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Mick Thomas – We Talk About Him, We Talk To Him

All Things Mick Thomas

Mick Thomas – Photo: Jim Jacob

MICK THOMAS’ ROVING COMMISSION

NEW LOCKDOWN ALBUM 

“SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE: A POSTCARD FROM APRIL 2020”

The Scene

We’re in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Mick Thomas is one of Australia’s most enduring artists – singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, hotelier. Soloist, front man of Weddings Parties Anything, Mick Thomas and the Sure Thing and lately Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission.

Four weeks of COVID-19 lockdown across the nation started mid-March 2020. Thomas decides to change plans, pens and records some songs reflecting the lockdown and isolation.

See You On The Other Side: A Postcard From April 2020 gets released in June.

Meanwhile, all of Australia experiences an impressive minimisation of infection spread and things start to open up in stages, life returning closer to normalcy. EXCEPT in the state of Victoria…which grapples with a Corona second wave and rising cases, to the point that the capital city of Melbourne becomes the sole, bad Australian egg and lockdown restrictions are re-introduced, starting two days ago and lasting at least six weeks.

Mick Thomas’s record becomes super-relevant for longer.

The Album

See You On the Other Side: A Postcard from April 2020 features seven songs, including “See You When I’m Looking At You”, a nine-minute touching ode to companionship. The song is created somehow collaborating at a distance with a treasure trove of local artists and friends such as Angie Hart (Frente)Nick BarkerVikki Thorn (The Waifs)Darren HanlonShelley ShortAlana JagtBrooke RussellVan WalkerRon S. Peno (Died Pretty)Alannah Russack (The Hummingbirds)Ben SalterDana GehrmanCam Butler and Jen Anderson.

Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission – Photo: Supplied

Sometimes an artist captures mood, situation, feeling so precisely that stuns the listener. We are all feeling rather vulnerable at the moment and the sweetness and imagery of Mick Thomas’ work on this collection is hard to absorb with a dry eye. A crowning achievement.

See You On The Other Side Track List

1. See You When I’m Looking at You (radio edit) 03:58
2. Rainbows and Bears 04:03
3. Round 14, 2009 04:58
4. I Heard Sally Singing 03:48
5. Ghost Train to Mernda 04:23
6. Mint Condition 02:41
7. See You When I’m Looking at You (full version) 08:51

Here’s Mick and the gang iso-collaborating:

The Interview

LTTL: Is it true that you had originally planned to record your next album in the USA, like its predecessor

MT: Yeah – there’s a studio in Tuscon Arizona I love the look of and I’d been in touch with the guy there. We’d just had our first band meeting to say, do we want to do this again? It’s going to take another mammoth amount of work, are we up for it? And it was a really positive, excited scenario. I came away and booked the studio – luckily I hadn’t put a deposit on it. And then we ended up doing an album without leaving the house.

Your first new single was the wistful “See You When I’m Looking At You” as a fundraiser for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. It now fits beautifully as the keystone of the new album. When did you decide to go beyond the song and put a collection together?

It really was the fish that grew and grew. I originally intended just to have a couple of things for the B-side as the big song began to take shape. But as it grew so did the other tracks and I think it was a significant thing for me to be opening my computer each day to files that were beaming in from around the country. It really kept me focused and engaged. I pretty much had all the rest of the tracks written while verses were still being sent in for See You When I’m Looking at You.

Tell us about working with Craig Pilkington who was your co-producer.  What special challenges did you have to overcome to put the album together under these isolation/COVID-19 conditions?

Craig has been a person I have constantly gone back to through the years. As it turns out I don’t think I could have had a better person working on this record in both his technical ability and his ability to problem solve and in his ability to grasp where a track or project is heading conceptually. It really was a major task to sync up all the bits that were coming in various formats and from people with a vast disparity in recording techniques and set ups. 

In particular I’m interested in how you assembled the wonderful epic arrangement of “See You…” collaborating with eight or so other singers, a veritable roll-call of roots-vocal royalty?

This where Craig’s tireless technical competence came to the fore. I had edited a couple of extra verses onto the original recording and had intended to do progress mixes so anybody adding a new verse could hear what everybody else had done. But after a while I came to see I was adding problems on top of other problems by having people play to an imperfect track. So I just stuck to the original recording I had sent out and let people write whatever they felt like and just sing to the original acoustic guitar which meant Craig had to edit a complete eight minute band track, get all the instruments sitting in there and then take a pile of vocals and get them in order and sounding credible and logical. It sounds incredibly coherent and logical to my ears which is an accomplishment considering it’s fragmented origin.

It must be heartening for you to see the warm response from so many of your talented peers, an indication of the lofty standing you have on the scene?

The one rule I have with any big project is not to hassle anyone. If people don’t get back to you it could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t like the song! I just sent it out to a few initially and when Angie Hart sent hers back and then Nick Barker I knew I had something I wanted to keep going with. From then on I just tried to keep it balanced in terms of gender and generation. It was great to hear from all those fine performers and know we were all thinking of each other.

Marketing the release would also have presented a testy set of logistical challenges, not to mention getting across all the on-line technologies?  How did you cope with that?

Once the film clip was done it was surprisingly easy in that without the possibility of playing live the problem of having the guests to perform with became a moot point. The one show we have done which was streamed from the Memo we had a few guests anyway and it worked pretty well. There’s not much chance of ever getting all those people together. It’s surprising how many of them haven’t actually met each other. Beyond that the only frustration has been not being able to do face to face interviews or actually get out and tour. I have struggled with some technical stuff as every radio station or podcast seem to use a different App or format  but I guess I’m not alone in having to deal with new things. I think the sound of people yelling at grandma through the computer to get her to unmute her Zoom mic is going to be one of the things we associate with this time.

You’ve captured perfectly the sense of loss and nostalgia for pre-pandemic days.  Two examples are pining for a live performance from Sal Kimber on “I Heard Sally Singing” and going to the Aussie Rules football at “Round Fourteen, Two Thousand Nine”.  There is so much we have missed out on.  What do you long for the most once we are out of this COVID-19 fog?

I just love going for a swim every day. I love travelling also but I reckon it’s going to be a while before I am doing either. I like playing gigs, running gigs for other people, I like sitting in restaurants and bars. I’m pretty much addicted to public places I think. 

Greater Melbourne has just gone back into lockdown – this time for 6 weeks.  As I frame these questions, it is Day One of Lockdown 2 and it feels like the grip of this winter will be heavy indeed, with the music business on its knees.  At least your new music will continue to provide comfort.  The decision to release when you did rather than outwait the health crisis looks to be a smart one?

Initially I saw Ben Salter and Chuck Jenkins releasing records during the lockdown and I thought ‘why would you do that when you can’t get out and tour?’ – but the longer it went the more I thought no, you can’t be waiting for the time to be right or to get all your ducks in a row. Fuck that. Also the amount of online nostalgia ‘name you top ten albums of all time’ really started to shit me and I thought how about we name our top ten albums of this year or top ten since the lockdown began? We make music because we are artists responding to what is going on around us. To be able to get the thing released so quickly has been exhilarating. I have released the majority of my records on big record labels and they can be terribly fussy about time frames and marketing strategies and consequently so many albums that come out are anything but fresh by the time they hit the shelves. 

An observation of these new, abandoned times is well captured in “Ghost Train To Mernda”, a reference to a local inner-suburban train line.  Now, that train line was recently extended to Mernda, previously stopping at South Morang. Would you have been able to reflect as well lyrically with South Morang!? 

Originally it was the Epping line! There was an accordion player from Holland called Ron Verhoef who spent a lot of time in Melbourne and he wrote and released a song called The Epping Train to Northcote and we always joked he was rolling in his grave when they changed it to South Morang so maybe I was subconsciously tipping my hat to him.

I remember your cosy live venue, the Merri Creek Tavern, particularly fondly as the last live show I attended pre-COVID-19 (US folk duo Ordinary Elephant on 12 March).  It must be heartbreaking to have to accept another sustained period of closure?

Gut wrenching. Mark Garnett – the main partner in the venue – has been trying so hard to get things right and be responsible. It is really gut wrenching. I believe in a good bar/pub and think we were/are well on our way to making one. Fingers crossed we can get back.

To conclude on a brighter note, you have just been announced to perform at Australia’s biggest event, Bluesfest next Easter.  Not one guise but two in fact – Weddings Parties Anything AND Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission.  That is a great achievement and it must be satisfying to get those spots and have that beacon of light to look toward?

You bet. Just hope the rest of the country is talking to Victoria by then! 

Photo: Jim Jacob

ADVERTISE WITH LISTENING THROUGH THE LENS

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All Things Mick Thomas

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Author: Rob Dickens

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2 Comments

  1. Nice chat with an enduring national treasure. Thanks for the neat new release Mick and all the best in weathering the tough times for the bar. WPA return in 2021… now that will be fun!

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    • True that Red! Thanks for the wishes

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