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 extant recordings -- their two excellent 1970s Albums 'Still Point and Butterfly Farm' and a "Best Of.." compilation -- because they are prolific writers, and according to Mick they have "literally hundreds of songs" stockpiled, waiting to see the light of day.
Madder Lake was formed when two parallel friendships combined. Brenden Mason and Kerry McKenna who meet at high school in 1965. Michael Fettes and Jac Kreemers who formed their friendship approximately the same time.
All four shared an artistic background and an undeniable love for music. It was at Tech school they all meet and immediately bonded with music. John McKinnon was a friend of Jac’s, who was welcomed by the four as a fifth member. Initially the band starting performing under the name San Sebastian, and the song list consisted of various covers the band liked as opposed to the run of the mill tunes. All songs that were performed were arranged and modified to the absolute max. Nearly to the point of unrecognisable. It was the light bulb flashed and the band came to the realisation that all this work that was being channelled into covers should be focused on original material. Hence the name change to Madder Lake, re-equipping with new gear and starting the adventure of an original band.
(A very early Madder Lake playing at the Coburg Hall in 1972)By 1971 Madder Lake had started gigging, describing the band was difficult and finding gigs was proving just as difficult. The band approached Consolidated Rock an agency that was one of the main players at that time. A luke warm reception was given on the request for work. Thru sheer persistence the Madders began gigs at privately run functions, to the point of work was becoming reasonably regular and a following started to develop. Word got around and Consolidated Rock took another look. It was at this point Michael Gudinski became the managing influence on the band. The band started performing at higher profile gigs supporting headline acts :John Mayal and the Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann and the Rolling Stones.
Their first featured big gig was the first official act at the 1972 Sunbury pop festival and subsequent festivals. By 1973, the band had compiled enough material to produce an LP. From these recordings a single was the debut release. "Goodbye Lollypop" was the bands statement of good bye to the commercial rubbish most bands were playing and an introduction to the bands own brand of experimental music. Following the single was the release of 'Stillpoint', an album that original was conceived as one musical piece, but was later edited in the conventional track by track format. 'Stillpoint' went Gold nearly completely on Victorian sales only. At that stage a national profile wasn’t held by many artists.
1974 saw a change in members with replacement of John McKinnon with Andy Cowan. This impacted on the band material and direction changed. With this line-up 'Butterfly Farm' was produced, an album in a new direction, but unfortunately didn’t outsell 'Stillpoint'. Consequently this had an effect on the machine that was promoting us. In 1974 the band parted company with Mushroom and worked with various agents and independently.It was at this time that the band connected with Classical and pop conductor David Measham, and the concept of band and orchestra was touted. Madder Lake composed a piece based on Brave New World. The project still lies dormant, partly due to the death of David Measham (extract from Madder Lake's Website)
Interview with Madder Lake in 1978, Juke Magazine (reported by Allan Webster)
In the rock world, bands come and bands go - and once they're gone they rarely surface again. Madder lake intend to be an exception. One of Australia's top bands back in the early '70s, Madder Lake slowly degenerated through line-up changes and lack of continued commercial success to the point where they existed in name only.To explain the various changes would take several pages. But briefly, Madder Lake had two albums — Stillpoint and Butterfly Farm, the first released in 1973.
The band really began to take off after an appearance at the legendary Sunbury '72 pop festival on the outskirts of Melbourne. At the same festival the following year, they all but stole the show, taking three encores from an ecstatic crowd.
Madder Lake were one of the original artists on the Mushroom label and they enjoyed success with singles like "12-pound Toothbrush", "Goodbye Lollypop" and "The Bumper Bar Song"
The band now in its 10th year, was an amalgam of rock and "spacey" music. Lyrically they were often amusing and indeed varied — dealing with subjects such as a 22-stone rapist, groupies, the moon, booze and cars.
A focal point of the band was vocalist Micky Fettes — a demented-looking soul whose voice jnd stage antics possessed a lot of character. About five years ago Mick left Madder Lake, to pursue interests which included promoting, jingle writing and recording an album with local group 'Bandicoot'. It was a fine Oz rock album. Good songs and some excellent performances, but due to record company problems and other factors too numerous to mention, it never took off. Neither did the band, and it melted back into the Oz rock stockpot (see previous post)..
While Mick was busy, the remaining members of Madder Lake plugged away. They went through various changes, retaining a core membership of drummer Jack Kreemers, guitarist Brendan Mason and bassist Kerry McKenna.
In 1976, in a bid to re-establish the band, they released the single "I Get High" which did reasonably well in Melbourne. But not well enough to keep the band together.
The singer at that time, Tony Lake, split to Sydney and Kerry McKenna, who'd earlier gone overseas, returned. The band's original keyboard player John McKinnon returned and they kept at it. It got to the point last year where Madder Lake existed in name but rarely performed.
It was at one of these rare performances that Mick Fettes, who'd kept in close contact with the band, got up on stage to sing a few songs. Crowd reaction was such that they all agreed to reform the original Madder Lake and attempt to elevate the name to its former lofty heights.
I have many fond memories of Madder Lake. Steamy summer nights spent cramped in the tiny cavern that was Melbourne's Garrison rock nightclub, bouncing off the silver walls to old favorites like "Down The River" and "Slack Alice". Lying in a drunken stupor on the floor while the band raged onstage.
So here I am, years later, sitting in the offices of Mushroom Records (certainly in a more sober state) talking with Micky Fettes and Kerry McKenna about the reformation of Madder Lake.
It feels like the five or six years were merely weeks. Neither appear to have changed much. "It's been about five years since we played together," says Micky through a wide smile. For some inexplicable reason he and Kerry seem to have permanent grins. Perhaps the sort of smug expression that comes of knowing that you've got something special.
"It's quite freaky," explains Micky. "The first night we rehearsed it just started to happen.
"The musical rapport is just amazing ... the creative flair is even stronger than before.
"Just getting the chemistry is like winning Tattslotto. At rehearsals we just end up laughing it's so good".
Naturally, people who remember Madder Lake will be expecting to hear some of those old tunes — and the band is obviously aware. "About two-thirds of the show is stuff like Stillpoint and Butterfly Farm," says Micky."We've got an obligation to people because they'll be expecting to hear those songs — and the thing is we'll have a good time doing them".
"It's amazing that even after five years they still sound good," says Kerry. "There's the same original feel but a lot more finesse — smoother." Obviously the years have taught Madder Lake a lot, as musicians and in their ability to work within the industry.
"I think everyone has grown up a lot," says Micky, "and so has the industry."
As a result of their reformation, Mushroom Records is to release a "Best Of Madder Lake" album and at the same time are helping the band get back on the road.
"The songs don't seem to have dated at all — I think they're still really relevant," says Kerry. "They don't sound old at all, and they're still very unusual songs." Of course, the band will be playing a selection of new songs written by individual members over the years, and they have many others they hope to introduce later.
Initially the band is only looking ahead a few weeks. "At this stage we're just going on the road for a month to see how it goes then we'll take it from there," says Micky. "The whole thing has been professionally put together and we feel confident because all that side of it is together... now it just comes down to whether people like it." (Juke 1978, Issue #156, page 13)
This post is a recording made in the mid 70's by Madder Lake in Studio 620 ABC Perth, just before the band disbanded. It is my suspicion that because this live broadcast was made at Studio 620 ABC Perth, the band was probably in the middle of recording their uncompleted Brave New World project. To read more about this this project, see Milesago.
The rip (320kps) was probably taken from a tape of the broadcast and includes full album artwork (thanks to the original uploader Woodynet for the rip and artwork). I have also included a scan of the Juke magazine article for those historians out there. Thanks to Greg Noakes for the Madder Lake photo (see above)
And for the collectors there are some previously unreleased tracks here - Miracle Day, Higher-Higher-Higher, Money Honey and Do What You Do.
01 - Down The River
02 - Miracle Day
03 - Higher Higher Higher
04 - Money Honey
05 - Slack Alice
06 - Booze Blues
07 - Listen To The Morning Sunshine
08 - Do What You Do
09 - It's all In Your Head
10 - Song for Little Ernest
11 - 12lb Toothbrush
Mick Fettes (Vocals and Na Na Na's)
Kerry McKenna (Bass, Vocals)
Brendon Mason (Lead Guitar)
Jack Kreemers (Percussion)
Andy Cowan (Keyboards)
Madder Lake Link (100Mb) REPOST