Almanac Music: The Definitive Melbourne Song

 

 

 

“I envy ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’. They play songs that old men can sing in pubs and young people can dance to. We’ve been trying to do that for years.” U2’s Bono.

 

Of the many times I saw WPA play live, I think it was the first time that still remains the most memorable. ‘The Venue’ was a double storied, live venue on St Kilda’s Esplanade. Downstairs was a nightclub and upstairs was an expansive band room.

 

The stage was set high, so if you were tired of “pogo’ing” in the mosh pit, you could retreat to the back of the room and grab an ice cold VB and still see the band.

 

Just one problem. ‘The Venue’ was made entirely from timber and there was only one exit through a narrow door. Clearly a recipe for disaster, especially when we all smoked in the 80’s.

 

In 1988 WPA played support to The Pogues. It would be a celebration of rollicking folk rock with a punk attitude. WPA were blistering and it led to a superb set from The Pogues who were often unpredictable due to the erratic temperament of their gifted lead singer Shane McGowan.

 

As it turned out McGowan took a couple of slugs from a bottle of white wine and sang his heart out. The electricity both bands generated that night was palpable and the poor old Venue’s floorboards took such a hammering from the delighted mosh pit that there was concern we’d end up in the nightclub below.

 

Fast forward to Easter 2022 and it appears WPA may have played their last show at ‘Bluesfest’ in Byron Bay. Almost forty years on and judging by the footage that’s been floating around on line, they are still as adored as ever. There are even images of middle aged punters dragging their teenage kids along to hopefully garner a new generation of fans.

 

Singer/songwriter Mick Thomas has always had the ability to write stirring tunes, both as tender ballads and high energy “belters” like A Tale They Won’t Believe.

 

Whilst spending a few years in Tasmania with work in the early 2000’s my youngest daughter would insist on me playing this song every single trip.

 

The story of Alexander Pearce, an Irish convict sent to Port Arthur for stealing a scarf who ended up on the brutal Sarah Island is a story few Australians knew before Thomas wrote this song.

 

After escaping Sarah Island with five others he became our country’s first official cannibal as the ill-fated party headed south to Hobart. A book, a motion picture and documentary have now been made of this incredible story.

 

The song is taken from their brilliant 1989 album The Big Don’t Argue recorded in the US and criminally ignored in Australia. The title is aptly named after Tony “Plugger” Lockett. This is WPA performing the song live in 2006 in Queenscliff.

 

 

Despite the cult-like following around the world, WPA never gained the commercial success they deserved. Their Xmas shows at The Central Club were raucous, sweaty and joyous and I was fortunate to see their first “final” show at a natural amphitheatre in the Swan Valley, Perth in 1999.

 

In their final encore, the band invited some of the crowd up onto the stage to sing a traditional acapella number and suddenly a horde of faithful fans were lifted up on the high stage to the bemusement of security. They were hoisted up on stage by fellow punters providing an impression they were on escalators. Another unforgettable WPA show.

 

As winter encroaches on what’s been a stunning autumn in Melbourne, my mind switches to what makes this city so special particularly when the chill arrives.

 

No doubt for me it’s always been the paradoxical nature of Melbourne that I love so much. No other city can mix sport, art and a plethora of cultures like Melbourne does and Paul Kelly sums it up beautifully in From St Kilda to Kings Cross.

 

I want to see the sun go down from St Kilda Esplanade
Where the beach needs reconstruction, where the palm trees have it hard
I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour (all that land, all that water)
For that one sweet promenade

 

 

There is a compilation album I purchased in 1993 called Moon Over Melbourne that was a tribute to the city containing local artists interpreting other Melbourne artist’s songs.

 

Some of the tracks are,

  • Melbourne Girls, by Paul Kelly performed by Vika and Linda Bull
  • Carlton (Lygon St Limbo), by Skyhooks performed by Jane Clifton
  • Charcoal Lane, by Archie Roach performed by Paul Kelly
  • From St Kilda to Kings Cross, by Paul Kelly performed by Stephen Cummings and Chris Abrahams

 

It’s a lovely tribute album but for me there’s one definitive song missing. For Melburnians, meeting under the clocks at Flinders St Station is a standard tradition. Only a week ago I met my eldest daughter there to see a Comedy Festival show and before phones it was always the easiest and most efficient way to catch up.

 

For me WPA’s Under the Clocks encapsulates everything we love about Melbourne in winter. Taken from the classic album Roaring Days from 1988, this is the song and the lyrics.

 

Hey, hey, I see a Melbourne girl on a rusty Malvern Star
Through the spastic Northcote streets at dawn
See the way her hair’s tied back
Her cheeks so red, a grey coat ragged and worn
Picture this, a paper boy
He stands outside a Collingwood hotel
On his back black and white
He hums a tune I’ve learnt to hate so wellBut oh oh, won’t you meet me
Under the clocks, we’ll go walking by the river
Through the mud and through the slime
Are you so surprised
That I am here, full of cheer
In this fair city, in the Winter time
Well I’ll tell you what, it’s such a lark
We’ll take a walk down Fawkner Park
And check the health fanatics
See them, they go jogging there
Could buy some chips, a piece of flake
Drive down and eat them by the lake
I know a shop in Chapel Street
Where nothing could compare
But oh oh, won’t you meet me
Under the clocks, we’ll go walking by the river
Through the mud and through the slime
Are you so surprised
That I am here, full of cheer
In this fair city, in the Winter time
We could find a pub where it is warm
Study up our racing form
Hit the TAB, we’ll blow our money there, tell me this –
Is there anywhere you’d rather be
Than with me at the MCG
And if the Saints get done again
By Christ, I couldn’t care
But oh oh, won’t you meet me
Under the clocks, we’ll go walking by the river
Through the mud and through the slime
Are you so surprised
That I am here, full of cheer
In this fair city, in the Winter time
In the Winter time, in the Winter time
In the Winter time, brrr!

 

As a post script, In 1990 WPA recorded a tribute EP to Melbourne legends The Sports, called Weddings Play Sports. My best friend Greg, who had been tutored on guitar by Mick Thomas whilst completing year 12 at Chanel College in Geelong a few years prior, was in the CBD intent on buying it at an independent record store.

 

Greg had just finished his teaching degree and was working a summer job as a Trades Assistant on a construction site earning big coin. As the EP was exchanged at the counter for his hard earned cash, a voice came from behind him. “Nice choice mate.”.

 

As Greg turned smiling, he immediately recognised Mick Thomas who did the same with Greg. They exchanged pleasantries especially given Greg had bought a guitar from Mick when he left high school. “So what are you up to?”, Mick enquired.

 

Greg brought Mick up to date and when he mentioned the TA job, Mick asked how much he earned. Greg obliged and Mick asked if there were any jobs available.

 

This was a stark realisation that despite the extraordinary talent of Mick Thomas, a man who’s song writing and band had been lauded by one of the world’s biggest bands only a year prior after touring together nationally, was still in need of regular work.

 

And The Voice still exists. There’s no accounting for taste. Regardless, the memories of WPA will remain with me for life. Authentic Australian songs and live performances delivered with genuine passion. You couldn’t ask for more.

 

 

Read more stories from Almanac Music  HERE

 

If you would like to receive the Almanac Music and Poetry newsletter we will add you to the list. Please email us: [email protected]

 

To return to the www.footyalmanac.com.au  home page click HERE

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

 

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE

 

 

 

About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker, blogger and coach of Eastern Warriors Over 35s (new players always welcome!). Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

Comments

  1. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Ian. I enjoyed this piece, including ‘Under The Clocks’ – quintessentially Melbourne, and quintessentially an Australian winter song, too. I’ll put it in the comments section of my ‘Australian Winter Songs’ Footy Almanac piece. Cheers!

  2. Many thanks Kevin. Much appreciated. thanks for reading cheers

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Enjoyable piece Ian, thanks.

    Makes me wonder, what meeting places do other places have? Adelaide has the “Mall’s balls”, The MCG has plenty of statues, gates and light towers.

  4. Many thanks Mark much appreciated

  5. Mark Courtney says

    Excellent piece about a superb and sadly underrated band.
    Under The Clocks is one of the most evocative songs about love of home I have ever heard.

    There are a few references to sport in Mick Thomas’s songs over the years and two have been about my teams in the NRL and the EPL, which excited me no end when I first heard them.

    Firstly, in the WPA cover of One Perfect Day (Little Heroes), they replace “… and did the Government fall last night?” from the original with “… and did Arsenal win last night?”
    And then, in the song I Wonder What They’re Doing In Sydney Tonight from Mick’s country rock opera Over In The West, the character who left Sydney many years before muses:
    “I wonder what they’re doing in Sydney this minute?
    Are they playing the League? Are the Rabbitohs in it?”

    Mick is a truly great songwriter and yes, it beggars belief that many of his songs remain undiscovered by the larger populace when they should be celebrated.

    Thanks for this piece. Really enjoyed it.

  6. Good stuff, Ian. I believe I comment on the WPA appreciation society FaceBook page.

    We definitely think along similar lines…

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/almanac-music-aussie-album-review-weddings-parties-anything-roaring-days/

  7. Thanks for reading Smokie. I remember reading your WPA piece a while back. It’s a ripper. Much appreciated.
    Thanks also to Mark for the kind words.

  8. Ian Lewis says

    Lots of great memories there, Ian, and I agree with your choice for a quintessentially Melbourne song. I was at both Port Fairy Folk Festival and Bluesfest this year, catching three WPA shows in all. Just as always, full of energy and passion. Even though it’s been a while between performances, there are always just enough Weddo’s fanatics to lead the crowd in vocals, actions and tossing coins. Such great shows and so much fun!

  9. Frank Taylor says

    Thanks Ian,
    What can you say – yes, WPA are SUCH an iconic, local and talented band that, in good Australian tradition, have been ignored as soon as they stuck their heads above the ramparts.
    Mick Thomas is a fair dinkum, genuine music legend.
    Thanks for the piece
    Frank from Panton Hill

Leave a Comment

*