Winter has not been a feature of my life for some years, in fact almost since the inception of The Re-mains we’ve found cause to be largely absent from it, whether in the Northern Territory, far north Queensland or Canada. But this year, as the band takes a hiatus from touring and I’m at Uni, here we are. Freezing….. We’ve launched the new album, Inland Sea in Maitland, Sydney, Yamba and Federal and next weekend, in Lennox Head and Nymboida. It’s selling well and getting radio play at various places….. The band is an eclectic beast, as always. With Shaun in semi-retirement, Tom Jones wintering in Darwin, Al Fisk tinkering in Sydney, CP (Christian Pyle) reprising his role on guitar and Darren Bridge the new bassplayer, it’s all new sets and relocating the sound….. Last weekend we played Lennox Head, Nymboida and a party near Alstonville. The band was in furious form and still recovering. Saturday night I’m playing solo at the Tatts in Lismore, opening for a band called the Little Stevies who are apparently making waves in the folk scene. In August I’m going south, to Goologong, where my mate Balfe aka Mush aka Craig Lawler (see his review of Inland Sea) and his beau, Josephine live, to rendezvous with the Lonely Horse Band for a week of songwriting on the ever contentious and lively issue of bushrangers, of which there are the ghosts and legacy of plenty in that region. August sees The Thoughtful Hussars return into action on the 26th, charging like the Light Brigade into the Gollan Hotel, where, supported by Captain Freedom, we’ll be playing a few new tunes and anticipating Dylanfest with a few run-throughs. On the 28th, The Re-Mains play in Brissie at The Old Museum, a venerable venue managed by the manager of Bang Bang Boss Kelly, a banjo-swinging mob from that part of the world who are launching an album of their own. …. In September a long awaited return to Darwin looks likely, with the return of Leigh Ivin to the band. We’ve been in discussion for a while about the possibility of recording some of the vast back catalogue of unrecorded country rock and roll classics (well, they’re classic to us – Country Rock and Roll is Number One, Coalface Annie, Sharks, Return to Lizard County, Beef Week Queen, Same Road … the list is exhaustive), and playing some reunion shows, culminating in a short stint at Tamworth Country Music Festival next year. A Darwin/NT run will be the first of these – looks like an interesting time. In October I’m playing Dylanfest at Coraki Hotel. Part of Darren Bridge’s growing musical empire, Dylanfest will be a celebration of the works of the great man (Dylan, not Bridge) by a variety of local and visiting outfits including Mick Hart, the man whose constant circumnavigations of the globe resemble those of Bob himself – and Hart did in fact support Dylan on one European leg of his never-ending tour a few years back….. The band I’m putting together for this festival will be known as The Antiquarian Filibuster and will feature the aforesaid impresario Darren Bridge on bass guitar, and on loan from Invisible Friend, Brendan Drinkwater on drums and Michael ‘Whitey’ White on electric piano and organ. …. I’m stoked to have this all-star lineup, as I’m really quite chuffed to be able to play a full set of Dylan songs at a proper festival. Dylan was personally responsible for lodging in my head the notion that I too, could write surreal and stream-of-consciousness narratives, whack a guitar and tootle on a harmonica and get paid for it and I’m returning the favour with renditions of Idiot Wind, Tangled Up in Blue, Jokerman, Sweetheart Like You, Just Like A Woman, I Want You, Lay Lady Lay, Mozambique, Oh Sister and possibly Series of Dreams….. This will be part of a busy month in which I am also supposed to be completing my thesis for Honours in Media. At the start of the month I’m playing Gibbostock in Nundle, a celebration of another great and strange man, Gibbo. That’s on the 2nd. These events are usually recreations of Nymagee Outback Music Festival in miniature, only with freezing cold instead of blinding heat as the central theme….. ON the 24th The Re-Mains, or a version of the band, will be playing Big Sunday at Tyalgum, in cahoots with Gleny Rae Virus and Den Hanrahan. These shows will also possibly feature the return of Leigh Ivin….. In November we’re on the bill of a small festival in Nymboida, again at the Coaching Station, owned by one Russell Crowe. His Museum of Interesting Things, on the site of this venerable building, holds a number of interesting props from such movies as Gladiator, Romper Stomper and Robin Hood, not to mention some of Johnny Cash’s gold records….. Later that month we’re also part of a bill at a big charity do at Lismore Turf Club at which The Hoodoo Gurus are allegedly also appearing. Stay tuned for more CRnR action.
Praise be to the Rooster – An insider’s review of Inland Sea
There’s a bit in Pumulwuy where the Re-mains stop channelling Hunters and Collectors for a moment and the weight drops – Silence. It’s like aspirin. Finally, the Re-Mains have discovered dynamics. Producer and guitar-slinger Christian Pyle evidently understands the power of both silence and cacophony.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this band, I’ve been to the coalface many times with them, Bourke, Gooloogong, Melbourne, Maitland, Moree – I’ve driven hundreds of ks on dirt roads just to see them live, we’ve got history. I used to share a house in Marrickville with Mick, I went to Uni with him in Canberra in the 80s, I knew him when he was a skinny Albury cracker listening to Chris Rea for fuck’s sake. I reckon, I’ve probably been to more Re-Mains gigs in more places than anyone bar Mick, Uncle Shaun or the Owl. But I rarely listen to their records.
I remember the conversation Mick and I had before he headed to Europe for the last time, the gist of that conversation?: get back, commit to music full-time, form a country rock and roll band and tour, tour, tour until something is built. That’s ten years ago and he’s been good to his word but what has been built? A consistently cracking live band that channels Creedence, Bob Dylan, WPA and the Bad Livers, which makes people from Saskatoon to Coonamble dance and drink too much, endless and indefatigable touring and a serious casualty list of crippled champions, line-up changes and ruined vehicles.
On record though? Too much emphasis on trying to capture the undeniable wallop of the live arena and less on allowing a full expression of the band’s talents. Records were something you got together in between tours to sell on tour, for someone who saw them live so often they were kind of superfluous – until now. This record’s been four years in making, not that they’ve been louching around Nellcote jamming and having orgies (much as they’d like to), but they’ve taken their time about it and it shows.
As you might have heard, there’s been a few hurdles: in 2007 a steer walked out in front of their van in the NT (home of no speed limits and no fences), Various bones and the steering column snap, the van careers off the road coming to rest between two huge boulders, Grant and Dave are still severely injured. Uncle Shaun got Cancer with a capital C but he’s back and firing. Mick and fellow Re-Mains founder steel-guitarist Leigh Ivin’s fractious relationship burst, as did that with Leigh’s replacement Mick Elliott. Two northern Summer tours of Canada saw new horizons conquered and a now collectible early draft version of this record, featuring Mick Elliott’s guitar work, released.
Through all of that, this record lurked, like the band, like Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher, It would not fucking die. IT LIVES.
Track by track:
2nd Century – Hola Beatriz. An ode to the end of the doomed relationship between an Albury boy and a great Galician beauty, Beatriz Villares de Cuba. Beti lived with us in Marrickville where we would infuriate her with incomprehensible conversations in deep strine which she could not ken despite being a professional translator of English: “You stupid farmer Mick, you cannot even speak English, what is this Mull Bowl?”
Your Reward – Setting the tone of measured yet mobile sonic adventure, this one floods into your loungeroom like sunlight through the a gap in the curtains, you can see the dust suspended. It swings, it floats, it’s ruffled by a breeze, it lands. Tom Jones deftly underpins it all with trademark swagger.
Copper City Motel – Doctor Pump once wrote me a letter about his first trip to Mount Isa (1982?) with his covers band The Avengers. It involved Medi-slims, Flagons and riding Mad-Max-style on the Bullbar of the truck hooting at passers-by (mostly cattle). Not much has changed in the Isa. Every band in Australia wishes they wrote this song: “we don’t play no Copperhead Road” indeed. This song also chronicles the meeting of the Re-Mains and last-man standing tent-boxing operator Fred Brophy. Talk about simpatico – beating the drum, dealing with rough-necks, keeping shit on the road, trying to entertain. Fred hits the outback demographic square on the chin, the Re-mains try and draw them into a clinch and sneak in a few crafty rabbit punches coupled with the occasional flashy bolo.
Things I Remember, Things I Forget – It’s a slow-building waltz and Daley eschews the literal and drops his generally taciturn emotional guard. “I’m a stranger, stranger in my own country, I’m a witness to death, and to deceit, and I’m a patriot …” An equivocal yet clear-eyed constitutional pre-amble if I ever heard one.
Pumulwuy – conjuring both Tony Joe White and Hunters and Collectors, this is a belter. The great Eora guerilla gets a righteous tribute with a thumping bassline and clarion horns treatment which should come up huge with the aid of the Kenny G Spot Horns Experience at some stage.
Praise be to the Rooster – The first time West Wyalong has been mentioned in a song since the Aunty Jack Show (Kev Kavanagh if I recall correctly). A fractured loping banjo-fuelled ballad of something gone wrong – it happened out on the Bland.
Who Shot Johnny D? – recalling the Re-mains classics Ballad of a Wrong’un and My Friend the Bushranger, this slice of subterranean north coast action sums up the dichotomy that is Nimbin – it’s like a tie-dyed, stupid-hat-wearing version of The Wire. It broods, it skulks, then explodes. Must go down a treat at Mardi Grass time.
Tequila and Methadone – Gronk national anthem.
Othello’s P76 – when I first streamed this on the Re-Mains Myspace page a couple of years back I knew something was up. Sonic adventure, an elliptical lyric and the poison dwarf square in the sights. It was my favourite Re-mains recording to that point and remains so.
This could be Anywhere – from the Canadian Prairies to the dun-green wastes of New South Wales, globalisation and road-weariness expressed through the personal.
Darn Tootin’ in Saskatchewan – I wish I was there. Things get shifty in Canada, a party favourite. I reckon it’s the first time Canadian breakfast TV has been treated to lyrics about “waiting for the acid to kick in.”
Left on King – “In the ruins of where we used to play” just about sums it up. Sydney used to be the joint, bands from Melbourne used to move there to get ahead (can you imagine that?). Is anyone still there? “Every time I go to Sydney I get the flu”. Daley, you’ve been reading my mail …
Woke Up Sad – Good fucking grief – vulnerability expressed by Michael Daley in a public forum? Wonders never cease. Deft and gloopy electric piano makes it positively sweet. It hit me somewhat like the shock of Bob Dylan’s “I want you”. Where’d this come from? The old curmudgeon’s got a heart.
Golden Shoes – This spectral outro keeps the freak on.
Anyway, it’s the Re-Mains best record. I’ve just listened to it three times in a row – you should too.