August 25, 2005

A History Of The Sky

I can't pretend to be an unbiased observer here -- Tactics was a large part of my life for a few crucial years in Sydney back in the late 1970's and early 1980's. For most of that time Angus and David were good friends of mine; I was even part of Tactics itself for a short troubled time. So treat what follows with the usual skepticism, and remember -- I was definitely an outsider in the world described here....

I think I first saw Tactics through the Particles connection -- I'd known various Particles people for a little while, originally through mutual friends based around a studio that later became a crucial part of the Tactics story. A bunch of us from that group were at my Abercrombie Street house and we all wandered down to the Royal, my local in those days, to see a band they knew who was playing there that afternoon.

From a distance it didn't sound too conventional: not punk, not straightforward rock, not what was then becoming New Wave, just a loud fast thrash with high-pitched singing, heavy drumming, and a generally frantic air about it all. I wasn't too impressed until we walked in and the sound -- and what was happening in general -- became clearer after a song or two. The singer -- wiry, frenetic, casually dressed in a slightly arty sort of way -- was singing about a "buried country" -- black blood on frozen ground -- words that were deeply evocative in the Redfern area of that time, but that didn't hit you over the head or reach for the cliches. The other guitarist (another skinny guy) looked vaguely familiar. Despite the general looseness, the songs seemed to hold together pretty well -- the singer's driven rhythm guitar got everything through despite the mess, and the drumming was sharp as hell. And while the music wasn't particularly complex, it wasn't plain old three-chord stuff either -- it had a lot of the same sort of odd progressions that I heard in my own head while playing, and the way the second guitarist played a lot of simple single- and double-note stuff against the singer's rhythm guitar worked well for me. I thought it was worth staying around for the rest of the show, even if I didn't much like the singer's high-pitched singing.

Then they started a cover of Paint It Black. Christ, I thought, a Stones cover... that does it for me, I'm going. But this version was fast, absolutely driven, with that signature airy rhythmic Tactics thrash that I later always found addictive. Shit, I thought, this is the way to do The Stones... shorn all of that smug ponderous Stones knowingness. And shit, I thought, that's a little brave -- an unironic Stones cover at a time and place (and sub-culture) where the Stones were almost universally despised.

The whole set left a good impression, especially the unforced Australianness of some of the lyrics. Even then there weren't too many people singing seriously about Australian stuff (beyond the usual kitsch or easy icons), and there seemed to be a general seriousness of purpose to the songs and the band as a whole that attracted me a lot. Too much Sydney punk and the then-developing post-punk was becoming too self-conscious, too ironic, sometimes even twee (at least for my tastes), and to see someone play a bunch of songs with serious lyrics that were unselfconsciously about Australia, art, words, the world (as well as love and all the rest) -- that was, sadly, pretty damn novel. And the music was addictively rhythmic and fast. And the entire band looked unpretentious, being dressed, well, like me -- nothing showy, nothing too interesting, nothing designed to grab attention visually. After a lot of the punk posturing of that time, that seemed a relief.

I hung around until the end of the set, and, since the Royal wasn't the largest place on earth, we all ended up talking. I met David Studdert -- the singer -- who was pretty off-hand about it all, and whom I didn't much like to begin with, and Angus, the other guitarist. It took a while, but it slowly dawned -- this was the same Angus Douglas I'd known back in Canberra a few years ago when we were both kids. Shit, small world. And shit -- a Canberra band. I had trouble believing the last part -- especially since they were pretty much all from down there. As was I, in some ways. How the hell had I missed them so far?

And that was it for a month or two. I don't think I really thought about them again until a bunch of us ended up back at Angus and David's place in Darlinghurst after a Particles gig and I unwittingly started a new phase of my life...

(An intermittent series of unreliable memories and fragments, a sub-thread of the broader Punk (and Later) thread):
The State Opresses
Making My Houdini
Second Language
The Sound Of The Sound


At 8/26/2005 2:28 pm, Blogger Phil said...

a terrific piece - captures the feeling of finding something new to perfection. are these posts safe, archived, whatever? if not i can add them to my 'memoires' pages as well.

At 8/27/2005 11:08 pm, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

Phil -- as always, thanks for the kind words. I've replied separately in email, but the upshot is, yes, the posts are (relatively) safe and will probably migrate to your site when the series is more complete...

At 9/01/2005 3:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hamish, thanks for the memory of that afternoon. You took me right back. It's almost Proustian! ( but Madeleine wasn't there) I was and you very accurately reflect the impact they had on me also. I have a strong mental image of the band in that particular place and time. I vividly recall them playing "7 & 7 is" (obscure '60's single by Love, Daves favourite band at the time) at a mad breakneck pace, Rover drumming like crazy( he is still drumming in the eternity of that moment) and getting through it without a mistake as far as I could tell. All that stuff about the unforced Australianess is spot on. Dave got that right and better than just about anybody since. Personally I find "Cattle and cane" utterly lame by comparison. The Oils make a better stab at it. Can't think of anyone else at the moment though I'm sure there are a few. Actually Skyhooks "Living in the Seventies" was the first time I heard it done well.
Thanks for the memoirs.

At 9/01/2005 10:25 am, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

"Hamish"?! Who's he? :-)

Anyway, thanks for the comments, "anonymous". And I'll leave off extending the Maddo-based puns just now (for everyone's sake)... I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about David's Love fandom in later installments.

At 9/25/2006 4:54 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Where should reviews of the Excelsior Hotel gigs this week be put?

At 9/25/2006 8:07 pm, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

Hmmm -- good question. I'd have said put them up at the Tactics MySpace page, but I'm buggered if I can find it right now... otherwise hold off a bit and we'll get another place prepared...


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