Share DON'T ASK STUPID QUESTIONS TO AN ARTIST, COP - Laughing Clowns (Prince Melon)
If there's a better recording of any of the many iterations of the Laughing Clowns I'd love to hear it. This is a farewell show at the notorious Trade Union Club in Sydney in mid-1982, on the brink of departure to England. It ranks with anything the band recorded. You'll cop seven songs by the Mr Uddich-Smuddich Goes to Town" line-up - the final incarnation until the surprise '00s reformation - captured on a well-balanced desktape. It sounds fantastic but it's the strident performance that stands out.

Here's a band on a mission no matter how doomed it may have turned out. Louise Elliott and Peter Doyle (sax and trumpet respectively) weave in and out of and punctuate the songs, while Biff Millar's nimble bass and Jeffrey Wegener's ever-skittish rhythms bind the unit together. Indeed, Millar's performance might have won him Most Valuable Player status on this night. "See you at Christmas," intones bandleader Ed Kuepper but Nostradamus might have struggled to get that one right.

The music's expansive and intense at the same time which is no mean feat. Maybe it's the imagination at work but it also seems to be beset by a sense of playfulness at times. The Clowns were indeed serious about their work but maybe their critics took that on board with more fervour than the band.

There's no "Collapse Board" or "Eternally Yours" but don't let that deter you. This set would stop a deaf man in his tracks.

Oh, and it's sold out too but you can still procure downloads or a CD-R copy via Amazon On Demand. Do yourself a big fat favour and make that demand. – The Barman


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And so the reformed Clowns continue to cut a swathe through modern popular music, and until or if new studio recordings come about this will do nicely. The eight songs within are selections from a two-night stand at The Basement in Sydney in 2009.

The first thing you need to know is only "Eternally Yours" will be familiar to the casual listener. It's nicely re-arranged, just to keep things fresh, and throws the playing of saxophonist Louise Elliott and bassist Biff Millar into high relief. The sombre audience favourite "Collapse Board" also makes its appearance and scales rare heights of tension by any measure. Along with "Eternally" it's a song the Clowns would have to retain in every set, at pain of death by poisoned umbrella tips from their greying and near-superannuated but still rabid crowds.

There's nought new in the balance of the tracks but "Clown Town", "That's The Way It Goes" and "The Crying Dance" all sound different enough from the studio versions to keep it engrossing. They're arguably lesser-known tunes from the band's substantial back catalogue. Given the limited time they have toi prepare for sporadic gigs (Louise Elliott lives in the UK), no-one could blame them for not pushing out new material anyway.

This was recorded through The Basement's impressive in-house system and it sounds magnificent - in fact, it's probably the best quality live snapshot you'll hear of any Laughing Clowns line-up. The only criticism is that the choice of back cover colours (black type on dark blue) is nigh impossible to read.

You know where to go to get your copy. If not, click here .– The Barman

To think this band would be around in the late '00s would have been laughable in their '80s heyday, such was their reputation for combustion and quick-change line-up shifts. Of course time heals many, if not, all wounds and here the Laughing Clowns are in 2009, larger than life and not showing any visible scar tissue.

The band only re-convened in January '09 after Jeffrey nagged Ed for years and a catalyst fell out of the sky, in the form of an offer to play the Australian version of All Tomorrows Parties. You can throw in years of shows as the Ed and Jeffrey duo, and a one-off gig with saxophonist Louise Elliott as their guest in London on a UK ATP bill, as contributing factors.

Recorded at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane in January, "Laughing Clowns Live" reveals the Clowns to be as expressive and dynamic as at any stage of their first life. Hell, maybe even more so. "Everything That Flies" is convincing evidence of that, and gets along with a sharp intensity that'll send a chill down most spines.

Where keyboardist Alister Spence seemed MIA in some of the arrangements when I saw the Clowns at the second Sydney ATP shebang, his parts make perfect sense here, not only on the aforementioned "Flies" but especially on his chording in "Bully In The Town" and in the wash underneath "Theme From 'Mad Flies, Mad Flies'." It's probably to do with the clarity of the mix.

I was re-reading Clinton Walker's "Stranded" the other day where he mentioned that people used to go to Clowns gigs not just to listen to the band but to watch Jeffrey Wegener's drumming. There's no bonus videos but you can be just as appreciative listening to his skittish feels and his working over of every square centimetre of his traps.

The black "Collapse Board" is wrung out to 14min28sec, rimshots and all, and waiting to dangle from a rope never sounded so good. "Eternally Yours" gets a makeover, with a re-arrnaged intro and a faster tempo. Some folks will object to a classic being tampered with. They can always go back and listen to the original. This version really lets Louise Elliott put it all out there.

Clocking in at a tad under an hour, it's not the whole gig (a few songs have been judiciously edited out for reasons not clear after hearing an audience tape) but the sound is immaculately balanced and powerful.

An appended "Bully In The Town" that belonged in the middle of the set curiously ends up closing the CD with an introduction of a song we never hear, but that glitch is a small price to pay. Ed's patter is riotous and, at one point, deeply ironic.

Score a copy here for about the same price as a couple of beers. – The Barman


CRUEL BUT FAIR – The Laughing Clowns (Hot Records)
Stepping into the confessional, I can’t pretend to have been a booster of the Clowns back in the day. “Holy Joe” was the first thing I heard and it was so far removed from the expected (and from what I was listening to) that I probably would have been part of the crowd stampede towards the exit at Sydney’s Stagedoor Tavern, had I stumped up when the band made its local debut back in 1979. The material that came later seemed more accessible - and almost mainstream by the time Ed Kuepper covered four Clowns tunes on the “Happy as Hell” EP - but if I didn’t “get it” back then, solace can be taken in the fact that not many people did.

Sometimes time softens or changes perceptions and you open up to new things. Even being partly familiar with the contents, there’s an enormous amount to absorb on this three-disc set, which captures the entire recorded vinyl output of the Laughing Clowns and all re-mastered to good effect. (The “vinyl” qualifier is there because the odd track escaped into the light on an officially-sanctioned tape or two; the “Fast Forward” audio magazine springs to mind). The set isn’t in chronological order but has been re-tracked by Ed himself - probably not a detractor for diehards whose collection of Clowns black platters is undoubtedly larger than even the quantity of unsold Shannon Noll albums at JB Hi-Fi.

"Jazz punk" is what they used to label the Clowns and that’s probably a term of critical convenience more than anything. Yes, they had horns and non-rock time signatures - plus a killer drummer in Jeffrey Weggener who’d absorbed plenty of Elvin Jones and plays around the kit in similar fashion - but as the incisive liner notes outline, it’s not a tag with which the band was comfortable.

So what is it? The song structures defy easy categorisation because they were outside what was the accepted norm. Ed’s vocal is at times so deadpan as to make early period Damien Lovelock sound expressive, and his guitar work is occasionally very sharp and angular but just as often plays second fiddle to the driving one or two-piece horns section. There’s an underlying rock sensibility to many songs but just as many work on another level. Weggener’s drumming dynamism is arguably the single most vital element in setting this apart from almost anything else.

The startling thing is the way that so much of this material is a natural progression from the Saints songs on “Prehistoric Sounds”. I know that’s been said before but it doesn’t ring true until you hear the songs arranged, in this case, to complement each other. A goodly number were actually written by Kuepper when the Saints were a London-based going concern and it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t have fitted into that band’s oeuvre in 1978, as fast-evolving and adventurous as it was. Another surprise is the revelation (in the notes) that live versions of these songs rarely varied form their recorded cousins. For a band whose legend was partly based on claims of free-jazz experimentation, that's another in the eye for the critics who, in the main, struggled to keep up with what was going on.

Much of the band's output comes across as seirous stuff but that's partly a reflection of the intensity of playing and partly down to Ed's sometimes mournful vocals. That might be a barrier to entry for some but not so much for yours truly these days, with a shelf groaning with solo Ed albums. There are wry touches of humour - often self-penned and at the band leader's own expense - if you dig deep enough ("Mr Ridiculous").

No use recounting each and every song. Mr Kuepper does that well enough in the liners and track-by-track. Suffice to say that you'd buy an argument in most enlightened places if you didn't consider "Eternally Yours" a stone classic from the era (even among non-Clowns fans), but try "Collapse Board" or "Mr Uddich Smuddich Goes To Town" for exercises in slow burn and stunning dynamics respectively if you need to grasp more of the picture of what this band was about. Your results may vary over the 47 tracks. It's demanding, and some of it leaves me confounded in the same way as the less accessible Captain Beefheart material, but that's part of the fascination in re-visiting it when the mood is right.

Jeffrey Weggener’s contribution to the liners bemoans the lack of credit given to the Laughing Clowns by authors writing the history of Australian music. That’s certainly true of the more middle-of-the-road tomes (Clinton Walker’s "Stranded" book gave plenty of props to them but was written from a personal perspective). The question is: Did the band influence many others? For a minute, I was going to say 'probably not' until I remembered how many '80s bands incorporated brass. But that's a blatant over-simplification. Bottom line is that most Austrtalian bands of the time would have been afraid to overtly go to some of the musical places that the Laughing Clowns went. This was an innovative band whose influence manifested itself in inspiring others to push their own envelopes rather than be carbon copies.

Of course it all ended in acrimony with personal personal demons pursuing one or more of the sidemen. Thankfully, most emerged intact. Ed, of course, has carved out a long and virtuous career, rich with innovation and re-inventation, and these days plays shows as a duo with Jeffrey Wegener.It's funny the way things come around in time. Lend an ear if you're adventurous and you might surprise yourself. – The Barman


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