IT’S THE SAME LIVEWIRE:
The Bleeding Hearts, Man & Machine
& Melbourne's pre-punk underground
By DAVID LAING
1975 in New York. Television, Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads. The CBGB's scene has hit its stride, and, despite the stylistic variations on offer, a '70s punk aesthetic is being born.
1975 in London. A young crew has infiltrated the pub rock scene, influenced by New York as well as glam, the Ladbroke Grove underground, and all manner of 60's and early 70's high energy rock. The English punk scene is soon to hit.
1975 in Sydney and Brisbane. Radio Birdman and the Saints have arrived, virtually fully formed.
1975 in Melbourne. A long-established, still-thriving blues-based pub rock scene is entertaining a new crew coming out of the arts and theatre scene in the innercity suburb of Carlton.
Skyhooks, the biggest band in the country, are aligned to the scene, and have already celebrated it with the track 'Carlton (Lygon St Limbo)' on their massive 'Living In the '70s' album.
A director by the name of Bert Dehling is making his first feature film, 'Pure Shit', which is based around the local heroin scene. With assistance from ex-Scumbag and current-day Skyhooks guitarist Red Symons, guitarist/songwriter Martin Armiger of Carlton group the Toads has contributed a number of songs to the film's soundtrack, including the decadent and rocking 'I Love My Car'.
These songs, which Armiger would later describe as being part of an 'urban suite', would help form the basis of a new band that Armiger was soon to form with fellow Toad and former frontman of the Sharks, singer/songwriter/electric violinist Eric Gradman . The new band was the Bleeding Hearts.
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The Bleeding Hearts were but one of many great bands to come out of the Carlton scene.
The Pelaco Bros (featuring Steve Cummings, Joe Camilleri and Peter Lillie), the early Sports (who Martin Armiger joined in late '78) and Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons all had a rootsy bent. Adelaide émigrés Spare Change, featuring John Dowler, and Parachute, the band that Spare Change became after Dowler split (and who provided Eric Gradman with the basis for his post-Bleeding Hearts group Man & Machine) were art school with pop aspirations.
The original Mondo Rock (featuring Daddy Cool mainman and Skyhooks/Falcons producer Ross Wilson and ex-Toads guitarist Randy Bulpin on blistering lead and slide), Stiletto (who featured the Bleeding Hearts' other guitarist Chris Worrall and ex-Toads singer and future TV actress and author Jane Clifton), High Rise Bombers (who Armiger and Bleeding Hearts sax player Keith Shadwick formed with a young Adelaide singer/songwriter named Paul Kelly after the Bleeding Hearts split), the Dots (featuring Paul Kelly and Chris Worrall) and the slighter later Sports, all played tough, melodic and economic rock.
These and others of the era are all worthy of reevaluation, but they all just provide context here. With the Bleeding Hearts' music finally being made available on CD for the first time – and the music of the aforementioned Eric Gradman Man & Machine making a simultaneous debut – we have here a particular thread to focus on.
Debuting in 1976, the Bleeding Hearts played street level hard rock with boogie-rock raunch and art-rock complexities. They had a front line of guitar, violin, and sax; there was plenty going on (at times too much maybe?), but it was underpinned by a supremely flexible and muscular rhythm section, featuring, as I-94 rBar eaders will be keen to note, one Rick Grossman on bass, more than a decade before he became a Hoodoo Guru.
Stylistically, the most obvious comparison point would have to be Lou Reed, thanks to the lyrical content as much as the music. The violin and sax also bring to mind an earthbound Hawkwind at times, or a back street version of Roxy Music. The sleazy bump and grind of their music is perhaps reminiscent of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, or the slipping and sliding boogie of Boston's Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band. Like Willie in Boston, the Bleeding Hearts were exploring new directions in '76 – directions that would hit a wall when punk fully made the scene in '77.
Before that happened though, the Bleeding Hearts were the hottest new thing in Melbourne, and also a focal point and inspiration for the new generation coming through. That generation included a bunch of younger musicians who would turn their backs on them once punk did hit.
While the band had split by late '77, it's no surprise that their posthumous album 'What Happened?', a collection of demos and live tracks, would be the second album released on Missing Link, the future home of La Femme, News and the Boys Next Door/Birthday Party.
(It must be noted here too that sax player Keith Shadwick, who had previously played in Sydney progressive jazz-rock group Sun alongside a very young Renee Geyer, went onto become an acclaimed music writer in the UK, specializing in jazz but also publishing biographies on Hendrix and Led Zeppelin before passing away a few years ago. A British newspaper obituary for Keith is transcribed below – alongside a piece written by Keith on the Bleeding Hearts - in the body of a note that Martin Armiger send to Eric Gradman, which Eric forwarded...)
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For its digital debut, Aztec have supplemented the original 'What Happened?' album with the two additional studio demos that were originally pressed separately on a 7" ('Hit Single' and 'Boys'), as well as three previously unheard recordings from Sydney's Bondi Lifesaver in '77. The CD doesn't start as well as it could, beginning as it does with the live side of the LP. Recorded by a fledgling 3RRR (then known as 3RMT), the mix is a bit ropey, and there are better studio versions of most of the songs later on. It does include though a pretty cracking version of Armiger's 'Pure Shit'
masterpiece, 'I Love My Car'.
The studio stuff which follows this is the real meat. It's incredible stuff, sounding cheap and nasty but clear and punchy at the same time. The sax and violin sit perfectly in the mix, allowing plenty of room for the ugly muscle of the rhythm section as well as Armiger's wiry guitar and wasted whine and Gradman's more elegant vocal.
There are some great full-on rockers, like Gradman's leather and rouge anthem 'Boys' and Armiger's stinging 'Gaze of the Damned' and the shoulda-lived-up-to-its-name 'Hit Single' (Sports later redid this one, but it was never going to be a hit with the stunning opening lines - 'Ever since your accident I can't look you in the eyes/It's like one of you is watching me /and one of you is listening to a hit single'). These mix it with more downbeat numbers like the sardonic 'The Emptiness of Life' ('I shoot my myself/With speed, cocaine and flat warm beer') and 'Paranoise (The Same Old Story'). It's all powerful stuff.
The Bondi Lifesaver tracks – a JJ recording maybe? – are much better sonically than the RRR stuff and highlight another one of Armiger's Pure Shit tunes 'Eudil', which really comes alive thanks to Grossman's pumping bass, and a long number called 'The Drug Life' that hits in stride half way through when it perversely turns it into an almost soul/dance pop number.
If you like the sound of a pre-punk type of rock this sits somewhere between the visceral London pub rock of Graham Parker & The Rumour and Ian Dury's band Kilburn & The High Roads and something more progressive, you'll find the Bleeding Hearts "What Happened?" fascinating and unforgettable.
Eric Gradman's Man & Machine probably don't sit in such a significant place in the historical scheme of things, but were a great band also and they pushed their own envelope. Their Aztec CD is also worth a close listen.
Another short-lived band who caused a stir in Melbourne in their day ('79), they followed the barely-heard soul/funk thread that Gradman had brought to the Bleeding Hearts and alternatively pumped and grinded out in lengthy, stripped back pieces that again seemed to have a bit of a Lou Reed vibe – like if 1969 Velvets had tapped into the post-punk funk vibe. It's actually a lot more appealing than that might sound - and less funky really - and is maybe in some small way comparable to what Magazine were doing around the same time (although that may just be suggested by Gradman and Howard DeVoto's similarly balding pates).
The band's sole proper release is here – the 'Crime of Passion' 12" single and its two live B-sides – but the core of the release is an album length and crisp-sounding demo session. The nine-minute demo version of 'Crime Of Passion' is a highlight, as are the band's other key tracks 'All is Machine' and 'Idiot Chic' . This time though the RRR live stuff – the single's two B-sides – sounds even better. Especially on their wonderful remake of the Bacharach/David tune 'Always Something There To Remind me', which simply pulses with electricity. Even more than was the case with the Bleeding Hearts, the rhythm section here – Graeme Perry on drums, Rick Grossman again on bass (both had played together briefly post-Bleeding Hearts in Parachute, alongside Man & Machine – and future Icehouse – guitarist Bob Kretchmer ) and Mick Holmes on rhythm guitar – really are at the fore. The songs are built upon the dynamics that these guys are so adept at creating.
Being Aztec releases, both are of course beautifully packaged and feature top notch sound. (With the demise and subsequent resurrection of Aztec the availability may be hit or miss, but do a bit of digging online and you should be able to find them.)
The Bleeding Hearts one includes a bunch of great pix, and a repro of the band's stunning airbrushed color poster of a razor blade piercing a heart. Ian McFarlane's liner notes are top notch too, although he does fail to elaborate on Eric Gradman's tantalizing comment in the Man & Machine notes when explaining their live cover of Rose Tattoo's 'Nice Boys' (not recorded unfortunately); Gradman claims to have basically conceived the tune with the Tatts' Mick Cocks, assumedly before the Tatts even formed.
With two of Melbourne's most vital and too-long forgotten bands finally getting their due reissue–wise thanks to the good guys at Aztec, I decided it was time to catch up with key players of both via email to ask some questions I've long wanted answers too (and find out more about Gradman's Rose Tattoo connections!), and to hopefully convert a few readers in the process. Both Martin Armiger and Rick Grossman's answers are still forthcoming (I hope), so in meantime, welcome Mr Eric Gradman...
INTERVIEW WITH ERIC GRADMAN – CONDUCTED BY EMAIL, MARCH 2012
DL: Eric – please tell me a bit about the Sharks, your once-legendary but now forgotten early ' Carlton' band. Who was in band (Joe Camilleri?), influences, what/whose songs you played, who you played with (tied with Skyhooks?), when you started, all that kind of stuff. Anything pre-Sharks? How did you approach violin in a rock context?
EG: There were many versions of the band: it's a long list and so long ago, I'm not certain I can recall everyone (sorry if I missed you out or got your name wrong – oh, this is embarrassing):
Guitar: Chris Worrall, Nick Risbieth, Brian Snowden (vocals as well), and a virtuoso guitarist named Geoff Wright who is either now a superstar LA session musician or works in a guitar store and lives down Mornington way … yeah, Joe on sax and vocals… bass: Jon Pendelbury(?? this is wrong – oh shit!) (spelling?), drums: Carl Segnit, Paul from Perth, Eddie van Roosendael, Geoff Hales, Huk Treloar and then there was, maybe most of all, Ursula Flett, who dressed us … our guardian angel …
My influences: the Who, Hendrix, the Cream, Elmore James, American (mostly) psychedelia (from great to crappy), Sly Stone, Zappa, motown motown MOTOWN, Marvin Gaye, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Co Caine, Lipp Arthur/Ian Wallace, Johnny Guitar Watson, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Stravinsky, Bartok, TF Much Ballroom … enough! Actually, the biggest influence could be Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel – the mood, the directness, the economy … and just one step sideways of the blues – everything that moves me in one tight package … I remember loving and mimicking this even as a little kid …
Skyhooks: Greg and I were friends at film-school, Bob Starkey was also a pal – same campus, different course … I was in high school …
Pre-Sharks = prehistoric: Yo Ho with Chris Worrall – we played electric music acoustically … I've never not played music, and in bands mostly … Jack Bruce gave me the confidence to sing blues and I wanted to play violin like Ornette Coleman plays sax (like having a conversation – this remains my ambition as a player), and Hendrix's 'All Along the Watchtower' solo is the only non-classical solo I ever learned in full … I can still play it note perfect!
DL: Can you give me 25 words or less on Lipp Arthur/Ian Wallace? (Note to reader: Lipp & the Double Dekker Brothers were a review/band that performed regularly at the T.F.(Too Fucking)Much Ballroom in Fitzroy – the hub of Melbourne's counter culture in the very early '70s - alongside the likes of Daddy Cool, the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and Spectrum. Associated members included Joe Camilerri aka Jo Jo Zep and Jane Clifton of later Stiletto and 'Prisoner' TV fame.)
EG: Man this is some challenge to my memory! A strategy to stave off premature senility? Let's see whether I can pull this off in less than 4 espressi …
Lipp Arthur: Ian Wallace (sax), Simon … (trumpet), Bruce Woodcock (piano), David Flett (bass), Eddie Van Roosendael (drums) … maybe…
Lipp Arthur - must be early 1970's … Unique. Proceeding from jazz, they rocked. Lipp Arthur were extraordinarily proficient and mobile musically. Inspired clowns, they were the consummate Aussie smart-arses (Red Symons multiplied by infinity). Absurd(ist), inspired (I am guessing) by the dada movement, Albert Ayler, Thelonius Monk's weird and mercurial genius and maybe Sun Ra … it would be obvious to suggest early Frank Zappa, but they were part of the zeitgeist and I doubt they had ever heard him …
Ian Wallace – Tenor saxophone. I was somewhere around 16 and I only knew him a short while. In love with art, exquisite taste and DEDICATED! In person he was perhaps too earnest (so adult), not funny at all I thought - I was just a kid and in awe, maybe I just didn't get the jokes. I didn't know anything about jazz when I met Ian (only a little more nowadays). He formed a free music group NIAGARA that Chris Worrall and I joined – very different to our psychedelic blues acoustic Yo Ho. Ian went to USA to study with (I think it is) Lenny Tristano. I saw Ian perform only once after his return: copybook bepop/post-bop, accomplished, but so what I asked myself, not my world … I believe Ian lives in USA these days.
Later: Lipp and the Double-Decker Brothers, with Jo Camilleri (vocals / maybe sax) and Peter Starkey (Bob's older brother - guitar). I played with them one or two times, notably at Sunbury Festival to warm up for Billy Thorpe (can you believe it? Inspired programming!). Somewhere I have a photo: Jo is wearing something reminiscent of the KKK and me a tutu … I recall our fans hurling empty beer cans and bottles our way in appreciation and when they realised these were too light to reach (landing in the VIP compound) they started throwing them full! I guess I looked hot weaving and dodging in my ballet cosi!). A blessing that Billie came on soon after to pacify the outraged public!
2 esspressi !!
DL: Was there an 'underground' consciousness, and an awareness of what was happening musically overseas in an underground sense? Lou Reed would have to have been an influence. Who else? Who were musical favourites of yours, within and the band, and across the broader so-called 'Carlton' scene at the time and in the years preceding the Bleeding Hearts? What did the Carlton music scene develop out of? What role did Pram Factory serve? In what context did this scene sit in the wider blues-influenced/pub scene? How did you relate to the more rootsy bands - Pelaco Bros, Autodrifters etc?
EG: Underground: there was no other possibility for players with a little self-respect in Melbourne but to be … Skyhooks' success was an aberration … of course Lou Reed … who isn't influenced by Lou Reed? But he was not the centre of my universe - I was more a fan of Martin or Lobby Loyde or early Jim Keys … and does anyone remember The Loved Ones (were they as good as I remember them?)? Melbourne (and Adelaide) musicians always saw themselves as international players … look at the dates, we pre-date most of all our purported influences …
Carlton music scene? I don't know anything about this … I never felt that I was part of a scene … maybe Jane Clifton could tell you more …
Pram Factory? Jane Clifton somehow knew of me and introduced me into the scene … I was a touch young to really connect with this movement – it really was a movement, but it was already in its decadent phase like happens to most revolutionary movements …
Pelaco Bros: friends and aesthetic opponents … Peter Lillie (someone should write a biography about this soulful and generous spirit) was a mentor while I was still in school: he introduced me to the Beat Poets and Alfred Jarry and and and, but he could never get me to like trucker music (my problem was more political – rednecks 'n me don't get along - than musical) …
DL: Bleeding Hearts – what was the plan? How was the band different to your previous bands? Any specific influences or models you were following?
EG: Plan? I went up to Martin at some sad little daytime-church-hall-thing thinking he was Bob Starkey who I hadn't seen in months and thought looked awfully sick (that it was daytime probably explains my mistake) … Martin asked me to join Toads which I did, but I was miserable in that context and there was no way he could have worked with the Sharks … so, Bleeding Hearts. My idea was to construct a band that would show Martin's talent in the best possible light … Influences? Of course there were influences: I wanted to be like Martin (but could only be myself) … I had/have no idea who Martin listened to/listens to … and yes of course we cherry-picked, but, you know, we just wanted to be ourselves …
DL: Lyrical themes suggests consciously underground lifestyle bent. How was this received? Did it limit your prospects?
EG: A great deal of hostility - at least to begin. As I remember it there were always brawls in the audience … and then Martin and I represented very different things to people – we polarised people in some magical way … (
In a subsequent email, Eric added: If you use the attempt at explaining my ironic magical then you might add: A girl I knew took me into the ladies at Tiamo in Lygon Street - a large part of our lives was spent there - is it still trading? have they fixed the toilets?. She wanted to show me something. There was graffiti on the walls stating that Martin was much better than me, and then graffiti asserting the opposite. More importantly, there was a graffiti debate about who was more handsome … )
DL: You developed an audience quite quickly I take it and the band was posthumously described as a one-time next big thing. How big did you get? Was it strictly inner city?
EG: We played the barns and the 'burbs … mostly toilets …
DL: How did you go in Sydney?
EG: It's so long ago…
DL: Was there any affinity with any Sydney bands at this time? Dragon? Radio Birdman?
EG: Dragon, tho' tops, were never my thing; Radio Birdman I respected and enjoyed very much … Ian Rilen – for me he was the archetype rebel musician / feet on the floor, head in the clouds / what really matters in rock 'n roll / my Gene Vincent – if Rick 's got thud then Ian's got it PLUS … I respect and love (yeah, I'm writing in present tense) that guy like crazy, not that I spent that much time with him or even heard him many times. But when Ian set up his amp in my room and we noodled (bass and violin! ridiculous!), the earth moved and not because we were loud (Ian didn't play loud generally, he was simply there) – it was primal, like in the Outback or something …
DL: So how did you find Rick? Sydneysider obviously.
EG: You mean: as a guy? Rick's got thud … and he's a sweet thang…
DL: What did you think of punk? The flyer in the Bleeding Hearts CD booklet that is a punk piss-take suggests you didn't think highly of it. Ultimately, did it affect the way you were received?
EG: UK punk was fascinating. To my mind (gut) the Saints is the only Australian band that got punk ('Stranded' is still great). Melbourne and Sydney punk seemed to me to be nothing but a haircut; and posers throwing cans and bottles and gobbing at you/on you if they thought you were really good (which was somehow, simultaneously, deemed to be a crime … thinking back, I believe punk got mashed-up with the 'tall poppy syndrome') …
I got sick of it and started hitting people that blessed me with such compliments … one time, playing at the Bondi, I reached down from the stage and grabbed by the throat a girl who had a swastika tattooed (painted to look like?) on her shaven, very pretty head who was continually shouting at me and hissed at her to get out. Outside, after the show, she came up to me and tearfully asked why I had humiliated her in front of her friends like that , she being a big fan and all … (! + ????????)
And/but - I cried when the Damned broke up (and again when they reformed) … further: journos had been calling me a punk since early the Sharks (maybe 1970) … what to make of it? I knew they meant it approvingly, like I had cred, but then there's the dictionary definition: derogatory (in prison slang) a passive male homosexual – I di' no wanna be identified as passive …
The flyer? It's definitely not my graphic style … hmmm … maybe it was amusing back then … I doubt I thought so …
STATEMENT: I love music, anything and everything. Despite myself I love fashion(s) - I think it is an important form of expression. But, I am no fan of wholesale exclusion and/or fanaticism; and to deny what has come before, even in a clever way, is foolish, or disingenuous … often dangerous … yeah, stupid. To exaggerate, though, can be big fun. I'm for live and let live (at times a with crooked smile) … "each man to his poison" la la la …
DL : Under what circumstances were the demo's recorded?
EG: ABC TV studios or someplace in Armadale …
DL: Why did the band split?
EG: Martin and I were doing each other harm … the magic tension was killing us … Keith Shadwick wrote an article recalling his BH experience (see below. I like it very much – the passion – pity there wasn't room for it in the AZTEC booklet) that tells the story as he see-saw it … I remember things different, but it'll do … Martin sent me this back when:
… (Keith) was also a great archivist and chronicler of his own musical history and in the last weeks of his life was negotiating the release of the solo album 'Free Time' that he started in Sydney in 1974 or so and finished recently in England (which is now out,) as well as the re-release of What Happened?! which you probably know about (I didn't …e.). The blessed Hearts were nearly an obsession with him, (he 'should never have left' he told me) (I didn't know that either …e.) and he played those tracks to anyone who would listen. And it seems that Aztec Records may well be putting the thing out again …
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Saturday, 9 August 2008
Keith Shadwick: Critic, broadcaster and musician
The writer, broadcaster and musician Keith Shadwick, who was a music critic for The Independent and a leading contributor to Jazzwise magazine, was a rarity among jazz journalists. In addition to numerous jazz books and magazine features, he was an authority on classical music who also wrote in-depth biographies of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. He was a jazzer who rocked and championed Górecki.
Born in Hampstead in 1951, Shadwick emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1961, attending Wollongong High School in New South Wales before reading English Literature at Sydney University. He graduated in 1973 and swiftly developed as a forward-thinking saxophonist playing in jazz and rock groups, influenced by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Jimi Hendrix.
He also began writing pieces for music magazines, presenting a regular music programme on Melbourne FM radio and writing poetry. His jazz-rock group Sun released a self-titled album in 1972, after which he joined the Melbourne rock group Bleeding Hearts, recording the album What Happened! in 1976. Around this time he started laying down ideas for what he hoped one day would become a solo album.
He returned to London in 1978 and landed the job of editor at Music Trades International magazine. After deciding to move to record retail, he became the main classical music buyer for the WH Smith chain in 1984. He arrived just as CDs were beginning to have an impact on the classical market and with a firm belief in quality, authenticity and availability – values inbred as a life-long record collector – set about renewing the retailer's relationship with the classical labels. He also undertook freelance commissions, becoming series consultant and writer for the Marshall Cavendish part-work The Great Composers.
In 1985 he was appointed head of marketing for RCA Classics as the company looked to re-establish its classical department. He revitalised the company's back catalogue as well as promoting the careers of RCA's main UK signings, the guitarist Julian Bream and the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. In the late 1980s he helped RCA refocus its interest in jazz, reviving its core catalogue and signing the saxophonist Dave O'Higgins' Roadside Picnic and setting up the deal for the pianist Jason Rebello.
His growing experience in both classical and jazz marketing led to the position of general manager in 1989 for Koch International. But the increasingly profit-hungry demands of record labels sat uneasily with Shadwick, whose concern was to serve the music first, and the accountants second.
By 1992, with the support of his wife Alison Cole, he went freelance – not the easiest of steps in the resource-strapped jazz world. He became the jazz section editor of Gramophone, began presenting the Classic Verdict CD review programme on Classic FM and joined me as jazz reviewer on TOP magazine, where we later collaborated on The Tower Jazz Guide (1999). A huge fan of the saxophonist Eric Dolphy, he was inspired by Dolphy's quote: "When you hear music, after it's over it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again." In his reviews, and books, Shadwick strove hard to summon this fleeting magic and arcane power of the music he cared so deeply about.
Further radio shows followed for Classic FM and the BBC World Service, as well as two editions of The Gramophone Jazz Good CD Guide (1995, 1997) and a number of reference books, including The Guinness Guide to Classical Composers (1998) and Jazz: legends of style (1998). Shadwick came on board with me again when he began contributing to Jazzwise magazine from 1997. He was a passionate, highly articulate colleague and the guy most other jazz writers turned to when they needed to check discographical details.
Acclaimed biographies of Bill Evans (2002), Jimi Hendrix (2003) and Led Zeppelin (2005) attracted wider audiences: the last took an in-depth analytical look at the musicians and their music, rather than the typical Zep read of drugs, demons and debauchery. Shadwick's special ability to reach deep inside the music, reawaken its spirit and discover hidden delights sent readers scurrying off to locate the requisite albums with his firm directive, "run, don't walk to the record store", still ringing in their ears.
He had been fighting a rare and aggressive form of asbestos-induced cancer, mesothelioma, for the past three years. He wrote about the disease in the national press, addressed a House of Commons select committee and campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness. In the past few months he had finished the final edits to his sixth and seventh books of poetry, Before I Left and Just Here, and at last managed to finish his solo album, Free Time, to be released by Candid records. Finished copies of the CD were delivered on the day he died. - Jon Newey
Keith Shadwick, writer, broadcaster, musician and poet: born London 24 July 1951; married 1986 Alison Cole (two sons); died London 28 July 2008.
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Keith Shadwick's Notes:
Bleeding Hearts Random Notes
I relocated to Melbourne from Sydney in early winter 1976. I moved with a band who had a manager, putative Melbourne record deal and offers of more work than we could cope with. It all looked and sounded good. Through friends I found a spare room in a grand old terrace in Berry Street, East Melbourne, where a motley group of ne'er-do-wells were hanging out, the principal guiding light of them being Eric Gradman.
Eric and I hit it off immediately, we both being culture vultures but from different angles and traditions, and I was apprised of his hopes and projects of the time, one of them being the founding of a group, Bleeding Hearts, with Martin Armiger, someone I knew nothing of at the time. Eric canvassed my opinion about the various members of the group he was contemplating – I'm not sure my opinions were of any use, and if he had any sense he would have forgotten anything I said and done what he wanted to. I'm sure he did.
Winter turned to spring and early summer 1976. The band I was in suffered the usual reverses of rock music fortune and went into terminal decline. Its achievement was set in stone by Dave Flett at his Melbourne studio, the tapes never properly issued to this day. For a little while Eric had been on at me about joining Bleeding Hearts. He had a vision of the sound, he said: the violin and sax together. It was what he thought the band needed to realise its full potential. I took a bit of convincing, not really being part of the Melbourne scene of the day and not understanding how it functioned. I knew I was an outsider, slipping in on Eric's ticket.
Anyway, in December 1976 I rehearsed with the Hearts and was OK'd for the job by Martin, a man who at the time was the ultimate in laid-back reserve. At the same time the original bass player in the band left and was replaced by the superb, root-solid bassist Rick Grossman. He and I learned the set in record time and Rick formed a phenomenal team with the drummer, Huk Treloar. I found it a little harder going, attempting to put strong lines together with Eric, not get in Martin's way and also not clash with the work of second guitarist, Chris Worrell. One could say I was lacking a little in confidence at the start… But I loved the sound, the adrenalin rush, the unity we soon came up with – it was like nothing I'd ever played in before. Eric's unshakeable confidence in the project also deeply impressed me.
I didn't know it, but things weren't really as settled as I'd thought. Bands don't work that way, I guess. Eric had become unhappy with the texture of the band, and – although I was unaware of it at the time – Huk was uncomfortable with how the rhythm was sitting. After long, reluctant conversations with Martin, who felt he needed the moral and musical support of a second guitarist, it was agreed to wave Chris goodbye. This happened, if I remember correctly, actually during the support tour for Country Joe & The Fish in Feb/March 1977.
We played the Sydney gig with Chris, then LaTrobe without him. That first quintet gig frightened the life out of Martin, but he manfully coped with it and I couldn't believe the space and drive the clarified textures opened up for the arrangements Eric and I had evolved along with Martin for the horn and violin. The band kicked like crazy, every night was a high of some description or another, even when the crowds were rubbish out in the suburban beer supermarkets. We became something of an institution at the Tiger Room in Richmond, along with some other places.
At this point we started making studio demos, one for the ABC and one, later, for Ross Wilson (and so, indirectly, Gudinski). I remember the ABC session's version of Paranoise because it allowed me to use Joe Camilleri's borrowed bass clarinet in the opening arrangement – the sign of things to come, in terms of instrumental colour in the band, I thought. On the other session the sound quality achieved on a four-hour demo was stunning in its depth and clarity and it is my one regret that we never finished a version of Rat Pack that day – no vocals, no solo – because we thought we'd have plenty of time to do such things.
But of course we didn't. Things don't work that way, especially in rock bands.
While all was building beautifully on a professional level, my personal life was crumbling without me really knowing it. I came under intense pressure to stay at home and save a relationship I was then in. It was complicated, messy and very stupid. I weighed my options and decided that the last thing I wanted to do was damage the band by signing with Ross Wilson then having to leave before the album was out. So in late July 1977 I resigned, telling Eric, Martin, Rick and Huk that they would be bloody brilliant as a four-piece and if I could help out in any way as an auxiliary, they only needed to ask.
To my horror, at a hastily called band meeting the next day in the South Yarra house Eric was now sharing with friends, Eric left the band. I simply couldn't comprehend it. I tried to talk him out of it but to no avail. He explained that, to him, I was the glue that held the band together because he and Martin were always at creative odds, firing sparks off each other but needing someone else centred and creative in the middle to balance it all together. The rhythm section, Eric felt, was as strong as it could possibly be and bullet-hard, so he wasn't worried about that. It was the creative balance that unnerved him.
I had absolutely no idea. I never thought myself that important in the larger Bleeding Hearts scheme – it was Eric's and Martin's band, their joint venture. I felt just dreadful. I attempted to rally things around and suggested to Martin that he, Huk and Rick go it alone, perhaps pulling one or two other people in: I believed in the music that much. But they made nice noises and went their own ways. We cleaned up the events already arranged, broke the news and played the last gigs with our usual enthusiasm. That was it.
That's what happened. By July 1978 I'd gone through some changes, briefly reunited with Martin in The High Rise Bombers, then left for London, giving Eric all the reel-to-reel tapes of Bleeding Hearts in my possession. We'd run through them all in South Yarra one day and, it so turned out, I had by accident the best-sounding versions. They became the basis for What Happened?, released on Keith Glass's Missing Link record label in 1979.
In the March 1979 magazine Roadrunner, Frank Stivala, the then-agency booker known to everyone on the scene, was interviewed by the magazine. Talking with the Roadrunner editor and two other people only whose surnames – Robinson and Scott – are preserved in the partial remains of the copy of Roadrunner I've got, the conversation went like this:
Scott: When does the agency come into it? When they're really big or…?
Robertson: Not when they're really big but when the vibe… I remember when I saw Sports and it was only their second gig or something at the Station (in Prahran) on a Saturday afternoon.
Scott: Sports are a bad example, though, because they already had well known players in the band.
Robertson: It's not a bad example because the Pelaco Brothers weren't a big band…
Stivala: Actually, the Pelaco Brothers used to only do The Kingston (Hotel) and the occasional hippie gig.
RoadRunner: Well, that was the same with Bleeding Hearts, wasn't it?
Stivala: No, they got out of that trip. There were working for Premier. Then they left Premier for Nucleus. Then they came back to Premier. But they got into far more situations. Like they did a Country Joe & The Fish tour, they did lots of campus dates, they did cross-section gigs.
Robertson: They were probably a bit early – a bit before their time, more than anything else.
Stivala: The reason Bleeding Hearts broke up wasn't because of lack of gigs, but they broke up because of egos in the band and because…
Robertson: But wouldn't you say they were a bit ahead of their time?
Stivala: Yeah. If they were still going now, they would be the hottest band in the land. Yeah, they were ahead of their time but musically they were a little bit inconsistent as well.
A nice little unprompted tribute from an old pro, I think…
Strangely enough, after the LP was made and Eric sent me a copy of it in London, we lost contact. I have a feeling he may have ended up in Berlin for a time. Martin, conversely, stayed sporadically in touch and then in later years the relationship between he and his wife Maureen O'Shaughnessy, me and my wife Ali, blossomed into one of our closest.
One final set of random thoughts…
Bleeding Hearts were in one way typical of so many Melbourne and Sydney bands of the 1970s in that their core was made up of expatriates and immigrants. Martin and I were both British migrants, Eric I think was born in Melbourne but had German Jewish roots, his older brother (a musician himself) having been born in Berlin. Rick was from an immigrant family, though I'm not sure if he was born in Australia or not. Perhaps Huk, the heart of the band, was the only full-rate Aussie. But then I never asked him…
London, May 2008
* * * * *
DL : Eric – how come the gap between the Bleeding Hearts and Man & Machine?
EG: I'd never done anything but go to school, fall in and out of love (lurv) and play in bands. Was there more to life? I travelled, painted, worked at anything that came my way … and … there's a photo of me sitting on a Sydney beach with a bevy of happy and healthy girls - must be just weeks after BH broke up. The beach is glorious, and the bikini-clad girls with their golden tans too. I look vaguely in direction of the camera, pale, blank, dressed top to toe in black leather. The photo is full colour like with me superimposed in black and white … make of it what you will …
DL : How would you describe the differences between the two bands musically?
EG: I don't know that I can answer that, though listening to the CDs now I don't agree with your evaluation that "Eric Gradman's (please kill the 's – I never felt that way, that it belonged to me and not all of us – Graeme speaks to this in Ian's McF's essay) Man & Machine probably don't sit in such a significant place in the scheme of things …". To me it's clear I learned a great deal in BH and it pays off big with M+M. M+M is a sound, you like it / you don't like it / it is what it is - "and they pushed their own envelope." In Australia there was always the tendency to refer to overseas artists – very restricting; or the 'old pros' in conversation:
R: But wouldn't you say they (the BH) were a bit ahead of their time?
S: Yeah. If they were still going now, they would be the hottest band in the land. Yeah, they were ahead of their time but musically they were a little bit inconsistent as well.
In a healthy climate difference and innovation is fostered, then celebrated, not starved. (We were playing toilets for next to no money, we were rats on the wheel. S. goes on to suggest there were "ego" problems, ha! We had no money, we couldn't afford no egos … Martin once said to me that, being musicians, our social status was less than that of thieves, which shook, then outraged me …) Anyway: It's the "own envelope" (finding your own voice / invention) that is for me central in music, in all the arts …
DL You made quite a splash on the inner city scene in Melbourne when you started, headlining shows at the premier 'new wave' venue the Crystal Ballroom. How did you feel that you fit into that scene?
EG: Laurie J Richards was or had been our (stand-in) manager/promoter/biggest fan: that puddle was custom-made for us …
DL: Did Man & Machine play Sydney?
EG: Yes. I happily remember winning over a dangerously sullen western-suburbs public with an extended Crime of Passion (they even put down their cues, deserting the pool room, and men were dancing with men 'cos there weren't nuff girls), eating chicken soup with Graeme on Bondi Road and pretending to read a book as I was so terrified by the groupie girls that came to visit … there must have been more to it than that - just what I can remember …
DL: Was that how you nearly hooked up with (former AC/DC manager) Michael Browning?
EG: Maybe, I don't know … sad story, don't remind me…
DL: Please illuminate your comments re Mick Cocks and 'Nice Boys'. Cocks was a Melbourne boy I believe (was he?) – had he been in a band with you at some point pre-rose Tattoo?
EG: Is this interesting? Anyway, in the draft version I saw of Ian McF's liner notes he wrote:
"In addition to 'Crime of Passion', the band's set already included the likes of 'The Bath' and versions of Bleeding Hearts' 'Boys', Parachute's 'Let's Get Rich Together' and Rose Tattoo's 'Nice Boys (Don't Play Rock and Roll)'."
I wrote him, hoping he would red-pencil the whole thing:
Dear Ian: Actually, Mick Cocks and I co-wrote the original version of Nice Boys. The "nice boys don't play rock n' roll, I'm not a nice boy" and the general musical scheme (in my mind a tribute to Rose Tattoo!) were from me. I recall thinking how great it would be if otherwise dissimilar bands demonstrated their solidarity by sharing songs, and that was the logic behind performing "Let's Get Rich" as well ...). Old bones, I know, but I do not want to help maintain the oversight of my not having been credited. (After reading your piece I googled the song and I must say I do prefer the tatts' lyrics to mine, but that's another story …) …e.
Mick used to stay at the rambling old house I shared with Liz Reed (she shot many of the photos that appear with the Aztec releases) when he was in town with the tatts and we cooked-up the song together. Also: while googling – I couldn't remember Mick's surname was the real reason - I discovered that Guns and Roses had recorded the song … boo hoo hoo, that's rock 'n roll like they do it in films – no credits where credit is due …
I found a version by M+M: It's not a particularly good song and we don't play it with any of the tatts energy (it was written for them really – just a nod in appreciation). I think Graeme was correct in deciding not to release it and some other 'covers' …
DL: How long have you lived in Berlin and what do you do there?
EG: Since 1996 (ish) … I love my wife … I pray daily for more sun … I make music for mostly theatre and dance (with a big D), sometimes film … I write a song now and then … I practise violin … I feel like a beginner! I paint now and then … I feel like a beginner! I write scripts for theatre and film … occasionally I play pickup muso for dead (or nearly) US jazz stars – most always ends in tears (mine), but I continue hoping that this time I won't find them to be "so sad" … I take myself very seriously like I imagine a good German would …
OK. That was fun. Thank you. I hope there's something for you in all this blah blah …
All the best …e.
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