Posted February 24, 2007

Steve Lucas flies the X banner
for new generations


Steve Lucas is sipping fine wine and taking in the views of Treasury Gardens from the Melbourne restaurant from where he’s calling. The technology of our mobile phone link doesn’t show it, but you can sense the harried looks other diners are giving the tall guy with the long mane.

“I’m passionate about the legacy of X and the music, but it’s a legacy easily forgotten,” he declares, “So if I don’t get out and play the music and promote it to a new generation, who will?

“I’ve spent three-fifths of my life around X’s music. There’s a skull and crossbones thing around the band with the people in and around it who’ve died - but fuck it, I’ll still be out there playing these songs till I’m 80!”

Lucas is talking about the return to stages of the music of X in Sydney and Melbourne in coming weeks - shows that will obviously be without co-founder and bassist Ian Rilen, who passed away from cancer in 2006.

Long-serving drummer and Rilen’s former live-in partner, Cathy Green, will be behind the kit for the Sydney gigs at the Sandringham Hotel, Newtown, on March 16 and 17. Out of the band since 2001, most recently she’d been guitarist with the Love Addicts, Ian’s post-X gutter-punk blues project.

Love Addicts guitarist Kim Volkman is the man filling Rilen’s physically diminutive but musically large bass-playing shoes.

The Lucas-Volkman-Green trio has already played two low-key shows at parties in Melbourne over Xmas-New Year to enthusiastic acclaim.

Green will be missing for the March 9 gig - billed as “A Night of X Music” - at St Kilda’s Greyhound Hotel, with John Hall playing drums, but Lucas says she’ll be a part of the band for the shows that count.

There could be a couple of invitations for those with Aztec Music poised to re-issue X’s second album (and first with Green), 1985’s “At Home With You”. Discussions are underway with a few labels about the same treatment for 1980’s “X-Aspirations”, the first X album that’s been criminally long out-of-print.

“That show without Cathy is billed as ‘a night of X music’ because it’s a chance to play some of the songs that she doesn’t want to,” Lucas says.

“Having John Hall on drums gives them more of a Steve Cafeiro feel,” he adds, referring to X’s original timekeeper.

The X that plays Sydney will be a vastly different one that played its first show at the long-gone Bondi Astra in 1976 and at one stage was banned from 32 Sydney venues.

Within eight months, guitarist Ian Krahe was dead from an OD and two-thirds of the rest of the band were pushing their own lifestyle envelopes. Fine dining wasn’t a part of that equation.

The punters couldn’t get enough of them, however, and X was enthusiastically followed to any pub or hall that would accept them, while being simultaneously shunned by the mainstream music industry.

Lucas says there was always “an element of fuck you in the music” and that’ll live on in true X fashion with in the re-birthed/re-configured version.

Given that for many, Rilen was the band’s spiritual heart, does Lucas see it as a controversial step to be playing under the X name without him?

“I never wanted not to play again as X but Ian thought it was going to distract from the Love Addicts,” he says. “X broke up but got together again for special occasions like our 25th anniversary.

“It’s our 30th anniversary this year and I think that if Ian had lived a bit longer and was well enough, we would have played as X again.”

X in their heyday could have easily covered Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” with their own roll call of deceased members and associates a long one. Apart from Ian Rilen, original guitarist Ian Krahe, Steve Cafeiro, their most recent drummer Cathy Synnerdahl, guitarist Peter Coutanche and friend/sound engineer Bob Nimmo are all gone.

That sobering fact makes Lucas all the more an advocate for the songs living on. He says he's also heartened that the Sydney gigs have the approval of the Rilen family.

“I am really passionate about these songs. I was really passionate about playing with Ian. The guy was the best bass player in the world to play this music.

“But I have to say that Kim Volkman is fantastic on bass and has picked up a lot of Ian’s little mannerisms, without trying to impersonate him. A couple of times I’ve accidentally called him Ian and have had to stop myself.”

Kim Volkman fills Ian Rilen's bass spot for New Year's Eve.

While “passionate” is a word that could be applied to the music of Steve Lucas, you could also use the epithet “busy”. His confrontational metallic punk band Bigger Than Jesus is about to be revived, and there a country-flavoured EP “City of Angels” (with collaborator Wini Mitchinson)and an album from his new band, Empty Horses, awaiting release.

There is a precedent for a Rilen-less X, but you have to go back to 1982 to find it. Stuart Dunlop briefly played bass while Ian was leading his enigmatic post-punk outfit, Sardine v.

“Ian basically said: ‘Go ahead and do it, do it without me’. Then he missed it, so we re-formed,” Lucas says.

While Lucas can’t turn that particular clock back, he and the other band members are sincerely hoping there’s one bloke looking down approvingly. If that’s the case, what would he be saying?

“Long live X,” comes the toast down the mobile phone.

A Night of X Music (Lucas-Volkman-Hall) plays the Greyhound Hotel, St Kilda, VIC, on March 9.

X (Lucas-Volkman-Green) plays the Sandringham Hotel, Newtown, NSW on March 16 and 17, supported by Penny Ikinger Inc on the first night and Dimi Dero Inc (FR) on the second.