Top Tens for 2021: Donat Tahiraj of Phase 4 Records and the LCMR label
2021 was a year of invention, reinvention and history slowly fading away – and that’s just on the subject of Brisbane music! Losing Fred Hardon of the Hardons and the Leftovers’ Ed Wreckage dealt huge blows as two pioneers from the first wave of punk gave their last middle fingers towards the sky.
From a personal standpoint, Phase 4 Records sadly left Fortitude Valley after six years and not because of the price of rent – just the ultimate cost of nobody bothering to walk its promenades while the sun was out. It’s the customers who help pay it after all!
After a brief stay under Backbone’s wing in East Brisbane before the council decided it’s best to turn a vibrant and accessible venue and artspace into greenspace (or is that developers’ dreamspace?), we again moved the store to a new forever home on the top floor of the Cave Inn, a ball’s throw from the grounds of the Gabba. Here, at the discretion of Omicron, we will be hosting bands and events as well as running Brisbane’s only after hours record and vintage emporium. The only downside could be the loss of our slender figures, with the pizza and beer providing fine companionship for our racks.
VOIGT/465 – "LIVE KIRK GALLERY 19/05/79" (Download only, self-released)
Sydney's Voigt/465 used punk almost as a cue to unleash a sound that captured their love of (daggy) UK art-rock of the early 70s and throw it right into the fire of Sydney’s ever-expanding inner-city music scene. Their Kirk Gallery show – which you’ll find on their Bandcamp page - was originally recorded via the ABC’s mobile truck for a radio broadcast that never happened.
This show (which was shared with the Thought Criminals and Tactics) serves as an impressive aural document from this short-lived act that left us with only one single and an album over their all-too-brief life. And if one more person spells the band name as Voight/465, I too may scream like co-lead vocalist Rae Macron Cru!
TRACEY THORN – "MY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FRIEND"
While many cried that this year that the Go-Betweens had somehow sold out by having "Streets of Your Town" appear in an Ampol commercial, they might’ve forgotten that the band’s first six albums had only dented critics charts during their 10 years with Lindy Morrison as their drummer. Despite the often glowing reviews of their work, they sold very little which explains why these days an original "16 Lovers Lane" LP is worth more than a couple of tanks of premium unleaded.
When the band broke up around the Christmas of 1989, it’s understood that all she had to show for all those years was the drum kit she played her inventive rhythms on which helped make that band just that little bit different. Lindy’s vast life before and after the band who loved double-L’s in their album titles has been hinted at in various books and documentaries over the years but never truly expanded upon.
While Tracey Thorn doesn’t offer the definitive in-depth biography, "My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend", is the first to dive a little deeper into her rich life, centering around their decades of friendship which began not long after the band relocated from Australia to London in 1982. Thorn’s writing style doesn’t get bogged down in minutiae and flows in a non-chronological way which offers a surprise at the start of each chapter.
THE EXPLODING UNIVERSE OF ED KUEPPER LP BOXSET (Feel Presents)
In 2021, Ed Kuepper’s first 45 years of making studio recordings is celebrated in the form of this neatly-packaged boxset. While the opening chord burst of "(I’m) Stranded" in the winter of 1976 isn’t the obvious starting point, it certainly covers a lot of ground when you consider there are around 50 albums with his name firmly stamped on it.
Firstly, there’s the "Golden Days: When Giants Walked the Earth" – a compilation album which slipped out on CD in the mid-'90s and serves as a perfect bottling of the various lineups surrounding Kuepper and drummer Jeffrey Wegener. Their changes in sound almost on a year-by-year basis is reminiscent of the early Saints - remembering that the band you see on camera at the Paddington Town Hall in 1977 would a year later record songs like "Everything’s Fine" and "Brisbane (Security City)".
Sure, collections of Kuepper’s songs spanning various eras have existed in the past ("The Butterfly Net" and "This is the Magic Mile" spring to mind), none have ever scooped up his single A sides which unsurprisingly requires immediate double album status without even checking the thickness of the sleeve. Again, there’s Ed Kuepper never bowing down to musical trends that came and went and simply following his own path of writing new songs and reinventing his guitar playing for his audience as much as for himself. That’s what you’ll find under the cellophane of "Singles ’86-’96".
Now when the Aints started up a couple of years back, the lovers of that troika of albums and all-too-few live shows from the early '90s were keen to hear not only the big wall of guitar but the extended jams which the band at times gave out. Turns out it wasn’t the Aints but the Aints! With the exclamation point in place, Ed’s very electric band played long, blistering sets which pulled out tunes which were considered for the Saints and later given to the Clowns or simply ones that were never previously realized in full.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that and the live album from the Marrickville Bowlo shows that Ed can go still go back to the start, play the guitar like he did out of a PA stack with that cherry red SG in his hands and take the listener on a totally new course – no matter how familiar it may all seem. On top of the aforementioned records, there’s a smattering of collector’s pieces too good to iron on to a shirt and too pretty to tack on the wall.
By the time you read this, you’ll find it on eBay at eye-watering prices, but fear not – they’re available individually through all good stockists here and elsewhere.
THE VERLAINES - "LIVE AT THE WINDSOR CASTLE 1986" 2LP (Schoolkids Records)
While it’s not the Verlaines’ greatest night as bootlegs in the past have hinted, their first official live release after forming in Dunedin some forty years ago is still a most welcome one.
With the classic three-piece line-up of Jane Dodd on bass and drummer Robbie Yeats working their serpentine way through mainstay Graeme Downes’s elaborate chord changes and song arrangements, the setlist is a great spread of tunes – despite lacking the ‘hit’ "Death and the Maiden". Songs which a year later would wind up on their second album "Bird Dog" are at times are presented in this Auckland pub with alternate lyrical lines and jumbled up verses. This glimpse of Downes bringing songs like these off the stage and into the studio is in a way the reward to the diehard fan for whom this album was undoubtedly made.
DELIRIUM SEEDS – "UNDERLAND" CD (self-released)
Slipping out ever so quietly in the middle of the year as a CD album (they’re coming back, you watch!), Brisbane's the Delirium Seeds second album shows is another grand display of Karl Nielsen’s command of clever pop songwriting that’s simmering beneath coats of fuzz and wah guitar.
BANDEMICFEST – Chardon’s Corner, Annerley – November.
Mark Spinks from Queensland’s sons of Salmon, Gravel Samwidge, (bravely) put together an afternoon to a mid-evening with some of Queensland’s finest underground acts under one vaguely preserved post-war suburban hotel roof. Mutanteer, Hee Haw, Eggvein and Guppy and Gravel Samwidge themselves were the most definite highlights. The outdoor smoker’s area was empty during most of the performances which could only suggest that Spinksy was not only a great, economic songwriter but also a dab hand at curating a rare anti-nostalgic multi-band bill in Brisbane.
Made up of members from early '90s noise guitar exponents Chopper Division and contemporary locals Koko Uzi as their name suggests, this dare-it-be-said super-group is one rather smart way of blending old memories of going home on the last train almost deaf, and the new by popping your ear plugs into your pocket and fighting your way home via the gridlock of midnight Valley traffic.
TANGLED SHOELACES – "TURN MY DIAL" LP (CHAPTER MUSIC)
Local legend has it that Jello Biafra had heard about a group of kids well under drinking age who played punk rock music from the leafy east Brisbane suburb of Capalaba called Tangled Shoelaces. And so when the Dead Kennedys rolled into Queensland for a string of shows in 1983, the three Mackerras kids and their friend Leigh rolled out their repertoire to a sea of mohawks and studded leather jackets with band logos sewn onto them.
As far as Biafra was concerned, they could very well be the next Eater! While punk (and especially post-punk) was a giant influence on the band, the music they made was unashamedly twee – before twee-pop was even a genre - and the minds of DK fans didn’t quite seem to bend to their quirky pop music. To offer a little bit of perspective, some of the other local support acts chosen for their Queensland leg included the Black Assassins, Public Execution and Mystery of Sixes.
Tangled Shoelaces existed for around five years starting out in 1980, leaving behind various one-off cassettes to their schoolmates with hand-painted sleeves, an astonishing C60-length album on the Cubbyhouse label "In The Land Of Lollypop Men" which featured one side of what could best be described as avant-garde tape collage and a 7” EP via Sydney’s most anti-rock label of the early 80s, M Squared.
So when Guy Blackman of Chapter Music told me he wanted to put together a compilation of their work, the archive here at HQ was delved into and out came a swag of cassettes, photos and other important cultural concerns which when put together by Guy himself made up the compilation LP, "Turn My Dial". Although the record spilled into the digital realm with extra tracks, it could’ve quite easily turned into a messy pile of obscurities and oddities given how prolific and eclectic they were (whilst not being punk rock). Instead, it’s a neat way of introduction to the overly productive and underrated Brisbane band. Now Guy, where’s our Particles anthology?
ED KUEPPER AND JIM WHITE
Ed Kuepper is one of the few musicians in Australia who will gladly play you some of his most loved tunes from the Kuepper Kannon and in turn present it to an audience who really don’t mind that or if the arrangement or approach is completely different to the studio recording. With the collaboration-happy Jim White, we see the fourth drums and guitar combination which first began back in 1990 with Mark Dawson for Kuepper’s album, "Today Wonder".
Like the dynamic duo with Jeffrey Wegener over a decade ago, there’s a volley of intricate drumming which adds a melodic flare as a counterpoint to Kuepper’s electric guitar playing. It was a welcome and completely unexpected pairing of two individual individuals which (if the future’s uncertainty will allow) should hopefully roll into 2022 for the true lovers of music out there.
CLINTON WALKER’S SUBURBAN SONGBOOK AND STRANDED (EXPANDED)
How other non-fiction authors are allowed to update and/or correct content in their books after its initial print run and not Clinton Walker is one of Australian literature’s great mysteries. Not only did his 2018 work "Deadly Woman Blues" get stripped from bookshelves nationwide and copies pulped (no pun intended), it seems that his previous book on indigenous music history, "Buried Country" too has disappeared from assorted state and national libraries without a word.
Despite it all, Walker has released two new books: an expanded and revised (as the front cover explains) version of 1996 work "Stranded" and an entirely new, self-published work – "Suburban Songbook" via his GoldenTone imprint. "Stranded" essentially covers the bands he saw and loved and doesn’t pretend to promise anything more. Out of these experiences sprang Walker’s easy and not-so-easy decades-long friendships with the musicians involved - from the Saints at point zero to when grunge really dug its heels into inner-city ‘indy’ (his spelling) music in the early '90s. He’s there at ground level and interviewing them, always knowing what to ask though not always remembering what not to print.
"Suburban Songbook" on the other hand takes the reader to a time before the kid from Kenmore picked up a typewriter and was still just a spectator. It functions as a work on the familiar and the unfamiliar where Pip Proud’s songs are just as important as those of Ross Wilson – only in a different way. Walker shows that it took a little time for Australian musicians to write their own songs and to break away from sounding like cheap copies of what was successful and happening elsewhere. Without giving away the end, we got there in time, and TV shows like "Countdown" were ready for it.
Donat Tahiraj is the co-owner of Phase 4 Records and the LCMR label with his partner, Julie Morrison and is the lifetime president of the Laughing Clowns Centre for Heightened Spirituality in your capital city. Donat flies with TAA – up, up and away! Donat chooses to stay at the Travelodge all around Australia. Donat’s hair is by Stefan – discover yourself. Donat is dressed exclusively by Tony Barlow Menswear. Shoes by John Karandonis.