Outside the beach hut, Maroubra.
Outside the beach hut, Maroubra.

The Struggle by the Beach

by Nolan Angell

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5

We were surfing a great deal at Maroubra and not going out much at all. I met a French girl in the surf and hung out with her a lot. Then the hammer came down. The dole people said I had to come in and look for a job for four hours, three days a week. So I thought "fair enough", I'll get a job. I wanted to work in a shop so I applied for those types of jobs. I somehow managed to get an interview for a job. They wouldn't tell me who the company was but I went along. At the interview they said I had to do an intense, three week course, which mainly involved hiking in the country side, staying in tents with thirty other losers like me. I guess they would try to re- program people into being robots. At the end of it you were supposedly guaranteed a job but they wouldn't tell me where. It sounded like some sort of scam. I said I wasn't interested.

During one of my job hunting sessions something strange happened to me. Whilst staring at a newspaper I discovered the meaning of life. At least that's how I felt. It just came to me clear as day. I tried to put it into words but just ended writing pages upon pages of rambling dribble in my notebook. I just couldn't effectively explain it. I did, however, call it the "theory of infinite uncertainty". I thought if I worked on it little by little, one day everyone would know the meaning of the universe and how it started and all that. I must point out that it will take many years of fine tuning this theory before I put it up for public scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the French girl moved into our flat for a few weeks before she headed to the Kimberly for a holiday. I wrangled a job at a supermarket in Double Bay. It was fun. I was stacking shelves. There were always celebrities and weird interesting people walking the aisles, getting their groceries.

Double Bay is part of the wealthiest region in Australia. I saw a hell of a lot of rich bastards. I saw famous people like Keanu Reeves, INXS members, Austen Tayshus and others. I always spoke to them because I wanted to see what they were like. They seemed very happy. It was depressing. We were struggling to get a gig in Sydney.

After a couple of days I got promoted. They gave me an office. I had no idea what I was doing. No one knew I was a musician. I didn't tell any of the staff I was in a band. One time I was in the supermarket and two girls, who had seen the band play, recognised me. I felt ashamed standing there in my uniform and name tag, but I thought of all the struggling artists who had done jobs like this and I felt like an idiot for being stuck up about it. After that I was proud to be working in the store and didn't care who knew. But I hoped, more than anything, I could spend all my time playing music.

I met a fantastic woman who worked for a local billionaire. She was the host of his yacht. She wanted her groceries delivered to the yacht. She told me they had Helena Christiansen out on the boat yesterday. Hearing about the ridiculous lifestyles of these people was really motivating me to write songs.

Morgan was sick of his pie job and I hated my job but we kept on going. I had been trying to write songs but I hadn't written anything good. Just average songs. Tunes like "find another way", "nothing lasts forever", "late again" and "enter the night". All depressing, urbane songs, with a philosophical edge. I was finding the electric guitar difficult to play. At long last, the manager, Mullens, managed to get us another gig. At the Bridge Hotel again. I debuted the electric guitar. On stage, I had too many things to think about and couldn't get comfortable. There was no publicity for the show. There was only a handful of people there. It was not great. I managed to get us a gig at the Excelsior Hotel in Surrey Hills. My mum was down from Darwin and I'm glad she saw us play because we played really well. Only four people were in the audience but they really enjoyed it and so did I. Steve drummed well but halfway into one song, he completely changed his drumming. It wasn't like it was a mistake, it was like he didn't like it the way we had practiced it so he changed right in the middle of the song. If what he did worked, then we would have been happy, but it didn't work. I knew then, he had to go. We were on different wavelengths and that causes constant pain and strain. Morgan was not at all happy. He was calling Steve 'dead man number eight', which is a reference to the number of drummers we have had.

My mother is our biggest supporter, she shares with us an unwavering belief in the music and she has done so much for us. I took her to the NSW art gallery. There was an exhibition by an Australian artist called Rosalie Gascoigne. It was abstract landscapes made from things she found in the bush. Rosalie didn't start painting and sculpting until very late in life. I think she was in her fifties. My mother was quietly going through a revelation as she wandered through the exhibition. She really connected with Rosalie.

I went to the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) awards. I went by myself because there was only one free ticket and we couldn't afford another. I wore my blue suit and a 'comme des garcons' shirt my dad had sent me from Wales. I hid a copy of Sunshine Pocket in my jacket just in case. I walked into the hotel lobby (I think it was at the Wentworth Hotel). There were a lot of paparazzi, which is a rare sight in Australia. They looked at me but when they didn't recognise me they turned the other way. I thought their cameras looked pretty useless hanging around their necks. They should be in front of their faces taking shots, that way I wouldn't be able to see their hungry desperate faces.

I quickly got a drink from a waiter and looked around. Rob Hirst, the drummer from Midnight Oil walked in and he got the flashes going. He said hello and introduced me to his wife. They are incredibly nice people, so down to earth. We chatted about music. He was organising an interview with a surfing magazine about bands who surf and he gave me his mobile number and told me to give him a ring about it. The paparazzi were flashing like crazy, so we turned around and saw Peter Garret walk in. I shook his hand as Rob introduced me, he remembered me from the times we supported them on a tour, but he looked quite scared of me. I think he was more nervous than I was. They left me and I grabbed another drink. The entire Australian song-writing fraternity was there. Kylie Minogue got the biggest display of lightning from the paparazzi. She looked so small. I raised my glass to her as she sailed by.

We moved into the main room to have dinner. I was seated next to a very beautiful music lawyer, and Paul Kelly. I drank throughout the ceremony and laughed and listened but I didn't say much because I was too drunk and it was hot. People like Peter Garret and the Farris brothers from INXS gave great speeches and remembered the late Michael Hutchence. Kylie sung a Nick cave song. The Whitlams played, Paul Kelly played and others. Savage Garden were in Monte Carlo for a bigger awards ceremony and couldn't accept their award. I chatted with the singer from Skunkhour, he was a very nice guy but I didn't know what band he played in. I asked him what band he plays in. When he said "Skunkhour" I felt like a fool, but he was very dignified about it. The free alcohol was taking its toll. While the bands played their songs on stage I thought which song I would play if we were up there. I couldn't select a suitable one so I thought, 'maybe the next song I write'. Leonardos Bride won song of the year and I was disillusioned by it.

At the after show party I was getting on well with the music lawyer but I had this feeling she was towing me along in case she failed to snare a real celebrity. I met Chris Wilson at the bar. He was soaked in whisky and was in a foul mood. He was booked to sing the Nick Cave song at the awards until Kylie stepped in and said she wanted to do it. Mushroom boss Michael Gudinski smelt money and extra publicity and Chris lost the gig. That's what happens. Many times The Genes have been booked at a venue until a bigger band says can we have that date. Money talks. Chris has one of the best, most distinct voices in the world. He is an amazing harmonica player and has inspired me many times.

Still I drank on. I was introduced to Michael Gudinski himself. I thought of giving him our CD, which was still in my jacket. I didn't. He seemed to be talking a million miles an hour. He soon sold Mushroom. He is a large chunk of Australian music history. There have been so many great bands on his great label over the years. God knows where they are now, but I bet they don't live in a house as big as his.

I staggered away leaving the music lawyer talking to an INXS member. I wondered why she was a music lawyer. I caught a cab home. Morgan was talking in his sleep. I said "Morgan, you're sleep talking." He said, "that's part of the deal isn't it." I went to my room saying "next year Morgan, you have to go as well. It'll be great with you there."

The manager got us a gig supporting The Radiators in Manly. The Radiators were big in the eighties. I was not familiar with their music but I was excited to be playing with them. The venue was an extremely scary step back in time. The band and their crew were still hanging on to the glory days of Australian pub rock in the seventies and eighties. The sound system was huge and The Radiators had so much stage equipment.

We argued with The Radiators' sound guy who was doing our sound as well. He said he was told we were supposed to provide two roadies to help load and unload the p.a. We knew nothing of this. There was an argument. Maybe our manager, Mullens, had agreed to this but had not told us. Maybe the sound guy was scamming us for some free luggers to help pack up after the show, who knows. It is something that happened all the time in the 70's and 80's but rarely happens now. When we did a tour with Midnight Oil we had to provide two luggers before and after each show. We played to packed houses every night and we were paid an extra $100 per show on top of our fee to compensate for lugging the p.a. That's a good way to do it. At the Radiators gig there was fifteen people there. We were supposed to get $100 for the show, which to my knowledge, we didn't end up getting. The days of ripping off the support band are still here. I would say, if you have fifteen people at your show you need to help your support band, not crush them. The problem is, bands like us would pay to play at venues (which we have done). To play as a support act to a bigger band (and a bigger audience), we would do anything. But to be taken advantage of by a seriously has-been band doesn't sit well. We saw a few songs of the Radiators show and I respected them a great deal. They were giving it everything.

Never argue with your sound engineer before a show. He'll butcher you. Our sound that night was appalling. All we could hear on stage was feedback and base booming. Out front (I'm told), it sounded like a "piece of shit trying to play some music". A bad sound on stage however, is something we were used to. No problem. To get through it, you keep saying to yourself; "it's okay, it sounds good out front". But when you know it sounds bad out front, you're in trouble. People in the audience get this straining, confused look when there is a bad mix. If the vocal is not loud enough or the acoustic guitar is feeding back, or if the snare drum is a hundred times too loud. I know that look well. It is my dream to have a permanent sound engineer. One we can trust, who knows how we should sound. It's crucial for a band to have a regular sound guy. I cannot focus on playing well if I'm worrying about the mix. We have a different sound guy for nearly every gig. Most of the time they've never heard us before. We've only ever had one sound guy we were confident with, Joe Malone. When he was mixing us we were going the best we ever did. Unfortunately he got picked up by bigger bands, like Custard and Regurgitator. In the end we just couldn't afford him or book him because he was always booked. We are always looking for a regular sound guy. The Radiators sound guy inspired us to continue that search.

We played that show in a very angry manner. Morgan was ripping. He went off. I played a few songs on the electric but I still couldn't get a handle on it. I couldn't get the right sound out of the pedals or effects I was using. We finished with "feel no shame" and we tore it apart. The crowd clapped. We played "if only love was easy" very well. That's a hard song to sing and Steve fucked it up every single time he played it. I said, "Listen to the recording. It's all there!" He just couldn't bluff his way through things he fucked up. You need to be able to cover your mistakes. Morgan and I forget things and fuck up during a song left, right and centre, but we are the only ones who know we've made a mistake. The trick is to just play something that works, that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Steve's idea of what "worked" was radically different from ours.

We stopped off for a pie at Harrys' but Morgan and I didn't enjoy Steve's company much. We were thinking of a new drummer. Steve was one of the nicest guys I've ever met but it just wasn't working in the music department for us. Maybe the next drummer would be the right drummer for us and we would be the right band for him.

The French girl came back from the Kimberly and she said it was her spiritual home and she will return one day. She soon left Australia and I said I'll see you in Paris for the 1998 World Cup.

Mullens got us a gig at a pub in Newtown called the Marlborough Hotel. It was a covers venue. By this, I mean bands that play standards and top 40 hits usually play there. Mullens had been suggesting we throw a few covers into our show. And he suggested we do quite a few 'well known' covers for this show. This made me nervous. I told him I'd think about it but we rarely do covers and when we do them, no one knows it's a cover because we do very obscure songs like 'moonshiner' by Dylan or 'midnight rambler' by the Stones. We didn't do any covers that night. We bombed with the crowd. The sound was bad. Some songs like "add them up and cry" were good, but the rest were pretty awful. I am sad to say I was glad when it was over. We did three 45 minute sets. I just couldn't find it.

Morgan was doing well. He used to drink a lot of caffeine and it took him on a roller coaster ride. When he stopped he said he had a headache for two weeks. He is definitely happier now he drinks herbal tea, sleeps better and is less inclined to throw things around the room.

I was surfing when I could and not writing much. I had written songs like "hey tomorrow" which weren't too bad but I was trying to write a song with our signature rhythm like "tell me what you see" or "inspiration" but it wasn't happening. I met a guy at the beach who was a sound engineer doing a sound engineering course. He asked us if he could record a few of our songs for his assignment. We recorded four songs at sound level. "The harp song", "there she goes", "I know you know" and "10 000 years ago". I was as sick as a dog. I had a shocking flu. Despite the chaotic scene and a crazy guy called Tintin helping the sound guy; the songs turned out great. I overdubbed a few vocals the next day, did a mix and they were complete. I finally realised that when I record vocals, I sing better if I'm playing guitar as well. I made a note to do that when we record our next album.

I read a Dylan book, and he seemed quite prolific so I locked myself in the bathroom with my guitar and aimed to write as many songs as I could. I wrote ten songs in three hours. They were 1: Exist.2: Now more than before. 3: On the line. 4: I called Susan Sarah. 5: It's nothing new. 6: A little bit too far. 7: The Waterfall. 8: So long. 9: In a haze. 10: New Guinea song. Some of these songs were crap, but some were good. "It's nothing new" and "the waterfall" I liked, but some of the others sounded forced and probably won't make it to your ears. I just wanted to see what would happen if I forced myself to write. I think I was finding that I had to let it come to me.

We didn't have a record player or a CD player, just a tape player. We seldom listened to the radio. I was going to a Bob Dylan fan club, which was held once a month at the Agincourt Hotel, until they had to move. I suggested they move to the Excelsior in Surrey Hills. After that they introduced me to people as " Nolan who suggested we move here". They loved the new venue. I only went to hear the music and to be inspired. I was, every time. Once they played a rare video of Dylan singing "one too many mornings" in the studio with Johnny Cash. It was amazing. Dylan was chewing gum furiously and sings with his "Nashville Skyline" voice. Everyone was excited about Dylans' upcoming tour of Australia but I didn't want to go see him play. I was worried he couldn't sing anymore and it would ruin the magic. Maybe I was wrong about that. I wished I was. I was organising a trip to the world cup in Paris. I had a ticket for Argentina versus Jamaica at the Parc des Prince in Paris. I was saving hard. My mum gave me the match ticket for my birthday. I suspect she may have regretted it because I had to borrow the airfare from her. I was waiting for an APRA cheque, which was late. I was so grateful to her for making it possible. It was a dream for me to see the world cup. I also felt the need to write some songs over there. I just had to go. Something was calling me there.

When I left I assured Morgan he had enough money to survive. I told him that when I got back he should take a long holiday while I worked. He did so much for me and my time to repay him was coming.

I left for France with my guitar.

... now read Chapter 4