Mick Thomas gets back to Roving
He’s describing the new album, City’s Calling Me, from Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission as “a guided tour through the city of the heart”, but then, even in his “punkiest” moments Thomas has been a chronicler of that most complex and convoluted on “cities”.
In the beginning…
Thomas’ star began to glow quite late in terms of the “pop” industry – he was 24 when he formed the band that “shot” him to prominence, Weddings Parties Anything. Thomas was 15 when he started gigging around Geelong and Melbourne in 1975 with a folk band called Southern Aurora. Three years later he joined The Never Never Band, which included bass player Peter Coughlan, better known as Brolga, who joined Goanna when the band folded in 1980.
Bush Bands and Folk Bands
As he recalled for me some years ago, “In my teenage years I was playing in bush bands and folk bands. The first bands that I formed in and around Geelong were kind of folk‑rock bands. I could never really find the melody playing that I wanted but they were really wordy folk‑rock bands and we did some traditional stuff. They were catastrophic sort of bands that never really worked, and then out of that I drifted and drifted and drifted and ended up playing in these bands that were kind of going towards psychobilly and they were bad versions of it. It wasn’t my strong suit.”
The psychobilly band was probably The Acrobats, who lasted a couple of years, the budding songwriter then drifting through a couple of pub rock bands before forming Weddings Parties Anything.
“When I sat back and looked at it, what I do is I write songs that have a lot of words and a lot of chords really, and there’s no way round that. Then I had to go back to that and actually work out how to do that properly and get a band that could play it well.”
Then came the ARIAs…
Thomas was and 32 when Weddings Parties Anything finally had a hit single with a song he’d written titled Father’s Day, based on conversation with a man who lived in the flats in which he was living at the time, who had essentially “lost” his children to divorce, something Thomas had thankfully not experienced, though, sadly, I would a few years after I interviewed him about the song for The Drum Media. Father’s Day peaked at #29 in the charts, but the album from which it was lifted, Difficult Loves, didn’t see much by way of chart action despite the band’s popularity in concert. The single won Weddings Parties Anything the 1993 ARIA Song of the Year, their fourth ARIA, having won Best New Talent in 1988 and Best Indigenous Release in 1989 and 1990.
From solo through Sure Things to today…
Thomas was already exploring other creative options when Weddings broke up in 1999. He’d become a playwright and presented his first play, Over in the West, in 1996 and over the next couple of decades released a series of solo albums as well as pulling together The Sure Thing, with whom he recorded and performed through the noughties. Since 2011, he’s been working with a loose rotating collective dubbed The Roving Commission, which features his old Weddings Parties Anything bandmate Squeezebox Wally – Mark Wallace – on piano accordion.
“I’ve never been a songwriter that felt that they only had to sing their own songs,” Thomas admitted to me all those years ago, “but having said that it’s not like I’ve ever felt that I was a brilliant interpreter of other people’s songs. I guess I’ve always been pretty well besotted with the idea of the popular song form, whether that be Elvis Costello or Jimmie Rogers.”
That said, the new Roving Commission album, City’s Calling Me, happens to sport quite a few covers, albeit by some of his favourite local Australian songwriters, among them Sally Kimber, Van Walker and Charles Jenkins, whose song Keeping All The Cannons Clean, was released as the first single in April. The album also features RockWiz cohost Brian Nankervis reciting a poem titled The Suburbs in Between written by Barry Humphries, Thomas and the Roving Commission providing the musical bed. Among the other guests on the album are Angie Hart, Tim Rogers and another former fellow Weddings Parties Anything, violinist Jen Anderson.
Jen Anderson – Regent to Ruthven
“Something that happened during the recording,” Thomas notes on his website, “was Jen Anderson coming on board and doing some amazing string arrangements. On Marcel Borrack’s Regent to Ruthven she really shone and this is my personal favourite for sure. I don’t think I would have ever recorded a song like this with such an arrangement had I been in a normal studio environment so I guess there’s something good to come out of a shitty situation.
City’s Calling Me by Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission is released on vinyl and CD on Brickfielders Recording through Rocket Distribution and digitally on Bandcamp.
Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission are on tour through July and August:
1/7/21 Smiths Alternative, Canberra; 2/7/21 & 3/7/21 Camelot, Marrickville; 4/7/21 Lizotte’s, Newcastle; 9/7/21 Kings Beach Tavern, Caloundra; 10/7/21 Wallaby Hotel, Mudgeeraba; 11/7/21 Lefty’s Music Hall, Brisbane; 15/7/21 & 16/7/21 Wheatsheaf, Adelaide; 17/7/21 Navy Club, Fremantle; 18/7/21 Oxford Hotel, Perth; 23/7/21 Theatre Royal, Castlemaine; 24/7/21 Volta, Ballarat; 25/7/21 Macedon Railway Hotel, Macedon; 30/7/21 Memo Music Hall, St Kilda; 31/7/21 The Brunswick Ballroom, Brunswick
6/8/21 Pub Rock Diner, Devonport; 7/8/21 Royal Oak, Launceston; 8/8/21 Longley, Hobart
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.