4TheRecord is dedicated primarily to Ausmusic from all eras and most genres, we will explore the dynamics of the creative process, and reveal the great drama, lyricism, musicality, and emotion behind each classic song.
THE 1980’S – BIG HAIR, BOOMBOXES, SYNTHS, AND NEW WAVE- Part 2 – NICK CAVE
Nick The Stripper (N Cave) – The Birthday Party 1981, and Tupelo (B Adamson/ M Harvey) 1985 and Stranger Than Kindness (B Bargeld/ A Lane) -Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds 1986
The Boys Next Door debut album Door Door had flopped, and Mushroom Records lost interest in the group, they then hooked up with Keith Glass and his Missing Link label. The EP Hee Haw continued to chart new ground for the band as a reaction against conventional rock/pop music, with Cave’s abstract, neo-absurdist lyrics, and improvised musical embellishments, often pulling in the opposite direction to the songs written by Rowland S Howard, who had penned Shivers, their debut song. Below L-R Keith Glass, album artwork, Rowland S Howard.
The band became a minor local act with a small but loyal following, however their generally obstreperous attitude, and drug and alcohol abuse, upset venue promoters, the rock press/media, and fellow performers when they failed to honor gig commitments. They were banned from certain venues, including the popular Bombay Club in Melbourne, Cave was arrested several times for drunkenness, driving without a licence, and colliding with a police car in company with his girlfriend Anita Lane, so the time was right to relocate to England, the band changed their name to the Birthday Party, and arrived in London in February 1980. Below -Anita Lane and Cave.
The band were totally unprepared to make a credible assault on the English market, they had no marketing or management support, their manager Keith Glass had remained in Australia and was not represented overseas. They were broke and living in a filthy squat in Maida Vale, the weather was bleak, they found England a class-ridden sordid place, and the local music scene all seemed to be about cute pop from bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes.
They would play a total of eight gigs in eight months in England and return to Melbourne in November of 1980, where they released their debut self-titled album which failed to chart, their second album Prayers on Fire, released in 1981 was recorded at Armstrong Studios and Richmond Recorders in Melbourne, and it too failed to chart.
The only single released from the Prayers on Fire album was the demonic Nick The Stripper, musically it was barely controlled racket which included brass accompaniment from jazz rock band Equal Local – Mick Hauser (tenor sax), Stephen Ewart (trombone), and Phil Jackson (trumpet) – but rising above all that was Cave’s vocals, which ranged from desperate to simply menacing and demented, apparently dredged up from his tortured gut. The music video was appropriately surreal, ringleader Cave cavorted around in a nappy with either “Hell” or “Porca Dio” inscribed on his chest, swinging from a tent pole and exhorting his band of sideshow freaks and fire-breathers to join him in the chaos, and descend into hell.
But there were signs that Cave’s dark theatrical persona was emerging, and this developed further on their third album Junkyard (1982), on which the tracks were generally distorted, abrasive, vicious, and scratchy. The band members and their producer Tony Cohen often passed out on drugs, the song Big Jesus Trashcan alluded to a grotesque vision of Elvis Presley as the quintessence of rock and roll music “Wears a suit of gold (got greasy hair), but god gave me sex appeal”.
The album cover was a grotesque creature created by custom car manufacturer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, which depicted a mother’s worry, leather-capped deformity, squatting at the wheel of an elongated, flame-belching hot rod, reaching for the steering wheel with one taloned claw, and holding a flaming birthday cake aloft with the other, the anarchic energy and humour of the artwork matched the discordance, ferocity and surrealism of the music inside. The Birthday Pary L-R – Phil Calvert, Mick Harvey, Nick Cave, Tracy Pew.
The Junkyardrecording sessions at Armstrong’s were notable too for the drug-fueled antics of the band, where they graffitied the toilet walls with blood from their syringes, Cave explained that “When you’re an intravenous drug user, blood plays a big part in your life.” but after they dismantled part of the plumbing system trying to retrieve a lost needle – the cleaners went on strike for 2 weeks, and they were banned from recording at Armstrong’s thereafter. Cave was by now perfecting his Southern Gothic style that would become his signature, imbued with an overheated religious fervour that would in the future lead his characters down some dark, violent and murderous paths. Below -L-R – Tracy Pew, Blixa Bargeld, Thomas Wydler.
The band returned to England in 1982, Pew joined them several month later after he had completed a prison sentence for theft, the band was getting regular work around London and on the Continent, but by 1983 the Birthday Party had broken up and original drummer Phil Calvert moved onto the Psychedelic Furs. The first line-up of the Bad Seeds was formed comprising Cave, Harvey, Blixa Bargeld (guitar), Barry Adamson (bass), and Thomas Wydler (drums), Adamson would be replaced by Martyn Casey and Conway Savage recruited on keyboards, and this became the relatively stable six-piece Bad Seeds line-up throughout the 1990’s, Rowland S. Howard left the band in 1985 and original bassist Tracy Pew sadly passed away in 1986.
The band would soon be based in Berlin, where they felt there was a more supportive creative environment than London, their debut album From Her to Eternity was recorded at Trident and Garden studios in London and produced by Flood (Mark Ellis), here they moved further away from their punk roots, bringing in an atmospheric sense of musical experimentation that paved the way for the future use of lush orchestration, while still remaining faithful to their darker blues roots.
It’s follow-up, 1985’s The First Born Is Dead, recorded at Hansa studios in Berlin, declared its intentions with the opening crack of thunder and a downpour of biblically epic proportions that leads the listener intoTupelo. A song inspired by John Lee Hooker’s song of the same name; which in turn inspired Cave who felt that the destructive storm was emblematic of the birth of Elvis, and further claimed that not even Elvis’s identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, stillborn 35 minutes prior to Elvis, was able to survive the King’s arrival. The moody obsessions of rural blues – trains, floods, imprisonment, sin, fear, death, and retribution – seemed made to order for Cave, and he would channel the sounds and emotions of American roots music on many albums in the future, and as he tapped into their gloomy iconography, he gradually substituted the dissonance and sonic assault of the Birthday Party with a more subtle, balanced, and resonant sound.
Quickly they followed up with Kicking Against The Pricks (1986), an album of covers featuring blues classics from Leadbelly and John Lee Hooker, mixed with country (Jimmy Webb’s By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Johnny Cash’s The Singer), epic pop (Gene Pitney’s Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart), classic rock’ n ’roll (a creepy take on Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe) and stoned east-coast art-rock (a punky version of The Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties). The band had not only demonstrated the vast range of styles they could take apart and re-construct in their own image, but also deftly ensured they’d never run the risk of being pigeonholed again. Below – Album Artwork (2), Cave and Lane.
After years of swagger, there’s was a sense of pathos running through 1986’s Your Funeral, My Trial, and it’s difficult not to attribute it at least in part to the heroin addiction Cave was plagued by at the time it was made. Even at its most theatrical, as on the vivid tale of a missing circus performer on The Carny, it often felt more like a novel set to music than a traditional rock album. It’s also more collaborative, its centrepiece – the beautifully melancholic Stranger Than Kindness – was written by Blixa Bargeld and Cave’s then-partner Anita Lane.
Despite little publicity Anita Lane was a pivotal member of The Birthday Party, much more than simply Nick Cave’s muse, she was a gifted song writer who contributed such songs as From Her to Eternity, A Dead Song, The World’s A Girl, Kiss Me Black, Sugar In A Hurricane, Dead Joe, for The Birthday Party and Stranger Than Kindness for the Bad Seeds. Lane seemed to be charged with a rampant, unstable, fatal energy, and she lived her life accordingly. Commenting on the first time he met her Cave said “Standing on the street in a baby-doll dress, surrounded by sunshine, laughing and radiating a piercing beauty of such force you would stop breathing, I could not believe my eyes. Everyone wanted to work with her, but it was like trying to trap lightning in a bottle, she was the smartest and most talented of all of us, by far.”
They had been together since 1977, and were about to end that relationship, the lyrics to Stranger Than Kindness were opaque, but seemed to explore the reasons for the break-up with Cave, drug abuse, infidelity, and the frayed bonds of the personal and professional lives that they had shared, it was Cave’s favourite song, sadly Anita Lane passed away in 2021.