Dave Graney, '1001 Australian Nights' (an interview with Handsome Steve Miller)

· Wednesday April 13, 2011

We were all ready to run a review of Dave Graney's book 1001 Australian Nights this week, but the copy didn't arrive in the post on time. So we panicked. Then we thought - you know who's definitely read this book? Handsome Steve Miller. Not only because he co-founded the Sputniks with Dave Graney in 1978 and went on to play guitar in the Moodists with Dave Graney from 1980 to 1986, but also because he's hosting Dave Graney's book reading tomorrow at Handsome Steve's House of Refreshment and you can't host a book reading without reading the book.

So we drove out to see Steve and asked him to give us a review. What we ended up with was the best background primer on Graney, Mount Gambier and Australian punk that anyone could ask for on a rainy Wednesday night - so thank you very much Steve. We owe you $30 for this review, and $3 for the beer.

So, you've known Dave Graney for a long time…

One of my earliest memories of Dave was after the school social (Dave was in first year and I was in second year). There was a shop up near the high school and he was there… kinda entertaining these girls. And I just thought to myself, well if that's Dave Graney, I wanna hang out with him.

And we did! We did. And we seemed to both have an ambition to get outta town. Which Dave has written accurately and brilliantly about.

We were outside of the cool gang in the town. At that time in the mid ‘70s there were the bikies and the surfies and the hippies, but we all knew each other. Dave and I were kind of on the outside just looking at it, because we didn't actually like it very much. You know? “These guys are dickheads.” And then of course, there was this television show called Flashez. It was hosted by a guy called Ray Burgess. And one day in about 1975, it came on about 4 o'clock, they played a clip of the Saints, doing 'Stranded'. I've just read a book about the London pub rock scene called Canvey Island, and it's the same thing. Everybody was waiting for something. It was… we were… we were waiting for something, you know. And then. The Saints. We went back to school the next day and said, “Did you see that? That's what we should do!”

Along the way we met Clare. We were in Adelaide around the time that Young Modern were playing there - and incredible groups like the Psycho Surgeons would come into town. And Radio Birdman. We used to go to a place called the Tivoli and there were these three girls in particular there who were just so beautiful. Kate Jarrett and Clare and Jade. They were just untouchable, you know? They were so ahead of us. The scene in Adelaide was so tiny. There were only, you know, 25 to 50 people. And we'd all go to the same parties. I do remember at a party I went up to Clare and said, “I'm starting a group with another guy, and I've heard you play drums and… would you be interested?” And without even looking at me she said, “Why don't you just fuck off.” And then, I don't know, months later, another guy said he knew a drummer. And Dave and I were living in Glenelg and ah… this guy came in and the drummer was Clare. And she actually knew how to play an instrument.

Then you moved to Melbourne?

We moved to Melbourne. And we were lucky enough to meet Chris. And Dave's description of meeting Chris, in the book… is so perfect and accurate. I would recommend young people to read the second paragraph on page 32. And the third paragraph. And go on to page 33. And that's how you start a band.

‘Cos if you haven't got someone like that. You're not gonna get anywhere. Let me put it this way: If Chris Walsh is not in your band, you haven't got a band.

This is solid gold Steve.

I'm pushing it a bit.

You guys were playing again in 2003 when you released the compilation.

Yeah, that was so fantastic.

The Two Fisted

Two Fisted Art. It was at the Tote, and no-one left! We could clear a room in five seconds when we were around in the ‘80s. People would go, “Fuck this, I'm walking out.” It might be something that kids don't see these days, but you know.

In fact the scariest gig we ever did was in a place called Millicent. Do you know where that is? It's about 30 miles north of Mount Gambier. It's got a big pulp mill there, they make toilet paper. And we were trying to do a couple of shows, get some money to go to England, and so we arrive in this pub called the Somerset (I think) and ah… when we walked in it was like a Western. The place stopped. Even the chef came out. Chris was wearing a leather jacket. I wasn't, but, you know, we had short hair! This was in '83. So we played a set and a bouncer came over and said, “The manager wants to see you,” and I went to the manager and he said, “Well, what do you call that?” And I said. “Oh, that's rock 'n' roll.” And he said, “That's not rock 'n' roll. That's shit. Unless you can play some proper rock ‘n' roll you can hightail it.” Anyway, we started our next set and the bouncers came up and unplugged everything. We were driving back to Mount Gambier and I was just constantly looking in the mirror for, you know, the car that's gonna come out. Thinking they're gonna fucking kill us. That was the scariest gig I believe we ever did.

But for some reason, we just had this ambition. Especially Dave. He's incredibly driven. We said, “Fuck this place,” you know. And we just took off.

One of my proudest moments was we were on tour doing support for The Fall. At the Electric Ballroom in London - in Camden Town. The place was full, like 700 people. This guy called Chris Carr was backstage and he said, “You gotta go back out there!” And we're just goin', “What are you fucken talking about?” And I had blood, you know, pouring off my hand… But we went and did the encore, and got dropped from the tour. Because Mark Smith went, “I'm not having these Aussies.”

For two guys from Commercial Street West, Mount Gambier. Getting an encore in front of The Fall. Everything else is bullshit.

We were right. Dave and I and Chris and Clare and Mick - we were right. You know, we could be really bad but we could also be fantastic.

So do you think Dave has nailed the description of everything?

Dave has nailed it, in the book.

He should have put more about me in it. And how great I was. And how I'm gonna write a book that's gonna be bigger and it's gonna have pictures. (There's no pictures in this book.)

But Dave can write.

I'd like to conclude by saying how much I love The Moodists, and how much I love the book.

Everyone should buy it?

And everyone should buy it.