Turin Brakes

If serendipity is a marker of success, then Turin Brakes may be the greatest band I know. My journey with them began when I strolled into the record store near where I worked in South Melbourne and their album ‘The Optimist’ was playing. I quickly bought the CD and fell in love with it. For younger readers, a ‘record store’ was a shop devoted solely to selling music…it was a bit like Spotify, except you got to drink the music one album at a time…instead of wrapping your mouth around a musical fire-hose. A ‘CD’ was like a digital download…but without any of the convenience. CD’s did however have ‘liner notes’ that you could spend hours reading and dissecting because the artists didn’t have wikipedia pages where you could learn everything you ever needed to know about them. For older readers ‘hours’ were the measurement of time you used to have up your sleeve, before you had kids, to do things you actually wanted to do.
‘The Optimist’ was on pretty high rotation as Katie and I prepared to get married, and even played a part in our wedding. When Turin Brakes released ‘Ether Song’ the next year, they were pretty much locked in as one of our favourite bands. Whether we driving in the car or cooking a meal, Turin Brakes became our soundtrack. The only thing better than listening to the harmonies of Olly and Gale, was listening to the harmonies that Katie would come up with singing along with them. It was an absolute certainty that we would see them when they toured.


However, from memory, one of the two key members of the group had a serious fear of flying, and while they were regularly touring the UK and parts of Europe, the lengthy flight to Australia was proving a bridge too far. Then suddenly, in what was clearly divine providence a tour was announced that would coincide with our 1 year wedding anniversary! What joy!
But proving that the God’s can indeed be cruel, we realised that we would be in Tasmania when they were playing in Melbourne…and in what can only be described as a cruel blow, they would be in Tasmania when we were in Melbourne.
So we missed out on seeing them.

I bought their next album ‘Jackinabox’ in 2005 and it was a cracker…but in the liner notes there were photos that were clearly taken down on the St. Kilda foreshore, and it served as a subtle reminder that they had been in Melbourne…and I hadn’t seen them.

By 2007 we had a 1yo child and I had started a slow decline into musical irrelevance. I simply no longer had the money or the time to stay on top of new music. I was also riding to and from work everyday and so was no longer listening to the radio to hear new songs…besides, to paraphrase Homer Simpson ‘Why do we need new music? Everyone knows it reached perfection in 2001!’

But then I heard Fee B Squared on the RRR-FM Breakfasters announce that she had a new track by a band called Turin Brakes and played ‘Stalker’. The song still had the beautiful harmonies…but also had a sense of self-assurance and urgency. My love for the band was reignited by the simple good fortune of listening to the radio at the right time. Best of all, I was able to walk into a JB HiFi and buy a CD that didn’t have dust on it!


The album was great, but over the next 10 years (and two further children) I well and truly lost touch with the band. I briefly reacquainted myself with them when I stumbled across Olly talking to Phillip Bloom a photographer/videographer whose work I really like, and who was unaware that he was in a video battle with Zack Arias to see if I would go with Canon or Fuji for my big camera purchase.
Then, one afternoon some friends came over and on the spur of the moment we decided to get some pizzas. I drove to collect them, and on the way home I happened to be listening to the radio when an ad for the Northcote Social Club came on, and among the list of bands they had coming soon, was Turin Brakes! Now the odds of me happening to be in the car, with the radio on instead of a podcast, and of the radio being on PBS-FM when the ad came on, and of them having Turin Brakes on the list of upcoming artists seemed pretty astronomical. In fact part of me was pretty sure that there was a hot new band called ‘Curing Snakes’ and I had simply misheard the ad. Nonetheless, when I got home I jumped on my phone and checked the Northcote Social Club website, and sure enough, Turin Brakes were coming to Melbourne, and playing a venue less than 3kms from my house! Needless to say, tickets were purchased quick smart.

Taking photos at the gig

So that’s where the story could have ended. ‘Boy finds band, boy loses band, boy finds band again.’ But as the gig drew closer, I realised that it would be an awesome opportunity to take some photos of the band at the show. I’d recently taken some photos next door at the 303 Bar and Danny Ross was happy with those shots, so I knew I could do it…I just had to work out how.
So I sent the Northcote Social Club an email explaining that I’d like to take some photos at the gig, and that I already had a ticket, so it wasn’t going to cost them anything. They explained that I would need to get a press pass from the company organising the tour (Bluesfest touring), and at this point I started to wonder if it was worth trying to get a press-pass just so that I could take some photos of a band that I liked. Also, Turin Brakes have a song called ‘Stalker’…and I was starting to wonder how ‘some guy says he’s a big fan and wants to come and take photos of you’ was going to sound.


But I also realised that a large part of my reticence was having to step out of my comfort zone, and while that is never pleasant,  it’s usually where I learn the most. Plus, it really was a win-win. If the photos were good then the touring company got some free photos, and I got the chance to take some photos of a band I love that I could keep for the next 15 years until they toured again! So I sent the email, and a few emails later, I got the press pass.

I’d only ever shot at gigs where the band had invited me, so one of the first things I learned was that the photographers only get to shoot for the first three songs. I don’t know if this is so that the photographers don’t get to stay for a free show…but it does kinda suck, as bands rarely hit their straps until after the first three songs. Plus, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to work out which lenses and which settings work.


I decided I was going to rely pretty heavily on the 56mm as it handles the low-light so well…and is just a beautiful lens to work with. Plus I would take the 10-24mm so that I could at least get a few wide-angle shots that had the whole band.

I got the venue just before the support act started so that I could chat to the bar manager and get the lay of the land. The rules were pretty simple; First 3 songs, No flash, no backstage. I asked if seeing as I had a ticket if I could keep shooting…he said ‘no, that was the agreement they had with the touring company’. So I headed in to watch the support act, have a look at the lighting and try desperately to work out what was going to work in terms of settings.

Lee Rosser

In the interests of not making the non-photographers read this want to gouge their eyes out by banging on about the technical aspects of the photos, I will just say that the 56mm was awesome, and that the X-t1 is a genuine joy to shoot with. Beyond that, if you have any questions, hit me up in the comments and we’ll crap on about f-stops and shutter speeds until our virginity grows back.

The wash-up

  • I shot just under 200 photos in the three songs with Turin Brakes and 3 songs with the support act (Lee Rosser), from this I got about 30 photos I was happy enough to keep and 12 photos I was happy enough to share.
  • walking into that environment and acting like you belong makes a big difference.
  • Drummers really do sit too far back for me to get a decent shot
  • There are things that happen during songs after your 3 song limit that would make amazing photos…and you just have to look at them, acknowledge that they would have made a great photo, and die a little bit inside
  • Getting to take photos of one of your favourite bands, and then stay up the front for the rest of the gig is pretty much a dream. Sure they didn’t stop halfway through a song and say ‘Wait, is that a Fuji camera? We love those. You should totally come backstage after the show, take moody portraits of us, then spend hours dissecting our lyrics before we all decide to appear on your podcast’…but you know…but it was still pretty awesome!
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone and take a chance!
  • Turin Brakes were worth the 15 year wait.

 

2 Degrees of Melbourne: Episode 3 – Geraldine Quinn

Late last year I attended the live recording of one of my favourite podcasts (for the podcast fans among you it’s ‘The Sweetest Plum‘, I suggest you go out and subscribe to it). Part of the entertainment was a performer called Geraldine Quinn who was introduced as ‘a local star on the cabaret scene’ and my first thought was ‘Oh Christ, here comes a jazz hands solo.’ Now admittedly this was based on a single cabaret experience from about 15 years ago in Las Vegas that involved a very large gentleman dressed as Cher from the ‘Turn back time‘ film clip, yelling songs and telling dick jokes…but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let go of my ill-informed prejudices!

Anyhow, it would have been socially awkward to have just stood up and walked out, so I stayed and listened to Geraldine rework a well known song into a song about the two guys who do the podcast (Declan and Nick). The lyrics were really funny and she clearly was a fan of the podcast, but what really made me reframe any misgivings I had about cabaret performers was when she hit the chorus like the proverbial freight train. Not only could she sing…but she could REALLY sing, and she had a voice that filled the whole room and said ‘I’m not doing this by halves, I’m going to give this everything…and by the end of it, you will almost like a Whitney Houston song!’ (you can hear the podcast here, Geraldine is about 80% of the way through).

So when I embarked on this little project of interviewing people who represent my favourite things about Melbourne…I knew that Geraldine had to be one of them.
Now it may have taken about 2 months of organising to finally sort a time, but on Monday she came into the 2 Degrees studio (aka the dining room) and here is my interview with her

 

Two Degrees of Melbourne – Geraldine Quinn from 2 Degrees of Separation on Vimeo.

I’m really happy with how this video came up…so happy in fact that I had to break with the traditional ‘black and white’ look of the other videos because the colour version looked so good. A huge note of thanks to John for bringing me a tripod at very late notice when the base plate to mine failed to re-appear…and an even bigger note of thanks to Geraldine for making the time to be interviewed and being such a great interviewee.
You can check out where Geraldine is playing on her site or on her myriad social media sites…but whatever you do, get out and see her, you won’t be disappointed!

Music from back in my day

I recently purchased three new albums on CD…and I realised that for my kids, at least three elements of this may not make any sense by the time they are teenagers. I mean who the hell will still buy music?…and if they do why buy an album when there’s only one song that they really like? And CD’s? CD’s?! For Christ’s sake Dad, you’re embarrassing us and yourself.
So I wanted to write some timeless advice to my kids about how to enjoy music, no matter technology brings…and why they shouldn’t throw out my CD collection when they eventually put me in a home (although this can pretty much be summarised by ‘there’s a CD of the Dandy Warhol’s debut album signed by the whole band…you don’t want to know what Daddy did to get it…but it’s probably worth some money now’).

Albums

In the past bands have released the ‘best’/’most likely to move units’ song off their album…in the hope that you would purchase the whole album. That was basically the choice, if you wanted to buy a single song, you bought the single…if you wanted more than one you bought the album. But of course nowadays you can simply grab individual tracks from an album, and ignore the rest. This is CHEATING!
Look, I like chocolate, and I like eggs, and I’m willing to tolerate flour…as individual ingredients they range from tolerable to delicious…but all combined, they can make an amazing cake (or a horrifying breakfast). And that’s what the band wants you to eat (the cake that is…not the breakfast). They have structured the album to be enjoyed as a whole, not broken up into individual elements and digested in isolation. So even if you don’t like some of the songs on the first listen, you should always buy the whole album. If for no other reason than there will be songs that on the first couple of listens don’t do anything for you…but suddenly start to grow on you, until they are the songs you want to listen much more than the song you originally bought the album for.

Hi Fidelity

No doubt by the time you read this, you will have no problem streaming enormous audio files at full quality anywhere you want (unless the NBN got scrapped and you have an elaborate network of strings and cans), but in my day we had to make a choice between high quality sound that took a long time to arrive, and lower quality sound that was there whenever we wanted it. We thought about this for about 6 seconds, and decided that we wanted our music now, now, NOW! and so the mp3 was born.
Now I’m not one of these people who demands that you listen to everything on vinyl*, and on a stereo* that has valve powered amps* and was designed by some German artisan who died while making it…but I do beg that you at least listen to music at the highest quality setting you can get, and that you get yourself some decent headphones. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to a song through decent headphones or speakers and heard a whole new parts of the song I’d never heard before.

The music you listen to from age 16 to 22 will be the best music ever

Now clearly this isn’t true, because everyone knows that the best music ever made was released from 1991- 1997 (which coincidentally was when I was 16 – 22), but I’m sure that you will believe something to the contrary. Because the music you listen to from 16 – 22 will be the soundtrack to your teen angst, your first love, the inevitable first break up, freedom, repression, sex, drugs and haircuts that you will regret for the rest of your life. But most importantly, you will have large amounts of time to totally immerse yourself in music. You will have time to listen to songs over and over again…and it’s this repetition that will hardwire the songs into your brain and inextricably link them with the incredible emotions you are feeling and give these songs a potency and resonance that words cannot describe.
Nonetheless I will tell it’s rubbish and demand you turn it down, and, if my worst fears are realised, will insist you listen to music from 1991 – 1997 so that ‘you can hear some real music’. I apologise in advance.

Go see live music

No doubt by the time you are reading this, you will be able to access any concert anywhere in the world, and listen to it in crystal clear audio and with HD vision. But this is not the same as being there. You won’t feel the entire audience being won over as Beth Gibbons lays her soul bare by singing one line in ‘Over’ with such passion and intensity that 10,000 people at Festival Hall think she is singing to them, you won’t feel the sheer power of Dana Colley playing two saxophones at once, you wont feel the euphoria as DJ Shadow drops the beat on Organ Donor and every person around you collectively loses their shit. You won’t feel it, because you weren’t there, you weren’t part of that moment.
So get out and see as much live music as you can. Because one day all of this will have past you by, and you’ll be writing blogs about music to your kids instead of going out and seeing a band.
If genetic selection is true, then you will hopefully have inherited my love of music and your mother’s musical talent and will be able to actually play music AND have a fantastic music collection. But even if you don’t, music should be one of the most important things in your life. So whether you stream it, or play it, or it is fed directly into your cerebral cortex via a chip, expose yourself to as much music as you can and remember if a music style exists, then there is someone out there who is doing it well enough for you to listen it…you just need to find them. And most importantly, if anyone other than Daft Punk tries to make music with a vocoder or autotune…you just ignore it…just ignore it.

 

* Just Google these and stop trying to make me feel older than I already do!

2 Degrees of Melbourne – Episode 2 : Mick Thomas

Given the number of times I’ve looked up on a stage and seen Mick Thomas singing or telling a story…it was a tad surreal to see him standing in my kitchen chatting about the real life person that Dickens’ ‘Fagin’ was based upon. But when you bite the bullet and decide to put some energy into being creative for a year…these sorts of things start to happen.

A bit of background

For those who don’t know, Mick Thomas is a Melbourne based singer songwriter. He is probably best known for his work with ‘Wedding’s, Parties Anything’, but has also released numerous albums as both a solo performer and with ‘Mick Thomas and the sure thing’…and has written soundtracks and theater productions.
While I had always been vaguely aware of ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’ (it’s a memorable band name…and their constant touring meant I saw a lot of their posters around) it wasn’t until a friend of mine (Dave Walsh) brought a song of theirs in to play on my student radio show. The song was ‘A tale they won’t believe’ and basically tells the true story of a group of convicts escaping from a prison on Tasmania, and eventually resorting to cannibalism. As far as songs about cannibalism go, it was pretty awesome.
I bought a couple of albums and was hooked. Having been raised on a pretty strong diet of Irish folk music and occasional ‘Bushwackers’ dances…I recognised the sound and the energy of the music…but suddenly it had lyrics about Australian history, or the trials of being in a relationship and working different hours, or being mistaken for Jack Jones. Most importantly a lot of the songs were about life in Melbourne.
So when I came up with the idea of doing short videos on people who I thought were an integral part of Melbourne…Mick Thomas was one of my ‘must haves’.
Flushed with the success of the Andy White video (over 2,500 views on Vimeo!), I just decided to try my luck and simply sent Mick an email via his website explaining what I was looking to do…and in a rare display of poor judgement…he agreed to take part!

Preparing for the interview

I love listening to interviews by Mark Colvin and Jesse Thorn…if for no other reason, than that wonderful moment you can almost hear the guest think ‘Oh wow…this guy has really done his research’. There is a near-tangible change in the way the interviewee responds to the questions, because they realise that they aren’t going to be asked the same questions they’ve been asked before, by someone who is contractually obliged to talk to them….they are talking to someone who has put in some effort, has some great questions and the mental agility to respond to anything they say.
Clearly I wasn’t looking to achieve these lofty standards…but I wanted to be closer to them, than to Richard Wilkins on the red carpet asking ‘So who are you wearing?’
So I did as much internet research as I could…which proved to be a good idea, because one my questions was going to be about the brilliant lyrics in one song he sings…which research revealed to be a cover he does. Nothing makes a songwriter happier than having someone praise a song they sing that they didn’t write.

The interview

One thing I’ve learnt over the course of the two interviews is that when you’re by yourself and filming on one main camera, and filming on a second camera (my phone), and monitoring audio, and asking the questions, and actively listening to the responses and framing your next question, and doing your best to make sure your interviewee is comfortable…you tend to get to the end of the interview and think ‘Well that seemed to go well…but I’ve got no idea if it’s going to work as a five minute video?’
But I think it does…and so here is Mick Thomas

2 Degrees of Melbourne – Mick Thomas from 2 Degrees of Separation on Vimeo.

In conclusion

The music I wrote for Andy’s video just didn’t work with Mick’s…so I had to write something else (and by ‘write’ I clearly mean ‘stick together a series of samples in Garageband’). But I’m really glad I did. I also had to call an end to the interview a little earlier than I would have liked because the the camera was starting to overheat…and I ran out of memory on the card (shooting at 50fps is all well and good to get nice slow motion…but it chews through the memory!)…and editing in 1.5 hour blocks between putting the kids to bed and going to bed myself was less than ideal.
But I can live with all of these little issues, the one thing I’m still annoyed with myself about is that with Mick standing right there in my kitchen I didn’t have the guts to tell him that I think that he is one of the best singer/songwriters that Australia has ever produced…and certainly my favourite. And that Melbourne is so lucky to have someone to immortalise it in song. So I’ll just write it here instead, and pretend that this somehow makes up for it.
But if you’d like to make up for my inadequacy, then I heartily suggest that you all ‘do yourself a favour’ and go out and buy a ‘Weddings, Parties Anything’ album or a ‘Mick Thomas and the Sure Thing’ album, or head to Tassie and check out ‘Vandemonian Lags‘…or just visit Mick’s site and see when he’s performing next.
You won’t regret it.

The song that changed my life…kinda.

Rafael Epstein has a segment on his radio show on 774 ABC Melbourne where people talk about the song that changed their life, and every time I think about it, there is one song that really stands out: ‘Red 2‘ by Dave Clark. But it’s not because it heralded the onset of some amazing time in my life, more that it marked the end of one.

The rave scene in the early 90’s

If this were a news report or documentary, this is the part where you cut to the footage of people dancing with glow sticks in a massive club while a light show explodes around them. But in truth this is not where this story starts. In year 11 and 12  at school (1992-93) I started listening to techno music. Back then it was called ‘trance’ and it was still well and truly outside of the mainstream. DJ’s who would eventually play at parties for 10,000s of people like Will e Tell and Richie Rich were still playing the back room at Insanity at the Chevron to a transient group of about 20 punters.

Community radio was the only place to find it. There was one show that I listened to religiously called ‘Beat in the street‘ (that later became ‘Transmission’) on RRR-FM hosted by Kate Bathgate. I used to tape every show, and then listen to the tape on my walkman again, and again and again at school over the next week.
Going to a private all-boys school meant that listening to anything other than MMM or Fox-FM was basically like walking into a steakhouse and just ordering a salad, it simply wasn’t done. So listening to these tapes in the common room at school had a sort of forbidden pleasure element to it.
I started going to dance parties (or in the parlance of 1994 ‘raves’) regularly when I started Uni and it was a total revelation. The venues were usually shitty warehouses with one toilet. The sound systems were prone to blowing just as everyone was going apeshit (Thomas Heckman, I’m looking in your direction) and the people attending them were the offcuts from society. There were tall and lanky guys and short squat women. They had their own dresscode (highly coloured clothes, with very wide pants and very tight tops). They didn’t drink and there was none of the agro that hung over the club scene like a fog as soon as the clock hit 2am. And the music…well it was like nothing I had ever heard! There was the big 4/4 beat driving it along, but there were also floating basslines and awesome melody lines that I just loved. If you can imagine my music up until this point being basically nothing but guitars and the occasional hip-hop track… then suddenly hearing this or this you can get an idea of just how big a change it was.
It was a very friendly and welcoming scene, and like so many sub-cultures, part of the pleasure was sharing an experience with a whole lot of like minded people. I would head to these parties at about midnight and then dance until the early morning…then catch the first train home. Some how I managed to also accommodate my exhausting 8 contact hours a week of uni. I was living the dream.

Cometh the drugs, cometh the pretty people…endeth the party

By the mid 90’s the parties were getting bigger and better, with the Hardware and Every Picture Tells a Story parties attracting thousands of people…and with that I started to notice more and more people from clubland appearing at the raves. It started with a slow trickle of muscly men in white t-shirts and their blonde bombshells…and eventually became a monsoon of pretty people armed with whistles, glow sticks and talcum powder. But of course these people weren’t here for the music…they were there because someone had told them that it was cool to go to raves and do drugs.
Now of course drugs had always been a big part of the rave scene, but suddenly people were no longer going to listen to the music and maybe do some drugs…they were going to do some drugs and maybe listen to some music. So the music slowly began to morph away from the flowing melodies and soaring chords, towards something that said ‘look, you’ve spent a lot of money on those two pills and that gram of speed…let’s give you something that you can just grind your teeth to all night’. To me Red 2 was the tipping point. It was so sparse, so mechanical, and so minimal that I felt no connection with it…and as the crowds around me generally lost their shit to it…I realised that I had no real connection with them either. And suddenly the spell was broken. I could no longer see my future self still going the these parties when I was 40 (I had earnestly announced this to people in the past), I couldn’t even see myself going to these parties in 6 months time. The dance was over.
Like any naive person in a subculture, I wanted the mainstream to see how amazing this scene was and to experience what I was experiencing. I was convinced that if the mainstream could just attend these parties, then the world would be a better place…but when the mainstream decided to drop by, they were like a drunken gatecrasher. They turned up at my house, made a pass at my girlfriend then vomited on the cat. In short they pretty much ruined everything, and Red 2 was the soundtrack they did it to.

That was 20 years ago. All of the flyers I used to have stuck on my bedroom walls are gone, the recordings I listened to religiously are on redundant technology and it takes weeks weeks to organise someone to look after the kids if I was to go out on a Saturday night…and even then, I’d have to be home by 1am because otherwise I’d be too tired for the next day. But while writing this I jumped on YouTube and started listening to some of the tracks I used to love, and suddenly I was back in a warehouse in Footscray, at 4am, dancing my heart out with a room of people who were having the best night of their lives…and I’m so glad that I got to experience that.