Greg Dear’s band, The Beautiful Losers, have been reborn and will play their return gig this Friday, November 14, at the Astor Lounge with help from The Wine Dark Sea and Jill Birt & Alsy MacDonald. BOB GORDON checks in.
The era of The Holy Rollers and The Beautiful Losers: how long ago does it seem and what are your memories of that time?
Those days feel like yesterday sometimes and at other times like something that happened to someone else and I just read about. I still have very fond memories of our first set of Holy Rollers gigs at the Wizbar in early 1984. Marina from Black Plague had heard us rehearse and put in a good word for us with Andrew Masterson who booked the venue and he gave us one night to see if we could pull an audience. We put about 100 people in the place and he then gave us a mid-week booking for the next four weeks shifting to Saturday nights because the audience kept coming. I also remember the first gig we did in front of a larger audience. We did the support for The Triffids mid ’84 at a time when they were starting to really take off and their audience was much more than the small community of true believers who followed them through their formative years. The Shenton Park Hotel was packed beyond capacity – as venues would do in those days – and our opening number, Leonard Cohen’s Joan Of Arc, involved me doing a finger picking pattern. I was so nervous that I lost control of my fingers and ended up having to just strum the chords without a pick. By the end of the song I was bleeding from two fingernails but my nerves had settled and I was just loving the feeling of a playing to a packed room.
James Hurst (drummer in the Holy Rollers during 1984 until Flick Dear joined when the former went to Sydney with Chad’s Tree) had a similar issue with his snare drum patterns, so we ended doing quite a thrashy rocky version of Joan Of Arc by default and we liked the way it sounded, so we kept it that way from that point on.
I also have really fond memories of the Saturday gigs that we did with The Marigolds at the Shenton Park Hotel in 1985 – nervousness gone by then cause we owned that venue by ’85. We would headline one week with Marigolds supporting and then we would support them the next week and so on. We would later do a similar thing on Friday nights at The Red Parrot… I think with The Bamboos and The Stems, but I am a bit hazy on that – might have been Marigolds again.
Why did you seemingly stop making music from 1991 and then continue not to (publically, at least)?
The Beautiful Losers were a stable outfit across 1987 to 1989 with the original line-up, and when Errol Tout (guitar) and Russell Wilson (drums) left and were replaced by Tony Connor and Evan Briers we were stable through 1990. When Evan left we had a revolving door of drummers – something like five drummers in six months – so we lost our momentum and faded out in 1991. I was working with some of the younger, emerging bands in Perth – including two hip hop acts – helping them with demos and other recordings and I produced a few records with bands like A Month Of Sundays and I always intended getting my own band together again at some point.
I had a dance-pop band for a little while with Neil and Mark Preston from A Month of Sundays, but that was always designed to be a short-lived fun thing. We did reworkings of some Beautiful Losers’ songs in the style of Soup Dragons and Jesus Jones, and hip hop versions of Johnny Cash and Lou Reed songs – it was heaps of fun, and because I programmed all the beats using drum machines and samples, it avoided the need for a pesky drummer.
By 1994 I had a young family and needed to spend my time and money on sensible grown-up things rather than funding tours and recordings. I don’t know how it happened, but I never made a conscious decision to stop playing. It just turned out that it was 20 years before I thought I had better get back to it. Various line-ups of Holy Rollers and Beautiful Losers got together at my 50th in 2010 and played and I really enjoyed playing those old songs again. I’ve done the odd solo support spot over the years and guest appearances where I get up and do a few songs, and have been part of the Midfield Legends in recent years, a Fremantle Collective that plays special events. I played in a ’60s/’70s cover band with some mates from the footy club, playing private parties, but I thought it was well past time for me to get something more serious together, so here we are.
In revisiting old songs, what do they tell you of the young Greg Dear?
It has been interesting, really. I was always nervous about what people thought of my songs – did they like them ’cause the music fitted a particular scene – the musical part of my songs has fairly obvious influences in it, mainly the Lou Reed factor from what people tell me – or did they like them regardless of that? What I have noticed about my old songs, and hopefully this is true of my newer songs as well, is that the lyrics are good: sometimes joyous in an understated way, sometimes very dark and brooding, but always with some subtle humour.
I am quite proud of some of my songs in that way and I used to work very hard on the lyrics, often re-writing songs many times before taking them to the band, and even after rehearsing them I would adjust a line or two or spend ages looking for exactly the right word or phrase in a key line of the song before I was happy to record it. Looking back, I think I was much too serious in the ’80s, but the songs were better for that.
You obviously came to miss performing/recording and band life. How long had you been pondering a return?
Since my 50th in 2010 and the number of guest appearances and solo performances increasing since then. I think it was playing at the first Red Parrot Reunion that convinced me I should do this. By the time of the most recent Red Parrot Reunion earlier this year I had already started plans for this comeback.
First gig is Friday, what are the plans from here on in?
I am releasing two CDs – both compilations of vinyl recordings that were released in the 1980s and are now out of stock for some years.
One contains the more upbeat poppy songs – both radio friendly and grungy – and the other contains ballads. They’ll be available online before the end of the year.
I have also put together a three-CD pack containing both of those compilation CDS and a free CD featuring various demo recordings and never-released recordings, including some 1980 recordings that feature Alsy MacDonald on drums and the late David McComb on bass and acoustic guitar, as well as several other Perth musos from the ’80s and early ’90s. I hope to have this three-CD compilation pack available on Friday if the pressings arrive on time, otherwise we’ll sell from gigs and the website later this year. The three-CD pack costs less than buying both single CDs, so it’s great value!
We are available for normal gigging (the line-up also features original member, Cliff Kent, on bass, with Hurb Jephasun on keys and Shaun Hoffman on drums) and have some half-formed plans to play some shows in Melbourne next year. There are several other performers around Perth from my era and I think some gigs with those guys would work well. Several of those guys have expressed a strong interest in putting some gigs together and we are looking at dates and venues for January and beyond. I expect Friday to be mainly people from our age-bracket, but it would be good to get some youngsters there as well. In a very small way, there is some historical interest in this (laughs).