st kilda - The I-94 Bar
Headliner Kim Salmon: No fish out of water. Campbell Manderson photo
Every time I go to Melbourne, something elbows me in the ribs and, somehow, things don’t go according to plan. The last few weeks have been short pay weeks, so I didn’t have quite enough dosh as I expected.
Of course, I had also completely forgotten that hotels now want a deposit against impromptu extra day stays and so forth, just in case you take the toaster into the shower or, to settle an argument, see how just far down the emergency stairs you can surf on the bed.
So, somewhat impoverished, I set off for St Kilda, a once-magical place of genteelly-crumbling art deco, dread gangsters (the real kind), assorted equally impoverished students, musicians, dealers and migrants and so on and so on. The event is the 16th A Day By The Green, a long-running Melbourne rock and roll institution.
It was the sort of rock’n’roll crowd you would have expected to find in St Kilda. Weathered old punks, redoubtable rock dogs, wandering spirits from a bygone era. Lots of black, some punk rock bling, a room full of fading memories of lost nights and wasted days.
And so much love. Love for rock’n’roll, and love for the late Brian Hooper, whose new album, "What Would I Know?" was being launched, with a cast of his loyal friends and rock’n’roll family.
The obligatory "I missed the opening act" apology: It’s a long hike across town by public transport, especially when there’s a connecting bike ride in there as well. The fact that my household was engrossed in a compelling episode of "Peaky Blinders" rendered it inappropriate for me to spirit out of the place in time to see Joel Silbersher and Charlie Owen revive their Tendrils project.
Serendipitously, but sadly, the last time Tendrils appeared on stage was at Brian’s fundraising gig. Everyone I spoke to said it was, as always, memorable. Hopefully next time Tendrils play it will be free from the spectre of tragedy.
Melbourne’s Bitter Sweet Kicks believe in the ethos of hitting hard and fast and then moving on. Each of their three releases to date has been a seven-track affair, long on dirty, high energy rock and roll and short on indulgences.
Another one from the archives and it’s not going to last long, with just 200 copies on offer. The three songs come from a New Year’s Eve 1978 show by proto-punks The Chosen Few at St Kilda’s Seaview Hotel (playing with Boys Next Door) and they're punchier than a front bar drunk at footy finals time.
“Get Nicked” is an original - a bare bones rock thumper in the vein of Johnny Dole and The Scabs or Rocks. Minimal chords and a maximised message, it’s catchier than a cold. The Sam and Dave cover features muscular guitar from Bruce Friday, who’s gnawing away on that signature riff like a dog with a marrow bone.
Brian Henry Hooper being attended to by his angels, his nurses. Carbie Warbie photo.
Four weeks ago Brian Hooper lay in intensive care, surrounded by family and his closest friends. The tumour doctors had found on Hooper’s lung just before Christmas was preventing Hooper from breathing without medical and mechanical assistance. Specialists suggested the even Hooper’s short-term survival was in the realm of miracles.
It wasn’t the first time Brian Henry Hooper had been told to fear the worst. Just over 14 years ago Hooper was told by specialists he may never walk again, after the balcony he was standing on at a gathering in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula collapsed, sending Hooper crashing to the ground, his back mangled from the fall.
Over the next 12 months, Hooper pulled himself back from the edge of permanent paralysis. Hooper’s resilience and psychological strength astounded all around him. In late 2004 Hooper limped back on stage with the Beasts of Bourbon for a gig at the Greyhound Hotel. Towards the end of the set, his battered spine unable to withstand the trauma of standing any longer, Hooper lay on the ground. His bandmates, save for Tony Pola on drums, followed suit, three battle-hardened rockers lying prostrate on the stage in sympathy for their comrade-in-arms.
You have to admire record labels like Buttercup who dig up decades-old sounds from Australia’s music underground, chuck a new coat of paint on those mouldy old tapes and offer them up for a cash consideration to nerdy record collectors who crave those obscure Australian sounds.
A cynical person would file this Melbourne combo under “'80s Smack Rock”…and of course I’m a cynical bastard. But, hey, being inspired by The Birthday Party or the Bad Seeds isn’t a bad thing. Those groups wrote their own rule books and went where no bands has been before them and if you’re going to be inspired by somebody it may as well be by the greats.
I’m sure Buick KBT shared cups of tea with The Wreckery, The Moodists and The Sacred Cowboys. They certainly shared stages with Venom P.Stinger, Go-Betweens, X , The Laughing Clowns and Dead Kennedys.
The Powerline Sneakers at The Day By The Green. Noni Dowling photo.
Well hello fellow I-94 Bar abusers! I took my skinny white bum down to Melbourne on the Friday morning – a 5am bus from the Farmhouse here in Dimboola, only a lazy 1000ks there and back - but folks, if they rock, I will travel. And A Day by the Green, the next day, was well worth it. Some call this long-running mini-festival “a day on the green”…well, it is held in St Kilda, after all.
They had a fabulous line-up, led by Melbourne rock royalty in John Nolan (ex- Powder Monkeys), in his most awesome band, The Powerline Sneakers. Also on the bill: River of Snakes, The Pro Tools, Seedy Jeezus , Cold Harbour, The Fiction, Me Graines and a couple of other bands that I missed (my bad.) I’ll be early next time.
SO FUCK DID IT RAIN. LET’S JUST GET THAT OUT OF THE WAY. Inside the dry setting of The St Kilda Sports Club, there were about 150 punters there when I made my grand entrance. No-one noticed, of course, because The Me Graines were pumping out a fine set of tunes, with a new drummer and a couple of well-chosen covers. They were right on the money - a $20 entry fee – and I got my money’s worth right there. And it’s only gonna get better.
Josh Lord is, despite the agit-prop-like art, a conservative. The morning after the opening of his Melbourne exhibition, Josh rose at 7am and started work on his next series of artworks. Then he went to town and did an interview. Then, finally realising he was still wrung out from the night before, he crashed.
Now, if most of us had worked all year and put everything into one night - granted the exhibition runs for a while yet, but the opening was “the event” - we’d be reeling around all wibbly-wobbly and a bit dazed for most of the following two days.
Josh is a working man, really. And art is his business. Whoever said that all capitalism is evil? Josh makes art which criticises both art and capitalism, but capitalism itself doesn’t have to be evil. There’s a lot of evil nasty sods out there. And it only takes a small percentage.
Michael Foxington photo
Sacred Cowboys on St Kilda Beach with the SS Minow.
“Sydney audiences can expect to hear much of the ‘Diamond in the Forehead’ album and a number of songs that will comprise our second album. Expect rock and roll out of the early 1970s, expect high volume in the guitar department, expect Nobel Prize-winning freak flag songs”
Garry Gray wrote this to me, and I visualise him, pounding the keyboard with pride about his forthcoming shows in Sydney in mid-November.
Gray has been making music for 42 years. I imagine by now he knows when he has a killer album ("Diamond in the Forehead") and a killer live band (The Sixth Circle) locked in. As I wrote a few months ago who when I caught The Sixth Circle live at the Tote Hoteland was blown away by a great, pure rock, street-level band:
All that dark and shade in this set; theatrics and drama. The tempo pulls back with “Club Siren”. “Our God hangs #6” is wild rock beat and with the guitars blues-based. Gray’s menacing vocals howling: 'I got hung without a trial'. "Cadillacs” has that proto punk rawness and a blues progression. There are elements of deep soul with raw gritty urban blues, and a solid rock 4/4 backbeat. Live, it is a no-nonsense rock monster.
From the first sentence in "Road Series", you’re in Hugo’s world, his past, present and by implication, future.
“Road Series” is one of the main reasons that a poor bloke like me can’t ever get history quite right: we have the dates, the events, the chronology lodged and squared away. But people like Hugo carry the emotive rationale, the anti-rationale, and the … moving finger writes inevitability of their lives locked inside them.
I suppose we could all say we have that, but few, very very few of us could write it out and get it right, express it right, show us who warn’t there just how it wuz.
We instantly inhabit Hugo’s world because, first and foremost when you’re reading a memoir, the writer is telling their story. Second, “Road Series” possesses a vividness, a real-in-colour sensation to it which so many memoirs of the punk and musical new wave period completely miss in their hurry to put down their rivals, tell juicy anecdotes and, basically, gossip.
And I’ll just say this, for an autobiographical account of a significant St Kildan musician from this rather bitchy, backstabbing period, there is an astonishing absence of tittle-tattle, knife-wielding and general spite. Hugo is remarkably matter-of-fact about things, and (again, from page one) the maelstrom continues like that whirling Tasmanian devil from the Warner Brothers cartoons.