As the 2017 Kampot Readers & Writers Festival rages on, I remain here at home at my desk more than a bit bummed that I'm not there enjoying all the fun and games. But I cannot afford the time, with Deadly Woman Blues in the endgame of its production and deep-in on the writing of a first draft of Shadow Dancing. I will nonetheless be – or am – taking a peripheral presence at Kampot in the form of an of an interview for the festival’s online gazette that you can see here; while at the same time another aspect of my on-going Khmer Konnection has come to fruition in the form of a set of liner notes I’ve contributed to the new, fifth Cambodian Space Project album, Spaced Out in Wonderland. I guess everything I want or need to say is said in the notes and so in order to maybe mildly entice you to actually seek out the album and maybe even buy it, I’ll not reveal too many spoilers. Suffice to say, the CSP to me represent a real and very exciting new possibility for music in our Austro-SEAsian region of the globe: a meeting of the traditions, of the people, out of which is arising new sounds, new songs, new moods. But more than that – you can dance to it! The Cambodian Space Project are really a go-go band above all else, and at any of their gigs that I can attend, I am there on the dancefloor, and always last to leave. If that sounds at all enticing – and even if it doesn’t – check out the deets on the album here, and seriously consider a holiday in Cambodia. But beware – in a good way, I promise – it will get its hooks into you!
See here too a preview video of the band’s version of the Lee Hazlewood classic “Summer Wine,” which is included on Spaced Out in Wonderland:
On Wednesday November 1, I will be giving ('celebrity' [?!]) talk at the Art Gallery of New South Wales to tie in with the major Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition they've got going on there (see more here). I’ll be using that cover of Patti Smith's Horses whose photo he shot as a starting point to go into punk/post-punk record cover design generally as a means of illustrating the way art and music intersected in the late 70s to ultimately force the cultural sea change that followed in the 80s. Starts at 6:30 and, best of all, it's free...
The New Yorker or at least its online iteration has just published a little piece about Jan Wenner finally selling out his remaining interest in Rolling Stone (here), and I was chuffed to note that the slideshow of notable Stone covers that accompanies the article includes one of my own, as you can see below. Naturally it was the only Australian cover in the small gallery, but what’s all the more remarkable is that it wasn’t an Australian cover on the American edition (like there were a few as I recall like Men At Work and INXS in the 80s) but rather a unique Australian cover tied-in to the first 1994 publication of my Bon Scott biography Highway to Hell that the Americans never saw – so I wonder how it’s cropped up here now. Put it down to nothing but the power of Bon, I’d reckon:
I’m not unaccustomed to getting communiques out of the blue from Julien Poulson in Cambodia, telling me he’s got some wild and crazy new scheme. And so I wasn’t surprised a while back when he wrote saying he was plotting a Cambodian tribute to Iggy Pop, in the form of an album and an art show. I was maybe more (pleasantly) surprised when Julien next forwarded a note he’d received direct from Iggy himself, who said how was down with the Cambodian Space Project, was spinning sides by the band on his radio show, and fuck-yeah, he was giving all his good blessings to this project. So… it was on. Of course not without a typical bit of Cambodian drama first: After the recordings towards the album Angkor Pop were made at 60 Road Studio in Siem Reap, producer Jason Shaw had his hotel room burgled and among the losses were his laptop and hard-drive that contained all the masters… which were eventually got back after a reward offer… you can read an extensive and often hilarious account of this episode and more here… and so now with the album back on track, the art exhibition, dubbed 'Night of the Iguana', was arranged to go full-steam ahead at the Newsagency Gallery in Petersham, just up the road from where I live, opening on Friday, August 18.
It was a great show, not least, I think, because all the artists involved, including myself, were driven by such a pure motive – a love of Iggy, and the knowledge he was into this idea. The artwork I contributed was a little historical curio. I did a bit of speechifying on the night and it was great to see some really wonderful pieces that I think the man himself would have enjoyed immensely. To see a bit more on the show and some of the work, go here, and a nice Northern Star item on the involvement of one of the artists, Jimmy Willing, here
I hadn’t wanted to put the mozz on any of this, but I think it’s safe to say out loud now: I have just completed a concerted campaign to find publishers for three new books, with the signing of three contracts with three publishers for the three titles. It never rains but it pours eh?
These three books will break what seems like a bit of a drought since 2013 when I last published an all-new title. They also mark a return to music after a couple of books about different things like Golden Miles and Wizard of Oz; and one, extremely excitingly, is my first-ever graphic book. The three titles/deals are:
The Suburban Songlines: Writing Hits in post-war/pre-Countdown Australia, a different approach to the history of local pop, in that rather than going in search of a Sound, it seeks out the Songs and the songwriters whose originality prefigured the sound. It will be published out of Perth by Starman Books, an exciting new Australian initiative in music books whose site you can check here.
Deadly Woman Blues, my long-gestating sister-sequel to Buried Country, a graphic history of black women in Australian music on which you can see a bit more here, and with a YouTube Playlist here. It will be published early next year, by New South Press.
Shadow Dancing, a dual biography-cum-cultural history of Robert Stigwood, the Bee Gees and their collaborative apotheosis in Saturday Night Fever, has been signed up by PanMacmillan, with a view to publishing it towards the end of next year…
Obviously all this will add up to a pretty busy next couple of years for me, but I’m hopeful and confident that with each of the three books at different stages – with both The Suburban Songlines and Deadly Woman Blues completed to the extant of only now needng to be artworked, and with a first draft of Shadow Dancing well underway – I can apportion or stagger my workload so as to avoid a logjam. Actually it’s all just incredibly exciting! For a while I’ve been saying that I’m going to get out of writing books, because it’s just not the same any more, a different world, and I am going to do that, get out of it, but not before, as I’ve also always said, I clear my desktop, so to speak, of these three major projects I’ve been nurturing along for a few years now… and then I’ll think about a future in which art and music-theatre will take a larger role whatever happens…
I should take this opportunity to also mention a film I’m working on. Based on the pages of the same name on this website, Lowest of the Low is a documentary about the great glory days (second phase) of the old inky Australian rock press, between the late 70s and late 80s, when the Big 3 R’s ruled, RAM, Roadrunner and Rolling Stone. My brother in arms on this project is film-maker Matt Walker, and rather than farting around jumping through hoops trying to raise money and all that, we’re simply doing it, just starting to shoot some stuff on-spec…
Thanks meantime to James Anfuso (Starman), Pip McGuinness (New South) and Angus Fontaine (PanMacmillan), and to Nick Shimmin, who almost single-handedly kick-started me on all this, and to Michael Lynch, who, as he constantly reminds me, is neither my bitch or my beard – chuffed to be working with all you wonderful people! I’m calling it my autumn renaissance.
Discogs.com has been around for while now but it's only recently it seems to have assumed a journal-of-record status. Certainly for me, due to so much of the research I do, it was a site I found myself spending an increasing amount of time trawling through. For a long time, for crate-diggers like me, there was no substitute for holding a record in your hands, which among other things was often the only way you could properly check the credits, the label copy. But now - well, Discogs is a perfectly adequate substitute for getting such dusty fingers! And so since it is indeed now this journal of record, I felt compelled to get in there and make sure the page on yours truly was as complete and correct as it could possibly be, as here
Because if you yourself are not prepared to ensure the information out there on you is not right, nobody else is going to do it, and so it will be misinformation out there. And so I'm pleased to be able to say now that my Discogs page that was already up there is as accurate as I can make it. There's only one glitch - but if Discogs wants to insist that I played on a recording made by Kid Oliver in New Orleans in 1929, I'll just have to wear it!
Went to the Sydney Film Festival to see the premiere of Kriv Stenders’ new GoBteweens documentary Right Here, in which I appear (a lot!) as a sort of star witness-cum-bad cop. I will resist my usual instinct to add more grist to the mill – the film does that quite adequately enough itself (it's amazing how raw and partisan the first break-up of this band still is, thirty years after the event) – suffice to say the film is good, I think, striking a pretty fair balance (though it might have been nice to see a bit of screen-time for Glenn and Adele), and from a personal point of view, I’m just glad it doesn’t quote me saying anything any more incendiary than the trailer suggested. Of course, the review I like best is the one that said, "One of the documentary’s pleasures is the comments by documenter and habitué of the Australian post-punk scene, Clinton Walker. He’s another Brissie boy who has known the band since its beginnings and is not afraid to pull his punches. His direct, no BS comments bring levity to what is mostly an earnest exercise replete with sadness and regret" - what I want! You can read the review in full here. The film will be broadcast later in the year on ABC-TV, so check it out then…
With Kriv Stenders and film editor Karryn de Cinque
When Leah Flanagan announced early this year that she was pregnant, we at Buried Country: Live in Concert were all not only naturally delighted but hopeful-confident it wouldn’t cause too much disruption to her regular schedule. But when the baby refused to emerge for a few weeks beyond the due date, it was clear the Buried Country show at Dark Mofo in Hobart would have to do without one of its star attractions.
And so, when young Tom Emilio Jones, aka Tuco, was born on Monday, May 29, just days before the Hobart show – and it should go without saying that all our congratulations went and go to Leah, Tom and the little fella; we know they’ll make a great, loving family – we thought the show would have to be dedicated to him… so, this one was for you Tuco… And happily, as the Buried Country mob has made it fairly standard practice, it was a top show.
The festivalisation of culture is a syndrome that seems to enjoy almost universal approbation. But I am surprised there isn’t a tad more wariness about it, or concern, like I feel. I mean, it’s state-controlled culture after all, and at worse when, say, in a place like my hometown of Sydney, the grass-roots that was once a thriving live music circuit has effectively been killed off – meaning if nothing else, where do to tomorrow’s festival stars come from? In Hobart, it’s a bit different, because the Dark Mofo festival of which BC was part largely comes down to one man, David Walsh, who’s not a bureaucrat or public servant but rather a wildcat philanthropist who’s almost single-handedly put Hobart on the culture map, and certainly bolstered its tourist trade, with his amazing MONA gallery and all the events that spin off it, like DMFO. Walsh and his empire is not beholden to the corporate-politics that so often stultify festivals. I’d been to MONA on one previous occasion and while there was almost as much art there that I wasn’t fond of as there was that I did like, that’s the point, and what’s great about it.
DMFO was much the same, among the attractions I was able to squeeze in, some fantastic, some less so I thought, but all of them adding up a vibrant variegated whole, which is how it ought to be.
I’d like to think Buried Country was generally one of the highlights. If audience reaction is anything to go by, certainly they seemed to enjoy it. In fact, I don’t think we’ve had a better audience, in terms of foreknowledge. There was a real nice little record shop (remember them?), Music Without Frontiers, virtually next door to the Odeon Theatre, and walking past it on shownight the strains of “Blue Gums Calling Me Back Home” rang out, and that was a lovely little touch that doubly encouraged me to buy a couple of disks (remember that too?). The audience for the show recognised many of the songs and gave them encouragement in anticipation, and responded with terrific applause and, at the end, with a standing ovation. We were all humbled and so, thank you, Hobart. Thank-you too to more than a few friends from Sydney and other parts of Tasmania who made the effort to be at the show, and played a part in its success.
In the absence of the new young mum, we re-shuffled the set slightly. Warren Williams, who opened the show as he usually does and with his usual stirring spirit, is to be doubly commended for pushing through some tragic sorry business back home. Luke Peacock has been enduring some trevails too and apart from wrestling one of our hire cars in an altercation, performed well too. Nobody was going to tackle Leah’s “September Song,” but Franny was game to take on “Brown Skin Baby,” as on offering to Leah, Tom and Tuco, and she pulled it off, again, with customary verve, a bit more country than Leah’s version.
The following morning, a few of the mob went into to the ABC for a session with Radio National’s Books and Arts program, which you can listen to here, and then over the next two nights, a few of ’em played short solo spots at the Winter Feast. For me, I finished my five days with a visit to MONA to see the opening of its latest exhibition, the Museum of Everything, and I was totally blown away by a vast show of outsider art or whatever you call it that I couldn’t see any other state-controlled gallery in the country ever daring to put on. Buried Country is a bit like outsider art too – my favourite kind! – and we will continue in our campaign to storm the citadel.
Overdose is a new AC/DC fan/maga/web-zine coming out of Sweden that sets a new high bar for the scholarship of all things Seedie. As the author of the AC/DC-related book that just keeps on beating off challengers to its title as the best of all AC/DC-related books – Highway to Hell, the original, forensic, unflinching and masterful biography Bon Scott always deserved – Overdose asked me to write a short foreword for their new, third issue. And that I did with pleasure. You can read the item here, and if you’re interested in the whole issue, go to the Overdose website here.