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Howzat! Archive - March 10th 2010

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Perry Keyes laughs when Howzat! asks if he's ever had a bad review. "Yeah, heaps," he says, "mostly for mentioning places and people that nobody else has heard of." Perry's albums are like a travelogue - of Sydney's mean streets. As Chris Johnston wrote in The Age's Melbourne Magazine, "His songs are like the musical equivalent of a Rowan Woods film; similar narratives and similar geographies inhabit, for example, The Boys or Little Fish." Perry has just released his third album, Johnny Ray's Downtown (on Laughing Outlaw Records). He's launching it at the Toff on Thursday, April 8. It's only March, so it's ridiculously early to make this call, but this could easily be Howzat!'s album of the year.

The centrepiece of Johnny Ray's Downtown is the seven-minute epic Queen Of Everyone's Heart. Featuring a cameo vocal by former Eva Trout singer Bek-Jean Stewart, it's a tale of tragic romance. "When I was 15, I met a girl downtown," Perry explains. "I really hoped she'd be my girlfriend. Sadly, she'd been abused and she wasn't into that kind of thing. But she was lovely and I hung out with her that summer." Three years later, Perry was at a party at Taylor Square in Sydney. "There was a guy there selling drugs and I guess he was pimping some girls. He said, 'I've got to go down the park and check on some friends.' I went with him, and he had three girls working for him - and one of them was my friend." By Kings Cross station, you had no destination/ Surrounded by temptation, no sign of salvation. About three months later, Perry's friend was killed in a car accident. "She was sitting on the middle of a bench seat in a ute. They hit a pole and she died. The two boys in the car walked away uninjured." Queen Of Everyone's Heart is an instant classic, but Perry didn't plan to put it on the album. "Well," he admits, "this album is essentially male-centric. It's really about the boys I grew up with and what happened to them. There's this idea that when you're young, your actions have no consequence, you can do whatever you like and it doesn't matter. But this song is proof that's not true." Perry often thinks about his friend. "And I realise that the people who did the most damage to her were men, starting with her father."

Perry Keyes was about 14 when he wrote his first song. "It was about having to get drunk to tell a girl that I liked her. I think every first song a guy writes is about trying to tell a girl how he feels." It evolved into a song called Tongue Tied, which Perry still plays. The girl never found out it was about her. "You never tell them," he smiles. Perry is a remarkable rock 'n' roll story. He spent most of his first five years in hospital after contracting polio at the age of 14 months. It was the last laboratory-confirmed case of the disease in Australia. It meant Perry couldn't play footy with his mates, so he picked up the guitar instead. In the '80s, he formed a band called Leb Zetland with three Lebanese mates. They later re-named themselves the Stolen Holdens, playing regularly at Newtown's Sandringham Hotel. "People would be walking down King Street and they'd drop in for a beer and a song. And some of them stayed for three years." The Stolen Holdens had plenty of songs, but never released an album. "Recording cost so much back in those days," Perry points out, "and I couldn't justify paying that much money when I had to pay the rent." But the band's bass player, Earl Pinkerton, urged them to do a single so they could get a gig at the Hopetoun and some JJJ play. The seven-inch single, Waited All Night For You, was released under the name Perry Keyes And The 202s (inspired by Joe Strummer's pre-Clash band, The 101ers) after a band booker told them they'd never get anywhere with a name like the Stolen Holdens. JJJ didn't play the song and they never did get a gig at the Hopetoun. But the single did include the band's "crowd-pleaser" on the B-side, a song called Kevin's Down At The TAB, featuring the line: He walked home feeling like a cunt, he'd done the rent money on the punt. "We'd do it live and the crowd would wait to shout out the word cunt - very lowest common denominator stuff!"

Like early Paul Kelly, Perry Keyes likes to name things: I remember you standing by the machine/ A Winfield in your mouth and swearing Perry also writes about real people. "With this record, a lot of it actually happened. Obviously, some people recognise the references, but with a lot of the guys from that period, I either don't see them any more or they probably don't notice these albums." Perry grew up in Redfern, the toughest part of inner-city Sydney. Did he ever wish he was somewhere else? "Never. I'm glad I grew up there. I was lucky I was raised by wonderful people and I was surrounded by a very robust, hearty neighbourhood. You couldn't sit back and let things slide by, you had to get out there and live. When you're a little kid, you don't really know that you're growing up in a place that's a little bit fucked." In this shiny, shiny town they just keep fallin' down.

Not one homegrown hit in the national Top 20.

On A Mission GABRIELLA CILMI (number 21)
Black Box STAN WALKER (23)
Sweet Disposition THE TEMPER TRAP (24)
Art Of Love GUY SEBASTIAN (32)

The new Eddy Current album lands at 20.

Before Too Long: Triple J's Tribute To Paul Kelly VARIOUS (number 11, debut)
Black Ice AC/DC (14)
Conditions THE TEMPER TRAP (16)
Wrapped Up Good THE McCLYMONTS (26)
Hazardous VANESSA AMOROSI (28)
As Day Follows Night SARAH BLASKO (37)
Golden Rule POWDERFINGER (39)

Queen Of Everyone's Heart PERRY KEYES
Lou Reed & Robert Quine PERRY KEYES

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