Tea Party not that lo fi at the Hi Fi

tea party band jeff stuart chatwood jeff martin jeff burrows

Hopes for an insight into the Tea Party‘s new album, currently being recorded, at last night’s gig at the Hi Fi bar in Melbourne were dashed. What the three-piece did reveal was a powerful set built on Jeff Martin’s acoustic guitars, with Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood laying down their always dependable rhythm groove.

Martin’s voice was showing the signs of previous gigs in Sydney and Brisbane and, presumably, the recording process, but the occasional threadbare note added to the emotion of staples such as ‘Requiem’ and ‘Messenger’, and the deeply personal ‘Oceans’. With his voice rasping, Martin rose to an audience member’s suggestion and sung the introductory note to ‘Soul Breaking’, to much applause.

The Hi Fi’s no-frills basement stage offered a great view, illuminating Burrows’ intensity and industry behind the kit.

The band, coming off their reunion tour last year after a hiatus of six years, were in full command, playing songs from pretty much all their albums for 90 minutes or so, with ‘Save Me’, ‘The Bazaar’ and ‘Walking Wounded’ among the crowd favourites. A (poorly remembered) medley included instrumental the ‘Badger’ and ‘Midsummer Day’. A rousing ‘Sister Awake’ ended the set, and the trio clearly enjoyed belting out an electric, sadly distorted ‘Overload’ for the encore.

Based on the killer tour last year and last night’s comfortable and confident outing, the stage seems set for the Tea Party to fulfil Martin’s promise that the new album is going to be something special. Meanwhile, we take heart from his parting promise that they’ll be seeing us soon — a new album demands a tour!

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Greetings from Ballaratia

gargoyles at the front door

Five weeks or thereabouts since this blog troubled the interwebs. I guess moving home and waiting … and waiting … for the internet to be connected will do that.

So what’s happened since the boxes went into the truck and came out the other side, here in steamy Ballarat, in the shade of a hill I’ve christened Wendouree Tor?

Well, my pals The Isle have released a funky little ep, Moment, offering a nice mix of electro stylings. Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, ain’t half bad if the streaming’s anything to judge by. How to Destroy Angels have released their first album, Welcome Oblivion, and it’s a cruisy end to the world if ever there was one.

We saw Einstuerzende Neubauten mix-cartons, and it was a crack, seeing them producing all those sounds from what looked like an abandoned dairy farm on the Palace’s stage. I really dig their gentler stuff, but it’s quite amazing how they manage to make music out of all the rattling and banging. And singer Blixa has an amazing voice.

Tonight, we anticipate hearing new Tea Party material. Oh gosh!

Elsewhere, Aurealis magazine is releasing its duo series with publisher Dirk Strasser and the inimitable Jack Dann leading off. The Aurealis Awards date has been announced — May 18 — with a record field under consideration. Should be a hoot. And the Ditmars and Chronos awards are now open for nominations.

Very pleasing to see the Queensland Literary Awards hitting their stride, too, attracting serious financial support and — gasp! — the State Government funding charmingly parochial fellowships. This from the dudes who axed the awards as their first act in power. Interestingly, a Queensland writer was awarded a life achievement by the Australia Council late last year: Herb Wharton got his start by entering the David Unaipon Award, one of those cancelled by the government and saved by the new awards. Did the AC draw attention to this? You betcha. Because you can’t tell someone like Premier Campbell Newman they’ve acted like a twat enough.

But what about The (other) Rat? There are more stars here and far less buses than in the city. We’ve found the Bunnings and the supermarket and a half-decent chipper and have been very pleased indeed to be in the delivery zone of Pizza Capers (bourbon chicken FTW!). The Courier lands on the front lawn each morning and we scavenge restaurants and events and community groups and places of interest and stick them on the fridge. One day, their time will come.

But first, there’s the last of the boxes, the matter of central heating (winter, it is coming…), acclimatising to the commute and starting to think it might be time to resume the edit of the work in progress. And then there’s that overgrown back yard …

The Tea Party brew up a storm at Melbourne’s Palais

tea party band jeff stuart chatwood jeff martin jeff burrowsHow good was it to see Stuart Chatwood caressing those keyboards? Jeff Burrows going restrained Animal on the drums up the back, silhouetted by that spectacular backlighting beaming out across the Palais like some kind of mystical door opening? And Jeff Martin, being Jeff Martin, up the front of the Tea Party for the first time since they called it a day seven years ago?

Very bloody good.

Sure, the sound was always a pain with the feedback buzz and increasing muddiness. The lighting at times a little overbearing. The medleys a little ad hoc, not quite as smooth in the transitions as we’re used to.

Oh, there might be a few cobwebs still hanging off the trio, but after two hours of blasting out hits such as ‘The River’, ‘The Bazaar’, highlights in ‘Fire in the Head’ and ‘Psychopomp’, and on, to an encore culminating in ‘Sister Awake’/’Paint It Black’), they proved they’ve still got IT.

Throw in the theremin on ‘Lullaby’ (if memory serves), ‘Shadows on the Mountainside’ and a wee slice of ‘Hallelujah’ — more Cohen than Buckley — with ‘Heaven Coming Down’, ‘Release’, ‘Temptation’ and more, and last night’s opening gig of the Reformation tour in Melbourne was quite the emotional rollercoaster. More fun than Luna Park next door. And somehow, walking out into a cool, light shower of rain was the perfect end to what might be a new beginning for the Canadian trio.

They’re recording this Australian tour for a live album; will the studio follow?


Jeff Martin: The Ground Cries Out … for something new?

ground cries out by jeff martin and the 777

Jeff Martin has been wandering since the Tea Party split up in 2005 (see below for reunion news!): a solo album, then the Armada with Wayne Sheehy, and some touring — a lot of touring — with numerous collaborators as the fancy took him. In there was a move to Ireland and now to Australia. Bassist Jay Cortez has become a regular, joining Martin in his latest endeavour, the 777, which is completed by drummer Malcolm Clark.

The 777 album The Ground Cries Out (Riverland/EMI) is a gorgeous product with a gate-fold centre piece in the CD booklet that sets the tone before the stereo has even hit play. If you’re a fan, you won’t be surprised to hear Middle Eastern stylings, Indian stylings, some foot-stomping blues, and that Tea Party-style rock. There are lovers leaving, lovers yearning, meetings in gardens, angels, nefarious shadows, stars, fires and femme fatales … familiar rhythms, familiar scenes, familiar phrases. It’s all feels very … familiar.

Fortunately, Jeff Martin’s brand of familiar can still be engaging: the title track is as catchy an anthem as, say, ‘Line in the Sand’, and one of the standouts, ‘The Cobra’, is given an extra touch of ominous by Cortez’s deep bassline.

Cortez has a big hand here, playing a bunch of instruments and penning ‘The Mekong’, an instrumental with a strong Vietnamese/Thai vibe. It’s one of two instrumentals, the other a more standard guitar piece.

‘Santeria’ and ‘Queen of Spades’ offer irresistible grooves, ‘Riverland Rambler’ shows country underpinnings with honky tonk piano while ‘1916’ uses a railroad beat. Closer ‘The Pyre’ — another standout — ramps up the atmospherics with thumping percussion and buzz guitar chorus.

The album feels to be skating perilously close to finding comfort in the familiar, but in this case, the devil — and the delight — is in the details.

Jeff Martin 777 are on tour. Toe-tapping is assured.

And in other Jeff Martin news: the Tea Party are reforming to play gigs in Canada in July and August, with tour dates out real soon. You can almost hear the fingers snapping as they cross throughout the USA and Oz, can’t you?

Jeff Martin, back in Australia

Cool news to come from the Armada gig at the East Brunswick Club last night: Jeff Martin, Canadian songwriter of note, previously of Ireland, has landed in Australia as a full-time resident. Although the travelling troubadour said he didn’t know just how much time he’d get to spend here.

The gig itself, being recorded, was damn fine, although the amount of inane crowd chatter during and between songs could be a headache for the final cut.

Martin, with Wayne Sheehy on percussion and Jay Cortez on bass (and other bits ‘n’ bobs, such as mandolin and harmonica), was in fine fettle for the two-hour performance in a hot, cramped venue offering superb sound. Seated mid-stage throughout in black shirt and jeans, he paraded a host of instruments during the night, including a hurdy gurdy, esraj, oud (won in a Cairo poker game) and theremin, as well as mainstay Gibson guitars, a classic Les Paul and an Australian-made 12-string.

The set list, similar to last year’s tour with familiar banter, ranged from Tea Party favourites such as Sister Awake and The Bazaar, to his signature solo tune, The Kingdom (album review here), again dedicated to Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, and Armada tunes. He again offered crafty blends of NIN’s Hurt and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

One highlight was Coming Home, given extra gusto by his announcement of a move to Oz, and the closing encore song, Black Snake Blues, with Cortez on slide guitar.

In Sheehy and Cortez, Martin has found ideal complements, and, combined with the regularity of his touring, must bode well for the Armada’s future. Or so I hope.

Jeff Martin and Wayne Sheehy at the Troubadour

I’m trying to recall the last time I was consumed by the music. Probably Nine Inch Nails ripping up the Soundwave festival. And now tonight, with Jeff Martin and Wayne Sheehy unleashing an intensity of peformance that was simply staggering. Playing at the Troubadour, an intimate acoustic gig with the sound right up to keep the chatterers quiet, the pair came out firing, Jeff on guitar and vocals, Wayne on percussion. The Bazaar to open, followed by Requiem/Hurt. And I was gone for all money. It helped that the front ranks stayed seated on the floor, offering superb line of sight. That the sound was, mostly, crisp and at just the right volume to drown out the background rabble without being painful, helped. But it was the attack, the emotion, the obvious rapport between the two, and of course the music, drawing from Tea Party and Jeff’s solo album and the Armada — the pair’s band, in this instance with Jay Cortes on bass. His addition for the last three songs — The Kingdom, Black Snake Blues/Whole Lotta Love and encore Save Me (with Jeff’s voice close to straining out) — added yet another dimension. Good news: Jeff reported a sellout of the Armada album in Aussie stores, and also that the Armada are set to return to Australia in November, with Roy Harper as guest.

the top 150 songs of all time … or not

Music’s an amazing force, isn’t it? I can’t think of another artform that has such power to unite, polarise and divide. Dissemination is comparatively easy, sharing to a mass audience ridiculously so (if you can get them to listen, and there’s the rub).

So when a media outlet, as is their wont, publishes a list of, well, anything really, but music in particular, you can bet they’re really just spoiling for an argument. My mate, Noel Mengel, the chief music writer at The Courier-Mail, has set himself up as a clay target by listing his best 150 songs of all time, even as he acknowledges it’s such a subjective topic as to be almost meaningless. He says he’s a product of his time, as are, I will hazard, we all. Alas, there isn’t a lot of synthesiser in Noel’s list, nor down-tuned guitars. And he hasn’t tried to reach out to cover all genres, all movements, not even those amazing songs that have defined eras and forged new musical directions. It’s upapologetically heart on sleeve stuff, which got me thinking: what does it for me? And why? And just how bloody hard would it be to try to make such a list?!

So I’m giving it a go. Herewith, 30 old friends, the tunes that’ve stuck with me through thick and thin, or serve as milestones on the journey:

Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division: The song came out after Ian Curtis killed himself, highlighting the sheer bloody waste. I often wonder what words he could’ve delivered to us had he hung on in there. The song is an obvious choice, a regular favourite on Triple J radio’s ‘best of’ lists. I once maintained it was my favourite love song, but of late, I’m less sure. I still wear the t-shirt, though!

Hurt, Nine Inch Nails: As with Joy Division, or any of one’s favourite bands, trying to pick the definitive song is a mission impossible – especially given the strength of NIN’s debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. Favourites change, from mood to mood, moment to moment. But this is an unforgettable song (from The Downward Spiral), Trent Reznor in his maudlin, angst-ridden glory. See also the reflective version by Johnny Cash.

Scarred, Johnette Napolitano: The lead singer of Concrete Blonde, Napolitano possesses one of the most distinctive, emotive voices in rock, and a gift for deft lyricism. Scarred, from the album of the same name, is a coming of middle-age song, acceptance of the path that’s been trodden, the journey ahead and the ultimate end of the road.

Bloodletting (The Vampire Song), Concrete Blonde: Horror writer, remember? So given the uniform strength of the CB songlist, why not go with the one with bite — New Orleans by night, creatures of the night, and a swaggering bass beat. Yummy.

Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode: Time for a dance? This one never fails to get the foot tapping. Johnny Cash also covered this, sublimely.

More, Sisters of Mercy: Predictable for an ’80s Goth tragic such as moi, but it’s a crowd-pleaser from the pretentious tosser who largely introduced me to the genre of Goth rock — even if Andrew Eldritch is too up himself to acknowledge his fan base.

Edie (Ciao Baby), The Cult: Ian Astbury has a set of lungs with few rivals, a Jim Morrison aura, and as this tune reveals, a strong interest in Andrew Warhol and his coterie of muses. Another band with such a massive catalogue of hits and dancefloor favourites, I went for something less obvious than She Sells Sanctuary.


Sister Awake, The Tea Party: Speaking of Jim, The Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin is another with a leonine presence and a gift for poetic lyrics, sometimes obtuse. Haven’t been to a Tea Party/Martin gig yet without being skewered through my emotional centre by one song or another.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus: It’s long, it’s atmospheric, it name-checks one of my favourite actors from one of the best vampire movies ever made (that’s another list!), and I can’t hear it without thinking of those nights on the dance floor, wreathed in smoke from the fog machine, barely moving to this hypnotic beat. And of course, it was used in unforgettable fashion in the movie The Hunger.

Vienna, Ultravox: If you’re not going to send the kids home from the club with Bela Lugosi’s Dead, then this synth pop classic is another apt choice for bringing down the curtain.

Reckless (Don’t Be So), Australian Crawl: Classic Aussie rock from a classic Aussie band, poking their tongues at middle class pretension and generally having a hell of a good time. The Crawl were huge during my high school years, still love ’em. Along with Icehouse, INXS, The Church, Divinyls … ah, those were the days…

Do You Love Me, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: It’s raw, it’s dark … duh, I hear you say.

Back in Black, AC/DC: Headbangers of the world unite. Shared some good red-eye drives down the coast with my uni mates with Acca Dacca keeping our eyes open.

The Night, Heart: The Canadian sisters were at their height in the 80s with some rather saccharine power rock, but their depth goes further, melding folk, rock and a touch of world music a la their heroes Led Zeppelin. The Night, from the Brigade album, is about a vampire. At least, that’s my interpretation.

Kashmir, Led Zeppelin: Love the funereal beat, though Stairway to Heaven would be a more logical choice.

Paranoid, Black Sabbath: Where would we be without Ozzy and co? Somewhere nicer, but definitely nowhere as interesting!


Black Night, Deep Purple: Completing the triumvirate of classic ‘heavy metal’ founders, this track should be mandatory on all driving compilations.

Nothing Else Matters, Metallica: My sister introduced me to Metallica’s Black album, for which I’ll always be thankful. She had far less success with her Mariah Carey fetish.

Epic, Faith No More: Not my favourite FNM song, but memorable for being the one I *didn’t* like until my Carey-lovin’ sister and I went to their gig and were knocked out by their performance. Mike Patton is a genius. I think.

The Thrill is Gone, BB King: Tellin’ it like it is. The beauty of the blues is, it can make you tap your foot and nod your head at the same time as it tears out your heart.


New Orleans, Louisiana Gator Boys and the Blues Brothers: From the Blues Brothers 2000 soundtrack, an album played repeatedly by a good friend in Canada while we were driving to the Rockies and back, ahead of a trip to New Orleans. Good times… file with Baby, Please Don’t Go (Lightnin’ Hopkins, for starters), House of the Rising Sun (Animals) and Summer Breeze (Type O Negative version) for other N’Awlins-evoking tunes.

Creep, Radiohead: Oh the angst! Still the only Radiohead song I’ve bought. That whiney Thom Yorke voice kind of works on this one. Check out the Amanda Palmer ukelele version!

Angel, Massive Attack: Came late to these too-cool dudes, but this track offers lovely sentiment and reminds me of the gang I used to hang with when I first moved to Brisbane.

Wild is the Wind, David Bowie: I bought a best of with this song on it after hearing an interview with Bowie in which he said this song probably offered his most authentic voice. It’s a beautiful cover from one of the modern era’s true musical geniuses.

Proud Mary, Tina Turner: Blew me away live, this rollicking ode to paddle steamers on the Mississippi. Creedence do an awesome version, too.


Born on the Bayou, Creedence Clearwater Revival: Another southern homage that gets the foot tapping, conjuring memories of my favourite city. If you get a chance to see John Fogerty in concert, take it!

Walk This World, Heather Nova: A song that strikes straight at my wanderlust, best shared with someone special. The lovelorn might like to check out her London Rain, too.

Rio, Duran Duran: Another ’80s holdover, from one of the few albums I distinctly remember buying. On cassette, in Darwin!

Cities Lie in Dust, Siouxsie and the Banshees: Appropriate or otherwise, I’ll always remember this tune playing through my mind pretty much all day on September 12, 2001. From one of Goth rock’s truest characters and longest survivors.

Principles of Lust, Enigma: The MCMXC AD album was already a favourite, but it’s indelibly imprinted on my mind as the soundtrack to driving past fields at dawn in a Romanian taxi, heading to the Hungarian border after a paperwork issue resulted in my being removed from a train.

Thirty songs. Thirty moments in time, some fixed, some still unwinding. With new milestones ahead, either yet to be written or simply yet to be discovered. Viva la music!