Australian pub band Screaming Jets are currently on their ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Rampage Tour’ across Australia as well as preparing to release a newly recorded album. Their front man Dave Gleeson recently took a break from his domestic chores to chat about the tour, the album, domestic violence and, of all things, Papua New Guinea Idol.
It was late on a Wednesday morning when Dave rang me for our chat. “I am just getting through my mid-week stuff. I’ve got to wash my clothes because on the weekend I’ve got to go again.” When I mentioned how different it must be to go home mid-week as opposed to the 90’s when you could be away for six to eight weeks straight, he agreed. “It’s much more tolerable to do that. We just spent two weeks in Queensland the week before last and that was a long time to be away from home. You feel like an alien when you return. Back then (the 90’s) I didn’t have little kiddies running around so it didn’t worry me,” he explained with a chuckle.
As well as Queensland, the tour has already been through country NSW, Terry Hills and Rooty Hill (both in outer Sydney). “The tour is going unreal,” Dave told me. “The only downside is we don’t have the album available yet.” The band were going to release the album themselves but a few record companies showed some interest. “We didn’t want to blow any of those chances. Nothing may come of that but we’ve just had to hold off on the release a bit.” And it really does seem to be the only downside. “The crowds have been huge; the response has been unreal. We love it.”
There are a still a few places that Dave is particularly looking forward to playing. The Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle is one of them. “We are playing the Cambridge Hotel the last two shows of the run. I’ve been playing at the Cambridge Hotel since 1985 or 86 and the great thing about it, they have never done a thing to it,” he said with an air of excitement.
The band are not sure when the album will be ready for release. “We are waiting to hear back from one of the companies, the last one, this week. Everything is ready to go. We’ve got the artwork done, the track listing, everything. Mastered, mixed, everything but the kitchen sink. If we get it out in the first week of December I will be very happy but we are not making any promises.”
Dave explained that there are various ways to introduce new songs to the fans. In the past he has played a whole new album in the first set then played the songs everyone loves and knows in the second but this time they are playing half a dozen new ones in one set, mixed with oldies.
One of the big positives of touring in the pubs now is that “no one can blow smoke in your face from the front row anymore.” Something that was a definite health hazard for performers. “Joy McKean, Slim Dusty’s wife, reckons he would’ve lived twenty years longer if not for all those years in smoky pubs and clubs. People don’t realise because you are up high on the stage you just get all second hand smoke.” The negative is that there are less venues for younger bands to play and develop their music.
The Screaming Jets developed their music, and won their loyal fan base, by supporting some of the greats of Australian rock. “We are very lucky to have a loyal crowd base that have stayed with us over the years and that’s probably down to the fact that the first bands we ever played with or supported, The Angels, The Divinyls, The Radiators and The Choirboys, were intent on getting anywhere they could. That’s why those bands can still play now. It was a testament to the Australian rock culture they built during the 70s and 80s.”
Now it is the Screaming Jets turn to help young bands develop by taking new bands on tour with them. “We’re always looking around for bands that are doing good things. This time we have a band called Massive on the road with us. They are a fantastic, loud Aussie rock band. They’re doing big things overseas that you can’t expect in Australia. We used to have that real hard rock kind of ethos that was born of the pub rock scene but now if you play too hard or don’t have a ukulele, people get scared and think it’s heavy metal so the only destination is overseas for those guys.”
Dave discussed with me his frustration at radio being scared to play new loud rock music. Yet, as I pointed out, they will still play their old songs, as well as the old songs of The Angels, Choirboys, Rose Tattoo etc. I asked Dave does that mean he and his band have to simply rely on touring to get their new music out there. “Hope springs eternal for The Jets,” he said. “We haven’t discounted that something might happen overseas. Obviously it’s in our DNA that we are an album band. We wanna get to ten studio albums. We are at eight now. You just never know what happens if you stay in the game. You might end up with a song in a movie or an EA video game. You just don’t know.”
The Screaming Jets as a band are very well placed to go travel overseas and play their music to a new fan base if something did take off. They have a large back catalogue that, as Dave said, would be fantastic to play to people that would be hearing them for the first time.
As well as lack of radio support for rock bands these days, we also no longer have very many television opportunities. “There was Recovery on a Saturday morning. There was, obviously, Hey Hey It’s Saturday. There was a whole bunch of those shows that were good fun to be on. They’re all gone now. If you want to get a guest spot on a variety television show it will have to be an X-Factor or Australian Idol.”
Which leads to Dave, in a very serious voice, saying “I have to tell you I have been approached to be a judge or a mentor on Idol. Not Australian Idol, Papua New Guinea Idol!” We both burst into laughter at this point. “Papua New Guinea Got Talent or something like that,” still laughing. “You’d have to be careful giving them a critique wouldn’t you? You’d be straight back to your compound.” After we stopped laughing and imagining the scenarios, Dave assured me he refused the offer. “I’m not doing that, it would be a bit hair raising to go to Papua New Guinea for someone like me.”
He is not a big fan of these reality talent shows. He believes the shows are setting young people up to fail and gives them a false sense of reality. “At the very worst, if everything goes crap for me or anyone else in the band for that matter, at the very lowest I can sit in a corner of a pub play guitar, play a bunch of songs and get a couple hundred bucks. The thought of them doing that, they would be mortified to think that after all that exposure they would have to go back and take such a backwards step.” Resilience is the other factor that Dave says these shows don’t allow these stars to build. As Dave said, they used to do 15 shows in a row and drive eight hours to the next gig. “You have to learn by experiencing it. The sooner you learn you don’t have to be the top of the charts to be out there doing big crowds and performing to loyal fans, the better you are.” Sound words of advice from someone who has experienced many, many years touring and still enjoying it.
After discussing the differences in radio, touring and television, we touched on Social Media, a forum that simply did not exist when The Screaming Jets started out. The band have someone administrating their social media platforms as they recognise it’s a great way to keep in touch with your fans and not rely on radio to get your music out there but Dave doesn’t partake. “I’m not participating in any of those social media things until people learn grammar. What? Am I deciphering people’s thoughts now?” He went on to say “I could crash Twitter tomorrow with the things I say on stage.” We both had a good laugh about how he hasn’t changed then.
“You have to pick your targets better. We have a song off the new album we are playing, imploring Australian men to do the right thing, to look after the women in our lives and make sure we teach our sons and brothers and all the young men in our lives what is acceptable and what’s not acceptable. It’s more important than ever. But I don’t say it like that. I give it to them….in Dave Gleeson style. We have a very blokey crowd, there is no doubt about that, but if any are involved in domestic violence I am hoping to make them feel really uncomfortable in our shows and maybe it will get them to make a change.”
by Suzanne Bunker
Copyright © Suzanne Bunker 2015. All rights reserved
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