Irregular Writings: Getting the band back together

I was asked to do a show in Melbourne in August. A newly refurbished venue in St Kilda, an area that used to be the centre of raffish entertainment in Melbourne but hasn’t been exactly that for a couple of decades now.

This new venue is a classic St Kilda room, one of those hidden treasures, a dance hall that had lain unused and closed for decades until very recently. The sort of room people seemingly can’t think to build anymore. A mezzanine seating area over a big dance floor with sight lines for everybody. The people taking it over intend to turn St Kilda back into a nightlife go-to spot again. (I mean it is still a busy spot but more like a ski resort in the way it mixes millionaire sports and real estate promenades with backpacker rooming house party types. Super rich and super cheap side by side.) They mean to have music in the air. I was passed a note asking me, in dramatically worded terms to play an album from 1993 called Night of the Wolverine. I got back in touch and said, “Aah do you want the songs or do you want the band who played the songs with those songs too?” I asked this because they were all my songs. I wrote them, like most of the songs I’ve recorded over the years. The answer came back positive to the latter – the songs with the band who recorded them playing them. Dave Graney ‘n’ the Coral Snakes playing Night of the Wolverine. Things went back and forth, mainly with me positing that I find shows where artists play a particular album kind of uptight and all buttoned up and suggested we do a set of songs from other albums as well. I mean, we hadn’t played since the end of 1997 so it was going to be a feat to reconstitute the band in the first place without racing onto the set list first. We proceeded with this strategy. The band was myself and Clare Moore. We had been playing music together in the Moodists for quite a number of years before we started the Coral Snakes in London in 1987. The London band was Gordy Blair on bass, Malcolm Ross on guitar and Louis Vause on piano. We put out an EP and then Clare and I recorded an album in Melbourne with the White Buffaloes who consisted of myself and Clare Moore with Rod Hayward on guitar, Chris Walsh from the Moodists on bass and Conway Savage on piano. Conway left to join the Bad Seeds and Clare, Rod and I went to London in 1990 to record an album called I Was the Hunter And I Was The Prey with Malcolm, Louis and Gordy. Things happened and we ended up back in Melbourne where we played as the Coral Snakes with Robin Casinader on piano. Another album called Lure Of The Tropics came out. A wild, live album. So it was late 1992 that Clare, Rod, Robin and myself recorded Night of the Wolverine. I was flat busted and paid for the recording to be made, thinking it’d be the last thing I’d ever try as a player, I wanted to be a songwriter for other people. We recorded it quickly and then the damn thing actually hit with people. Too strange! I struck people as funny and cool but I was really like a dude with post-traumatic stress – I was just barely coping with the joke as it played out! We worked with a major label and had a few years of major public exposure, the most I’ve ever had. This was me and Clare with Rod, Robin, and Gordy Blair. Now in 2015 we had this invitation, this offer to play a show. I got in touch with everybody. I asked Gordy, even though he didn’t play on the album. We all went through a lot of firefights together, so it seemed right to get the whole team together. After a brief consideration, Gordy took himself off the project so it was me, Clare, Rod and Robin who gathered in a rehearsal room in Melbourne in June. Our bass player in the mistLY, Stu Thomas, knew most of the material so he was ready to be standing in on bass. We went back to the 1993 arrangements and played through all the material. Of course it was spooky and powerful. In the years since 1997 I’ve become a guitar player/singer but back in this situation I just put on a cape, hold a mic and sing. I hadn’t really been inside a lot of those songs in that way for a long time, it was powerful for me. The band is a real sleek machine. The Moodists were rough and had huge grunt but the Coral Snakes had torque, curves, deep tints and sheen. Great to be playing with old friends, too. It turned out that the idea to concentrate on that one album made it easier to approach the band; it had been a different experience for all of us. Clare, Stu and I have lived with performing a lot of songs from that period in the mistLY. For Rod and Robin, it was a case of really getting back on the horses. As in many musical situations, you found it was good to have some limitations. Word got out about the show in Melbourne and now we are playing in Sydney and Newcastle in September and Adelaide at the Crown and Anchor on Saturday, October 24. Be seeing you. @davegraney

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