australians for Nuclear Disarmament march and Peter Garrett stood unsuccessfully for the Senate on behalf of the Nuclear Disarmament Party, Midnight Oil released the album Red Sails in the Sunset, featuring sinisterly surreal cover artwork by Tsunehisa Kimura of the Sydney Harbour Bridge spanning an expanse of cratered red dirt, a bomb-like ball glowing lava-hot beside the Opera House. The following year, the Oils’ EP Species Deceases came with album notes on the theme of Hiroshima forty years on. Including the great track ‘Hercules’, Species Deceases was an exasperated exhortation to action: ‘Come to your senses and care/16 million I can’t hear you at all’, Garrett cried.”
Chrissy Amphlett was born on 25th October 1959. This is her dog, Holiday, who is immortalised, along with Chrissy’s famous school uniform and Divinyls amplifier, at Amphlett Lane in Melbourne. (Picture: Copyright Charley Drayton/Chrissy Amphlett).
The school uniform she is remembered by was not her only look (see below, in this photograph by Tony Mott for On the Street magazine) but it was her most famous wardrobe branding, helping break Divinyls internationally.
Amphlett Lane, off Little Bourke Street, near Spring Street and Exhibition Street, Melbourne, is where Chrissy Amphlett walked from the stage door of The Princess Theatre, where she starred in the hit musical Boy From Oz.
The Divinyls are also recorded in gig guides as having played a double-bill with Joan Jett at The Palace Theatre, Bourke Street, which is at the back of Amphlett Lane. Both stage doors are steps away from each other.
Chrissy’s husband Charley Drayton, drummer for Cold Chisel, remembers her here, at the opening, along with her cousin Patricia ‘Little Pattie’ Amphlett and members of her family.
One of the last messages Chrissy ever left for her fans was on social media, where she mentions Holiday (below). “My little dog Holiday lays on the end of the bed when I am not feeling great and doesn’t leave my side.”
Amphlett Lane is a permanent tribute to Chrissy Amphlett along with her music – and a campaign for breast cancer awareness, I Touch Myself which Chrissy gave her blessing to, before she passed. She is also remembered in the ARIA Hall of Fame along with one of her most famous songs, Science Fiction. Happy Birthday Chrissy Amphlett!