Andrew Harper’s Hobart
Andrew Harper was asked by Clones and Clones to give his subjective introduction to the music and times of Hobart. The resulting essay poignantly chronicles Andrew’s social and musical surroundings. Andrew Harper is a long time arts devotee and dedicated contributor to Hobart’s artistic communities. Among publishing articles and performance installations, Andrew promotes the abrasive art that so often is only seen on the periphery.
So much of Hobart is hills. I walk an incline all the time. This is supposed to be about music but writing about music is dull, and it’s never ever true, even when it is – it can only be true for one person at a time. Just for me. Most of the time, when a person writes about anything, they write about themselves and why not? The world began when I was born, when my parents played records to me, when I watched Countdown, when TV was regional and there was stuff made locally, cheesy as it was it was my tiny Hobart world, all trees and winter and nothing ever happening. Nothing could be done, all there was to do was ride bikes and collect bottles. Take them to the shop and get 20 cents. Play a video game for ten minutes. Countdown every Sunday was a ritual. Everyone watched Countdown. I walked an incline, slowly moving up towards something.
The radio was very, very important, but so was meeting the right people, having friends who’d direct me, and so were accidents. I found community radio by accident and never ever looked back – I still have a show now, not so much about music, more about culture, and that’s okay. Things change.
But listening with bated breath to late night radio on so quiet; hearing tiny snippets of another bigger world and feeling as if I was inventing myself right there, that was important. Making friends and getting records, being allowed to buy things. Getting a job, getting a tiny pay, not really making a connection, staring at records and wondering what they sounded like, wondering still and taping things off the radio, scamming my way in and out of venues and pubs when there were several of them. I find the radio, I find community radio, I find Joy Division, I cannot stop listening to the radio, I make these friends, they have a car, we do boy things, we’re 16, we sit on a beach, I drive them mad, they drive me mad, I’m still friends with them, I’m so demanding, I don’t understand, I leave this school, I listen to the radio, I have to repeat a year, I meet girls, I’m 17, I listen to The Clash and The Cramps and become aware, for the first time of bands playing in my town and I go see them and it’s so fun.
It’s so fun to go see bands in your home town and they play songs they wrote.
I think the first thing was at the Fahan School Fair. The Cryptics played – private school kids playing at punk. They were greeted with derision but I stood there and danced and shook my hair around and drank beer secretly. I was a dorky kid and those kids seemed skinny and cool. I knew them all. Once upon a time. They weren’t very good, not really, but they were fun and I really, really needed it, somehow. It opened the world out to me, far more than anything else had or did or could have, and they were glad I danced. I’m still friends with them all, except Andrew, who is dead. I’m old enough for a few of these people to have died now. They do die, and they die young and sometimes there are drugs and sometimes it’s sort-of drugs, and sometimes it’s just bad timing. Or something.
The Philistines were the big band when I was about that old. They had some kind of garage vibe, some kind of psychedelic trip – you know, long hair, totally cool. I’m not cool and I was never a cool kid, not once. The bands seemed great; they gave me something to talk about for a while but that inevitably got boring the day I realized it was all talking in lists, all a game of ‘one-upmanship’ and a list of consumable items. I got cynical but kept my hand in and became more confident, more taking the piss, less mystified about these bands– they were just people.
The Philistines moved over to Adelaide, got a deal with a small record label. Their ace drummer, Konrad Park, didn’t go with them. They were never quite so good again but that may be my own conceit. Everything changes, and I walk slowly uphill to where I am now. The Pumpkins put out vinyl. I’m not sure who did it first. There was another band called Fern Chutney, they made a record I recall coming out, but so to must have The Innocents and there was other stuff I’m sure – it was just so hard to make a record. People did it of course, and there were demo tapes (The Philistines did one called ‘Reverberation’) but there is much left to remember them by, some bands only exist as flyers these days.
I was using drugs a lot then, mostly pot but pieces of other things, and drinking. Tasmanians are poly-drug users, which makes it all a bit wrong – they’ll mix things together and have little knowledge of safety, or did. It’s better now, I think, but I’m not really even in the drug scene much, nor would I wish to be. I think I’m damaged enough from it and I’m nothing compared to some others - and even they are not dead. Guy Lucas, singer and songwriter for The Philistines overdosed in 1998 and it closed something off for me – I was about to turn 30 and the mania was all over.
The arrival of the Devonport people was important, because, for good or ill, they arrived with hardcore. Something truly interesting was that Hobart, or the Hobart I knew, had missed hardcore – or I had, because all I would listen to was Australian music from about 1988 to 1992. I devoured that and NOTHING else, deliberately. I hung with catholic girls who liked The Smiths - not getting it one bit because I was into The Go Betweens and they were better, of course. There was a good moment somewhere there in the mid and early 90s. It was a fucking blur to me then and it certainly is now, but there was a lot of dressing up and a lot of bands and a lot of people jamming and a lot of drugs and drinking, except for the straight-edgers. There were bands, great bands. Mouth, Little Ugly Girls, Vertigo 3, Headcleaner, End Show, Fifty Million clowns, Rent Boy, and this isn’t counting all the metal and the first moves toward hip hop or some weirdo folk prog things that floated about. I loved Honeypet and they were fun. But they were more about context - as much of that stuff was. Context and being a Rock star; dressing up and being crazy and arguing all the time about ideas of what punk is, or should be. People were trying to start something that was so filled with different people.
The noise bands, like Human Host, turned up. They were people who moved down here for a while and went to art school. People came from Wynyard and Launceston and Ulverstone. All these people who were not from Hobart but had just ended up here when it was exciting play music and left all these moments of great fun. Fifty Million Clowns were all Hobart kids and I consider them now, the very best band of all. Imageless and egoless, they seemed to write exactly about their lives and about the town they were in – there was a small storytelling quality that I could never forget and has come to mean a lot more years later.
In many ways this was an awful, cliquey time that hurt a lot of people, but that’s interesting as well. In spite of any attempts I know Hobart can never ever be inclusive and that there will always be barriers, disagreement and difference. If there’s a music scene, and there’s a central theme to it other than the enjoyment of music and expression, then it will turn inward on itself as personalities clash. Goodwill gets dried up when people realise they do not want to start a band but just want to dance in a nice environment. During the period I describe, dance music came and basically changed the entire playing field and that’s mostly what people go and take part in now anyway. The clubs are as full as they’ve always been, fuller, and the pubs struggle to reach their 350 limit to a gig. I go to pubs and it’s packed, but pubs survive by doing lots of things and that’s how it will be – you go out and you eat. You might go see a band but you might sit in the front bar and ignore them.
Things change and change again. Bands broke up, bands moved away, people moved to Melbourne, people came back, things moved on. There are more bands now and the critical climate, partially fostered by the internet, has never been so alive and never been so open. There is certainly more of an interest in music itself, and not meaningless genres. The idea that bands will play with each other if they are simply good bands excites me. The climate is good, but there’s not enough venues There never has been. There are maverick elements at play, but there always have been. What I want you to know is that there is a history, and a legacy, and that it’s made of people; relics of lives, obscure bands and great songs that will only mean much to a tiny group of people, and to a small percentage of them. But it takes in moments of excitement, hundreds of nights out, dodgy behavior, sex and fumbling – fuck, I knew nothing about women but I found a lot of help through music. What I see is a dance of time and people irrespective of Hobart that might happen anywhere. There’s a healthy disrespect for the mechanics of the music industry that I have always been aware of and I cannot think why, but sometimes I suspect its sheer realism - what on earth is some kind of record label going to do with a ‘Tasmanian Band’? Market them how? - I guess some sort of link with landscape could be made but that will never ever work.
Right now, the view is so beautiful – the past shimmers with stories, the present seems so alive, so much promise – not of things changing or getting better but of things being much the same – parks of recognition and understanding, house parties where bands play in lounge rooms are just as great as huge sound systems, the whole tapestry is mad with something as huge as air – all these lives and devoted people singing and playing and making noise, sharing joy and making dreams up out of the air. The air is so fresh up here.
There will always be bands in Hobart and there always be arguments about them. Since I can remember it has been thus, but really this is not about them, or even me, but about the passing of time and the changes that keep things the same. All those shit bands were so fun to yell at, all those good bands were so great to dance to and the experience is what counts, the audience being excited, the songs being sung along to, the strange and silly people wearing costumes and being drunk and laughing and taking it all waaaay too seriously.