I had the pleasure recently of chatting to Mental As Anything front man and keyboard player, Greedy Smith on one of his brief visits home, in between the band’s interstate gigging commitments. Greedy says that they are frequently away from home, doing shows in various towns and cities around the country. “We seem to have just enough time in between to mow the lawns, clean the gutters and to talk to you!” he laughs. “We’re still touring pretty heavily. I’d say we do over a hundred shows a year. The longest break we’ve had from touring in well over thirty years was six weeks when I fell off a horse in 1990. Recently, Martin had his kidney out and I just sang all his songs as well for a while so that was kind of exciting for me. I got to see that it was like singing his songs.” Fortunately, Greedy tells me, Martin has recovered from his ordeal and is performing with the band again. “He’s back on deck and he seems to be holding up quite well so it’s business as usual for the old Mentals out there.”
When it comes to touring, Greedy says that the band has worked out their own strategies on how to cope with it all. “Martin and I go very quietly,” he explains. “We drink a lot of tea on stage.” All very civilised by the sound of it. The band’s main focus, according to Greedy, is to work on getting the sound just right. “We figured there are times in our career when we could have played them better and so we hang around correcting our mistakes so we get our songs sounding like the day or the night in the studio that we recorded them at the time. A bit of that comes back to having put out an ‘Essential as Anything’ collection through Warners a few years ago to coincide with the ARIA Hall of Fame (induction) and they were starting to remaster them and they stuck them through a box, one of those modern boxes and all of a sudden we could hear everything that we’ve played and we’d say ‘Oh that’s what we did.’ Sometimes things can get lost along the way. Because it’s ensemble playing where you’ve got a drummer, a bass player, two guitarists and a keyboard player and everybody doing their bit, things just change as a whole and it’s not necessarily the best thing but a lot of people we are playing to never saw us back in the eighties so what their expectation is, is something that sounds like the record or… what do they call it today? The download. They’ve got to get something that sounds like the download,” he laughs.
Mental As Anything has been around for a long time. They played their first gig at East Sydney Tech in 1977. “I don’t really like to think about how long it’s been,” admits Greedy. “Let’s put it this way, the drummer that’s been with us for a couple of years now, Young Jacob, was one when our first record came out. He’s thirty seven.” So I guess that puts it all into perspective then…
And, after all those years, Greedy says that the highlight of being in Mental as Anything is still being in Mental as Anything and still playing. “That is the absolute highlight,” he admits. “You tend to forget last week’s shows. There have been some line-up changes and things like that but Martin and I have been there, through thick and thin. We’re both Capricorns but we’re like chalk and cheese together and we don’t understand each other but we respect each other to enough of an extent to want to play together. I think we’re like the odd couple. We don’t write together. We compete. We write competitively. With the pair of us, we’re able to take the pressure of f the other one. You know, if one gets a sore throat or whatever, or coming up with the songs that we need to come up with to sustain the thing because we were putting single out after single. There were so many. I think we were able to because of the competitive nature of our song writing.”
With such a vast back catalogue of music, does he have a favourite to perform live? “It varies,” he replies. “I do like to do the ones that most people hang on to, I think; things like ‘Live it Up’ and ‘Nips‘ and ‘If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?‘ and ‘Too Many Times’.” Lately, Greedy has been singing Reg’s song ‘Nigel’ . “I’ve been enjoying that at the moment,” he says. “It’s a sad song about a bloke called Nigel who died. It referred to an XTC song called ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ and it’s about a real guy named Nigel that we knew that did die. It’s interesting to sing a bit of a eulogy.”
Recently, Greedy says that the band has been playing at quite a few festivals, performing alongside many of their contemporaries including Daryl Braithwaite, Russell Morris and James Reyne. Such shows allow the band’s music to be heard by a much wider audience than usual and more and more people, including younger generations of music fans, have now become familiar with their songs. And the more people coming to shows and buying their CDs (or downloads) the better. “That’s right,” he agrees, with a laugh. “I still have to put my son through school yet!”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey. All Righ