Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Lighthouse Keepers – Ode to Nothing

Ode to Nothing replaces the 2 disc anthology of Phantom’s long-gone Lipsnipegroin by offering a compact overview of Sydney pop group the Lighthouse Keepers' three or so years in a ‘best of’ (or in a more perfect world, a Greatest Hits!) fashion. And so Feel Presents have created a neat little g’day to those who’ve gotten down on hands and knees sifting through crates of records in the hopes that they might get a chance to hear more than a stray compilation track by the Lighthouse Keepers and a debriefing for those who were around to see them explode and implode.

The Lighthouse Keepers were the folk-pop infused wedge between the Particles and the Cannanes; with all three sharing the multi-instrumentalist Stephen O’Neil, whose Canberra beginnings in Guthegga Pipeline spawned another future Cannane member in Gavin Butler and principal songwriter, Greg Appel. But I’m going too far backward, so moving forward five year to a space between 1983 and 1986; the Lighthouse Keepers toured the country and abroad on the back of records released by Hot and their own independent label Guthegga Pipeline Records.
Hot kindly repressed their Gargoyle single, and subsequently released Ocean Liner, their double-A side Ode to Nothing/Seven Years and sole LP, Tales of the Unexpected. And in between there was the mini-LP The Exploding Lighthouse Keepers. What Ode to Nothing does is scoop the cream from these releases and turns it into a 15 track entrée.
Hot of course had other Sydney-based groups along the lines of the cousins referred to earlier; the Celibate Rifles, Laughing Clowns, the Triffids and not to mention the Warumpi Band from the red center. The first three of these groups have basked in the sunlight of warm press after their break-ups or sabbaticals when people uncover what Australian independent music has to offer, though the Lighthouse Keepers have strangely avoided similar praise by local and international press. Too twee to be indie? Too folk to be post-punk? Flannelette shirts 15yrs too late or 5yrs too early? Whichever theory you might want to go for (or maybe none of these at all) - this release will hopefully cement their place as one of Australia's wondrous groups of the 1980s and rightfully place primary songwriter Greg Appel in the calibre of vehicle leaders David McComb, Ed Kuepper and Peter Milton Walsh.

A4 flyer from a selection of Sydney shows in 1984. (Donat Tahiraj Archive)

When Clinton Walker’s punk and post-punk bible from 1982 Inner City Sound was reprinted in 2005, Walker extended the original 1981 ending to 1985, much to the disappointment of some puritans out there. And what the extension did was to smartly include groups like the Lighthouse Keepers. The caption beside the very same photo that is the basis of the Ode to Nothing CD cover and back sleeve shot of their LP describes them succinctly, “after the Go-Betweens and the Triffids had legitimized acoustic guitars in a post-punk context, the Lighthouse Keepers picked up as if where the Particles left off. Arriving with a splash in Sydney from Canberra in 1983, the Keepers boasted the unmistakable voice of Juliet Ward and the positively strange but great songwriter in Greg Appel.”

My English teacher once asked his puzzled grade 12 class, “what makes for a great poem?” And as we struggled to find the right answer, he whispered – “its timelessness.” This is what makes the Lighthouse Keepers great, its timelessness – and even though this compilation is long overdue, it nonetheless exists in a way that’s tasteful through a thoughtfully selected group of songs that captures the beauty of the Lighthouse Keepers.

Ode to Nothing is available in Australia by Feel Presents and distributed through Fuse.
The Lighthouse Keepers are performing two sets at the Sandringham Hotel in Sydney on September 9th. Tickets available through Moshtix.
Would the last person to leave please turn-out the lighthouse?


Dr Steve said...

Totally agree! Thanks amigo, keep up the good work. Love thy blog.

stan said...

Ha, I saw this at Landspeed Records in Canberra on Friday night but opted to buy the new Mick Harvey instead. I have Tales of the Unexpected and Imploding on vinyl, so I guess I probably don't need the CD as well, but those are both long unavailable and this new release will do nicely for anyone less fortunate than myself. Nice to see these great songs getting another go-round.