Custard were a turning point in my life. I can’t help thinking what a completely different direction everything would have taken had I never got into them. For instance (and I will go into more detail about this later) my whole career as a graphic designer was determined by the fact I happened to have built a website devoted to Custard. On top of that I met the woman I had my first real long-term relationship with, through Custard, and I formed my first band with their help. Plus a billion other little pillars of my existence came about through a complex chain that all led back to them including the fact many years later I came to be in a band called the Little Lovers which led to me meeting Dee, my current partner of the past 6 or so years. It’s almost scary now I think about it.
But let’s go back to the beginning where I tried my very hardest to resist their charms.
PART ONE “The pathetic years”.
It may surprise you to know that someone could be an even bigger deadshit than I am now — but I can assure you in my youth I broke all records.
And this whole adventure started with a girl. And though I try to refer to any female over 18 as the woman they are — we were so, so young and this was a long time before I got some sensibilities about gender politics.
Anyway I had somehow met and befriended her at Uni— despite many personal fumblings that would make Frank Spencer wince.
Apart from all the everyday things that I found cool about her, what made her even more special was the fact she had a “favourite band” — cause I like people who are decisive. And she excitedly informed me this band was from “Ipswich” — which made my ears prick up because I was “from Ipswich” too.
And when she told me their name – the disappointingly weak and un-rock “Custard” — I smiled and looked knowledgeable as I pretended to have heard of them.
And then she played me the CD and to my delight that lie actually turned out to be kinda-true because I vaguely recognised the songs from randomly listening to JJJ in the car. But then I’d dismissed that shit as “kiddie’s music”. See back then I was all about “guitars” and “rock” and “distortion pedals” and any band that had a hint-of-twee was just tuned out. Up until then I was still in mourning for Kurt and that wasn’t hard because everyone else in indie-rock seemed to be doing the same — trying so, so very hard to be serious. But like all-caps “SERIOUS”.
And this is an important point because there wasn’t much fun in rock n roll. Smiling in band photos was frowned upon — pun intended. No one talked about their influences. No one joked around in press interviews. Rock stars tried very hard to be an enigma. But Custard songs were 90% personal pronouns — and although I was curious, I was still a bit reticent.
I remember her favourite song was “Melody” and as I listened to that nonsense* I secretly thought, “Yeah, rock n roll IS dead”. (*My shitty opinion back then of course.)
A CONFESSION ABOUT “APARTMENT”
The next thing I knew I bought the “Apartment” single just to impress her. I listened to it and kinda worked it out on my guitar and I thought it was a brave attempt at “rock’, but I was still a bit aloof. It just wasn’t “heavy” enough. And crucially — there was too much “fun”. WTF?
These sentences are actually really hard for me to write because “Apartment” is now very securely in my top ten favourite songs of all time — and right now I think if you crank that shit it’s as heavy as any other bullshit you wanna throw at it. It’s fucking HEAVY. It rips shit up. Yet I was so conflicted back then when it became time to like it or not. Basically I think it was this song that challenged me grow up and learn some skills in broadening my musical horizons.
And so I actually gave away that “Apartment” single — as a gift to her — mostly in the hope that would make her more interested in me. And of course it failed so I assumed I needed to make a bigger demonstration. After parting with a considerable chunk of what little funds I had at the time, I handed over $30 precious bucks to purchase both Custard albums that were released at the time — Wahooti Fandango and Wisenheimer (together in some promotional fire-sale double pack).
It made absolutely no difference to winning her affections but those two CDs would very soon change my life.
THE WEB and GETTING DUMPED
Fast forward a few months. In that time I had miraculously managed to convince a different woman to be my girlfriend and I was working as a pizza-driver where I read Kurt Cobain bios in between deliveries on the plastic chairs out the front and managed to avoid anything to do with Custard (except for randomly seeing them at the UQ toga party at the RNA showgrounds).
And at about this time my computer-saavy father hooked us up to that crazy thing called the Interwebbz. But I was cynical. I wasn’t just “cynical” — I was fucking cynical. You may remember I was in my “serious” phase and I thought this trashy-computer-craze was so base, just about porn and a vehicle for nerds to find girlfriends or talk about Star Trek in Klingon. I even wrote a big fat university essay for some culture subject outlining my distaste. I got a very, very low mark and deservedly so.
To add to my woes that new woman I’d hooked up with decided to dump me and see someone else straight away. And locked away in my room feeling so pathetic and alone and with all the ink in my pens bled out from writing so much shitty poetry — somehow I remembered there was a song on one of those increasingly dusty Custard CDs called “Alone“. And that’s when everything changed.
Upon listening to that song I realised Nirvana was actually making me feel worse and very soon I started listening to the rest of Wahooti Fandango and realised it had so many break-up songs but they were all so different and charming and inspiring. I would put it on in the dark and let it hypnotise me into sleep. TRUE STORY.
So pretty soon I was randomly seeing if the web was worth the effort of having the phone off the hook and getting annoyed with all that wait while it screamed at you like a banshee (perhaps in protest?) while it connected and spending 2 minutes over and over waiting for a page to load at 2k a second. Despite all that I soon discovered Custard had a very humble and accessible webpage — lovingly made and maintained by David’s dad.
THE GARAGE SALE
52 Bradley Street Spring Hill — Custard’s practice room, just next to the McCormack family home — and scene of the garage sale/gig
So after visiting the Custard web page a bit too often one day I saw that the band were having a garage sale and a backyard concert at an address in Spring Hill. At first I thought it was a joke. Bands don’t have backyard shows and garage sales. They are rock stars. Why would they need to do this when they are swimming in money — right? I mean Custard had their own divider with their name on it in HMV and Toombul Music — they were BIG TIME.
But I turned up half-expecting (my idea of) common sense to prevail. I wasn’t even wearing shoes, but I parked a bit up the road in Bradley Street and saw (and recognised from photos) Custard’s singer, David McCormack, almost as soon as I sprang out of my shitty 1971 Kingswood. He looked up and recognised me as a punter as I stumbled down the road and delivered a hearty, smiling hello and I reacted by quivering with excitement.
And of course I had a man-crush on David. He was everything I wanted to be and this was amplified by my extreme deadshittedness. And I have crushes all the time. Still do. NBD. Wilco have this song called, “I’m always in love” and that’s just how I roll.
AN IDIOT WITH A GUITAR WANTING IT SIGNED
Naturally I had turned up super-early (I have a genetic disposition to hyper-punctuality). Nothing was set up but a few people were around looking very sober and just as afraid of the sunlight as me (with all my gingerness) so I brazenly introduced myself. So there was Maureen (David’s girlfriend), Nick Naughton (drummer in Small Fantasy/Biro), and David’s parents.
Paul Medew, David McCormack and Nick Naughton at Ric’s — from a zine by Kristie and Georgina Brown
This is pretty damn embarrassing but I will put this down, even though my brain is telling me, “No one needs to know what a dipshit you are Davey. Just pretend this didn’t happen. Yeah.”
So then I got a bit excited about all this because it was in fact — real — and somehow the idea popped into my head that I needed to get my guitar signed — just like I had with Mark Knophler. (But you’d have thought I would have learnt my lesson — but apparently not). So I said to everyone, “I’m just going to go home and get my guitar so everyone can sign it.” Those that heard this just looked at me with bewilderment but didn’t protest. So I dived back in the car, sped home, grabbed a guitar and made it back just in time to look a bit cooler with my entrance. And so armed with my axe I got everyone in the band (and even Maudie and Nick) to sign it and I got David to teach me some Custard riffs and then I sat back on their lawn to watch the bands.
BANDS IN THE BACKYARD
It was so fucking bizarre to see a rock n roll band play in a suburban backyard in the harsh light of day — and more crazy considering this was my new favourite band. I had no idea this was possible. I saw for the first time that rock n roll was not just a stadium thing, it could also be just as ROCK and epic playing on top of the dirt in the shady corner of someone’s backyard to just a few friends and at least one deadshit (me).
On the garage sale side of things I bought everything I could afford — which wasn’t much — but then I came back the next day (it was a two day affair) and after begging my dad for $50 I said to David, “I have $50, give me everything I can afford with this.” And on top of a few shirts and bric-a-brac he gave me a COW cd (which was amazing) and the COMPUTOR tape which again, was fucking cool and further bolstered my belief in this band and anything associated with it.
This is where they played. I had to take a photo of it.
ANOTHER DAVEY BRAIN-FART MOMENT
Another thing that makes me cringe about that day which I need to tell you all about, just to cleanse my soul, is when I said to David, “You know, I hope you guys don’t get big.” And I meant it to be all endearing and a token of how I liked this accessibility but of course I had it all wrong. It was like saying to someone on the dole, “I hope you don’t get a job because you will be all different.” And so he said, “Jesus, I hope we do.” Until that day I just didn’t realise what a struggle making money out of rock n roll was. I had no idea how little money they made and that really blew my mind. Maureen had a big chat with me and set me straight. She even told me how David had bought a shirt at Target recently for $20 just for the ARIA awards (which they didn’t win) and it was the most expensive piece of clothing he had ever bought.
And so they were doing this for the love of it and yet with a hell of a lot of integrity too.
PARTS 2 and 3 COMING SOON! (Jobs, girlfriends, more fucking embarrassing moments, talking to Richard Kingsmill live on JJJ, zines, playing live on stage with Custard, having Paul Medew play in my band, getting threatened with violence, plus more drama and controversy.)
BONUS BLOG: PETE
I am gonna hand over to one of my besties from that period — Pete (at left in the photo below) — with his own story of how he got into Custard.
I love Custard. And when I say that, I mean it in a my-friends-wish-I-would-just-shut-the-fuck-about-Custard-it’s-been-more-than-a-decade-since-they-broke-up way. Still, I’ve got no qualms about it. They rock.
I had an inkling about Custard in my last years of high school but the mania started when I saw them play an all-ages gig on the Gold Coast on the last day of Schoolies in 1997. The gig was actually on Main Beach, on the sand. After the gig Dave came down to say hello, I’ve even got a photo. After the gig I went out and bought We Have The Technology, which they’d just released, and shortly afterwards bought Wahooti Fandango, which remains one of my favourite albums to this day. Possibly my outright favourite. The true fandom started though when I joined the nascent Custard email list, which often dumped dozens of emails from other Custard fanatics into my inbox every day. That’s how I met df (editor’s note: that was my pseudonym of the time, given to me by David McCormack). In the late 90s Custard gigged frenetically, I had many opportunities to see them and I took every one, I didn’t miss a gig in South East Queensland until the day they broke up. On top of that I went to many unbilled gigs at Ric’s, I even remember driving down from the Sunshine Coast, where I lived at the time, sometime in the late 90s to go to someone’s house to see a McCormack jam session until quite late, then driving all the way back to the Coast, tired as hell.
I saw so many Custard gigs so long ago they have all started blurring into one big fantastic gig in my mind. One gig that sticks in my mind was during their matching tracksuits era at a Gold Coast Homebake, I was squashed up against the front barrier like a true fanboy. Perhaps because it’s so recent, a real favourite memory was their last Brisbane gig at the Powerhouse for the Brisbane Festival. Apart from it being a cracking show as always, they encored with Pluto Pt 2, my favourite song of the Loverama era. They hadn’t played it at the other two Brisbane reunion gigs, so that was a real treat. Quite apart from the great gigs though, the greatest thing about my Custard fandom has been the kinship with the other fans, the email list and the people I met through it, the IRC chats, the excitement around df’s cuszine era and being a small part of that, and seeing all the familiar faces whenever Dave or somebody Custard-related plays at Rics. Even though I can’t play a musical instrument for shit it’s been cool to be a small part of a band’s history just by being a fan.
What made Custard special? I guess first and foremost you’d have to say simply their tunesmithery and talent, and their ear for a brilliant pop song. If the music wasn’t fucking fantastic I never would have liked them in the first place, and it is fucking fantastic, just right up my alley. From memory Dave has mentioned in more than one interview in the past that they’re average musicians, but really they were anything but, I never heard them drop a note live. Or at least never noticed. They’re also a uniquely unassuming band, there’s nothing arrogant or macho about them, Uncle Dave was never going to joke about taking your girlfriend home like Tim Rogers did. And of course, they’re just fucking funny, a hilarious band, and a happy one too, they were always smiling on stage. I vividly remember literally rolling around on the floor with my sides splitting the first time I listened to ‘If Yr Happy…’ with my friends (“The only time I cry now is when I’m sad, which is most of the time…”)
Anyway yeah, I love Custard. Long may their music occasionally appear on the airwaves.