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The Stickmen 1996-99:
Luke Osborne - Bass
Ianto Kelly - Drums
Matt Geeves - Turntables
Aldous Kelly - Guitar & Vocals
Recorded and Mixed by Sloth / Johnny Gritz / Neil Thomason / Aldous Kelly / Nick Carroll / Tim Picone at various studios, houses and prison in the late 1990's.
Remastered By Sloth at Headgap Studios, Preston Jan 2008
released August 18, 2017
This Is My Jailhouse Rock:The Day The Stickmen Played Risdon.
It was strange being in Hobart in the Mid 90’s. The underground music scene came within a hair’s breadth of being another Seattle. Okay, well maybe not quite that, but it was incredible. There were few venues and only a handful of bands and it was certainly elitist and crazy but it was also magic. I mean that: it was magic.
I was in my mid-twenties and I was filled with punk-rock faith. I was the thinnest I’ve ever been in my unhealthy life, I had fire coloured hair and a black mohair jumper that was falling apart. You could go out to the pub and see awesome band after awesome band; all the boys wore eyeliner and all the girls were aggressive and sexy. Well not everyone. I’m exaggerating. Thing is, I’m not exaggerating all that much. It was pretty incredible. The music was amazing. There was a definable sound. There were bands with women in them. There were totally cool pubs and there was a smell in the air. It was a bright sharp smell and there was a moment when something could have happened, but nothing did. It never got out of town and perhaps it’s far better that way. It’s still ours. And within that which is still ours, there is a moment so bright and dazzling it could cut you and that moment belongs to me.
I wasn’t a musician. I was, and remain, a fan. I’d go heckle the bands and do spoken word at gigs. I was into theatre, comedy, storytelling and improvisation. I had a good uninformed socialist ethic that gradually developed into a strong belief in community arts, which fed into my evangelical approach to the music I was seeing every weekend. Almost logically all these apparent ideals became realities, and I ended up teaching impro in Risdon Prison. It was quite hardcore, of course, and I had no idea what I was really in for. I went to the jail once a week and took these classes and it was awesome; they had great stories and my goodness me, did they like a laugh. They didn’t get enough sun and sometimes they frightened me. The ten-class program came to an end and I did a show with the dudes and it was all over, except it wasn’t: one of the guys had asked me to see if I could get a rock band to play in the prison. I said yeah sure we’ll see what we can do….
So I asked a punk band because I thought that was the best thing I could do: get something real in there that had actual local culture. I asked 50 Million Clowns. They were dudes from the northern suburbs and they had really good songs about the small details of their lives. After months of stonewalling by whoever was making these decisions at the prison, The Clowns played in a sort of function room and we got them the biggest PA we could and they rocked Risdon. It was good. We felt like we had done something alright for once. Okay, I thought, that worked, let’s do it again: Another band.
Of course, all the Hobart bands now wanted to do it. It was important I thought hard about which ones and I picked The Stickmen. The Stickmen were a wild act; one of the most popular in Hobart at the time, very rocking, with a charismatic New Zealander called Aldous out front. He had the best howling vocal yawp in the business. He played guitar that sounded like God’s own buzzsaw. He ruled the band and they were as tight as fuck and played fast hard rock that could make walls shake.
They had to play in the day room of medium security and it was very hard. I have my suspicions that the band, and thusly myself, were being set up to fail somehow. It had taken just as long again to The Stickmen into Risdon and medium security was an odd choice for them to play. Let me explain: this was like plonking a band in your lounge room without asking you. It might be a good thing, but the previous show by 50 Million Clowns was something the prisoners could choose to go see; this wasn’t. It was going to be shoved down their throats whether they liked it or not. Of course, they were not going to like it, not all of them. I had no idea what it was going to be like. I was scared. I was scared for the band. As we hauled the equipment into the day room - in the morning I might add, far too early for rock and roll - I got a sinking feeling.
I felt very sure that some unseen hand was doing their level best to fuck this up: wrong spot, too early, nerves, all this was looking grim and there was now nothing I could personally do to save the situation, the band was going to have to do it. The Stickmen were looking scared already though and my stomach rolled over. Shit. I spoke hurriedly to the education officer who had been my major contact point and she confirmed my suspicions under hushed breath: we were being screwed with somehow by some faceless official.
I wondered whether to tell the band but she added that the prisoners knew what was going on and that there wasn’t going to be any animosity towards the band members - they knew that these boys were trying to do them a favour and they respected that. They were used to the politics of jail. I wasn’t. I should have known better. I don’t know how I could have, but I still feel I should have.
It did not matter though, because something else happened.
The Stickmen were obviously intimidated. They sort of hid behind their instruments and speakers as much as they could, and they looked vulnerable, except Aldous. Aldous just decided some where in himself that he was going to have to give this show something extra. He was intimidated too, but he was the front man and he was fucking well going to act like one, in the day room of medium security, in the morning, stone cold sober and all eyes on him. I sat next to a random bloke and drank tea from an enamel cup. I tell you, it’s fucking weird drinking tea and watching a really hard pumping band do their best under extreme circumstances. They were doing alright but fuck it was a struggle. Then it happened: A textbook huge fucking Maori/Pacific Islander dude….
Oh jesus preserve us. He has tribal tattoos down each arm and he lifts weights and he is huge. I think he is the man here in medium. His hair is wet; he has been in the shower. My fuckery. He is standing in the middle of the room, arms folded and he….Fuck me dead he’s nodding in time with the music.
The band do not notice and just keep ploughing forward. Then the miracle: they get to the end of the song and the huge man mountain claps and whistles and yells out yeah and for the first time all the cons really clap and some whistle as well and it is the best thing. The band hear this, it sinks in over an epic forever second and then….
Real, actual, channeling of the gods rock and roll.
There is light pouring out of The Stickmen now. They realise that they have been doing fine really and they need not be scared and the prisoners are not angry with them and that they are right and they…
How can I put it? I saw this moment and I still do not know. The word required is something like “rise” but that is not enough - it is more like “transcend” but that is too spiritual, but it's as close as I can get: they just sort of levitated and my hair stood on end and it was beyond astonishing; there it was, the best performance by anyone anywhere I have ever seen. Fucken staggering. It was born of the circumstances but it was not composed of them; they just sort of meant it the way that women do when they give birth. And no, that is by no means stretching the metaphor. It is supposed to sound that big. Because it was that big. Trust me.
And no one else saw it. Just me and medium security. None of the scenesters who loved the bands and danced to them at the pub. They heard about it but the vision was mine alone to treasure: I was lucky enough to see a band at the arse end of the world deliver the very best thing that music can be, which is hope and inspiration. I saw them do it under extreme circumstances when forces beyond anyone’s control, which were totally government forces, seemed to be conspiring against them, and possibly just in my head, The Stickmen transformed into metaphor: Never give up. Find the strength in yourself and trust it. All it takes is your whole life; and if you think that is too much, I might ask you what thefuck else were you doing with it anyway? Paying off a mortgage?
I thanked The Stickmen a lot for their amazing effort, but it was impossible for me to thank them enough. They gave me something to keep that is very precious. They were a very good Hobart band, but you get very good bands in Hobart now and again.