The Genes

The Struggle by the Beach

by Nolan Angell

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Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5

This is the story of The Genes, beginning when my brother Morgan and I moved to Sydney in 1997. What happened before we moved to Sydney is another tale and we shall hear of it later.The Genes had been playing as a band for seven years when we thought we'd move from Brisbane to Sydney. It seemed like Sydney was the place to be. We had just recorded and pressed "Sunshine Pocket" and I took a short trip to Sydney to shop it around to record companies, publishers and managers. There was a bit of interest from a few people, a guy from Sony was keen to hear more and I had a meeting with an agent/manager who wanted to manage us. It was looking good so I started to look for a unit to rent. I had been staying in Elizabeth Bay with a friend and I liked the Potts Point/Kings Cross area.

I didn't really have a steady income so convincing real estate agents to lease us a unit was going to be tricky. I put on a ritzy suit and looked at heaps of cockroach-infested rat-holes with no windows, then I found a decent sort of place and put in an application for it. I told them my occupation was a composer. The suit must have worked because we got the unit.

It was in Grantham Street, Potts Point, a top floor apartment with glimpses of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and views of the harbour and city. If you stood on the kitchen sink you could see the Sydney Opera House. Most people did and were disappointed. The rent was $195 per week for the one bedroom unit with combined kitchen /living room and a car space. Car spaces are gold in Potts Point.

Happy to be in a happening city and right in the middle of it, we were excited about what would happen with the music. We were down at Harry's Cafe de Wheels nearly every day. The best pies in Australia easily. We agreed to a management deal with the agent/manager whose name was Michael Mullens. He had a booking agency called Made It Happen and seemed to be on a similar wavelength regarding our music. He was full of confidence and I was looking forward to seeing what songs I would write. As usual we were having drummer problems. Our eighth drummer wasn't quite right for us. He was a great drummer, but that magic ingredient wasn't there between us. We flew him down from Brisbane for a show at the Hard Rock Cafe. It was a disaster. The audience were mainly tourists from non-English speaking countries who paid no attention to the music. Morgan kept looking around at the drummer; he found it hard to play with him - he thought he was too modern. Although Morgan played admirably I could tell he was not happy. He wasn't smiling and his head wasn't moving. I know he's faking it when his mouth seems to clasp shut. I sang and played badly. I was very nervous and not happy with the songs we were doing. Very few people were there to see us, and that didn't help.

The manager, Mullens, had never seen us play live before. His presence made us a bit nervy. I felt really down about the show and didn't want to hang around. Mullens invited us to join him and his mates at a table. He introduced us to the lead singer of a Meat Loaf concept band. He and his girlfriend kept asking me questions and, whilst I answered them as best I could, all I could think about was how we could improve our songs. Mullens' wife, Robbie, seemed very drunk and said quite a few things to me but I could not understand a word she said. Morgan wanted to get out of there real quick, as you do after a bad show, so he packed up the gear and kept a low profile. As I was packing up my guitar, a girl I had been talking to asked if she could play it. She had been drinking a lot and I didn't want it damaged so I said no. She got really upset and left.

I spoke for a while with the other band playing that night, "The Mundys", from Cairns. They are a really nice duo who stole the show at an APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) showcase concert we played at in Brisbane. We won the main prize that night, and "The Mundys" cried foul at the judges. Anyhow, I liked them very much and their performance at the APRA showcase was very special. I talked with the guy about guitars and songs. The girl was from an arts background; ballet, classical etc and was very proper and the guy was a lot older and more of a school of hard knocks type chap. Then they did their set and I lost most of the respect I had for them. They had had such a successful show that night in Brisbane, and they tried to repeat it at the Hard Rock, word for word, note for note. The stories in between the songs were exactly the same. Morgan and I looked at each other in shock. We knew they were faking it - like when you see a comedian do the same joke at different concerts. They had an a cappella song that Morgan and I still joke about, although it really is a fantastic song about the women of the Amazon Rrainforest, or something like that. After their show I gave them our number and offered them a place to stay whenever they were in Sydney. Even though I was not into their music and their stories behind the songs, they were struggling musicians like us, chasing a dream, so for that alone we were friends.

We drove home and the drummer was staying with us. He had been staying with us for three days, rehearsing acoustically, and we had one practice at sound level rehearsal studios through a P.A. The morning after the hard rock show we dropped him off at the airport shook hands, thanked him and wished him good luck for the future. Then we started to think about finding drummer number 9.

I answered a few "drummer available" ads and arranged to see a few drummers. We placed an ad in Drum Media (local music paper) and received a few calls but no one sounded right. The band was bringing in no money, the funds we had saved from Brisbane were running out and our APRA royalties had been spent, so I applied for the dole. Morgan didn't want to go on the dole because the hammer had come down on him.

By the hammer I mean the Department of Social Security had made him look for a job. In 1995-96 you could go on the dole, (back then it was known as the Paul Keating Musicians Scholarship) as most artists did for one easy year before the hammer would fall and you were really forced to look for work. So Morgan thought he may as well work. He began what was to be a series of jobs starting with a cleaning job. He never has any trouble finding jobs and has earned the nickname "The King of Jobs".

I generally had the days to myself. Some days I would surf, but most days I would busk in the Central Station tunnel.I used to go at about 9.30am because it was quiet at that time. The peak hour rush had gone, and there were usually no other buskers.

Sometimes when I had the tunnel to myself the sound was so great. I would play songs like "Memory Lane" or "Got You On My Mind" or "The Harp Song" or "Worried Blues" over and over. I remember playing "Memory Lane" for about half an hour just jamming on the chorus and harmonica. The tunnel had such a great sound. Then other buskers with their loud voices and crap covers would start up and I couldn't hear myself so I'd get angry and couldn't play any more. But when I got it to myself it was great. I always stood right across from the flags of the world painted on the wall and I would stare at the Argentine flag. I always saw a lot of beautiful women walking through the tunnel. One woman always read a book as she walked, and one day I said to her "Is it difficult to read and walk?" She looked around and said, "It depends what you're reading." One time I was playing "Love Minus Zero" by Bob Dylan, and a woman stopped and asked me to play an original song. I played a song I had written a few weeks earlier but never properly finished, called "November Takes Forever" and it was weird because most people just slowly walk by in the tunnel but she stood right next to me as I sung it. But it sounded like a good song and she liked it.

Busking is a great way to see if a song is strong or not. Sometimes a skateboarder would ride through the tunnel and the wheels made so much noise I couldn't hear myself sing so I'd have to stop. Sometimes I'd play a Dylan song like "Isis" or "Moonshiner" or a Beatles song like "Two Of Us" or a Leonard Cohen song like "So Long Marianne". But mainly I'd try my songs. A lot of them needed Morgan and had something missing without him, but the tune was there and sometimes when there were no trains rattling or heels clicking or people talking or skateboards screeching, the tune was great. For one brief moment I remember the entire tunnel was empty and silent except for my guitar, voice and harmonica, and the sound was awesome. Some days I would play for four hours and some days for five minutes. It was good to play for four hours catch the train home with a tired voice and sore fingers and write some songs at home. I always enjoyed carrying my guitar on the train. Sometimes I made good money from busking but not very often because I was not a performing busker but a songwriter who wants to hear his songs played in a tunnel.

Mullens had a lot of enthusiasm and was waiting for us to get a drummer . We had some shows tentatively booked, and we were getting pretty desperate with the cash, so we needed a drummer badly.

... now read Chapter 2