(Australia 1971–1976, 1978–1979, 1982, 1996–current)
Madder Lake was one of the most original and distinctive of the "new wave" of Australian groups that emerged around 1970. They were also an important and popular part of the of the Melbourne music scene. It's unfortunate that they're only known for their two excellent 1970s Albums (Stillpoint and Butterfly Farm - both now available on CD from Aztec) and one "Best Of.." compilation -- because they are prolific writers, and according to Mick they have are "literally hundreds of songs" stockpiled,waiting to see the light of day.
The original lineup — McKenna, Kreemers, McKinnon, Mason and Fettes — all met in 1968, while studying at the Swinburne Institute of Technology, Melbourne's renowned arts and media college. They built up a solid following on the Melbourne pub, disco and dance circuit, which was then still booming. The young band, all still in their late teens, quickly found their feet musically, and at this stage they were playing regularly, often two or three gigs per night, while studying during the day.
Madder Lake certainly evolved a distinctive sound very early on. According to Mick, the group's sound was very much in place by 1971. And while influences can be identified — English progressive groups like King Crimson, Family, Traffic — one listen to the 'Stillpoint' album should convince you that they were very much their own band.
A focal point was the energetic, bear-like presence and tough, bluesy voice of Mick Fettes. It's become a convention to compare his singing to Joe Cocker, but it's really only a surface similarity. If you listen with open ears you quickly pretty realise that Mick was (and is) very much his own singer. Another often overlooked feature of the group was their strong harmony singing.
Their first big break came in January 1972, when they were placed as the opening act for the epcohal 1972 Sunbury concert (and later at the 1973 Sunbury Concert). Later in the year, they became one of the very first bands signed to Michael Gudinski's fledgling Mushroom label, which had grown out of his work with Consoldiated Rock. In November they recorded their first single, the naggingly catchy Goodbye Lollipop (b/w Bumper Bar Song).
1973 was a peak year for Madder Lake. In January they played at the second Sunbury festival, and Mick fondly recalls 'hanging out' backstage with host Paul Hogan. In February with Goodbye Lollipop in the charts, they supported The Rolling Stones at their Melbourne concerts at the Kooyong Tennis Centre. In April '73 Mushroom released their classic debut album, Stillpoint, recorded at TCS Studios in January and March, produced by John French. It was another breakthrough success for the band and provided Mushroom with their first gold record. It reached #11 nationally and #2 in Melbourne, where they had become one of the top live draws.
Keyboard player John McKinnon left the group mid-way through 1973 ("musical differences"), and he was was replaced by Andy Cowan, who was introduced to the band by future Skyhook Bob Starkie (another former schoolmate of Brendan and Kerry's) In August, Mushroom released a second single, "12lb Toothbrush" / "Country Blues", which became an even bigger hit, going Top 10 in Melbourne and #35 nationally. Simultaneously, radio began picking up other tracks form the LP and at one stage, according to Mick Fettes, there were four or five tracks on high rotation on various Melbourne stations. This later proved to be source of some regret, when the band realised that they could have made much more of their success if other tracks had also been released as singles.
The second LP, Butterfly Farm, was released in April 1974; it sold very well (giving the band their second gold album) and went to #18 in the album charts. Mushroom lifted two Singles from it: the first was Butterfly Farm / Back Seat Song (April '74). Radio in Melbourne picked up one of the album tracks, Booze Blues, and gave it a lot of airplay. Many fans thought it was the new single, so Mushroom rush-released it in May, but it was only a local hit in Melbourne and didn't chart nationally. The next single, It's All In Your Head / Slack Alice (November) was written specifically as with radio airplay in mind, but it didn't make the charts.
In 1975, while on a trip to Sydney, Mick Fettes, who was very much the voice and face of Madder Lake, decided he had had enough, and one night before a gig at the Bondi Lifesaver he quit the group.
Mick took a well-earned sabbatical and then teamed up with an his old mate, musician & comedian Shane Bourne (now also well-known as a serious actor). Mick and Shane knew each other from the Reefer Cabaret, where Madder Lake had played many times, and where Shane performed comedy spots between acts. After several months' writing the pair formed a new group, Bandicoot, which also included drummer Gary Young (Daddy Cool). They recorded an album and single in 1976 for the Rainbird label, and toured extensively.(See my earlier posting of this album Bandicoot)
Mick was repleaced in Madder Lake by Colin Setches who had been in the original Australian stage production of Hair. Andy Cowan also left in late '75 and the band played as a three piece until John McKinnon rejoined in early 1976, but there were more lineup changes to come. Kerry McKenna left for three months to go to London, and he was temporarily replaced by Ian Holding (ex-Sunshine, Sayla). When he returned, he rejoined on second guitar and Tony Lake also came in, replacing Setches on lead vocals. There was evidently a rapprochement of sorts with Mushroom, and they released a new single I Get High / Rodney's Birthday in July 1976, on which McKinnon sang lead vocals; unfortuantely it didn't chart.
Tony Lake left the group in May 1977, and by this time they were rarely playing live. There is little information on what happened over this year, but in May 1978 Mick Fettes rejoined the group in, having quit Bandicoot sometime before. His return coincided with the release of Mushroom's The Best Of Madder Lake. The group still had a loyal following, it seems, and the compilation sold well enough for Mushroom to consider re-signing them. Plans were made for a new LP, but the reunion didn't last and Mick again left the band in January 1979, heading off for a year in Europe with his wife Vicky.
Although there have been some long "dry" spells, it's important to note that Madder Lake have never actually split up.
Madderlake have since played at a number of major concert events, most notable being the Mushroom Evolution Concert in 1982. The band have since got together on occasion (with a new drummer, Luke McKinnon, the son of their old keybord player John).
The next reunion was at the Mushroom 25th anniversary show in 1998, followed by a gig this year for drummer Jack Kreemer's 60th birthday. They played at the Queenscliff Music Festival in 2008, and re-releasing old works.
Guitarist Brenden Mason described the band's second innings as "a gift". "Most people our age are winding down, but we're just winding up," Fetts told Sticky. "We were underground then and we're still underground now. What amazes us is that when we get together, the music is better than back then.
"We hadn't seen each other for a few years. We had a ball. All the juices started flowing again. It was good fun and we started doing new stuff and songs that hadn't been recorded."[extract from milesago.com]
The rip provided here is a compilation of recent live recordings of Madder Lake, featuring their first come back concert at Musicland (Melbourne) in 2006 which was televised by Asylum TV. Many thanks to Ron Glover from Midoztouch for supplying me with this 'awesome recording' (320kps)
I have also put together some album artwork and included highlights taken from other 'guest appearances' at various major concert events (some sourced from YouTube)
01 - Interview 1
02 - Calling (Musicland 2006)
03 - Interview 2
04 - Song for Little Earnest (Musicland 2006)
05 - Interview 3
06 - Down The River (Musicland 2006)
07 - Interview 4
08 - 12lb Toothbrush (Musicland 2006)
09 - Live Medley (Mushroom Evolution Concert 1982)
10 - 12lb Toothbrush (Live Mushroom 25 Years 1998)
11 - Medley (Live at Guruland 2008)
12 - Medley (Live at Queenscliff Festival 2008)
Mick Fettes (Vocals and groans)
Brenden Mason (Guitar, Vocals)
Jack Kreemers (Drums)
Kerry McKenna (Bass, Vocals)
Andy Burns (Keyboards)
Madder Lake Link (112Mb)