Quincy McLean: From Scrap Museum To SLAM
Before he was one of the faces behind Save Live Australia’s Music (SLAM), Quincy McLean played in two important Melbourne punk bands: Blue Ruin and its predecessor Scrap Museum, which is commemorating its 30th anniversary at The Tote tomorrow (February 23) as part of national SLAM Day. Words by PATRICK EMERY.
Quincy McLean was sitting in the front bar of The Tote with his wife Helen Marcou, watching Persecution Blues – Natalie van den Dungen’s documentary of the downfall of The Tote – when a serendipitous thought occurred to him.
?We realised the first Scrap Museum gig at the Tote was also the date of the SLAM rally, February 23,? McLean, the former lead singer of legendary Melbourne band Blue Ruin and co-conspirator of SLAM, says. ?And Helen said that made the SLAM rally the 30th anniversary of our first gig at the Tote – so we should probably do something on that day.? Fortuitously the Tote’s dance card was clear that night, leaving McLean and Marcou with the perfect opportunity to combine the anniversary with the national day of support for live music. ?It seemed like too bizarre a coincidence,? he laughs.
McLean had formed Scrap Musuem in 1982 while studying painting at Swinburne University. ?We had a little house by a railway track in the suburbs, which actually faced onto the railway track,? he recalls. ?A friend of mine, who was in another band, and I set this place up, so we had two bands rehearsing there. It belonged to a factory, and we managed to convince them to let us use a room each. We set up this dumpy little rehearsal space. It cost us about $20 each a week between the two bands.
?At the time we had five members of the band – Conway Savage, Andy Crowder and Rick Ferrara, as well as Mulaim Vela and myself – so that worked out as two bucks each, but we ended up getting kicked out because we couldn’t afford the rent,? he jokes.
McLean knew Vela from school, while Savage was recruited after a chance encounter at the Tiger Lounge in Richmond. ?We were looking for a bass player, and he said he knew one. The bass player didn’t turn up, but Conway did. We weren’t really looking for a keyboard player, but he ended up staying with us for about 10 months.?
The five-piece line-up of Scrap Museum ?imploded? around this time (Crowder had been replaced by Simon Dory in mid-1982) and by 1983 the band had evolved into a trio: McLean on bass, Mulaim on guitar and Frank Borg on drums. ?That was the core of the main line-up until it morphed into Blue Ruin. [Former Birthday Party drummer] Phill Calvert Phill Calvert sat in with the band in its last 6 months or so,? McLean says. ?It was around the time that Phill officially decided to join that we changed the name to Blue Ruin. The ensuing Blue Ruin album documented a shift in direction for the band.? Adam Learner, who would form part of the original Blue Ruin line-up, took over McLean’s bass duties so McLean ?could focus on song writing and drinking?.
In hindsight it’s easy to see Scrap Museum as the prototype for Blue Ruin. Steeped in the post-punk tradition, and laced with blues sensibility, McLean describes Scrap Museum as ?a lot simpler and rawer? than Blue Ruin eventually became. ?When it started out it was definitely a post-punk thing,? he says. ?We probably had English influences – Joy Division, those English post-punk bands. But it evolved pretty quickly – post-punk, blues, very much that Melbourne sound.?
Scrap Museum played their first gig at the Seaview Ballroom in Melbourne in early 1982. ?It was actually pretty easy back in those days to get a gig,? McLean recalls. ?The whole post-punk thing started out at this little venues around Melbourne, like Bernhard’s in La Trobe Street. Because we were frequenting all these venues, we were pretty well known in these places. So when we started the band, we told [former Missing Link owner] Nigel Rennard who was booking the Ballroom, and he told us we had to play there.? Scrap Museum’s second gig at the Tote – at that stage still known as The Ivanhoe – was populated with other now notable members of the Melbourne post-punk scene, including Dirty Three members [Mick Turner](/icons/4117927) (Fungus Brains) and Jim White (People With Chairs Up Their Noses).
From the outset, Scrap Museum was demonstrably a band focused on playing original material, rather than the usual blend of covers common to many young bands. ?For our first gig we played about nine songs, all originals in about a 45-minute set,? McLean says. ?We only ever played originals – except for a gig with a later line-up out at Swinburne College, for the Swinburne Bike Club, where we played to a group of would-be bikers, who were probably worse behaved than real bikers. For that gig we did a cover of ?Born to Be Wild?, but in a very raw, post-punk, crude sort of way – that was kind of fun,? McLean laughs.
Scrap Museum found themselves playing alongside such iconic acts as Moodists, The Laughing Clowns and The Go-Betweens, as well as landing a series of notable supporting gigs for touring artists like Jonathon Richman and The Dead Kennedys. ?Jello remembers that gig to this day,? McLean jokes.
As well as studying, McLean was working at an aged-care facility, from which he would generate inspiration for both his lyrics and his paintings, as well as his fledgling band’s name. ?Some of the songs were about dark subjects, like old people decaying,? McLean says. ?It’s definitely a post-punk thing to not sing about pretty things, but sing stuff that’s relatively real. And that’s partly where the name Scrap Museum came from – old people’s home with old people on their way out, but it felt like a museum full of decaying people. That’s a pretty dark subject!?
The Scrap Museum repertoire included ?Chopping Block?, the somewhat morbid tale of a Depression-era child whose parents were unable to find the money to feed him, so fed the child his own pets. ?That was inspired an Ivan Durrant piece – he did a film called Chopping Block, where he had a bunch of people to dinner and invited them to prepare their own meal. But he didn’t tell them that they’d be eating pigeon, and they’d have to decapitate the pigeon at the dining table, before it was cooked,? McLean says. ?It was pretty gruesome – but he was right into making statements – and that was consistent with the whole punk mentality.?
By 1985 Scrap Museum – now including subsequent Blue Ruin members Phill Calvert and Adam Learner in their ranks – had morphed into Blue Ruin, taking from its progenitor band at least half the tracks that would appear on Blue Ruin’s debut album, Such Sweet Thunder. Blue Ruin would go onto become one of Melbourne’s most popular independent bands, before entering a semi-permanent hiatus in 1995.
McLean and Marcou went on to open Bakehouse Studios in Richmond, a recording and rehearsal space used by countless local artists. In 2010, with The Tote’s [sudden closure](/news/3845158) sending tremors through the local live music scene, the pair became the almost accidental leaders of the SLAM movement cobbled together to raise community awareness of the threat to live music.
Two years after 20,000 people [marched through the streets](/articles/3882468) of Melbourne to support live music, SLAM Day will run nationally, with over 100 gigs scheduled around the country to celebrate live music tomorrow (February 23). To commemorate the occasion, Scrap Museum’s ?middle period? (McLean, Vela and Borg) will reform alongside punk legends [Primitive Calculators](/icons/3505595), Teenage Libido (featuring McLean and Marcou’s teenage son Angus) and Beat Disease.
?To me that ?Little Bands? scene that Primitive Calculators were part of is very much in keeping with SLAM, which is very much about grassroots and small venues,? McLean says. ?We see that as the feeding ground for the future of live music. Primitive Calculators contribution to that scene makes them incredibly important in that regard. And also their creativity – the fact that they picked this style of music that no one else was doing, and created a sound that’s influenced people in pockets all over the world.?
While the 2010 rally provided an overwhelming indication of community support for live music, and provided the catalyst for the former Labor Government’s intervention in the liquor licensing regulatory drama, McLean says there’s every reason for live music fans to keep up the pressure.
?SLAM is very much an awareness campaign. I believe that anyone who doesn’t frequent small live music venues is really missing out because there’s so much great stuff that’s happening out there, and it’s evolving very quickly. In a little music club you’re getting people really busting their guts and they often rise and fall during a performance. The intimacy, the sweat, the social interaction you get in small venues – I personally believe it’s fantastic, and you don’t get that in big stadium gigs or even in digital social media,? McLean says.
?And there is a cohesion in the live music community – I think that SLAM proved to governments that we are a strong community, that we can be united, and that we have needs.?
?We had a little house by a railway track in the suburbs, which actually faced onto the railway track.?
McLean points to a [report](/news/4308043) commissioned a couple of years ago that estimated the value of the Victorian live music scene at around half a billion dollars, and annual attendances greater than aggregate AFL crowds, as compelling evidence of the social and economic importance of live music. ?These are serious figures, and governments are starting to sit up and take notice.?
He also suggested initiatives could be explored, such as a ?cultural checklist?, which could involve live music in regulatory and planning decisions, and a code of practice for music venues to assist in supporting local musicians. McLean points to [recent changes](/news/4379954) to liquor licensing arrangements that place responsibility on venue owners for offensive behaviour of patrons. ?Laws like that can be very dangerous,? he says, ?because law makers don’t realise the potential, and unintended consequences if the laws are implemented poorly.?
McLean hopes national SLAM Day can evolve into an annual day of public support for live musicians. ?I’d like to see this day as a really special day for musical awareness. I’d like to see people turning up to gigs with a special gift of appreciation – maybe a set of drum sticks or a plectrum, or even a bunch of flowers? All the horses have a special birthday, so why not musicians??
####Scrap Museum perform at The Tote in Melbourne tomorrow (February 23) as part of national SLAM Day. For more listings click [here](/news/4428955).