The Struggle by the Beach

by Nolan Angell

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5

In the hospital foyer the first thing I saw was an old man in pyjamas on a public phone. He looked lost. He said, " I'd like a taxi to the Prince of Wales hospital please". A young security guard walked up and said, "Sir, you're already at the Prince of Wales Hospital." The old man hung up the phone and said, "I know you. You were in the army with me."

In the place where you check in, there was an old couple in front of me. The husband was being admitted. The nurse asked him questions. He was perfectly sane and talkative but the nurse asked him when he was born and his wife answered, "30th January 1931." The nursed asked the husband if he had any religion. His wife answered, "Anglican." She would not let him speak. I was humiliated for him but he put up with it very quietly; used to it, I expect.

Then the nurse asked me the questions. When she asked me about my religion I said, "no religion, but why do you ask that?" She looked a bit lost and said; "it's one of the things we have to ask." As I walked to my ward I realised what a stupid question I had asked. I just hoped I would wake up after my operation.

I got to my ward and chatted with the nurses. They are so helpful. They are incredible people, I love them all. When they finish their shifts and walk out past the smokers they look frazzled. I admire them for being so great inside the hospital. They must see some terrible situations. The doctors are good but the nurses are not recognised enough for their work, and they know it.

I hadn't had a shave since I left work and I was loving it. I hoped Morgan surfed after he dropped me off because the surf was cranking. He had recently taken up painting again which is good because he is a genius with the brush. He will be revered years from now if he keeps painting. Artists like Morgan make art important. He was putting together a collection of original greeting cards called the Windowbird collection. I was to put on my suit and get them in the shops. The idea was to sell a unique, hand painted greeting card that comes with a frame. After you read what was written to you on the inside, you put it in the frame and hang it. A good idea.

I wanted Morgan to paint a cover for a future album. Knowing his artistic temperament, I didn't tell him this. He has a past history of ripping up his paintings. It's his artistic way. He paints better not thinking about who will see his work.

They gave me an injection of something before the operation then wheeled me into the theatre. They gave me another shot and told me to count to ten. I think I got to two.

When I woke up I was in a bad way. I was completely out of it. I slowly realised the operation was over but the drugs were taking their toll. All at once I wanted to urinate, vomit and defecate. A terrible feeling. I must have been in some distress because some nurses came over and put a dish by my mouth in case I spewed. I was babbling nonsense and they gave me a shot of something and I calmed down. I then felt amazing and passed out.

The next time I woke up, there were nurses next to me saying, "Oh, you gave him too much. He's been out for over two hours." The other nurse said, "But he was speaking in Latin." Either the Latin I learnt in school was finally being put to use, or I was possessed by a Latin talking spirit. Either way, I had woken up and I was in immense pain. I couldn't feel my stomach or right leg.

They wheeled me back to my ward. As the drugs wore off the pain crept in. It was difficult to move and I thought, maybe something went wrong. The guy next to me kept telling the nurse he had "pain" and she'd give him drugs. I tried it too, and there began my addiction to 'Panadeine Forte'.

The ensuing night was very uncomfortable. I went to the toilet and passed out. The nausea was terrible. My only consolidation was the conversations with the nurses. Their caring manner is comforting. Morgan came in and brought me a surfing magazine and we talked for a while.

In the morning they kicked me out. I couldn't believe it. I could barely stand up. They gave me more panadeine forte. I said farewell to the nurses and hobbled downstairs. I spent the next two weeks nagging poor Morgan and being addicted to panadeine forte. It made me so cranky. When the pain had subsided and I didn't need the painkillers, I went to the doctor to get some more. I couldn't stop. The doctor refused to prescribe me any more. Thank god for that.

I walked on the beach and longed to surf. We discovered a restaurant called the 'Endless Plate'. An all you can eat place which became our new home. They had amazing salads, fruit, seafood, everything. Endless food all for only $6. We knew it couldn't last. It was always empty. Very sad considering you get a crappy McDonalds burger, fries and soft drink for the same price.

My sickness benefits had been approved until 2nd of January 1999. Three months away. I couldn't wait to recover and get in the surf and play music. Three and a half weeks after the operation I went to a girlfriend's place and smoked a joint. I was hesitant to do so because I was concerned it may affect the healing process, but I smoked it anyway. We watched Armistaad by Spielberg. It was crap. Spielberg is great but this was a so transparent and it didn't work. I heard that Kubrick re-shot an entire movie because he said; "it didn't work". Spielberg's films move too slowly for these times.

Mullens organised a photo shoot with a legendary photographer called Tony Mott. God knows how much it was going to cost us. I've seen his shots and I've not been impressed, but he's a great guy who's shot Dylan, the stones and everybody else. He looks like Ronnie Wood and tells great stories. At his studio I looked through his folio and thought, "these photos are really poor". But the shoot went well. It was just Morgan and I. The proof sheets looked good, but the proof sheets always look good. Wait until they get blown up.

We get pretty nervous at photo shoots. For this shoot, we just wanted it simple. I think Mullens had different ideas to us, about what looked good or 'worked'. We trusted his opinion though, after all, it's pretty hard to be objective about a photo of yourself.

We auditioned a drummer who had a Gretsch drum kit and played in a David Bowie tribute band. I thought someone who drummed to Bowies' songs would be compatible with us. He was a serious fuckwitt who demolished our songs. He couldn't play simple or quiet. I had to stop because I could not hear anything I was playing, just drums. I tried 'drinking whisky' and asked him if he could play a little bit quieter because we couldn't hear what we were singing and the microphones couldn't go any louder. He said he wouldn't be happy doing that and insulted us. We had been polite to him. It took us a few days to recover from that experience.

Morgan said, "fuck all drummers, let's do the duo again." I thought, 'great'. We started as a duo. Morgan played his percussion box well. The last time we did duo gigs the audience didn't really like it but we had practised a lot since then and had songs that suited a duo format better.

We did a gig at the Cat and Fiddle, just Morgan and I. We were supporting a girl called Kiara Browne. It went well but it was weird without the drums. "it's nothing new" got the best crowd response. It feels a bit empty without drums and at a small venue, if people in the audience are talking, you can hear them onstage. There were lots of people talking while we were playing. It makes you feel pretty bad and it's hard to overcome.

Mullens placed an ad for a drummer. I said to Morgan, "We just had one bad experience auditioning that dickhead. We've got to keep looking. We just haven't found the right drummer yet."

Kiara Browne rang us up. She's a fine singer and she said her drummer would be cool for us. We met him but he was more of a session drummer and charged $100 per show and wouldn't go on tour. I bumped into an old friend, Rupert, a great guitarist who played in a band called Little Hornet. He used to play in a band called "The Shed Men" in Brisbane. Little Hornet had an awesome drummer. I asked Rupert and his drummer to have a jam with Morgan and I but it never happened.

After the nightmare with the Gretsch drummer I decided not to take any shit from people I didn't know. We have to protect your music from other musicians with different ideas and taste. Give things a go, we thought. But if we didn't like it then we wouldn't stand for it.

It had been a while since the ad for a drummer ran and we were thinking about running another ad. We were getting a bit worried. What if we couldn't find another drummer? We were starting to think about drum machines.

A guy called Dominic Cutcliffe rang. He said he saw the ad for a drummer in drum media. He sounded like a good guy so we asked him around. He said he surfs at the Bra and knew where Fenton Avenue was. In our living room he played snare and hi hat with sticks while I played acoustic guitar and Morgan played acoustic bass. He could play so quietly, his feel was amazing. Only the truly gifted drummers can play quiet if they have to. We sounded amazing acoustically. We knew right away he was the right drummer for us so we asked him to join. We booked a room at sound level. It was pure magic. It worked right from the start. Best jam we've ever had. He knew exactly what to do. We got 11 songs down in that session. Hey babe, nothing lasts forever, windowbird, instrumental #1, drinking whisky, add them up and cry, I know, hey tomorrow, if only love was easy, I'm tired now and I always loved you. We jammed brilliantly. The Genes were back from the dead and soon the world would know it. That's what we thought.

Next week we rehearsed again and added, time is never wrong, the phone, 1 to 10, goddesses whores wives and slaves, the money song and memory lane to our repertoire. We jammed on 'I always loved you' for about 15 minutes. It gave us all goosebumps. If we could just repeat what we did in that rehearsal room, in front of an audience. My hands felt free and light on the guitar when we played with Dominic. For years they were fighting to get the right feel, now they were just flowing.

We felt the time was right for us to record a few songs. We were fresh, raw, and with Dominic our spirits were soaring. Mullens wasn't doing anything for us. I hadn't written a song since "I'll leave when the evening's over" and I felt I had to record before I could write more. I felt we had to do something. I wanted to book a studio and just go in and jam. Then pick out some good takes and add vocals and 'voila!' I felt we could do it. We had $2000 we were saving for the car registration and insurance, but it wasn't due for another month. I was sure we could somehow make it up later. So I booked Sony studios at Sony head quarters in Darlinghurst. I booked an eight hour session and a three hour session the next day, for duo songs. I booked the house engineer. I was going to produce. My plan was to record the band live, with no particular songs planned. I wanted to capture a moment and wanted to keep everything as live and fresh as possible.

We were so confident and on a musical high. My fatal mistake was not meeting beforehand with the sound engineer, I'll call him Mr No! Right from the moment we met him I knew we would clash. We were wrong for each other. He was the most unprofessional sound engineer I've ever come across. I tried to explain to him what we wanted to do, but he wouldn't listen. He'd just say 'no' all the time. All I wanted to do was have the drums, bass and guitar playing at the same time. Put me in a booth, d.i the guitar as well as mic it and record my vocals in case they are good. Then pick the good takes and overdub extras. A basic live set up. I made it clear we were after a raw low fi sound. He was totally jaded and couldn't cope with us. He thought we had never recorded before and assumed that as a producer, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. He said it would sound like shit. He brought down the session and killed off our confidence and high spirits with his negativity. After two hours of arguing with him he cancelled the session. We still had to pay for the two hours of arguing. It really angers me to think of how many other original bands he has ruined over the years. If a band comes in wanting to try something new and take risks, you help them. Mr No didn't know who we were, or what we sounded like, yet he wouldn't let us record how we had planned. I couldn't figure out how he was the house engineer for a big studio like that.

It was a horrific experience but it didn't completely dampen our spirit.

Morgan resigned from Fez. He left the mad chefs to their wine and worked at a small cafe in Maroubra Junction. They paid him $8 per hour. He mentioned to them that the award wage was $10 an hour and they sacked him. He was working there16 hours a week so when he went on the dole he got a pay rise. But it wasn't enough to pay for recording and car insurance. The Sony experience set us back a bit and a few unexpected bills came in. The recording was looking shaky.

I went to my school friend, Craig Mauger's house warming party in Newcastle. He lives with two other school friends. The highway to Newcastle was blocked because a motorbike rally consisting of 10 000 bikes had a pile up. What is normally a two hour trip, took five hours and it was so hot. There were cool beers when I arrived. We caught up on old times. Mauger had an old photo album. I got sentimental because there were pictures of the girls I had been involved with at school. I didn't like to see photos from my past. I liked to keep the memories in my head. The memories had changed but the photos had not.

Morgan and I were now totally caffeine free. Morgan quit coffee and tea but was still addicted to chocolate. But he gave that up as well. The world is addicted to caffeine and no one realises. I made my return to the surf but I had to ease back into it because my stomach wasn't completely healed.

We were desperate to play live with Dominic so we had a meeting with Mullens and it was fucked. He took us to an awful restaurant. We didn't get any business done. I sat next to a legendary guitarist called Phil Manning, from a band called Chain. He told me about his sword collection the entire time. We got no business done, and I'm glad we left early.

I met my Father's best friend, Dai Thomas. A larger than life, truly great person. He was on holiday with his family from Wales. I met him at the top of Centrepoint Tower. He filmed our meeting and I sent a message to my father. Dai Thomas has a thick Welsh accent and is enthusiastic about everything. Nothing is said without theatrics. It's uplifting to talk to him. He works as a prison warder in Wales, which must be hell. His kids asked me 101 questions about sharks. I told them to worry more about getting hit by a car and to start surfing in Wales.

We kept asking Mullens to get us gigs. We were sounding better than ever with Dominic and were desperate to get out there. He had been managing us for almost two years now and we had done very few gigs, released no new records, no record deal, no publishing deal, we had no distribution for the Sunshine pocket EP and we had not done a single interview in any form of media. It was fair to say that we were losing faith in him. We imagined he was losing faith in us.

Christmas was coming up and we didn't even have a gig booked for New Year's Eve. We used to do such great gigs on New Years Eve. I looked in the Drum media gig guide and it seemed like a million bands were playing around Sydney on New Year's Eve. Most of them, I'd never heard of. We really felt out of it and disillusioned. I decided to take a trip to Brisbane. I hadn't been there since we moved to Sydney and was keen to see my friends. Morgan didn't want to go. Instead he wanted to get a new surfboard. He didn't mind if I took the car, he just wanted to surf, eat and sleep. I left after lunch on Christmas day. Our family was so spread out. My mother in Darwin, my grandfather in Melbourne and my father in Wales. I didn't like being away from them at Christmas but I didn't want to sit around, I just wanted to hit the road.

I drove to Lennox Headland and slept with a million dollar view in the car overlooking the beach. I woke up with the sun to see a fantastic new swell that must have risen as I slept. Lennox is one of the world's best waves. I had never surfed it before. I got barrelled but cut my foot on the rocks and dinged my board.

As I entered Brisbane I called in to a bottle shop. I bought a bottle of scotch (Dimple), a bottle of gin, a carton of beer and some mixers. I called into to see my friend from school, Victor. I arrived before midday and we started drinking and catching up. I was really in the mood for drinking and partying. I drank nearly every night and day. I felt more at home in Brisbane than I did in Sydney. I caught up with my school friend Spanny (Daniel). Spanny was almost like a part of The Genes. He was in our original incarnation (the ripped genes) and had been on most of our tours as crew manager, rider manager and lighting operator. We used to hang out all the time and I had missed that. We played each other our latest songs and drank and went out a few times. At night I would go to Rics bar, in Fortitude Valley. We had played there countless times when we lived in Brisbane and it hadn't changed much. It's my favourite place to drink, but it's a difficult room for bands because it's so small and so hard to get a good sound.

I caught up with a friend who used to sing with us, Annie.

Before we left Brisbane, The Genes weren't very busy so we got a group together to do very obscure songs that we liked. We did it for fun. Spanny was in the group and Annie was the lead singer, she was stunningly attractive and had such an amazing voice. She was a joy to be around. We did songs like "A little less conversation" by Elvis, and 'midnight rambler' by the Stones. These were songs not many people at the time knew, we had a lot of fun.

I spent a bit of time with Annie during the week. We both realised we had strong feelings for each other.

New Year's Eve came around and I met Victor, Spanny, an old friend Bruce and a few others at Rics. Annie was there and it was a great night. It helped me to forget that The Genes weren't playing a New Year's Eve gig.

I left Brisbane the day on New Year's Dau.. It was difficult to say goodbye to Annie. On the road I kept humming this tune and lyric that came into my head; 'I can't believe there's lonely times, I miss your love".

Back in Sydney, Morgan had bought a new board but it was a dog. It's tough buying surfboards. You can never know what a board is like until you've bought it and ridden it. If it goes badly, then you just have to struggle on it until you can afford another one. I've had about nine boards in my years surfing and only one of them was any good. Morgan's never had a good one.

We put the recording on hold. We just couldn't afford it. I'd blown money on partying and Morgan's board wasn't cheap. I had to renew the car insurance. The date it was due was a Sunday. It was already 7pm on that Sunday and I hadn't made the phone call to renew it. I'd forgotten. When I remembered I thought, 'they won't be open now, I'll make the call tomorrow.' But Morgan said, "make the call!" So I did. They were open. They accepted my renewal of the insurance policy and told me I had 5 working days to pay the bill.

At 5 o'clock the next morning I woke up to the sound of very heavy rain. I went downstairs and saw that there was water coming through the front door. It completely covered my foot as I stepped in it. Morgan was still asleep in the living room, surrounded by water. I yelled, 'Morgan! Wake up! There is a flood!"

We carried all the musical equipment upstairs, but we didn't have time to save the stereo, the couch or the bed. By this time the water was up to our knees. It was a crazy way to wake up. I looked out the window. The street was flooded. Our car was almost completely submerged. Ten other cars in the street were flooded as well. We were in shock. It only rained for two hours but most of the eastern suburbs of Sydney had been affected by this flash flood. I was so lucky I made the call to renew the insurance. Insurance doesn't cover you in a normal flood but the flood in our street, was caused by a blocked drain right where our car was, so it was storm damage. I called the insurance company. It took ages to get through. I guess we weren't the only ones reporting damage. When I finally gave the lady my details she got suspicious. "Sir, you only renewed this policy last night. You'll have to come in to our office." I made an appointment and then began cleaning up. The water subsided as quickly as it came. The drain had unblocked itself. We began cleaning up. It smelt really bad.

The landlord kindly gave us two free weeks rent. And that's about how long it took for them to put new carpet in. The day after the flood a friend from Brisbane called and said she needed a place to stay. "Come over." I said. Then another friend called up. He needed a place to stay. No problem. For the next three days there were four of us in the bedroom upstairs. And the damp stench from downstairs was shocking.

We went to the insurance company and even though we had done nothing wrong they made us feel like criminals. They dragged us through our insurance history trying to catch us out for something. They asked me what I knew about meteorology. They said, "Mr Angell, It is extremely suspicious that you renewed your policy then 8 hours later your car is written off. However we have assessed the damage and we will pay your claim." We got seven thousand dollars, which, realistically is more than we could have sold the car for. We thought, 'now we can record an album.'

... go back to Chapter 1