The battle-lines used to be clearly drawn between Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney was the home of high-energy guitar rock in its many variants, many of them Motor City-derived, while Melbourne spawned an artier, darker strain of music with one foot squarely planted in territory that became known as junkie rock.
These days Sydney’s musical crown is less faded than displaced. Melbourne is in the ascendancy. Its thriving music scene retains an artiness but it rocks as well. The place still does darkness better than most but its palette seems broader. Its tentacles seem to spread further than any other scene in Australia.
Norwegian-American Mark Steiner has visited Melbourne and gulped hard on water drawn from its musical well. He did an Australian tour a few years back but the influences were obviously already in place. There’s a Bad Seeds/Rowland S Howard/Wreckery streak several kilometres wide running right down the back of his bluesy music, but it’s marked by poise rather than self pity.
This review could start with a pithy line about Melbourne cornering the Australian market for bluesy, ballsy female vocalists but it won’t - even if it might just be true. Let’s just say that Fiona Lee Maynard and her band, The Holy Men, face stiff competition in their home city, but manage to be at the head of the pack.
You might know the singer’s name from fronting In Vivo, the outfit whose ranks included Dave Thomas (Bored!) about 15 years ago. She was also in the more mainstream powerpoppy Have A Nice Day. The Holy Men are a lot more “street level”. Think of an Antipodean Johnette Napolitano with an Aussie pub-honed band behind her.
Harry Howard and The NDE at The Facory Floor. Lyndal Irons photo
Many years ago when Sydney was full of thriving, original music venues, Friday night for me was always a combination of either playing gigs or checking out new bands.
There was never a shortage. I grabbed my copy of "On the Street" on the Wednesday, eased into my chair and sat there with my red pen. After reading the odd review, I would scrawl and circle names of bands to see in the “What’s On.”
Every now then I would get to the Lansdowne, Evening Star, Hopetoun and many others and be happy with just finding a new band. Well, times change. Nothing remains the same. Seeing a new band is a rare night out these days.
Firstly, a big thumbs-up to compiler David Laing who is very much responsible for bringing us old bastards the best Australian ‘70s and ‘80s sounds that need to be re-issued (think “Do the Pop!” compilations, the Hitmen and Screaming Tribesmen reissues.)
Laingers (as we call him) has moved HQ from the “indie” Shock Records to the multinational Warner Music and has already unleashed cool comps of ‘60s Aussie garage (“Down Under Nuggets”) and 70s Aussie hard rock/ blues (“Boogie”). Now we have this fine collection of ‘70s Melbourne treats.
Hard to pick when I first heard the Stones. They've always been around, the songs, like a family member, those classic ‘60s hits: “Ruby Tuesday”, “Paint it Black”, “Get Off My Cloud”, “Mother’s Little Helper” and so on.
I knew heaps of Stones songs growing up. “Get your Ya Yas” out was popular at parties in Brisbane in the ‘70s. Flogged, it was. “Midnight Rambler” goes right alongside some drunken maniacs lurching around in a Brisbane backyard dancing the Pre Vomit Shake.
The tour is almost over and the verdicts are in following a re-tooling of the line-up with the controversial omission of guitarist Chris Masuak. We present divergent views of the sold-out Australian run of Radio Birdman shows.
Go here to read an appraisal of the Adelaide gig by Robert Brokenmouth and here to read Edwin Garland's read-out on the band's two Melbourne gigs. You can leave comments on both reviews. Photos are by Emmy Etie and Kyleigh Pitcher.
Regular visitor, Dinosaur Jr frontman and guitar-guru J Mascis returns to Australia and New Zealand in February 2015 for a stack of solo shows.
The Mascis itinerary includes an appearance at the Adelaide's Garden Of Unearthly Delights Aurora Spiegeltent, two spots as special guest to premier ambient / noise outfit Mogwai at Perth's International Arts Festival, headline performances along the Australian east coast (including first time solo appearances in Hobart and Canberra) and three gigs on the north island of New Zealand.
The 2015 tour follows the release of "Tied To A Star", the second solo album from Mascis that picks up exactly where 2011's debut "Several Shades Of Why" left off.
A committed underground music fan and member of acid rock cover band The Resurrection Men, Sydneysider Craig Norman is also the father of eight-year-old Jack, who is battling a non-operable brain tumour.
Craig and wife Tanya are fulltime public servants who have burned up much of their annual leave and are battling to give their son a decent quality of life, while also caring for their young daughter.
I-94 Bar patrons who can give a donation can help out here.
It’s evident that Italian-born Stiv Cantarelli is a musical creature of his environment. Basing himself in the US in the ’00s, his records reeked Americana and a return to Tuscany in 2012 spawned a dirty alt-country album (“Black Music/White Music”).
Fast-forward a couple of years. “Banks of the Lea” finds him relocated to London with a reconstituted Italian band and churning out urgent, punky blues rock with a dark streak. Music of a time and place.
It might be a prime tourist patch but when you scratch the surface, London is just another very big city. Cantarelli immersed himself in the everyday ordinariness of Hackney, of all places, and this record is the result.