Jen Jewel Brown Reviews Dig: Australian Rock and Pop Music 1960-85

18 April 2017

The long ‘Early to Mid-Eighties’ passage of Chapter Sixteen is packed with brief references to different artists and clusters around particular scenes. Stephanie Falconer, previously Rilen, discusses the creative wonders that crawled onstage with Sardine V (1980-3), the band she formed with her then-husband Ian Rilen (RIP), ex-bass backbone of Australia’s X. ‘Line-up changes (in Sardine V) were frequent,’ she tells Nichols. ‘It was fraught. It was pretty hairy. Ian wasn’t the easiest person – but he was the one with drive. He just said, ‘Come on, we’re rehearsing,’ and there were children coming in and saying, ‘Mummy, Can I wash my teddy bear?’ … It was a great job; I could be home with the kids because they were small, 3 to 7, and then I could go out at night and leave them with Ian’s mother. We didn’t get much sleep.’

Not getting much sleep is what Dig is all about for the avid reader who decides to chase down its inspirations. For those unaware of their existence, due to youth or musical depravity, it will surely be irresistible to dig up the sounds that inspired Nichols’s scholarly party in the graveyard of these decades past. Let’s sleep when we’re dead friends. Until then, look into Nichols signposted groups: the Missing Links, Running Jumping Standing Still and Purple Hearts from Australia’s garage-trashing, psychedelic blues 60s, for instance. The author’s endless shindig interweaves the 70s ragtime hippy jug band with our emergent film directors. ‘Captain Matchbox (1969-80) … highlighted the earthy universality of the wisecracking, sleazy pop song of the interwar period,’ writes Nichols. ‘In Peter Weir’s wonderful short film 3 Directions in Australian Pop Music, the group play (‘Who Walks Out When I Walk In’) in a proto-punk style: the vigour and hilarity make the whole shebang both flippant and furious. They are also seen in a backyard performance in Chris Löfvén’s 1971 film, Part One–806, and … in Stork,’ he continues, ‘where they are very clearly a … colourful, and central element of house party revelry, rather than a retro curiosity. Stork’s director Tim Burstall was reputedly a ‘party-goer par excellence’ … and a group like Captain Matchbox … represent part of the general cultivated and / or cultured mayhem.’ So true.

It will be a brave writer indeed who intends to top Dig as an entertaining version of what happened in Australian rop and pock between 1960-85. Kind of like trying to blow Mackenzie Theory off stage. As Dig has taken him a great many years to write, I wouldn’t expect to encounter Part II for some time. But I’m happy to wait for Nichols’s journey on from the mid-80s, and explore what happened next.

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