Previous month:
June 2005
Next month:
August 2005

Pictures of Lilley

Lilleys_1

What do a sixteen year-old school girl , an ex-cop, a Ph D physics student, a middle-aged woman who intends to roll from Perth to Uluru and a country kid who wants to donate his ear-drum to his deaf twin brother all have in common?

Well, they’re all appearing in a new show called We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year.

More importantly, they're all played by the one person, comedian Chris Lilley, who wrote and stars in the series.

Here's a short version of my interview with Chris, which is going to be (or was, depending on when you read this) broadcast on ABC NewsRadio Breakfast, Wednesday 27 July. (Listen to it here if you like!)

Demetrius Romeo: Chris, where did We Can Be Heroes come from?

CHRIS LILLEY: It came mostly from me just wanting to play a whole bunch of different characters. I just wanted the challenge of being able to play male and female characters, Asian, young, old… I wanted to do five different people who were ‘hero’ types – you know, the sporting hero, the inventor, the medical miracle – and eventually have them meet and interact and that was the basis of it. And the format of ‘Australian of the Year’ awards was just a device to be able to do that, to have them all heading towards something.

Demetrius Romeo: Some of the comedy you come up with is kind of ‘wrong’ comedy, and I’m thinking the whole Ricky Wong being the Chinese physics student who’s involved in the musical about Aborigines called Indigeridoo. A lot of the time we’d give that sort of humour a wide berth without exploring it, whereas you’ve taken it head on.

CHRIS LILLEY: Well that was the idea; I thought, they’re the taboo things: you’re not allowed to impersonate an Asian person if you’re not Asian and you’re not allowed to… you’re barely allowed to mention Aboriginal people, certainly not impersonate them. And so I combined that to have a Chinese student dressing up as an Aboriginal person. So I’m just exaggerating it to try and be funny.

Demetrius Romeo: Chris, you do disturbingly accurate women. When you ‘frock up’, it’s scary.

CHRIS LILLEY: Well, I wanted to do it all accurately, and I think you have to just give over to it and just try to nail it and not be perceived as being anything ‘weird’. I think you just have to get into it and I tried to do that. I was surprised at how real it was. One of the executives at the ABC found Pat Mullins, the middle aged woman – she said, “that was your most real performance out of all the characters”. So, I don’t know, it’s a bit weird.

Demetrius Romeo: Chris Lilley, thank you very much.

CHRIS LILLEY: Thank you!


Music Nerdery

A regular Tuesday night feature on James O’Loghlin’s evening show on ABC 702 is the presence of a music critic who plays a bunch of songs around a specific theme. Listeners phone in with more suggestions along those lines, and generally chat about music. I’ve had the opportunity to play the role of the music nerd a couple of times, I’m happy to say, I’ve picked a few interesting themes. I’ll try and list them from memory, but the examples are in no way exhaustive.

Songs of Youthful Innocence

Happy Jack’ – The Who

Games Without Frontiers’ – Peter Gabriel

Effervescing Elephant’ – Syd Barrett

Itchycoo Park’ – The Small Faces

There Is A Happy Land’ – David Bowie

Songs about Cars and Driving

Helen Wheels’ – Paul McCartney and Wings

I’m In Love With My Car’ – Queen

Roadrunner’ – Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers

You Can’t Catch Me’ – John Lennon’s Rock ’n’ Roll cover of Chuck Berry, so I could tell the story of Morris Levy, and how that Jewish mafioso on The Sopranos, Hesh Rabkin, is based on Levy

Songs by Singers Begat by Other Singers

These Boots Were Made For Walking’ – Nancy Sinatra

My Mother Is A Space Cadet’ – Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa

probably ‘Hallelujah’ – Jeff Buckley


You get the idea.

The most interesting one was a bunch of songs about monkeys. Do you think you can fill an hour with songs about monkeys? To be fair, with the news that tops and tails the hour plus chatting and listeners’ feedback, you only need about six songs. But can you even name two off the top of your head?

Here are a few examples: ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; ‘Monkey To Man’ – Elvis Costello and ‘The Monkey’, by Dave Bartholomew, who inspired the Costello song; ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ – The Travelling Wilburys; ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey’ – The Beatles, ‘Funky Gibbon’ – The Goodies; ‘Ape Man’ by The Kinks. And to be honest, I didn’t actually play the last two, so there are actually more than you imagine.

From this brief overview, I admit that there is a broad pattern forming: there’s almost always going to be a Beatles song, a Bowie song and an Elvis Costello song. That’s because they are among my favourite artists, and so their work comes to mind rather easily.

I’ve been asked to provide a segment for Tuesday 26th, and I’m thinking of trying a theme I’ve tried once before, that’s been knocked back on grounds of taste. I’d like to play songs inspired by madness. I think it can be done tastefully, and I think that it is particularly significant at this time, when newspaper headlines are telling us that police are arresting and locking up the mentally ill because sufferers are not being adequately taken care of by the healthcare system. Maybe charity helplines should be advertised between tracks.

I know this is going to be a hard sell, but I think the arts have always been an outlet by creative people exploring the workings of their minds, for better or worse, tastefully or otherwise.

Here are some samples I have come up with:

Brain Damage/Eclipse

Apparently Pink Floyd were drawing inspiration from their departed founding member and former lead guitarist Syd Barrett, for whom the mind-altering chemicals became too much. The song is the last on the masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon, a concept album that ends – if you turn the volume all the way up to catch it – with these depressing words: “there is no dark side o’ the moon, really; matter of fact, it’s all dark”.

Psycho

I forget who sings the original, although I’m sure I own – or at least listened to a lot with a view to owning, when I was working in a High Fidelity-type record shop – a seven-inch single of the original, repressed on Glenn A Baker’s Raven Records label. I also have the Beasts of Bourbon’s version on their debut album Axeman’s Jazz as well as Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ live version from either of the expanded, re-issue versions of Almost Blue. I love the song because it is dark, foreboding and a prime example of a genre known as ‘Southern Gothic’ – kind of all that dark Eastern European superstition, taken from the sheer mountaintops of countries tormented by mad barons who turn into vampires or build Frankenstein’s monsters, and relocated to the deep south of the United States.

David Bowie

I name the artist rather than the song because this particular artist has so many examples to choose from. It turns out that Bowie’s half-brother Terry, who exerted a lot of influence – as big brothers do — on the developing talents of young David Robert Jones, died a tragic death connected to the mental anquish he suffered. At least, that’s how I understand it, never having spoken about it first hand with Bowie. Yet madness features throughout the Dame’s oeuvre. It’s a hard choice, but I’d easily overlook the textbook ‘All the Madmen’, or ‘Aladdin Sane’ (despite the latter’s gorgeous grand piano, couresy of Mike Garson) – and ‘Jump They Say’ probably doesn’t even come close – for ‘Kooks’, a delightful little ballad that appears on breakthrough album Hunky Dory. I like it because it is an eccentric ditty welcoming a new child to the eccentric family – you can imagine that Bowie wrote it specifically to welcome the birth of son Zowie.

Beware of Darkness

Whenever I listen to this thoughtful number from All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s first solo album proper recorded as the Beatles fell apart, I picture him lying awake after one hippie joint too many has sent his mind wandering in circles, not just helplessly, but unhelpfully. Apparently the early draft was called ‘Beware of ABKCO’, the company headed by Allen Klein (‘Allen and Betty Klein and Co, in fact) who was representing Harrison, Lennon and Starr while Paul McCartney sued for the disolution of the partnership that had been Beatles Ltd. “Watch out now, take care, beware of thoughts that linger…” (except that brilliant Liverpudlian accent renders ‘take care’ and ‘beware’ as ‘take kerr’ and ‘bewerr’…)

And one of my personal favourites: ‘Uncorrected Personality Traits

This is another eccentric little ditty by Robyn Hitchcock, the last of the great British eccentrics. I can’t remember what album it’s from, but it’s certainly a solo effort – something that came between the passing of his punk band The Soft Boys and his later band The Egyptians. It deals with more Freudian concepts of unwellness: “Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child may prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult.”


Any other suggestions? Feel free to comment.


Tim Lords It With Time Lords

Drwho

WARNING: the introduction to this interview contains some adult concepts.

Okay, so I’m reading, in that bastion of parochial gossip, council in-fighting and mediocre arts reportage known as The Manly Daily, that there is a Doctor Who-related show coming to Sydney called Doctor Who Inside the TARDIS. It will feature
Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor
and Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor, as well as Katy Manning, who was Jo Grant, the assistant to the third Doctor Jon Pertwee and who, I believe, has lived in Manly for the last few decades, give or take. But what really grabs me is that the show is being MC’d by Tim Ferguson, who used to be part of my favourite musical comedy trio, the Doug Anthony Allstars.

In fact, this won’t be the first time Ferguson and Manning shared a stage: way back in 1994, my favourite media eccentric Maynard F# Crabbes (it’s a play on the name of the character ‘Maynard G. Krebs’, from a show I’ve never seen called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which featured BobGilligan’s IslandDenver as the beatnik or hippie or something called Maynard) hosted a live variety show at a club called Kinselas. The show was called – wait for it – Fist Me TV (“because,” Maynard explained to me in an interview at the time, “everybody fucks but not everybody fists”) and it was being filmed as a pilot with some idea of trying to sell it to television. “Yeah, right,” you’re thinking, “who honestly believes that they could market a live variety show on television and call it Fist Me TV?” Well it never did get to television, but don’t gloat so knowingly just yet – shortly thereafter the rampaging Roy Slaven and HG Nelson (Roy & HG) got their own live variety show on television. It was called Club Buggery. Some other philosopher can tease out the ramifications of the differences between fisting and buggery, particularly as they may pertain to humour (or a lack thereof) as this has been a distracting enough tangent as it is.

Anyway.

At one of the performances of Fist Me TV, the Doug Anthony Allstars shared the bill with Katy Manning and Barry Crocker. Although Crocker has been Manning’s partner since 1989, he also has a history with the Allstars: he sang lead on their rendition of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (one of several featured on the Andrew Denton-hosted show Money or the Gun – but that really is a whole other story).

So, anyway, after all of these inter-related bits of trivia made themselves apparent in my brain, I decided I wanted to interview someone about this, and thought that it would be as good an excuse as any to catch up with Tim Ferguson. I gather that his role is largely that of a ‘Dorothy Dix’ – setting up the questions like a parliamentary stooge, in order to let the Right Honourable Minister for Whatever to shine in giving the rehearsed answer. Not that this is a bad thing: that’s how the recent Goodies tour was structured, right down to the clips and the radio play, and it worked a treat!

Here’s a transcript of the interview. Why not listen to the recording of it, underscored with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s original Doctor Who theme? You can find an MP3 here. A shorter version went to air on ABC NewsRadio on the morning of the first performance. If you are interested, here are the tour dates.


Demetrius Romeo: Hi Tim, how are ya?

TIM FERGUSON: Oh, good!

Demetrius Romeo: I wanna talk to you about this Doctor Who thing that’s going on.

TIM FERGUSON: Well the Doctors are here. We’ve been rehearsing the last couple of days. They are, as you know, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and we’ve just been putting this little puppy together.

Demetrius Romeo: How did you come to be involved in this project?

TIM FERGUSON: Well I think I was outed as a science fiction fan long ago and so I guess the guys who came up with the idea thought that they could call me and I wouldn’t hang up. In fact I would begin stalking the cast. Already I have eight autographs from each of them. Whenever I see a Doctor with nothing to do I grab something and make him sign it. I figure a guy has to make a buck out of this.

Demetrius Romeo: What have you had them autograph?

TIM FERGUSON: Well, there was a plunger, of course, t-shirts, underpants, baseball caps – you know, the usual.

Demetrius Romeo: Uh-huh. Good, good. Now, Katy Manning’s involved in this as well.

TIM FERGUSON: You bet! Lively, vivacious Katy Manning is one of our three guests. She’s going to be telling the stories of what it was like to be a plucky companion to Jon Pertwee.

Demetrius Romeo: In addition to telling stories, there are also clips being shown…

TIM FERGUSON: Yeah! We’ve got all sorts of clips from right across the series. All the monstors and creatures and evil doers… The Master, of course, who really picked a good name for himself. I mean, if you are going to dominate the universe, you don’t want to just be called ‘Basil’. “I am Basil…” You want to be able to say, “I am the Master” so that right off the bat, once people have met you, they have an idea of basically what your role is going to be in the universe.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, speaking of ‘roles in the universe’, in a way, you’re the Master – of ceremonies.

TIM FERGUSON: Yes, ‘The Master’… of ceremonies.

Demetrius Romeo: Not ‘The Basil’ of ceremonies.

TIM FERGUSON: No, unfortunately, he’s much funnier than me. It’s my job just to ask the Doctors questions, keep things moving. I’ve been co-writing a radio play; an original premiere performance of a radio play will be happening starring both Doctors, Katy Manning and myself. That’s part of our second act. We’ve just completed writing the thing and I think it’s very dramatic. It’s terrifying; it’s scary.

Demetrius Romeo: Excellent! Now, Sylvester McCoy, to me, always struck me as a very different Doctor because he had that other career before he became a Doctor that was kind of more cabaret and vaudeville.

TIM FERGUSON: Yes, he did study to become a priest. And I think he started from a young age, studying that. I think he said he began at eleven and finally gave that away. Oh, you’re talking about the vaudeville stuff! Of course! After the priesthood he became very much a clown on vaudeville stages of London, the West End… He can play the spoons. He did an act where he stuffed ferrets down his trousers.

Demetrius Romeo: I remember an act where someone got a nail nailed into their nasal cavity…

TIM FERGUSON: That was him! In the Secret Policeman’s Ball.

Demetrius Romeo: That’s right.

TIM FERGUSON: A guy has to have a hobby, and when you’re not being a Timelord you have to think of ways to pass the time, I guess.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, I’ve got to ask you, Tim, being a science fiction nut and all, what do you thing of Doctor number nine that’s currently on our screens?

TIM FERGUSON: I love Christopher Eccleston. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s a bit kooky, he’s a bit groovy, he’s a little bit nerdy… and Rose, his plucky companion, is terrific! She’s enthusiastic, asks a lot of questions: just what you want from a plucky sidekick.

Demetrius Romeo: Now is there anything you’ve learnt from this that you didn’t know before, being a science fiction buff yourself?

TIM FERGUSON: I didn’t know that Colin Baker had a different pussycat badge on his jacket every episode.

Demetrius Romeo: I didn’t even know he had a pussycat badge! I’m just a day-tripper.

TIM FERGUSON: That’s right, it’s been quite a revelation. I have to go back over the tapes.

Demetrius Romeo: Tim, thanks very much.

TIM FERGUSON: Okay. And no ferrets were killed in the making of this interview.

Demetrius Romeo: Excellent.

TIM FERGUSON: Thanks Dom.

Demetrius Romeo: See you, mate.