Camperdown Bowling Club

Highway M.C. Pad, Camperdown
November 8, 2003


Camperdown Bowlo is a strange place to locate Rock and Roll Central but tonight was always going to be a little different.

The first event is the official launch of CDs by Melbourne’s Penny Ikinger and Sydney’s Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence, neither of them household names but both steering musical courses deserving of such status. The second is a private show by Ian Rilen, bass player from X and an artist in his own right. More on that one later.

Penny is a former Sydneysider and veteran of the Wet Taxis and Louis Tillett’s bands, among others, long since re-located to her original hometown of Melbourne. The oddly-named Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence is fronted by X’s Steve Lucas, now with three bands on the go if you factor in Bigger Than Jesus. That band’s recent reformation a couple of days earlier left Mr Lucas nursing a hangover a black dog couldn’t kill. Nothing like hair of the aforementioned dog though, to get you through the night, and Steve was busy making a dent in the house’s stock of chardonnay as he greeted gig goers.

As a venue, Camperdown Bowlo is a little off the beaten track. Nanker Phelge (the Rob Younger-led ‘60s Brit cover band) did do their farewell show here a few months earlier, but by all accounts that was something of a private party. Tonight is open to the public, although publicity in the street press was limited to a Penny interview and not much else. Not to worry.

There was a time when bands generated their own parties and tonight is a reminder that these things are still possible, even in times of soaring public liability insurance and media indifference.

The bowling club ambience cuts right through – for overseas readers, these establishments are clubhouses to service gatherings of lawn bowlers – right down to the honour boards on the wall, the poster for the ucoming karaoke, the voluntary bar staff and the portrait of Queen (Elizabeth, not Freddie Mercury) adorning the stage. Still, the beers are cheap so who gives a rat’s bum?

A small crowd of mostly friends is on hand as the bistro shuts down and the music cranks up. Both bands make do with a vocal PA and a lightshow comprising two PAR-64 cans and not much else. (Makes for a hard time coming up with anything but the grainiest of photos, so bear with us).

Penny’s set starts tentatively but gathers steam. She’s joined by an all-star line-up for this show: Jim Dickson earns his retainer by playing bass for both her and PBFO. Celibate Rifle Dave Morris does his duty on guitar while Nick Fisher returns to the drum stool with jazzy inflections. Penny herself wields both breathy vocals and feedback-laden guitar.

There’s a palpable sense of the Velvets about the set, drawn mostly from the wonderful "Electra" album on Career, although Penny leaves Nico for dead in the vocalising stakes. "Poison Berries", the folky "Kathleen" (an audience fave), "Maid of Orleans" (dedicated to Wet Taxi alumni Dr Bronstantine Karlaka – with a very tanned Louis Tillett looking on apporovingly) and a wonderful "Andalucian Man" extract the best reception.

We’ve waxed lyrical about the "Electra" disc elsewhere but remain amazed that it’s still to gain a review from the Australian media at the time of uploading. No less a high profile magazine than American Rolling Stone is less slow on the uptake, with Aussie-attuned senior editor David Fricke giving it a raving write-up in the November edition. As the Americans say, Go figure.

PBFO have produced an equally great album (reviewed here) and are determined to launch it in style. X guitarist Geoff Holmes is on hand, but is replaced in the live line-up by the redoutable Bones. Rebecca Hancock reprises her backing vocal work by supplementing the ranks. Steve Lucas alternates between guitar and keyboards and John Butler joins Jim Dickson in the engine room.

Doing what you did in the studio in the live setting can be a hard nut to crack but, bugger me, if the Fridge doesn’t pull it off, playing the songs off "A Once and Future Thing" in order and from go to whoa. (Makes John McPharlin’s traditional post-show souveniring of a set list redundant, as you only have to consult the CD slick if you forget which tunes were played when).

Rebecca Hancock adds another dimension live and really appears to be enjoying herself. She's not alone in that regard - this is lighthearted '60s Brit pop with psych twists, built on bright melodies and quirky keyboard lines. The band seems to know their way around the songs and do justice to the sound that they extracted from the studio.

Steve says the album was a deliberate attempt to avoid the overblown, modern studio sounds around on most records, so the lack of full band amplification tonight is no drawback. PBFO mightn't have played out much lately but could more than hold their own against most of the bands going around on the Sydney circuit.

One club shuts down and another is just warming up. At least, that's how it worked out on this evening.

The word is out that Steve L's erstwhile bandmate of 25 years, Ian Rilen, is fronting his own line-up a short stagger away. Turns out the venue is a biker gang clubhouse. In my inebriated state-of-mind, I figure that there's not much difference between this and a bowling club - both cater to ageing special interest groups.

Penny and the Puberts are left to pack up their gear and a hardy pack of survivors sets out to find the next drink...

The Highway Motorcycle Club's "pad" is a two-storey affair, a downstairs workshop and a second-floor that's a fully-fitted out nightclub with a bar down one side and a stage at the back. Admission is via presentation of a mysterious card we've been handed earlier in the night and the place is fairly full with Rilen and bandmates cooking up a steamy racket from the small podium.

Here's where it gets hazy, folks.

That's Mick Cocks (ex-Rose Tattoo) on guitar, with Ian passing off his bass for the night to join him on six strings. A sax player pumps out accents on the side of stage and the whole bluesy thing is molten. Rilen's battered voice wraps itself around dark tales of squandered love and dirty old cars, with a fair smattering of tracks from his "Love is Murder" solo album.

(I'm lucky enough to have been slipped a copy of a forthcoming live album, but find it hard to recall if I heard the same tunes last night or the CD playing makes me think I did).

Rilen pouts and peers over his glasses, sitting back in the pocket as the band's sound is barely contained within the four, black-painted walls. "Bad Boy For Love" and a song about mobile phones, I do recall.

Geoff Holmes ultimately makes it up on stage in the latter stages, adding to the general guitar crunch. He's conspicuous by the fact he's the only band member not wearing black.

I recall the first time I saw Ian Rilen live outside the constraints of X. It was back in the 1980s, at the Trade Union Club, and he was promoting the "Bad for Good" tape-single (yes, there was a format for singles other than CDs). The old Trade had an atmosphere all its own and it was also dark, sparse strain of blues on display that night (and admittedly bereft of a crowd). Somehow, seeing Ian Rilen and Co this time around in what amounts to a speakeasy is entirely appropriate. I hope the band members pulled up better than I did the next day. Richard Sharman has posted a slightly more lucid review of the night here. (I say it's slightly more lucid to be polite because he did move onto spirits before me).

Whether in full band mode or in stripped back form, Rilen is an arresting talent who, like Penny Ikinger and PBFO, is deserving of your patronage.