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EXCLUSIVE: The Pleasure Of His Company – THE MODELS’ Sean Kelly. Part 1

1987

In this exclusive interview, Michael Witheford takes full advantage of his time with Sean Kelly to cover the entire history of The Models. In part 1, Sean chats about the band’s origins up until the debut album, ‘Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf’. In the final part tomorrow, we begin with the ‘Local And/or General’ album and go right through to the present and future.

Sean Kelly looks obscenely healthy. Born in the fifties he could easily be a guy in his forties, still as stick thin as ever with a mane of musketeer long hair, which he scoops up periodically and drags back tightly away from his face. We meet at Kelly’s local in Balaclava where several punters interrupt our chat to say hi to him. He comes here to watch the footy, but today, to talk to Australian Musician about Models, the band he has steered through various levels of wild success and crushing disappointment for 37 years, bequeathing us (and there may be more to come) with some of the smartest, wittiest, poppiest, most adventurous and experimental records in Australian rock.

The current line-up of the band; Kelly, keyboardist Andrew Duffield, bassist Mark Ferrie and drummer Ashley Davies are about to embark on a national tour, their most extensive series of gigs for decades. Ferrie was originally a member of the band until 1982, and Duffield until the mid ‘80s. Duffield rejoined in 2000 when the group, after an entire decade not playing one show, began to sporadically pop up now and then to the delight of their fans. Over the last few years Models shows have become more prolific and the band is now officially busy again. It’s a perfect line-up with Duffield and Ferrie providing a direct link to Models early stuff. Sadly drummer Barton Price, now based in Sydney is out of the picture, but Davies is a fine replacement.

With the temperature outside a steaming 34 degrees we settle down in a cubicle with a few pots to revisit the history of what I consider to be Australia’s most compelling post-punk act.

band-kellySean, do you remember the music that first got you interested? The first records that made an impact?
Yeah I do. I didn’t actually have a preference because I was fortunate enough to be bombarded with an eclectic mix of lots of pop music and top 40. I remember it from I guess the early sixties. I was born in the late ‘50s so started to notice it then. My parents were into classical music and show tunes and theatre so I had that mix initially. I was thinking that even though I didn’t get exposed to any rad r & b or hardcore jazz or be bop, within the pop music of the ‘60s and early ‘70s there was a lot of kind of stuff like the Supremes … I love that one of the first things I heard was Diana Ross singing “Stop In The Name of Love”. That amazing sort of production. So there was a mix of that and I guess, Cliff Richard so that was my mix. I should add that being an Irish catholic, there was a lot of music in my family. Everyone played the piano – you know cousins, my mother was a pianist, my sisters were pianists. I learned piano but as I approached adolescence I became interested in drums, guitars and was more kind of selective. I started liking stuff like some of the rock music being played on top 40 radio, but even the more bland stuff like ZZ Top and BTO and the Eagles, and then bland outs which I won’t even mention. Oh what the hell I went through a Neil Diamond phase.

Me too. Nothing to feel bad about there.
The older kid across the road had Led Zep 4 and Harvest and Slade Alive and they were all great but I was still into dumb stuff like the Elvis late period, early Elton John. But I was starting to get into Bowie and Lou Reed and Roxy Music, and then after that I couldn’t get enough of everything. I was like a sponge. Anything black soulful or experimental or funky. I became really eclectic so I’m lucky I cut my teeth on those things that a lot of people maybe bypassed, who might have gone straight to jazz or punk. I can hear it in the early stuff I wrote. There’s almost show tunes and some of the melodies are quite classical, whereas later in life I started absorbing contemporary stuff.

I can hear those traditional pop influences too. When did you start playing?
I must have been about 12 or something. I went off to guitar lessons and was fortunate because my guitar teacher was Ian Miller from JPY (John Paul Young). He was teaching at the Sound Scene in Box Hill, and I was schooling near there at the time, and would walk past the music store. We’d go in and ogle the guitars, but I was very much into drums at first, not that I ever owned a kit, but then at some point I decided I really wanted to be a composer and a writer so I started having guitar lessons. But I didn’t really start singing with bands until the Models started and I got that gig because I could sing in pitch the best.

There were high school bands. When I started learning guitar I was in about 4th year high school and had just met Colin McGlinchey aka James Freud who was playing bass, and at that point I switched from drums. And we had a band right then and there in 1974, a three piece with Ian McFarlane (noted rock historian) on drums and we were called Sabre or Nebula. Then there was kind of a hippie band after that. Before I joined James Freud again I was a street musician. I moved to a boarding house in St Kilda when I was 15 and started busking then, so for almost three years, including stints in Kings Cross in Sydney and Paddy’s Market near Central Station in Sydney. It was Dylan, Bowie, Hendrix. I did alright. I was with a brilliant guitarist by the name of Joe Clarke and he knew all that stuff backwards. And then … whoosh punk rock.

So punk made an immediate impression?
Oh yeah. I can remember the first time I heard the Sex Pistols. Someone put them on at a party. I might have been playing at the party. But I didn’t think “Oh this is a new sound”. I just thought it was a really well-produced rock record, then I promptly discovered the Ramones and The Clash and a whole bunch of other English bands, plus there was all the American stuff; Talking Heads were already around, Television, Blondie … god I loved Blondie. They were maybe better than all the other bands. Plus there was the more abstract stuff; Iggy Pop, Bowie and Lou Reed were getting sort of abstract, so it wasn’t as simple as “now I’m a punk rocker”. It was like getting involved in a whole new music movement and it felt different to the kind of schlocky ham-fisted rock that permeated the Australian music season.

So I guess Teenage Radio Stars was your punk moment?
There were songs written specifically for that kind of audience. Some of our stuff that didn’t make it on to record was, impossibly, even more derivative than the stuff that did. We had songs like ‘I’m Dirty”, ‘Didn’t Know I Loved You Til I Saw You On The Dole’, ‘Parasite Pulse’. The first gig was New Year’s Eve 1978 at Punk Gunk so we’d been rehearsing on and off for a month or two before that. By the time we recorded early in 1978 we’d already changed the name of the band. We were called the Spred. The manager insisted on the name … one of the many name changes that have been forced on me that I’ve hated and still do.

So let’s get straight to The Models. Right from the off, the songs were strange and quirky and had weird titles like ‘Progressive Office Pools’, and ‘All American Club Foot’. Where did that come from?
Well… one element was that Andrew Duffield would compose a piece of music and give it a name like ‘Progressive Office Pools’ and he or I would work out the lyric. Then there’s ‘Two Cabs To The Toucan’ where I wrote the lyrics to the title and the music. I’d always try to write I guess in a slightly ambiguous and metaphorical way just for the hell of it, which in retrospect was a good idea because it creates a bit of mystery, even longevity for songs. Mind you there were plenty of times when I personally wrote really crap lyrics.

As well as the Andrew influence I was actually interested in trying to fuck with the pop song format. I’d grown up listening to verse chorus bridge type, but also abstract. I was thinking of Dark Side Of The Moon. It was the most popular album in Australia for ages and its right out there. One minute it’s moody and atmospheric, then they go into something quite poppy, and then there’s almost vignettes that would knit songs together, and that sort of thing really influenced me.

Once I’d finished with Radio Stars I was really keen to experiment with the form. That’s why I think that working with Andrew Duffield was a really good thing to do. Andrew had come from a background in advertising and studied electronic music, and he loved Beefheart so we were well matched because I wasn’t that interested in pop music per se. I wanted to stuff around with the form.

One of the first things you notice listening to Models is the snarl of your vocals. Did it just come out that way?
Initially not entirely. The fact is, this is kind of embarrassing but it’s true. I was a late developer. My adolescence was kinda delayed. All my friends matured before me so when I started singing even though I was 18 or something, my voice had barely changed, so I didn’t have much control even though prior to that I’d sung a lot as a school kid. I was in choirs. I was really inspired by some of those shouty singers. People who used to scream their heads off like Noddy Holder (Slade) and the dude from The Loved Ones, Gerry Humphries. I think it might have been like primal scream therapy around that time. I think I actually can sing, I could even be a crooner but it gets harder as I get older. You need so much energy.

1424x1424srSo the debut LP Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf comes out. Let’s talk about that.
Alpha was recorded at Richmond Recorders in 1979. Somewhere on the sleeve it says it was self-financed but basically we recorded the thing as part of an arrangement called Downtime with the studio, where they just let us in when the studio wasn’t being used, the speculation being that it might amount to something. We didn’t have a record company. We just started doing it. Adrian Barker, our manager at the time, probably had a lot to do with wrangling this arrangement, plus the studio manager was a beauty and very amenable, but we had to be out by 10am because that’s when the Young Talent Time team would arrive to record their show. So we recorded on and off for months, whenever we could get in there and eventually … I can’t say we sold it to Mushroom but they came on board and paid retrospectively the studio fees. So it was our initiative but Mushroom came in and picked up the bill. And probably started this familiar cycle of Models being accused of selling out basically because prior to that we had quite a devoted following of fans and we’d been touring a lot and instead of recording the songs we’d been playing; ‘Golden Arches’, ‘John From Earth’, etc. We just wrote ten new songs so we lost a lot of our early fans right there and then.

That’s so weird. They wanted to hear ‘the old stuff’ and didn’t give the new record a chance.
Prior to Andrew Duffield joining the band we toured a lot with Ash Wednesday on keyboards and indeed Pierre Voltaire. (Who recently won half a million bucks on Million Dollar Minute) We seemed to have complete artistic freedom. We had free rein to do what we liked and we were accustomed to just coming up with new stuff. It wasn’t contrived, it was just what happened. With Andrew in the studio we had that licence. Later on we even had budgets and it was embarrassing the amount of money we spent on studio time sitting around thinking ‘ooh we could do this’ or that…we could do something abstract or not quite as abstract but we were just really creative types and there was an enthusiasm for experimentation.

READ Part 2 here, where Sean chats about the other Models recordings, his gear and the band’s future.

Models national tour happens in December. Ticket info here

They will also be playing A Day On The Green, Mitchelton Wines, Nagambie VIC on January 23rd.  www.adayonthegreen.com.au

Visit The Models Facebook fan site

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