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What’s in a name?


Two days a week I work in a ‘High Fidelity’ kind of store, called Egg Records. Yesterday, while I’m tidying up the ‘soul’ section, I see, out of the corner of my eye, a little old man holding a Zappa album. It’s a copy of Absolutely Free, a first US pressing on the Verve label, and I'm pretty excited; we've got $50 (Australian) on it; that’s a nice one-off sale to make, and, more interestingly, although hardcore fans are willing to make such a purchase, such fans rarely happen to be little old men.

A little while later, the old man comes up to the counter holding a record in each hand. He brings the Zappa album forward and drawls, in an old man kind of drawl, “this one says ‘Absolutely Free’.”

“I'm sorry, Sir,” I reply, as straight-faced and polite as possible, “that is in fact the title of the album.” I point to the price tag, to show him as I tell him that it actually says ‘fifty dollars’.

So he hands the record to me. He doesn't want it at that price. He only wants it if it is absolutely free. 

“What about this one?” he drawls, proffering the record in his other hand. It turns out to be a Tom Waits album… the one called… (wait for it)… Small Change!


Before he can whip out some pocket shrapnel, I let him know that once again, ‘Small Change’ is the album title, so rather than forty-five cents, or thrupence, or whatever jangly combination happens to reside his coin pocket, the price, as stated on the price tag, is seventeen dollars.

I guess I’m just glad he hadn’t tried to purchase a copy of that live charity album that the Oxbridge mafia comedians like the Pythons, the Goodies, Peter Cook and Alan Bennett recorded for Amnesty International in the mid-70s. 

Its cover says ‘A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick)’!


How Much Can A Koala Bear?

Photo by Regina Bermes/laif Germany

According to environmental activists, the koala, a marsupial native to the eastern states of Australia, will be extinct within fifteen years as a result of the rapid urbanisation that is destroying their habitat. The Australian Koala Foundation reports that

a survey of 1,000 Koala habitats found thirty percent no longer had a koala in them and sixty percent had suffered widespread destruction.

Furthermore, whereas there was an estimated seven to ten million koalas in Australia prior to white settlement in 1788, there are now a hundred thousand. And despite there being no natural predator of the koala, about four thousand are killed each year by dogs and cars.

The complete article can be found on the Planet Ark website. For more information, contact the Australian Koala Foundation.

An Excess (ANXS):
Too Many Leather-Trouser’d Lead Vocalists


No, the 21st Century Doors are not in need of a new replacement for Ian Astbury, former front-man of the Cult, currently filling in for the long-gone Lizard King Jim Morrison.

It turns out that INXS are on the hunt for a new lead vocalist. Again. You may recall that Jon Stevens (former front-man of Noiseworks), Terence Trent D’Arby and Jimmy Barnes have all had a go at being part of INXS.

Now INXS have decided to combine their inability to permanently replace the late Michael Hutchence with that vile contemporary television genre ‘reality TV’, in the BBC series Rock Star. Produced by the company responsible for (amongst other examples of televisual ‘crimes against humanity’, I’m sure) Survivor and The Apprentice , Rock Star will see the band auditioning hopefuls in five continents. The difference will be, unlike other reality TV shows, the viewing audience doesn’t get to pick the winner. That’s up to the band. Although, let’s face it, the audience will continue to pick the loser – in each instance, he’s the guy foolish enough to think it’s a worthwhile occupation, being a poor man’s poor man’s poor man’s Michael Hutchence.

Thus, this year’s Jon Stevens/Terence Trent D’Arby/Barnesy will get his proverbial fifteen minutes, recording an album (I bet you can’t wait to hear that one, either!) and touring with the band (I’m starting the queue outside the ticket office as soon as I hit the ‘send’ button!)

But what of the fourth- and fifth-rate Michael Hutchences, the ones who aren’t even good enough to front reality TV INXS? Surely they must receive some lurks and perks; even final round Big Brother evictees get to make shopping mall appearances, flounce around almost trendy nightclubs and do a spot of fundraising for Planet Ark and the like. Shouldn’t some of the better also-rans, the not-quite-as-crap contestants, have a moment in the sun? They could date Dannii Minogue for a couple of weeks (since only the winner could actually justify having a stab at Kylie), and maybe occasionally babysit Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, Pixie and Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily for Sir Bob Geldof.

However, if there’s any justice, many years from now that special someone who actually does win the competition and fronts INXS for a time, will wrangle the right to tour with a pick-up band of random musicians under the name ‘INXS’, much as the Beach Boys, the Byrds and the Little River Band have been able to soldier on with a distinct lack of founding members, much to those founding members’ collective chagrin. Then Gary Garry Garrry Garrrry Beers, the Farriss quintuplets and Kirk Pen-Gin-Gan-Goolie will have to tour with a stupid tie-in name, like ‘Modest Sufficiency’, or some such.


While surfing the net to find background information, I chanced upon the ‘news’ section of the band’s own homepage. Therein is listed a eulogy for Ray Charles, bearing the subheading

Famed INXS collaborator dies at 73

Now listen up, folks: Ray Charles is famed for many things, but collaborating with INXS ain’t one of them.

The article actually begins by claiming that Ray Charles “virtually invented the genre known as ‘soul’” – which is true enough – but then claims that Charles, who “rarely involved himself with rock ’n’ roll”, did the monumental thing of “making an exception” in order to work with INXS on the track ‘Please (You Got That…)’ from the 1993 Full Moon Dirty Hearts album.

What’s that you say? Can’t remember how that particular ditty goes? I only can just remember the album, but I certainly don’t remember that song screaming up the charts either. Yet, that’s by-the-by, because in the first place, the early recordings that Ray Charles made that led to what we now call ‘soul’ were steps in the direction to what we also call rock ’n’ roll. The twelve-bar blues of ‘What’d I Say’ was, for it’s time, virtually ‘none more rock’! So this glorifying of INXS with the still-warm corpse of Ray Charles is merely dodgy rhetoric, and were I to employ dodgy rhetoric of my own, I’d class it as a kind of necrophilia, metophoric though it is. However, given that it is still just rhetoric, a more accurate reading of the collaboration would be to describe it thus:

‘The Atlantic label in America (to whom the band was signed, State-side) tried to earn INXS some vintage rock cred and therefore a wider audience by teaming them up with another artist in the roster who could have probably done with a bigger market share at the time.’

I mean, really.

Of course, when you keep reading, you realise the true intent of the article: not to commemorate the passing of a great musician, or to commemorate a great moment in musical collaboration, if indeed the collaboration between INXS and Charles could be deemed ‘great’; what it is, ultimately, is an advertisement for a forthcoming DVD:

An alluring video was made for the song, directed by Matt Mahurin, and can be found on the eagerly awaited I'm Only Looking/ The Best Of INXS DVD coming in July.

And they have the audacity to give the advertorial the title Ray Charles R.I.P.

“Why you, I orta…” – an old interview with Lano & Woodley regarding their show Bruiser

Cleaning out an old hotmail folder, I discovered the text of an old interview conducted with Colin Lane and Frank Wood, those Clowned Princes of Physical Comedy more popularly known as Lano & Woodley in 2002, for their Sydney Opera House Studio season of Bruiser. I daresay that this was their last Sydney run of shows. They ought to perform here again, dammit.

The article appeared in Revolver in March 2002.

“I don’t want to undermine what we’re doing, because we’re trying to get people to come and see our shows by doing these interviews. But there’s no great skill involved.” This disingenuous self-deprecation comes from Colin Lane, as a response to my observation of a seminal aspect of his stage character. Colin has a tendency to laugh like a maniac while his bottom jaw shudders, like some evil robot from a Saturday morning cartoon. He claims it’s “a complete lack of self-respect” that leads him, in an apparent absence of the ability to write anything, to instead laugh loudly and do the jaw thing. That people continue to pay attention to him because (or maybe even despite) it means that he’s “gonna keep doing it”.

Colin’s comedy partner Frank Woodley has a similarly character-defining physical idiosyncrasy, which Colin sums up as Frank’s ability to “run on stage and wiggle his hands a bit to demonstrate how much of a goof-ball he is.” According to Frank, this hand-wiggling activity “doesn’t come easy”; he has to practice “six or seven hours a day” to perfect it. Colin reckons Frank mastered this talent with the completion of a “ten-year course in Being a Dickwit” at France’s “Le Coque-Up” college.

Ladies and gentlemen, just in case you hadn’t worked it out for yourselves, may I present to you that delightfully juvenile pair of clowns known as Lano and Woodley.

It’s been some three years since Lano and Woodley last performed in Sydney. They played the Seymour Centre then, and Woodley remembers David Suzuki delivering a lecture in one of the other theatres. “I snuck in to hear him talking about the end of planet earth as we know it,” he says, “and had to rush out to do our show. For the first ten minutes, I was trying to be Mr Funny Silly Clown Man, just thinking, ‘we’re all doomed!’”

That the pair are playing the Opera House this time around is kind of funny in its incongruity – particularly when you realise that their show is called ‘Bruiser’. Set in a gym, the action sees Lano and Woodley take turns at playing a muscle-bound oaf and the oaf’s spunky girlfriend – with whom Woodley falls in love – in addition to playing each other. ‘Bruiser’ had its premier at last year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival in an equally incongruous venue – a rather gorgeous sandstone church hall with stained glass windows. “It’s part of the Uniting Church” Colin explains. “There have been letters of warning as to the type of material they allow in their building.” Does Lano and Woodley in drag, beating each other up in a boxing ring, fall within the proscribed guidelines? Yes, says Frank: “They felt that it conveyed the teachings of our Lord Jesus adequately.”

Keeping with the theme of the show, I choose not to pull punches, and point out that ‘Bruiser’ features many older Lano and Woodley routines. “Well,” says Woodley, “we believe in recycling. That was the David Suzuki influence. Ever since that performance, we’ve been really dedicated to energy efficiency.” Lano, on the other hand, reckons it’s only the hardcore train spotters who quibble about the presence of old routines in their contemporary material. “A lot of the people come and enjoy it no matter what vintage,” he says. “It’s like a vintage car: it gets funnier as it gets older.”

‘Bruiser’ certainly gets funnier as it gets older: having done the show “about a hundred times” since last year’s Melbourne premiere, it’s become “a lot more refined”. “We’ve read the script now,” Colin Lane says. “Basically, we write the script, then put it on, then figure out what works and chuck out the things that don’t.” Some of the stuff that hasn’t been chucked out includes a very funny photomontage, and some shadow puppetry. However, according to Lano, the shadow puppetry remains only because it has improved. “Last year in Melbourne, it was really, really shit shadow puppetry, and now it’s just pretty shit shadow puppetry,” he says.

“By the time it gets to Sydney, it might even just be shit,” Woodley adds.

While the hardcore trainspotters remember fondly Lano and Woodley’s book ‘Housemeeting’, and their television show ‘The Adventures of Lano and Woodley’, more projects of this nature are unlikely. As far as the book is concerned, Lano says they’re “a bit pissed off that the Education Department didn’t include it on the HSC reading list; we’ve taken that as a literary snub.” And rather than more television, the pair currently have a film script in development. However, they have also made a bunch of short films that will feature in their Melbourne Comedy Festival offering this year – and maybe on their website. Ultimately, though, it is the live work that they enjoy the most. “It seems to be going quite well,” says Lano. “We’re happy and chuffed to still be able to be able to do this. After thirteen years of mucking around together, it’s not a bad way to be making a living and I thank the Lord to be able to do it.”

Tripod on Lady Robots and Fegh Maha

This interview with Tripod lasted about half an hour and was most enjoyable. I’d forgotten how much fun it could be to interview someone you genuinely admire when they are happy to be interviewed.

The finished interview conveyed the fun we were having, even if most of the laughter and silliness was removed. However, for the purposes of this blog, a vanity project if ever there was one, I reinstate the unmitigated praise and some of the other questions and answers that had to be cut. They appear struck through.

This interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on June 5 2004, a week before Tripod’s run of Lady Robots ended at Brisbane’s Powerhouse. Tripod’s new album Fegh Maha is so good that it has me hanging out for the opportunity to see them live on stage again.

If you want to hear the broadcast version, an MP3 of it resides here.

Soundbite: ‘Ghost Ship’ - from the albumFegh Maha

The murderers, the thieves and the fraudulent.
The overweight, the working class, and the foreigners –
They all must beware for, what’s that looming there?
An evil spectre on the sea…

Ghost ship!
Ghost ship!
Ghost ship – coming to get them.
Ghost ship – sinners beware!
Ghost ship – ain’t no escaping
The ghost ship coming there…

Demetrius Romeo: Yon, Scod, Gatesy, I’ve got to be honest with you. I find it difficult to tell you guys apart. In the first place you have funny names. In the second place I only know you as the ‘gorgeous one’, the ‘nerd’ and the ‘weird one’, and I’m not naming names here, ’cause what I consider gorgeous might be totally different to what you think people consider gorgeous.

GATESY: Oh no, I’m gorgeous; I’m really gorgeous.

SCOD: He is.

YON: He’s hot.

Demetrius Romeo: Can I just get you guys to introduce yourselves?

SCOD: Sure. I’m starting. This is me. I’ve got glasses on, I’ve got a slightly receding hairline. My name’s Scod. I play guitar most of the time in Tripod.

YON: This is Yon. I’m the one with the big eyes. I’m told I have a ‘biscuit voice’ so just think ‘biscuit voice’, ‘big eyes’.

GATESY: And I’m Gatesy – obscenely talented.

Soundbite: ‘Apparently’ from the album Open Slather (and Open Slather Special Christmas Edition)

Apparently (apparently, pparently, pparently)
They have the technology (technology, nology, nology)
To track any stolen mobile
All you have to do
Is get the police to go out and arrest
Everyone with a stolen mobile phone.
And that is too much of a sacrifice!

Demetrius Romeo: When I first encountered Tripod some time ago, I was told that you guys were essentially yourselves, taken out of the shower, clothed and put on stage. Does this description still hold true?

YON: Well, it does, but sometimes we don’t shower before the show.

GATESY: Rarely, do we shower before the show, actually. We shower after the show. We have to cleans ourselves.

SCOD: Yeah, it’s true. We’re still ourselves. Big versions thereof.

YON: We have to wash the ‘funny’ off, because we’re just too funny in real life. It becomes too much.

GATESY: That’s true.

Demetrius Romeo: How, essentially, did the three of you get together?

SCOD: Well we were in music theatre and bad bands around Melbourne for a long time.

I was in a band called ‘Heck’ but I got kicked out for suggesting a jazz song. It was a pub band, and I wanted to do ‘Dream a Little Dream of You’. I got a phone call the next day.

And then I met Yon at university music theatre. Yon had already been kicking around with Gatesy before that.

GATESY: We had been kicking out the jams. We were rockin’ on the sidewalks, Yon and I.

YON: We were playing in a pub called ‘Cheers’. You know the TV show? It was sort of a theme pub based on that. The clients weren’t as funny as they are on the TV show.

Soundbite: ‘Cuckold’ from the album Open Slather (and Open Slather Special Christmas Edition)

I am now a cuckold.
She cuckolded me.
Yeah, when your love is loving someone else,
A cuckold will you be.

Her cuckoldastic tendencies
Have brought me to my knees.
Oh please, I reminisce on my
Pre-cuckicious period.

And these cuckolditory things
That make me post-cuckoldic…

Demetrius Romeo: From playing with each other in different bands and knowing each other from different places, how did the trio get together?

YON: We sort of started informally, mucking around in intervals in shows and stuff, and then we started busking, and slowly developed out of that. And then, as we each came to a loose end in our other human pursuits, we ended up making more of a go of it in Tripod.

SCOD: Yeah, we sort of drifted up onto the shores of comedy, didn’t we.

YON: Sometimes I think a job finds you; it certainly has in our case.

Soundbite: ‘I Always Get Into Stuff’ from the album Fegh Maha

I’m never too far behind;
I follow the trends
But I never take any risks.
I’m not ahead of the pack,
I’m just with the pack
Towards the back.

I’m not the middle-of-the-road,
But it’s a safe distance from where I stand.
I’ve got the ‘Greatest Hits’
Of some very cutting-edge bands…

Demetrius Romeo: Now, in a lot of ways you reached the broader audience when you started doing the ‘song in an hour challenge’, a little while ago now. How did the ‘song in an hour challenge’ begin?

GATESY: It sort of didn’t have anything to do with Tripod in the beginning. Merrick & Rosso asked a guy called Peter Hellier to put together this challenge; his challenges were to find these celebrities, these people who don’t really exist in the world anymore. One of them was Bevan Addinsall, and his challenge was to write a musical about Bevan Adinsall’s life, and he asked me if I could help him with it. We knocked this thing up very quickly…

Soundbite: ‘Knockin’ on Bevan’s Door’ section of Bevan the Musical

Take Debbie Byrne away from me.
’Cause I can’t use her anymore.
She’s gettin’ too old for Y.T.T.
Now I’m knockin’ on Bevan’s door.
I, hi-aye-aye – I’m knock, knock, knockin’
On Bevan’s door…

GATESY: I just used ‘Bevan’; rhymed his name with ‘heaven’.

Soundbite: ‘Bevan (Must Be There)’ section of Bevan the Musical

Ooooooh, I’m searchin’ for a better guy
Whoooooo’d look good in a pink jacket with a skinny tie.
Must be there.
You know he’s got to be there.
Yeah, Bevan

GATESY: I got all the songs I could possibly do…

SCOD: Genius!

Soundbite: ‘Slice of Bevan’ section of Bevan the Musical

A shinin’ star is rising, get your
Slice of Bevan!

GATESY: … and it’s one joke. One joke!

Soundbite: ‘Stairway to Bevan’ section of Bevan the Musical

And they’re buying a stairway to Bevan!

Demetrius Romeo: Initially, topical stuff was your weakness. Is that still the case?

YON: Yeah. We like to see that weakness as a strength, but you are right. Topicality is still our weakness. We’re probably slightly better informed, but only through the topics we get given. We’ve sort of made a picture of world events based on what has been told to us on a Tuesday morning by Adam and Wil.

SCOD We sort of get our information of what’s going on in the world from the ‘Song in an Hour’ topics. And adds.

GATESY: Ignorance is bliss, and we want to be the happiest people alive, basically.

Demetrius Romeo: In your actual stage shows, fantasy plays a big role, particularly in your current show Lady Robots. Tell me what role fantasy plays in putting a show together.

GATESY: Whoah!

SCOD: Good question.

YON: Boy!

SCOD: I think, to do anything well, you have to have a lose grip on what is and isn’t possible. You’ve just got to be ambitious about what you can do, so being unrealistic and living in a bit of a fantasy world can tend to help you along, I think.

YON: Yeah. I think, in this show, the most outlandish ideas of what we want to portray – for example, a battle on a planet between a huge ATST Walker from Return of the Jedi and three guys – we do pull it off! So it’s giving yourself those challenges and then somehow trying to enact them. And it ends up being funny.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, the Star Wars figures are a recurring theme in your shows, I notice. They make an appearance in… oh, I’ll try to get it right: Tripod Tells The Tale Of The Adventures of Tosswinkle The Pirate (Not Very Well)

YON: Yep, that’s it.

SCOD: You’re very familiar with our oeuvre.

GATESY: I like this guy!

YON: He’s all over our oeuvre!

SCOD: He’s my favourite so far!

Demetrius Romeo: So why the Star Wars figures?

SCOD: It’s just a very powerful image; it really places who we are and where we come from, I think. It’s not even that thought out, it’s just,

‘I’ve got this thing at home that might be cool; shall I bring it in?’

‘It’s another Star Wars figure, isn’t it?’


YON: Yep!

Demetrius Romeo: Now that’s interesting: ‘where you come from’, and ‘whether or not the Star Wars figure is cool’; the ‘coolification’ of ‘nerdiness’ plays a big role in what you guys do.

YON: Well, you know, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, and if you do it with enough confidence, people believe you. That’s where we come from. There’s no point in trying to pretend that we were in the footy team.

Soundbite: ‘Science Facts Are Useful’ from the album About An Hour Of Song-In-An-Hour… Again

Well you may not see a scientist do rock ’n’ roll,
But they understand the mineral properties of ‘rock’,
As well as the physics of ‘roll’.

‘Oh, Mr Scientist, I’ve burnt my hand bone on a boiling water.

‘How do you know it was boiling? Was it bubbling?’

‘Ah, no.’

‘Then it wasn’t really boiling.’

‘I feel better already.’

‘Go Science!’

Demetrius Romeo: Now I notice with more recent work, and I’m trying hard not to give anything away, there are different fall guys. Each time you put on a new show, a different nerd becomes the hero. Is that fair comment?

SCOD: Without getting too ‘nuts and bolts’ about things, the status changes all the time in what we do.

YOD: The thing is, we’re all mongs. You can try and set the roles as the idiot, the stupid one and the smart one who has nothing wrong one but we just couldn’t carry it off.

SCOD: It’s not realistic.


Demetrius Romeo: So it was never a fixed thing?

YON: That’s the first thing that people probably see when we step on stage, but you can’t really maintain it for too long.

GATESY: It is really strange, people really do want to know who we are, what our characters are in a nutshell at the beginning, and they just take it as read. They just look at us and they judge us, basically.

YON: It’s a good starting point, though, because then you can play against their expectations.

GATESY: And that’s the fun bit.

Soundbite: ‘Everyone’s A Tosser’ from Tripod Tells The Tale of the Adventures of Tosswinkle the Pirate (Not Very Well)

Everybody’s a tosser,
Everyone’s a shmo,
From Robert Louis Stevenson,
To Edgar Allen Poe.

We're all bloody cockspanks,
The experts all agree.
The experts, they’re all tossers too.
Just like you and me! Ha ha ha!


The louder that you say you’re not,
The louder that you are.
You’re a bonehead!
You’re a franger!
You’re a spazmo!
You’re a shwanger!
You’re a tosser! It’s a fact you can’t ignore.
’Cause everyone's a tosser.
But you, slightly more.

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve got a new album out, ‘Fegh Maha’, and it’s a double CD. So much material; what’s the story?

SCOD: It’s our ‘White Album’.

YON: Yep, it is. You just put all the crap in it with the good stuff.

GATESY: And also, we haven’t had time; we just haven’t had time. I think our last one was in 2001.

SCOD: 2000. So all these recordings have been cropping up.

GATESY: Yeah, and we try to record wherever we are. Like on that CD there’s some moments at Brisbane Powerhouse, where we’re playing at the moment, and at the Hifi in Melbourne, and at another place called the Prince Pat; I mean, it’s all over the shop.

SCOD: We started off the year this year by listening literally, to three full days’ worth of tapes of our own material, which is the strangest experience.

GATESY: It’s a nightmare!

SCOD: It really is a nightmare.

YON: We had a good, hard, look at ourselves.

SCOD: Yeah. And we sort of forgot all the lessons that we learnt.

SCOD: If we were more ruthless than we wanted to be with cutting stuff, we could have fitted it on one album, but because it was recorded in a bunch of venues, it kind of just did feel like two things, so we put it together as two units.

Demetrius Romeo: Are there any songs that stick out as your favourite, or the night you really nailed that particular one?

SCOD: There’s this sort of ‘swingy’ one that we do, called – I always say ‘swing’; it’s hardly swing, it’s an acoustic guitar – but it’s called ‘Let’s Take A Walk’ and I think the version we did on the night at the Hifi was good.

YON: Yeah, yeah, I like that.

Soundbite: ‘Let’s Take A Walk’ from the album Fegh Maha

Let’s take a walk, my love,
Down by the river, my baby,
Down where we used to go
Until the day when we found that body.

Let’s not forget, my love,
It was our favourite spot once.
Please don’t let one bloated corpse
Ruin all our memories.

YON: There’s also a spiritual one called ‘Some Day The Lord’, which is in ‘Lady Robots’ as well, which I think is probably the only time we’ve ever sung it in tune, so thankfully that’s the one that got committed to tape.

Soundbite: ‘Someday The Lord’ from the album Fegh Maha

Someday the Lord’s gonna find me a loving girl.
He’ll set us up with a mansion and a trust fund.
And we won’t have to do anything all day.
We won’t have to work or even have to play.

We’ll be completely free of cares,
We’ll be suspended in a tank,
And he will feed us through a tube
’Cause he’s the Lord.

Demetrius Romeo: What does the title of the album Fegh Maha actually mean?

YON: Well, it’s the name of a tennis player from Morocco that we like.

SCOD: Yeah. He’s not a great tennis player, and he doesn’t really ‘go in’ that much…

YON: No, he’s not huge.

SCOD: Let me paint you a picture: he’s about six foot-seven, he’s bald, he’s got a temper, so he always puts on a show for the crowd, and he doesn’t really know the rules of tennis.

YON: He’s sort of like a black John McEnroe, without the talent.

GATESY: Very, very emotional individual.

SCOD: He’s all heart, Fegh Maha. That’s what we love about him.

GATESY: He’s all heart.

SCOD: He’s a triumph of heart over skill.

GATESY: I think he’s playing for the wrong reason. There, I said it.

SCOD: The wrong reasons? How d’you figure?

GATESY: I think it’s all about the fame, the money, and his heart…

YON: I think he’s just being himself.

GATESY: Yeah, anyway…

Demetrius Romeo: So why did you seek to immortalise Fegh Maha?

SCOD: His name’s fun to say: ‘Fegh Maha’!

GATESY: And he has brought us a lot of happiness over the last few tennis seasons.

Demetrius Romeo Now I’ve got to take issue with the statement that it’s your first album since 2000, but that suggests that you’re not taking into account your ‘Song in an Hour’ compilations.

YON: They sort of make themselves. We don’t count them, in a sense.

GATESY: We don’t take something that we’ve written in an hour very seriously, for some reason.

SCOD: It’s like this party trick that’s grown out of all proportion.

GATESY: Exactly!

YON: If it’s possible to say, that’s our novelty CD.

GATESY: It takes a lot more effort, heart and soul and arguments and hate and love into what we do usually.

SCOD: We’re working on another CD at the moment actually, which is the most exciting thing.

YON: Yeah, it should bring a lot more love and hate into the equation.

SCOD: Yeah, because it’s a full studio project with a band and everything. It’s songs from the sketch show that we’ve just finished doing and it’s going to be fully orchestrated versions, a la what we hear in our heads.

Demetrius Romeo: When you were first a bunch a singers, you didn’t do sketches between songs, you just kind of talked to each other and were silly. How has doing sketches on SkitHOUSE changed what you do as a trio of humorous musicians?

SCOD: Geez, that’s a good question!

GATESY: It is funny; from the beginning, especially when we started doing comedy, I reckon the second year we were at the Comedy Festival, we were actually starting to write ‘bits’ for in between songs. They were sort of character-driven, mini sketches, and even on the side, we used to do live shows and present video presentations and have little filmed little sketches that we played in between brackets, so it’s always been a direction we wanted to go in.

YON: But a lot of the ideas we would have, we would try to do them on stage, and sometimes they’d be a bit contrived because people watch us like they are watching a band that – hopefully – is funny and so if we start going into this thing of ‘let’s play charades’, sometimes…

SCOD: It’s a slightly long bow, sometimes…

GATESY: Massive!

SCOD: Thanks to SkitHOUSE, it puts you in the situation. There’s no translating to be done. And also, it’s really helped. Especially here in Brisbane, because we’re doing this narrative show and people key into straight away. They don’t come along expecting it to be a bunch of songs like usual. Because they’ve seen SkitHOUSE, they can buy into us as three characters in a story.

GATESY: In fact, we get audiences that have never even seen us perform live, so Lady Robots is what we do live, to them, which is, tell stories and sing crap.

Demetrius Romeo: But you were doing shows that consisted of stories with songs before.

YON: The Tosswinkle one, you mean? That’s the only one. And we’ve only done that in Melbourne and Adelaide. So for places like Brisbane, that’s the first time we’ve done anything like that.

Demetrius Romeo: Well then I’d better ask some specific questions that deal with that!

Yon, Scod and Gatesy all laugh.

Demetrius Romeo: No, I’m really professional, hang on…

GATESY: I know, this is great.

SCOD: I’m enjoying this.

YON: Yeah.

Demetrius Romeo: With Lady Robots, did you find that you had a bunch of songs that you happened to have written that fit together, and therefore suggested a story, or did you go, ‘let’s write a science fiction story’?

YON: No, I’ll tell you, at the start we really tried to shoe-horn as many pre-existing songs as we could into the show, but one by one, they just dropped off. Although, thankfully, there was one song we wrote since doing the first season of Lady Robots, which fit in really well, which we hadn’t written purposely for it.

SCOD: The show Lady Robots started with an e-mail going around saying, ‘maybe we should do a post-apocalyptic nightmare vision of the future… comedy… with songs’… it comes back to that stupid ambition I was talking about before. But then it all got pared away and became this other thing.

Demetrius Romeo: Did it become pared away? Because in a lot of ways, I see Lady Robots as ‘Tripod go prog’, because you’ve got your send up of Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ with the Richard Burton narrative thrown in.

SCOD: Yeah. I think you may be our target audience, actually, if I’m not mistaken.

GATESY: Can you come again? That’d be good.

YON: Can you write our reviews?

SCOD: It has got a lot in it in terms of references to stuff we’re into and it’s certainly rich with that sort of material if people are looking for it. There are always little quotes and stuff in there that I’m hoping people will get that they don’t always.

Demetrius Romeo: But then you’ve got things like ’The Nachos Brothers’ which is just funny.

YON: ‘The Nachos Brothers’!

Demetrius Romeo: Have I got it wrong?

YON: They’re called ‘The Guitar Kings’.

GATESY: But your favourite ‘Guitar King’ was Nachos, wasn’t he? Yes. That was my character. Yes.

SCOD: Yes, a lot of it’s just silly, but that example, ‘The Guitar Kings’, is kind of a piss-take on ourselves, really, on the kind of novelty act that people think we are.

GATESY: My favourite part of the Guitar Kings is we tell a joke, which, you know, rule of three, there are two set-ups and a tag. We don’t have that tag anymore, so all you’ve got are the two set-ups, and we panic and go, ‘uh, um… guitar!’ and start playing guitar.

SCOD: It’s our support structure, having a guitar there. We got accused of it being quite a cheap ploy, having a guitar in our act.

YON: People have always said it’s a six-stringed applause machine.

GATESY: Which it is, by the way.

SCOD: But it’s all a question of what your priorities are. I’m there to sing songs, to be honest, so you kind of need a guitar, really.

Demetrius Romeo: Now, when you guys were first coming up, you unfortunately were always compared to a previous trio with a guitar. Now that you’ve been around for a while and there are other musical acts starting to get a name, they get compared to you. How do you feel about that.

YON: I think it’s really nice, but anyone starting in anything, it’s very rare that someone starts out with their own unique thing, you know? You start out and you’ve seen other stuff and they loom big in your mind, the other acts you’ve seen, and it takes a while to get your own thing going, I reckon.

GATESY: Especially to change people’s minds, as we were saying before: one look at us, three voices and a guitar, they’ll immediately go, ‘oh, the Dougs’ or whatever. It’s just a matter of doing your stuff and showing people that that’s not what you do. In fact, we were the antithesis; we would go out of our way – or I would, personally – using the Dougs as a starting point and doing the absolute opposite…

SCOD: Which is also probably a bit of a trap too.

GATESY: Absolutely, because you’re not being yourself, or you’re not playing it truthfully.

SCOD: So many great, bizarre acts, certainly in music, have come out of people trying to do someone else’s material in their own weird way, and it’s become some whole other thing. Freddie Mercury was a… what was he? A huge Hendrix fan?

YON: Well, yeah, he was a Hendrix fan, he’s an opera fan, and him trying to do both is the Queen sound. It’s your failure to be able to copy someone that often gives you a style.

Demetrius Romeo: So what are you feelings on the multitude of music acts that are around now?

GATESY: Good luck to them, I reckon!

SCOD: I think it’s a good thing for – I don’t want to get wanky – theatre in general, that people are playing with forms and trying to see what’s possible in terms of elements they can bring to their act, be it music or costume or puppets… I’m waiting for another puppet comedian! The time is nigh…

Demetrius Romeo: Tripod, thank you very much.

SCOD & GATESY: Thank you.

YON: Thanks Dom.

Soundbite: ‘Jammin’ – from the album Fegh Maha

Garry McDonald on Norman Gunston, Mother & Son and Comedy


One of my favourite Aussie television moments involves Norman Gunston providing on-the-spot reports from a Logie Awards presentation from the late 80s. Child actor Rebecca Smart had appeared with Bryan Brown in the miniseries The Shiralee in 1989, and she was up for the ‘Best Actress in a Mini Series’ Logie. As she trod the red carpet upon arrival, Gunston stopped her to ask her to show us how she’d cry if she didn’t win the Logie she’d been nominated for. Then he enquired, “and if you don’t win, will you say that the girl who did win went ‘bye-byes’ with the judges?” She was about twelve years old at the time. Pretty funny stuff.

If you’re too young to know who Norman Gunston is, the best way to describe him is as the Australian pre-curser to Ali G. He basically played the fool, in order to disarm his interview subjects, taking the mickey out of himself in order to take the mickey out of them. Great examples of his work includes Muhammad Ali threatening to pulverise him, Warren Beatty not sure whether to be amused or offended when Norman asks him whether or not Carlie Simon did indeed write the song ‘The Impossible Dream’ about him, and Paul and Linda McCartney taking it in their stride when Gunston points out to Paul that his Missus doesn’t look in the least bit Oriental.

The Norman Gunston character first appeared on a legendary Australian comedy show, The Aunty Jack Show, which featured Grahame Bond as Aunty Jack. ‘She’ wore a dress, glasses, a big moustache and boxing gloves, and she rode a motorcycle. In addition to playing a character called ‘Kid Eager’, Garry McDonald was Norman Gunston, a ‘roving reporter’ who presented a show called What’s On In Wollongong on local television. Some bright spark recognised the potential in this character, and he was offered a tonight show of his own on ABC television in the mid-70s (at a time, it turns out, when John Laws was one of the people considered to host such a show!) Somewhere along the line, he was christened with the sobriquet ‘The Little Aussie Bleeder’. The name borrows from the term ‘little Aussie battler’ – used to describe any good bloke who, in the face of adversity, keeps his wits about him and does a good job without dropping his bundle or whinging or whining (watch any classic Australian cinema or recent filmed comedy and see that, traditionally, the Australian spirit is built as a result of being beaten physically and figuratively by the great powers that be, be they the government, other countries, the unforgiving land, or multinatural corporations) – and ‘bleeder’, an insult that seems to originate with haemophiliacs, but is applied to Gunston as a result of his shaving nicks.

Sadly, the Norman Gunston character was put to bed after an aborted ‘come back series’ in 1993. Suffering, at the time, from anxiety disorder, McDonald didn’t have the opportunity to hit his stride with the character again. However, between his own show in the mid-70s, and his aborted show in the early 90s, Norman Gunston became an Aussie television institution, doing what he did best – mickey-taking interviews and reports – on various occasions and for various shows. I remember him telling Gene Simmons, of band KISS that, at seven inches, he didn’t have the longest tongue; Norman had a relative with a bizarre disorder of the skin of his under-arms, and part of the treatment was having to keep them moist with his own saliva. As a result, this relative’s tongue had stretched to eleven inches. And interviewing Boy George of Culture Club, Gunston pointed out that he had an uncommon first name; the only other place he’d ever heard of anyone being called ‘Boy’ was in Tarzan films. Mr George took this with customary lack of humour.

The remarkable thing about Norman Gunston and his 1993 demise is that, by that stage, Garry McDonald had already made another of his screen characters popular amongst comedy lovers. Acting opposite Ruth Cracknell in a brilliant sitcom entitled Mother & Son, McDonald played Arthur Beare, a beleaguered and wimpy, divorced son living under the thumb of his exploitative mother. Written by Geoffrey Atherden and directed by Geoff Portmann, Mother & Son enjoyed six seasons over ten years and was winning awards up to its final season in 1994. Garry McDonald had effectively provided two of the most enduring comic characters of Australian television.

The following interview was conducted in honour of the fact that both The Gunston Tapes – a ‘best of’ compilation of the original Norman Gunston Show featuring brilliantly ridiculous interviews and a few sketches that haven’t quite aged as well – and the first season ofMother & Son are being released on DVD. I figure that I’d be one of the few people who would be able to furnish such an interview with excerpts from the Aunty Jack album, not to mention FZ:OZ, the live Zappa album (recorded in 1975 and released in 2002) that Norman Gunston guested on. When I made reference to the latter, Garry McDonald was a little bit embarrassed; during the course of his live cameo on stage at the Hordern Pavilion with Zappa and his band, Gunston perpetrated a politically incorrect gag that, nearly thirty years down the track, is most cringe-worthy. Don’t get hung up about it. Get off on the fine harmonica playing instead.

The interview was broadcast Saturday 5 June 2004. You can hear a podcast version of it here.


Soundbite: ‘Norman Gunston’s 2nd Dream’ – from The Auntyology (1972-1985), bonus disc accompanying the 1995 re-release of the Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong album on CD.

Met a man with a big cigar.
Said, ‘Come on, Mr Gunston,
Gonna make you a celebrity,’
Went into town on the 412 bus
And got the job.

So I went back home and
Made some toast and ate it.

I got the star-struck showbiz
Light the lights, hit the heights
What’s On In Wollongong blues.

Demetrius Romeo: Garry, the Norman Gunston character originated on the Aunty Jack Show in the early 70s. How did he come into being?

GARRY McDONALD: When I was about 13 I think, I went to see a documentary that was a big hit called Mondo Cane, and there was a segment in it that struck me as terribly funny, was where they went back to Rudolph Valentino’s hom town: all the young men in the town hoped that they were going to be kind of ‘discovered’. They all became like Elvis: they all dressed like him and slicked their hair back… There was one guy they panned across, and he was like Norman Gunston – he had this extraordinary lower jaw, and he just looked terribly amusing, and that developed then with a school friend. Whenever we wanted to make fun of something we would slip into that character with the shot jaw.

And so when I did a tour with David Frost – I was doing some sketches with him – we had a run-in with an an air hostess and she actually had this lower protruding mandible. She gave David Frost a really hard time on this flight. So when the Aunty Jack Show was offered to me there was a character in it that didn’t have a name, and he used to do reports from Wollongong. I thought it would be very funny if I did him like this character that I’d always done and I would name him with the same name as this woman, just as an in-joke. I bumped into her many years later on a plane and she came up to me and she said, ‘you know a lot of people say that that character’s based on me…’. I mean, the name was so close.

Soundbite: ‘Wollongong the Brave’ – from theAunty Jack Sings Wollongong album.

Oh, Wollongong the Brave!

Lift up your hand
To an Illawarra land,
Of Dapto, Port Kembula and thee

What should I say?
Should I just say ‘G’day?’
Wollongong the Brave!

Demetrius Romeo: How did Norman Gunston graduate from being a reporter in Wollongong to having his own tonight show?

GARRY McDONALD: Norman had worked – this is really politically incorrect nowadays – but he worked for a television station called WOG4; he had a current affairs program on it called What Did You Do Today? and that was shot from his living room, and one of the guests he had on it was woman that he’d met on the bus – things like that. So apparently John O’Grady, who was working at the ABC at the time, saw that and thought you could do a whole talk show around this character. At the time they were talking about having their own tonight show and O’Grady pushed for this Norman Gunston character and the idea then was that I'd be the only fictional thing in it; everything else would be real. We wouldn’t script anything else. I’d know what I was going to say and hopefully I’d know what I was going to answer to people.

Demetrius Romeo: Did you have to script two lots of responses, depending on which way the interviewee went after you asked them a question?

GARRY McDONALD: Not really, no.

Demetrius Romeo: So in some ways you were just winging it a lot of the time.

GARRY McDONALD: If the interview was going well, you could ad lib; there was no problem there. But if it wasn’t going well, you kind of had to stick to what you’d worked out.

Demetrius Romeo: I’m just amazed at things like Keith Moon losing it and tipping a drink on you.


Demetrius Romeo: How do you prepare yourself for such a potential…

GARRY McDONALD: Well I didn’t know that was going to happen. I had been told by the BBC producer that we had then, that he’d lined him up and he’d agreed to do it, so I thought, ‘fine’. Well he just came out of that car firing. I mean, I couldn’t open my eyes – that was half a bottle of vodka that he poured all over me. It was pretty dangerous, really, but he was a mad man. And of course, the other thing is that you’re always thinking, I can’t lose this bit of footage. You’re desperate not to lose it.

You know, when I did Sally Struthers, I really thought that interview wsas a disaster. She couldn’t stop laughing.

Soundbite: Interview with Sally Struthers (star of the 70s sitcom All in the Family) – from the DVD The Gunston Tapes

Sally Struthers: I'm sorry, I don't want to embarrass you, but you ought to use an electric razor.
Norman Gunston: Yeah… I do!

Sally Struthers proceeds to wet herself.

GARRY McDONALD: When John cut it together to put it to air, I looked at it and said, “you can’t put that to air, that’s self-indulgent”. He said, “what are you talking about, it’s great”, and I said, “no it’s not, it’s awful”, and of course it’s one of our most famous interviews.

Demetrius Romeo: Another person you clicked with was Frank Zappa. You even got up on stage with him on the ’76 Australian tour.

Soundbite: ‘The Torture Never Stops’ – from the Frank Zappa album FZ:OZ

Frank Zappa:: Ladies and gentlemen, Norman ‘Blind Lemon’ Gunston – the Little Aussie Bleeder!

Instrumental break ensues, featuring Norman Gunston’s harmonica solo.

GARRY McDONALD: I was young and thought, “what does he want me here for?” He actually said to me, “I don’t want you to do any jokes, I just want you to play.” At the time I was thinking he wanted me there just to give it a bit of local colour – but I didn’t think too much about the playing. Things like that wash over me – it’s really interesting.

Soundbite: ‘The Torture Never Stops’ – from the Frank Zappa album FZ:OZ

Instrumental break continues, featuring Norman Gunston’s harmonica solo.

Demetrius Romeo: When I watch Mother & Son, I’m just struck by how strong the characterisations are; the writing’s strong, but the acting also is very strong.

GARRY McDONALD: Yeah, it’s interesting – I did a film… which I’d like to forget; I’ve done many that I’d like to forget! But I did a film with Pamela Stephenson, and she’d just seen Mother & Son and she said to me, ‘very good acting’. But what I find interesting with comedy, what a lot of people don’t realise, is that you do need to have a good comedy director and there aren’t a lot of comedy directors. I mean, comedy is a very specialised field, and there are not too many people who know how to direct it. Geoff Portmann – Mother & Son was like his baby. Atherden’s scripts were great, but Portmann just held the style together. When we ever did anything that was just funny for no reason, he wouldn’t allow it. Everything had to come out of the situation and the characters. And for me, it was a bit of a stretch, because I had only ever done Norman Gunston. I had never done a sitcom. I was playing it a bit broadly at first, I was thinking you had to signal a bit. And Portmann would just stand there looking at me with a dreadful look on his face all the time, and I’d go, ‘what? What?’ and he’d go, ‘you’re mugging!’

Soundbite: Excerpt from ‘The Funeral’ episode of Mother & Son, from the Mother & Son DVD.

Liz (Judy Morris): People don’t just die like that.
Arthur (Garry McDonald): What do they do, Liz? Make an announcement?
Liz: We’ve just been to a funeral.
Arthur: Oh, you think he should have died there and saved us a second trip?
Liz: People don’t just come home from a funeral and keel over in someone else’s living room.
Arthur: Maybe Uncle Tom doesn’t know that.
Liz: Well he should!

GARRY McDONALD: That’s the problem: a lot of drama actors think that you approach comedy like you approach drama, and you don’t.

Demetrius Romeo: What’s the major difference?

GARRY McDONALD: It’s got to seem natural, but it’s not. But it has to seem natural. It’sheightened. But it has to seem natural. It has much more energy than drama. It moves at a brisker pace but it’s also more energetic. And it has the ability to turn on an emotional sixpence, which is very funny. But also, it’s all driven by the subtext, but you must never play the subtext. Once you play the subtext, it’s not funny, and that’s actually soap opera acting. It’s the subtext that drives it, but you musn’t show the subtext. It’s the duplicity that’s funny.

Soundbite: Excerpt from ‘The Promotion’ episode of Mother & Son, from the Mother & Son DVD.

Arthur: I don’t understand, Mum. Why did you keep telling me to go?
Maggie (Ruth Cracknell): Because I didn’t want to be in the way, and because I’m your mother, and because I didn’t think for one minute that you would go.
Arthur: Oh, mum!
Maggie: I did the right thing, Arthur, I told you to go. Why couldn’t you do the right thing and say ‘no’? The sad part is, I thought I could trust you.

Demetrius Romeo: Both Mother & Son and Norman Gunston came to an end around the same time in the early 90s; do you miss either of the characters?

GARRY McDONALD: I guess I miss Mother & Son. Oh! I miss Ruth. But I don’t miss doing Norman.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you glad that you did them?

GARRY McDONALD: Oh, God yeah! I mean, I really look on the Mother & Son period as the best training ground. That was the best training ground.

Demetrius Romeo: Garry McDonald, thank you very much.


Soundbite: Norman Gunston on harmonica jamming with Frank Zappa on guitar, from the end of Norman Gunston’s interview with Frank Zappa on The Gunston Tapes.

And here is the version of the interview written as narrative, for FilmInk. Obviously, there’ll be a witty title and hopefully a much stronger opening paragraph by the time it sees publication!

The rise of Norman Gunston is incredible. This legendary comic character of Aussie television, created and played by actor Garry McDonald, first appeared on the Aunty Jack Show in the early 70s. However, Garry says, the character first came into being after he saw the documentary Mondo Cane as a school kid.

“There was a segment where they went back to Rudolph Valentino’s home town. All the young men in the town hoped they were going to be discovered, so they dressed like Elvis and slicked their hair back.” One Elvis-wannabe stood out in particular. “He had this extraordinary lower jaw and he looked terribly amusing. That developed with a school friend: whenever we wanted to make fun of something, we would slip into that character with the shot jaw.”

When he was offered the role on the Aunty Jack Show, Garry relates, he created a character like the guy in the documentary, but crossed him with a stern stewardess – who had a similar “protruding mandible” – whom he had encountered while on tour with David Frost. Her name was the inspiration for ‘Norman Gunston’.

On Aunty Jack, Gunston presented the ‘What’s On In Wollongong’ segment. A subsequent one-off special had him hosting a current affairs program, ‘What Did You Do Today?’ featuring guests he’d met that afternoon on the bus. It was on the strength of such work that, when the ABC wanted to launch a new ‘tonight show’ in 1975, visionary John O’Grady pushed for the Norman Gunston character as host. “The idea then was that I would be the only fictional thing in it; everything else would be real,” Garry explains.

Norman Gunston delivered fantastic interviews, playing the innocent fool to disarm his interview subjects. The stars mostly played along – once they’d recovered from their initial bemusement. The notorious exception – despite assurances to the contrary – was The Who’s demon drummer Keith Moon, who abused Gunston and poured a drink over him. Aware that he couldn’t afford to lose the footage, the best McDonald could do was play along. “I’d been told by a BBC producer that Moon agreed to do the interview. But he just came out of that car firing. I mean, I couldn’t open my eyes; that was half a bottle of vodka that he’d poured all over me. It was pretty dangerous”.

Surprisingly, the most enduring clip from the ‘Norman Gunston Show’ – the interview with ‘All In The Family’ star Sally Struthers – would have been canned if McDonald had had his way. “I thought that interview was a disaster,” he confesses. “I looked at it and said, ‘we can’t put that to air, it’s self-indulgent’. Of course it’s one of our most famous interviews.”

In addition to Norman Gunston, Garry McDonald is responsible for another enduring and endearing character of Aussie comedy, Arthur Beare, who appeared opposite Ruth Cracknell’s Maggie Beare in Mother & Son. Running for ten years, Mother & Sun won awards right up until the end. McDonald puts this down to Geoff Portman’s directing. “Geoffrey Atherden’s scripts were great,” he says, “but Portman held the style together. If anyone did anything that was funny for no reason, he wouldn’t allow it. Everything had to come out of the situation and the characters.”

According to Garry McDonald, the role of Arthur in Mother & Son required “a bit of a stretch” because he’d never been in a sitcom before. “I was playing it a bit broadly at first,” he recalls. “Portman would just stand there looking at me with a dreadful look on his face, and I’d go, ‘What? What?’ and he’d go, ‘You’re mugging!’ He kept doing that until I stopped.” McDonald found Mother & Son to be a “great school of comedy” that taught him much about the art.

“A lot of drama actors think that you approach comedy like you approach drama,” Garry explains. “You don’t. It’s got to seem natural, but it’s not. It’s heightened. It has much more energy than drama. It moves at a brisker pace but it’s more energetic. It has the ability to turn on an emotional sixpence, which is very funny. But also, it’s driven by the subtext, but you must never play the subtext. It’s the duplicity that’s funny.”

While the Norman Gunston character was retired 1993, in part on account of McDonald’s anxiety disorder, Mother & Son ended its sixth and final season in 1994. Garry McDonald doesn’t miss either role – although, he admits, he does miss Ruth Cracknell. And he is grateful for having been able to play both characters, particularly Arthur Beare. “I really look on the Mother & Son period as the best training ground,” he says. “That was the best training ground.”

The Gunston Tapes and Volume One of Mother & Son are available from Village Roadshow

Chris Wyatt’s Myall Creek Series


Artist Chris Wyatt is a mate of Ric, who owns Egg Records, so I got to know him through his occasional visits to the store. In 2000, he had an exhibition of his ‘Myall Creek’ paintings in Newtown. I went along to quaff wine and pretend I knew something about art. My 1980s high school education dealt briefly with pre-invasion history of Australia, so, really, I had no idea about Myall Creek as a place of historical import. Thus, nothing prepared me for the bold, confronatational images hanging in the exhibition. Part of the opening involved members of an indigenous tribe arriving, unannounced, to perform a ritual to declare the event ‘open’ it was quite spectacular. Four years later, I discover that the Newtown exhibition comprised only two thirds of the series, that the entire series is being exhibited at the United Theological College, Charles Sturt University School of Theology, in North Paramatta. This latest hanging is significant: descendants of the massacre happen to be studying at the College, and so will be present for the opening. As fate would have it, I couldn’t be there myself, but was able to chat to Chris about the paintings and the opening, for radio.

According to Chris, the Myall Creek massacre fits in both “emotionally and structurally” with other work he has done – which includes paintings inspired by the brutal Anita Coby murder, and a series on the Sarajevo civil war. He is interested in painting ‘archetypal moments’ in peoples’ lives – those moments such as birth, death, grieving and marriage – that define and change people. Thus, his subject matter has in the past included pregnant woman, and he is currently working on the ‘stolen generation’. “It’s really the same thing,” he says, comparing the act of painting the Myall Creek massacre and the ‘stolen generation’: “I’m reconciling these terrible issues within myself.” With the Myall Creek paintings, he says, he certainly achieved that reconciliation.

Before I had my opportunity to interview him, Chris received great coverage from some other news sources, not least of all Radio 2SER and Stateline, from which the following is transcribed:

The obtuse approach that I’ve taken was on purpose, because I wanted these paintings to relate to all people, so that they spoke to people – they didn’t just shock people, but they saw in them a human compassion, a kind of redemption in the blue of the sky in this big painting.

What I’ve done here compositionally is place the perpetrators in the foreground and the rear.

The foreground figures exclude the viewer from becoming one of the victims.

I’ve done that purposely so that the viewer isn't a victim, but becomes a perpetrator by standing by and watching, becoming a voyeur and, so to speak, a perpetrator.

I’ve also shown no detail.

They’re not didactic, they’re not gory in any way, they’re quite obtuse in the technique I’ve used compositionally.

And that’s so that people, again, feel they can relate to this scene without being horrified by it.

It’s not Goya’s Disasters of War.

It’s about people and everybody is a victim.

The exhibition continues until June 17. The following interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on Saturday 29 May.

Demetrius Romeo: Chris, tell me what inspired the Myall Creek series of paintings.

CHRIS WYATT: Dom, I was living next to the writer Roger Millus. Now Roger Millus had written a book called Waterloo Creek which is about the conquering of New South Wales. Now in that book, there are several chapters on the Myall Creek massacres. I read that book and was profoundly affected by it. I spent the next ten years painting, trying to realise my revulsion at the way New South Wales had been conquered. And it took me really all that time to fully realise the paintings. The Waterloo Creek massacre itself was a government-sanctioned expedition by Major Nunn, in which 300 aboriginals were murdered. The aboriginals murdered at Myall Creek had a special relationship with the overseers of the property. They were living there. In fact, Ipita, the only known woman, was a lover of one of the overseers. So all this combined, inspired me to tackle this really difficult subject. It fitted in really well with my thoughts of where painting should go and what it should do.

Demetrius Romeo: Where should painting go? What is it that painting should do?

CHRIS WYATT: I think that painting in the Twentieth Century got away from what I see as one of its major premises, which is to educate. It should educate on moral and social issues, not only artistic and aesthetic ones. I think in the Twentieth Century, you certainly got away from that. For me, the Myall Creek massacre encapsulated the conquering of Australia. It had all the elements of our subjugation of indigenous people. Also, it's the first time that white men were hanged for the murders, and so not onlydoes it encapsulate the indigenous story, but also, the nature of the white story here in Australia, and I think it's as relevant now as it was then.

Demetrius Romeo: The paintings in the Myall Creek series are very dark, Chris. You use a limited palette of quite muted colours.

CHRIS WYATT: Dom, I'm a symbolic painter, so I use colour symbolically. When I started the Myall creek series, I was inclined to just do them in black and white, and as the series went on, the colour changed to evening shades. The evening shades were earth colours, the earth colours being an association of the indigenous people and their relationship with the earth, but also for me, the fact symbolically, that we are all part of the earth and we all go back to it. And so for me, colour is used in those symbolic ways rather than a representative way.

Demetrius Romeo: What do you hope to achieve with this series of paintings?

CHRIS WYATT: My initial aim was to speak to myself. I was so profoundly affected by Roger's book that I wanted to - within myself - have some reconciliation of the idea of this taking place. I also want to reconcile Australian people with the idea that this is how Australia was conquered. I mean, there is no doubt about this. The holocaust happened. People can deny it, but it did. And the holocaust for indigenous people certainly did happen too, and people in Australia still deny it. And that's exactly what I want these paintings to do: start a dialogue on both sides so that this issue can be laid to rest, so that Australia doesn't repeat its history. Because I think societies who don't come to terms with their past, are destined to repeat it.

Demetrius Romeo: What has the response been to the Myall Creek series?

CHRIS WYATT: It’s been an amazing response. I think people are finally ready to come to terms with this thing. Sue Blacklock, one of the descendants of one of the victims of the Myall Creek massacre looked at a big eight-foot by twelve-foot painting and said, 'this is what it was like' and that, for me, has been a fantastic response from indigenous people. I didn't know what indigenous people would think of these paintings when I painted them, and I felt great trepidation because I didn't know whether they would think this is their story, why am I telling it, they have ownership of this, and a white Australian shouldn't really go there. Well, they didn't feel like that at all. Indigenous people are so inclusive and patient with non-indigenous Australians, that I feel privileged to be able to tackle this subject and have them appreciate me for it.



As of 1 July 2004 the Myall Creek exhibition continues to hang. Interest, a result of the media coverage, has led to the artist selling work. There is a tone of amazement in his voice when he tells me this. More amazing for him is the fact that people who had initially expressed dismay and even dislike had come around to understanding and appreciating the work, the result of being able to get a handle on it through hearing the meaning and significance that the artist and other cultural and political commentators attribute to the work.

Which is always the way it should be.

In the song ‘Keep Undercover’ (from the 1983 album Pipes of Peace), that intellectual giant and philosopher Sir Paul McCartney posed the essential question,

What good is butter when you haven’t got bread?
What good is art when it hurts your head?
You might as well stay in bed!

The fact is, art that makes you think a little bit to appreciate it enables you to learn more and thus to appreciate more. And indeed, to dismiss more – but only the ‘more’ that consists of that which is artistically ‘less’.

So that’s why art that ‘hurts your head’ is good. As for butter in the time of no bread? Amongst its myriad uses, I recommend you take a tip from Marlon Brando’s character Paul in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris. (Hint: You may not have bread, but you’ll always have buns.)

’Ullo Alexei! Gotta New Novel?


It seems to have been one of the best kept secrets of literature and comedy. Somewhere, some time, that loud, in-yer-face comedian Alexei Sayle left the world of comedy and became a brilliant author.

When his first anthology of short stories, Barcelona Plates, was published, it was in all the shops, but I don’t remember reading much about it. Same with his second collection, The Dog Catcher, but I must have been more cashed up by that stage, because I not only bought a hard cover copy of it for myself, but also gave a couple away as birthday gifts.

I was truly amazed at the quality of the writing – funny, clever, perceptive, with great imagination. Each one with a little twist at the end, sometimes hilarious, sometimes macabre like Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. This was genuinely surprising because I was the kind of Alexei Sayle fan who had read his other, earlier books, Train to Hell and Great Bus Journeys of the World. They were like his records, in that, they were like his stand-up: drawing from that surreal, in-yer-face, absurdist vein of humour that Alexei Sayle practically copyrighted. Barcelona Plates and The Dog Catcher were so different. The short stories they contained were still funny, but they were less self-conscious in their content and execution.

Cut to the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There’s a Writer’s Festival going on at the same time, and by the time I get myself organised enough to check out the program, I discover that I’ve missed Alexei Sayle by a day. It appears that he has written his ’first’ novel (if you don’t take Train to Hell into account) and it’s called Overtaken . One day I’m walking passing the OxFam shop in the centre of Edinburgh, and notice a sign that informs me that I’ve missed Alexei Sayle by a couple of hours. I can at least buy an autographed copy of Overtaken that he’s donated to the shop. Reading it, I realise something vital: even as Sayle has graduated to writing proper, full length novels that are less like his stand-up than his original ‘zany’ attempts, there are themes and issues present throughout his work, from the stand-up to the ‘serious’ literature. Furthermore, even his stand-up had a knowing, declamatory style that was as much story-telling as it was stand-up.

Cut to the 2004 Sydney Writers’ Festival: Alexei Sayle is out here to talk about his book. I am so grateful to have been able to catch up with him for a chat. From the outset, I probably should have made more of his writing. There’s so much in it: his descriptions of architecture, the Liverpudlian underworld, music, comedy, culture, cars, philosophy and politics betray a great deal of knowledge. However, this was our first chat; we had a lot of ground to cover. Next time I’ll concentrate solely on discussing his books, rather than the themes that link what he’s doing now to everything he’s done before.

At least Alexei didn’t seem to mind about having to cover old ground. He graciously autographed my twelve-inch single of ‘Didn’t You Kill My Brother?’ that I bought as a teenager who usually saved his pocket shrapnel for Beatles and David Bowie singles. He cacked when I told him how my mother hit the roof when she first heard it, disgusted that I would spend my money on this sort of record. But that was then. This is now. If you haven’t read any of Alexei Sayle’s more recent literature, I recommend you start almost immediately with The Dog Catcher. And if you’ve never heard any of his stand-up, that’s your loss. Start with The Young Ones on DVD, and hope that Alexei Sayle’s Stuff is re-issued soon. Grab The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball on CD if you can find it, or hunt down his album Panic if you can. But do read his books.

This interview was broadcast 22 May 2004. Here’s the MP3 if you want to listen as you read.


Soundbite: ‘Meanwhile’ – from the single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: It was just another day for Raoul, the Tasmanian with the talking trousers, as he put a lizard into each top hat. Little did he realise that opportunity would soon come a-knocking in the shape of a giant Idaho potato which bore a strange resemblance to the late J. Edgar Hoover, right down to the striped spatula with the words ‘hokey kokey’ written on it in yellow ink…

‘Girlie’ Chorus: Meanwhile,
In another part of town,
Just a-a-a-a
Few miles away,
Seventeen years ago,
Later that very same day.

Demetrius Romeo: Alexei, before you became an author, you were famous as a stand-up comic.


Demetrius Romeo: How was it to make the transition, and why did you make it?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, I think I’d sort of personally reached the end of a stage of my life of being a comedian. I didn’t really have the commitment to the life to want to do a hundred shows a year, which I think you really have to do to refresh your material and yourself, and I couldn’t really face that. So I was casting around for something else to do and I started writing short stories. That became the sole thing that I did, really.

Demetrius Romeo: You were writing books before that – your first couple of books were closer to your comedy that to the books you’re writing now.


Demetrius Romeo: Did you make a conscious effort to reign in that side of your writing psyche?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, probably initially, writing those ‘zany’ books in the 80s was in a sense a lack of confidence in stretching myself, in a way; staying closer to my core kind of performing style, but when I started writing the short stories I really wanted to get away, to really do some serious literature. I mean, it’s still comical and satirical, but it’s aiming as high as you can – it’s ‘proper’ literature. That’s sort of, by then, what I really wanted to do, to distance myself from the ‘Coco the Clown’, the previous incarnation.

Demetrius Romeo: Was it a large stretch to go from the anthologies of short stories to the novel?

ALEXEI SAYLE: No, it was a natural progression, really, but it was one I took the time to work up to, not to force myself to do it until I was ready to do it, really.

Soundbite: ‘Ullo John, Gotta New Motor? – Part III’ – from the twelve-inch single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: What a lovely motor the Cortina is, eh? What a lovely motor. What style. What lines. What beauty. What poetry, eh? All that poetry in a motor. ’Ere. Ever see Wordsworth do anything like a Cortina, eh? ’E didn’t did ’e, eh? Tennyson? Eh? Any of that? Any of them? Any of them fellers, eh? Didn’t do anything as poetic as a Cortina.

Demetrius Romeo: I can see similar themes that have been with your work from early on. Transportation is something you seem to like to talk about at length. Where does this interest come from?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, I don’t know. I mean, it’s partly… well, probably, I think, me dad worked on the railways, so that’s maybe one of the inspirations. And also, we never had a car, so I always had a kind of slightly ‘outsider’ view of cars. They seemed like ‘miraculous’ kind of contrivances, really, so I’ve always been interested in cars. But then I’m also interested in the kind of landscape – motorways at night…

Soundbite: ‘’Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? – Part III’ – from the twelve-inch single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: Ullo John, gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
’Ullo John! Gotta new motor?

Demetrius Romeo: I imagine in stand-up you get to fluff a lot of facts for the sake of the gag, but when I read your books, you have a very real respect for knowledge. Where does this come from?

ALEXEI SAYLE: I do, but then a lot of it is also made up. I don’t like novels that are meticulously researched, particularly; I sometimes find that tedious. A lot of writing, especially books or authors or creators have a narrow remit; before my comedy, the subject matters were incredibly narrow. Why can’t you do a stand-up comedy routine about Bertolt Brecht or architecture or electrical design. All of those things I’ve done routines about.

Soundbite: Alexei Sayle monologue from ‘Boring’, Season 1 Episode 4 of The Young Ones

Alexei Sayle: I’ve not always been mad, you know, but um... I was actually driven mad by the indifference of architects and council planners. You see, I live in a tower block, and um, the thing about those is, there’s terrible noise problems, ’cause there’s no noise insulation at all, you know, and eight floors below you, there's always some bastard who's got a Yamaha home organ, you know. You’re just about to go to sleep and you hear this “DOOT DOOT! TCH-TCH, DOOT DOOT! TCH-TCH, ROLL-OUT-THE-BARRELS! DOOT-DOOT, TCH-TCH, DOOT DOOT, TCH-TCH” And like, the people who live upstairs from me, I can’t understand what they’re doing, you know, I listen. And all I can hear is this weird noise that goes, “VOOM VOOM! BLAM BLAM! VOOM VOOM! BLAM BLAM!” It sounds, right, it sounds like two elephants on a motorbike riding round and round, while a seal bangs a kipper on the table!

Demetrius Romeo: You were brought up as a communist and I notice Eastern bloc characters peopling your work throughout your career…

ALEXEI SAYLE: Well, obviously, a large part of my childhood I spent – we’d spend – in Eastern Europe and it was kind of like stepping through a curtain into fairy tale. When you’d cross the border in the train between, say, Austria and Czechoslovakia, everything was different. The trucks used to run on this sort of evil-smelling diesel and there was one brand of toothpaste in the shops, ‘toothpok’ or something. There was no advertising, there was only abstract art where the advertising billboards would normally be, and it was just this incredible kind of strange other universe that nobody else went to apart from us, really, me and me mum and dad.

Soundbite: ‘Dedicated’ – from the flipside of the ‘Didn’t You Kill My Brother?’ single.

Alexei Sayle: … and I’d also like to dedicate this song to the people of Czechoslovakia, excluding Mr and Mrs Oleg Potseg, 49 Volaches, Prague 18…

Demetrius Romeo: Who are your inspirations as a writer?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Evelyn Waugh is always someone that I cite as somebody who was kind of a social satirist, but also someone who could be very dark. I think it’s in ‘A Handful Of Dust’, the moment when the woman – she’s got this lover called John – and they tell her that her son John has been killed in a horse riding accident, but the groom says, ‘no, little John’, and she says, ‘Oh, thank God,’ and then realises what she’s said. I think that’s one of the greatest and most chilling moments in literature, that. That somebody like Waugh could write something like that, I think that’s staggering, and that was in the 30s. Amazing.

Demetrius Romeo: Having done your fair share now of comedy festivals and writers’ festivals, which do you prefer?

ALEXEI SAYLE: Oh, writing. I mean, you’re not really treated with as much respect as you should be, really, as a comic. I felt I wasn’t, which is maybe just me being antsy, but you’re always treated a bit as a simpleton when you’re a comic, even though, you know, my references would be Kierkegaard and socialism and so on, whereas, as an author, you’re treated as being much more intelligent. There’s a kind of an implied ‘maestro’ whenever anybody talks to you. And it’s a trade-off: you’re not as central to the culture anymore. You start having to start to wait longer for tables at the best restaurants, but in place of that, there’s enormous satisfaction.

Soundbite: ‘Meanwhile’ – from the single of the same name.

Alexei Sayle: “Ooh la la! Ooh la la!” chanted the traffic warden, but Steve was in no mood for Swedish volleyball that day. He swore to himself that if Erica came home again dressed as a chicken, he would tell the monopolies commission who had really been putting cream cakes in the Lord Mayor of London’s underpants. Then the avocado dip would really hit the fan.

Demetrius Romeo: Alexei Sayle, thank you very much.

ALEXEI SAYLE: Thank you.

Soundbite: ‘Meanwhile’ – from the single of the same name.

‘Girlie’ Chorus: Meanwhile,
In another part of town,
Just a-a-a-a
Few miles away,
Seventeen years ago,
Later that very same day.

In another part of town,
Just a-a-a-a
Few miles away,
Seventeen years ago,
Later that very same day.


Tell Laura I Love Her... CD

A few years ago now, comedian Stef Torok was playing a fine blend of musical comedy with a mate of his called Peter, in a duo called ‘StefnPete’ and, he reported back to me, there was this young woman playing her own blend of musical comedy armed only with an acoustic guitar. The woman was Laura Imbruglia, and I made a mental note that I really should pursue an interview with her. Stef warned me not to go in playing the ‘aren’t you the sister of Natalie?’ card, suggesting that I should see a gig or two first; she had (and continues to have) a great sense of humour and wrote interesting, often quirky songs.

Somehow, I managed to forget about Laura Imbruglia until I saw posters advertising her new EP, It Makes A Crunchy Noise. I immediately thought, I must interview her. Now, I’ll be up front about this, as I had to be with Laura (and, it turns out, her ‘scary Calabrian’ manager): I have to ask a ‘what’s it like being Natalie’s sister?’ question. I wouldn’t be a good journalist (or at least, I’d be a lesser one) if I didn’t address the issue because Laura is, at least to some extent, following in her big sister’s footsteps, and, Dannii Minogue aside, most siblings avoid elder siblings’ vocations for fear of continually being compared to them.

Laura tolerated that question, but when I followed through with the logical supplementary question, ‘does having the same surname open doors or raise the bar?’ she looked a little ‘over’ it, and it wasn’t because of the mixed metaphor. “Are all the questions going to be about this?” she demanded. In hindsight, I wish it had been into the mic. The fact was, I only had the two questions, I thought they were important, but I wanted to get them over-and-done-with early on because they aren’t as important as the music. And that is the ultimate answer: if what is being done is being done well, than there’s no chance of living in anyone’s shadow. Although, as Laura pointed out, what she was doing was different enough for it not to be an issue.

Most of the people who knew I’d spoken to Laura Imbruglia – well, the guys, anyway – wanted to ask one question. Or two, if the first question was ‘Sister of…?’ Once her family tree had been established, the burning question for most guys seemed to be whether or not she was a ‘honey’ or a ‘looker’ like her sister. I thought this was hilarious; I’d actually asked Stef that same question, way back when. I’m not saying I’m any more mature now than I was then, only that the answer then, as now, is, see – and hear – for yourself just how pleasing Laura Imbruglia is to the all of the senses, including your sense of humour! She publishes a gig list online.

This interview was broadcast 29 May 2004.

Soundbite: ‘Ornithophobia (fear of birds) a.k.a. The Cicada Song’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

One fine and rare yellow monday I went out walking,
Came across a black prince and we started talking,
He was so full of sap, he was an incredible boaster,
Promised me he could find me a green grocer.
Yet I received a boring brown, and it’s getting me down.

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: Laura, a lot of sisters don’t get into the same business that their older sisters are in because they just don’t like to be in their sisters’ shadow. What made you pursue a career as a musician?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: I don’t think I’m in a shadow anyway. I’m going down a different route musically, and I don’t see why I should pursue a different career if this is the one I want to do just because I’ve got the same surname.

Demetrius Romeo: Does having the same surname open doors or does it raise the bar higher?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: I think it does a bit of both. It think it’s pretty equal. It makes it a lot harder to be taken seriously just because people think I’m just trying to ‘ride the wave’, but on the other hand, it makes me try and work to prove myself and if I can prove myself, it works well for me, and in other cases it might make people who are just curious, not bother. So it’s a bit of both.

Soundbite: ‘Lettuce And Anarchists’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

I love my vegan punk friends, they’re anarchists who like to eat lettuce,
They don’t follow any mainstream trends, and please dear God
Don’t offer them McDonalds... unless you want a kick in the head.
They’ll tell you Ronald’s the reason Che Guevara’s dead.
And even though they’re aethiests, major corporations can rot in hell.

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: Before you started recording, you were playing a lot of shows with comedians on the bill, and you do have a sense of humour in your music. Do you see yourself as a musical humourist or as a singer who has a bit of a sense of humour?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: Probably a singer who has a bit of a sense of humour. When I started off, I wanted to be a comedian and changed my mind about it somewhere down the track. I don’t know why. It’s all right to bring a bit of a sense of humour into the lyrics, but I don’t want to be considered just a straight out comedian. I respect people who can get up and make people laugh all the time, but on the other hand, I think comedy CDs, you listen to them about twice, and then you don’t listen to them again. So I think it’s up to me to write songs that are worth listening to more than a couple of times as well.

Soundbite: ‘Ornithophobia (fear of birds) a.k.a. The Cicada Song’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

Still when I die, I'll come back as a cicada,
Please don't rip off my wings or I'll have to cry out of my 3rd eye.
Would insect arms break if I attempt to play guitara?
Although I'm fond of praying mantisis, I'd rather be a cicada.

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: Your first CD, It Makes A Crunchy Noise, references cicadas. Why are they so important to you?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: It’s not that they’re important to me, I just have a soft spot for them ’cause they were one of the weird things I was obsessed with when I was a kid. I just get obsessed with things – different things – as I grow up, and that was one of the insects I was obsessed with. They’re pretty miserable sort of insects – miserable lives that they live: they live underground for eight years and then they come above ground and they’ve got two weeks above ground. During that time they breed and they eat, and I think it’s a pretty tough life. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the ground for eight years and then above for two weeks; that’s not fun!

Demetrius Romeo: Another song from the CD dates back from your childhood: ‘First Boyfriend’.

Soundbite: ‘1st Boyfriend’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

In Geography, you said to me:
“Can I please borrow your glue stick?”
So I handed you a stick of glue
and decided that you were my
pick of the boys in Year 7
You came 1st out of about 111.

Oh first boyfriend Ben Castelli
Oh first boyfriend, we ate jelly ice-blocks

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: In a way, are you ‘clearing the decks’ of the older inspirations before you move on to new topics and new themes?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: Yeah, maybe, I don’t know. I’m pretty nostalgic. I’ll probably whip out a few more. I’m always going back and thinking about things I did in school or things from growningup, so I always have old references, and later on I’ll probably reference things I’m doing now that I don’t sing about now. So it takes me a while to catch up, lyrically, with what I’m doing in my life.

Soundbite: ‘Flop in the Sack’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

But I don't know why, and I think I’m gonna cry,
’cause I’m a flop in the sack.
I put the dag in daggy, the stink in stinky,
The backwards in backwards. I’m a flop in the sack...

And I’m sa-a-ad because I’m ba-a-ad

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: You certainly have a candour in your lyrics. Do you ever feel that the things you’re being so honest about in your songs might pop up and bite you down the track a bit?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: Yes. Definitely. Sometimes though, it’s fictional. But because some of it is non-fiction, some people think I’m always being completely serious and completely honest. Some of it’s made up.

Soundbite: ‘ Don’t Stray From My Site ’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

Email lover, don’t stray from my site,
Be the server to my heart,
Let’s make megabytes of love.
Yahoo! We're compatible,
I connected on the very first dial tone with you.

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: I notice that some of your lyrics come across as ruminations put to music. How do you go about songwriting?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: It changes over time. It depends on what kind of music I’m listening to at the time and sometimes I don’t even think about it. A lot of my songs don’t have choruses or set structures.

Soundbite: ‘Don’t Stray From My Site’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

Email lover, don’t stray from my site,
Be the server to my heart, lets make megabytes of love.

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: One of the love songs on the EP uses the internet as a metaphor. Is that a sign of the times?

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: Yeah, possibly. That one’s not one of the true stories. That one’s made up. I just thought it would be fun to work in some of the internet lingo into a song.

Soundbite: ‘ Mr Clown ’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

You probably think that I never frown,
I’m only this happy when you’re around,
So stay by my side ’til the end of the tides,
Mr Clown.

© Laura Imbruglia

Demetrius Romeo: ‘Mr Clown’ seems to be the most straightforward song that you’ve included in this EP.

LAURA IMBRUGLIA: ‘Mr Clown’ was the first serious – as ‘serious’ as my songs are gonna get – song that I could stand playing to myself, let alone to other people. Because I write really literally, and there are not many metaphors at the moment, usually when I write serious songs they end up being really cheesy. That’s the only one… it’s cheesy, but for some reason, I think it gets away with it.

Soundbite: ‘ Mr Clown ’ - from the EP It Makes A Crunchy Noise

I love you clown,
So stick around
’Til they put me in the ground.

© Laura Imbruglia

Day of the Tripods

In the lead-up to a radio interview with Tripod, I publish a couple of print interviews I did with them for Revolver all those years ago. The more recent one was with Yon, in honour of the re-packaging of their album Open Slather which was being tarted up with new artwork and the inclusion of a Christmas song, for Festive Season re-release. For some reason, Yon didn’t trust me, despite my having been for some years a ‘dedicated comedy journalist’ – the description with which Wil Anderson used to like to introduce me to other comics, relieved that I wasn’t yet another incarnation of the ‘fishing editor’ sent by most publications that a) didn’t have anyone who really knew about comedy on the staff and b) thought that anybody could handle banging out an article about comedy. Yon wanted to look at the article before it went to print, and I think it was because I had admitted that I would do my best to place Tripod and their album into the bigger context (after all, I was a ‘dedicated comedy journalist’). I think he thought that by ‘bigger context’, I meant that I’d merely compare Tripod to the Doug Anthony Allstars – something that used to happen a lot when Tripod were starting out, and happens a lot less now that every man and his musical mutt is compared to Tripod. All I meant was that I’d be comedy train-spotter when I came across familiar names like Craig Harnath (friend to the D-Generation who wrote music for things like Funky Squad and Ross Cockle (who had, admittedly, worked with the Allstars on their album DAAS Ikon, but had also worked with many Melbourne musical acts, both comedic and serious).
I can’t quite remember what year this came out originally, but when I find out I’ll change this last line of introduction (and may even add a title!) I should also add that since
Revolver was a Sydney-based publication, I was writing from a Sydney-centric (and, at the time, Tripod-deprived) position.

Open Slather on Tripod and their Open Slather

Yon, Scod and Gatesy – the trio of jovial jongleurs known collectively as ‘Tripod’ – have been doing the three-part vocal harmony-and-a-guitar comedy thing for a few years now. However, ignorance of this fact, though unforgivable, would be understandable: the odd special appearance on Good News Week notwithstanding, Tripod just haven’t spent much stage time Sydney-side. In more recent times, the band has been brought forward in our comedic consciousness through their almost live album, Open Slather and their regular Tuesday arvo ‘musical challenges’ for Merrick & Rosso.

“Merrick & Rosso used to get Peter Helliar to do challenges,” Yon explains. “He’d have to run around South Bank in his undies, things like that.” It’s fair to say that Tripod does the musical equivalent of running around in their undies for Merrick & Rosso: given a contentious topic, they come up with a song about it in an hour. How difficult is it to do? “There’s been a couple of shit ones,” Yon admits. “I guess that’s the best way to describe the hardest ones.”

It isn’t the music that proves so challenging: the difficulty for Tripod lies in the subject matter. “We’re pretty crap at the topical stuff,” Yon explains. “We have a lot of material that basically reinforces how little we know about the world.” By the end of Tripod’s stint on Triple J this year, Merrick & Rosso realised that they needed to explain the context of the topical references within the challenges set in order for the songs to eventuate. To illustrate his point, Yon references Tripod’s last appearance on the show. Their challenge was to sing about “Ping Ping the panda… or polar bear… or something…”

While Triple J has been great for giving Tripod a profile above and beyond their regular stomping ground, it has also proved to be a bit of an unfair tease for interstate fans. Thus, the new-ish album, Open Slather, comes as a treat, since the next best thing to seeing Tripod live is listening to recordings of the same. According to Yon, Open Slather came about purely because it had been so long since Tripod had ‘released’ their one and only previous CD. Recorded “years and years ago”, prior to Tripod evolving into a comedy act, this first disc had a limited pressing of five hundred copies that eventually sold out, purely through flogging at gigs. “It had some serious songs and some wacky songs on it,” Yon explains, “but not songs that were trying to be ‘comedy’, necessarily.” It will not see re-release because, according to Yon, it is “so unrepresentative” of what Tripod are about. Despite containing the “cute” song about the Ponds Institute, Yon reckons that anyone hearing the disc now would think, “what the f***?!”

When it was decided, earlier this year, that it was high time for the band to commit some of its material to posterity, the initial idea was to “do justice” to the songs by recording them in a studio. Additional instrumentation would be used to parody whichever genres the songs happened to be taking off. However, faced with “far too big an undertaking” that such a project would entail, and also with the realisation that the songs “almost stop being funny when they sound too good,” it was instead decided to tape four performances over a series of Saturdays in April. The result: “heaps and heaps” of material, the selection of which was made easier by limiting choice to only the songs that were performed “well enough”. “If you listen to it with musical ears,” Yon confesses, “you’ll find it pretty imperfect.” Because ‘Open Slather’ represents a ‘greatest hits live’, the recordings are very ‘balls-and-all’. “Even if we did a really crap version of some songs, they had to go on.”

By August, Tripod was selling the CD at gigs and via their website. However, desiring a suitable single for Festive Season release, it was decided to re-package the album with a specially recorded studio version of ‘I Hate Your Family’, a song that suitably laments spending Christmas with your partner’s family. “It’s a full, Meatloaf-sounding production,” Yon reports, listing an all-star cast of collaborators that includes Ross Cockle (responsible for, amongst many other things, the Doug Anthony Allstars’ DAAS Icon – nuff said!), and Craig Harnath (friend of the D-Gen and hence soundtrack provider for Bargearse and Funky Squad). Session musicians also included “the drummer from Boom Crash Opera” and “the keyboardist from… it escapes me, but someone famous from the 80s.”

Poking fun at the CD format, the refurbished Open Slather album (now subtitled Special Christmas Edition and bearing a reindeer on the cover) opens with ‘I Hate Your Family’. The original Open Slather material follows as ‘secret bonus tracks’. After the ‘live album’, which easily contains the funniest material on the disc – songs like ‘Cuckold’ , ‘Stalk’, ‘2nd Drawer Down’ and ‘Apparently’ – the disc closes with ‘extra-secret bonus bonus tracks’: a DVD-style ‘composers’ commentary’ audio track of the studio-recorded song, as well as a censored version of the same. “It’s good to be in shops around the country,” Yon says, “because when we tour people ask us if we have a CD. So next time we tour, we’ll have it with us as well.”

Excellent. Got the CD. Now just tour here, dammit!

This earlier piece was written for the 1998 Sydney Comedy Festival (yep, there was a time when Sydney actually had comedy festivals – twice.) 1998 was a time when you could still talk to Tripod about the Doug Anthony Allstars and their appearance on Hey Hey, It’s Saturday, two topics now not so much forbidden but just terminally uncool. Which is ironic, not because of the obviousness of the three-part-harmony-and-guitar comparison, but the fact that SkitHouse is produced by Rove McManus, whom, for want of a genuine media patsy, is the person most often dubbed today’s Daryl Somers because Rove [Live] most resembles Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Sigh. There’s just no pleasing some critics. In my defence I would like to point out that I brought up both topics in a way that took the mickey out of trainspotters like myself, and that dreaded Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Because at that time, Hey Hey It’s Saturday was a lumbering behemoth of an out-dated show, taking up valuable broadcasting space that could have been dedicated to fresher, more vital talent. Little did we know that Australian broadcasting was soon to be overtaken by the scourge of taste and talent, ‘reality’ television. Mark my words, the time will come when Hey Hey It’s Saturday will be looked back upon fondly and favourably, exonerated as ground-breaking, filling a void, providing a valuable service and, at the very least, much less crap than any ‘reality’ program you care to mention. Just wait and see.

Standing on their own Three Feet

“Basically, Tripod is the three of us taken out of our showers, clothed and put on stage, if that makes any sense at all,” explains Scod, the guitar-playing third of this musical comedy act that, two weeks ago, I’d never heard of. One telephone interview and a Hey Hey It’s Saturday Gonged But Not Forgotten special later and I’m prepared to tip them as the ‘find’ of the Sydney Comedy Festival. Although Hey Hey It’s Saturday would probably claim that they discovered Tripod. Perhaps that line in the film The Castle is true: perhaps the only thing better than Hey Hey It’s Saturday is The Best Of Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Although I doubt it. One thing’s for sure, it probably won’t be very long before everyone who ever impinged upon Tripod, even only slightly, will want to be known for playing a part in their success. So consider this my contribution because I know I’ll be referring back to it in the not-too-distant future.

Scod, Yon and Gatesy. Their names say it all. Melbourne’s piss-take equivalent of a hard-rockin’ inner-city punk band, is what I’m thinking: the Hard-Ons inverted. Which would make them the Soft-Ons. Fair comment, too, considering Tripod’s origins. According to Scod, Tripod came together some three years ago through “– oh, what’s the best way to put it? ‘A mutual love of music’ would be a really dodgy way.”

Before they became Tripod, indeed, before all three of them had met, they all managed, in Scod’s words, to “not pass degrees together”. Scod failed to pass his Graphic Design course at Monash Caulfield (a newly-amalgamated campus which, according to Scod, “was just getting over being called ‘Chisholm Tech’”), Yon went the way of many an Arts Undergraduate, at Monash, and Gatesy, likewise, at La Trobe. Gatesy, “a local pop star, at least within his own loungeroom”, played in a band with Yon. Scod and Yon encountered one another thereafter in a Theatre Production course at the Victorian College of Arts (which they both went on to successfully complete).

“Yonnie and I were in Man of La Mancha together,” Scod says, “which was pretty exiting at the time: I had one line and kept forgetting what it was. And Yonnie played an old innkeeper, a role which he is very famous for among certain circles.”

Scod will maintain the Tripod was purely a covers band to begin with. They went busking with a clutch of pop songs by the likes of Queen, David Bowie, Beach Boys, Joe Jackson and Michael Jackson, as well as James Bond themes, and delivered them in three-part harmony with Scod on guitar and Yon “getting out the trumpet every now and again – but you’d always see it on the front page of the papers the next day so now we kind of try and avoid it”. Naturally, Scod reports, “people laughed at us more than danced to us, just because we had a certain sort fun way of doing those songs. People weren’t really used to hearing pop done as three-part vocal harmony.”

Tripod’s philosophy, from the beginning, has been to “just have fun playing music”. It is as a result of that fun, according to Scod, that has led to this covers band being considered a comedy act. That, and the fact that they’re funny.

When developing material for the show, Scod claims that the “hard bit” is being able to “come up with something funny”. The arranging of the harmonies, something Tripod has been doing for ages, is in comparison, a piece of piss. I take issue with this. I mean, consider a Beach Boys classic, for example. A wall of sound that took a room full of musicians about a million edits over a month in order to arrive at a decent few minutes of musical masterpiece. The harmonies have been overdubbed several hundred times. Converting this into a vehicle for three voices, a guitar and an occasional trumpet is a mere doddle? Surely not! But Scod has the answer:

“Imagine if you were singing, say, ‘Good Vibrations’ in the shower. You would manage to translate it into a way of singing that was fun for you and kind of worked for the song. It’s a matter of ‘what’s the first bit? What’s the thing you most remember about the song? What’s the thing that strikes you about it that you’d want to translate and get across?’ That’s the starting point. You can sing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to yourself cooking your dinner; you hear the wall of sound in that final produced single but you are able to translate it vocally. That’s the thing that we humans can do because that’s how we relate to music. Or something.”

I can see what he’s getting at: when you sing along to a song, you sing along to the bits that stand out for you, like that scene in Wayne’s World, where they sing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the car. Sometimes you may even choose to sing along with the lead guitar riff.

“Which is something we often do in our show,” Scod concurs. “We love singing a good air guitar part.”

Apart from the actual songs, humour is present in the between-song banter. These sketches – “well, not quite ‘sketches’; it’s just the way we relate to each other when we’re not singing” – have developed over the last two years to now be a big part of the show and of the group. “We are really developing a rapport with each other and the audience. People sort of get to see our relationships with each other and so forth. Sounds a bit Sons and Daughters doesn’t it? That’s not the right way to put it. Yeah, we certainly ‘play’ in ways other than playing music. For sure.”

The word ‘inspirations’, while not exactly being offensive, does have the potential of causing discomfort. I look at a three-piece comedy act with three-part harmonies and a guitar and my mind runs through the entire gamut of comparisons, from A to B. While Tripod should be allowed to stand alone, or at least on their own – ahem – three legs, comparisons to the Doug Anthony Allstars (who similarly, began as purely a musical group, the punk band Forbidden Mule), the Three Canadians and Corky and the Juicepigs are all too easy to make.

However, because Tripod began as a band, Scod claims that they were never really “driven” by seeing comedy acts. “For inspirations,” he admits, “I’d have to say Chris DeBurgh, Freddy Mercury, Brian May, Brian Wilson. Those are the main inspirations, Prince being another huge one. And people who come and see us will of course realise that the sexual energy is from any Prince live show. It’s stunning!”

Talk of the Prince song, ‘Sexy MF’, ensues, with Scod concluding that, in his opinion, Prince is not only one of the greatest musicians but also “one of the greatest comedy writers” of all time.

There are of course comedy acts that Tripod “absolutely love”, and the list does include Lano and Woodley as well as “the obvious one”, the Doug Anthony Allstars. But Scod maintains that Tripod were never “directly inspired” by the Allstars. However, he does add that “if the Allstars and the Wiggles had an illicit tryst, Tripod would be their offspring.”

“Oh, what a revolting thought,” I offer.

“Isn’t it though,” Scod agrees.

As well as heavenly harmonies of pure pop and the creative comedy of between-song banter, Tripod offer a vein of nostalgia within their material: “A lot of stuff about when we were growing up, our childhood and our school experiences and the fun we used to have”. Scod notes that people “really relate” to that kind of thing, although he’s not sure why. “I guess we’re all just children of the 80s and missing those knickerbockers and hairdos,” he suggests.

“And the lycra,” I offer.

“And the lycra,” Scod concurs. “Yeah well, you know, when the Duran Duran world tour comes back I think we’re gonna go for a support slot on that one.”

“And if Prince comes back?”

“We thought we’d be his dancers, if Prince comes back. He doesn’t need that ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ business, he can just get Tripod.”

Tripod dancing for Prince begs the important question, “can you guys dance?”

Scod’s answer: “We do dance. A big part of our show is the ‘movement’ dimension of it. But ‘dancing’ is a very generous term; some people call it ‘choreography’ but a better word for it is… ‘actions’.”