In March 1993 I went to a show at Omniscient Gallery in Woolloongabba, a short lived art space opposite the legendary cricket oval. It was in a damp cellar on a stuffy Brisbane summer night, a thick blanket of smoke hovering over the room, mixing with the odour of mould. It was suffocating. On stage were two guys calling themselves Two Poor Boys (The Invisible Empire in duo mode), one playing big blues chords while the other hammered away at a fuzz-boxed slide mandolin. I was an instant fan.
I’d just heard their first cassette, An Unnatural Act, that had been lent to me by a new acquaintance, Ian Wadley. I’d been over to Ian’s house in Highgate Hill the week before where he flatted with Pat Ridgewell, mastermind behind Small World Experience. I remember pumpkins growing wild down the gully behind the house. Pat was cutting and pasting covers for the SWE 7′ ep when I walked in. They grated beetroot and carrot onto toast with avocado for lunch. Strange the things you remember.
I walked out of the house with copies of three life-changing sides under my arm: the SWE single, the DNE LP 47 Songs Humans Shouldn’t Sing and the aforementioned An Unnatural Act cassette. Up until that point I’d lived in blissful ignorance of a true Brisbane underground. The music coming out of Port Chalmers had been the centre of my universe. It was a pivotal moment.
|An Unnatural cassette cover|
Simon Ellaby and David MacKinnon had recorded An Unnatural Act in 1990, drunkenly banging around David’s one-bedroom flat in a fog induced by excess consumption of ‘super charged’ port (cask port mixed alternatively with gin or brandy). Third member Dina Bojic wisely gave the lads a wide berth as they overloaded the cassette player of David’s trusty 3 in 1 stereo, four fuzzboxes in series doing the job nicely. The results were a righteous racket, and quite unlike anything I’d heard before (or since).
At the time I mistook An Unnatural Act for a noise album, my misreading aided by the sonic limitations of my own playback device – a one-speaker bedside clock/cassette deck capable of making Mozart sound like Merzbow. I somehow missed what seems so obvious now – that it was first and foremost a blues album. That said, let’s be clear – it was some seriously weird sounding shit. Those parts with mad laughter in them – yeah, that’s real.
The aforementioned DNE record (and later SWE’s Shelf Life CD) were recorded at the house you see in the photo above on the corner of Vulture and Browning St in West End. So was the landmark third Invisible Empire album Blondes Chew More Gum. The house got renovated about 10 years ago and these days is a solicitor’s office. Back in the day it was a share house and practice space for several bands, including the Empire (later renamed The Lost Domain) and The Holy Ghosts.
|From the Two Poor Boys cassette|
By the time The Lost Domain were jamming at the Vulture St house, the trio had expanded into a glorious rockin’ five piece with three drummers. Simon recounts clearing the pipes at Vulture St:
I used to have a large white vinyl covered valve amp built by BJ amps out at Ipswich which he modelled on the old Fender Super amp used by Muddy Waters. BJ put in a volume boost foot switch which basically instantly quadrupled the volume. I remember playing my little acoustic mandolin with a bridge pick-up through two or three fuzz boxes in the ghost house room, feeling the dodgy old floorboards shake – there were holes in those boards which you could lose a small child down – then I’d hit the switch and I could feel the wind blow out from the amp speaker, then I’d have another drink.
The brethren also used to commune at Sheriff St, Spring Hill – not too far from the hallowed turf of Lang Park. Says brother Frank:
Sheriff St backed onto The Windmill Fine Food Cafe – open 24 hours, all the food in the hot box at least that old too – we knew someone who knew someone who shared a house there, and off the side of that room was a large walk-in wardrobe, and into that space on a blistering Brisbane summer day we squeezed three guitarists, three drummers, and a 4-track and we recorded ‘The New South’ instrumental track.
Days later I went round to Dave’s to record the vocal overdub. He had the title as usual and I had the name of a girl, a vague idea and a six pack. Dave set everything up, and then went to take a leak, and when he came back I said I was ready and we cut the vocal in one take.
‘The New South’ ended up on Blondes Chew More Gum, lovingly assembled at the time by Shytone chief executive David Mackinnon, aka John Henry Calvinist, in his signature VHS box with inlaid cassette cases and booklets crammed with artwork, essays and mischievous false histories of the band. The Shytone cassettes were Dave’s labour of love. I think he only made about 10 copies of each release – stamp numbered. Including the incredible double compilation cassette The Dead Set. Lordy, did they look and sound a treat.
|Kindling House collection.|
With the cassettes never really in existence, full marks go to the capital folks at Negative Guest List for their leap of faith in dropping Blondes onto two glorious slabs of wax enshrined in a deluxe gatefold adorned with gig flyers and a killer essay by Newcastle’s favourite son, Jon Dale.
You can support a good cause and purchase a copy from NGL here. Rumour has it that NGL are also going to give An Unnatural Act the reissue treatment in mid-2012. We loves them yes we do.
|Ian Wadley’s flyer for the same show.|
Epilogue: A couple of years ago local swedish dub master Bo Stalhman (see Lingonberry Jam post) contacted me to say he had a bag of cassettes someone had given him that looked like old Lost Domain recordings. We arranged a lunch rendezvous and when he arrived Bo dropped an old airline bag on the table with about 70 cassettes in it. Sure enough, it was every early recording the band had made – all there with Dave’s neat pencil notes on each one.
To my delight one of the first cassettes I pulled out was the Omniscient Gallery show from ’93 – my introduction to ‘the family’. The cover below of ‘Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On’ is from the show, and was included in the band’s second cassette Jeezly Fishcakes in ’92. I’ve lost my copy of Jeezly, so have taken this version straight from the live cassette. As such it won’t feature Dave’s damaged “recorded in a pre-war tin shed” mastering that no doubt graced the Jeezly track. That is to say, it’s not as good as Dave’s version, but it’s kinda closer to what I heard that night. I trust you enjoy.