Back in 1984, Mark Callaghan, who’d cut his teeth with The Riptides and Chris Bailey (of the Angels), was commissioned to write songs for the ABC TV program Sweet and Sour. The show was a cutting-edge gritty drama about an emerging young rock band, something that’s become a bit of a cult classic, and as for the debut album, it was self-titled GANGgajan, with sales in excess of 130,000.
The band has been coming together to play ever since, taking time off for other projects, but still writing and evolving as a classic Aussie rock band.
‘We have never not played,’ says Mark Callaghan, ‘We do 15 or 20 shows a year over the last 29 years but generally it’s off-Broadway stuff – like we’ll do the opening day of rugby in Perth and then a few sideshows. We have been in that lucky position where we can; I think having outside interests has helped us keep it fresh.’
Just this year bass player Chris Bailey died with cancer. The band has been a tight unit for nearly three decades.
‘Chris got sick with cancer 2002 – he died in April; we did our last show in February and losing him has hit us hard. I was there when he died. We had mixed emotions about playing again without him, but we have a wonderful bass player in Rebecca Jonson; she’s played with Ian Moss, and Richard Clapton; she’s terrific. I am excited about playing but I don’t know how I am going to feel emotionally without him there, but he was insistent we keep playing.’
In the tumultuous world of rock Gangajang have managed to keep themselves a tight unit. Chris laughs, ‘Imagine being married to four blokes! Part of the secret is not over-baking it. When we started we picked the word gang deliberately because that’s the vibe we wanted, like a gang; we have all done that – we play together, we do other things, and it’s been an important philosophy for us and the advice for young bands would be, before you can afford it, but have your own rooms when you are touring, being able to close that door does wonders for relationships. And don’t take yourself too seriously!’
Callaghan has watched the music industry change and evolve. ‘When I was with The Riptides, we played 280 gigs in a year! We were playing four or five nights a week; we would get 100 payers on a Tuesday night. Now if you get that on a Saturday it would be an incredible turnout. It really was a wonderful time.
‘It’s very, very different today. It’s interesting how the method of making music has changed and the kind of songs being made. These days everyone has a computer at home with a recording program. Back then recording an album was an expensive undertaking; you couldn’t just make up grooves and play along. You would sit with a keyboard and play it and you had to make demos!
‘Nowadays I sit at the computer, put a groove together and it sounds great, a bit of bass, a bit of guitar – and then maybe you make one change and a lot of the songs you hear now don’t have a lot of chordal movement, and they might change the vocal melody.’
So apart from taking to the stage to play some new songs, some old songs, and some truly great songs, what is Mark looking forward to at Woodford Festival?
‘I love all the ancillary events, the kids’ stuff, the speakers, the food, it’s really interesting, and the kind of music is diverse; you’ll see mainstream, and I am looking to see The Basics, Clare Bowditch… it feels terrific, it’s important to have those things, to be in a space where you can see things outside your sphere of understanding.’
Gangajang, like Woodford Festival, standing the test of time – 27 Dec to 1 January.
For program info and tickets go to www.woodfordfolkfestival.com.
Find this and many other great gigs in Echonetdaily’s North Coast Gig Guide.