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Welcome to Living in the Land of Oz

Howzat! Archive - December 14th 2011

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2011: WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?
Khe Sanh cracked the Top 40 for the first time. Angry Anderson joined the National Party. Meat Loaf "sang" at the Grand Final. Yes, it was a strange year. Local singer-songwriter D. Rogers was like Mike Williamson at the 1966 Grand Final, saying, "I tipped this!" After calling his latest album Natural Disasters, the nation was battered by floods, fires and cyclones. And when Dave went to launch the album at the Northcote Social Club, the city was hit by a freak storm, which stranded many punters. Dave joked that he was going to call his next album "Perfect Album Launch Weather".


ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Great performers get lost in the music. They're unpredictable, moody and inspired. And great art is timeless. It also takes time. This artist's first solo album came 25 years after his band's classic debut. "I have my own fire to light again," he declared, inviting the listener to "hear me sing". It's an offer you can't refuse, with his voice both majestic and occasionally menacing. Call it Peno envy, Ron S. Peno is Howzat!'s Artist Of The Year.


GIG OF THE YEAR

It was a festival of festivals. But the best gigs still happen in dark rooms on sticky carpets. On Preliminary Final night, Howzat! was not happy. We turned up to the Northcote Social Club, still upset that the Melbourne Storm weren't going to get the fairytale finish they deserved. Dave Graney was the first person we bumped into. Later that night, he took the gig somewhere else, telling a tale that involved guitarist Ben Michael X, Natalie Imbruglia, a vagina and some crystals. As the band looked perplexed, Dave ordered them to "play me something that stinks!" Dark Magic, indeed. Sand Pebbles with special guest Dave Graney is Howzat!'s Gig Of The Year.


REFORMATION NATION
Everything old is new again. Cold Chisel did 2011's biggest tour, while Icehouse re-released the Flowers' debut, appeared at Meredith and did a "secret" Espy show. Twenty years after the classic Doughboy Hollow, Died Pretty did a one-off gig at Cherry Rock. Huxton Creepers returned to promote the CD release of their debut. Icecream Hands started the year with a gig at the Northcote Social Club. The Hummingbirds did the Sydney Big Day Out, and Clouds re-appeared. The Killjoys have never broken up, but they were resurgent in 2011 with the wonderful Pearl, a sequel of sorts to their debut, Ruby. Mi-Sex returned - with Noiseworks' Steve Balbi on vocals, while The Angels did gigs with Dave Gleeson out front. And Hunters and Collectors came back to play at the V8 Supercars in Sydney. Never say never, Powderfinger.


LABEL OF THE YEAR
The year started with a shock. After nearly 21 years at Shock Records, their longest-running employee, Dave Laing, departed, joining the Fuse Group. It caused confusion at Fuse - where there was already a Dave Lang - but the infusion of another passionate music man energised the label and by year's end, they had delivered some of 2011's finest compilations from Ups & Downs, Essendon Airport and The Screaming Tribesmen, a live album from Young Modern, new albums from Ron S. Peno and Laura Jean, as well as signing the prolific Van Walker. Fuse also started a magazine called Strangelove, and the group includes the TITLE record stores. At a time when record companies are looking to do nothing more experimental than a 360 deal, it's great to see a label that still loves music. Fuse is Howzat!'s Label Of The Year.


VIDEOS OF THE YEAR
The days of the big-budget clip are over. But with the rise of YouTube, the video has regained its relevance. Two Melbourne acts created clever clips in 2011. Sophie Koh's Lo-Fi is a one-shot supermarket spectacular, while The Little Stevies' Feel It manages to both send-up and celebrate dance videos. "We're terrified by music video as an art form," admits guitarist/bass player Robin Geradts-Gill. "You get this one chance to show the world what you're like when you're not on stage. We always try to make them as interesting as possible - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't." Feel It works, as does Lo-Fi. Check 'em out at YouTube.


ROCK IN PEACE
The year started terribly, with the loss of two legends. Guitarist Harvey James - whose first Sherbet recording was the classic Howzat - died of lung cancer on January 15. He was 58. The following day, Cold Chisel drummer Steve Prestwich - who wrote Forever Now and When The War Is Over and co-wrote Flame Trees - died of a brain tumour at the age of 56. Margot Smith, a Best New Talent nominee at the 1994 ARIAs, died in April. Her producer Steve Kilbey wrote: "Fucking alcohol claims another victim. I hate alcohol, I hate what it does sad, tragic, inevitable, useless, pointless waste of a rare and fabulous gift." April also saw the passing of blues pioneer Dutch Tilders. He was 69. Cancer also claimed the life of one of Howzat!'s favourite rock chicks, Josie Jason. She was just 49. Her funeral, appropriately at the Espy, was a wonderful celebration of a rock 'n' roll life. Also in 2011, we said goodbye to one of Melbourne's most important venues, The Arthouse. The Public Bar also disappeared, and disturbing rumours surrounded the future of the Prince and the East Brunswick Club. Silverchair announced their "indefinite hibernation". And, after 24 years, the final episode of Video Hits went to air.

*The 2011 wrap continues next week with Howzat!'s albums of the year plus a look at the year on the charts.

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