Posted November 21, 2005
Re-kindling the flames:
History never repeats but the best music does, whether it be on record or in its live context. Great bands always beget new ones unto which they bestow inspiration. Sometimes, those that carried the torch originally even re-animate, usually in slightly different form but still bearing the same spirit.
The Visitors were a purpose-built, short-term proposition, a band with a limited lifespan. Arising from the wreckage of Radio Birdman's original break-up, they played 12 shows in and around Sydney from December 1978 to August '79. Left a posthumous album behind. Left their mark. Why? Because the songs were fantastic and the band carried a sense of mystery that perpetuated long after they were gone.
Essentially an outlet for the songwriting of Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek, The Visitors included that band's drummer Ron Kelley and clavier player Pip Hoyle. Singer Mark Sisto was a close friend of Deniz's and a Radio Birdman back-up singer and Minister of Defence. Multi-skilled youngster Steve Harris filled the bass role.
The Visitors sporadically played around the medical internship commitments of Tek and Hoyle, both living and working a couple of hours north of Sydney in Newcastle. This was never a careerist band. Its tenure on earth was determined by the fact that all members were living in the same country - Deniz and Mark heading home to the US after a final show in tandem with the Hitmen and a Rob Younger-less Radio Birdman going under the name Comrades of War.
The Visitors existed in an amazing time in Sydney as the music scene began to explode with new and exciting bands all trying to push the envelope and do something new.
The self-titled Visitors album has been out-of-print for some time, so legacy label Citadel has decided to re-issue it with new pictures and liner notes. Nearly three decades on, the band is also back, albeit in slightly altered form and for a very short time. American pro skateboard champs, tattooists, identical twins and California punk scene participants (I'm not making any of that up) Steve and Art Godoy fill the considerable shoes of Messrs Keeley and Harris, for two shows only in Newcastle and Sydney in December.
THE BARMAN decided that was good enough reason to unleash the unique and formidable wit and intellect of singer MARK SISTO in interview form. Here's the result. Colour pictures are by STEVE DANNO-LORKIN and the uncredited black-and-white number was supplied by RON KEELEY. (Mail us if you took it).
BARMAN: Welcome to the Bar again, Mark. What was the most important thing about the Visitors and their music? Why should people care 30 years on?
MARK: Important? I wince at the thought. Important? It's fun, Fun is important. This is part séance', part beer blast. It is about as important as a frat party reunion (which I would not miss!!) I do promise you'll get your money's worth.
Well, OK, it is important to have a tune with friends and interact, rub shoulders with others. In these difficult times of much alienation, one should make the effort to be sociable. So come on down You just might meet your next significant other. Meet an old flame (but don't call her old) or even meet someone who owes you money. Bastards could be reunited.... OK, it's important I admit it.
The MUSIC?: How could I be objective? but it IS different I do declare. The best the Visitors can claim is we achieved, to a satisfactory degree, our objective - to entertain with a worthy spirit. And we did our part in adding little bit to this sense of community here in 1-94 Land.
I have left it (these songs) alone for most of the past decades. I didn't know if I would or could reanimate the spirit of these songs. Happily, because I haven't taxed its spirit, and like a good sandpainter I "just let it go" after the event. Having done that so well, to satisfy my own satisfaction, I shall allow myself this act of.... uh... doing it again, briefly, and then letting that go. Just like WC Fields claimed: "Of course I can Quit drinking, I must have done it a thousand times." Of course I can let it go. I'll prove it again.
I like this music I have no trouble wearing it again. The best compliment came From Rob Younger, who said in some book something to the effect of:"... it had a greater sense of mystery or theater than we (Radio Birdman) did."
B: What do you remember of the approach to you to join the band back in 1979 and what were you doing at the time?
M: It was in the shadow of the painful (for those guys in Birdman) break-up. If I were to say one wrong word about those events, someone could lose
someone the hard-earned progress of much therapy. So let's leave that alone.
B: People's expectations must have been sky-high but this band was very different from Radio Birdman. Would you like to comment?
M: Shit yeah; it sure seemed that way to me. I got the impression the amount of people who were interested in Birdman stuff was many multiples of those who actually saw them since their last showing here in Sydney in about what? A year-and-a half earlier? Birdman did not resurrect but swarms of bands had broken out all over the place. Big time.
I felt the high expectation, It was a bit scary /good scary. So we "got amongst that lot" and came out swinging.
This Bud's - sorry Tooheys - is for you: An Alice Cooper-inspired
Deniz at the Stagedoor.
It was different from Birdman alright; I discovered just how different when we practiced the Comrades of War thing (ED: partial reunion of Radio Birdman in which Mark sang, on August 5, 1979). Birdman is a high-powered dragster massive torque, 5 figure RPMs beast. Not much need for aerodynamics. The Visitors would not take them in the quarter mile - but in the curves, or the open autobahn, yeah baby !!! Visitors had a nice interior, the suspension gave a smoother ride.
B: Which shows with the original band stand out the most to you?
M: They all do, except Rags and Balmain Town Hall. The first one was a trip. I felt like Wyle E. Coyote walking on air and not looking down. And the last one...by the end we had won over a fair-sized mob to pack the Stagedoor and achieve maximum roar. Now if it only had a wooden floor instead of concrete...it would have shook.
B: Tell us about the songs. Some people reckon they're among the best Deniz ever wrote (or co-wrote)? Care to comment and which are the stand-outs from your perspective?
M: What I found remarkable (proof lies in that I will make some remarks about it - see?) is this: I kinda figured song writers gotta take what arrives from the ether. But Deniz did a very interesting job of making songs suitable to my voice and for more open space. Reinhabiting them this once again has a surprising freshness for me.
My favorites would be "Sad TV" and "Sledge".
B: The enduring nature of the tunes is enhanced, I think, because some were played (and recorded live) by New Race and subsequent Deniz Tek Groups. Fair call?
M: Yes. At first Deniz was reluctant to bring those across to other uses. I suggested he not be so precious about it. Hell, the more people who cover the song, the more would want to hear the original. Heck, if those songs got the "Louie Louie" treatment the Visitors would be very lucky.
I'm totally unobjective and proud so don't ask me to compare versions. I did like Angie Pepper's "Miss You Too Much" more than any other of those who covered the Visitors.
B: The reaction to the band was generally very positive but of course there was a degree of friendly rivalry when you played shows with comrades like The Other Side and the Hitmen. What do you remember of that as a motivating force?
M: Sure, friendly competition helped. Among the three Birdman offshoots, it wasn't mean. We wanted to win. " We" meaning mostly me and Deniz, and maybe Ron. The spectators benefited, as did each band.
B The band that you played most shows with was, of course, the Lipstick Killers. What were some of the common traits the two bands shared?
M: They saved us from being too serious. We not only played gigs together but used their practice room and soundman Tim Grieg. Mark Taylor has that spirit of the mad scientist (he had that gleam in his eye) who wanted to conduct, perhaps, reckless experiments on innocent subjects.
They were inspiring they had the spirit of B grade Gladiator and Biblical epic movies. Also Tillman's company helped me feel at ease to give expression to my inner sleaze.
B The Visitors touched down on the cusp of an explosion of venues and bands, certainly as far as Sydney was concerned. What was it about the music scene at the time that caused that?
M: Testosterone?, Beer and...? Unsupervised youth and the chicken or the egg? Baby boomers in their twenties and teens, out living on one's own beyond the pale of any supervision, lots of hormones. General licentiousness and lasciviousness. We were there at the right time.
"If they won't fill the rider with something better than Toohey's, I'm outta here".
B: Coming from Michigan and seeing some of the bands from there probably qualifies you to answer this...what was it about high energy music that Sydney took to whereas Melbourne looked to artier bands?
Hmmm I don't have a good intimate knowledge of the " GENERAL VIBE" of Melbourne to speak for Melbourne. Hmmm...Sydney and Detroit .... very different places. I could write many pages on cultural observations. That could be looked at deeply ...space doesn't allow for that now. Sydney was open to the new, not jaded. a big town that different subcultures could exist side by side, and little subdivisions were big enough for critical mass. Density may have something to do with it.
Detroit: Anyone who is interested in that must read "Grit, Noise and Revolution" (ED: new book on Michigan music by David A. Carson, which we'll soon review).
Speaking of Detroit , It is a common (mis) perception we knew nothing of Australia (in those days), and your guys have a far greater proportion of informredness about us. HA ! Quite contraire. The Truth is that thanks to a man named GEORGE PIEROT - who had this travelogue TV show five days week - about once every two or three weeks, we (being the TV audience in Detroit) would go to Australia. This showed all things Australian from a human point of view. As for Australians, you guys see us through the bent and dirty lens of seeing America through entertainment, corporate news, politics and so on.
If you talk to anyone from our Generation from Detroit (Asheton,Thompson, Deniz, Niagara et cetera) we all had our horizons broadened by Pierot.
Truly , if you ask why I'm here in Australia the one word answer: PIEROT.
B: Post the Visitors, you yourself sort of dropped under the radar for a while, returning occasionally with different line-ups of a band called Manifestations but not really playing that much. What were you doing?
M: Besides waiting for smoking to be banned, I raised a son. Right after the Visitors, I went into the Army (1980-84). The Manifestations was '91-95 I also spent some time in the USA from '96-2000. And there was other rather shadowy excursion I may talk of... some other time.
B: The Visitors will play just two shows only this time. Why is that?
M: I heard Citadel was going to press it (the album) again ,the thought was: Does this warrant a reunion? Hey, what the heck. Deniz found several blocks of time (hours) that he could utilize ( looking from months ago) We may not have time to do this again . Well why not?.
It is a tiny gap in Deniz's schedule, I would be willing to bet if you looked in that guy's diary you'd see something like: 'August 17th 2006 4:47 ,find parking space....allow 1 minute 40 seconds...'
B: Art and Steve Godoy of Deniz's US touring and recording band are the rhythm section. How different do the expect the dynamics to be?
M: It will be a surprise to me too. I know nothing of their sound but the spirit of these lads has preceded them. Death or glory!!!
B: Any surprise tunes being included or do we have to wait to find out?
M: Yes! Surprises !!
Feeding back at the Stagedoor Tavern: Steve Harris and Deniz Tek
lean into it as Ron Keeley works up a thirst.
B: The Visitors recordings have been out-of-print for ages and are being re-released with new art and liners to mark the shows. What do you remember of those recording sessions at Palm Studios and how happy was everyone with the results?
It was two very memorable blocks of 12 hours. It was an astonishing difference for me between the studio and singing at gigs or even practice
room where all my utterances had to be above a certain decibel level (i.e. rather loud). Then in the studio, the mic was so sensitive I could hear my elbows work. I could hear blood course through my veins. and trucks several blocks away. So a whole new world of uttering sound was available.
and it was all recorded concurrently with this brand new learning experience. Also, some of those takes were done after a very long day of singing, with
Another thing I took pride in way the speed and efficiency we worked. The engineer was a bit taken aback at our speed of making decisions and talking - no sitting back and chatting about anything, no ruminating. We barely took time to pee: Bing-bang-boom for the whole 12 hours. We were saving DOZENS of seconds every 10 minutes.
B: On a side note, your current band, Vindicator Electro, is attracting some interest with occasional shows in Sydney. What are the recording and gig-playing plans?
M: Interest? Is that what you call it? That girl was on PCP or something. I feel no shame in slamming her to the mat. The choke hold left no marks.
Any info on the Vindicators will be broadcast as soon as I know it: Those who want to know drop your name to the mailing list via www.vindicator-electro.com when it goes live.
B: Tell us about the Manifestations (Warwick Gilbert& Sisto circa 91-95) EP that's coming out? Any idea when and via what label and how many songs will be on it?
The only know distribution point is at the merch desk at Visitors gig. and I hope Santa may distribute some. Label? Reverberation is the manufacturer. Seven songs. This is special item with much to tell again via www.vindicator-electro.com/manifest
B: How did you enjoy recording with French band Holy Curse in Sydney recently?
M: I did only a wee thing, I did. It was great to hear their work, they certainly do this 'genre' a great favour by making things new again.
B: Since we're in a Bar, what are you drinking? Well , how about one of those exotic Belgian brews expensive and strong. Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!
The Visitors play two shows only with special guests The Survivors at The Northern Star Hotel, Newcastle, on December 9 and The Gaelic Club, Sydney, on December 10.
CHECK OUT OUR EARLIER VISITORS INTERVIEW
READ VIVIEN JOHNSTON'S DEFINITIVE VISITORS HISTORY
BACK TO THE INTERVIEWS PORTAL
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