The much-anticipated Red Parrot Reunion gig went off last night, 4th May 2013, some 30 years after the iconic Perth venue hosted Perth’s alternative-music snobs and local and international bands. Along with the Perth Underground, the latest in punk, ska, electronic and “post punk” alternative music, usually British inspired, was showcased at the original Parrot venue along with local and international alternative bands, which the Underground did not have the space for.
Nostalgia was flowing freely among the Gen-X crowd, some of whom had scraped, gelled and dressed their ageing forms in impressive garb of the day. Bizarrely, a surprising number looked like they had just stepped out for a pizza and stumbled in the door in shabby flannel shirts. Perhaps the memories of the time were hazy. The Bakery venue was packed to capacity with people many of whom probably hadn’t got their groove on in years, but seemed to remember pretty fast. The bar staff were completely overwhelmed at the start. Apparently, The Bakery didn’t think middle aged people would be that thirsty.
The most nostalgic feature was being reminded of the culture clash that existed in Perth at that time. Perth was dominated by cover bands, slick, professional, well rehearsed replicators of commercial music who ruled over beer gardens. Red Parrot and Underground were mainly for the marginalised misfits, the music snobs, the gays, the intellectuals, the fashionistas. The evening highlighted that sociological divide.
Live music harking back to the period was provided by an odd selection of musicians, with a selection of DJs sourced from the era. The much loved Errol H. Tout kicked off the live set with his expertly rendered guitar solo, “Helicopters”. The crowd stood in quiet reverence for a living legend of original music.
Then came those anchors of the independent Perth music scene of the 80s, Jill Birt and Alsy Macdonald, veterans of The Triffids. Survivors, who reminded us of the much respected and departed David McComb. I gritted my teeth through the opening chords from two excruciatingly out-of-tune guitars. It failed to improve. Ms Birt had a tedious and lacklustre voice 30 years ago, last night she could not find a note for trying. As bizarrely as in 1980-something, there was quiet appreciation nonetheless from the very hungry crowd. Songs selected were downbeat dirges, such as Raining Pleasure, the Triffids number where back in the day everyone would vacate the dance floor to get a drink or visit the loo.
And this is the thing about 80s Perth independent music: much of it was crap. Respected, fostered, intellectually defended against the Cover Band dominance, but almost universally with no work ethic, no ability to edit, and no great future as international performers or songwriters. This correspondent, veteran of two small-time original Perth 80s bands, can relate with authority.
The cultural divide was further illustrated by the second act, Femme Fatale. In the tradition of Perth cover bands, they were slick, professional and polished. They were also, technically, anathema to the original Parrot culture. They delighted themselves with a cover set, which fortunately featured the work of bands such as The Cramps. Back in the day, the hardcore Parrot denizens would have decried such heresy; last night, their professionalism and “cool” song choice got them over the line. Denise Di Marchi (The Kind, also sister of ex- Baby Animals Suze) stepped on stage towards the end of the set with a superb voice undiminished by the passage of time. Cover bands: 1, originals, 1.
Enter the DJs. General Justice, a legend of vinyl, gave an inspired mix of superb period alternative type music. It was spoilt by one thing only, he seemed to have no idea how to crossfade tracks for a seamless dance experience, just abruptly cut disparate chunks of music together. Brent Smith: some good things there, but why do DJs often indulge their ego by imposing their eclecticism? Take a hint dudes, when you play Andean panpipe music and the dance floor clears, it is a vote.
The Parrot supergroup featuring many original music veterans promised much, but delivered confusion. As one Facebook post had it, “Pretentious:- When the band starts strumming Joy division and the Vocalist tells us how he hates New Order! And then launches into a woeful cover of Black Sabbath…”
DJs Claude Mono and Snuff saved the day, and the real beneficiary of the night was the two AIDS/HIV charities supported by net proceeds. The unpaid hard work by the self-appointed tragics of the Committee in getting the event together deserves a big vote of thanks. If this turns into a recurring event, I’m sure it will be supported and will give all of us another opportunity to be insufferable music snobs once again.
But please, more vinyl next time?