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Interview: SEAN KELLY (MODELS)

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We haven’t really had the pleasure of their company often enough in recent decades but, fingers crossed, that could all be about to change as Melbourne band, Models, gets ready to play a couple of gigs, showcasing some new material, in both Sydney and Melbourne this weekend and more shows in the new year, supporting Icehouse. I recently had the privilege of catching up with founding member and vocalist/guitarist, Sean Kelly to talk about the band’s music – both old and new and to find out what the fans can expect from this current incarnation of Models. “Well, there’s an obvious description,” he tells me. “And that’s because we have myself, Mark Ferrie, Barton Price and Andrew Duffield so it’s like the band from the early eighties but with Barton’s big beat so it’s a bit like ‘Cut Lunch’ or ‘Local and/or General’ or even ‘The Pleasure of Your Company’ but perhaps a bit more evolved; a bit more ….” He searches for the right word. “refined. I’ll put it that way.”

“We’ve actually been working together as a quartet since about 2006,” he points out. “We played the Homebake Festival in Sydney and we did the Queenscliff Festival down here (in Melbourne). We did a couple of shows around inner city Sydney and Melbourne. And we almost had a bit of momentum going but then in 2008, I actually initiated a reunion of types with James Freud and we did a couple of shows as Models with a line-up that was basically just myself and James and some friends but that was almost like a one off thing and then pretty much straight after we did a couple of shows in 2008, James decided that he really didn’t want to be in bands any more, for various reasons. So around about two or three years ago, we were pretty much gearing up to get on with it again with the line-up we have now: Mark, Barton, Andrew and myself..” Then, in 2010, came the tragic news that James had passed away and as a mark of respect for their late friend and colleague, the band put their work commitments on hold. “I’ve had to spend a bit of time getting over that,” he reveals. “And now, basically, we’re just resuming where we were two or three years ago and getting on with it again.” But the process has not been without its challenges. “A lot of people out there perceive the band as being with James as an integral part,” he explains. “So we’re kind of having to deal with that as we go.” Sean points out that the group has had various people singing lead vocals since they started in 1978. “Even on our first album, Mark Ferrie sang a song; Andrew has always taken lead vocal duties as well. Obviously I’ve notched up more flying hours than anyone else in the group as the lead singer and I’ve got a profile as the singer of the band as well so it has been a bit of a challenge.” He says that the response overall has been ‘surprisingly receptive’. “We’ve been working intermittently for the last year or so,” explains Sean. “So we have our repertoire well rehearsed and planned and what we’ve been doing is pretty much playing everything we think people will want to hear but more recently we’ve just started slotting new material in there as well so, on the one hand, it could be a nostalgic experience for some people but then, for people who are actually interested in new music as well, there’s that kind of sub text there as well.”

At the time of this interview, Models were in the process of adding the final touches to a four track EP of their new material. “Two or three of the songs are really sort of quite tightly arranged, almost like pop songs,” Sean explains. “And then there’s a couple that are more loose and free form, almost like jazz or something. I think we’ve always been a band that sort of jammed and improvised a bit within our arrangements but obviously we’d be more proficient on our instruments these days. It definitely has an eclectic feel to it. And I think we’re probably as eclectic as ever.”

Sean says that the EP will be available for purchase at the band’s gigs this weekend in both Sydney and Melbourne but, despite rumours to the contrary, there are currently no definite plans for a new album. “We haven’t actually at any stage announced that we’re doing a new album but we’ve read on the internet that we are,” he laughs. “At this stage, it’s just simply our way of getting some new stuff out there. We’re not signed to a record company or anything. It’s more a sample of our new material rather than a sample of some imagined future album.” However, he admits that the band would certainly like to do another album. “I am quietly hoping that the EP will create enough interest in the music industry – whatever the hell that is! And we certainly have plenty more material. We could either include all five tracks from our EP on a future album and just add some more stuff or indeed we could start from scratch and this EP may just end up being a stand alone EP, just like ‘Cut Lunch’ was in the early eighties, although after ‘Cut Lunch’, we did actually rerecord some of those songs like ‘Two Cabs to the Toucan’ and ‘Atlantic Romantic‘.” And, as Sean tells me, the EP does have a title. “It’s called GTK.”

As in the old ABC music program, GTK? “Yeah, as in Get to Know,” he confirms. “Andrew came up with the title. I haven’t really quizzed him about it but I think it is a bit of a homage to days gone by and obviously the title suits us well; the whole concept of getting to know the group again, perhaps.”

Models will also be supporting Icehouse on some Queensland shows next month. “I think Icehouse would have been happy for us to go on tour with them,” suggests Sean. “But I think Iva’s actually doing NSW around about the same time we are doing our own show in NSW and the Icehouse stuff eventuated after we started promoting our own shows that we are showcasing in Sydney and Melbourne. Fortunately for us, though, Icehouse wanted us enough to just let us do the Queensland leg with them. I should mention that I’m not really friends with Iva but we’re certainly acquaintances and we’ve worked on and off together since day dot. I can remember doing a show with Flowers at the Crystal Ballroom. I’m not sure how our audiences overlap so that will be kind of interesting but we’ll pool our resources and hopefully put on a good show.”

Sean’s musical career started with guitar lessons at the age of thirteen. “My teacher was Ian Miller from JPY and the Allstars,” he tells me. “In fact, my school mate James Freud and I had already started messing around a bit with our guitars. He had a bass initially, I think, when I met him and we both had guitar lessons. I was a bit obsessed with sport as well and I remember around the age of thirteen or fourteen, being torn between choosing a career in music or in football. I certainly seemed to have the chops in the music department whereas I didn’t really have the intestinal fortitude that it takes to be a professional footy player so at a young age I started really working on it but of course living out in those suburbs of Melbourne, I certainly wasn’t confident that I could make a mark in the Australian music scene and I might not have if it wasn’t for my mate James Freud.”

Sean explains that he and James had been busking around in various combos together and individually, when James decided to actually put together a punk band. “It was really James’s initiative,” he admits. “I’m talking about a band called Spred that was basically Teenage Radio Stars before we changed our name. He initially had a different guitar player but he wasn’t happy with the guy and basically asked me if I would like to join a punk rock band. At this stage I was pretty much a folk musician with my cheesecloth and long hair and my repertoire of Dylan , Hendrix, Bowie and a few other little gems, so I just joined James Freud’s punk band and we actually scored a record deal with our first gig.” An impressive feat for any band. “We ended up on a compilation of so-called punk bands from around Melbourne. It was a label called Suicide Records which was an initiative of Mushroom’s; a partnership with, I believe, RCA so we went from being an unsigned wannabe sort of young band into having a record deal of sorts and it pretty much evolved from there. At some point, in about mid ’78, probably only less than a year since we’d put out that first release, I basically had a falling out with James and ended up no longer in the group and I started Models with Pierre (Voltaire) from JAB, pretty much the same night that I’d virtually been sacked from Teenage Radio Stars. Initially we rehearsed in a house in St. Kilda for nearly six months before we started doing some shows and we started touring. Models developed a bit of a reputation as an exciting live band and eventually, after doing demos for Alberts in Sydney, EMI in Melbourne, we ended up signing a multi album deal with Mushroom. Our first album, ‘Alphabravo’, came out in 1979 and it’s just been a struggle ever since.”

Obviously, somewhere along the way, the Kelly/Freud friendship was revived. “Yes,” confirms Sean. “He had a very dynamic personality but the bottom line was he was a really sweet guy. He had a few character flaws but he was the kind of guy you couldn’t be angry at for very long so because we had such a long association, I thought of him as a brother really and I think he thought the same way. I think he thought that no matter what happened, we’d always remain close friends. I’m really lucky because I got to spend a lot of time with him over the last few years of his life, which is really important to me because I felt like I knew him a lot better than most people did. I think he was very underrated as a writer and a talent and he was a fantastic confidante to me over the last few years of his life. It was interesting. You’d see people that had never met him before that had preconceptions and they’d be pretty amazed at how unlike his public image he actually was.”

As a long-standing member of one of this country’s most popular and innovative bands, there must have been many memorable experiences along the way and I invite Sean to relate a few of those memories for me. “Particularly in the eighties, there were some pretty amazing peaks,” he admits. “Certainly touring America and Europe was a highlight. In fact, we did several tours of America and at one stage we were signed to a label that had an office on Sunset Boulevarde; Geffen Records. That was kind of cool, cruising around in Cadillacs and being treated with respect. Musicians seem to be regarded with more esteem outside of Australia. It’s like we are considered just a notch above ‘bums’ in Australia so it was refreshing.”

He also sites the Royal Command Performance in Melbourne as one of the highlights of his career. “It really was a thrill to do a Royal Command Performance,” he shares. “We played with INXS and I’m Talking when we did our Rockin’ the Royals at the Concert Hall here in Melbourne with Prince Charles and Lady Diana. That was a bit of a buzz.”

Another great memory for Sean is doing eleven shows with David Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour. “It was pretty amazing hanging out with that band for a while,” he recalls. “We’ve toured with some pretty amazing acts like working with The Ramones which was a thrill. Actually, we did a show in New Zealand with David Bowie, in Wellington with 90,000 people there. The local promoter wasn’t that happy that we were there. They actually had a band called the Dance Exponents that were a really popular Kiwi pop band at the time and they were on the bill as well. We were in New Zealand and it was the end of the Bowie tour. We did nine shows in Australia as well and his management wanted us to stay on the tour and do the New Zealand shows as well. But the local people had their noses put out of joint a bit because they wanted their local heroes, The Dance Exponents, to basically be featured but they went on before us. I’ll never forget, before we went on, we were announced to the crowd and it’s like the MC almost kind of put a slur on us as he was announcing the whole show. You know, ‘the amazing rock of The Dance Exponents and David Bowie and this shitful bunch of reprobates from Melbourne, Models, are on the bill as well’. Well, I’m exaggerating but that’s the way the guy kind of set up the program from the start and then we had to go on stage to 90,000 people, basically with really bad vibes around the production and the backstage thing and anyway I’m pleased to say that we went over a treat. We played a really fantastic thirty five minutes of music and the crowd loved us so that was really memorable, playing to a crowd that big and winning them over.”

“It’s funny,” he muses. “In various ways, we’ve been caught up in the eighties nostalgia thing. I’ve been involved in a few shows with other artists because simply they just wave too much money at me for me to say no. I’m just really relieved that even just a handful of people are prepared to perceive us as something other than an eighties band because we certainly did have synthesisers and shoulder pads and hair gel but we were also around in the seventies, the nineties and the ‘noughties’ as well so I think we’ve got a lot of experience and material to draw on. We’ve never really thought of ourselves as ‘one of those eighties bands’, although I’m sure that we’ve been slotted into the pigeon hole. But it’s refreshing to be able to just be what we are which is musicians that love playing music and can’t help but compose new material. Hopefully, people will like our new material and if they don’t, well it won’t really be much of a surprise because I think mostly people just want us to play ‘Barbados’ or ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight‘,” he laughs. Having said that, Sean is looking forward to the chance to get that material out there to the public and he is happy that the band has that opportunity.. “It’s really nice that we’ve actually got an avenue to get out there and experiment.”

by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey. All Rights Reserved

If you are in Sydney or Melbourne this weekend, you are in luck. Models are playing shows at the following venues in both cities:

Friday 13th December – The Standard, Surry Hills Sydney

Saturday 14th December – Gershwin Room, The Esplanade Hotel, St. Kilda Melbourne

Tickets available from the venue and from

www.moshtix.com.au (Sydney)

  www.oztix.com.au (Melbourne)

Get your tickets now, before they’re all gone!

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