Live at the Rose of Australia
The story of ‘Stinky Taylor’ begins historically, with the ethnography of rhythm and blues, its eminent grass roots appeal, and its genesis, juxtaposed somewhere between the musical traditions of the West African slaves of the 1600s and their eventual interaction with the socially and politically repressive European settlers of the northern lands of the Americas. This is the era of the Afro-American work song, the field holler, the spiritual, the Mississippi delta blues, and subsequently the platform for ‘blue’ poetry and its associations with the philosophical symptoms of melancholia and depression, a concept that is formally initiated into white society by American writer Washington Irving in the Elizabethan era.1
Through the intermediary channels of a dark and smoky public bar in Melbourne’s western suburb of Williamstown we enter the world of ‘Stinky Taylor’, and within the exordium of an opening statement the mise-en-scène is crystallized with the receptive words, “Welcome to Stinky Taylor’s lounge room”,2 uttered by the official charge d’affaires. What follows is a collection of familiar tunes that have over the years been enthusiastically interpreted by a countless number of Australian popular artists, and a repertoire that represents the many facets of R&B. The airwaves are assaulted by a culmination of the blues, country, rock and funk elements of Johnny Winter, Dr Feelgood, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and James Brown.
The band is typically the combo representative of this blues derivative,3 which includes a vocalist supported by electric guitar, electric bass, and drums, as well as a series of mystery audience participants, demonstrating the obvious spontaneity of the event and the aleatory methods that predominate. An illusory figure in the crowd marks his presence with undeniable mixed signs of either being artificially self-possessed or just naturally self-assured. He surprisingly proceeds to enter the physical space of the musicians, what is merely a zoned edge of the cheaply carpeted and dimensionally deficient public bar. Sonny (as we shall call him) then produces a harmonica, a microphone, and a cable out of a leather pouch, and connects himself to the sound system, therefore interpolating into the performance to an unavailing response from the band.
With the sudden addition of ‘Cher’ on background vocals, this certainly proves to be a band of the talented and the talentless, with the habitual coexistence of both highly skilled virtuosic improvisation and elementary (kindergarten born and bred) accompaniment, musically coordinated by an enigmatically perplexing system of signals and nods. The audience, more preoccupied with the general energy of the ‘night out’ is indifferent to the pedagogic or conjectural musicality of the event, and reacts naturally to the pulse of the music with body movements that encompass all types of body swaying, foot and hand tapping, characteristic freeform (but sometimes choreographed) singular or plural actions that include drinking, smoking and talking, or simply evoke their most supreme contemplative and reflective pose. On the conclusion of songs, approval is expressed by loud whistling or shouting, with the conservatism of the spongy clapping style and ‘bravo!’ proclamations of art music performances clearly out of place.
The psyche of the public bar is certainly far removed from the prevailing family atmosphere of the lounge bar, and is obviously the domain of the seriously dedicated drinker, although it is a male-dominated environment that accepts women prepared to assimilate. Within an hour or so the mood is consequently vibrant, and a state of almost religious euphoria is amicably embraced by all participants.
Working class idioms are articulated within the lyrical confines of the songs, and famous phrases such as, “You can’t always get what you want”,4 hit the philosophical core of this victimized and deprived social set. The audience sings along wherever these kinds of opportunities arise, and the inability to mumble the exact words acts as no deterrent. As the night progresses, it becomes evident that the band is synchronically participating in this excessive consumption of alcohol, and the ensuing ritual creates an air of duality, a mutual celebration of life, with its many downturns forfeited to the edge of the abyss.
From the onset of the ‘Stinky Taylor’ interview with guitarist Greg Jordan, that actually takes place a week after my initial reconnaissance mission to the ‘Rose of Australia’, it becomes briskly evident how an academic catechism in this particular setting will result in the encounter of two alien worlds, and hence an intellectual collision of two planes of aesthetics. Having also received a cataclysmic premonition about the anticipated blood alcohol levels of the participants by the second set, the realization sets in that esoteric issues will hereon be received with nothing more than contemptuous and sarcastic humour. In spite of this impending fatal precipice, faith in the proverb In vino veritas5entertains the notion that perhaps inner truths will be revealed, and that the normally rehearsed and stereotype nature of what is generally but appropriated phrases of wisdom, will in this occasion not disfigure or mask the real archetypal face of the ‘public bar’ performer.
The mood of the moment is suitably depicted by Jordan’s opening statement, where in response to my introductory discourse he suggests, “I think if you’re talking music, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. We’re probably more of a freak show than anything else, and that does include the audience.”6 With the actual description of the music that follows, Jordan propitiously transcends the predicted boundaries of communication. “It’s mainly a rock n’ roll, rhythm and blues sort of style thing,”7 he says, “Nothing too classic, nothing nutritional. It’s very much drinking music I’d say, it’s just a real pub band.” He then adds in jest, “You couldn’t see the band in a concert situation I don’t think at all, we’d be ripping people off (laughs), including ourselves. So yeah, it’s really a pub band, it’s an easygoing thing, and we just have a few drinks.”
With regards to the organizing principles of the music Jordan notes, “It’s really slack, and it’s got me **** how it does come together on the night, but it usually does. But we’ve been playing the same stuff for a little while, so everyone kind of just keeps an ear out, and an eye open, and we generally kind of tend to finish roughly around about the same time, and also roughly in the same key. So it’s just an awareness-thing amongst the members (chuckles).” He then explains, “I think we’ve just gotta keep aware of each other’s movements. But having said that, of course, the stuff is very simple, three or four chords. So it is a little difficult for the experienced muso, or the semi-experienced muso, or the enthusiast to kind of go too far wrong. And if we do go wrong or make mistakes, it’s no big deal anyway, we just keep carrying on, and see you at the finish.”
“So you obviously do not dedicate a lot of time to rehearsing prior to your performances,” I dexterously state, to then have this most unquestionable deduction confirmed by Jordan, “Oh this band’s a real casual sort of thing, it just sort of happens that we don’t like to rehearse if we can help it.”
Looking around the room the paradoxical question arises, “How does the band actually perceive its performance environment, and its inordinately animated communiqué with the hoi polloi?” What are the general characteristics of its audience? “A very, very, very, very varied one, it’s very varied. From your old drunks, to your young drunks, to your middle-aged drunks, and quite a few in between as well,” says Jordan of the following that ‘Stinky Taylor’ currently attracts, “But no, we do actually have a varied selection of people. You get some passers-by, some blow-ins who just pop in. You know, they might stay for a set and really enjoy it, they might stay the whole night and be back next week, or they might piss off and you never see them again, that’s cool.” He continues, “So there is a sort of a walk-in, walk-out crowd, and also your regulars. We do have quite a few regulars who for some reason really enjoy the music, and enjoy the energy that’s created, and the vibe and stuff. But look, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t give a bugger8 who we attracted, but I think the more the merrier!”
The question remains, ‘What is the magnetic force that brings them back again and again to recapitulate this unsavoury nightmare in the first place?’ Jordan sheds some light on the issue, “The covers-thing is a bread-and-butter thing, it’s a night out. And it also enables me to stay out of the factory, and you know, work like a bloody dog! It enables me to have five days free time, to write songs, and to do what I do best, and to do what I love to do.” He continues, “And some of the gigs are a bit rough around the edges I ‘spose (chuckles), but it doesn’t matter, they still come up with the money at the end of the night. It pays the rent, it pays the bills, so it really helps out.”
And what of the band’s dreams and aspirations, and its future perpetuation? “I think generally in life, the thing is to follow your bliss. That’s probably the best advice I ever received, and by that I mean of course to follow what you really wanna do, and to have fun doing what you wanna do,” says Jordan, “And I’m certainly not doing that here, but I am to a point enjoying myself.” In accord with the operative physiological self-analysis he concludes, “It’s a social thing for me, and I think probably for the other guys in the band as well. For me it’s a great night out, Friday, Saturday nights, and getting paid to go out I think is fantastic! So really you’re getting paid to get out there and drink, and meet people, and that’s not too bad an existence.”
A retrospective analysis of the ‘Stinky Taylor’ phenomenon undoubtedly presents an array of socio-political concepts, as well as visionary ideologies introduced by the spiritually ephemeral transmigrations of the audience.9 In a denial process of an existence devoid of ‘great expectations’, the performers and their spectators ingest the raw energy of this drug- and alcohol-induced Utopian getaway, together feasting in Romanesque fashion on the ideological comestibles of the hour or simply the pièce de résistance of the moment. The musical sounds merely intended to provide a temporary haven from the maxims of the suburban life cycle (a pandemic of the twentieth century), with its executors acting as either go-between ecological and cosmological insurgents or therapeutic ritual specialists.
Official statistics suggest that an average of 89.8 million dollars is spent annually on entertainment in Australia within its 2,074 pubs, taverns and bars,10 and that out of 208,800 performers only 28.4 percent (or a number of 59,300) are actually paid for their work.11 After mathematical considerations, the deductions reached are unmistakably of a phlegmatic nature, as it indicates the average salary of the ‘public bar’ performer as being 1,514 dollars per annum. The unofficial truth is somewhat dissimilar, which in effect introduces the succeeding theorem of relative importance, based around the socio-economic paradigm.
‘Stinky Taylor’ (like many other entertainers) is provided with substantial employment within this industry, and contrary to popular belief exist merely as a link in the chain of the unaccounted greater ‘cash’ economy. As official staff members and symbolic emissaries of the beer, wine and spirit vendor, the band provides the stimulus for this picturesque collection of consumers to exercise their required primary economic function. Success is based around the quantity of consumption achieved (certainly not on the quality of the performance), and the publican rewards the participants accordingly (usually with the added epithet of ‘musical geniuses’ of our modern time), to be ultimately replaced by the ‘better salespeople’ and hence transformed back into just one other numerical dynamism of our disposable society.
… And this is what ‘Stinky Taylor’ is really all about!
1 Paul Tanner and Michael Gerow, A Study of Jazz (Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown, 1984) 36-40.
2 Stinky Taylor, Stinky Taylor Live at the Rose of Australia, concert, perf. Grant ‘Nipper’ McLachlan, Greg Jordan, Mauro Brizzi, and Bill Paskalis, The Rose of Australia, Melbourne, 18 Apr. 1998.
3 In the 1920s, the urban blues genres that eventually flourish in Chicago and other major centres of the USA adopt a modernistic stance, and it is this utilization of electric amplification that ultimately leads to the development of rhythm and blues (formerly known as ‘race music’), which is then brought to prominence namely by the artistry of T-Bone Walker, Roy Milton, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howlin’ Wolf in the 40s and 50s. For a further discussion, see Paul Oliver, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, vol. 1 (London: Macmillan, 1986) 242-47; and Robert Witmer, and Anthony Marks, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, vol. 4 36-37.
4 Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Stinky Taylor, perf. Grant ‘Nipper’ McLachlan, Greg Jordan, Mauro Brizzi, and Bill Paskalis, The Rose of Australia, Melbourne, 18 Apr. 1998.
5 The earliest historically recorded use of ‘In vino veritas’ or ‘In wine is truth’ may be traced to Alcaeus (c. 625 - 575 B.C.), but the proverb was literately immortalized by Plato (c. 428 - 347 B.C.) in Symposium, 217, and Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 A.D.) in Natural History, XIV, 141. For a further discussion, see John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations: a Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs traced to their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature, 16th rev., and enl. ed. (Canada: Little & Brown, 1992) 119; and J. M. and M. J. Cohen, The New Penguin Dictionary of Quotations (London: Viking, 1992) 310.
6 Greg Jordan, Personal interview, 25 Apr. 1998.
7 A synonym for scene, kick, vibe or trip, the hip use of ‘thing’ has its probable origins in the USA circa the 1940s, and is today regarded as a general expression of contemporary colloquialism. For a further discussion, see Tony Thorne, ed., Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (London: Bloomsbury, 1990) 513.
8 The expression ‘bugger’ has its roots in the infamous traditions of the Bogomil ‘lovers of God’ heretics of Bulgaria, and the emissaries (Bulgarus) sent into western Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. For a further discussion, see Thorne, Dictionary of Contemporary Slang 68.
9 According to Gilbert Rouget, “A trance is a state of consciousness composed of two components, one psycho-physical, the other cultural.” James L. Henry suggests the following explanation, “Endorphins may be one link in the chain of events that brings about states of altered consciousness.” For a further discussion, see Gilbert Rouget, Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations Between Music and Possession (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1985) 3; and James L. Henry, “Possible Involvement of Endorphins in Altered States of Consciousness.” Ethos: Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology 10.4 (1982): 394-408.
10 Clubs, Pubs, Taverns and Bars Australia, 1994-95, Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996, Cat. No. 8687.0.
11Work in Selected Culture/Leisure Activities, Australia, March 1997, Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997, Cat. No. 6281.0.
Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations: a Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs traced to their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. 16th rev. and enl. ed. Canada: Little & Brown, 1992.
Clarke, Donald, ed. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. London: Penguin, 1990.
Cohen, J. M. and M. J. The New Penguin Dictionary of Quotations. London: Viking, 1992.
Hitchcok, Wiley H., and Stanley Sadie, eds. The
New Grove Dictionary of American Music. 4
vols. London: Macmillan, 1986.
Randel, Don Michael, ed. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard U Press, 1986.
Romanowski Patricia, and Holly George-Warren. The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. 2nd ed. New York: Fireside, 1995.
Rouget, Gilbert. Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations Between Music and Possession. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1985.
Sadie, Stanley, ed. The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. London: Macmillan, 1994.
Tanner, Paul, and Michael Gerow. A Study of Jazz. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown, 1984.
Thorne, Tony, ed. Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. London: Bloomsbury, 1990.
Rolling Stones, The. Let It Bleed. Perf. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. Rec. 1969. PGD/Abkco, 1986.
Baker, Robert M. “A Brief History of the Blues.“ The Blue Highway: For the ‘Buked and Scorned. http://www.thebluehighway.com/history.htm (20 Apr. 1998).
Foreman, Sam. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Rolling Stone Lyrics: Exile On Main St. http://camel.conncoll.edu/ccother/sf.folder/exile/lyrics.html (20 Apr. 1998)
Jordan, Greg. Personal interview. 25 Apr. 1998.
Jagger, Mick, and Keith Richards. You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Stinky Taylor. Perf. Grant ‘Nipper’ McLachlan, Greg Jordan, Mauro Brizzi, and Bill Paskalis. The Rose of Australia, Melbourne. 18 Apr. 1998.
Stinky Taylor. Stinky Taylor Live at the Rose of Australia. Concert. Perf. Grant ‘Nipper’ McLachlan, Greg Jordan, Mauro Brizzi, Bill Paskalis, ‘Sonny’ (unknown harmonica player), and ‘Cher’ (unknown background vocalist). The Rose of Australia, Melbourne. 18 Apr. 1998.
Clubs, Pubs, Taverns and Bars Australia, 1994-95. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996, Cat. No. 8687.0.
Henry, James L. “Possible Involvement of Endorphins in Altered States of Consciousness.” Ethos: Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology 10.4 (1982): 394-408.
Work in Selected Culture/Leisure Activities, Australia, March 1997. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997, Cat. No. 6281.0.
Pertout, Andrian. Stinky Taylor. Photograph. Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne. 25 Apr. 1998.
Pertout, Andrian. Grant ‘Nipper’ McLachlan. Photograph. Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne. 25 Apr. 1998.
- - - . Greg Jordan. Photograph. Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne. 25 Apr. 1998.
- - - . Rose of Australia. Photograph. Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne. 25 Apr. 1998.
- - - . Stinky Taylor. Photograph. Private collection of Andrian Pertout, Melbourne. 25 Apr. 1998.
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