John Kennedy – New April 2021 Gigs and Music
Not everyone who grew up under the pellucid skies of Brisbane in the late ‘70s managed the impact of Ed Kuepper, Chris Bailey, Mark Callaghan, Grant McLennan or Robert Forster, but that doesn’t mean those in what we might dub “The B League” didn’t make some incredible music.
Take singer-songwriter John Kennedy. There must be something going on for him to be able to call former Red Wiggle Murray Cook to take time out from his own band, Sydney five-piece The Soul Movers, whenever Kennedy takes out his own current and the ’68 Comeback Special for a spin.
Where it all began…
He might have been seven when his parents brought across the world from Liverpool to settle in Brisbane in 1965, but like the rest of that world, Kennedy was already enamoured with the music of Liverpool’s most famous sons, The Beatles, but by the time he stepped out in front of his first band The Cuban Crisis as a swaggering 22 year old in 1980, it was the jangly guitar sounds of Britain’s New Wave rockers that were addressing his muse.
Two years and a couple of cassette albums later in 1982, Kennedy was living in Sydney and it was Sydney that became his major musical theme, most famously in his songs King Street and Miracle (In Marrickville).
Love Gone Wrong
By 1986, he was describing his music as “Urban & Western”, he’d pulled together a new lineup dubbed Love Gone Wrong and he’d become something of a darling of Triple J. While he wasn’t cracking the mainstream charts, over the four years of the band’s life Kennedy was able to call on an impressive roster of members including pedal steel player “Evil” Graham Lee from The Triffids, percussionist Peter Kennard from The Rockmelons, bass player Barry Turnbull from Chad’s Tree, violinist Amanda Brow from The Go-Betweens and guitarist Wayne Connolly, who went on to form The Welcome Mat and Knievel as well as build an impressive career as a record producer.
With the arrival of the new Millennium, Kennedy decided to have a look back over the prolific previous two decades that had seen him release eight albums including those initial two cassette jobbies, three compilation albums, three EPs and 11 singles. The result was 2001’s Greatest Bits and Pieces. Seventeen years on, he repeated the process for Second Best – Greatest Bits Vol. 2. The year before, in 2017, he’d released his 11th album, cheekily titled JFK & the Midlife Crisis.
He might have been prolific and scored the occasional “hit” courtesy some decent airplay support from Triple J, Kennedy has essentially remained an indie artist throughout his career, and knows where he stands in Australia’s musical pantheon, as he pointed out in his liner notes to 2018’s Second Best compilation, the collection brings together 16 songs that “went largely unnoticed.
Most of the people who followed my music probably wouldn’t even have known they existed,” so Second Best was something of a hopeful exercise in “pointing people back to those lost albums,” embracing the six albums released between 1993 and 2017, Fiction Facing Facts to JFK & The Midlife Crisis, a heady mix of vaguely naïve homage and subtly cutting social observation.
The most successful of those lost albums…
Perhaps his most successful album was the one he recorded with Love Gone Wrong, Always the Bridegroom, which topped the Australian Independent Music charts in 1987. Yet it seems he’s had something of a difficult relationship with the album. In fact he reckons it “killed his career”.
It certainly led to the breakup of the band the following year, but 35 years on, with the benefit of hindsight, he’s reassessed the album and admits he can now “hear the care and the craft that went into” the songs that made up Always the Bridegroom and has finally embraced this part of his legacy.
So he’s remastered it and released it with extensive liner notes and a second “bonus” CD, a live-in-the-studio recording made for Melbourne radio 3LO barely a handful of gigs into the life of this final Love Gone Wrong lineup, the fourth, which comprised of guitarists Wayne Connolly and Corey Messenger, bass player Barry Turnbull, who was replaced soon afterwards by Michael Armiger, and drummer Vincent Sheehan.
It’s two years since John Kennedy & His ‘68 Comeback Special launched their last album, Raining Treasure, celebrating, as Kennedy notes, “the golden era of Australian independent music from the 1980s,” its title taken from the evocative, brooding Triffids’ song, to which Kennedy’s baritone adds a little extra shiver.
If you’re in Sydney, you can catch John Kennedy & His ’68 Comeback Special launching Always the Bridegroom at Petersham Bowling Club Friday 9th April, while if you fancy a trip to the Blue Mountains, you can catch them playing Gigs on Govetts at the Blackheath Bar & Bistro Friday 23rd April, though it’ll be Sunnyboys guitarist Richard Burgman joining Kennedy, bass player Phil Hall and drummer Peter Timmerman as Murray Cook can’t make that particular gig.
Always the Bridegroom (Deluxe Edition) is out on Foghorn Records April 9th.
By Michael Smith. Former Associate and Contributing editor at The Drum Media and The Music, freelance music journalist for RAM, Juke, On The Street, JAMM, Sonics and way more, freelance book reviewer for Overland, Island and Quadrant, author of What’s Been Did (And What’s Been Hid): A Narrative History of Australian Pop and Rock, two volumes completed to date, Volume I covering the artists and acts that emerged between 1955 and 1963, Volume II those between 1964 and 1969. Bass player with Mushroom signing Scandal 1976-78, and legendary instrumental surf guitar band The Atlantics 2006-12.