MILESAGO - Interviews
|MICK FETTES (Madder Lake)
Interview by Dunks, February and April 2000
What were your early musical influences?
Well, I grew up in the era of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, which is where it started -- The Beach Boys' music and so on. Then as time went on, I became enamoured of some of the Chicago electric blues artists -- like Paul Butterfield -- and it just went on from there.
What were the first records that you bought?
Oh ... the Beatles and the Beach Boys. [laughs]
How did you first manage to get up in front of a band and start singing?
Well from an early age I was trying to teach myself guitar, and singing along with the guitar, and then there were lots of situations in my early teen years, getting together with school friends who were trying to get bands going, and it went on from there.
Mick, I'm a bit unsure about whether to ask this, but I guess I ought to. How do you feel about the comparisons that are made between you and Joe Cocker, vocally?
Well it was unfortunate, but it's natural.
Do you find it a bit of millstone that people keep bringing it up?
Well as years go by I get flattered by it. If I could have the success he's had ... [laughs]. It doesn't worry me.
According to Noel McGrath's Encyclopedia, Madder Lake was the first band for all of you. Obviously that isn't correct?
No, no, that's not true at all.
I assumed you all must have been through high school bands, and so forth?
Yes that's right - everybody had come down their own individual musical paths. A couple of them that came from the country had been performing since they were really young, and Brendan and Kerry had been in a band together since they were about 14 years old. They were in a band called San Sebastian - they went in the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, all sorts of things, so they'd been at it consistently for years.I joined them when I met them in art school, at Swinburne; I met them in '68 and joined in '69.
I remember the first job I ever did with them was at a hotel down at Sorrento ... "Hotel Sorrento" (laughs). It was really traumatic, because they'd been working consistently and I just had to sort of slot in. Anyway it worked out; in the early days it was still called San Sebastian; we were doing a lot of covers and we used to get booked into really straight nightclub situations and were really like square peg in around hole. And in some cases ... I'm trying to think ...there was a nightclub in Toorak Road, and I remember we got booked in there and we were expected to do a floor show! Y'know - off the top of our heads!
So you were thrown in at the deep end in that respect!
Basically that's it. But it just went on, and every job you did, you developed more confidence. But I remember that right from Day One we were working, and some days we'd we'd have two or three jobs, and that really made a difference, being a student. All of a sudden we could afford to do things, and it just went on from there. We were used to working. We're talking '69-'70, and there were a lot of live venues around. Some days, even early on, we'd do two spots on a Saturday night.
From the San Sebastian days, new members came in - we met Jack, the drummer, at Swinburne and he ended up slotting in, and then a couple of keyboard things happened, and through Jack, John McKinnon became involved. And Drak [helper & cover artist] was with us at Swinburne, so the nucleus of the whole thing was there, and when we weren't playing on weekends we'd rehearse night after night.
From the evidence of the first album, it was all very together musically by the time you came to do the record.
Well we'd be doing that stuff ... I guess it was '73-'74, when things started to kick in .. and those songs had started to come together by '70-'71.
So they'd been well road tested by then?
Ahhh, well ... what had happened was that we had got the confidence of actually being able to write songs. It was just a natural thing. Brendan, the guitarist, lived in Hawthorn at that time, with his folks, and next to the house was an old solid brick dairy with really thick walls, and he'd lined it with egg cartons so it was really soundproof. So we used to get in there and just go for it, into the wee small hours, and try out anything we wanted. And that's how things happened -- and to a great degree that still happens; there's no problem with the creative side -- it's just getting the outlet for it, pure and simple. There was the flow-on from all the stuff that went down musically in the Sixties and into the Seventies, we were just surging on that wave.
You played all covers when you first came into the band. Was the transition to writing original material gradual, or did it happen fairly quickly?
Once it started to happen ... initially we'd go out there with a list of maybe 25 or more songs, which were added to or deleted as needed, and we started slotting in our own songs. At first it was only one or two, and it went down well with the crowds, and we kept putting more and more of our own stuff in, and eventually it worked around to the point where there were just a couple of covers, then it was all originals, and that's when people really started to take notice.
With the new original material coming in, we started to work more and more, to the point, with myself, where I couldn't concentrate on my studies anymore, so that went by the wayside. So it was 120% music -- which was fine!
Was there a 'home base' for the band?
A place called Garrison, in Melbourne.
And it was quite feasible to earn a reasonable living just from the music?
Oh, we were making more than what most people were earning ... if only it was still the same!
What would you average for a gig back in those days?
Ohh ... well we're talking, what, 30 years ago? ... the band about $120 .. Once the agent's fee and costs were taken out.
What agency were you with?
Australian Entertainment Exchange then Consolidated Rock. At first they didn't want to know about us, but it's like anything in the world -- you just push, push, push and eventually they took us board. And around that time -- I wasn't at Swinburne -- I got a job as Art Director on the Daily Planet magazine. So I was working during the day putting that together, and the music at night - it was fantastic!
At that early stage there the band hadn't changed it name to Madder Lake from San Sebastian. But I saw some classic scenes there from early on in the piece, y'know ... I had an early initiation to Gudinksi screaming, and that sort of thing. The magazine was run from the back of the booking agency Consolidated Rock. Gudinksi's office was just down the hall - it was just a house in Oxford Street in South Yarra. But yeah, I was right in the thick of things, and I think I was only about 19 or 20 when that was happening -- and he was a couple of years younger than me!
When did the name change from San Sebastian to Madder Lake happen?
It would have been around 1971.
Was it the connection with Consolidated Rock that led up to the gig at Sunbury?
No. What had happened, we'd already started recording then. We were the opening act on the first Sunbury, I remember that. I remember getting there in the morning.
See, that that stage, it had got to the point where we were getting up to ten, twelve gigs a week. We were just working flat out. Some days you'd do a lunchtime, and afternoon, an early evening and a late evening. It wasn't just us - that was the way the scene was. Even later on when we came up to Sydney, it was the same thing. I remember working at Chequers, and you'd get there, and we'd start at 8:00, I think -- 8:00 until 1:00. It was twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off.
But all that stuff just made us ... we were so tight. We were flying, and it was just a travesty in a way that we couldn't ... we wanted to get overseas but it just didn't happen. I know that The Dingoes, to their credit, did it; Greg Quill did it.
Looking at a band like Madder Lake, it must be frustrating, because I can't imagine that it wouldn't have been a success overseas.
Yeah, with hindsight it is, because we just hit a brick wall at a million miles an hour. Because in those times you were just on a merrry-go-round, and you just went on in concentric circles until you reached the centre, and then it spat you out. I wasn't just us - it happened to so many people, which is definitely not the way to go.
What are your memories of Sunbury - it must have been a pretty amazing experience?
Well, we'd been awake all night. I think we played on the Saturday morning, like 10 o'clock in the morning or something ridiculous like that. We'd finished work at 2 o'clock in the morning, gone out to Sunbury, and I remember Lobby Lloyde was there. Everybody was, like "Ha ha, what's going to happen here?" and then we got up and did our thing, and played for an hour or so. People were still arriving, and for people who arrived the night before it was still breakfast time, y'know?
I remember the next one, where things had really started to kick in ... and I remember the one with Queen (1974) because everybody was booing 'em. The crowd wanted us.
Oh, so you were the next act on after Queen?
Yeah that's right (laughs)
And Skyhooks, of course, didn't go over too well that year either, did they?
No, no, that's right. Yeah I remember -- they had that other singer. But I've got to tell you - as soon as Skyhooks came in, Gudinski dropped us like a hot rock. Which was ... I was really peeved about that, because there's ways and ways of doing things ...
But getting back to Sunbury, I remember backstage when Paul Hogan was compere , I remember spending quite a time in a bloody caravan out the back with him, just the two of us, just yakking. He was a fantastic fella. And I remember doing The Stones ...
I was going to ask you about that of course - how did that come about? That must have been another huge event for you?
It was. Gudinski organised that. That tied in with the first single, and Gudinksi used that as the vehicle to really get things moving. He got Mushroom Records happening, and at the start there was ourselves and Chain, Mackenzie Theory ... But he really needed to kick a few goals and it was an all-out effort by him to get acts placed in the rights places to start generating sales. And it worked.
Did you socialise with the Stones at all? How were they?
I remember going out to "Montsalvat", out at Eltham, outside Melbourne, and they had an afternoon soiree, y'know, the meet-and-greet. I remember chatting with Charlie Watts; Mick Jagger was just really aloof, Keith Richards was just ... floating around (laughs). But the rest of them would really take some time to have a conversation, especially Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts -- they were really down to earth.
But I've got to tell you -- at the actual concert, it was like Satyricon out the back -- and it wasn't The Stones, it was the media who were taking full advantage of the situation. There were huge spreads of food and alcohol, and they were just going over the top. Another lesson learned there (laughs). I was about 20 years old, and just ... taking it all in. I thought "OK -- keep on learning!"
That was a real experience, doing the big shows like that. And I remember Manfred Mann ... actually, there's a big long list of overseas artists we did shows with, and it should have been the case that we were hopping on a plane and getting out of the country! We talked about that.
But in those times, things were just moving along so fast ... When the first album started to kick in, Stillpoint, I remember we'd been up in Sydney for a couple of weeks doing promo work, and performing, and there was the airplay dispute -- when they weren't playing Australian records.
The radio ban was still going at that time?
Yeah, we were right in the middle of the radio ban. I remember we got back from working out of Melbourne, and the sales people at the Mushroom office at St Kilda were actually packing and shipping the stuff out of the office down there, because there was such a demand.
So that would have been when Goodbye Lollipop came out, which was early 1973?
Yeah, that's right. And I remember when the radio ban ended, and we first started hearing our stuff on the radio -- just a fantastic feeling. Then it just went on and on, and in the end we had about four or five tracks on the first album which were on continuous rotation. And it just went on for about three months, bang-bang-bang.
So they just kept picking up tracks off the album?
Yeah, yeah -- but stupid us... with hindsight -- if we had've released them as singles .... I mean, people bought the first single, but then they went out and bought the album ...
Whereas you could have done even better if you'd released those tracks as singles?
Yeah, it would have given us some breathing space, some more time to develop and maybe have more control -- another learning curve!
Mick, obviously I love the Stillpoint album, and I put it right up there as one of the best albums of the period, along with records like Spectrum's Milesago ...
I tend to agree, and I think it's really reflective of the times.
And yet it doesn't really sound dated, compared to a lot of other material from the same time.
Yeah I think that first one ... I mean there were good songs on the second one, but it wasn't the same. Things seemed to segue into each other on the first album. From that point on though, I think the levels of frustration we started to run into ... whether they were created by ourselves or people around us ... it really started to tip the boat over. The second album still sold relatively well.
Stillpoint sold extremely well - do you remember how well that did at the time?
Oh well, the initial sales were around about the 35,000 mark .... but we moved nearly that again when the stuff was re-released on CD.
I've never seen Butterfly Farm, on CD?
No neither have I ... Kerry said he saw it recently, but I've never seen it. I know there's a Best Of, and Mushroom seem to have put 12lb Toothbrush on quite a few compilations.
Which is good for you guys, I guess - you're getting some royalties?
Well ... (laughs) .... with the way all that was structured, y'know, those dinosaur contracts ... it sells a lot but we really don't get much. But I believe the market's still there, and it would only take half a dozen of the acts like ourselves and a few others to start working, and there might be a chance of some people getting some sort of return, both financially -- and getting some due credit.
I mean at the Mushroom 25th, just by its nature, we ran into so many people we hadn't seen in years. We were chatting to Billy Thorpe ... (laughs) I remember doing shows with Bill. One in particular still sticks in my head, when he went through this stage where he was wearing a white suit. We were doing a show at Mornington, which is just south of Melbourne on Port Phillip Bay, and on this night there an idiot in the audience who just kept provoking him -- "Hey, Mr Whippy!" - y'know, the ice cream man? And Bill just lost it in the end - he jumped off the stage and jumped into this guy. It was funny stuff.
Different times ... I remember we were playing this suburban hotel in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and a fight started - and it was like a wild west bar-room scene, y'know? People smashing chairs over people's heads - and Brendan said "Don't stop! Just keep playing!" -- and the band was playing on, and smash! smash! people were flying over the bar ... [laughs]
It's very different these days of course - even at pub gigs everything is so tightly controlled, and none of that "wild west" behaviour really goes on any more, does it?
No, we live in very sedate times.
Mick, I'd like to go back and talk a bit more about Stillpoint -- I'm really interested in the recording of the album. You mentioned that the band had been playing that material for quite a while by that stage, and I see from the liner notes that it was a very quick recording - only seven or eight days?
Yeah ...it was ... a week or two, I think. But the things was that Gudinski -- because he was paying for it -- was pressuring us to churn it out, and John French, who was the engineer-cum-producer....
What was he like to work with?
Oh, John's a nice guy ... but after it was over ... the general consensus among the members of the band was that it could have sounded better than it did.
Is there the potential to maybe go back and do a remix at some stage?
Well, that's a thought - just digitise the whole thing and do a remix. I wouldn't be averse to that.
Were there any out-takes from those sessions?
I think there were, but off the top of my head I can't remember. But Gudinksi's attitude was "Don't waste anything", so what didn't come out on the main two albums came out on things like the live Garrison albums. He was trying to maximise mileage.
But I'm sure there are other bits and pieces floating around. I do know for sure that the stuff that we did with David Measham ["Brave New World"], there's virtually a whole album's worth of stuff there. The short of it is that so much material exists that over 30 years that hasn't been heard yet...
Was there much pressure on you about what was recorded?
Well if you look at the liner notes on the album covers, Gudinksi always titles himself "Executive Producer", and he liked to have a big say in what went in. And because we were young we didn't speak up as much as we should have. In lots of ways we were driven where we didn't want to go.
On that first album, I remember, it was "Get in there - do it quickly - don't muck around" whereas with the second one, a lot of things had transpired .... for better or worse we were involved in lots of things that may not have helped matters ... bad habits... It could have been a lot better.
The other question I wanted to ask about was the cover of Stillpoint, which was done by Drak. He was a friend of yours from Swinburne?
I love it - I think it's a fantastic cover. What about the logo? Did Drak do that, or was it one of the band?
No, that was Ian McCausland.
What happened to the original artwork? Does Drak have it?
I know Drak hasn't got it. That's a good question. That piece of artwork would be worth quite a bit.
Yes - I was just looking at the unfortunate reduction of it on the CD cover...
Yeah, terrible - it looks as if it's been colour-photocopied ....
You could do a nice limited print series of that. It's a beautiful illustration. It would be quite a collector's item.
Actually Mushroom would still probably hold it. I know that they paid Drak for it, and the second one as well. And the Best Of -- that photo on the front ... you know David Parker and Nadia Tass? That photo was by David Parker. He was a fan, and getting into movies at that stage. I remember getting down to his place first thing one morning -- and again we'd been up all night -- seems to be one of the habits we had [laughs].
But it would be great to get your mitts on the original. And I've managed to keep -- albeit pretty beaten up -- a collection of the posters and so on. And that's one good thing about all this -- not only that we can all still get together and play music, but we've collected all the bits and pieces over the years. If the whole thing was put into into the right hands, you never know what might happen.
Getting back to the history of the band - John McKinnon left and Andy Cowan came in around the middle of '73. What were the circumstances there? Was it amicable?
Ohh well, it's never amicable ...
Yeah, that's it -- in inverted commas.
How did you meet Andy?
Through Bob Starkie - it was a very incestuous scene. Andy came along and he slotted in, and his musicianship was far superior to John's. He had the writing skills, and it just took us down another road.
What was the division of labour with the writing? Was there one person leading it, or was it fairly equal?
In those days it was really everybody tipping their 20c worth into the hat. Some cases more so than others, but for the sake of peace it's just better to have equal credit all round.
Things really picked up towards the end of '73 - you had 12lb Toothbrush becoming an even bigger hit than Goodbye Lollipop - Top 10 in Melbourne and Top 40 around the country. Were you doing TV shows by then, like GTK?
Yeah, over the years we did a lot of GTK. I remember a guy that we've been dealing with at the ABC saying that some clown got into the ABC saving money and wiped a whole lot of videotapes, and apparently GTK was one of the areas that were wiped.
(NOTE: since this interview was conducted, we have been contacted by the ABC and they inform us that although most of the first two years of 'GTK' appears to have been lost, at least 700 of the 972 episodes have survived, and they have now catalogued at least five Madder Lake studio performances and an interview.)
Yes, Jim Keays writes about that in his book -- how, when he started looking for footage of the Masters Apprentices, he discovered that the vast majority of what they'd done for TV was gone, and most of what's left only survived because he kept copies himself. When you compare it to the incredible wealth of music footage from the UK and the USA, it's pretty deplorable.
So, you did quite a lot of TV, like GTK?
Yeah. It got to the point where every time we'd come to Sydney we'd do a GTK. It was all done live at an old picture theatre in North Sydney, around the corner from the ABC studios at Gore Hill.
Evidently there are still audio recordings around -- after all there are two CDs of "The GTK Tapes" -- I wonder if any audio tapes survive of Madder Lake's GTK performances?
Well., I'd love to know that. But the other TV stuff ... we did Happening '70, down here ... ohhh ... we did Countdown. It's probably been wiped. We did TV over in Adelaide too.
Was it just the music shows? Did you ever do any of the variety shows like Don Lane?
No we never did Don Lane. It had all died in the arse by that stage. It was mainly the music shows. The thing was, right back then, it was like a backyard industry, and it was really pooh-poohed by the major media outlets, like ... it was the peasant's entertainment, you know?
And the irony is that it wasn't really until Countdown that people saw how strong the ground-swell was.
And now its one of the strings that bind the society together, I believe. I was just thinking over recent years ... I've had my ugly puss on the front page of The Age, and things like that ... I think there is enough of a demand.
Well there certainly seems to be a reawakening of interest.
Well if somebody could string something together, I know many artists would jump at it.
And I'd be at the head of the queue!
If it was done properly, do a couple of dates each in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, over a couple of weeks ...
Oh, it would be fantastic - I'm sure people would flock to see it. After all, how many people were at the first Sunbury -- 60,000? Most of them are still around, I would think. Getting back to the history of the band -- you were saying that things had become more difficult by the time you recorded the second album, Butterfly Farm.
Yeah, I personally feel that way.
Was the recording of the second album harder because of that? Did you have more freedom, or less?
I remember when that happened, I had a thought in the back of my mind that we had to come up with something at least as good, if not better. And the pressure was on -- we were all tired, we'd been on the treadmill .... the merry-go-round ... from one side of the country to the other. You could guarantee that you'd be back in front of the same audience two or three months later -- and, y'know, that only lasts for a certain amount of time.
So I know I could feel that things were slipping away ... the dream was shrinking ... and all of this had a negative effect on things. You start to feel like you're just generating income for people sitting in offices counting dollars.
Was the relationship with Mushroom getting strained by that stage?
Well yeah, I can honestly say - most definitely.
Were they putting pressure on you about the second album, or were they losing interest?
Well it was about 50-50 I'd say. The name of the game is you're hot this week, someone else is hot next week. And that's just the way we were all treated. We all had a use-by date stamped on our forehead.
You mentioned to me in an earlier conversation how you felt that by that stage Gudinksi regarded the band as "last year's model".
Yeah well that's basically what happened ... If he'd had his shit together, quite frankly, he would have reaped far greater rewards much earlier.
And the general consensus is that Skyhooks basically saved the company from going broke?
Well, by the same token, there wouldn't have been a Mushroom if it wasn't for us. The amount of capital we generated, both from live performance and from product sales.... And I mean, to this day we've never been thanked by them, and after all the sales we've had we've only ever been awarded one gold record. And we know for a fact that there should be a platinum in there, and another gold ...
When Butterfly Farm came out, it did pretty well - another gold record, a Top 20 album. I wanted to ask you about the thing where Melbourne radio picked up the album track Booze Blues, and Mushroom tried to rush release it as a single ...
Well, I wasn't with the band then. I can't remember the date, but it was a trip up to Sydney. We were staying opposite the Bondi Lifesaver, and I'd just had enough. I just said "I've had it - I'm spinning out with this". And they went ahead and played that night at the Lifesaver, and I sat in the hotel room and listened to them, across the car park.
They came back to Melbourne, and Gudinksi tried to resurrect things with I Get High -- maybe I've jumped the gun there.
So that would have been towards the end of 1975, when you left?
Yeah, that sounds right - I think that was the year. It's hard to get the times right -- it just all goes so quickly.
But you'd already parted ways with Mushroom towards the end of 1974?
Yeah -- a mutual thing.
One of the other things I wanted to touch on, from the time before you left the band, was the "Brave New World" project which you worked on with David Measham and the ABC. How did that come about?
The way it came together ... I can't really remember the details .... but I remember we were recording in Perth with the ABC, in their studios over there. David Measham ... I don't know whether he'd heard us then ... but I remember we spent a day with him, and the guy was just on fast-forward. We went out and plumped ourselves in a really comfortable bar, and the day just went ... he was a lovely fella. I know that Brendan kept in touch with him, I think he still does.
He's been out here quite a lot over the years, as a visiting conductor for the ABC, and of course he had that association with Rick Wakeman (Journey To The Centre Of The Earth). Was he looking for a new project along that line?
I really can't remember the details - that was down Brendan's alley. I think he'd probably be the best person to speak to. But I do remember that from that point in Perth it started, and we came back to Melbourne, and we started writing and rehearsing the thing - this was with Andy Cowan - and we spent months and months working on the piece. We virtually took ourselves off the road. Instead of doing half a dozen shows a week, we'd do one a fortnight. So it was back to baked beans on toast! (laughs)
But we got it to a point where it was roughed out, and there was about an hour and a half's worth of music - Brendan's still got the stuff on tape. But then it all started to unravel, as these things do ...
Were the funding cuts to the ABC in 1975 a factor in that?
No no - it was purely being done as a commercial venture.
So it wasn't a commission from the ABC?
No, no, no - the record company was interested, but because of the way we were so up and down, they went "Oh, yeah ..." If it happened it would have been fantastic.
But they weren't prepared to get behind it?
No. I think I mentioned that they [Mushroom] had this attitude that you just feed acts through the mincer ... I think that had a lot to do with it. I know that after I left, they [Madder Lake] started touring again, and they ended up doing some really loony tours. So, in other words, the management, the agency, the record company, really lost interest, I believe.
It sounds like they didn't have much of a clue about how to nurture your career beyond that initial burst of success?
Yeah that's right -- that's it in a nutshell. But I was thinking .... I know that Brendan's got those tapes...
Actually I got a royalty statement today and ... unbelievable - I mean it's worth a pittance, but there's still a couple of thousand copies of bits and pieces selling. And the [Mushroom] office has moved from South Melbourne to [FMR] head office in Pyrmont.
Yes, I read recently that they've shut the whole Melbourne office down.
Yeah, so it's back to like it was at the start. I remember going to that office in Pyrmont years ago, and when you were "hot to trot" they'd invite you ... you were invited to the boardroom on Friday afternoon for drinks, with the people there. I remember that happening a couple of times.
What was the scope and the feel of the "Brave New World" project? I assume, because you were doing it with Measham, that it was going to involve an orchestra as well?
Well that was the grand plan, but the stage it had got to was that ... everybody obviously read the book ... and the lyrics were in place that related to the story. We were actually looking at it as a living piece -- it got to the point where it was far beyond the rudimentary stage, it was actually ... music pieces and lyrical developments were all in place -- and it got to the point where it was ready to be taken to the next stage.
And as I said, fortunately Brendan's still got that on tape. Because I'm sure if we hadn't have kept it, it would have disappeared. It's there, but that represents months and months and months of work. As I said to you, it's like the album which was almost finished a couple of years ago -- it seems to be that we start things but they never get finished.
It's frustrating that Australian acts don't seem to be able to get access to the kind of funds that are needed, because it's such a small market here.
Exactly, and that's the reason, pure and simple -- it's like we're big in our own little paddock, but outside that no-one really knows.
Well, you can see that reflected in overseas music magazines like MOJO. They cover a lot of this period, as well as newer stuff, and I think it's probably one of the best music magazines around. They done a lot of good retrospectives on bands from the 60s and '70s -- but to them Australia just doesn't exist. The only mention I've ever seen of an Australian band was Crowded House!
Yeah, just like New Musical Express - it's the same as it ever was. They've got blinkered vision. What's happening in their own front yard is all they're interested in. In actual fact, you'll see, as life goes on that there'll be smart people who pick up on back catalogues that are really representative of certain periods here, and it'll be rehashed in years to come, and people will make a fortune out of it.
And unfortunately the musos are always at the bottom of the food chain.
Yeah that's right. But it seems to be the nature of the beast, and nothing really alters. They dress it in different colours, but the same game plan is happening every time. I just find it amazing, quite frankly, the stuff that went down -- I've used the phrase "like you're strapped on the front of a rocket ship" -- then nothing. It blew us out of the water. It's obvious that they just wanted to use it up.
The thing is ... I'd just like to see some of this stuff get out ... it's there, and if people are interested, they could just follow through. There are master tapes of this, that and the other - it all just needs to be sorted out. I'm at the point really where ... I wonder.
Getting back to the "Brave New World" project - can you pin down for me down when that was happening?
Well, as for putting a date on it -- I'm at a loss. Brendan would be the one to ask. But we worked on that for a long time actually. We were in an empty hotel down at Port Melbourne, and we used to show up for work each day -- what I mean by that, we used to show up at the same time each day and go 'til whenever.
Were you taping these rehearsals, or was it demoed in a studio somewhere?
I think some of it was demoed in a studio. Brendan would be able to clarify that. But he really has got a whole library of recorded material ... the stuff that he's got there, there are some really fantastic songs that no-one's ever heard.
You left the Madder Lake in late 1975, and then in 1976 you went to Bandicoot. How did that come about?
I'd known Shane [comedian-musician-actor Shane Bourne] for quite a few years; we were doing shows at the Reefer Cabaret and he used to get up and do the in-betweens, y'know -- the comedy. It went on and after I left the band we got together. We were good drinking buddies so we used to sit there and write songs, and then it got serious, and we went through a period of 18 months of just writing, writing, writing, and we managed to get a record contract and we went into Armstrong's in Melbourne. I think the single we did got to #32 in Adelaide, and it didn't do all that well, but it was another good learning experience. Because, what happened, going from Madder Lake, and then going into the situation of getting a new band together, and trying to hold it together -- it's like any situation in life. You walk out of one situation and into another, but you don't get away from problems - you just create a whole new set of problems.
But we just toured endlessly; we went to Sydney, we went to Perth numerous times, to Adelaide. We were back on the merry-go-round, as I said before. And I got to the point where I'd had a gutful and I said to Shane one day "Enough! I'm out." Because you end up going troppo, and that was it for me.
And I think that was when [my wife] Vicky and I took off. We went overseas and lived in Europe for a year ... no -- after that we did the Best Of Madder Lake. Yeah, that's it. We did that in '78 and then we went overseas in '79. We did the Best Of Madder Lake, and we did a few "warm and fuzzy" shows, I think. I think we went up to Sydney. Deep down I think Gudinski was hoping that we'd get serious about it again.
But you hadn't re-signed to the label?
No, no, it was all old product, but it was saleable item. It was old, but not too old, if you know what I mean? So we were back out there doing stuff, but the following year Vicky and I lived out of the country.
But then that year, Vicki and I got a phone call in London one day from Gudinksi, and he was on the road with Sports. And we went along to a place called The Nashville Rooms. I knew Steve Cummings from the Sports , he was pretty surprised to see me -- and Gudinski was there with Roger Davies. So there we all were and ... it was like I couldn't shake it off.
But some of the radio stations in Europe had been playing Madder Lake stuff. In fact in that year, in '79, Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street moved so much Madder Lake stock that they had to keep reordering it, and the record company here had to keep shipping boxes of product.
I wasn't aware that you'd had that much exposure overseas?
There were various parts of the globe where stuff did sell. And some of the music's been used for a film in Canada. I don't know the film, I just get the royalty statement [laughs]. With hindsight, you can always say look back and say "We should have done this" but I still think that if we had have headed overseas and given it a go in the States or in England, the story would be vastly different.
Anyway, in 1980 we were back, and I went and finished my design course at Swinburne, and I ended up going back into commercial design. When I was back in Melbourne again, the members of the band were still in touch. Actually, we'd get together, write songs, record them -- Brendan's still got copies, and there's endless stuff there - literally hundreds of songs.
So it just kept going, from that point on, up until 18 months ago. Wherever we were, we'd get together and write songs. Even though we hadn't seen each other, and all dramas that were created through the Mushroom bullshit, we all still like each other. There were no heavy-duty things - it was just the way it was brought to bear on us with the Mushroom stuff. I reckon, again, it was a major stitch-up by Gudinski - he just milked everyone. He doesn't give a shit -- at the end of the day all he's interested in is how much he made out of it.
How did the Mushroom Evolution concert come about. Did Michael approach you to do that?
Yes he did. I was on holidays up in Noosa and he somehow found out where I was, and I was really pissed off, quite frankly, and I said "No way." But both he and Frank Stivala both hassled me so much I ended up negotiating a fee and doing it. But I wasn't happy about it. And again, they made money out of it.
And you've played sporadically since then. I see that you have Luke McKinnon playing with you these days?
That's John's son, yeah, and he's red hot!
What happened to Jack? (Jack Kreemers, the original drummer)
Jack lives in Ballarat, so I see Jack, but .. it wasn't a happy situation, believe me. Still not happy to this day, so I find that a bit difficult, y'know, but you learn to live with it. Actually I saw him a week ago and he's got a little blues band going; he's happy. Yeah, it was a bit of a stick in the wheel really.
But someday it'd be good to get everyone back together ... it's my fiftieth birthday next year!
Special thanks to Mick Fettes, and to all the members of Madder Lake.
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