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.

16 thoughts on “2 Degrees of Melbourne – Episode 2 : Mick Thomas”

  1. Hi Chris,
    didn’t realise you and Katie were Weddings/Mick Thomas fans. I have been a fan since my brother brought home Scorn of the Women from Uni in 1987. I used some of his music for dancing at kinder and I have to say both your kids danced up a storm to it.

    1. Hey Catriona,
      If the kids were dancing like lunatics I think I can take credit for that…but if they were singing harmonies…then that’s probably Katie’s doing!

  2. Another good one. The style is clear and straightforward, you really get a feel for the character. Love the portrait, that little 50mm is working very nicely for you.

    I think if your camera is overheating you will “just have to” invest in a 5D 😉

  3. HI chris.
    One of my oldest friends has been a fan of him for 20 million years, and your blog has answered many of the questions and wonders regarding this man! I will make sure that she sees your piece and shares your joy!

    1. Hey Pip,
      Glad to be of service…although you have to be careful of what you wish for. I was asking him about the lyrics to ‘No Picnic’ and had always envisaged a group of friends on a road trip through Australia…to find out that it was actually about he and a mate living in a dodgy part of Scotland (Leith) while on tour made me completely re-think the song!
      Thanks for posting a comment…it’s always great to get feedback.


  4. This is a fantastic interview, Chris! I keep thinking that you’ve managed to get great subjects both visually and in terms of the stories they tell. But I’m beginning to think I should be giving you some credit for your camerawork and interviewing skills. Again, I really enjoyed this!

    1. Thanks Katy…you know full well that any credit you give me will just go straight to my head, but I’m going to let you say nice things anyway.
      As for ‘who he was wearing’, unfortunately I wasn’t listening to his reply as I was too busy promoting my new TV show and talking about how awesome I used to be…but when he finally acted out the name of the brand, I can only assume that it rhymed with ‘punch in the face’.

  5. I really enjoyed your interview of Mick. You captured him from a different angle – so use to seeing him front and centre on the stage with a guitar in hand. What I love about is songs that refer to Melbourne is I can relate to them. When Mick sings about local places – they are my places too.

    1. Glad you liked it Michelle, I couldn’t agree more with ‘When Mick sings about local places – they are my places too.’…actually I kinda wish I’d written that!
      Thanks for reading, watching and taking the time to comment.

  6. Mate – black and white has its own beauty and when added to the voice of a person like the lead for WPA, you have captured the heart of social history. Well done. He’s a great artist – perhaps not recognised well enough as a folk band that captured the heart of Australia, our colonial history, iconic moments in time that marked us a nation. I miss them. they were great in Geraldton, superb in Launceston and my brothers go back whenever they can to hear Mick Thomas play. Everyone, do yourself a favor – his music is to be experienced live! Long live Mick Thomas, long live WPA.

    1. Thanks very much Mike. I must admit I’m quite chuffed at how well the black and white is working…but in truth it’s pretty hard to stuff things up when Mick it telling a story.
      I’m really glad that some Mick Thomas/WPA fans have enjoyed the video…when someone has a following as devoted as Mick’s, it can be a bit intimidating putting out your own version of him…albeit using his own words.
      I also wholeheartedly endorse everyone going out to see Mick live whenever you can.

  7. That’s an excellent piece of work Chris. I wish someone would do at least an hour in that style with Mick. Like many of his fans, I’ve been listening to Mick’s work since the early days of the Weddoes and I still make sure I get to any gigs he does in my part of the country. Having grown up in suburban Melbourne I really enjoy his lyrical allusions to places I know well, but I think he’s at his best when he hooks in to Australian history – A Tale They Won’t Believe. Our Sunshine, Tom Wills, Ship in the Harbour, Gallipoli Rosemary… the list goes on.

    Mick’s interpretation of a cover is sensational too. There’s the whole album, Weddings Play Sports (and Falcons), but there’s stuff like One Perfect Day, Made of Stone, Ewan and the Gold, From the Heart… and another list goes on.

    The last time I saw Mick here in Canberra it was two man show with Mark ‘Wally’ Wallace in a small pub with about 20 punters. A week later I saw Paul Kelly and Neil Finn play two blocks away to more than 2000 people. I think Mick should be selling out big gigs like Paul and Neil do. He’s at least as good.

  8. Love your work, Chris -well done.
    Mick is a legend.
    Yes, his body of work should be a lot more widely known, or popular, but those of us that have been fans for approx. 30 years have loved the accessibility of our musical idol and the fans are loyal (and maybe a little fanatical!).

  9. Nice interview. I had a girlfriend at Uni who introduced me to Weddo’s and when we had a road trip thru Melbourne she made sure we were drunk & broke on Lygon St, had photos under the clocks, Did some serious drinking in Young & Jacksons, etc.
    THEN we sat in a Weddos rehersal and Pete Lawler took us out for Vietnamesein Richmond. Awesome. 🙂

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