After reuniting for a sold out tour in 2011, the original Moving Pictures line-up of Alex Smith, Andy Thompson, Charlie Cole, Garry Frost, Ian Lees and Mark Meyer, is back.
Forming in Sydney in 1980, it didn’t take long for Moving Pictures to make their mark on the local scene with a strong reputation as pub rock act with r’n’b influences; the band was in demand packing out venues night after night with legendary live sets that quickly garnered both industry and audience interest.
Their debut single, Bustin’ Loose, was their first foray into the charts, but it would be the anthemic follow-up single, What About Me?, that really solidified Moving Pictures’ place in Australian music history. The single reached No 1 in Australia, staying on the top of the ARIA Singles Chart for six consecutive weeks and taking out the Best Single Award at 1982’s Countdown Awards. The track also proved popular stateside reaching No 29 on the Billboard Singles chart and making it into Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 list for 1983 at No 88. Days of Innocence also spawned the hit Sweet Cherie and the band soon followed up this success with the album Matinee.
It’s been over three decades since Moving Pictures first hit the road together and the lads are back together for a tour – Echonetdaily caught up with saxophonist Andy Thompson and singer Alex Smith on a whistle stop, ah stop… in the potholed back blocks of Mullumbimby.
Two sweeter, funnier and down-to-earth guys would be hard to find and they are both very candid and at home with stirring each other, which tells the tale of camaraderie and brotherhood and a life joined by 33 years.
Alex: We’re back on the road – nothing’s changed in 30 years.
Andy: We did a 30th reunion gig about two years ago. That was a great run. We all had a great time and thought, ‘Let’s do it again. It’s been a couple of years. It’s great.’
So can we expect to see you every couple of years?
Alex: Well we’ll see what happens. It’s a bit like looking in a crystal ball and trying to find the future and experiencing deja vu at the same time. The future is always a coin toss but when we all get back in a room together it’s like you have only just left the room to make a cup of coffee. It’s not like years have gone by. It’s fantastic.
Andy: It’s more like a continuation than a re-launch or anything like that.
Have things changed?
Alex: No. We’re all a bunch of bitches. Road bitches.
Andy: The technology has improved – I can turn him down on my iPad. It’s fantastic.
Alex: Yes now we can control each other. He’s been trying to turn me down for years!
Are we going to see some new stuff?
Alex: Not exactly new, but some ‘old’ old stuff.
Andy: We have material that never got recorded.
Alex: Yes this is stuff that people used to really love and say to us ‘Why haven’t you ever put that on a record?’
Why didn’t you put in on a record?
Alex: Because a 12-inch piece of plastic was a limited thing – you could only fit a certain number of songs on. If we had managed to keep going for a few more years we probably would have.
Why didn’t you keep going?
Alex: The reason we stopped playing wasn’t because we hated each other or anything like that. We were in an untenable business position. We were signed to a label in America which was basically not a label any more, but they wouldn’t let us out of the contract. And we weren’t Robinson Crusoe. Australian acts were treated like that continuously in those days.
Hopefully it’s better these days. These days it’s a cottage industry. When we were involved in litigation with this guy in America, all he had to do was hang his phone up and that was it. These days it’s a hell of a lot easier. We come from the era of a steam-powered music industry and we’re still – well I’m still struggling. He (Andy) is a bit more au fait than me.
Andy: No I still use my chalk and slate most of the time. Because I’m a sax player, I’ve never had to plug in to anything, so I’m right.
Alex: We get there. My children sort out any of my computer problems for me. (Alex did let it slip that he only found out a few weeks ago what an MP3 is.)
What can we expect from the tour?
Andy: Probably the same ol’ same ol’ really, it’s just going to be a good old Australian rock show.
Has everybody still got their voice?
Alex: I think so. That’s what everybody reckoned last time.
Andy: After 30 years we actually play marginally better that we did then.
Alex: There’s been a little bit of water under the bridge. The playing is great. Surprising. The first couple of gigs we played on the last tour we sort of turned around and went, ‘WOW! So this is what that was about’.
So does what happens on the road still stay on the road or do you all fly in and have separate rooms on the Gold Coast?
Alex: Oh well. You know. All our managers have to talk to all their mangers and it’s just great – my entourage are still parking their cars!
Andy: No we can’t be bothered going through all that so we have decided to all just bunk in one room. It’s much easier.
Alex: We’ve all had loads of different life experiences over the years, but from my perception of how we all were last time round, we’ve all become much broader and much better people for it. No one’s gone backwards. No one’s become Eddy Insular.
Andy: From what I know they have all had pretty happy lives.
Do you have each other as Facebook friends?
Do you still have people in the audience waving lighters ?
Andy: Well I tried to get that going last time. Obviously lots of people don’t smoke any more, there was hardly a flicker.
Is your audience new or the same old people?
Alex: It’s a bit of both.
Andy: People bring their kids.
Alex: They come up to you with their kids to shake your hand and say to the kid, ‘You were conceived to him you know’ or you get the kids saying, ‘Oh I never knew bands from the 80s could really play.’
Is there anyone now in 2013 who is a version of Moving Pictures?
Alex: Not that I’ve heard. We were very original, you know? Chisel sounded like Chisel, The Angels sounded like The Angels.
Andy: INXS were like INXS.
Alex: We sounded like us and I think Australian music back then was so healthy because it wasn’t so much genre-based. You weren’t shoved into a pigeonhole and told you have to be like this, like ‘Right we need seven more Rose Tattoos and we need five more Angels and, ah, let’s have a couple more Divinyls over here’. But it sort of became that. I think the music industry lost it’s way when it became A&R driven, and A&R lost its way when they began to believe they were creating the acts and they were creating the hits as opposed to the artists. What about the bands? What about the writers? You went through a period that was really horrible where you were signed up by labels and the first thing they wanted to do was change you or to make you over into something else. Whereas these days, I think the whole Simon Cowell based television industry is for people who want to be made over into something else. We came from a period where to make a name, especially in say the Sydney pub circuit, you had to sound like nobody else and yet still be a rock band. It was the school of hard knocks. If you didn’t play well, if you didn’t engage the people, they let you know really bloody quickly.
Are you sick to death of What About Me?
Alex: No. I mean, there was a time in the 80s that if it came on the radio I would turn it off.
Andy: But we were also playing it three times a day at one point.
Alex: But once you got on stage and did it, a kind of Mercurial energy between the crowd and you that is so there and you’ve got a couple of thousand eyes staring at you going ‘yehhh’, it’s quite magical and no matter how many times you did it, it was always great.
Andy: It means a lot of things to a lot of people.
Alex: The night I put the vocal down on that, the producer Charles Fisher just sort of came up to me and put his arm around me and said, ‘You do realise, this is going to be an albatross around your neck for the rest of your life’.
Andy and I were at the Billinudgel Pub the other Friday night. It was great. There was like five people and a dog and a girl who walked around all night, ‘Gawn sing What About Me. You caaaaaan. You know you caaaaan.’
Are you still listening to yourselves?
Andy: Only to remember how to play the songs.
Alex: Only to learn the bits. I listen to myself and think, ‘God did I really sing that high?’
Andy: We only had one rehearsal.
One rehearsal! Is that a worry?
Andy: No that’s not a worry. That’s not a worry at all. That’s all it takes.
Alex: Before we did the last tour we did about two and a half days and sort of spent the last half day laughing and telling stories. ‘Shouldn’t we be working?’ ‘Nah!’
Andy: Everybody hasn’t stopped working as musicians. It’s not like I have been working in a bank for 30 years and you want me to be a rock’n’roll star now. There’s none of that. Everyone is just a great musician.
Alex: It’s in the DNA.
Have you got a scoop?
Andy: I’ve got a new Yanagisawa soprano sax for the gig. That’s about as exciting as it gets.
Moving Pictures are playing one show only in the area this Saturday August 9 – Twin Towns, Tweed Heads.