As a kid in primary school, I dreamt of being a drummer. I tapped everything in sight, driving people nuts in the process. In grade six they sat me next to Guy Monk, and it’s only now that I wonder if they did that because he was also an aspiring drummer, and they figured we’d be able to tolerate each other. Guy’s uncle was a drummer, and actually taught Guy to play, so he realised his dream. It wasn’t until my first year at high school that my chance came. Each week I was allowed to ditch half an hour of something unimportant; I dunno, probably maths or English, to head to a tiny room with my drumsticks and receive a lesson from the traveling teacher. I even had the practice pad, and did lots of practice in my room at home.

That all went swimmingly until it was time to purchase a kit. Or maybe it was just a snare drum, I really can’t recall. Either way, the response to my breathless announcement of what I saw as Good News left something to be desired. If I can paraphrase, it was something like “that’s nevr going to happen.” I remember being devastated and also fairly embarrassed. I imagine that I probably talked constantly of getting a drumset, blithely overlooking the obvious: my mum really didn’t like loud noise around the house. We didn’t even have a shed that I could be banished to.

So my career as a drummer ended before it began, and probably a good thing, too. My next obsession was with guitar. The Skyhooks had released their album “Living in the 70’s”, and I loved a song called “Love’s Not Good Enough”. Greg McCainsh’s bassline was simple and therefore so tempting to try and play. I didn’t have a guitar though, so Guy and borrowed an electric from Craig Jarvis, one of the “in” guys at school. He was a football player, smoker, good with the ladies … so I figured he didn’t need a guitar anyway. Guy and I would sit in front of the Kriesler stereo at my house, playing that bass riff on the 6th string of the guitar using our thumb over the top of the neck. It sounds bad and I’m sure it was, but for the first time I was listening carefully to music. Wow. Soon after this, my nightly ritual of listening to Dark Side of the Moon on our huge headphones began. To this day I’m sure I can replay every damn note in my head.

At 14 I reached a fever pitch of wanting to own and learn a guitar. I don’t think Mum was too keen, but in the wake of an argument (probably over money – we were pretty skint), my Dad told me to get in the car and drove me to the music shop in Upper Fern Tree Gully. I can’t really remember much except going into the shop and seeing acoustic guitars hanging there, but when we walked out I was carrying a Fender F-35 Dreadnought acoustic in one of those wedge-shaped boxes. It cost Dad $95, which was a lot of money for us then. I’d already been to one lesson using my brother’s nylon string guitar, but the teacher took one look at the size of my hands and told Dad we’d have to buy something bigger. Well, now I had my big guitar!

The lessons went nowhere. I don’t think the teacher was very motivated. His wife taught me how to strum though, for which I’m eternally grateful. From there on I was on my own. I got the Led Zeppelin Complete songbook from somewhere and sat down with it for a couple of hours every night, struggling to work out how to play the songs. It was nothing short of absolute obsession – and I can’t imagine that I would have gone very far without that incredible persistence. I wasn’t naturally talented at all – my commitment, obsession and willpower were my only assets. But what good assets they were. I can still play the first thirty-odd bars of The Rain Song at the drop of a hat, which is pretty amazing 35 years later.

I should mention that the deal with Dad was that I’d learn flute, an instrument he really loved. An instrument, I should say, that I really hated. Still do, although maybe a little less passionately than I did then. I went to a lot of lessons; had to get up early every Saturday and ride a good distance on my pushbike, often standing knocking at the teacher’s door for half an hour because he’d been out until the wee hours on a jazz gig. Poor guy, I can’t imagine that he saw me as worth the effort to pull himself out of bed. Indeed, after months of torture on everyone’s part, the teacher saved me by announcing that he wouldn’t giving lessons anymore. Whew.

It wasn’t too long before Guy and I found a band. We hooked up with John Hartney (hi, John!) and a dweeby guy whose name escapes me. The dweeb is best remembered as having those satin shirts with the frou-frou cuffs they used to wear in reception bands. Oh, and I remember his bass; it was a Rickenbacker. He must’ve had money, but he really was a dweeb. It wasn’t long before we replaced him with Graham Kent. Oddly enough, I knew Graham from my group of non-music friends. There were a bunch of girls I’d hang out with on the weekends, and often Graham and I would be there on our bikes talking to the gals in the sunshine around the empty schoolyard. I’m sure I didn’t really know who he was or where he came from, but when he turned up to rehearsal and played a few songs, he was in. He was the best musician among us by far. We were originally called Tutankhamun, for no reason I can remember. I spent a lot of my free time doodling finely detailed mummy-based logos, influenced heavily by the cover of a prog-rock album … could’ve been a concept album based on the works of Poe, might’ve been by Jeff Wayne … but no, my brain is starting to hurt with the effort of remembering. Our repertoire was eclectic, to say the least – essentially we would play any song we could think of that wasn’t too hard. Given our youth – I’d probably just turned 15 and I was the oldest – we really didn’t know of many songs, so the potential was limited. But this was 1977, so when the Sex Pistols exploded it was a big deal for us; it literally rocked our world.

Our first-ever gig was at the Kallista Community Hall. I can’t remember what the event was, but for many years I had a cassette recorded by someone at the back of the hall. I think the main hall lights were on, killing any atmosphere, and I don’t recall there being a stage. What I can recall from the cassette is that there were an inordinate number of babies crying, and also that they had a very good reason to cry – the cacophony coming from the performers. The highlight of the show was a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, in which the high-pitched backing vocals were provided by Simon from the mixing desk. Simon was a somewhat enigmatic bloke from Clements Music store in the Boronia Mall. He fronted his own band, of which I must admit I remember nothing. But somehow we managed to convince him to help us out with the sound at our first gig. I’m sure he was mortified when he heard how bad we were, hence the impromptu ‘helping out’ with vocals in the one song he evidently knew. I can’t imagine what he made of the influences evident in our set, which included songs from the Sex Pistols and The Angels in addition to the aforementioned Mr Floyd. Clearly we didn’t understand the cultural import of the Pistols, we just dug the music.

Not much later, we became regulars at the Dragonflight dance, at the Olinda Hall in the Dandenong Ranges. This audience for this monthly event was comprised almost entirely of hippies. We were very popular, or so it seemed to us. In retrospect I came to believe that they thought we were kind of cute and very funny. Somewhere I have a pretty cool black-and-white photo of me at this time; I’m onstage with my borrowed Ibanez Les Paul (I loved that guitar so very much, and was sad to give it back), I’m wearing something that may be a knitted vest with a long knitted cardigan over it, and the belt from the cardigan knotted around my neck tie-fashion. I’m channelling Jimmy Page, in that I’m apparently between chords; my right hand is held up, my elbow bent. I’m being cool. Whoever took that shot (Shane Hill, maybe) was fortunate to catch one of the very few microseconds of my teenage years in which I actually looked cool. Generally I was barely avoiding succumbing to total dorkdom.

I’m sure that those years were filled with much more rehearsal time in John Hartney’s family room than with actual onstage playing, and yet it often felt like we were doing something special. Our style changed at lightspeed, and we began writing material very early on, long before we really had half a clue about how to do it. It’s inexplicable to me now that I didn’t write lyrics for the band, and I wasn’t the singer. Maybe I didn’t have the ego for it then.

I quit the band to do my final year at high school. It was a big decision and I think I regretted it a lot at the time. It wasn’t long before I was jamming with Shane Hill (guitar and vocals), Guy Monk on drums, and Lee Heyward on bass. I’m sure it was no coincidence that Lee lived near Guy, and we all skateboarded together. Immediately upon finishing high school I set to writing a musical play, The Hollow Crown. I pitched it to my high school and the creative types in the teaching staff picked it up and ran with it. By mid-year the play was being performed by a cast of well over 100; our little band was off in the side alcove with a couple of additional musicians. It was a big deal that indirectly led to the experience alluded to by the song I Was In The Circus on the media page of this site. ‘Nuff said about that.

After the play was over, the band continued. Our name was No Comment and we played real gigs, sometimes at real hotels. The best venue we played was Macy’s at Her Majesty’s Hotel in South Yarra. I can recall playing support for Loonee Tunes a number of times. The Loonees were slightly younger than us, came from around our area, and played ska, which we loved. We were playing what I can loosely characterise as ‘pub rock’, a 50/50 mix of originals and covers. Shane sang, and did a pretty good job of it too, notwithstanding his terrible nerves. I have a number of memories of him engaging in inadvertent regurgitation immediately before going on stage. We recorded a studio demo of four or five songs (hmm … I must see if I still have a copy) and one of our rehearsals at the local scout hall. The latter survives as a CD entitled Scout Hall Days, which is of interest only to those who were there at the time, and even then it mainly serves as a reminder that the ‘good old days’ weren’t necessarily that good.

Eventually Shane followed his heart and became the guitarist for Loonee Tunes, who were very much in their ascendancy. He played countless gigs with them, while I wandered off into the wilds of funk. White-boy funk, influenced by Talking Heads and Melbourne band I’m Talking. After Shane’s departure I moped for a while, then bought a four-track reel-to-reel, which had recently become vaguely affordable. I was probably 19 at this stage, and determined to become a good musician. I could play guitar okay, but I needed to improve my singing. The four-track let me write songs and record my vocals … over and over. I would come home from work most days and spend some time re-recording and critiquing my work. It was obsessive behaviour, and was probably the only way I could have improved my singing.

The resulting tape got me an audition with an eastern suburbs band. It was a bit of an odd group, with younger and older members of an extended family. My arrival precipitated a series of dramatic lineup changes until only me and the singer Anne remained. We recruited a new bassplayer and drummer, got a new name and got funky. Somewhat inexplicably, we often supported Loonee Tunes, which must have confused their skinhead following no end. Anne and I co-wrote material, there was some recording done. I was terribly infatuated with Anne, but not for long because she became a serious item with my old friend Shane. In time the band dissolved because we’d started finding major fault with the slightest flaws in each other.

Shortly thereafter, Shane left Loonee Tunes and I stepped into the breach. Playing guitar with the tight rhythm section of Anton Proppe on drums, and my old collaborator Graham Kent on bass, I enjoyed being very busy for a while. Lots of rehearsing, loads of gigs. Sweaty, dancing fun. Eventually that incarnation of Loonee Tunes dissolved, leaving us with the unsatisfactory Impossibles, who spent an inordinate amount of time in the rehearsal room and hardly any time onstage. It was depressing, but I had learned trumpet while with the Loonees, and now I got to play a bit. This led to my next musical adventure, as the horn player for Captain Cocoa. The Cocoa boys had been around the block – I could remember sharing a gig back in my funk days – but were all about the fun. They lost their excellent trumpet player to the Moscow Circus and approached me to fill in. I ended up on trumpet, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals and dancing … possibly all in the space of one song. We played some fun gigs that were always unpredictable due to the scarcely-competent playing of the band, the songs full of humour and pathos, and the early stand-up comedy of Dave O’Neil, our bass player. They were crazy and often enjoyable times, and it was at one of the Cocoa gigs that I met Josh and Joel of The Sugargliders. They had heard about my recording set-up (I’d recorded Captain Cocoa b-sides at my place), and wanted to record a cassette. Josh sang, Joel played guitar, they both penned simple and delightful melodies evoking matters of the heart and mind from the perspective of teenagers. Joel was only 16 at the time. I can recommend their cassette Crime and Punishment (Jumping Someone Else’s Bandwagon) if you can get hold of it. We recorded it over a few sessions, and were happy with the result. I started mixing ‘Gliders gigs, and we’d demo new material at my studio before going into ‘real’ studios to record the final versions. Jason Reynolds of Summershine Records picked them up, and a few fun singles resulted. The big time was when the boys had their tremendous Letter From A Lifeboat single accepted by the pinnacle of indiepop labels, Sarah Records. We already knew it was something special While we were recording it at C’est Ca Studios with Siiri Metsar, and the positive response from the label confirmed it. By this time I was adding bits and pieces on recordings, and live shows would see me behind the mixing desk until the last two or three songs when I’d jump onto the stage and hope that no-one would mess with the desk.

[more to come]