Suburban Songbook is almost sold out of its first print-run – almost but not quite; you can can still buy copies here – and it’s been a rewarding experience, to get such a great reaction to my eleventh book and the first fruit of the new Goldentone imprint…
Even despite the fact that the book got very little media coverage, it still seems to have found its people. Of course, I don’t expect much from the bland-out mainstream media at the best of times (I mean, I never see any of the contemporary local acts/music I like getting reviewed in the papers), but it’s disappointing that with the exception of Rhythms and Rolling Stone, the independent music media doesn’t seem interested in independent music media. But I shouldn’t be emphasizing the negative, I should be celebrating and grateful for the enthusiasm the book has stirred up. Most of that is due that very old yet concept that’s still alive and still the most trustworthy form of recommendation: word of mouth.
I’m chuffed by the sort of comments people are making, like: Loving Suburban Songbook, picking up the backstories to the songs I loved as a kid… So great, as you would expect… A fabulous and engrossing read… Forensic detail and so many memories – got me back to playing Blackfeather’s “Seasons of Change”!... Magnificently researched! Now listening to Autumn, Sven Libaek, John Sangster – thanks for opening my eyes and ears to more interesting music… On fire!... Packed with delightful trivia and deep insights, with gorgeous illustrations and photos – fantastic!
But how could I not like the entry my good mate and true believer Donat Tahiraj put in his 2021 Top 10, which gives props to not only SS but also Stranded, which came out just a bit earlier in the year: "How other non-fiction authors are allowed to update and/or correct content in their books after an initial print run and not Clinton Walker is one of Australian literature’s great mysteries. Not only did his 2018 work Deadly Woman Blues get stripped from bookshelves nationwide and copies pulped, it seems that his previous book on indigenous music history, Buried Country too has disappeared from assorted state and national libraries without a word.
"Despite it all, Walker has released two new books: an expanded and revised (as the front cover explains) version of 1996 work Stranded and an entirely new, self-published work – Suburban Songbook via his Goldentone imprint.
"Stranded essentially covers the bands he saw and loved and doesn’t pretend to promise anything more. Out of these experiences sprang Walker’s easy and not-so-easy decades'-long friendships with the musicians involved - from the Saints at point zero to when grunge really dug its heels into inner-city ‘indy’ (his spelling) music in the early 90s. He’s there at ground level and interviewing them, always knowing what to ask though not always remembering what not to print.
"Suburban Songbook, on the other hand, takes the reader to a time before the kid from Kenmore picked up a typewriter and was still just a spectator. It functions as a work on the familiar and the unfamiliar where Pip Proud’s songs are just as important as those of Ross Wilson – only in a different way. Walker shows that it took a little time for Australian musicians to write their own songs and to break away from sounding like cheap copies of what was successful and happening elsewhere. Without giving away the end, we got there in time, and TV shows like Countdown were ready for it."
‘Launching Place’ was the name of a song that the band Spectrum recorded at one of its first sessions for EMI in 1970; the same session that produced, as an afterthought, “I’ll Be Gone,” one of the totemic Australian songs of the early 1970s. “I’ll Be Gone” of course gets major coverage in Suburban Songbook, but “Launching Place,” whose “Part Two” section was in fact the B-Side of “I’ll Be Gone,” has tended to be forgotten,
just as has the rock festival it was designed to promote, at a little town just outside Melbourne called, of all things, Launching Place. Held in December 1970, the Launching Place festival (Australia’s second-only rock festival, following Ourimbah’s Pilgrimage for Pop earlier in 1970) starred Spectrum themselves plus Jeff Crozier, Healing Force, King Harvest, Wendy Saddington and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, but with rain pouring down all weekend it was not a great success. So maybe it’s only appropriate that “Launching Place” the song was not great success either. I mention all this by way of tortuously introducing this report on Suburban Songbook’s own launching place – the Stockade Brew Bar in Marrickville, where last week the book was launched with a stellar event that featured some special performances of some special songs plus just a lot of general good vibes among a crowd that was delighted to enjoy the opportunity to enjoy some collective good vibes with the lifting of 2021’s long long lockdown. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank again all the usual suspects, Nick Shimmin, Murray Bennett and Carl Breitkreuz (the core team that produced the book), plus my family, plus all the people who signed on as subscribers to pre-order the book (making it all possible in the first place) and all the people who’ve subsequently bought copies. I’d also like to thank Jay Katz for MCing the event in his usual inimitable fashion, Rich Kuipers for conducting the Q&A and going easy on me, and the musicians: John Encarnacao, who did a version of Hans Polulson’s “Stick of Incense;” Greg Appel for doing a version of the ‘Aunty Jack version' of “I’ve Been Everywhere;” Toby Martin for his version of “No Night Out in the Gaol,” Mic Conway for exhuming “Wangaratta Wahine” and Janie Conway for the doing the same with her song “Life Goes On.” Thanks too to Tim Kevin and Glenn Thompson for their help with the backline. And perhaps the less said about my own performance of “Stompin’ at Maroubra” the better, suffice it to say my accompanist Peter Doyle should be blamed in no way whatsoever – it was all my fault!
… well, Suburban Songbook has just got some. Another name for it back when was column inches, and that one may still apply, because it’s still columns of type you scroll down on the internet. But whatever you call it, I’m just delighted that Sydney’s stalwart weekly free paper City Hub, specifically its ‘Naked City’ column written by ‘Coffin Ed’, has seen fit to expend some kind words on my new book. You can read them here.
Additionally, link here to an interview I did with Gavin Miller for his podcast The Empty Page; it was a great pleasure to do because Gavin was so keen, but not only that, he knew a bit about the topic generally, and a bit of foreknowledge always makes for a better conversation. You might be surprised how often it doesn't happen.
I remember when Buried Country first came out, and many people who read it and met me said, "I knew nothing about all this!" Actually it wasn’t dissimilar with Deadly Woman Blues, before it was withdrawn from sale (obviously a few copies sold in a short space of time), because people said much the same thing: "I never knew about any of this." And again, the same thing is happening now with Suburban Songbook. And so naturally I’m stoked, for two reasons, 1) because I’ve never seen the point in just going over old ground, and 2) because people are responding to that instinct. Been doing some radio interviews and talking it all up, and though there doesn’t seem to be a catch-up version of the ‘Sonic Journey’ I did with ABC Local Sydney Radio 702’s Simon Marnie the other weekend, you can go here to listen to the interview I did with Dave Graney on his 3RRR show Banana Lounge, and here to listen to the interview I did with Toby Creswell on his Eastside Radio Arts program. Who knows how long these things remain up there and accessible?
Meantime here’s just some of the random responses and comments the book is getting: “Full of surprises… the research is incredible, just so much stuff in there. I thought I knew a bit about this kind of thing, but I had no idea…” – “Absolutely LOVED it. The amount of information crammed in is phenomenal, and the analysis throughout strikes me as pretty-well spot-on” – “You don’t need to be a scholar of Australian music nor a record nerd to enjoy Clinton’s new book - in many ways it’s a detailed social history reflecting the times many of us grew up in. He’s not only identified a significant period in the development of Australian sounds that has otherwise been overlooked - as usual, he’s really nailed it” – “The depth and scope is remarkable, [on] almost every page you're learning something new. And the breakout ‘Hits & Misses’ songlists are indispensable. It's like having an in-depth conversation with [CW] and maybe you don't always concur with his viewpoint but the narrative is spot-on” - "You have done it again Mr.Walker. Suburban Songbook is fucking fantastic. Full of revelations" - "A fantastic read; the images are amazing as well and totally take me back" - "Will (like so many of Clinton’s other books) become the standard reference on the subject for decades to come."
Oh, and here following is an 'Abbvert' just in. Which prompts me to say, Thanks so much to Abbey's Books in Sydney as one of what is really just a small handful of select good independent bookshops and record shops that are stocking and supporting this somewhat renegade release:
After an extremely long genesis due mainly to publisher problems, my eleventh book, Suburban Songbook, is finally now out, through my own imprint GoldenTone and available to buy here or from selected good bookshops and record shops in the major Australian capital cities.
Its protraction has happily only made it a better book, and thanks to a great team numbering general manager Nick Shimmin, print wizard Murray Bennett and designer Carl Breitkreuz, it is a work of art in its own right as well as a book I’m confident will open people’s eyes to a fullness of Australian music history hitherto underappreciated.
The book was produced and manufactured with money raised through a GoFundMe campaign run by Nick, and so thanks too to the many people who signed on to pre-order copies, making the whole thing possible in the first place.
As an all-new new book in the wake of the reissue of a new expanded edition of my 1996 book Stranded earlier this year, it is designed to get me back in the ring after the “Deadly Woman Blues Fiasco” of 2018, and I trust it will be judged only on its own merits. This is the least that any convicted criminal can expect, that if you’ve done the crime and done the time, you start a fresh new re-start…
The palpable idea to write Suburban Songbook probably coalesced around the early/mid-2000teens. The manuscript just sort of built up around me, on this idea I’d long been interested in because it seemed so important yet all but undocumented. In mid-2017 I signed a deal with a new independent Australian publisher – and that was my first mistake. The original plan was to put the book out towards the end of 2018, after DWB. That that didn’t happen then was actually less a consequence of the fallout from DWB than that the publisher, now amid the rigor of actually producing a book, revealed he just wasn’t up to the task. So I had to exercise the termination clause in our contract and walk…
Brainstrust, 2020: Murray Bennett, the author, Nick Shimmin
I flailed for a while, with a virtually complete book in hand and nowhere to take it given I’d been cancelled, blacklisted by many local publishers, and it wasn’t till my friend Nick Shimmin, aware of my trevails, approached me with the idea to do what we’ve done.
Which Nick saw as do-able after he’d met Murray Bennett, whose professional career is as a commercial printer but with a personal passion for music generally and a sideline passion for printing beautiful music books, with credits behind him like his own Product 45, Donald Robertson’s Roadrunner anthology The Big Beat and John Foy’s chronicle of Red Eye Records, Snaps Crack Pop.
Suburban Songbook completes a circle, for me, that started 40 years ago with Inner City Sound, and it carries on a tendency that’s only more recently fully emerged in my work: Using images to tell stories as readily as words. As a work of art in its own right, a beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated book of a type that most publishers have given up on these days, Suburban Songbook is devised to capture/evoke an era, or rather track a period in time that marked a few successive eras with all their shifting moods and mores. I never wanted to illustrate the book with all the same old dodgy old photos of all the same old bands we’ve seen a million times before.
Glenno Smith with his great illustration of Bon Scott opening Chapter 17
By using the sort of imagery the book does – mostly drawn from the public domain of copyright-free old advertising ephemera and commercial art; although it does include more than a few signature original artworks, with all due credit paid to and clearances obtained from their creators like Martin Sharp, Stewart MacFarlane and Glenno Smith (and myself!) – the imagery works as an ancillary to the text that opens out the associations and thus only adds breadth and depth to the book’s meaning/s.
Similarly, the accompanying chapter-by-chapter playlists on YouTube and Spotify - just search for Suburban Songbook as a playlist - are designed to further enhance the experience. My thinking always was, you can siddown and read the book to the tune of a Spotify list and then, to give it all your attention, siddown and watch the playlist of videos on YouTube, which was assembled according to one rule of thumb, which was that they must be live-action clips. I’d love to have produced an anthology album on CD or vinyl like I’ve done in the past for Inner City Sound, Buried Country and other books, but those days sadly seem to be past…
But the core remains the book, and it’s another credit I’m delighted to accord, to Carl Breitkreuz, who was both a joy to work with (especially during a time of such duress for him personally) and who delivered such a magnificent result. Onya Carl and I hope this isn’t our last collaboration!
Indulge me in hooking back to comment made in Rhythms magazine regarding the recently released new edition of Stranded (Expanded). No, not the one where Des Cowley described me/Stranded as “streaks ahead of the pack” (just had to get that in again!), but the one elsewhere where Kerrie Hickin said: “At least every few pages readers might come across a juicy snippet, whether fact or opinion, and maybe think, Hey, you can’t say that.” Putting aside the assumption there that we live in such punitive times, the comment makes for a smooth segue to something my old pal Bruce Milne said about Suburban Songbook: “There was information on every page that I didn't know...and I thought I knew a bit about Australian music. I was blown away by what I read.”
On every page, every corner… If you’re at all interested in Australian music and culture, if like Bruce you think you already know a bit about it, I don’t think you can afford not to check out Suburban Songbook. To reiterate, to buy a copy of the paperback, go here…
I was recently asked to contribute a page to this new website that is of course essentially a marketing tool for books and writing. And so even if I’ve never been terribly enamored of what I call the listomania that infects the internet, I thought that nominating my Top 5 Australian music books was at least something not already done to death, and was all in a good cause (promotion, self or otherwise); and then I was totally tipped over the line when I asked if the list could include out-of-print titles – because if it was restricted to only the here and now, that would not genuinely reflect my opinion of the best – and they said, Sure. The ‘Buy’ link, in those cases, goes to second-hand copies...
It’s always a shame, of course, when good books are allowed to slip out of print, but as I myself know only too well, if a groundswell of interest clearly builds up whether, say, in spiraling collector’s-item prices, or in on-going discussion, then that can lead to a book getting back in print… so this feature, I think, is an all-round good thing, and while I will list below my Top 5, in chronological order, you will have to go to the website here to find out the reasons for my choices…
1993 – Glad All Over, by Peter Wilmoth 2004 – Wild About You, by Ian D. Marks and Iain McIntyre 2004 – Pig City, by Andrew Stafford 2009 – Ballad of Blind Tom, by Deirdre O’Connell 2015 – Down Under, by Trevor Conomy
(False modesty, and the site’s rules, prevented me from listing any of my own titles, but if you asked me for a Top 10 without any such caveat, might it comprise these five plus, umm, five of mine?... I wouldn’t dare! – or would I?)
If it wasn’t for Rhythmsetc… thanks then to the mag and DES COWLEY for this amazing review of Stranded. I love the way Cowley so easily bats off the petty carping that still seems to haunt the book. The two main gripes were/are that a) the author himself is present as ‘I’ in the narrative, and b) the author’s choices, in terms of the emphases the book places. Well, umm, a) like you’ve never heard of the new journalism? and, umm, like, the author wasn’t a player in this story? The criticism was “outdated even” in 1996. And b) for most people who didn’t like my choices it was because they were my choices and not theirs (funny that); as Cowley says, “Walker mostly got things right. And if he stumbled now and again, it’s still the case he was streaks ahead of the pack when it came to grasping the magnitude of the moment.” With the surfeit of lauding/documentation on whether Nick Cave, the GoBetweens or the Triffids and others these days, it seems as if the world is finally catching up. But who else was suss/game enough to do it 25 years ago? In full here.
“At least every few pages readers might come across a juicy snippet, whether fact or opinion, and maybe think, Hey, you can’t say that” – this is my favorite line from Kerrie Hickin’s item on Stranded in the May/June issue of Rhythms, which I think is quite a perceptive little piece, and which I’m taking as flattering and with all appreciation (read it here). But this whole thing about me being so contentious and opinionated? I think more than anything it’s a reflection not on me but on just how lame and fence-sitting so much so-called music ‘criticism’ has been for a long time.
Nobody ever called Lester Bangs opinionated, and while I was loathe to say that for fear I’ll be pegged as even more conceited – comparing myself to the Great Master! – I can’t win anyway and so I said it (“You can’t say that!”) because it’s a fact that like Uncle Lester I have always had a vision for what makes music great and have never been afraid of calling it out when I don’t think it’s great… I mean, what are music critics for? To not warn you against the shit you shouldn’t waste your time (and money) on? To not alert you to the good shit? At least, that’s what I thought it was for. And I also think Stranded has turned on as many people (all round the world) as it hasn’t – and is still doing so with this new edition 25 years after the first, which I think is a pretty good result, just to still be here after that long…