Friday, November 5, 2010

Steve Kilbey

I had the extreme pleasure of attending a unique event on Thursday 4 November. The event was part of Maitland Library's "Look who's talking" series, and was at Maitland Art Gallery.

This evening was unique for many reasons. It was early (6pm) on a Thursday night - whilst others were shopping, and attending to mundane and routine things, we were in an art gallery sipping champagne and waiting for none other than Steve Kilbey, writer, poet, musician and frontman for The Church...amongst other things as we were soon to find out.

Around 6.30 the crowd filed up the stunning, marble staircase to a contrasting modern room. It had a handful of large examples of expressionist paintings on the wall - dark reds and maroons splashed over the canvas lending an austere vibe to the gathering anticipation. The most impressive one being the backdrop for the makeshift stage in this lovely old building.

Librarian and the 'vision' behind these events, Keryl Collard rose to make her introductions and Steve Kilbey strode to the stage. He was immediately warm and amusing - saying amongst all the talents Keryl had mentioned, she had failed to mention he had taken up ballet - all in jest, but a warm round of appreciation tittered from the crowd.

He spoke briefly about Maitland and how The Church had driven through here in their touring days; and of their love of the second hand clothing store and how in the early 80s, paisley - their chosen form of shirt - was passe and very easy to find. These stores were the place to find old gems that no one was interested in...well not yet anyway! As a lover (always and still) of paisley I was delighted to hear such a story - it is my favourite type of print. He laughed about the huge pile of paisley shirts in his room, and how when the Hoodoo Gurus started they paid much much more for their paisley than he ever did!

He then picked up a 12 string and went through a small acoustic set talking, singing and entertaining us - he is true showman. For anyone that saw his (unrehearsed!?!) speech at the Aria Hall of Fame and wondered was it put on, or was he drunk - the answer is absolutely no. What you saw there, is what we got at the art gallery...and then some.

He was funny, self-deprecating, honest and sincere...yet still cool with that whiff of rock and roll edge. He spoke about his childhood, his parents, his love of Marc Bolan and T-Rex (he even did a T-Rex cover), how seeing a poster of Marc Bolan in his local record store changed his life. How he desperately wanted a bass guitar, after seeing a band playing in their garage in his local neighbourhood - he (with some mates) climbed a fence and snuck a look for a moment - his first taste at 'live' music, and he loved how the bass player stood and played. His father took him to buy one and the shop owner said he didn't seel bass guitars, rhythm guitars are all the rage - which, as he said, is hilarious as there is no such thing. So he managed to find a Paul McCartney replica, and begin his career as a bass player...classy! I have always been fascinated by bass playing lead singers, as that really is two different threads being played together - it must take a whole lot of talent to pull that off well.

After the short set, he put his guitar down and pulled out his reading glasses and his biography - this was on sale for the evening. He told the story of the young man who wrote the book - how he got his masters by doing so, he read parts of the book out with parts astonishment, parts interest, and mostly parts...taking the piss!!! The young author was American and a fan of Steve's, like Steve has been of Bolan. They had met (apparantly, Steve could not really remember) during Steve's 'tired and emotional' stage - his words. And then some time later when he approched Steve to write the book.

Steve spoke honestly about the three stages of his life - 'rockstar', the 'tired and emotional' drug taking years and the 'elder statesman' period he is in now. He read passages with humour and self deprecation, we heard about his younger years, early stages of the band, and a fabulous over wrought introduction by the author about his first experience of The Church live - all with added quips and asides by Steve - not only did he have us all in the palm of his hand, he had us in hysterics. I am unsure what the author (no idea of his name, it was only mentioned once I think) would think of this very Australian pisstake - but it made for great entertainment and Steve knew it.

When talking about his drug addiction he said he was lucky, he could have ended up a cliche, hanging dead on the back of a hotel room door in Hong soon as the words came out of his mouth he went a little grey, recalling the news of the suicide of James Freud that day. The Models were contemporaries and also inducted at the Aria Hall of Fame when The Church were, he mentioned how much he admired them in that infamous speech. He went on to talk about his fish that were named Colin and Sean for Sean Kelly and Colin McGlinchey - which was James Freuds' real name. I think wanting to escape that subject he went on to say he was good with peoples real names - anyone could ask him and he would know. He was like a little kid regaling in a new trick as people called out names - mostly lame names that everyone knows, like Bob Dylan etc, but it was a fun moment.

A little while later, he picked up his guitar again , strummed a couple of chords and began one of my two favourite stories of the evening. He said he was staying with his then Swedish girlfriend at his mothers' holiday home in Forster, and it was a balmy night and he was playing around with A minor chords on a keyboard on her back verandah looking up at the night sky. We all knew immediately what song he was referring to...the moment was delicious!! He was worried, was the song any good - his girlfriend replied yes, and did it sound too much like While my guitar gently weeps, well sort of but not too much was her other reply! He taped the song and threw it at the back of his songs, demos etc. Some time later (I suspect possibly a few years, he did not say) he brought it out for the group, it needed a middle hook, but they recorded it and thought it was ok, but not great or anything. It remained on a tape with a pile of other demos for the record company to sift through.

He then moved on to some salacious stories about record company executives that were sad, funny and scary. The stupidity of them and his distaste for them were raw. They found this demo and loved it immediately, the darker hook and middle section were added - he said as a joke, yet they remained. The song was recorded and was an immediate hit, the biggest of his and the bands career. Everyone said they always knew it would be a hit, but the only people who really did were the record company.

He began to play Under the milky way and it sent chills down your spine - it felt so intimate to hear such a stunning song after such a personal antecdote, like you were gazing into the realm of greatness and rawness and beauty. He got to the line "Lower the curtain down in Memphis" he paused and asked should he add Maitland, after a brief conversation with us, he resumed and added Maitland, he also paused in a few other spots to add observations and short antecdotes about the music, lyrics etc...too be honest I cannot remember it all, I was transfixed. Part of me was like just play the song, part of me knew this was very special, a performance never to be repeated, only for that night...again, delicious!!!

After such a moving performance, he put his guitar down and picked up a book of his poetry - he is fascinated by Ancient times, Greece in particular, the gods and their mythology - you can hear this in some of his lyrics and most certainly in his poetry. I read his blog from time to time, it is mostly his poetry and prose and he is prolific, but reading something is ok, hearing the person that wrote it read it as it was meant to be heard, is something else altogether, especially the prose - on paper prose is simply words, out of the authors mouth a rhythm and reason forms that makes much more sense.

He played a few more songs and then asked for any questions. This is always a bit dodgy, and as always there were dicks that formed 6 sentences into 2 awkward ones, sounding like pretentious twats (Steve probably called them geezers later - he used that word a lot, it amused me!!!). And then someone from the back yelled out "how did you get off Smack!?!" He was lovely and indulged all this rubbish. However there was one simple question he seemed to really like and it formed my second favourite moment of the evening. What comes first lyrics or music? He proceeded to tell us all about how he writes. It was brilliant. He says he is not a great musician, it never came easily to him, he used to try and put music to lyrics and it never worked. He said the music always came first and it could be laboured. Either just him and the guitar, or laying down parts on his 4 track early on. Once he or the band got the sound they wanted he would go off with the music and words would come to him, easily by the sounds of it. He said chords, keys, melodies etc would make him feel a certain way and then the words would follow.

After the final question, Keryl got up to wind the evening up, but he was keen to play a final song. I think he could have chatted and played and read all night, and we, the audience would have been perfectly fine with that, but I suspect the gallery had a time they wanted us all out by.

So the final song, my personal favourite, Unguarded Moment, was what he played. I wanted more for sure, but this was a perfect way to end a perfect evening. I even liked that he changed the line 'cameras for eyes' to 'iphones for eyes' - always cutting edge, always contemporary.

Oh and I must mention, he looks really good!!!

My photos are not great, but enjoy....

"So hard finding inspiration"...this evening inspired and lifted me, and was a complete sensory overload in the best possible way!!!


meme said...
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meme said...
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meme said...
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meme said...

"i-phones for eyes". That's good. Even still modernizing the very first hit. A whole sequel could be written about that concept actually.

meme said...

"i-phones for eyes". That's good. Even still modernizing the very first hit. A whole sequel could be written about that concept actually.

Purlin said...

Awesome review! Thanks for sharing that magical moment!

Brian said...

Beautifully told, thank you :)