Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Look at the last Laughing Clowns LP - Ghosts of an Ideal Wife

Painting by Judi Dransfield-Kuepper

When the Laughing Clowns broke up in late 1982 and began a new course of direction with Peter Milton Walsh as their bassist the following year, the so-tagged 'free jazz' element of the Clowns would be left in the past.

Like bandleader Ed Kuepper's previous band the Saints, the Laughing Clowns also moved themselves away from their previous releases to push a new sonic boundary with each vinyl release. By 1983, the band had stripped down its sound, and the mixture of horns, drums and fretless and double-bass competing against one another for the forefront with the wafer thin guitar floating through the tidal waves of soloing had disappeared.

In that year the band recorded Law of Nature and it was the first time the focus was more on the lyrics than the virtuosity of its musicians propelling it. Songs began to stop drifting past the 5 minute mark, and the sparse piano playing from the first 18 months of the band courtesy of Dan Wallace-Crabbe reappears again with adjunct member Chris Abrahams, while the delicate layering of electric and acoustic guitars (which made the basis of Kuepper's debut Electrical Storm) showing its first signs of life.

With Ghosts of an Ideal Wife, the Clowns final album posthumously released in the early months of 1985, the band had already broken up in the December of the previous year after an east-coast tour of Australia. With the bolstered brass backing comprising of Glad Reed on trombone with Louise Elliott and Diane Spence taking on various members of the saxophone family. With bassist Peter Milton Walsh amicably departing to pursue his songwriting with the Apartments and the band adding the eighteen-year old Paul Smith, the last (1980s) line-up of Laughing Clowns surprisingly dusted off a selection of tracks from Prehistoric Sounds - including Everything's Fine, Swing for the Crime, and Brisbane (Security City) - songs which hadn't graced their setlists since their first shows in and around Sydney in 1979. For the 1984 tour, Kuepper made good use of the large horn section to breathe new life into the songs in which the Saints had never played live during their signing to Harvest in the UK.

When the Prehistoric Sounds was released locally in 1979 by EMI, it was the same year the Clowns formed (close to a year after the Saints dissolved in London) and Ed Kuepper essentially went out to promote the LP with his new outfit as vocalist Chris Bailey adopted the Saints name whilst removing himself (albeit temporarily) from the band's past when they surfaced in Australia to tour in the year of the monkey (1980).

The final line-up of the Laughing Clowns before their reunion in 2009. Photo by Judi Dransfield-Kuepper

From the opening blast of Crystal Clear (the only single taken from the album which featured the non-album b-side, Just Because I Like) and its anti-funk hi-hat galloping relentlessly for 4:44, to the high tensioned drama of The Flypaper dangling on the edge of side B, Ghosts of Ideal Wife carries the heavy shadows of the past along 37 minute course of bitter pasts goodbyes. Ed Kuepper's finger slide guitar of No Words of Honour, the non-horned New Bully in the Town a sequel of sorts to the American prewar hillbilly of the folk tune Bully of the Town, recorded by the Skillet Lickers in 1926.

And in terms of continuum, Ghosts of an Ideal Wife acts in many ways as the sequel to Prehistoric Sounds itself. Not only the fact that Winter's Way (along with the Aints track Red Aces) dates back to as early as 1975 to when the aspiring photographer Jeffrey Wegener was holding court as the Saints drummer. [Winter's Way was also a part of the repertoire of the first Laughing Clowns line-up. A 1979 recording of this song with Kuepper on 12 string guitar has since been lost.]

Both Ghosts of an Ideal Wife and Prehistoric Sounds give resonance to a band breaking up and struggling against the odds to complete what's been started and duly carrying a a course of songs wrapped up in a colourful, harmonious brass section. The title-track boasts Kuepper's first recorded appearance of the humble banjo with a lengthy solo workout resembling his later acoustic duo work with drummer Mark Dawson on the 1990 album, Today Wonder.

... and then like a cord being pulled out of a wall, the song Ghosts of an Ideal Wife and the album itself stops in mid-flight as The Only One that Knows opens the windows that is side B. The album's only epic, though in the sense of minutes, seven seems quite modest compared to previous workouts presented on Laughing Clowns 3 and Mr Uddich Schmuddich Goes to Town. Nonetheless the tune's drama and its ebb and flow effect courtesy of Jeffrey Wegener's ability to go well past mere time keeping and come back again in a matter of bars.

Like Bob Dylan, Kuepper's lyrics rarely give much away. With his marriage to Judi Dransfield around the corner, Kuepper opens up with another chanson d'amour in the vein of their hit but missed, Eternally Yours with It Gets so Sentimental.

Laughing Clowns close up with the Flypaper - with the riveted ride cymbal catapulting to damaged the damaged lead break and again to a piano, before the single coils light up again and the horn section squeezes the last blow of energy and leaves us with a fading guitar note. Then it's goodbye...

Something 'bout a rise and fall when token signs you've seen/ 
Your Gods are not love/
You still the wear the names of those who've gone and gone and gone and never return/
Flypaper that's on the wall I've said enough often enough.

Logan and Albert News, December 19, 1984. Donat Tahiraj Archive.

Kuepper had considered retirement from music altogether after five years of fronting his own band and had seriously considered opening up a bookshop. That was until he decided to take a guitar along to his honeymoon and the rest (as they say) is history. Louise Elliott and Jeffrey Wegener soon joined Chris Bailey's version of the Saints for a tour. Glad Reed and Diane Spence joined Just a Drummer. Paul Smith appeared in Ed Kuepper's first solo touring band and on his second album, Rooms of the Magnificent with guest appearances by Reed and Spence.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kelpies, The - Official Bootleg - The Dungeon Tapes: Live at 51 Stanley Street

The Kelpies came to my attention via the classic Phantom Records
compilation "Paths of Pain to Jewels of Glory", which I posted here
a long time ago. They also were on the Sydney punk band compilation
"Flowers From The Dustbin" . So a single on Phantom, some tracks
on compilation albums and this rough and ready LP that comes from
a few different sources. This early 80's Sydney band should have
gone places!

The following is from a review found here

This album comes in at just over an hour and represents the Kelpies
complete recorded legacy. The tracks are derived from three sources.
First up and accounting for well over half the tracks and almost
exactly half of the running time here are what have become known
variously as "The Dungeon Tapes",
"The Kelpies Official Bootleg" and/or "Live At 51 Stanley Street".

Continually broke and forced to eke out a subsistence level existence
on the dole, several of the Kelpies shared an old, rented terrace
house in East Sydney, which became the centre of the band's
world as the extent of their horizon contracted to the four walls
of 51 Stanley Street,
gigs evaporating in the wake of their growing reputation for
precipitating audience violence at their shows.
A reputation that, by the way, was overblown by at least fifty percent
according to them (meaning that yes, there was a lot of violence at
their gigs, but no, they don't reckon they directly incited any of it).

Unable to afford access to a rehearsal studio and increasingly
constrained from performing live, they used their abundant spare
time to line their basement walls with old mattresses, covered the
ceiling with discarded egg cartons and then took to playing their
live set there day after day to stay in practice.
Having turned their basement into a home rehearsal studio,
it didn't take much of a leap of the imagination to convert it
into a home recording studio as well, by borrowing a cassette recorder
and stringing up a couple of microphones from the light fittings.

This then is perhaps the true sound of punk,
it is certainly the true sound of the Kelpies -
young and keen and burning with frustration;
playing not for the sake of fat record contracts,
fame and fortune or even their fans,
but simply for their own satisfaction in an otherwise empty room.
_ John McPharlin

01 Living In A World Of Fear 
02 Love Is A Revolution 
03 Rich Man 
04 I Don't Know Why 
05 Dead Meat 
06 Underway 
07 Brand New Cadillac 
08 Life Looks So Good Through A Beer Bottle
09 Change
10 Die
11 Ride
12 Without The Pain
13 Naked Flesh
14 Television

Download Here

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Four Hours Sleep - More Of Her 1996

Only 600 copies of this Cd were printed a rare and
wonderful thing!

Four Hours Sleep is a Melbourne supergroup, of sorts, 
with music by Bill McDonald (Rebecca's Empire, Frente,
Ultrasound), lyrics by Stephen Cummings, guest appearances 
by Angie Hart and David McComb and the wildcard,
a thrilling cameo by ex-Orange Juice singer Edwyn Collins,
from Scotland. But More of Her, a one-off release with this
line up but a continuing project for the versatile McDonald, 
is not as clearcut and linear as it seems. 

With input also from brothers Peter (Black Sorrows,
Chris Wilson) and Dan (Blackeyed Susans) Luscombe
and with the grab-bag of singers and musicians 
given the room to interpret the songs reasonably freely,
Four Hours Sleep in this instance has become a varied
musical palette with individuals clearly able to influence 
the final mix at will.
Continuity, therefore, is a problem, but not a large one. 

More of Her manages to run from a tear-soaked 
but totally traditionalist duet between Cummings and Hart 
("Stick To My Fingers") to a classic ballad about falling in love
 ("A Real Miracle", again featuring the voice of Hart) 
to a clutch of fairly rollicking guitar-rock tunes. All, however,
display the subtlety and tendency toward sublime melody 
that have distinguished both Cummings' and McDonald's
musical history.
The Edwyn Collins connection emerged when McDonald 
played bass for him on a promo-tour last year
 (he's also more recently lent his bass sound to a forthcoming 
Neneh Cherry album)
The result, "Don't You Ever Listen To Me", is classic pop in 
the same way the top ten "A Girl Like You"
 (and much of Gorgeous George) was, and confirms Collins' 
standing as one of the finest vocalists of both the Eighties 
(with Orange Juice) and, now, the Nineties.

But, in the end, More of Her, succeeds because of the 
instinctive musical chemistry between McDonald and 
Cummings, who have worked together for years, and, of course, 
Cummings' bittersweet lyrics of urban joy and heartbreak.
 In this way it could be seen as the Cummings album 
you have when you don't have a Cummings album, 
as he has always been an active collaborator within the
 Melbourne scene. But it's not. 
It's just a lowkey but accomplished supergroup.

Chris Johnston - Australian Rolling Stone March 1996 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Don Walker - Melbourne, 26 july 2012

Steve a long time contributor to the SSS blog has sent in his
wonderful recording of a recent Don Walker gig.
From his early work in Cold Chisel, his solo work, to his work
with Tex Perkins as a 3rd of the Tex Don And Charlie trio he is
considered one of Australia's greatest song writers.
Thanks Steve

Don Walker And The Suave Fucks
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
26 July 2012

01 Sitting In A Bar
02 Angry Women
03 Everybody
04 Postcard from Elvis
05 Young Girls Intro
06 Young Girls
07 The Perfect Crime(?)
08 Four In The Morning
09 Nightfishing
10 Hully Gully
11 I'm Feeling Lucky
12 Get Along
13 The Good Book
14 Johnny's Gone
15 HQ454 Monroe Intro
16 HQ454 Monroe
17 Band Intros
18 Harry Was A Bad Bugger
19 Eternity
20 My Girl
21 Stay Positive(?)

Dave Blight - harmonica
Garret Costigan - pedal steel
Glen Hanna - guitar
Roy Payne - guitar
Hamish Stuart - drums
Michael Vidale - bass
Don Walker - piano, vocals

Download Here