Friday, February 1, 2008

Models - Live

During the 80s and 90s with playing in bands, working as a roadie or just a simple night out I saw many, many live shows. Both international and local, without trying to be too bias on the whole Australian bands more than held their own against touring acts. Why!! Aussie bands during this time were brought up on the hard grind of playing the pub and club circuit. Night after night honing their art in the most competitive and at times hostile environment. I saw The Church blow The Cure off stage, The Stranglers appeared like amateurs after a Hunters and Collectors set. Australian audiences were spoilt, then the pokies and raves came into vogue and things changed.

I could not say who were the best…. but among the most consistent would have to be the ‘Models’. Yes maybe their sound was very 80’s, and maybe their songs haven’t aged as well as some of their contemporaries …. but they were good, very good live.

The boys were never shy of throwing in a ‘cover’ and this show has two of their best. ‘All Tomorrows Parties’ Velvet Underground and my fav ‘Burning Love’ Elvis. Any Australian of my age were brought up on these guys, for my international friends…..check this out.

They formed from two earlier punk/New Wave bands, Teenage Radio Stars (singer and guitarist Sean Kelly) and JAB (Ash Wednesday, Pierre Voltaire and Johnny Crash, keyboards, bass and drums respectively). This version of the group did not stay together for long, however, and soon Pierre was replaced by Mark Ferrie, then Ash by Andrew Duffield. In 1980 this line-up released their first album, Alphabravocharliedeltaechofoxtrotgolf, which was not commercially successful, but was well received by audiences on the live pub circuit. The band played more often and in more places than virtually any other Australian band of the era - but the group tended to record completely new material for their studio albums, so many of their most popular early songs went unreleased until 2002, when a compilation album of early live material ("Melbourne") was released.

Models' early style was a spiky, distinctive blend of New Wave, glam rock, dub and pop: their most notable features were Kelly's strangled singing voice, Duffield's virtuoso synthesiser performances (he used the EMS Synthi AKS, also notably used on Pere Ubu's Dub Housing), and the band's cryptic, slightly gruesome, lyrics (eg "Hans Stand: A War Record" from Alphabravocharliedeltaechofoxtrotgolf), which were mostly composed by Duffield and Kelly.

By June 1981 Johnny Crash had been replaced by Buster Stiggs (from New Zealand one hit wonder; The Swingers), and the group released the 10" album Cut Lunch (which consisted of demo tracks which had been particularly successful, including one track produced by Split Enz keyboard player Eddie Rayner), and, later that year, their second full-length album Local And/Or General, which was recorded in the UK. Both releases helped to widen their audience nationally, thanks to regular radio exposure on Triple J in Sydney and on community stations in other cities, as well as national TV exposure through their innovative music videos on programs such as the ABC's Countdown.

After signing with the MMA management company (which also handled INXS), the group attempted to create a hybrid of their alternative roots and a more commercial sound. Ferrie and Stiggs left after "Local And/Or General" and, after a brief stint as a five-piece, they were replaced by James Freud (real name Colin McGlinchey) and Barton Price. Freud had attended high school with Kelly, and they had played together in the Teenage Radio Stars: he had had a brief and relatively unsuccessful solo career.

This version of the group released the highly regarded 1982 LP 'The Pleasure of Your Company, produced by Nick Launay; its big drum sound and danceability in particular reflected Launay's influence, and Freud's more radio-friendly voice made the album more accessible. The album was critically acclaimed but again failed to sell strongly, although the single I Hear Motion was a national hit. Duffield later explained that the song's distinctive keyboard part had been inspired by the riff from the Stevie Wonder classic Superstition.

At this point (under pressure from management), the band reassessed their direction and moved towards to a more radio-friendly format. The group relocated to Sydney and Duffield - and his crucial influence on the band's sound - was forced out under acrimonious circumstances and replaced by Roger Mason on keyboards and James Valentine on saxophone. For touring, the group was regularly augmented by backing singers including Kate Ceberano and Zan Abeyratne (who had been the singers in popular early Eighties pop-funk band I'm Talking) and Canadian-born singer Wendy Matthews; Matthews and Kelly became a couple and formed the band Absent Friends.

Andrew Duffield released a solo album Ten Happy Fingers in 1986 on his own label, Retrograde Records. Initial sales were handled individually by Duffield via mail order only, before appearing in specialist record shops the following year.

The band released their most commercially successful work with the singles Out of Mind, Out of Sight and the James Freud tune Barbados, off the album Out of Mind, Out of Sight. Their follow-up album, Models' Media, was less successful. Models also featured on the Australian Made Tour of 1986-1987 with INXS and Jimmy Barnes, but, in 1988 the pressures of ten years of touring, as well as financial troubles, hastened the breakup of the band.

It was their extended live exposure, however, that ensured that Models stayed in the public eye when other contemporaries had been forgotten: the band's later work remained popular on radio throughout the 1990s; this, coupled with the critical acclaim and cult appeal of their earlier work, re-stimulated interest in their work in the latter half of that decade. The band reformed for a few gigs in 2000; in 2001 their rarities album "Melbourne" was released, and in 2002 Harper Collins Australia published Freud's memoir, I Am The Voice Left From Drinking; the title is taken from a line from Barbados and alludes to his problems with drugs and alcohol.

Mason has since composed soundtracks for various projects including ABC-TV series MDA. Valentine later worked in children's TV and is a popular radio host on 702 ABC Sydney and has recently published a successful series of children's books. Matthews is known as one of Australia's divas after a hit with her first album Émigré in 1990. Andrew Duffield teamed up with Phil Kennihan to become one of Australia's most successful advertising music partnerships. Barton Price has returned to New Zealand after stints with various Australian bands and the world's first drum sample CD. Ash Wednesday formed Crashland and plays with legendary German avant garde band EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN.

Various versions of Models have and are reforming for short tours as of late 2006.


Dunks said...

Great blog Bruce. Loved your comments re: Aussie bands outmatching their headliners. I have two particular treasured memories in this regard. One is (appropriately) Models, who comprehensively blew The Human League offstage on their first tour here ca. 1982 (they were limp, and the girl 'singers' sounded like an animal shelter burning down) and the other being the mighty Deb Conway at the dreaded Sydney Ent. Cent., who played a brilliantly rousing set and gave Sting a serious run for his money ... which was no mean feat considering he was then using his classic backing band with Branford Marsalis, Darryl Jones, Omar Hakim and the late lamented Kenny Kirkland. She was on fire that night, and for once the crowd was with her; one of the best support sets I've ever seen.

Keep up the good work mate. Cheers!

Dunks (Sydney)

John Daly said...

Love Models and would like to hear this gig, but am not getting it down. Problems? If you could correct it I would greatly appreciate. If you do could you email me please (Alot of these requests go un-answered) During the early 80's I was 15/16 and getting into gigs was impossible because I was rake thin and looked about 12. I missed so many great bands that visited our pubs !!!!, yeah pubs. The Cure, Magazine, sob sob