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Interview: ROSS WILSON

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The Melbourne Spring Racing C

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is in full swing, leading up to that huge annual event in November; the race that stops a nation. And for the last three years, thanks to Oz music legend Ross Wilson, it has also been the time of the Spring Rockin’ Carnival.  “I stick around Melbourne for racing time because Tania my wife loves this time of year,” Ross confides in our recent interview. “We get invited to some of the marquees and so I have a thing called the Spring Rockin’ Carnival every year so I stay in town.”

And the singer is about to do it all again this weekend, with his band The Peaceniks, for the fourth year in a row, with gigs in Melbourne at the Caravan Club, The Flying Saucer Club, Yarraville Club and The Gateway Hotel, Corio in Geelong which should keep the punters happy.  The Peaceniks, he says, is a fairly stable line-up of musicians these days. “Sometimes one or two aren’t available but I’ve got other guys I can get. But the basic line-up is a guy called Haydn Meggitt on drums who is the youngest member; he comes from Perth. A New Zealander… actually an Aussie now… Chris Praha on bass, Eric McCusker from Mondo Rock on guitar… we love playing together! And on keyboards is a guy called Colin Snape. He’s excellent and he does a lot of work in the background for soundtracks, X Factor, and Australia’s Got Talent and all that.  He does a lot of recording for that. We’re out on the road sometimes and after the gig he’s back in his motel room mixing parts and getting it back over there on the internet.”  With all the advances in technology these days, being on the road doesn’t necessarily stop you from recording. “Well, it hasn’t stopped him.” Ross says with a laugh.

Of course, The Peaceniks is not the only band that Ross has been touring with this year. Mondo Rock was on the road earlier this year celebrating the 33rd Anniversary of their classic album ‘Chemistry’. According to Ross, it was a very successful tour. “It went great. We had a lot of rehearsal and played five cities. It sold out. And that’s translated into some summertime gigs. We’re doing one at Werribee Mansion. Mondo Rock are playing at One Electric Day so November, I start off with this Spring Rockin’ Carnival then we do a Mondo Rock gig and then we actually tour, I think, as well and then Daddy Cool are going in the Victorian Music Hall of Fame and we’re doing a gig as well so this November everything I’ve ever done is coming around to haunt me!” he jokes.

On 19th November, Wilson’s iconic band Daddy Cool will be inducted into The Age Music Victoria Hall of Fame. The band will also reunite to perform an hour long set at the event. “It will quite likely be our last gig,” says Ross then he adds with a laugh, “We always say that.” Daddy Cool was previously inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006. However, there is a difference between the two honours, as the singer points out. “Victorian Hall of Fame is linked with The Age. We like The Age. You see, the other Hall of Fame is the ARIA Hall of Fame. That’s a vested interest because it’s the Australian Recording Industry whereas this one is more just the culture of it; like the fact that we came from Melbourne. I don’t think Daddy Cool would have come into being if we’d lived in another city. The conditions (in Melbourne) at the time were very good for experimenting and doing different things so that’s what happened. The foundation of my success really came from Daddy Cool. Before that, I’d been playing in little bands, learning how to do stuff. Daddy Cool was where it all came together and made sense and since then I’ve been fortunate enough to make a career out of music while a lot of my contemporaries had to give up along the way. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to do that for … what is it? Forty three years? That’s what happens when you decide to do something and you just put your head down and you make things happen and fortunately you find a few people who feel the same way that you do. I’m a singer and a songwriter but I wouldn’t sound any good unless I had good players playing with me so I owe them all too.”

Ross says that it will be the original line-up of Daddy Cool performing on the night along with a couple of honorary members. “We’ve got James Black on keyboards and piano and we’ve got an assistant drummer who is also from the Rockwiz Orchestra, Peter Luscombe because Gary Young has got bad arthritis. He can’t do a whole gig, thrashing it at the level that he used to. There was a Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons reunion and he did the same thing. He gets another drummer and they play together which is great so he doesn’t have to bash too much and hurt his wrists.”

So by the end of 2014, we would have seen Ross Wilson playing with Mondo Rock, Daddy Cool and his band, The Peaceniks, transitioning smoothly and seemingly effortlessly from one to the other and back again.  

“All the strands kind of fit together,” he points out. “When I do my own show, as you know, we put in a couple of Daddy Cool songs, a couple of Mondo Rock songs and some more recent stuff. I still love playing most of those songs but with Daddy Cool, we’re going to play for about an hour and we’re going to play a few songs that we haven’t played for about forty years; a couple of ones that we really like but we never really played much because they might be a little more musically demanding and when you’re doing a live show you want to keep moving. We’re practicing some of these lost songs that we really like and we’re going to put them in the set as well for our own amusement and hopefully it will be a good musical experience for everybody.”

With such an impressive repertoire, there are some songs in particular that Ross is rather fond of performing. “A couple of the songs that I’m talking about that have doo wops in them,” he tells me. “People don’t use that anymore but I really like that. It’s got a good heavy backbeat and triplets. It’s where rock ‘n’ roll really started. The doo wop thing is kind of another stream that went off in the early fifties until the late fifties. We always like playing those. There are a couple of songs that I’ve written, one called ‘Blind Date’ which is on the ‘Daddy Who?’ album and then another one called ‘Donna Forgive Me’ which is on the ‘Teenage Heaven’ album and, quite frankly, they’re among the best songs I’ve ever written. We haven’t played these songs probably since 1972 or something.”

Even after all these years of performing, the singer still gets a kick out of seeing and hearing the crowd react to his music. “I love it when people sing along,” he says. “We did a gig on Saturday up on the coast of NSW. It’s a small festival they have every year to raise money for charity and the crowd was just fantastic.  They sang along at the top of their voices to half the songs.  It was just incredible. You really feel like you’re doing something together when that happens. It’s not like us playing to you. It’s like saying ‘We’re all in this together.’ That’s the best reaction you can get when it’s just all one thing rather than the band and the people. We try to encourage that but they didn’t need any encouragement. They just started doing it.”

He is also happy to see that younger members of the audience seem to be increasingly familiar with his music and they get into it just as much as the fans that have grown up with Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock. “I love playing to the younger dudes,” he tells me.” They know the songs like ‘Come Said the Boy’ or ‘Eagle Rock’ or whatever but they don’t necessarily put it together with ‘Oh that’s the guy who sang them originally.’ The name Ross Wilson doesn’t really mean a lot. I should have a stage name,” he muses. “Something catchy; Ross Wilson sounds pretty boring,” he laughs. “But then they go ‘Oh yeah. I know that song. And you did that? Oh wow!’ and it all starts to make sense to them then.”

“I think the new generations have a different relationship with music than I did when I was young,” he reflects. “Everything’s like downloads and stuff now. It’s impersonal. I used to like having the single when I was twelve years old or sixteen or whatever and you’d read everything on the single. I used to get a single and I’d play it over and over and then flip it over to hear what’s on the other side. ‘Oh I like that too’. You’d keep flipping them over until your mum knocks on the door and says ‘I’ve had enough’. Now you’ve got Spotify and press shuffle.”  Yes, I agree, things have changed. Ross relates a story about his teenage daughter who bought a vinyl record for the first time. “She brought it home and she said ‘I want to play this’ I said ‘Bring it into my studio’. I’ve got a turntable there and I put it on Side 1. She comes out 20 minutes later and she says ‘Dad, there’s something wrong with the disc,’” he pauses a moment to ask if he has already told me this story. “Stop me if I’ve told you this story before,” he says. I assure him I haven’t heard the story and he continues.  “She’s looking at the cover and it’s got all the tracks listed from 1 to 12, right? She says ‘Dad, it won’t go past track 6’. I said ‘Watch this’ and I come in and I go ‘See this?’ and I turn it over… And she says ‘Oh wow!’ It’s a revelation!” he laughs.

Ross says that he enjoys listening to new music and there is one group in particular that he likes. “They are about to release their third album and it’s like sort of jazz mixed with electronic dub and the deep bass thing which is really good because you get all the frequencies in it. They’re called Submotion Orchestra. Their new album is about to come out and they’re very musical as well. They’re very big in England and I’ve been nagging people to get them out here because I think they’ll blow people’s minds. I saw them live at a festival in Europe last year.  I’d already been on to them before that. I actually made a detour to the festival just to see them. They’re incredible. They’ve got this really great lady singer. It’s hard to describe what they sound like. You have to listen to it yourself. I find that they’re really good and there’s a lot of rap and hip hop stuff that I like as well that’s pretty entertaining. There’s a lot of crappy ones but there’s a lot of good stuff too. I find K-pop pretty entertaining as well. You go online and you google K-pop and some of it is in English and the rest is in Korean.”

I ask if he has been doing much writing lately? “I haven’t been writing for a long time,” he admits. “But I’ve just started again. You can’t force it. Well, you can if you’re faced with a project where you’ve got to write this. Then you start writing it with some friends that you’ve written songs with in the past to kind of get it all flowing but I haven’t had that kind of feeling like I wanted to do that. It’s four years since I put out a new album but I just started toying with some things, restructuring a few songs and I feel like it’s going somewhere now. It’s like I want to do something different and it’s all starting to have an effect.”

So does that mean we can look forward to some new material next year?

“I hope so,” he replies. “What’s interesting is I made that album ‘I Come in Peace’. Not many people buy albums. You can sell a few on the road or sell a few on the net. It sold a few thousand copies but then Joe Cocker recorded the title track so that paid for the album. The album came out and it made a profit. It’s terrible if you put out an album that doesn’t make a profit or they’re sitting in your garage, and you’ve got lots of CDs that you can’t get rid of. It is kind of encouraging when somebody like Joe Cocker does your song. He did it at every show he did last year on his European tour and he put it on his CD and his DVD. They put out a vinyl version of the album which I’ve got a copy of so it’s all over the place. That album went gold in Germany. Here it sold about 200 copies or something. That makes you realise that the world’s a big place.” 

And will the next album be along similar lines to his last record?  “I think it will be a lot different,” he admits. “I’m just searching around for the right people to work with production wise, once I’ve got a few more songs. I’ve got a few songs that I’ve had for quite a long time that I haven’t used and I’m kind of rearranging them, changing them around. These are things I’ve been sitting on. The song ‘I Come in Peace’ took about ten years before I recorded it because I was hanging on to it until it had the right context. You don’t just throw every song you wrote in the last five minutes on an album. You’ve got to kind of make them all sit together so some of them are new and some of them you’ve been saving until the right time.”

In addition to the possibility of a new album (fingers crossed), and the usual never ending touring around the country, Ross and his band will once again embark on the Rock the Boat cruise, as part of an impressive line-up of artists. “I’ve done Rock the Boat 3, Rock the Boat 4 and I’m going on Rock the Boat 5 next year. It’s really good. We’ll be going to New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands.” He will also be performing on the Gallipoli 100thAnniversary Cruise but is only going on the first leg of that cruise. “I’m not going all the way to Gallipoli. It’s too far,” he explains.  But for now, there’s enough work here in the Land of Oz to keep him very, very busy. “Well,” he laughs, “I’ve got to make a living, you know…”


by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2014. All rights reserved

If you are in Melbourne this weekend, you can catch Ross Wilson and The Peaceniks at the following venues:

Fri Oct 31 – Caravan Club (special guest Pat Wilson)
Sat Nov 1 – Gateway Hotel, Geelong
Sun Nov 2 – Flying Saucer Club Mon
Nov 3 – Club Yarraville

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