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KEYES TO THE CITY
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.
I HAVE NO DESTINATION
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."
WILL EVERY DREAM YOU HOLD SEEM SHINY AND NEW?
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!"
AND THESE DARK DAYS THAT WILL OWN YOU
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'
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)
Rush To Relax EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING (20, debut)
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
Coogee Boy PERRY KEYES
Lou Reed & Robert Quine PERRY KEYES
1982 PERRY KEYES
Boxing Day PERRY KEYES
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