Icons: The Moodists
Dave Graney, Clare Moore and Mick Turner in one band? Yes, The Moodists had it all! PATRICK EMERY looks back with Graney and Moore at the cult ’80s post-punk band that spanned both Melbourne and London (with roots firmly in late-’70s Adelaide) and later included two members of Orange Juice.
Long before there was Dave Graney, musician, King of Pop, raconteur, iconoclast and the housewife’s choice, there was The Moodists. The Moodists lurched out of the ashes of The Sputniks, the Adelaide band Graney formed in the late 1970s with partner Clare Moore, Graney’s high school friend Steve Miller and bassist Liz Dealey (who would go on to form the sadly underappreciated Adelaide punk acts Acid Drops and Twenty Second Sect).
The Moodists were the proverbial punk square in the round hole of late-’70s Australian pub rock. While the Australian music industry was captivated by the spell of the sweaty, macho pub rock of The Angels, Cold Chisel and The Radiators that filled suburban beer barns, The Moodists danced to the beat of their own idiosyncratic drum. Taking their cues from Wire, Pere Ubu and the fuck-you DIY attitude of punk, The Moodists’ songs took a glimpse into the sordid and seedy underbelly of society and its many and varied colourful characters.
Having released a few records on Bruce Milne’s Au Go Go label, in the early ’80s The Moodists – by this time including Chris Walsh (ex-The Negatives) and Mick Turner (Sick Things, Fungus Brains and subsequently Dirty Three) packed their bags and headed across to the UK. Critical reception – including from the doyen of the English alternative scene, John Peel – was favourable and the band quickly found itself part of a sympathetic and accommodating post-punk scene. The Moodists’ debut long-player (and definitive recording) Thirsty’s Calling was released through Virgin in 1984.
By 1986 both Walsh and Turner had left The Moodists, with Orange Juice alumni Dave McClymont and Malcolm Ross filling in for the recording of the band’s last records. Graney and Moore retired the moniker, albeit continuing to unite on a series of Graney-led projects, including the White Buffaloes, the Coral Snakes, the Lurid Yellow Mist and the MistLY.
In 2004 The Moodists reconvened for a one-off show at The Tote for that venue’s 21st anniversary celebrations. With Graney and Moore busy on a raft of projects and Turner committed to the Dirty Three, opportunities for further Moodists reformations have been few and far between – until the call came to play the Melbourne leg of this year’s Dig It Up! festival.
You knew Steve [Miller] from Mt Gambier, is that correct?
Dave Graney: Steve and I were in high school together. Steve was in Adelaide by 1977 with a few mates, going to uni. I was working at the mill then. I was going to go to university, but I just didn’t in the end. I would’ve liked the experience, but the experience wouldn’t have been much different from my life, anyway, which was really lost to music and just getting pissed and going to gigs. My mates would come back to Mt Gambier occasionally and talk about seeing bands like Radio Birdman.
Claire Moore: I was going to those gigs in Adelaide. Radio Birdman played a lot in Adelaide. I’m in that footage from the Marryatville Hotel.
DG: Clare knows most of the members of the audience that the camera focuses on.
CM: We used to go to the Marryatville every week before [Dave] got there – and after, as well.
DG: Adelaide had quite a tribal rock scene then. Being a smaller scene, you went out and saw everything. And it was quite good if you were a teenager and you were drinking, because pubs were open til 2.
CM: And you didn’t have to show ID, either!
DG: So you’d go and see things that you didn’t much like, like The Angels or ...
CM: The Radiators!
DG: I saw them too many times.
CM: I saw Midnight Oil when they were just a pub rock band.
DG: I never saw them.
CM: But you saw Skyhooks and Jo-Jo Zep and the Falcons.
“The Marryatville had these columns you see in the Radio Birdman footage [that] every singer would use as theatrical props”
DG: Jo-Jo Zep and the Falcons were a different live band. They’d get into these terrific live boogies, this Frankie Miller song they used to do called ‘Ain’t Got No Money’. It was kind of like the Beasts of Bourbon in some ways – getting on this one-note groove. It was a head-banging tune. And the Marryatville had these columns that you see in the Radio Birdman footage, and every singer would use the columns as theatrical props. But there were also local bands, like Young Modern – they were the best. We saw them so many times.
CM: And The Flowers.
DG: They were the original covers band.
Before you formed The Moodists, you were in The Sputniks with Liz Dealey on bass. Was that band of any consequence?
DG: Well, it produced us, Patrick! We still see Liz occasionally, and Clare sometimes guests with Chris Willard in The Hired Guns, and we see Liz with those guys.
CM: Chris was in The Lizard Train.
DG: There was another fellow, Phil Costello – I haven’t seen him in many years. It was a frustrating group to be in because we had ambition far above our skills. But we always did really silly things, which we continued to do, like always playing in country towns. We went and played in Whyalla, Port August and Port Lincoln, and how didn’t die, I don’t know. We played in Millicent in The Moodists in 1981. We were supposed to do two sets, and the woman chased us out.
CM: She pulled the plug on us. She said was going to unless we played The Beatles. When we refused, they pulled the plug and they wouldn’t let us leave. We had headlights chasing us out!
DG: Didn’t she have curlers in her hair?
CM: Yes, and she was smoking.
DG: I think I had the stupid idea to play in country towns. I thought you should go and play anywhere.
CM: We nearly died a few times!
DG: We played in Bordertown...
“We were desperate to go on tour – we wanted to live the life.”
DG: We played in a shearing shed just outside of Mt Gambier. And Stuart Craig – he became Stu Spasm – he came down with us. It might have been his band Exhibit A. We played in a fucking shearing shed. We were partying, getting drunk and smoking weed in a fucking shearing shed.
CM: We were desperate to go on tour – we wanted to live the life.
What about Keith?
DG: I don’t think anyone’s ever played in Keith.
When you formed The Moodists, did you have any particular musical influences in the forefront of your mind?
DG: We were just barely hanging on. It was frustrating with our capabilities and our ambitions, and the world that we were in.
CM: We really liked Wire in the beginning. We covered a lot of their songs early on.
DG: The Sputniks in Adelaide used to cover a lot of tunes like Wire, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Arthur Connolly’s Sweet Soul Music, Blondie, 13th Floor Elevators, Chocolate Watch Band – any easy shit we could play. But we murdered most of it.
CM: We really like listening to Pere Ubu, but that was too hard to play.
DG: In The Moodists, our first record was [the 1980 7” single] ‘Where The Trees Walk Downhill’, on Au Go Go. I think I wrote a lot of the chords on it, but I never played guitar on it. I really liked the few Postcard records – Joseph K and Orange Juice. And I liked Vic Goddard and The Subway Sect. And then after Chris Walsh joined we used to go and see a lot of bands around St Kilda.
How did Chris end up joining the band?
CM: He was in The Fabulous Marquises. He just came to so many of our gigs, he ended up joining the band.
DG: The sound got heavier after Chris joined.
CM: And then Mick [Turner] joined after that.
DG: Most American hardcore I didn’t like, but we listened to Black Flag, and Pere Ubu before that. I remember Nick Cave coming to a drinking party in St Kilda, and he was carrying around a 45 of the Meat Puppets. Nick and Anita [Lane] were pretty influential on the way people behaved.
How long was The Moodists together in Adelaide before you moved to Melbourne?
DG: It was about 1979 ...
CM: We moved in 1979, as The Sputniks. The Moodists didn’t really form until 1980 or 1981.
DG: We put out ‘Where Trees Walk Downhill’, then we put out a single ‘Gone Dead’, then Chris joined and we did an EP, Engine Shudder, that came out in 1982. The EP and ‘Gone Dead’ were released as an album in the UK, and we went over there. They signed us up and we went over there and had a great time.
I’ve read you quoted as saying The Moodists weren’t really a Melbourne band, and even Bruce Milne has said that he wasn’t sure if you were weird or cool. Did you have any difficulties being accepted in the Melbourne scene?
CM: Not really – I guess Chris was the way in, especially the Seaview Ballroom scene, because he was already friends with Tracey Pew and the Birthday Party people.
DG: A lot of the people on the scene were quite welcoming types.
CM: It was also kind of the end of the Carlton scene, and we were going around trying to work out where we fitted in. You know how people think about what side of the river you’re on? That was really keenly felt back then.
How long had you known Mick Turner before he joined?
DG: We used to go and see his band The Sick Things – that’s how it happened.
CM: I think they opened a few times.
“A lot of St Kilda people were into heroin, and it was a bit boring. We were beer drinkers.”
DG: I tried to write about the experience in my book, 1001 Australian Nights: when you’re young, you imagine so much about your friends. When you’re at an age when you’re still becoming a person, you imagine each other and you encourage each other to exploit successful gestures you might enjoy one day. So we liked the way Mick played guitar. And he was in a funny scene of people. A lot of the other St Kilda people were into heroin, and it was a bit boring. We were beer drinkers. Some of the people were into acid, occasionally – not me, that was more Clare.
DG: So there was this little scene, and it seemed to be a claustrophobic village in St Kilda. And Mick and The Sick Things and Fungus Brains had a jocular, fun element outside of that. So it was a breath of fresh air in some ways. Later we learnt that they were all toffs from the private schools of Melbourne, but we thought they were all authentic.
CM: We thought they were all fungus brains!
DG: See what I mean? We imagined them. Later on you find out things are a bit different. But Mick is a lovely guy, and a great musician.
You mentioned Au Go Go previously. I’m assuming Bruce [Milne] was seeing you a lot in the early days of the band?
DG: We used to see Bruce over in Adelaide at Boys Next Door gigs. They put out records by strange, happening acts. And he distributed Psycho Surgeons – we saw them and The Lipstick Killers play in Adelaide, with Filth. That was an amazing experience. And he was working at Missing Link, which was a bit of a cultural hub.
You headed overseas about the same time as The Birthday Party, The Scientists, The Triffids and The Go-Betweens ...
DG: Our first gig was opening for The Go-Betweens. The Scientists came over a bit after us, and The Triffids after them.
Did you go overseas because you thought you’d gone as far as you could in Australia, or was it a hangover from that old cultural cringe when you had to go overseas to prove yourself as an artist – or did you just want to travel?
CM: It wasn’t a difficult decision – we just wanted to get out of Adelaide, then we wanted to get out of Australia. The scene here ... we couldn’t really go into the suburbs. The suburbs had pub rock, and I don’t think we would’ve fitted in there. And most of the booking agencies and major record companies hadn’t really thought of the idea of indie bands – it was all commercial rock at the time. There was really nowhere else to go. By the time we came back they had started to support independent acts.
“We weren’t interested in Cold Chisel or The Angels. Most Australian things we didn’t like.”
DG: Also, all of the interests were overseas. It was really quite an international time – we weren’t interested in Cold Chisel or The Angels. Most Australian things we didn’t like – and we wanted things to happen faster, and they happened faster overseas. You’d run into people like The Fall or The Gun Club, and it wasn’t that you were from different countries, you were from the same scene, in some underworld, and it was quite easy to get on with people. We were offered a gig opening for Chain at the Matthew Flinders Hotel, and it was a like a scene in a bar from F Troop – blokes punching each other. And we came from pretty rough places.
CM: We played in Millicent!
I’ve read that ‘Gone Dead’ was given Single of the Week in NME, but that record was released before you went overseas. How did it end up in the hands of an English reviewer?
DG: The Birthday Party – Tracy [Pew] or someone – took it over there. Those journalists would’ve gone to record stores like Rough Trade.
CM: We sent a cassette to Rough Trade and they weren’t interested, but passed it onto someone else, which was really lucky. And I think John Peel was playing it too, so we did a few John Peel sessions.
DG: Rough Trade were handling The Smiths at the time, and that took all their attention.
Did you put out [1984’s] Thirsty’s Calling before you went overseas, or while you were there?
CM: We recorded that over there, as soon as we got over there.
DG: That was done in an amazing studio. North London ... Australian studios were really five years behind. It’s mentioned by [producer] Joe Boyd in this book I was reading recently about studios in the UK. It’s in an old church. The two albums that represent us from that time, Thirsty’s Calling and [1985’s] Double Life, were both down there. It was this great stone-wall church.
And we had no attention from large record company ambitions – unlike The Go-Betweens and The Triffids, who had very ’80s sounds. Our record sounds like our band, in a great studio. It’s really rocking, and it’s really fresh.
CM: We were allowed by our record company to have Victor Van Vugt producing it. We took him over there with us. He’s gone onto great success as a producer, but he was one of the gang back then. We were lucky, because a lot of the other bands had to cop these big producers screwing around with their sounds.
DG: ’80s records sound horrible to me – younger people like them because they have this clean sterility that they find amusing; it’s kind of camp. A producer would say, “You have to do this to a click track because a radio producer will know if it goes out of time.” “You have to use a drum machine because radio DJs won’t accept anything other than state-of-the-art drum machines” – that’s how it was.
CM: It was quite horrible – though I didn’t have to go through that [as a drummer], luckily.
Are the stories of living in squats and Dickensian surroundings accurate?
DG: We never did that – we loved it. Our first experience was in West Hampstead.
“I love London. We had one-way tickets – we never wanted to come back.”
CM: We were in squats, but really posh ones! I don’t know how we managed that. The first one was The Go-Betweens’ … they were off touring and they let us stay in their place. I think Rowland Howard was on the top floor with Genevieve [McGuckin], and we were on the bottom floor – that was really nice. Not having to pay was great. But we did know other people who were in Hackney on the 13th floor of a horrible high-rise and stuff like that. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were only 24 so it didn’t matter that much to us. We were just quite happy to be in London.
DG: Talk to anyone now who’s living in London or New York, and they’re just hanging on for the experience of living in a celebrated city. I love London. I’d love to live there. We had one-way tickets – we never wanted to come back.
Did you think you’d stay overseas longer than you ended up staying?
CM: By the end of the 1980s we’d gone on to do something else Coral Snakes and White Buffaloes], and The Moodists weren’t around any more. We were living and working there, but our visas ran out and we had to leave.
DG: We came back in 1985 for about six months, and then weren’t back to the UK til the end of 1988.
The English music press is both notoriously fickle and patronising toward Australian bands. Did you get lumped in with The Birthday Party and The Scientists, and get spat out just as quickly?
CM: : There was a bit of that – there were references to Nick Cave in just about every review. I got compared to Lindy Morrison [of The Go-Betweens] a lot! But they did seem to like it. It was great playing in Europe, because they seemed to like us – especially in Sweden, Holland, Austria, Switzerland.
“We had no image makers. We were like The Replacements, who drank too much before they went on.”
DG: We had a lot like The Saints’ experience – there was no way in for an English person to communicate with us. We were bad at communicating. We also had no manager, no interface between us and the world – journalists did that. We had no image makers. We were like a group like The Replacements, who drank too much before they went on. We didn’t just talk about drinking, we did the drinking – if you have a good PR person, they can spin that to 100% authenticity that it must be respected. We were a very authentic Australian band who got drunk, played loud music, who didn’t really talk much about we did – all of which I think is very admirable.
How did you go when you went to the US in 1984?
CM: We played Danceteria a couple of times – that was amazing. They were filming Desperately Seeking Susan [starring Madonna] on the rooftop while we were doing soundcheck. We were told to shut up while they were filming!
DG: New York was still very scary then – Times Square was pretty scary.
CM: We were told not to use the subway, and not to go into Harlem.
DG: We played in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and LA, all of which were quite wild situations.
CM: Chicago was scarier than New York.
DG: Clare had to collect the money, and there were guns around.
CM: I think there were a few people with guns in that room – that was quite scary, but someone had to get the money.
“Anywhere you could buy beer anytime was a great civilisation to us.”
DG: It was quite scary, but we did feel at home with American music. We did like American music more than what Elvis would call ‘limey music’. I think The Replacements were playing at the Danceteria around the same time, and Chris was hanging around with Alan Vega. It was a really hot summer. You could buy beer anywhere – and anywhere you could buy beer anytime was a great civilisation to us.
CM: We were touring with Rue Polsky, who was a legendary booker of independent bands at that time. She was a great person, great fun.
Why did Mick Turner end up leaving the band [after Double Life]?
DG: You’d have to ask Mick that question. I don’t know. I think maybe he liked life in Melbourne better. I think he felt the harshness of life in London, but for us it was no big deal. Without lessening his impact, Steve [Miller] was very good too – Steve was as unique a guitarist as Mick.
After Chris Walsh left, you had a couple of guys [David McClymont and Malcolm Ross] from Orange Juice, and the band’s sound had changed significantly from where it had started out...
DG: I think it had gone back to where it had started out – Where the Trees Walk Downhill. It kind of went back to that direction. It was probably more of a reflection of my kind of interests.
So did the band just run out of steam at the end?
DG: I’m not sure really.
CM: I don’t know. I suppose it did peter out. Dave wasn’t really keen on doing anything for a while.
DG: I really like the last EPs [in 1985 and 1986] we did with Dave and Malcolm. Steve came more out into getting a really good guitar sound. Dave and Malcolm were very encouraging people – Malcolm Ross especially. I idolised his music before then, and it was a great privilege to play with him. It would be like getting to play with Tom Verlaine. We also got more involved with Louise Elliot [from Laughing Clowns] – it was great playing with her. It didn’t peter out in a sad way.
CM: It was more that all those people were involved in other things, so it became more of a recording band. Malcolm was moving around in different areas, so it wasn’t that we were a band as such.
“It’s hard to teach that to someone. It seems to be something that only The Moodists can do.”
DG: We cover a song [‘Jack of Diamonds’] on one of those records by a band called The Charlatans, a San Francisco band. We’d get these cassettes from Epic Soundtracks, who was playing in These Immortal Souls. He was such a guy with passion for music. The Moodists in St Kilda didn’t listen to a lot of music, we were just involved with the drama. So Epic turned us on to a lot of different music from the past that gave us different kind of musical experience. And the Creation guys were really into that whole mythology. So the latter period of The Moodists were full of really interesting things.
You’ve recently reinterpreted your material in Dave Graney and the Lurid Yellow Mist. Would there ever be a circumstance when you’d revisit The Moodists’ music without the rest of the band?
DG: I think we’ve attempted it, but it needs the rest of the band.
CM: It doesn’t sound the same. It has a unique sound.
DG: You can’t just dial some stuff in.
CM: Some of those songs things come in at certain places that only we know, and it’s hard to teach that to someone. It seems to be something that only The Moodists can do.
So who invited you to play Dig It Up!
CM: I think it was Brad [Shepherd from Hoodoo Gurus] – a man of fine taste!
DG: I think it’s a great thing The Hoodoo Gurus are doing. I’ve been so impressed by the way people have got into it.
CM: And we’re really glad Blue Oyster Cult are playing too.