The Genes

The Struggle by the Beach

by Nolan Angell

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5

Sometimes we would surf at Maroubra Beach; more and more as summer approached. Maroubra at that time was one of the last non-yuppified inner city beaches.

It was great to be in the water looking at the Sydney buses go by the old flats, and the surf there was great. At night we weren't going out much. Morgan had got a job at a pie factory nearthe airport and I had to drop him off early if I wanted the car. I did that a bit so I could surf. Then I'd pick him up in the arvo and we'd surf at Maroubra known as 'the bra').

I met with a few drummers. One lived right on Burke Street in East Sydney(a very busy street). I gave him a CD and said I'd ring him, knowing full well I wouldn't because he wasn't right for us. He was into Phil Collins and Stuart Copeland, two drummers I cannot listen to. Mention Phil and Stuart - especially Stuart - to Morgan and he gets really angry. The whole time I was talking to this guy I had to shout because the traffic noise was so loud. It was bizarre.

I saw another guy at Sound Level Rehearsal Studio; he had something. Steve Walters. I told him straight out: "on some songs you gotta play it exactly how I tell you," and he said: "no problem." I was at that time very protective of my songs and paranoid about it. I was very precious about playing live.
Every song had to be rehearsed to perfection. But by the time you got them perfect you'd be sick of them. Nowadays I rehearse as little as possible. I like to rehearse during and after sound check. Anyway, it was just Steve and I (Morgan was at work)and I played 'No Love Song', 'I'll Never Know' and 'Drinking Whisky'. He picked them up pretty quickly, but it was hard to tell without Morgan there. Steve had a drum kit that looked like a Triffid monster. You couldn't see him. He asked if he'd need the whole kit, and I said: "you'll probably realise that it'll be a case of the simpler the better with our music." He said: "No worries". I told Morgan about him and we organised another jam.

We met up and it went well. We gave him the gig, shook hands and began to work out songs for a set. Steve had listened to the songs on 'Sunshine Pocket' but we couldn't get them right. I made us do 'I Always Loved You' 10 times in a row, but he couldn't get it right. I thought:"it's close enough and will make do," but I was a bit nervy about it. Our next gig was a couple of days away so we had to keep going. Our last rehearsal before the gig was shocking. I felt we we're going backwards, but Steve was eager and confident. Some songs sounded good. Morgan was extremely grumpy.

The gig was at The Bridge Hotel in Balmain/Rozelle. Not many people came to see us. The first song was "The Harp Song" and it was very slow. It just dragged on and on. I tried to speed it up but couldn't. When you're nervous or uncomfortable, everything sounds slow, so you speed things up. Morgan again played brilliantly but his mouth was clasped shut and I knew it wasn't happening for him. Steve was nervous but he did really well. I played appallingly, sung badly and made a lot of mistakes. I hadn't been able to communicate with an audience for quite a while and tonight was no different. I was uncomfortable and couldn't get comfortable. After every song I changed capo or guitar and harmonica and the uncomfortable silence in between songs was deafening.I kept tripping over guitar leads and felt very restricted. I could not move. Something was wrong. I didn't know what it was.

I had invented a new sound and debuted it at this gig in a song called 'Windowbird'. I blow through the harmonica and sing at the same time to create a sound I'd never heard before and I was calling myself an inventor, not a composer or songwriter but an inventor. We played the song and got into it. Morgan and I were blown away but when the song finished there was no response from the audience. I was stunned. Morgan and I couldn't recover from that disappointment, but we continued to play our hearts out. At the end of it Steve was pretty happy and I thought he had played the best I'd heard him play. I had preferred the warm up in the bathroom before the show. We had done virtually the whole set in there with Steve using his hands on his legs as a pretend drum kit.The acoustics were great.I loved it.

After the set I spoke to the manager and some friends but I wanted to get out of there. Some people who saw us play in Brisbane a lot were there and they asked us to sign a copy of our CD. Then they got upset with me for not playing any songs from our first album. If I had have known there were people in the audience who knew those songs, we would have played them. It's hard to know which songs to play. Sometimes I ask the audience if they have any requests. But it's very risky. Someone usually requests a cover, and then we have to say we don't know any covers. Or they may ask for a Genes' song Steve hasn't learnt and you'd have to say "ummm, we don't know that one."

Over the next few weeks I looked for an electric guitar. I felt the time was right to get one. The gigs had been going so badly, the songs sounded like crap to me and I was sick of having a bad acoustic guitar sound on stage. I felt I had to try something new. I looked at every guitar store everywhere. I knew nothing about electric guitars and even less about amplifiers. I'd never really played one. Guitar Crazy helped me, Jacksons Rare Guitars helped me and I got books from the library about guitars. I played every guitar through every amp and hated them all. Then I found a red 1974 Gretsch rock jet. I loved it. Straight away it did it for me. I've made a heap of mistakes and I don't mind that at all, but I hate doubt. With that rock jet there was no doubt. I scored a cheap 68' fender twin amp from Guitar Crazy. My budget was $3000 from an APRA cheque and I just scraped it in. It meant we were broke but we were used to that.

It was great fun trying to find the right songs for the electric. We did a few songs like 'I'm Tired Now', 'Is It Safe' and 'Add Them Up And Cry' and it seemed good. Morgan got right into the electric. We went out with Steve to 'The Baron' in Kings Cross one night. We drank a bottle of whisky at home beforehand. Morgan was out of it and good to see. I was verydrunk. Steve asked if I was drunk. I said yes but he said I looked sober. The Baron was a great place. At some point I went across the road to the Piccolo Cafe and bought a joint that we smoked in the toilet at the Baron. There was a great jukebox near the bar. Morgan picked 'We Can Work It Out', Staying Alive' and 'Heroes'. They sounded great.

We had been talking to some women for quite a while and things were getting hazy. Morgan had disappeared, I couldn't drink any more and the girl I was talking to lived around the corner from me so we went there. Her house was amazing. It had the best view of the harbour. She had some pot so we smoked some on a balcony. Things were very blurry.

I had a terrible hangover in the morning and walked home in the glaring sun. It was a difficult walk. When I got home I realised I had lost my dictaphone. I had been using it to remember tunes or ideas for tunes and I always took it with me when I went out drinking. I had some great tunes on it from a surfing trip to Victoria and now it was gone. But I was glad I lost it because I wasn't finishing songs. I'd just hum the basic idea of the song and it could never get stuck in my head or get refined or progress. It's hard to come back to it later and try to take the tune somewhere. You can't recreate the moment of inspiration when the tune came to you. It's better to work on it there and then. I didn't want to get upset about tunes I may have lost forever. If they were any good I'm sure they'll come back tome.

I thought, if someone has that dictaphone and they listen to it they'll be frightened, because there was some weird sounding stuff on there. I thought maybe the girl I met at the Baron might have it. We saw each other for a month or so and she said she didn't have it. There is a story about when
Hemingway was young. He lost the manuscript to a novel. He had no copy. He was devastated. He couldn't rewrite it so he moved on to a new story. I wonder whether his books would have been different if he had not lost that manuscript. Shortly before his death, the lost suitcase which contained themanuscript was found. Hemingway read it and was glad he lost it.

Morgan's boss at the pie factory was called Silverhorse. He played in a band called Silverhorse On The Highway. He seemed alright but turned out not to be. I heard his CD and a song on it, 'Cold In Winter', was fantastic. Morgan was seeing a girl who worked in the factory. She was a pot demon, which
surprised everyone. Morgan was working hard and my turn to work was coming. We had to get the band happening so we could not work. The Genes were pretty non-existent. We were struggling to get gigs and the gigs we did get were crap and we were performing badly. We had no publicity or radio airplay. The manager was keeping a brave face but we couldn't get interest from record companies or publishers. Everyone had knocked back 'Sunshine Pocket'.

Despite this, Mullens was confident. Despite the Genes' struggling predicament I was confident. We had 300 songs and I knew I would write more and more. At home we would play new songs and old songs, Morgan and I, and there were moments of magic. I'd discover a new tune and get that rare feeling of excitement, and play it over and over on my own until it stuck in my head. I can't read or write music so I write down lyrics. I carry the tune around in my head. And when you love a song enough, you have to get it out of your head. The worst part of the band's predicament was that we were hardly playing live. We have to do gigs or we go crazy. We'd play anywhere to anyone. Morgan at the time was not writing songs or painting so his only musical and creative outlet was playing gigs. That was the hardest part, having no gigs. We'd tell Mullens we needed gigs and we'd play anywhere, but he was having trouble getting bookings. We had gone about three months with no gigs. It was hard for Steve as well because he was excited after the gig at the Bridge hotel and then... nothing. It was disheartening rehearsing new songs knowing you didn't know when you'd have a chance to perform them to people.

My songs were changing. We had been performing regularly up until we moved to Sydney, so when I wrote a song, I would be mindful of how it would sound and work in front of an audience. Now I wasn't thinking like that, sitting in my bedroom writing songs. I had noticed the music I was writing was
changing. The sounds were still the same but the music was becoming more inward.

... now read Chapter 3