My adventures with Custard, pt 4

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PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

After weathering the embarrassment of “the tape” incident, and generally many other embarrassing things I must have done in their presence, I could still bask in the glory of the humble fame I got from the website and all the people who sent me cold, hard cash for a copy of the 4.66 zines I had produced. (4 official issues and two smaller sub-zines). At least that way I seemed cool to all those “lesser” Custard fans and could hold some pretence that I was important and had exclusive access and some skills in transforming that into print or the web.

I was incredibly assisted by a new best friend — a mysterious character called “Sage Trip”.

We got on famously and he had an incredible wit, an intelligence I could only pretend to keep up with and that devilish demeanour only the truly beautiful provocateurs possess. Alas, I was a bit too sober to appreciate it in perpetuity and maybe a year later, after I had been Best Man at his wedding, we had a bit of a falling out — very quietly and orderly — but then we just lost contact — until recently it should be said. Sorry Sage.

FAME

But I embraced this new world of pretend-fame. You could even call it “run-off-fame”. I wasn’t famous, but I was some conduit and believe it or not the stuff I put down was entertaining and I stand by it to this day.

Over at Mongoloid Dave’s excellent trovish website you can download all those zines — which I have lost, even the digital files.

http://www.musiciscrap.com/davemccormack/cuszine.html

So as part of our “run-off-fame” — this meant Liesl (my GF) and I were getting free entry to shows and some bonus merch and occasionally backstage access. But I suspect the only reason they let us back there was cause in those days we didn’t drink and we were the only hanger-ons that were guaranteed not to steal their rider.

We also got a preview of any upcoming albums — which arrived in the form of a dubbed nondescript cassette tape. At the time I was like, FUCKIN A, but now I realise it meant my bonding with those last two albums was a bit dulled by that process. My understanding of them as a unit — these brand new songs of my most favourite band ever — were as a jumble of recordings, just dumped in a messy pile on my ears. There weren’t even song titles. So when I possessed the album proper, with its (supposedly) thought-out track order, and all the excess fat trimmed-off, plus artwork and liner notes and lyrics — and not to mention the personal process of anticipation of the release date and physically going to a record store and buying it and rushing home to listen to it eagerly — all that was lost.

I guess you could say “no big deal” and “stop your stupid whining dickhead!” Ok, yes. I agree.

Moving on.

THE MOST EMBARRASSING THING I’VE EVER DONE IN MY LIFE (TRULY)

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A publicity shot of Richard Kingsmill

This is the story of something so embarrassing it makes me physically shudder. And this is from someone who — on a plane flight — has projectile-vomited all over himself, and all over the aisle and the person next to him. That experience pales in comparison.

So I felt amazing with all that run-off fame and maybe I even got cocky enough to contact Triple J when I heard Richard Kingsmill was doing a “Custard J-File”. I am not exactly sure how it came about, but I do remember sending him my zines and soon enough I got an email asking my phone number so he could call me during the show. Stupidly I decided to hyper-prepare for the event. I rehearsed a very long and stupid story of how I got into Custard and when Kingsmill asked me a question that was vaguely related, I told that epic story like a robot. It was almost like I was doing my best impression of the Paranoid Android. It came from the heart, but was just idiotically detailed and you know what the worst thing was? I sounded like a twelve year old, and the dullest twelve year old imaginable. I don’t think I had listened to my own voice — the way it sounds IRL — for such a long time, and saying such deadshittedness. It was literally horrifying to listen to and I have not been able to listen to it again. Ever. I might still have the tape, but I have no desire to revisit it.

Anyway. Luckily I got a bit looser later in the interview and managed to tell some jokes but I doubt anyone noticed.

QUIZ

The other really, really shitty thing about that night was that Kingsmill did a quiz later and asked a question based on some “facts” published on my website their researcher had looked up a few weeks earlier, and which I had consequently discovered weren’t true — cause the band deliberately lied (they loved doin that) — and so when the contestant argued with Kingsmill that his answer was right — which it was — I was still hovering on the line and had to correct things. UGH. What a fucking disastrous farce.

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LIESL OVERSEAS

One of the biggest deals that happened in this period was that Liesl went on a 6-month overseas trip.

It kinda broke me. But it broke me in a good way I think looking back on it. I was too scared to come with her. I had just randomly bought a house and needed to pay bills I really couldn’t afford. I was so pissed off and desperate to be faithful and wait-it-out I just retreated into this pathetic, empty world of solitude. Apart from work, I spent that 6 months just with myself. And because I pretended I had virtually no social skills I ended up knowing I was really, really alone. And that meant all my effort into the Custard stuff was virtually full-time work. It was a great distraction, but at the same time that period gave me the skills I needed to break outta that horrible shell.

PAUL’S JOB IN ROCK N ROLL (NO MORE)

By this stage I had been working a while in a graphic-design/website/production company. And because I was so obsessed with Custard I tended to try and convert anyone and everyone to the cause. And pretty much the only person I managed to convince happened to be my boss. And one day the company was looking for a web programmer and I knew that Paul Medew — Custard’s bassplayer — had some skills in this department. So I suggested him for the role and to my utter amazement, Paul was suddenly being interviewed, and then working part-time off-site, and then one day, he was working in the very same building at a desk just like mine, just a few metres away. It was like I had a piece of Custard at my work. It was bizarre and dizzying at the same time. How far this had all come in just three years.

But of course I grew to be quite nonchalant about it all and he gradually morphed from a rockstar into another (almost-everyday) co-worker — albeit a rather cooler one. Although, it must be said, Paul was always the most reliable, business-like and “9 to 5” of all the members of Custard. So it wasn’t such a huge leap for my brain.

This is the vertically-challenged Paul on a set of phonebooks — just for the photo. But the assholes printed the entire picture. Ugh.

WINTAH

Around this time I met Glenn’s son Wintah (pictured below) at a house party at Kangaroo Point in (I think) 2001. He was a 15 year old kid being bored at a grown-ups-party where the only excitement was the tiny set his dad did — playing drums in a living room — with David and Paul. I don’t know how we even got invited to this party, but it was a big deal. But because we were so shy we spent a big bunch of the evening just watching the band and talking to Wintah.

Then Wintah disappeared for ages — back to Dalby where he lived, and then uni — and the next thing I knew he had formed his own band. But the whole Little Lovers adventures is another story.

THE BOOK

The story of my “Book” is a pretty epic one — one that almost got me beat up. So I will just introduce the beginnings here and save a few of the more crazy details for the next instalment.

So when Custard looked like breaking-up, I thought I should graduate from “zines” and start doing something grander and more “Adult”. So I started writing a book. Over the next few months I made it to over 40,000 words. I interviewed everyone I could.

By far the most interesting interview was with Shane Bruun (original Custard drummer) and James Straker (original Custard lead guitarist). We all met at Ric’s one evening and I brought my little cassette recorder, James brought his too — presumably so he could cross-reference in case I put words into his mouth. To a snotty-nosed-kid writing a bunch of bullshit that would never be published — this seemed highly FULL-ON and highly SERIOUS.

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That’s James with the red hair. This picture is at a Melniks show. I ended up buying that guitar he is playing, and I still own it. It is the best guitar ever (well a japanese-made Jazzmaster) and even Tim from Tym’s Guitars agrees with me.

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My adventures with Custard — Part 2

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This is my most favourite shot of David — taken by a woman called Penny Bradfield who went on to be a famous Fairfax photojournalist and is too famous to respond to my email for comment for this blog! 🙂 It’s cool. Rock on Pen!

So this is PART 1 in case you missed it.

After all that education at the garage sale I wish I had grown up a little — but I was only slightly less of an absolute deadshit.

But as far as Custard was concerned I found myself perpetually tuned in their direction. I saw some shows and I beavered away in my bedroom working out all their songs on guitar— which would lead to something pretty full-on later (see part 3). I watched them on TV and studied what popped up in street press and the internet.

FAMILY TREE & RIC’S (again) & LIFE’S TURNING POINTS

And then there was a Rolling Stone story about them which outlined — in diagrammatic form* — their intimate and “incestuous” relationships with other bands in Brisbane all based upon Ian and Judy McCormack’s (David’s parents) practice room at 52 Bradley Street, Spring Hill.

(*And this little band-tree would inspire me later.)

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I studied this map and decided to explore every other band on that well-meaning, but simplistic, 2D band-tree. I was already familiar with C.O.W. and Computor and the Melniks — but there were other bands like Biro and Small Fantasy and Cunningham and Warm Nights (Robert Forster’s band with David and Glenn and Bob Moore) who I needed to know. And when I sourced them out they were all profoundly awesome.

But lastly there was an amazing band called Miami centred around the wonderous voice of Maureen Hansen who you may remember from Part 1. And as well as David’s GF she also had cred cause she had sung on a bunch of songs on Custard’s first album. But Miami was even more awesome cause it was David on guitar, Paul on bass and Nick Naughton on drums. And before Custard could try to change my life, that Miami band did a fantastic job of doing it first.

A promo shot of Maureen

GUITAR TAB

When 1997 rolled around I was on a brief sojourn in Melbourne visiting my mum but then I was suddenly back in Brisbane, staring down that inevitable return to studing in February. And with nothing better to do in that last gasp of my Uni holidays — I started making an “unauthorised” Custard webpage. And it was with the incredible help of my very first “internet friend” – CC Hua. And we are still mates today! We had initially bonded over our mutual love of making guitar tabs to indie rock songs by Australian bands and of course our decent taste in music — like Snout and Even and Automatic and You Am I and The Welcome Mat and Header and Sidewinder and Drop City et al.

Just quietly I still hold the record of having successfully tabbed YOU AM I’s “Cathy’s Clown” despite that precocious kid — who joined that band later and then decided to FIX stuff. Good on you, but yeah – whatever.

Although CC was quite a bit younger than me she basically lectured me in HTML and general awesomeness. She was very patient and despite my incredible deadshitness she persisted until I had mastered it enough to go at the webpage alone. CC went on to be in bands and be quite an upstanding rock n roll citizen and consistently puts me to shame. Kudos.

LIESL

I had completely forgotten how we met — but through the magic of the internet (actually just emailing her) — I am reliably informed it was because Liesl had set up a Custard fanpage and I sent her an email saying I was thinking of setting one up too.

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In those days the web was full of official pages loaded with their very “safe” and lawyered content — but there was very little user-generated bits on the web. And so you were forced to make your own— and somehow host it. Nowadays 95% of the web is punter-generated without much effort on the punter’s behalf – but back then it was almost the other way around. We went to great lengths to have our ideas and opinions published and it our efforts were kinda appreciated.

After a few exchanges of emails we then mutually decided, seeing as we were both going to a semi-secret Custard show at Ric’s, we might as well coordinate. She was chaperoned by her older brother’s best friend. It was a fantastic show — basically a test of all the new songs for the album that would be known as We Have The Technology. I am still convinced they butchered the song Sinatra Theory on the album compared to how it sounded that night.

Anyway, then there was our ‘second date’ – a Miami show at Ric’s. It was their debut CD launch and it was MASSIVE and we could barely see what was going on because in those days Ric’s had no stage and we just had to pretend we understood.

And after that show, Liesl and I then somehow became a thing in that very awkward way only I know how to do and managed to remain so for three years.

A BAND

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So Liesl had somehow randomly ended up sitting next to the sister of Paul Medew (Custard’s bassplayer) at TAFE before even realising the connection. And I seem to remember Liesl telling me there was a girl in her class with the surname “Medew” and we both wondered. But then the next thing I knew they were besties, mostly because Liesl and Karin shared a natural love of giggling incessantly at the back of class. Karin became a great friend and my most favourite piece of Custard memorabilia — a living, breathing one! She knew all the goss, she looked a bit like Paul, she had all of Paul’s CDs and she made sure her brother put us on the door at any Custard shows within driving distance of Brisbane. Karin and I even ended up living together for half a year while Liesl travelled OS.

But meanwhile I became utterly obsessed with forming a band of my own and as I’ve said before — the easiest way to conjure your own band from virtually nothing is to convince your girlfriend to play bass and bang! Insta-rock. But we were too poor to afford our own bass so Paul offered his old Fender Squire Precision. It looked HUGE on Lees but it did the trick and in the meantime I wrote really, really shitty songs. Here is one of them inspired by Liesl’s new job working at a library.

LIBRARY GIRL

And that’s John Swingle from Biro and the Melniks and Small Fantasy on drums — and the backstory is here. Having John in the band made everything just so much more dumbfoundingly real. Having an absolute hero of ours, a songwriting genius and a fucking cool dude, agree to drum in your shitty, shitty band just doesn’t happen to deadshits like me (or “us” if Liesl will allow that).

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The thoroughly amazing John Swingle (photo by Liesl).

A JOB

After Uni finished I was now OFFICIALLY a deadshit — as far as the government was concerned. So yes — I was on the dole and I was lining up in that office to hand in my form once a fortnight (just like John’s DSS song) and I fucking, fucking hated it. And you know what? My dad made me sign up at Centrelink. It wasn’t “tough love” — he just wanted me to move out. And even with that cash in my pocket — more money than I had ever known — I wanted out. The whole system of unemployment benefits is designed to make you feel dirty and pathetic and they succeeded spectacularly.

A few weeks later my mum was visiting from Melbourne and she decided to call on some Uni mates of hers — Rob and Anne — and I tagged along. And at that dinner-party we all got talking and I suddenly started raving about Custard (as I was wont to do) and I played Rob some Custard songs (which he loved) and then I showed them my webpage which resulted in a very random late-night (perhaps drunken) job offer. I quickly accepted and turned up well ahead of time at their design studio on a Monday morning in North Quay. My job was doing very basic web stuff and though it was very, very “part-time” I instantly quit unemployment benefits (even though the very low income I was earning meant I could still claim some stuff from The Man).

And then I must have done OK because I was still there three years later and in a full-time role — but still getting paid minimum wage!

Initially I was there to do very basic internet programming but then my job got “expanded” so that I was now the receptionist — not exactly the career I had dreamed of after wasting (and paying for) 3 years at University. So I answered the phones and made coffee and greeted people who rang the doorbell. It was a bit belittling especially cause everyone there had such an ego but I was gratified by the fact in my spare time in between all that receptionist bullshit I gradually got familiar with the design software. I even did a few actual “jobs” for the company.

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CUS-ZINE

And then this dude Scott (who at the time worked for Mambo) on the Custard email forum (which was just a chain-letter that meant you always had new emails in your in-box) suggested we make a ‘zine. And so we conspired and put one together. I laid it out using all the gimmicks I had learnt from just kicking around the office and my very basic knowledge of Quark Xpress. I even managed the mindfuck of imposing it for laser-printing. On top of that I wrote a bunch of stories and went out and recorded some interviews that I transcribed for publication. Scott did all the cool design stuff like the cover and other graphics.

But perhaps the biggest help in that process was a character called “Sage Trip”. He was a comic genius and came on board for the second issue and together we wrote all the gags but it was often Sage telling me what to say and me just imitating him if I was writing my own stuff. More on that later.

To generate this 32 page tome I spent a few Sundays in a row secretly printing that shit at work. After I advertised it for sale at $2 a copy (of which 50c went on postage) I sold (or gave away) about 100 copies. I was amazed. That money came as a $2 coin stuck inside an envelope with sticky tape delivered to my home. About 20% of envelopes had the coin missing with a very precise cut in the envelope — no doubt the work of thieving postal workerz! For future zines I did a “double issue” so I could ethically charge a $5 note which was more easily concealed in an envelope.

In a big box, to this day, I have kept every single one of those letters that arrived in my post box. I felt appreciated and more so because the effort it takes for an individual to mail something is pretty much a dead art nowadays — and was in its death throes back then. Each and every letter I received was magical. Thank you to all of you who subscribed — in that very old-school fashion.

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TV AND RADIO

And although people were telling me to make Cus-Zine digital — in other words: a PDF — I resisted. Even Ian McCormack suggested it (god bless him!). But I love bound paper and there was still a big bit of me that wanted to be old-school and resist all this evil change. I had no research to prove this — but I thought people treat a physical book in a different way — and thus get a bigger cultural and personal experience. At the same time I was all about conservation and “paperless offices”, but this zine was just so tiny and necessary and I insisted.

The next thing I knew one of the Directors I worked for (who had “industry connections”) suggested me for a segment for a kid’s show about technology. I accepted mostly because I was curious, but also because I thought it was perhaps an order.

And then a massive film-crew turned up at my house. There were at least a dozen of them and they were climbing over furniture and pulling out light-bulbs and shifting stuff like they were ordained. And the presenter was a very young girl called Shae Brewster who went on to bigger and greater things. But this was her very first gig and she was maybe 15 or 16 and acted every bit of her age. Just quietly she was rubbish and had a bit of a melt-down at one point when the director said something like, “Let’s just come over here and talk about this bit for a second”. She went nuts and said, “OMG! is this ‘THE TALK’. Oh god, ‘THE TALK’ ALREADY?” Etc.

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A recent promo photo of her

And all these deadshits were in my house. I was horrified. I was also mic’d up and that made me all WTF? so I just played it ultra-SOBER in the interview — just being safe. I was half convinced they would make me out to be a freak and spend all their editing powers making me look like a nut-case. And so all my jokes were very deadpan, very subtle and thus rendered completely oblivious to that kid journalist attempting to connect with me. It was a disaster. A fucking, fucking atrocity.

They never aired that footage and although I felt bad cause I had a bit to do with its sabotage — I was very, very pleased with that.

And very soon after I realised I had not learnt my lesson and agreed to make a shockingly DEADSHIT live appearance on the national radio station — JJJ. It was an interview with Richard Kingsmill — for the J-FILE on Custard and for that horribly embarrassing story and much, much more — see part 3.

BONUS PICS

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From Rolling Stone issue 527 October 1996

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MY ADVENTURES WITH THE BAND “CUSTARD”

ImageMe at Mt Kaputar in 2003 in my favourite Custard shirt

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.

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PART ONE “The pathetic years”.

A CRUSH

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.

SERIOUSNESS

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.)

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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

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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.

MAN-CRUSH

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ric’s (A short and personal history)

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PART 1

Once-upon-a-time someone described Ric’s Bar quite accurately, but rather dispassionately, as a place where no matter where you stood, you felt like you were perpetually in someone’s way — even if you were in a band (playing a show there).

And although I suspect there’s a point in the career’s of most Brisbane bands where they just won’t play there anymore, and it has been at times quite fashionable to dismiss and derail Rics — certainly now, and even in the old days — I will argue it meant a very great deal to a lot of people in Brisbane.

It was sometimes a ‘default’ venue — in other words I’ve found myself saying a billion times, “Aw, there’s nothing else on, let’s go to Ric’s”. But I would argue that is actually quite a compliment to the place. Ric’s is a pretty humble venue where the music was generally good, you always had a familiar face there to chat with and it felt safe and cosy and very, very “Brisbane”.

So this is a story about Ric’s — not quite a history, and not quite a beginning, middle and end tale. And in telling this tale I have asked a few of my friends to help me out with their experiences too.

MEANING

When I first went to Rics in the late 90s as a terrified, snotty-nosed kid with horrible clothes and the most stupid (but sensible) footwear imaginable I had no idea this humble place would mean so much to me in the future. In this place I saw some of the most awesome shows ever. In this place I played at least the top 5 of the most awesome shows of my life. In this place I met and hooked up with Dee (and many, many of my friends hooked up with their life-long partners too). In this place a billion other very, very cool and meaningful events happened — and some very heartbreaking and profound. Rics, like it or not, was THE centre of A universe that I was wedded to in those days. Like it or not, it was our “local”. It was our natural meeting place. It was where you could go on a Friday or Saturday night (perhaps even through the week too) just on your own, no matter what time, without any worries that you could not bump into a bunch of your mates there already (or just about to arrive).

A DESCRIPTION

For the uninitiated — Ric’s is a very small venue that often punched above its weight — through necessity and the circumstance of Brisbane being so devoid of decent live music venues. That tiny space it occupies is at the top of the Valley Mall and gradually it evolved from a ‘quiet/relaxed/sunday-afternoon’ vibe into a place that could accommodate any band — as long as they could fit on that 6 square metre stage.

One thing that differentiates it from almost all other venues in Brisbane — and perhaps all of Australia — is the fact it has always been FREE ENTRY. And as you may have suspected from the words above — I have spent a lot of time at Ric’s. I have certainly PLAYED most of my gigs over my humble rock n roll career at Ric’s and I would bet that I have probably SEEN the most bands I’ve ever seen live at Ric’s.

A “SHIT HOLE”

At this point I know a lot of my peers will look at this subject matter and think, “What a fucking shit-hole. I hated that place” — which was essentially the words of the first person I asked for an opinion. And at times I have felt that vibe, but with the warm, blissful, fuzz of the passage of time (and the beautiful failings of memory), I look back at Rics and I think exponentially of the good times and gloss over all that bad stuff. And there was a lot of bad stuff, but it all seems so trivial and funny in that sense that drama gets endearing once you aren’t there anymore.

I think people got over Ric’s was because it eventually got quite MOR successful. But it’s eventual mainstream popularity was more to do with the Valley itself being suddenly “de jour” with ‘city nightclubbers’ than any planning on its behalf.

And like a deer startled by the headlights of a bogan 4WD heading straight at it — it managed to just jump out of the way of oblivion by slowly playing catchup.

So it got “serious” with a stage and more security and that second entrance when it got late enough. And a lot of deadshits started frequenting the place. I first knew something was up when one Saturday night I went to see this band from Perth called “Turnstyle“. They were one of my favourite indie bands but just before they played I was denied entry inside because I was wearing Doc Martins, Vinnies old-man-trousers and a cowboy shirt. The guy at the door explained quite matter-of-factly: “Sorry, but this is a t-shirt and sneakers venue”.

Rather than protest or wallow in that extreme rejection I treated this as brutal but necessary constructive criticism and a wake-up-call. A few days later I went out and bought some sneakers and hid those Docs in the most inaccessible region under the bed.

And the success of Ric’s got even more real when a few years later, around 2005, the Brunettes from New Zealand were playing there and outside was a line up that stretched for 50 metres or so. And I pretty sure it was a Thursday night. Wow. Our ‘local’ was growing up. I didn’t get to see the Brunettes that night but I still felt part of history just being outside and witnessing the spectacle.

610

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Photo by Michelle Brown

The other reason certain people started hating on Ric’s was because of a venue just around the corner called “610”. And I have documented about the phenomenon that was 610 so you’ll just have to read it. Or if you can’t be bothered — just suffer this very simplistic interpretation of that vibe at the time: one of the biggest ‘characters’ in the scene at the time, and a major promotor of ‘indie’ shows, decided 610 was cool and Ric’s wasn’t cool anymore. And thus 610 was about the ‘kids’ and Ric’s was about the ‘establishment’. And more accurately (and quite base at the same time) 610 was BYO and sans-security whereas Rics was the opposite. (In other words you could party seeing some equally shithouse and equally some very cool bands at the same time saving a lot of money in the process and looking quite fashionable.)

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There were very vocal and influential proponents of this philosophy and I guess a lot of people got caught up in it. (Possibly myself included — cause I fucking loved 610.) But when 610 imploded all that rubbish was forgotten and people started coming back to Ric’s.

AND YES: GETTING BACK TO RIC’S

Ric’s in the 90s and 2000s was small but NOT small at the same time. It was not quite a TARDIS but I would describe Ric’s as a series of vignettes. And in this way it could seem almost grand and spacious.

The performance area was tiny. (Until recently when they moved the sound booth) it has been the space from the roadside wall across to about 1.5 metres from the bar where the DJ/sound booth sat.

This is my humble drawing of the layout.

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THE TOILETS

Of note, the toilet area was, well, “eccentric”. It was this dirty, shitty, mostly outdoor place out the back through a winding passage past the pinball machine (and below) and next to the iron backstairs up to level 2. Further back was this big fridge thing that looked like a ship container which was eventually locked after someone decided to piss inside it. But despite all this nonsense the toilet area was another zone where you could chill with your friends and it didn’t really matter that you could see the guys pissing through the gaping door-less opening to the men’s toilet or see someone doing lines through the window. Indeed these facilities became almost non-gender specific as every other user of the male side toilet was a woman.

And the graffito on the walls was always a fantastic insight into what was happening in the scene. If you had something derogatory (or occasionally complimentary) posted there — you knew you were a somebody.

BACK IN THE DAY

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My first memories of Rics were when it wasn’t quite a “proper live venue”. With its ‘no cover charge vibe’ I guess it almost felt like a ‘little place’. But it was quite the opposite. A lot of really, really good bands or side-projects of really good bands would play and it was the kinda venue you could invite your friends or your parents to.

In those days Rics had bands playing on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and even evening gigs were usually “quiet” bands, jazz stuff or acts playing their more laid-back material. You could rock out I guess, but in an intimate, softer way. I remember when we first got a show there I was unnecessarily flustered, determined to put as many clean songs into the set without sounding all wimpy and non-rock.

Part of that vibe was the fact there was no stage in those days. You just played on a bit of carpet and there was a shelf behind where you could sit a smallish amp. If the room was fucking packed — like that time I saw Miami’s CD Launch — you couldn’t see anything (and I am 6″ tall) but the vibe was amazing.

THE FIRST HORRIFIC TIME I PLAYED AT RIC’S

My fledging first band was gifted a support at Ric’s one Thursday or Wednesday night by David McCormack. It was the first time I played there and this was in the days before a stage and I had seen other bands rest their amps up on this thin shelf behind so I thought that was what the cool kids did so I dutifully copied. And then during our last song I was strumming away and suddenly no sound was coming out and I checked my lead and the volume and eventually I looked up in some apologetic notion to the audience and they all looked horrified and were gazing not quite AT me, but directly BEHIND me. And I swung around and saw my amp had fallen off the shelf and punched the two leads flush inside. When I lifted it back up it refused to resume working so that was the end of the gig. We got a big applause — probably out of extreme sympathy.

NOISE

In the late 90s and early 2000s a lot of new apartments were built in and around the Mall area and these people started complaining about live music noise — which is a bit like someone buying a house next to an expressway and complaining about too much traffic noise. So in 2004 the government imposed draconian noise restrictions upon the valley — Rics included. And then my band had a gig there, only about a week later (from memory) and we couldn’t play with amps — everything amplified had to go through the desk. It was surreal. It was the strangest gig of my life.

ANNA (pictured above avec awesome left arm tat), the soundbabe in the 2000s: “Ric’s was a pretty weird time in my life and a lot of fucked-up stuff happened to me while I was the sound guy there. On the whole, though, I feel like I got more good stuff out of it than bad. The good – I have a handful of true friends from this time, people I think the world of, who I would never have met had I not worked there- ie Racheal Johnston (an ass-kicker, genius, and one of the greatest supporters I’ll ever have), and Heather Mansfield (who later gave me an entirely new life when she asked me to tour with her band, the Brunettes, in the US). I saw some absolutely astounding shows that shaped how I think of music and performance to this day. The bad, I’ve mostly let go of now. Please note, haters, that I absolutely LOATHED enforcing the noise restrictions. I was 20 when I started that job; the final responsibility should NEVER have been on my inexperienced, intimidated little shoulders. I’ve pretty well atoned for that one though – I mixed Lightning Bolt a couple times last year, and I’d say the Coachella set got up to 118dBa at times.”

I was so appalled I wrote my very first and only letter to my local MP about this issue — which was a big deal cause I worked for years in an MPs office and I was convinced 99% of people who wrote letters to MPs were certifiable.

This was the response: (not by Peter Beattie, my local MP, but the Minister for Liquor etc)

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It was just all so wrong. And sound people running around looking so defeated looking intensely at these noise-meter contraptions is so, so silly. Beside the fact a noise meter is like a DAD-O-METER — “Oh, these noise levels will cause irreparable damage” — it just put a big dent in the evening. It felt like everything was being monitored. Like THE MAN was always watching you, ready to shut everything down — even at this humble music venue where everyone was mostly just minding their own business and having a good time.

Anyway — only about 6 agonizing months later there was some special cultural zone applied to the Valley and we could all rock out again. Yes!

GRANT MCLENNAN

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David McCormack of Custard: “One of my fondest memories of Ric’s is when me and Paul Medew and Glenn Thompson became Grant McLennan’s backing back for a month long residency. We got to play a whole lot of Grant’s solo songs and some GB classics. It was just before we recorded Loverama and just before I moved to Sydney and everything changed.”

And David was there with Grant on stage at Ric’s only a week before he died.

Grant McLennan was one of the singer/guitarists in the Go-Betweens. Most people had a favourite — you were a “Grant” type or a “Robert” type. Grant, at least superficially, was the straighter one. Less theatrical and more reserved. More up and down, rather than side to side — someone so compulsively charming you would have no fear taking home to dinner with your mother.

Anyway, Grant had a stool at Rics. It didn’t have his name on it or anything like that — but it was his chair.

It was at the side of the bar heading towards the back and he would be there — sometimes a few nights a week — drinking his own version of a Long Island Ice Tea. All the bar staff knew how to make it for him. And you wouldn’t even notice he was there. (And when Grant died tourists from all over the world would come to Rics just to see Grant’s stool.)

The last time I saw Grant was when he sang that last song in David McCormack’s set. The last lines are “Putting out a fire”— over and over. And that Saturday he was gone.

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David McCormack (centre) at a early Custard gig at QUT — maybe 1991?

We found out a few minutes after we got to Ric’s that night. Wintah, Ben and me — the Little Lovers at the time — had just had a Saturday night practice and we were mingling around and lost eachother. So eventually I went looking for the other two and found them upstairs. They were at the very top DJ booth which was high above the floor and you needed to climb up a ladder and they were talking to Matt Brady (I think) and I was pulling faces at them from below — just being a dickhead — but they just looked at me ashen-faced and black with something that could only mean really, really bad news.

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And Wintah (pictured above), whose dad played drums in the Go-Betweens, had been invited to Grant’s party that night. He took it pretty hard. There were tears and a dark, dark malaise. I remember I tried to break up with this woman I was with at the time cause she was so dismissive and unfeeling — when all I could do was “feel”.

And below — Ric’s in modernity:

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NEXT PART (COMING SOON!):

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And this is me in 2006 drunk texting while climbing the stairs to the second level. More on that later…

Talking to the Ric Frearson, the “Ric” in Ric’s, Smoking and Lockout. Dancing. That Del Toro gig. The CHARACTERS of Rics. Meeting Dee, the Little Lovers and the crazy days of 2006 plus much, much more.

The Brisband Family Tree

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Once upon a time I did this Brisbane band (“brisband”) family tree. It started as “something to do” over the forced Christmas vacation in 2004. The idea came from the first article in Rolling Stone about Custard (which wasn’t actually about Custard) and how they were in and related to so many other bands in Spring Hill. So thus inspired I realised I could do my own little network — all visually displayed like spaghetti and meatballs.

Initially it was purely narcissistic. I just wanted to prove my band was related (and thus perhaps on a par) to a whole lot of much more awesome bands. But then it just kept growing.

EVERYONE in a Brisbane band seemed interested. But, just quietly, more than interested. When they saw it they were like, “Holy shit!”. And then EVERYONE wanted to help.

So, apart from reaching out to bands via the internet, I printed this bad-boy out on A3 paper and took it to all the shows I went to and thrust it into people’s faces (and shoved a pen in there too) and said, “Can you add to this or clean up any mistakes?”

Without exception, everyone was happy to help and it really did give me a great opportunity to meet a lot of people. In those days I was much younger and shyer and just generally a dickhead. So the “tree” was such a facilitator.

It got so nuts I just had to stop. It just couldn’t be displayed in a LINEAR/2D fashion anymore. Plus I got bored so above is a snap-shot in time. It has lots of mistakes apparently, but it is the best I could do. My friend Mongoloid Dave has posted it on his website ever since 2004 and he tells me it gets downloaded the most out of all the other awesome stuff he makes available. Weird!

And I am acutely reminded of it tonight because the only reason I know of “Clag”  – see the previous blog — is because I discovered them through the tree. They had broken up by the time I was ‘around’ and I only knew their songs through the magic of MP3s on the internet.

So enjoy!

HI RES VERSION:

The Honey Pies

I really, really like this band. From Adelaide. They have 2 albums. If you want an introduction try “Girl”. They have other clips – and one that is DEFS “NSFW”. But it is amazing! Anyway here is “Girl” and I love the Apple “waiting-wheel” for the chorus. GENIUS.

They are so rich in sounds, so diverse, so natural. I cannot help but thinking they have that irreverence, that “element of crap”, that freshness, and that overwhelming sense that these kids up there on stage – are just like you, only transformed into rockstars. They’re just “having a go”. Just writing shitty, personal songs – pilfered from a wide range of crazy influences – and putting it down without really worrying if anyone liked them.  You might even tag them with that Q word. The one Custard got labelled with. Yep, “QUIRKY”. It was a bit passe back in the 90s, a bit of an albatross around a band’s neck – but I have said it. I can’t take it back now.

This is their blog:

http://thehoneypies.blogspot.com.au/

Can i just say – they are an amazingly SEXY band too!

whoa.