Friday, March 29, 2019


So another non-australian, eh? Well, at least I'm consistent and, asked to bet on it, most familiar with the name will assume his nationality as australian, predominantly as his most active service has been with long-running Oz jangle-meisters, the Church. But he has had a long and varied outside his tenure with this still active band. (Indeed, I had toyed with they being the theme for this piece, but I felt some variety might be of wider interest, plus I had recently had to kick myself for missing a rare recent low-key solo gig by the man himself.)

The Church would be the place to start, by now a near Sydney, NSW, institution, since their formation in 1980. Briefly a 3-piece, Willson-Piper chanced upon them playing in a bar, he having recently arrived in the country, promptly inviting himself/being invited aboard, remaining a constant for 33 years. An unashamed guitar band, riding the crest of new-wave, but with a host of other influences bursting through, evolving constantly. I always saw them as a cross between the Byrds and Television, nothing shabby about either band, with gradual neo-psychedelic shades creeping in, echoes of Paisley Park both stylistically and sonically.

                                                   'Under the Milky Way'/The Church

There were always tensions within the band, notably between W-P and the other guitarist, main singer and songwriter, de-facto leader, Steve Kilbey, with minor flounces and prolonged hiatuses from and of  the band regularly taking place, during which other projects were avidly pursued. With getting on for 20 records released in the years he was with the band, it is difficult which best to commend, it possibly being best to start with any of several greatest hits packages. However, a different approach might be to pick up 2005s 'El Momento Descuidado', billed as an acoustic album,  mix of new and re-visited. His guitar play is  electric therein, even minus the electricity. In 2007 he left the band, relocating to Sweden, where he still resides.

During a couple of prolonged lay-offs from the Church, W-P became involved with UK folk-goths, 'All About Eve', as a replacement for their original guitarist, staying for their 3rd and 4th records, and al later re-union tour.

                                                        'Hide Child'/All About Eve

Solo work has often been in collaboration with long-term associate Andy 'Dare' Mason, as Noctorum, 4 albums appearing under that name. No transformation here into techno or C&W, the ambience is still of well-structured guitar based songs, emphasising the full use of the capabilities of a guitar, from melodic leads to high in the mix picking and strumming.

                                                  'Picadilly Circus in the Rain'/Noctorum

In between all of this, he has popped up in all manner of guises, often as a cameo role or even uncredited. This has included work with Aimee Mann, Tom Verlaine, 'Wedding Present'-er Dave Gedge and, a compulsory mention, given this fortnight's theme, aussie punk veterans, the Saints. Currently he is involved with swedish prog band, Anekdoten, still finding time to tour with his wife, the show I missed. Apparently it was a corker. Here's some footage from the actual gig, playing an old Church number, his wife, Olivia, on violin.

For further background, here is a fabulous recent interview. I also felt some readers may be interested in his crate-digging enthusiasm, he, as well as playing on all manner of records, collects the damn things to.......


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Australia: Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons/Hit and Run

Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons: Hit and Run

When I saw the album, Screaming Targets by Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons described by the WPRB reviewer as being from the “Australian Graham Parker,” I was certainly intrigued. I had become a huge Parker fan after the release of Squeezing Out Sparks, and used my access to the record library in the basement of Holder Hall to investigate his back catalogue. And the reviewer wasn’t wrong—there was a definite Parkeresque feel to Screaming Targets, whose songs included the rock, blues, soul and reggae influences that were all included in Parker’s work. “Hit and Run,” is a fun tune with a reggae feel, and my other favorite from the album, “Only The Lonely Heart,” is more of a straightforward rocker.

Of course, calling someone the Australian Graham Parker is unfair both to Joe Camilleri and Parker—both are unique artists with individual sounds. I remember how much fun David Letterman (him, again) had bringing performers on his show that were, say, the Elvis Presley of Uruguay, or the Frank Sinatra of Hungary (I’m making those up—I can’t find the real ones online), and while they certainly were reminiscent of whoever they were supposed to sound like, it did sort of diminish their own talent.

But Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons was a fine band in their own right. Formed in 1975 in Melbourne as Jo Jo Zep and His Little Helpers to record a cover of the Chuck Berry holiday classic, “Run Rudolph Run,” it took its name from Camilleri’s Maltese-derived nickname. The band began gigging, cycled through members and renamed itself before releasing their first single in 1976, sung not by Camilleri, but by then-guitarist Wayne Burt. After releasing their debut, Burt left, and the band focused more on R&B and blues music. By their third album, released in 1978, they had achieved popularity in Australia, as well as fans overseas, such as Parker and Elvis Costello, who covered the band’s “So Young.”

Screaming Targets, the band’s first U.S. release, spawned a world tour, but apparently, it led to tensions among the members. After another album, which was pretty good, but not as good as Screaming Targets, was unsuccessful, the band began to break up, and the “Falcons” name was jettisoned. A move to include salsa music in Jo Jo Zep’s sound led to “Taxi Mary,” a hit in Australia, a few more releases, and the end, before a reformation in 2003 and the occasional one-off performance.

Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2007. Were they a great band? I don’t really know, because my familiarity with them is really limited to two albums, one of which was excellent, but I don’t really think so. But as Camilleri stated in an interview before the induction, "I'm chuffed. I think the Falcons did play a part in the Australian music explosion ... I'm happy it's been acknowledged. The Falcons were a band out of time. What we played wasn't what was being played. It was an R&B/reggae sound in the time of flares and funk and pop music. Somehow we slotted in."