patrick emery - The I-94 Bar
A scenario The Barman will appreciate: My place of employment has organised for middle-managers to attend a two-day leadership and management session. The notional proposition is clear: to build engagement across and up through to the more senior levels of the corporate hierarchy.
"Engagement", in this context, is a corporate-speak for constructive interaction in the workplace. You can talk to someone, but unless you’re both engaged, it’s just words. And what are words for, when no-one listens anymore?
We’re assembled at the venue, a mid-range hotel-cum-conference venue in Melbourne’s CBD. The room is small and stuffy. The only window looks out to construction works being undertaken across the street. The décor is unimpressive, patterned brown carpet like a Brunswick sharehouse, uncomfortable chairs, inconveniently placed supporting pillars.
Spencer P Jones. Spencer’s untimely and tragically premature passing was a lowlight of 2018. The only silver lining was the outpouring of love for the man, his music and his unbridled generosity. There will never be another like Spencer.
Beasts of Bourbon, Prince of Wales. Has there ever been a more emotional gig? Brian Hooper wheeled onto stage by nurses from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, plumes of smoke emanating from his oxygen mask. Spencer Jones, frail but determined to accompany his fellow Beast on stage for one last time. It was as sloppy as the Beasts once were, way back in the day. But it was beautiful.
Brian Hooper - "What Would I Know?" Recorded at Andrew McGee’s Empty Room property-cum-recording in Nagambie, Hooper’s reaction to the initial recording sessions was scathing. “It’s all shit,” he told me one day. But McGee saw enough in the recording to convince Hooper otherwise. A mixture of love, passion, pathos, self-loathing, resilience and gusto, this is a record brimming with emotional depth and musical complexity. RIP, Brian.
Jackson Briggs and the Heaters. James McCann put me onto these guys. Grinding country rock jams that should go on forever. They’ve got a new album out. Listen to it. Enjoy. Repeat.
The Breeders, Forum Theatre. It had been almost 25 years since I first saw The Breeders, at the Big Day Out in Adelaide, February 1994. On a Sunday night at the Forum Theatre The Breeders proved their every bit as vital as they were back in the day. I could listen to that riff in ‘I Just Wanna Get Along’ anytime.
It was the moment I knew the relationship was in trouble. It was April, 1993 at Le Rox in Adelaide. Ed Kuepper was headlining, but it was support act Kim Salmon - in solo mode - who was holding our attention.
Just as Salmon strummed the opening chords to “Words From a Woman To Her Man’”– still, when push comes to shove, one of my two favourite Salmon tunes (the other being its companion piece, “Something to Lean On”), a punter in front of us turned and rebuked my girlfriend for disturbing the aural ambience with her loud commentary.
I knew the relationship was in trouble because I wanted to side with the anonymous interlocutor from the crowd.
Raul in River of Snakes. Uncredited Facebook photo.
“I talk to a lot of people and musicians in rock’n’roll and they have a real resistance to it. ‘Why do you want to do that?’” laughs Raul Sanchez.
The object of Sanchez’s peers’ derision is his recently awakened interest and understanding in music theory – at first glance, anathema to the three-chord rock’n’roll style he’s explored and exploited as guitarist in Magic Dirt, Midnight Woolf and River of Snakes.
“Learning music theory blew my mind. I’ve known major and minor chords, but I’ve never really knew how they came from, how they worked, how they interacted, functional harmony, things like that. I just wondered ‘How the hell did we get by all those years writing songs without knowing this shit!’ You just grab that and that and say ‘Yeah, that sounds good’.”
The long-rumoured and exhaustively researched biography of iconic Australian musician Spencer P Jonesis out tomorrow.
Hard on the heels of the James McCann-compiled tribute double album, “All The Way With SPJ”, “Execution Days - The Life and Times of Spencer P Jones” is being published by Love Police and can be ordered here.
“Execution Days” was written by Melbournite Patrick Emery, who whose work has graced The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Beat, The Brag, Time Off, X-Press, Mess and Noise, Faster/ Louder, “1001 Albums You Must Hear” and the I-94 Bar.
Patrick carried out 150 interviews with friends, relatives and bandmates of the late Spencer, as well as the man himself.
With a career spanning over 40 years, Spencer’s resumé is vast, deep and eclectic, ranging from the wild cowpunk of The Johnnys, to the garage swamp of Beasts of Bourbon to the rugged beauty of his solo albums, to cameos with Ian Rilen, Paul Kelly, Maurice Frawley, Rowland S. Howard, Renee Geyer, Mudhoney and Violent Femmes. He also toured Europe with Sonny Vincent’s Shotgun Rationale.
“Execution Days” traces Spencer’s life from his childhood in New Zealand to his evolution as a musician in Australia to his profound impact on those around him. Along the way there are stories of irreverence and excess, of frustration and heartache, of friends loved and lost.
Execution Days: The Life and Times of Spencer P. Jones
By Patrick Emery (Love Police)
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Melbourne writer Patrick Emery’s exhaustively researched and engrossing biography of the late Spencer P. Jones is that it found a publisher.
Thanks to the internet, book publishing is a low-margin crap shoot. But Aussie publishing houses were already renowned for their lack of imagination and reluctance to take risks on books about anyone who’s not mainstream, middle-of-the-road or, ahem, National Living Treasures. Even those imprints that are outgrowths of universities, our bastions of free thought.
If you haven’t received a formal rejection letter from a friendly Aussie publisher after shopping a musician’s autobiography, you haven’t lived. The stupidity of not keeping and framing a letter that read, in part, “there is no market for this because Radio Birdman fans can’t read” is regrettable in hindsight – it should have gone straight to the pool room - but, fuck you, anyway, self-important publisher twat. You deserve to be shot by a ball of your own shit.
Patrick Emery suffered his share of similar fools while trying to place “Execution Days”.
SPENCER P. JONES
In "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", Robert Pirsig interrogates the very nature of quality through the lens of motor mechanics. Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.
Spencer Jones knew a thing or two about quality - especially musical quality. Born in 1956, the Year of Elvis, Spencer wanted to be a working musician as long as he could remember. Spencer’s family moved from the regional town of Te Awamutu to Auckland in 1965, the same year the British invasion swept through New Zealand, with tours by The Rolling Stones and, infamously, The Pretty Things.
Spencer’s grandfather was a gifted musician; his mother, too, was born with a natural ear. Recognising Spencer’s musical abilities, Spencer’s elder brother Ashley recommended his parents buy Spencer a guitar.
Carbie Warbie photo
PATRICK EMERY'S TOP 10
Nudity – Nudity Is God’s Creation– I ordered this through Richie Ramone’s Strangeworld Records on the basis of the name and a brief musical snippet alone. A re-release of a double album of choice cuts from 2005-2010, a smattering of Pagans-ish punk rock, Detroit garage, fuzzed out psychedelia and raga frenzies. My favourite vinyl purchase for 2021. The neighbours are still processing it.
Foggy Notion –great live band, great songs, talented players. By my count, we’ve seen them 10 times this year, with at least four shows cancelled due to you-know-what. New album out digitally, physical copy due March 2022.