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coverpic flag Australia - Full Moon 162 - 12/02/09

Mr. Whippy
Shades Of Gray: The Mr. Whippy Compendium
Rats Arts Records


Occasionally, when I am aimlessly browsing music sites on the web, listening to random songs by artists I have never heard of, I let myself think about the sheer number of songs people must have written, committed to tape, or to computer, that are destined never to be heard by anyone other than their immediate sphere of friends and acquaintances. The number of these songs must run into the millions.

Today, I received in the mail a wonderful surprise: a package containing a beautifully packaged two CD set compiling the best of the home recordings of Adelaide's legendary Mr. Whippy, not heard from since a flurry of self-released cassette albums back in the late eighties and early nineties received intermittent airplay on local public radio. Those albums, which included "Cone", "Roundabouts & Swings" and "Effigy", were lo-fi masterpieces of home-made whimsy and acerbic social observation. Now forty-eight of those songs that refused to be lost in the foggy annals of the past have re-emerged for reassessment, and manage to impress, amuse and bemuse once again!

Originally recorded on a four track tape recorder in a crowded spare room in a flat in Marden, in suburban Adelaide, the recordings are certainly raw but many of the songs hold up to the passing of time remarkably well. The bonus for old 'fans' is the fact the set includes two new songs and, in the liner notes in the accompanying booklet, a promise of a new album on the cards for release in 2010. These new songs are the first confections from the musical ice creamery in 16 years.

Mr. Whippy, or as he is known more commonly on his tax returns, Mr. Gray Packham, wears his influences on his sleeve. Many of the songs contain Beatlesque flourishes, and most would not have been out of place if they had appeared on any of Andy Partridge's Fuzzy Warbles collections. Indeed, XTC must have been the inspiration for songs like the psychedelicized "Fly's Eyes", and the reflective "Ant Farm" ("Fly On The Wall" from English Settlement and "Across This Antheap" from Oranges & Lemons anyone?) At other times there are echoes of John Cale's vocal inflections, or an occasional Howard Devoto affectation.

Lyrically, Packham shows he is an acute observer of the modern condition, quite often turning his cynical eye on to the suburban bind that many Australians become slave to. This cynicism, most blatant in songs like "Cynical Bastard" and "In Box", resonates as much now as it did in the self-absorbed 1990's.

His perceptive critical eye exposes many of the elements of life 'back then' for what they were - less than satisfactory, and most often, traps to exploit the gullible. Hence, organized religion is lambasted in the classic "Jesus In A Suit" ('But he wanted me to help him today / And when he told me of his presence of mind / You didn't have to be Houdini / What he really meant was presents of mine...'). Ronald Reagan gets a pasting in "I'm Gonna Build A Snowman", but here you could substitute any US President up to Obama, really, ('You know he ain't too pretty, he ain't too bright / We're gonna vote out the fucker till we get it right'). Other targets are the corporate suits; dishonest and insincere people; and quite often Packham gives himself a bad rap too.

Musically, Packham would be the first to admit he has his limitations, and as a vocalist he doesn't allow himself to slip into top gear very often - probably because the walls were thin in that Marden flat and the neighbours possibly carried a big stick - but the basic nature of the instrumentation, almost all of which is played by the Whippster himself, adds to the charm of these songs. Mostly acoustic, with what most often sounds like a programmed rhythm section, the uncluttered musical backing allows the lyrics, delivered in his everyman voice, to be the main focus of the Mr. Whippy listening experience.

What excites you about these demos really is the fact that in every song you can hear the seeds of an exceptional tune, and cannot help but wonder how good they could have been if someone had taken these songs at the time and offered up some professional studio time and Packham's choice of sympathetic musicians to turn these paeans of promise and turned them into the classics they crave, and deserve, to be.

Let's hope that these songs do not remain the private treasure of Mr. Whippy's close friends and family, they are too good to be solely contained in the good-hearted praise of his inner circle.

Copyright © 2009 Ken Grady e-mail address

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