Seminal ’90s Perth band, The Rosemary Beads, play a 20-year reunion gig at the Astor Lounge this Saturday, February 21. BOB GORDON walks down memory lane with vocalist/bassist, Gretta Little.
Describe the origins of the Rosemary Beads. I recall Tim Underwood (vocals/guitar) had a vision during an overseas holiday that quickly became a reality upon his return?
Tim and I had played in a couple of bands before the Rosemary Beads, Charlotte’s Web and then The Northern Lights. The Beads were playing with a bass player, Dave Cohen, who left to go overseas and Tim asked me to play then. Cathi Smith played on viola at that time and Cam (Munachen) was the drummer when I rocked up. I’m not sure how long they’d been playing together when I joined, not long. I don’t think they’d done any gigs.
Did it evolve into something else upon embarking on the adventure?
I think after Cathi left, the band really started to get the sound that people associate with the Beads. Cam and I had heard a rumour that we were the worst rhythm section in Perth – which was possibly true. So we basically locked ourselves in a room for a month until we could play and it was after that we played our first gig as a three-piece. And it did evolve from there, I think the tension in the band pulled the music to places none of us intended it to go entirely. But that was good.
The songs always seem to mix the rights amounts of pop melody with a menacing undertow. Was it an easy or difficult balance to maintain?
It just seemed to happen. I think that was the natural chemistry of the band. Sort of the sum of more than all the parts. Sometimes it got a little too bitter and twisted for me. I felt a bit restrained by that at times – but then I did bitter and twisted just as well as the guys.
The single from your third and final EP, I’ll Come When I’m Good And Ready, had contentious title for the time. Worried About Fucking was a great, edgy pop song that was very catchy. In retrospect did calling it that kick the band in the shins a little when trying to get airplay or mentions in the larger, mainstream press?
I think we kind of had the attitude of ‘we’ll do it our way’, rather than doing stuff to be more commercial or playable. Sort of, ‘if you don’t like it tough because we do’. Tim wrote that song, but I’m not sure what you could’ve changed that word to … worried about making lurv doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
I think we would have been more successful, the band kind of had that sort of trajectory, but I wasn’t going to hang around that much longer to find out.
My memory is that there always seemed to be a tension in and around the group; however, do you think this benefitted the band creatively?
There were a few tensions in and around the band, personally and musically. And yes I think that manifested in the music in a good way. We all liked slightly different music and so pulled each other in different directions. I think even who was writing or singing created a slightly competitive edge that spurred us all on. But we all wanted to be good, we all shared that – we enjoyed being good at what we played as well as good as a band.
The end of the band in 1995 was complex – you left; there was a new line-up… then Cam tragically passed away from an overdose. Did you ever really think the day would come when another Rosemary Beads show would occur?
I never thought Tim and I would do a gig together again. We ended up in very different places after the band and we hadn’t been in touch for years until Tim suggested a gig a few years ago. So no, I didn’t think it was a possibility. My children were little when he first asked and the thought of playing the bass every day was not an attractive prospect, so I’m glad he asked again last year. And as it turns out, 20 years seems a fitting time for a reunion show. And it will be 20 years nearly to the day we last played as a three-piece at the Harbourside.
Cam’s funeral sticks in my mind as one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. So many friends in the prime of their lives utterly devastated that he was gone. To me it seems a show like this pays tribute to good times and memories and a bit of a salute to someone who’s been missed and fondly remembered for a long time. Is this the feeling for you?
There’s no way of getting around the sadness. At the same time, the lovely thing about the gig is remembering Cam. We’ve been discussing his drumming on different songs. Waz (sit-in drummer, Warren Hall) has come up with a few things I’d forgotten that Cam did from listening to the songs. And we’ve been sharing stories about him – he was funny, he made us laugh and he was a great friend.
His family are really lovely and it’s been very special to be in touch with them again, sad and special. I’m really pleased they’re coming to the gig. We’ve created an audio visual tribute we’ll show just before we play.
The CD that’s been pressed with the three EPs put together in album form really stands the test of time. Light/shade/darkness that the likes of REM and My Bloody Valentine were renowned and celebrated for. It must feel good to know that time has not wearied those songs…
I’m glad you still like the songs. I still like them and I’m surprised how much I’ve enjoyed playing and singing them. I thought some of the more angst ridden ones would be a bit hard to relate to – but they’re fun, full of emotion and fun to do.
Is there anything you’d like to let Rosemary Beads fans and friends know?
Thanks to the people who liked the Beads, it was great to play for people who enjoyed the music. I’ve been enjoying the Facebook page as well – people sharing their enthusiasm for the band. There’s lots of great memories in that.