Saturday, 24 January 2015

Comedy and jazz from lost Melbourne: All Aboard! - Alan Rowe The One-Man Show (196?) and Graeme Bell & His Dixieland Jazz Band (1947)

Comedy is one of the most ephemeral art forms there is. What people find funny is very specific to a time and place and it dates almost immediately. While this can make comedy from only a couple of years ago seem stale and boring, that same effect can make comedy from decades or centuries ago incredibly illuminating in terms of understanding that culture and getting a feel for the real world of the bourgeoisie.

Alan Rowe was a very family-friendly comedian who did impressions, sang songs and performed bits about the suburban experience in Melbourne around the early sixties. His was an old-fashioned, one-man show in the vaudeville tradition. To a modern listener, this kind of performance can sound a bit Arthur Atkinson from The Fast Show, but there’s no question that Alan was a consummate performer with original material and a good rapport with his audience. One of my favourite bits, and one that illustrates the timelessness of certain Melbourne institutions, is the one where Alan calls the running of a train on the Frankston line in the style of a horse racing announcer. With a few minimal updates, you could probably perform this routine today and still get laughs in Melbourne. Rowe's songs Living In A Flat and Dad’s Lost Weekend likewise reflect an early celebration of Australian suburban-ness that is still recognisable today.



Rowe’s final bit relates a story of a booking for a show in which all the other acts cancel, leaving Alan to take their place via his impressions. He replicates a female soprano, a bass baritone (“Michael Row The Boat Ashore), a countrified harmonica (“Home On The Range”), a banjo-mandolin player and finally as Graeme Bell’s six-piece Dixieland Jazz Band. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Graeme Bell was such a well-known fixture in Australian pop culture as to be an instantly familiar reference.

To round out this little sonic window into lost Melbourne, here’s a 10” 78RPM record by Graeme Bell & His Dixieland Jazz Band that I found in a Reservoir op-shop. Ever the skilled showman, even with only his voice and a piano Alan does a pretty good impression of the band.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The REAL hidden, late-career Libaek treasure: White Midnight - Sven Libaek (1983)

EDIT 11/01/2015: When I posted this a month ago, I uploaded the wrong song. I had accidentally uploaded The Settlement; an original Libaek soundtrack composition which can be found on the I Love Australian Movies LP. A nice track  to be sure, but not of the quality of White Midnight, which has now been uploaded to the player below.

Sven Libaek produced so much wonderful music during his career, but at some point in the late seventies his output suddenly became very schmaltzy and unremarkable. Gone are the exciting, idiosyncratic soundtracks, replaced with easy listening orchestral cheese. I see these late-career records regularly in my travels and sometimes I can’t resist buying them, despite knowing full well they’re going to be terrible, due to my deeply ingrained love of Libaek.

Every now and again, I find that these records harbour a song worth listening to or even, in this case, a flat-out excellent example of the Libaek genre. 1983’s Love Is In The Air is a collection of pedestrian covers played by the Sven Libaek Orchestra and is unlikely to be included in the Libaek classic canon. However, buried in the middle of the second side is White Midnight, a song written by Sven and originally recorded in 1965 by The Saints (not the well-known Australian punk rock band) on their obscure Australian skiing record, Ski With The Saints, which Libaek produced for CBS.

This track, despite bearing sonic hallmarks that make it clear it was recorded in the eighties, is pure golden-era Libaek, sounding like it could be a condensed section from Australian Suite or an excerpt from one of Sven’s soundtracks. Have a listen and be the judge: is this a lost Libaek gem, or what?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Revisiting John Sangster's Lord of the Rings LPs.


        When discussing The Hobbit Suite record two years ago, I offhandedly described John Sangster’s Lord of the Rings LPs as too ‘trad-jazzy’ for my tastes. I have been revisiting a few of these albums of late – prompted in part from reading Sangster’s autobiography Seeing The Rafters (1988) – and I’ve gotten new insights into the man’s work that have caused a revision in my thinking on these albums.
Sangster’s Tolkien-themed series of albums comprised, The Hobbit Suite (1973), Lord of the Rings (1975), Lord of the Rings Vol. 2 (1976), Double Vibes: Hobbit (1977), Lord of the Rings Vol 3. (1977) and Landscapes of Middle Earth (1978). All of these were double LPs released on EMI apart from the two hobbit records which were single LPs released on local jazz label Swaggie. The EMI records have all been excellently remastered and re-released on CD by Move Records. Swaggie have remastered and re-released The Hobbit Suite and selections from Double Vibes which features the aforementioned album plus four songs from the latter title. (Given the paucity of reissues of Australian jazz recordings from the sixties and seventies, this may provide some indication of the esteem in which these records are still held by people in the local music industry.)
The Hobbit Suite was apparently quite a spontaneous recording with a small ensemble and most of the tracks are first takes. After the success of this record Sangster was emboldened to try more ambitious arrangements for the new music he was writing and went to a major label that could support his vision. These records feature expanded brass and string sections in addition to the core jazz band.

For the past year or so I have been thoroughly listening to the first two LOTR albums and The Hobbit Suite which preceded them. (I haven’t heard LOTR Vol 3. or Landscapes of Middle Earth at all – and I won’t do for quite some time. Sangster died in 1995, his musical output was finite and I’ve got to make this stuff last.)
Firstly, despite the aesthetics of the cover art and the song titles being allusions to Tolkien at face value, Sangster’s autobiography makes clear that these records too, are autobiographies. His life, in musical form. For example, the ‘Knockabout Trolls’ from The Hobbit Suite? Those ‘trolls’ are Sango and Sluggsy AKA his mate, drummer Len Barnard, doubling on washboard out the front of the band! And as for the stoned laughter and banter in the background of Longbottom Leaf from LOTR Vol 2. well, let’s just say that they may well have been method-acting. Legolas et al may hail from Middle Earth, but the birds calls in the field recordings on these albums are clearly from natives of the New South Wales temperate forests, near Sangster’s home of Sydney.
In addition to these coded titles, the music itself represents the myriad of styles that Sangster has played in, beginning in the burgeoning Australian jazz scene of the forties. From his book: “If you want a musical autobiography, it's all there in the Lord of the Rings albums. A crazed montage of all the jazz (and other) idioms I've been involved with during my life. All the musics I love are in there; some plainly stated, some distorted and disguised a little bit the way memories sometimes go."
My dismissive description of the LOTR records as merely ‘trad jazz’ is just plain wrong; these records encompass a ridiculous range of music from within and without the jazz scene, such as old-style trad, ragtime, be-bop, big-band/swing, blues, film music, avant garde and musique concrete. The fact that the first LOTR record has a track like Uncle Gandalf Needs You followed immediately by Ents And Entwives is a feat of juxtaposition that shows how ballsy Sangster really was. Sangster worshipped old greats like Bix Beiderbecke and Ellington, but he was equally a fan of experimental icons like Sun Ra, Moondog and Xenakis and all these influences coexist on these discs.

I’m glad I persevered with these records as these are superb examples of Sangster’s work and are significant albums, not just for Australian jazz, but Australian music in general. Is it too much to hope that one day Sangster’s music will see a resurgence amongst the hipsters and the Oz music bourgeois alike, and Sango himself celebrated as an unheralded genius? I really hope so. Australians are famously unwilling to revere their own as cultural figures worth praising, but a talent like John Sangster must transcend this and take a rightful place in the antipodean cultural canon alongside the likes of Barry Humphries or Charles Blackman. On yer Sango. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Lord, Why? - The Cambrian Explosion


This is the second single from The Cambrian Explosion's album release Marine Theology. Yes, this is a song from my own band and I'd very much like you to hear it. On this one, we grind out some garage gospel with an arsenal of vintage and modern instrumentation, including flute and cümbüş.

The lyrics recount a lament from a protagonist attempting to reconcile the existence of fossils, dinosaurs and other natural phenomena with a fundamentalist belief system. Lord, why'd you leave the shells on the mountaintop?


You can download this song for free on our Bandcamp page.



Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Wave In The Ocean - The Cambrian Explosion

A Wave In The Ocean is lovely vocal pop number with an overall middle-eastern fusion style, accented by the Turkish oud. (To be more precise, a cümbüş.) It's the first single from Marine Theology, an oceanic theme album from my band, The Cambrian Explosion. I realise this is a little outside of my usual brief for this blog, but this is music of which I am extremely proud and would like to share with as many people as possible. Let me know what you think, and please pass this on to musical fellow travelers if this is your kind of thing.





Thursday, 19 June 2014

Nature Songs - Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service (1978)

 Although I was brought up in Victoria - Australia's southernmost mainland state and a long way from tropical Queensland - this record of environmentally themed children's tunes reminds me of my childhood. My family's particular jam was the classic Feathers, Fur or Fin by Don Spencer, but there must be a whole world of Australian ecological kid's music out there to discover. Due to the incredible natural heritage we've inherited, environmental education is often given a high priority in Australian schools, even at the earliest levels. And as all educators know, there's no more effective route to data retention than singing along to a catchy, upbeat tune strummed on a guitar.

Although a lot of these tracks are folky, three chord guitar-based numbers, there is plenty of inventiveness in the execution of these Nature Songs. I'm The Spider is rendered as a weird, glammy stomp with a delay pedal guitar solo. Marsupial's instructive lyrics about our unique native mammals are delivered via kind-of-rapping backed by indigenous didgeridoo and rhythm sticks.




The lyrical content is occasionally a little ham-fisted, but overall fun and informative and not afraid to touch on environmental issues that might seem too obscure for kids. What songwriter today would have the balls to write an entire song about decomposition for a children's audience with lines like:
I decided to look closer, I bent down on my knee, I saw some fruiting bodies of the bracket fungi. Looking even closer, I saw some fibrous threads, fungi have no roots so use hyphae instead? Or an entire song about coral polyps or epiphytes?

The record is divided by the two sides; side one is the dry side featuring songs about life on land, side two is the wet side (from The Polyp Song onward), featuring songs about life in the water.

Label: Private
Released: 1978
Players: Brian Mackness - words and music.
Sandy Pollard - lead vocals and harmony, six and twelve string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, flute, descant recorder, alto recorder, sopranino recorder, autoharp, glockenspiel, percussion and sound production.
Laurie Stone - mandolin, technical  advice, sound mixing and production.
Steve Errey - sound recording.
Jacky Nisbet - vocals and harmonies.
Keth Ross - banjo.
Mick Walker - blues harp.
Darryl Boyd, Jason Boyd and Leanne Mash - narration, vocals.
Sam Bun'tarrawuy - didgeridoo.
John Guillot, Robyn Kreis - percussion.
Brian Mackness - sound production.
Peter Ogilvie - bird call recordings.
Amanda Hadley, Melinda (Lindy) Hadley, Gregory Hadley, Gregory Marsh, Tony Rasmussen, Stuart Marsh, Kathryn Marsh - vocals.

Engineered by Laurie Stone at Multi Media Studios, Spring Hill, Brisbane.

Mediafire.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

I'm selling a couple of Libaek singles on eBay.

If anyone's interested I'm selling some singles on eBay, amongst them, a few Libaek records: the Thatcherie single from the Inner Space soundtrack, the Boney Title Theme single from the Boney soundtrack and the Andy Sundstrom Northern Territory single composed and produced by Libaek and previously featured on this blog. I've also got a bunch of 7" singles released by Secret Chiefs 3 in 2007 and a Ween single from White Pepper, if you're into those sorts of things.