(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton

(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton

Posted 29 Oct 2014


Various Artists
(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton
Festival Records


via The Guardian

It’s more than fitting that, as Australia mourns the passing of one of its most culturally progressive leaders, an album borne of the same revolutionary era is released.

The cultural shift that helped sweep Gough Whitlam to power in 1972 was not so much stirring in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Carlton as bursting from its seams, in a brash counterculture of music, art, theatre and fashion. The febrile and creative rumblings from Trades Hall, Melbourne University, La Mama theatre and the Pram Factory fed into the many bands playing live music venues of the neighbourhood, such as the TF Ballroom, the Tiger Lounge and Martini’s.

Some band names have become part of the Australian vernacular. Others might have remained pharmaceutically-fogged memories were it not for this new double-CD release (When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton: Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene of the ’70s.

Those of us not yet old enough to frequent the haunts of the time experienced the tip of this 1970s musical iceberg through Countdown, 3XY, 2SM and the occasional (where this writer grew up, anyway) all-ages show. The stars of the scene were Skyhooks, the Sports, Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons, and Ross Wilson’s bands Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock.

The beauty of (When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton is that it also celebrates the lesser-known acts of the time, while giving a broader context to the scene the big names sprang from. In Carlton, the underground and mainstream existed as one, voraciously feeding into and off each others’ often theatre-inspired (or drug-induced) creativity.

There are so many jewels here that may otherwise have been lost to history: Eric Gradman Man & Machine’s ceiling-lifting Crime of Passion; Spare Change’s cool British folk-influenced Let’s Get Rich Together. There’s rarities too, including Daddy Cool doing a version of Skyhooks’ Saturday Night and a demo of Skyhooks, pre-Shirley Strachan, doing Hey, What’s the Matter? featuring the bluesy yowl of original singer Steve Hill.

For all the highlights of this 45-track treasure trove, equally spectacular is the comprehensive booklet accompanying it – a 52-page, 15,000-word book of pictures, biographies on every act, and liner notes from many of the players and spectators of the time, including Martin Armiger and Andrew Pendlebury (Sports), Jane Clifton (Stiletto), Paul Kelly (the Dots) and Dave Laing, who conceived and compiled this release for Warner’s Festival Records label.

It was a wild time in pre-gentrified Carlton. The pervasiveness of drugs in the scene is writ large here in songs such as Mark Gillespie’s masterful Suicide Sister” and, of course, Skyhooks’ Carlton (Lygon St Limbo), the song that opens this collection, with a lyric that also give the CD its title.

As a song, Carlton gives a vivid snapshot of the suburb’s colourful characters and lifestyles – “grey-haired writers, drunken fighters”, “night-time junkies, long-haired monkeys” – that made it an eclectic, exciting but sometimes dangerous place to live. “When the sun sets over Carlton and you’re out to make a deal/check out who you’re talking to and make sure they are real.”

Despite the differing musical leanings across these 45 tracks, what resonates is the powerful sense of identity and feistiness. In the liners notes, Greig Pickhaver observes that Carlton “was more a state of mind than merely a patch of dirt”. And that state of mind was a can-do one, recalls Jane Clifton, “where the gap between wanting to do something creative and actually doing it simply did not exist”.

Despite its perils and pitfalls (or perhaps because of them), Carlton was a world-class musical goldmine, a unique place in a unique time that we’ll unlikely see the likes of again. For those seeking a deeper insight into this spectacular era, the definitive compilation has arrived. It’s time, in fact.

(When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton is available now where all good records are sold | streamed

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