It is almost forty years ago to the day as I type this that Dave Warner’s from the Suburbs appeared in public for the first time with a lunchtime show at the Uni WA Tavern, a warm up gig for the Suburbs’ first major performance at the Octagon Theatre in October 1976.
By then I had already recorded the demo of Suburban Boy in London with Tony Durant. Tony was to join the band in early 1978. It is absolutely wonderful to be back recording with Tony and original Suburb John Dennison for the first time in more than thirty-five years. Joining us for this recording are Martin Cilia, Greg Macainsh, Lloyd Gyi and Nicole Warner who have been playing live as “Suburbs” with me for around twenty-five years, so this is truly a band album although we have augmented the core band with a bunch of wonderful musicians, old and new friends: Bill Beare and Dick Haynes who shared a Perth pub-rock heritage have been integral. Kevin Borich is a long-time friend and it’s so terrific to have him play on a Suburbs album. Likewise Greedy Smith, Mick Thomas and Wally who share a past of sleazy pub carpets and gaffa tape. James Gillard, Jim Moginie and Dave Briggs are newer mates who have helped make this album a natural descendant of my most successful – Mugs Game.
Albums don’t just happen, somebody needs to do a lot of hard work and that has fallen on Martin Cilia who has produced the album in a collegiate manner with major input from Tony and Dave Briggs in particular, and Lachie X who engineered the studio sessions. The task of assembling the packaging, designing the web-site and virtually everything else to promote the album has been superbly accomplished by Mandy Hall. Especially pleasing is that my collaboration with Bleddyn Butcher, begun over forty years ago when he did the very first photos for Pus, has continued. BB is an artist in his own right and delivered the cover photos with usual aplomb. Speaking of art you will notice that each of the songs has some piece of art that goes with it. With some talented artist friends and associates I floated the idea of them contributing an image inspired by one of the songs. Michael Doherty, Ben Juniper, Yvonne Cilia, Dave Rose, Nic Nedelkopoulos, Andrew (Greedy) Smith and Victor Rubin have responded emphatically. Please check out their artwork on their various web-sites. For Vignettes I was fortunate enough to obtain permission to use the art of the late C.Frank Norton, a WA artist who specialised in maritime scenes and whose work is so evocative and fitting. Thanks to Tom at gflfineart.com and (Sarah Murphy and the National Trust) for their assistance in this matter.
As to the album itself, the title is not a whim but pertains to the beating pulse that runs through the twelve songs. As a word `when’ is a very curious beast. It is ambiguous, full of potential to refer to something present or past and only revealing which, in the context of its following words. `When I first met you …’ would imply a relationship that has already had some life, that can be judged, measured. `When I meet you’ suggests future potential, the unknown, it might even suggest a kind of longing, a sense of incompleteness until the meeting has occurred.
So When is a word that qualifies time, not in some exact unit, but in regards to a relationship to time and it’s the perfect title for this album because it’s all about how a person at my stage in life tries to integrate the past with a future that can be evolving too quickly for the concepts and strategies we’ve lived by in our past. It’s also appropriate because the songs are spread over forty years from their conception. Vignettes and Lonely Sailor were written circa 1976, Snapchat, I’m On Facebook But Where’s My Friends, San Tropez and others have been written over the last twenty-four months.
Here is a brief rundown of the songs and why they’re here.
I’m On Facebook But Where’s My Friends is an ironic title that popped into my head. The idea that an app can somehow imbue us with personality is as ludicrous as thinking a tattoo or flares will solve the issue. Attempts to make ourselves into somebody interesting by changing only our external surroundings were great fodder for the likes of Ray Davies. So in a way Facebook belongs to the lineage of Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, I’m In With The Out Crowd et al. Those of us who grew up meeting people on the bus, or in pubs are now confronted with a wave of pervasive social media that is defining the world around us whether we participate or not. Who are we? Where are we? What are we? – are themes the album explores.
Facebook is the best “single” I’ve done since Suburban Boy (although the little known Key To The City is pretty good). I really miss power pop singles and this is my donation to the future, steering pop away from all those warbling lost love songs that dominate. Martin Cilia found a great middle 8 for the song and Greg Macainsh nudged us to keep refining it. I’ve never had access to so many great backing vocalists before and Dick, Bill, Nicole, Greedy and James lift this song into the stratosphere.
Running Through Brixton has many levels of meaning. I lived in Brixton in 1975-6 in a flat I shared with Pus bass-player Michael Feeney. It’s where I met Tony Durant. The three of us, plus Michael Gregory on drums recorded the original demo of Suburban Boy back then. The Brixton riots occurred not long after I left to return home in June 76, the London IRA bombing campaign was directed out of a flat on the other side of Acre Lane just a couple of K from where we lived, so this was a time of great turmoil and real danger in London. The song concerns the fire and enthusiasm of youth, the desperation to succeed, the lack of compromise, but also hopefully captures that same feeling in the present: the will to pursue creative success and challenge myself to create something unique and exciting even though it is forty years on. Tony came up with guitar ideas which fit perfectly – he was there, he knows. To me this is a song that balances the past and present and Michael Doherty has captured all this beautifully in his artwork.
I recorded Wimbledon back in 1979 but the version was never how I actually heard it in my head. When I was doing some shows in the early 90s I finally got into my head the arrangement I wanted. With Lloyd’s help in particular we started to play it live how I wanted. Now with Tony and John and Greg and some fab vocals it’s finally how I want it – and I’ve done a little update on the lyrics to blend the past and future. Terrific image from Dave Rose a very talented WA artist.
I love that British angry-young-man era of British film, a time of Lawrence Harvey and Albert Finney, super cool young men trapped in the British class-system and dead-end jobs. Lonely Sailor came to me some time in the mid-70s, either in Brixton or back in Perth. It was in our very early sets at Alberts Tavern. For some reason it never made it onto any of the recordings, not even the live ones, but I always liked the song and am pleased to have been able to record it finally. There’s no attempt to “bring the song” into the present, I’m happy with where it sits and we’ve kept it deliberately simple in production. Not content with adding harmonica, Greedy supplies the artwork.
I wrote the verse section of Old Guitars in the late 1980s and played it to Greg who came up with the chorus. Martin and I then recorded a demo version which sat there while I dreamed of recording a country album. We’ve performed the song live over the last few years. I guess for me it’s about the yearning to return to when you first heard live rock music, how transformative and exciting it was, and how by comparison later efforts were bombastic, repetitious and boring as it became just yet another industry. Beautiful guitar work from Martin, KB and Dave B and an image to match from Victor Rubin.
When I returned from London in 1976 I found the world of Perth had moved on from me: friendships, family. There is no celebrity in being absent. It’s a foretaste of being dead I suppose. I Don’t Know What I Feel was a mix of influences. With the early Suburbs we used a reggae feel with a particularly tricky riff structure that rolled and changed and somehow came back into synch. I’ve continued to perform it over the years because I love the song. With Dave Briggs mixing we finally have a definitive version. Greg Macainsh did some great bass and Bill Beare added rhythm and backing vocals. It’s an ever evolving song, like time itself. Yvonne Cilia has captured this sense of time and evolution with her imaginative artwork.
I wrote the song Vignettes around 1975 and played it with The Suburbs in the early days – a particular favourite in my “shopper-rock” set at Alberts. It was based on a poem I wrote circa 1971, about growing up in Fremantle by the wharf and the exciting events that imprinted themselves on a young boy’s brain: the firemen marching at the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, drunks brawling at closing time outside the His Majesty’s Hotel, the ferry trip to North Wharf for a florin. For some reason it was never recorded and I thought it deserved to be, pretty much exactly as I’d always played it. So here is a song of the past, unaltered, but recorded in the present. I thank Mick Thomas and Wally for their lovely contribution of accordion and mandolin. It was difficult to find artwork for this but then I came across the works of the late C.Frank Norton, a perfect fit.
The Me generation’s selfishness knows no bounds. The obsession with building wealth, the spiritual bankruptcy, the pursuit of gadgetry that isn’t needed, the idea that creators of music or film deserve nothing, is a defining landscape of our times. We Want A Kid is self-explanatory. “I deserve something because I’m rich enough.” Children are reduced to accessories, family is an extension of ego. In a sense it’s the Convict Streak of the album.
Snapchat is the most recent track on the album, and likely the most divisive and disturbing for listeners. It’s the Hot Crotch, Girls Wank or Mugs Game of this album. It’s close to a lot of early Suburbs, a bit of savage humour to a track you can actually dance to. Nice weird synth and stylaphone from Jim Moginie and some satirically brilliant artwork to match the track from Mick Doherty. I know many people are going to question this song with its scatology but this is a song from the POV of a very unpleasant persona “I’m a pox needs a fox”. It’s not a song that can be tamed or toned down without losing the veracity of what it is saying.
The Woman Who Drowned In Her Own Apartment was a spoken poem that declared itself to me one day in the early 90s. I love word play and this offered plenty of opportunity for that. At one point Tim Farris was looking at it as a possible INXS song but nothing happened and it languished. It was only when I began doing my library-music-talks that I resurrected it with Martin playing some jazzy guitar. Following that I did a version with Tony and Bill. Its lineage is from Late One Saturday Afternoon, Just another Friday Night in the Lucky Country, words tumbling over a repetitive riff. Again, I’ve left the lyrics alone – it’s definitely of the early 90s period – but the spirit is perfectly appropriate for the present. Dave Rose again provided the great image.
The protagonist of San Tropez could be anybody. The era could be any post Mel Torme. It’s my Death in Venice song. What are we thinking as we look back over our lives? I wanted to capture some French film noire atmosphere. Tony and Martin worked very hard to get the sense of the forlorn out of this track.
Walking one afternoon down Manly Beach this little melody and idea assailed me. What if The Lizard King popped in one night out of nowhere to my suburban loungeroom? What would he think of what has happened to the world in his absence? Could we get him to stay on? Rather than something that sounded bluesy and innovative like The Doors, I wanted irony – a very smooth, almost naf groove but one you couldn’t get out of your head. Martin’s done a wonderful guitar feel, Lloyd gave it swish and Jim Moginie added some chic Hammond. Nicole found a cute line on the vocal. Please enjoy Jim Morrison Came To My Window with an image from the super talented Ben Juniper.