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coverpic flag Australia - Full Moon 80 - 04/16/03

Various Artists
Tales from the Australian Underground - Singles 1976-1989
Feel Presents

Compilation albums can be a painstaking proposition, both as a compiler and your approach to (or avoidance of) them as a music lover. What to include? And what, heartbreakingly, to leave out as you agonise over what will become a statement of intent more than just a collection of songs?

The process I imagine would be made increasingly difficult if a lone person tackles the task. We all know the agony of making the perfect compilation tape for those front and centre in our lives (captured perfectly by Nick Hornby in Hi Fidelity). To compile such an important and fertile period of Australia's underground music scene alone, the knowledge, skills, credentials and a level-headed judgement of what should stand or fall in relation to inclusion is essential and Tim Pittman has found success here.

Pittman was first given a taste of the underground via Radio Birdman's classic Radios Appear album at the ripe old age of thirteen. Following this initial conversion Pittman has had an extensive involvement in the Australian scene throughout the eighties and nineties managing The Eastern Dark, Hard-Ons, Kim Salmon and Mark of Cain amongst others. He has booked acts at the venerable Trade Union Club and currently heads Feel Presents - promoting tours by Lou Reed, Henry Rollins and the Dirty Three among others. His involvement in and support of the scene allows him to dig deep in both track selection and in creation of the extensive liner notes.

So - what of the music? A selection requirement for the compilation was that every song had to a 45rpm. Commencing appropriately with Radio Birdman's "Burn My Eye" and some true stone cold punk classics by The Saints, The Victims and The Leftovers - proving that both abrasiveness and catchiness could share a bed and still sound so incredible some twenty-odd years later. Things then shift towards the twisted funk and arty hysteria of The Birthday Party's "Happy Birthday" and the unstoppable momentum of the Laughing Clowns' "Sometimes", a song that still sounds so unique. The bright power pop of "Love to Rule" by The Sunnyboys and the experimental beauty of Makers of the Dead Travel Fast's "Taels of the Seaghors" are other highlights of the incredibly mixed first disc.

The diversity of the compilation is its most impressive feature. While Radio Birdman seemingly overshadowed the Australian Underground music scene - attending their shows in May 2002 were personnel from The Celibate Rifles, The Hard-Ons, Ratcat, You Am I, The Eastern Dark and the Hoodoo Gurus and others - the fact that pioneers such as The Birthday Party, The Scientists, Tactics, The Triffids and the Laughing Clowns were also able to flourish is testament to the rich diversity of music on offer in Australia during this period.

The second disc includes the brilliant high-octane rock of "No Next Time" by The New Christs, "Lost Cause" by the Cosmic Psychos and tracks by the Hard-Ons and The Celibate Rifles that assisted the abovementioned in launching successful overseas tours in Europe and the college rock circuit in America. X, one of the true original pioneers of raw rock and punk also feature - still playing with much energy and abandon today despite their vintage!

Another noteworthy inclusion is "Sailor's Dream" by The Wet Taxis featuring Louis Tillet, who had quite a high profile in the scene throughout the eighties in both recording with Died Pretty and The New Christs and touring to much acclaim throughout Europe. Tillet is still enjoying solo success in certain pockets throughout the world, playing shows with artists such as the Dirty Three and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Pittman has provided a fascinating insight into several creative giants of Australian music - some of which are continuing to tour and release consistently strong material to varying degrees of success. Take a bow Dave Graney, Nick Cave, The Dirty Three and Kim Salmon and others who continue an ever-interesting musical journey and repeated forays into domestic and international markets to much acclaim.

Tales of the Australian Underground is made increasingly important due to the fact the majority of the songs were taken from vinyl recordings as Pittman discovered during research that many of the original master tapes had been lost forever. It would be ridiculous to quibble over inclusions/omissions - a great document of the times and essential for anyone remotely interested in the colourful and creative roots of Australian 'underground' or 'alternative' music.

Copyright © 2003 Brian Stradbrook e-mail address

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