ian rilen - The I-94 Bar
X in full flight in Sydney. Murray Bennett photo
Forty years of X and there’s a national tour to celebrate. Who would have thought? Certainly none of the original members, of which Steve Lucas is the only one remaining alive.
Lucas and bassist Ian Rilen were, of course, the only constant members of X. Almost. Even Ian was went briefly MIA from one line-up. The pair’s tumultuous relationship has been documented in many places and they were the heart and soul of the band.
Make sure you read until the end. Let’s talk vinyl first:
The A side of this is where the voice (and guitar, for the most part) of X goes back to the ‘60s to show off his sentimental side. Steve Lucas pulled together a capable combo in Levi Franco (drums), Ryan MaCay (bass) and Herbie Mayhem (piano) to play his songs a couple of years ago, so strap yourself in.
“Ever So Lovely” is an ode to Mrs Lucas (hi Joey!), set to raunchy guitars and set off by Steve’s warm but chipped-at-the-edges vocal. Shades of A.R.M., his fabulous Oz Rock project of 20 years ago, here but not as excessive and fixed in the now.
Before there was punk rock there was Ian Rilen. Then there was X.
X weren't punks in the sense of the term that the skinheads understood but they were primal, punk rock and roll in one combustible package.
Sydney had never seen a band like X whose wrecking ball power centred on Rilen's bass-played-as-a-lead-instrument, the massive backbeat of fellow veteran Steve Cafeiro, the slashing guitar of Ian Krahe and the shredding vocals of Steve Lucas, the latter two rookies.
Living a quiet life wasn't part of the X creed. Krahe's submission to a heroin overdose left the already outlawed X even more out on a limb, but they grimly continued as a trio and proceeded to record their debut album with legendary guitarist Lobby Loyde producing.
"X-Aspirations" became an instant classic, setting a benchmark for a whole legion of new, uncompromising and minimalist bands.
These words (and those that follow) were written for the liner notes for the 2009 re-issue of X’s debut album “X-Aspirations” but were inadvertently shelved. We’re reviving them to coincide with the 40th anniversary tour by the X line-up that lives on after the passing of all original members except guitarist-vocalist Steve Lucas. Lucas has crowd-sourced a Best of and Rarities collection ("X-Citations") on vinyl, copies of which will be available at the gigs. Read on.
“For Those That Dance with the Skeleton”
by Kim Volkman
It was George Bernard-Shaw who said: “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance” and it’s a maxim St Kilda musician-turned-author Kim Volkman has applied exceptionally well.
Kim’s first book, the autobiographical “The Devil Won’t Take Charity” (2017), was a rip-roaring Harley ride through his own back pages that hung out enough dirty laundry to keep 10 dry cleaners in work for a month.
“For Those That Dance with the Skeleton” is occasionally more of the same but in vignette form. These are short stories about OCD girlfriends, workmates, dentists, rostered days off, kicking smoking and indulging addictions (like guitars and heroin) all rendered in unique style and peppered with dry humour.
Steve Lucas at the Newtown Social Club. Murray Bennett photo
X is a Sydney band.
I can’t think any other outfit that personified the street-level, brutal and at times minimalistic music of Sin City Sydney of the late ‘70s like X. Theirs' was a world of squats with a city awash with Terrence Clark's cheap smack, the odour of brown bags of dirty money and nightly beatings at Darlo police station.
It was a world of corrupt pollies and police in the post-Askin Sydney. X captured that harsh, nihilistic inner-city world. One that has long since been gentrified.
Mainstream media’s full of stories about the re-birth of vinyl, but anyone with half a clue knows the format never died. What’s glossed over in all the breathless reportage about black platters is the Art of the Seven-Inch Single. Consider the facts…
Back in rock and roll’s heady days of the ‘60s - long before FM radio and the LP format took hold - singles were the deatyh or glory, one-shot-at-the-prize for many bands. The A side of a 45 was a distillation of a band’s essence. The B side was for experimenting.
Melbourne musician Steve Lucas is a big fan of the 45 and acutely aware of the place in music that the format holds.
X-Aspirations - X (SL Express)
The (mild) hype accompanying the 40th anniversary edition was deserved and - and then some. This is as essential an Australian “punk” album as the Radio Birdman and Saints debuts - even if comparatively few people noticed at the time.
The reputation of “X-Aspirations” as the ultimate in primal, spontaneous and minimally brutal music fron this part of the world (Australia) has grown with every re-issue, and this re-mastered vinyl version is surely the last word.
Sydney-reared and as street-level as a band could be, X had all but been destroyed by reputation and reality by the time they went into Trafalgar Studios in 1979. Venue owners despised them and the crowd they attracted. Gigs inevitably ended with a full house, physical damage, spilled blood and a warning for the band not to come back.
It’s a brilliant idea so why didn’t someone do it before?
What’s that? you say. Record a bunch of iconic, mostly Sydney, underground songs in a way that honours the originals but makes them their own – at least for a few minutes.
UK-born, Brisbane-bred John Kennedy became a fixture on Sydney inner-city scene in the 1980s after cutting his musical teeth in his hometown. His distinctive “urban western” songs, and his bands JFK and The Cuban Crisis and John Kennedy’s Love Gone Wrong, earned him a healthy niche in a city that back then was groaning with musical talent.
John Kennedy was always backed by excellent bands and inevitably joined his peers in spreading their versions of the word on the national touring circuit, before moving overseas for a time. He and various line-ups of his John Kennedy’s ‘68 Comeback Special have been kicking around the now skeletal Sydney scene (read: Inner-Western Delta) for the last decade or so.
You all know who Dan Brodie is, right? He’s released several LPs and EPs and yeah. You need this lil’ gem in your collection.
Why? Apart from the songs, it’s a fine little story of r’n’r excess, consequences, surgical procedures and ends with a damn-the-consequences romp in sterling style. I’ll quickly add that the production on the EP is damn fine too - that’s Glen Hewer, and the mastering is raucous and clean: David Briggs.
Remember that sublimely raw set of demos by the Australian X that came out as the “X-Spurts” CD a few years ago? Canadian label Ugly Pop Records has just re-issued it on vinyl after doing the same with the “X-Aspirations” album.
Recorded in a lounge room in Sydney's Surry Hills and stored for 35 years, "X-Spurts" pre-dates "X-Aspiration" and features the oririginal X line-up in stunning form. This is one of the greatest "lost" recordings to have been unearthed of any band. You can procure a copy here and there is an Australian distributor if you prefer the bricks and mortar store option.
KIm Volkman and the Whiskey Priests come from Melbourne. No shock there. Most of the best Australian rock and roll does. And this is a record - like most of them - with a beginning and an end. No shit again, Sherlock. The distinction is that the songs at each end book-end and define what's inbetween - and it's pretty fucking great.
The slightly frayed vocal of opening track "I'm Still Standing (Alive and Well)" and its swaggering, Oz Rock chug suits its survivor sentiment to a tee. And the cover of the Jagger/Richards classic "Silver Train" that closes the album is pulled off with consummate, ragged ease.
Stones and Oz Rock. They're children of the blues. Throw in the inevitable Ian Rilen and the Love Addicts comparison (more on that later) and you'll appreciate how "The Devil Won't Take Charity" nails its colours to the masts.
It’s been said that everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay. Melbourne musician Kim Volkman begs to differ.
Now, he’s not exactly a household name so you could well ask what business Volkman has writing an autobiography. If you do I’ll not-so-respectfully point out that Justin Bieber has five (allegedly) self-penned books against his name on Amazon right now.
It helps that Volkman has led an interesting musical life. Guitarist with Ian Rilen and the Love Addicts - one of the most underrated, raw and real bands to appear on Australian stages in the last 30 years - he’s also had three stints filling his late ex-band leader’s bass spot in X.
Volkman’s played with many lesser-known bands - including his own very good Whiskey Priests. Unlike Justin Bieber, he’s never had notable success. That’s probably a good thing in Kim’s case - on his own admission, it might have killed him.
Belated reviews are the best reviews. You know, better late than never.
Eleven days have elapsed since feedtime played Marrickville Bowling Club. The excuse for the late review is that the tinnitus needed time to subside. No, there are never excuses, only reasons. After experiencing two - Two sets! Count ‘em! - sets by feedftime in one night, you need time to get over it.
Not time to analyse it. Music like theirs should never be picked over like an insect that ends up pinned to a back-board in a display case at the Australian Museum. As if you didn’t know, feedtime plays music from the guts, not the head.
Allow me a brief Robert Brokenmouth-style digression.
He never sought the limelight but Greg Sawers was one of Sydney rock and roll's greatest unsung servants. His passing last night after a fight with illness has left a vacuum.
Greg was a longtime manager of Ian Rilen and The Love Addicts, Louis Tillett and X. He worked with ex-Noiseworks member turned solo artist Steve Balbi, and a raft of others. He was pivotal behind the release of the posthumous Ian Rilen and the Love Addicts album, "Family From Cuba".
A concert rigging crew supervisor, Greg had been battling ill-health for much of 2020.
UPDATE: Greg's funeral will be held at 12:15pm on Friday, December 4 at the Palm Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, Macquarie Park. Wake details to be confirmed.
Whatever your view about recent and current line-ups of the band (and there are naysayers of the Rilen-less version), X in their prime were The Real Deal. On a good night, no other act in Australia could match them for raw intensity with an underlying musicality.
There was something dangerous about X and it wasn’t just the lunatics that followed them, leaving a trail of smashed glasses, broken furniture and self-inflicted flesh wounds behind them.
That’s why the 40-year anniversary package of “X-Citations Vol 1” is so welcome. Picking up on the earliest days of X - the four-piece with Steve Lucas on vocals and Ian Krahe on guitar - and pushing through to the end of original drummer Steve Cafeiro’s tenure, this vinyl collection of 14 songs serves as a perfect reminder - or an introduction for the unaware - to their unique music.