PIG CITY SOUNDS, from the Courier Mail, 2007
The Queensland Music Festival, which is launched next Friday with a dawn concert in Winton and runs for a fortnight till July 29, is an event unique on the Australian cultural calendar, a state-wide biennale celebrating local, national and international music.
This year, after four previous passes dating back to 1999, the festival is grubbying its hands with a rock component. Inspired by the success of Andrew Stafford’s 2004 book Pig City (UQP), a history of the remarkable music and culture forged in Brisbane during the Joh Bjelke-Peterson era, the QMF is paying tribute to “Brisbane’s Historical Soundtrack” with a Pig City concert at the University of Queensland next Saturday.
The Smart Arts bureaucrats may have noticed that the CDs Peter Beattie so conspicuously gifts to visiting dignitaries are not highbrow classical or jazz (typical festival fare) but rock and pop. Moreover, the death in Brisbane last year of Grant McLennan, one half of the original GoBetweens, was so keenly felt it must have been a spur too.
Saturday’s big-top bill is headlined by the Saints in a much-anticipated reunion, and includes Regurgitator, the Riptides, the Apartments, Kev Carmody, Screamfeeder and many others. The organisers have achieved the impossible and managed to cajole, or at least pay Ed Kuepper and Chris Bailey to share a stage again. The last time Brisbane’s prophets of punk cursorily thrashed through a couple of numbers with original drummer Ivor Haye (the first time since breaking up in ’78) was when they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2001 – on September 11! But they were photographed together in London recently, happily sharing a backstage drink with Nick Cave, and they may even rehearse this time. The negative reaction the concert bill has incited, along with the positive, is just a measure of the passion people feel for playlists they can now easily program on their i-Pod.
That the Saints are headlining at the university is only appropriate. It’s also kind of ironic, as I well recall myself being in the sparse crowd the one time they previously played there, at the pool in 1975 or ’6, and the night ended badly. The band got banned. But of course, the subtitle of Andrew Stafford’s book is “From the Saints to Savage Garden:” The Saints were a certain ground-zero for Brisbane music, and they palpably showed the way for everyone to follow, including, first of all, the GoBetweens, who were in fact incubated on campus.
Pig City, the book, traces the growth of a Brisbane music culture from provincial outpost to international player, despite or perhaps because of isolation and political oppression. That Powderfinger, another of the book’s stars, are not appearing at the gig could be an attempt to stave off premature ‘heritage act’ status (in other words, they’ve got a new album to do); and are we to presume that nothing could entice the lads from Logan, Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones, to get back together?
But given that the last couple of years has also seen the deaths of three other Brisbane boys who had an inordinate impact on an earlier wave of Australian pub rock – Billy Thorpe, Lobby Loyde and Peter Wells – it seems fitting to ask, Hasn’t Brisbane always reached above its weight?
Dividing Brisbane music into ancient and modern history – Before and After the Saints – Pig City picks up from the 1971 Springboks tour (not a band but a football team), and the formation of Kid Galahad and the Eternals (the pre-Saints) shortly thereafter. To me, the Whiskey Au-Go-Go bombing of 1973 is a more pertinent socio-musicological turning point. Now that may sound like carping, but hey, the History Wars are alive and virulent in the school of rock like everywhere else! And so I’m still inclined to ask, Might the Saints not have marked an ending as much as they did a beginning?
The oft-repeated quote from Sir Bob Geldof – “Rock music in the 70s was changed by three bands: the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Saints” – I wouldn’t disagree too strongly with myself. But I am rather fond of spinning it another way: Music in the 70s was changed by two Brisbane bands – the Bee Gees and the Saints. Just as surely as the Saints helped trigger a whole new generation of music all round the world, they also completed a cycle of Brisbane migrants’ stories that began with the brothers Gibb, Billy Thorpe and Betty McQuade, even Nat Kipner, in the late 1950s. Kuepper and Bailey were both ‘New Australians’ too.
The GoBetweens, conspicuous in their absence from the Pig City concert, will doubtless cast something of a shadow over the entire event. But at the same time, spare a thought for the real prehistoric sounds, the absent pioneers who preceded even the Saints, setting a tone – an attitude and a spirit – that still defines Brisbane music sooner than any limiting idea of a ‘Brisbane Sound’ genre. If we are to remember the Pineapples From the Dawn of Time, we shouldn’t forget the Purple Hearts, Matt Taylor, Tony Worsley, Ivan Dayman, David Bentley, Marlene Cummins, Glenn Wheatley, Dave Tice, Carol Lloyde… the list could go on. Clearly, this is a history that’s still being written.