Band of Light: MIDST THE ELECTRIC MADNESS
Band of Light's music is a conglomeration of traditional blues, sheer guts and a feel for melody and harmony that permeates the fire their music engenders. At Sunbury '73 they left all listeners with a framework of tranquillity midst the electric madness.
The beauty of Phil Keys' songs and voice and the raw intensity of Norm Roue's slide guitar combine to produce some kind of new sound, some kind of new feeling and emotion. The band's' exactual music is hard to categorise or describe but that Sunbury performance is remembered with a kind of blissfulness, that here was something special, here was something that would last.
Their Moomba performance at the Melbourne Show grounds recently more than confirmed that.
I arrived to talk to them at 2 p.m. only to find the entire band fast asleep. I managed to wake Norm and Ian by a persistent pounding on the door. Tony was fully dressed, fast asleep across the bed. All that was visible of Phil was a clump of hair on the pillow.
Eventually the interview took place, although Phil seemed the only one awake and willing to talk. The others drank coffee and watched TV (a popular rock group pastime). Phil comes across as an active, involved person, very aware of the pressures within the music business. He is anxious to play his music and have people hear what he had to say.
Phil, what were the reasons for you leaving the La De Das after such a long time with them?
Phil —- In the end just restrictions that's all. We'd played together for over a couple of years and Kevin and I had reached a different period to Keith Barber. I had different things to do, a whole repertoire of songs for a start. Stopping one thing altogether and doing another thing - that's what it was mainly.
We never really discussed it in those terms but everybody just had things to do.
Phil — Well I just had to find some players who could play well together - that was the main thing. You can make it happen but it still has to fall together. It took a relatively short time, though a couple of different players, a few blows here and there.
What I definitely did want to do was to feature a slide guitar player and that could only be obviously Norm from the plays I had heard.
I'd heard Norm over the last three years since I got back from England. He was in a band called Gutbucket. I always dug his slide playing. It was tremendous. It was the kind of thing I'd always imagined that you could feature all the time.
Norm, despite his onstage aggressiveness and violent
stage movements, is friendly, not a person who talks to excess.
How did your slide guitar style come about Norm?
Norm — It was evolved I guess. I listened to Muddy Waters. Robert Johnson and Son House. I think it's both a blues and electronic sound. Both pretty much equal. I'm not that aware of why it sounds the way it does. I'm not that aware of why it sounds the way it does. It just seems to turn out that way.
Phil — The way Tony Buetell joined the band? I wouldn't have a clue really - it just happened. He got my name from several different people and he rang us up. He was just leaving Talabene. He said that he couldn't join right away, that he had to get back to Brisbane but he'd see us in a week at the gig. The band really blew well together at that gig. .Nothing we play is really hard to play so it was very spontaneous.
Ian joined the band on bass after our original player, Pete (Robinson) left. Pete was a bit unstable, he was getting frustrated and I think he wanted to play guitar too. Over a period of time he was getting down I guess. He said he wanted to leave in a couple of weeks. He'd wanted a more personal relationship in the band with the writing thing.
Ian's been playing with the band since. It brought this repertoire about because the songs didn't start going down until he joined.
We did our first gig without rehearsal. We just came on and played and later we had a blow with Ian for a couple of hours. Then we went and did the next gig.
Phil — More than likely mostly original stuff, together with "Messin with the Kid" possibly (although that's going on the Sunbury LP) and "Crossroads". The band can play about four hours of original material now and then go on to other things. We do a version of "King Bee" and "Please Don't Go". I'm not really that musical. I like simple and obvious music. All the songs that I'm writing at the moment are for the present lineup of the band - if the band added any members the music would change a lot.
I play quite a lot of solos in the group but in the main we juggle them to fit in with what we're doing. The general reaction to the band seems to have been good although it's hard to tell from the stage; you’re either playing or you're trying to gauge what the audience is thinking. You can't do both at once.
Tony is the brightest member of the band and tends to take control of a conversation until he self destructs with some insane attempt at humour which just ruins whatever hope the discussion had of reaching serious levels.
Tony — Often you come off stage thinking you've been really terrible and then someone comes up and tells you it was a great set. You've really got no idea whilst you're playing. One problem you're always up against is the sound mixing, often the guy doing it gets a sound going that he likes but to you it's just not right, I have a lot of trouble with the miking on my kit.
Phil — I do think that a lot of people are getting off on the band. And what more can you do?
There’s always a lot of trouble at a gig – for example last night we didn’t have any foldbacks (monitors) on stage and that makes it really difficult – you just can't hear yourself. I get really annoyed with bad PAs because everything in our band is relevant to the songs especially the lyrics. It's different if you're playing something that everyone's heard over and over, but all our stuffs new, especially to Melbourne.
Equipment is so important - it'd be really nice to be able to afford the best but it's so hard here, what with the duty on imported gear, let's face it, electrically, they don't make the best here. What really limits the music in this country is the lack of good reasonably cheap equipment. It stops everybody from being completely professional and also from turning out the real quality.
Tony — It'd be really good if you could get some kind of
sponsorship, somebody to pay for a lot of things and buy you all
Phil — Musicianship takes a long time to build up. You start off when you're young playing in little bands, school dances until you work your way through to a professional level - the experience is the thing. Our band had a few advantages being composed of guys who are reasonably well known, so we were able to work right from the beginning. What you have to do is to pick a figure you want to work for and stick to it - then agents and other people around have to adjust to that and either hire you or not. Once you set on that you can do it and get what you want more or less as much as you can inside a bad scene (laughs).
Tony — Good rhythm sections - Booker T and the MGs.
Norm — I like mostly the traditional guys but then some modern bands like Buddy Miles I really like. I also liked a lot of local bands - La De Das. Daddy Cool.
Talking to Ian was enormously difficult and I don't think he spoke more than a dozen words all the time I was there.
Ian — I just like some groups. I buy quite a lot of records but I concentrate mainly on my own playing really.
Phil — Well it's only just started. We gave them a tape and it's up to them to release it as a single - which they have done (Destiny Song). We do the tapes ourselves and lease it to them. That gives you better control of your music beforehand. The single's getting airplay in Sydney and Adelaide and would have the same in Melbourne except there’s no copies around at present.
I think we’re basically a musical band and I believe that everything
that's doing well at present in the rock 'n roll sphere is
I used to dress up a lot with the La'des in New Zealand, used to spend a lot of money on clothes and such. There was a guy called Gerry and he owned a place called "His Lordships.' who used to design really good stuff. You buy things like that when you’re young I guess.
Phil — Yes of course I am. It's a whole. It's doing something positively for myself with players who are playing how they want to play and what they want to play inside the songs written by myself and my wife, Pam. Also in the things that we've blown together ourselves like Over B the flip side of our single. I think that's what the band is about.
From the outset with "Over B" the band drew all those people into its musical world and had them enthralled with all those aspects of the group; that make it great – Phil’s perfect control, singing right out and playing fine, tasteful guitar solos: Norm storming across the stage like a kind of psychedelic Eddy Cochran and cutting the air to ribbons with bottleneck. Tony in constant trouble with his bass pedal, yet never looking anxious and all the while driving the band along like a locomotive and Ian, with his speaker, boxes blown up, and a microphone hanging over his amplifier to boost the sound still managing to keep the band in tune and on fire.
When, after a set of most of their new songs, Band of
Light finished with a blistering version of "Cross Roads" it
was hard to sit still, almost impossible not to dance with joy. Unfortunately
they will remain resident in Sydney and will work Melbourne only sporadically.
This article was originally published in Go-Set,
April 14 1973, p. 17