Shuffle: Australia – Part 1

I recently took the plunge and purchased a load of new music from Bandcamp, and one thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of Australian bands, which got me thinking about my interactions with Australian music. I’ve already written a column dedicated to Ed Kuepper but there were other bands in the 1980’s that played quite a large part in the development of my musical tastes, and indeed my life. First among these is The Go-Betweens – they remain essential and each time one of the Domino box-sets comes out, I’m first in the queue. They’ve been mighty influential, not just on me but on a slew of the new bands that I’ll get around to. Alongside The Go-Betweens were The Triffids led by David McComb, who tragically died too soon. Add on Nick Cave and The Dirty Three and already we have a pretty solid body of work. Here is a lesser-known Go-Betweens song that is nonetheless one of my favourites.

Among the lesser-known artefacts from the Triffids catalogue was an EP credited to Lawson Square Infirmary, where they bashed out a set of acoustic songs, at odds with the sometimes Gothic drama of their records.

There were of course other Australian bands around at the same time (and many from New Zealand – but that will keep for a future date) – the Hoodoo Gurus put out a couple of really excellent singles: besides ‘My Girl‘ there was this beautiful slice of pop/rock.

At the rockier end of the spectrum were The Celibate Rifles (get it). I was always taken by the title of ‘The Turgid Miasma of Existence‘ – in the video below they were captured in all their rawness. As they developed they strayed over into hard rock territory and left me behind. Their early releases are worth a listen.

I recall seeing The Scientists (you might think that commonplace but I mean the band) at Warwick Uni in the days where they had a Friday night whip-round. They played a dirtier version of rock, spilling over into Cramps territory as the swampy ‘Blood Red River’ demonstrates.

Further along, where the road end and you are into the deepest darkest bush of Country music, several Scientists and Tex Perkins collided to form Beasts of Bourbon. Here’s their version of ‘Psycho‘ and note this is one of their tamer efforts.

Another super-group (if you will) that formed around the end of the 1980’s was The Blackeyed Susans. A whole host of Australian music luminaries have passed through the band – David McComb and assorted other Triffids, Warren Ellis (more later), the brilliant Jim White, and Kim Salman. It’s another story of a group that was never really appreciated, covering as they did an enormous amount of musical territory.  The ‘Reveal Yourself‘ compilation is an excellent introduction to the band.

Now as I dig into my memory and scroll through my iPod, I remember Died Pretty. They went on to make a classic record ‘Doughboy Hollow‘, which of course made very little impression. It’s ripe for a proper eulogy – here’s ‘Sweetheart‘ which is now thirty years old.

Once you start to listen to these old songs, then connections are made and you remember things that are long buried, such as Died Pretty, I recall ‘Free Dirt‘ being one of my stepping stones to Americana. There’s a definite theme to most of the bands mentioned here, that they were never as well appreciated as they should have been and that there is a lot of cross-fertilisation in the Australian music scene. We’ll see more of that next time when I take a look at contemporary bands in Aus.

For this column, I’ll finish with The Dirty Three. The three, Warren Ellis, Mick Turner and Jim White (I think Jim White is the best drummer I’ve ever seen) are all respected musicians having collaborated with swathes of people – they will be in your record collection somewhere. And they should be in your record collection in their own right. They formed in 1992 and presaged a lot of the post-rock and epic ambient bands. Their lineup of violin, guitar and drums is unusual and their kinetic sound is beautiful, brittle, and brutal. All of their records are recommended. Here’s a live version of ‘Everything’s Fucked‘ (don’t be tempted to fast forward through the intro).

About David Cowling 142 Articles
Punk rock, Go-Betweens, REM, Replacments, Husker Du, Minutemen, Will Oldham, Smog, Whiskeytown, Ass Ponys but probably most of all Howe Gelb, led me on this journey.
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Eugene Windrim

Good man David – as ever I find new riches in your offerings – angular and magical as ever.

Now go on, back to the attic with you.