Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Vale Ian Rilen (1947-2006)

I knew Ian Rilen as well as most but not as well as some. In common with everyone that came into the Rilen orbit, however, I have a few stories. Many are about his penchant for living at or near that rock and roll place called the edge. Others that you won’t hear so often are about a loving father to four people, a husband to others and a friend to many, many more.  
Ian passed away at home at Shoreham on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular on October 30, aged 59. He’d been battling cancer since early 2006.

Ian had a reputation for partying harder, longer and more determinedly than just about anyone else in Australia rock and roll. That was the public persona, and it’s one that he both rejoiced in, and struggled with.
You should already know the bare bones of his band history: Bass-player for ‘70s prog-blues band Band of Light. The writer of Rose Tattoo’s first and most enduring hit, “Bad Boy For Love”, who left the Tatts to pursue his own (arguably harder and more dangerous) muse. The diminutive ball of energy pumping out thunderous, rib-crunching bass-lines for Australia’s ultimate beyond-the-law rock soap opera, X. Debonair leader of Sardine v whose “Stuck On You” became a hit for Hunters & Collectors. Bare-knuckled rabble-rouser in Hell to Pay, the portable party with guitars. Iggy Pop-like frontman for inner-Sydney legends Skindiver. Frontman/guitarist for Australia’s ultimate gutter-blues rockers, the Love Addicts.
Ian was a renowned partier on any number of fronts, with as many alcoholic and chemical dance partners as you could imagine. I don’t know that Ian as much bought into that side of the rock and roll lifestyle as got swept along with it. You could take it or leave it.

One-on-one, he was the mirror image of his on-stage persona; quietly-spoken and a shy until he got a handle on you. It must have taken some effort to morph into the cocky, swaggering, guitarist, bouncing around a stage and mugging like it was his exclusive turf. There was a stunning presence about Ian Rilen with a bass or six-string guitar in hand. He was seemingly indestructible.

Of course, no-one is and there was a time when the odds were pretty short on something other then The Big C claiming him. His abuses were no secret, many of them carried out in public. Ian said he couldn’t give a shit. He once told me that, on the score of reputation, people (and most pointedly, “the industry”) could take it or leave it. He was what he was and if you didn’t like it, well you know the rest of the story. Deep down, however, Ian was always about the music and it was hard not to get the feeling that he thought his detractors focussed on the man when they should have been listening closer to the music.
Ian existed outside the so-called industry for most of his musical career. He’d had a brief taste of what was on the other side of the wall, working as a hired bass hand for ex-Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss. He was quietly shuffled off the payroll after notoriously getting so shit-faced with the owner of the pub they were playing at that he couldn’t stand up.

He was invited to the Jack Awards earlier this year, to play in an all-star tribute band for his departed Tatts mate Pete Wells (another claimed by cancer). I asked him how it was and Ian replied: “OK…but those young blokes were fucking kidding with their road stories…bunch of pussies…” At that stage, Ian was well in the disease’s grip and was moderating his drinking. A few red wines and a smoke was as far as he went. A few months later he actually left hospital to be at Rose Tattoo’s ARIA Hall of Fame induction - and found himself heading back there by ambulance at 5am after over-doing things at a post-awards party.
Rose Tattoo royalties may have bought Ian a Buick (and more about that later) but he was just as happy to consign the Tatts and his other bands to the past to concentrate on the present (and future). The Love Addicts were his band of the moment, and there was every sign that they did have a future before cancer crept up and tapped their leader on the shoulder.
Ian loved to play live. He desperately wanted to take this band overseas, after prospective 1990s tours for X to Japan and the USA fell over. But he wanted to do it in his own right, not as the infamous white singlet guy from X or Rose Tattoo’s Bad Boy For Love. Love Addicts manager Greg Sawers (more a close friend to Ian than anything) and industry veteran Sebastian Chase were solid believers in the man and the band, and had ambitious plans that would finally send the Love Addicts to Europe, on the back of an as-yet unreleased album.
There was a lot to love about Ian and a lot of love about him. He was, in the broadest sense of the term, a hopeless romantic, a sharply dressed knockabout with an effortless charm and a long line of wives, ex-wives, other peoples’ wives, girlfriends and other people’s girlfriends around him. Little wonder he and Brigitte named their brand new son Romeo. Ian told me being a father again so late in life was one of the most magic things to happen to him. On his own admission, he hadn’t been the best husband down the years, but increasingly he was a devoted father. Although all members were Melbourne-based, the latest Love Addicts album was recorded in Sydney with the band surrounded by partners and kids. A family affair.
X might have been the most dysfunctional band in rock and roll at times, but it also ran on love. That band's longest-serving drummer and Cathy might have split with Ian and threw him out more times than either can recall, but they never really parted. Steve Lucas was sometimes barely speaking to either of them but there was an unspoken bond between him and Ian in particular that undeniably ran deep, despite the pair going through some extreme times.    
Ian also loved cars. Two years ago, while staying at a live-in conference in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, I dropped into the nearest pub to have a quick late afternoon drink before heading to an official dinner. I spotted a Buick in a No Standing zone outside the Darlo Bar and had an inkling who’d be in the pub. Ian and close mate Mick Cocks (of the Tatts and now glam-rockers Doomfox) were holding court with a crew of colourful characters. They’d been there a couple of hours as Ian had inexplicably locked his keys in his new car’s boot and everyone was debating the best way to retrieve them. No, you couldn’t get the backseat out, and although there was any number of people in the house who would probably know their way into a Commodore or Falcon, the boot of a Buick was a whole other kettle of fish. Ian was going to catch a taxi to his Bondi flat and break-in to grab a spare key, but only after we’d had a beer…or two…while we watched for parking cops.
Ian’s love affair with cars had a chequered history. That same Buick had been bought in Brisbane and driven halfway down the NSW coast before its transmission fell out, to languish in a country mechanic’s shop until the money could be raised to repair it. More recently, a similar mission to buy another Yank gas-guzzler with easier access for a baby seat resulted in a blown radiator when Ian ignored a temperature gauge. Someone who knew him better than me said it was typical Ian: Strike a problem and press on. Just as he was determined to lean on non-traditional medicine when chemotherapy failed and keep playing through his illness.
The T-shirt from a two-night benefit concert at The Prince in St Kilda told the same story, with the star billing on the back (Rose Tattoo, Hoodoo Gurus, Don Walker, Beasts of Bourbon and Tim Rogers, among others) competing with a simple phrase on the front: “Rock Till You Drop”. Ian never planned to perform – playing at your own tribute was just too silly – but wasn’t well enough to attend.   
I saw what was to be his second-last performance in Sydney, upstairs at Newtown’s Sandringham Hotel. It was the first of a two-night stand and Ian’s medical condition had been made public via a story in the Sydney Sunday press a week or two earlier. I was told the Saturday show was the one to see, in which case it must have been a helluva gig because Friday was terrific. All recorded, too. You could feel the love in the room for Ian, even without seeing the odd teary-eyed fan (most but not all of them women). There was a sense that this might be one of the last times we’d see Ian grace a Sydney stage. Sadly, it was, and planned return gigs at the same venue were quietly blown out a month ago.
Back home in Melbourne, the Love Addicts played a few more gigs, mostly at The Greyhound Hotel where I’m told a similar mood pervaded. The band’s performances at those shows, by all accounts, were remarkable. They were simply in another place and a gig at a country football club inspired one of the organisers of the Meredith Festival to rush the Love Addicts onto the bill. With Ian’s health in decline, that had to be blown out. Fittingly, however, the replacement was Spencer P. Jones, a Hell To Pay band-mate and dear friend.
Perhaps the most telling moment in Ian’s battle came about a month ago when the band assembled to rehearse. Ian had taken a lease on a house on the Mornington Peninsular where he intended to gather his strength between shows and rest. Friends couldn’t but notice the physical wasting in him as the cancer attacked from the inside. On a trip into Melbourne to rehearse with the Love Addicts, a drawn Ian walked into a practice room, plugged in his guitar, strummed two chords and said: “That’s it. I can’t do this.”
That’s no way to remember Ian, so let’s not. Let’s remember a musician who was so full of life there was no time to consider the alternative. Mr Rock and Roll. Cathy, Dave and Kim have lost more than a band mate – they’ve lost an inspirational friend. Same goes for his manager Greg. Ian was brave - maybe more than any of us will know. But most of all, let’s remember Ian as a father to Tallulah, Gentilla, Jay Jay and Romeo, de facto to Brigitte and ex-husband to Stephanie and Sofia. There’s a spot on his myspace site where you can leave tributes, or simply do so here if you want them made public. Once you've done that, have a drink for Ian. It's what he would have wanted.


Anonymous said...

There now exists a gap in the world of Australian rock n roll ...I cant imagine how it could ever be filled. Ian truly lived the life of a rock n roll legend with all its excess and all its beauty and yes the music...dont forget the music. He was truly unique as a musician and songwriter as well as a person. A gentleman and a scoundrel.

Love to all the blood and rock n roll Ian Rilen families and love to Ian. Thank you for your music, thank you for your support of my music and for being you. The world is not the same place anymore. Penny Ikinger x

Anonymous said...

Love and thoughts to Ian's family and friends. A very large hole has appeared in the fabric of rock n' roll. X at the Unicorn back bar on Oxford Street was an institution way back when...and Ian influenced a lot of musos ever since, that's for sure......

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Serbia, Yugoslavia before coming to Perth in December 1992. In the '80s, when I was a teenager, music meant a lot to me, my brother and my friends. It still means a lot, at least to me and my brother. We loved different bands and different styles. However, we had a paricular soft spot for Australian bands. Started with obvious one: Radio Birdman and the Saints. But then in mid to late 80s we started getting tapes of all these obscured Aussie bands, like feedtime, Lubricated Goat and X.

X we were particularly fond of. At that time we only heard "At Home With You". I remember it didn't kick in into my world right away. It took me a few listents. But then I couldn't get it out of my head anymore. I could play that album on a daily basis and not get bored with it. When I went for a summer holiday to the coast with my friends, I took the tape of "At Home With You". We played it loud on the beach. The other beachgoers (mostly tourists from Western Europe) hated it, some even came to us to tell us to put it down. We didn't.

In the late 80s we used to organise parties or crash someone else's parties. Every single time we would blas some of the X songs through PA. "Oxford Street Nick" used to be my favourite "go apeshit now!" song. "Don't Cry No Tears" used to be a perfect soundtrack for getting a girl (not that I ever got one, hehehe).

Then I arrived to Perth in late 1992, expecting to see X and all these other cool Aussie bands here every month or so. No chance, they were all over east. But at the venue I went to see my first Perth gig - now not live venue anymore - Grosvenor Hotel, the sound guy kept playing X "Aspirations" album over the PA between the bands. It took me a few years finally to track down a copy of it - a reissue on vinyl, just before it was released on a CD in the States.

Then I bought every singles release I could get - from the Spiral Scratch live CD (awful sound quality, but fucken awesome live show) to "Evil Rumours". And then just when I opened my email box yesterday I got sad news from my brother who still lives in Serbia about Ian passing away...

All these years in Perth I was hoping to get a chance to see X, but now I know it'll never happen. I saw Ian playing with the Rose Tattoo a few years ago, which was great, so at least I had one chance to witness his live performance. I truly believe he was one of the best bass players this country ever produced and when I play bass with my band Bamodi I try to play it hard and heavy way, Ian Rilen's way.

garagePunk said...

aspirations, is one of my most loved oz rock n roll records, i just couldn't believe how great the songs were, the lyrics to delinquent cars are outstanding, the startling originality of i don't wanna go out, to the great fun of dipstick. i just fucking played it and played it and played it and played it, through my own unmanageability i kept losing copies of it but ALWAYS got another one, cause i couldn't be without it. (and sometimes it was fucking hard to find a copy)

i saw em play love mostly in the early 80's, after seeing em a few times i realised ian was the down stroke king of the bass, amazing to watch him play, like a fucking machine, but with a lot of heartfelt rhythm, i loved watching him play.

ian sure as fuck paid his dues, but the dues were never paid to him, that might stop a lot of people playing, not him huh.

Anonymous said...

From the moment I first saw X at the Atlas Club in Darlo in 1978 and they lifted up my skinny teenage body and blew me right away.....I knew I was in the presence of greatness.
X were more than a band, they were the kind of thing that changes your life.

Why does rock and roll exist? It is something to do with the way you feel when you look at the moon and feel the wild animal in you want to howl.
I was a north shore kid with intellectual pretensions dancing cheek to cheek with sweating labourers from the western suburbs,sharing their sweat,and holding on to their jackets so I could let my body go crazy without losing balance.
We were all one because what was coming at us was universal and elemental. It spoke to your spine,not your brain and it filled you with LIFE.
I believe, as a few others do, that on their night X were the greatest rock 'n roll band of all time bar none.

The astounding thing was that Ian then went on to something totally different that was almost as potent as X.

The haunting, swirling melodies of Sardine and the sheer PRESENCE and charisma of Ian as front man were a potent mix.This is a side of Ian we had not seen.The style, the subtlety, the sexiness of his stage personality made Sardine a riveting experience.

They did some revival gigs at the Kardomah Cafe in the early 90's. At one of these gigs Ian claimed to have dropped his first ecstasy tablet and apologised for being self indulgent. And he was self indulgent.

And here we come to another side of Ian. There was his music and then there was the man himself as a work of art. Ian loved the attention of an audience. He was vain but in the most forgivable way. It was the vanity that goes with greatness,with credibility, with utter commitment to and belief in his art. It was the vanity of knowing that the audience wanted something from you that you knew only you could give them.
Ian never walked onto a stage with the intention of holding anything back. Whatever he had to give on the night, he would give it all.

Sometimes that was fuck all. I have been to some shocking X gigs and some shocking Ian gigs. Gigs where if you brought someone along to show them the world's greatest rock 'n roller, you were just embarrassed. I have seen Ian stumbling around on stage so drunk he could no longer remember his own lyrics or play a guitar. BUT, even though he had bugger all to give at that moment, he was giving every thing he had.
In the early days, when they were junkies, X only showed up to every second gig. The first time I went to see them, they blew the gig. And when they did show up it was not always great. But that didn't matter because when they produced the goods they were indescribably good. For me it was like my body was no longer my own and I had been plugged into a million watt generator. I found myself twitching and jerking around like something being shaken by a giant hound. And I was in a state resembling ecstasy, sometimes laughing, occasionally sobbing as women sometimes do when their orgasm has been too much for them to deal with.

If this sounds like a wank I make no apologies because it is the truth and surely this is a time for truth.

Ian cannot be remembered as just a bad boy rock and roller because that doesn't even touch the surface. I know that I have been blessed as very few people in any time or place have been blessed.
When I am on my deathbed and I am recounting what has made my life worth living, the legacy of Ian's music, his personality, and the wild, poetic beauty of his art will be a large part of that.

I always knew that I would outlive Ian and I always knew that his departure would leave a hole in my life. The world is a less rich and a diminished place without him.

I hope he was proud of what he had achieved as he lay dying and I hope he knew how we felt. I think he did and I feel good about that.

Thank you Ian.

Rest in peace.


George the taxi driver.

Anonymous said...

Christ what a guy Ian was, what joy it was being around him, you had a smile 20 feet long when you jumped on his band wagon, be it for the night or a week (I could only last a week) And his music --- slabs of raw meat, I had the privilage of playing with him a couple of times but I was pissed and can't remember too much about it, I slept with him once too in Rotterdam but I was pissed and don't remember too much about it. However I do remember his red undies -- no I didn't root him but the chamber maid probably thought I did when she opened the hotel door and saw us in the spoons position, I lept up pretty quickly, when we were in each others company years later this would always come up in conversation and we would collapse in fits of laughter. -- he still owes me a bottle of red --- damn I'll miss that bastard.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for some of the sexiest, darkest rock ever to emit from the stage Ian. I'm just glad we got to see, hear and film some of the Love Addict/X gigs around Melbourne cos they were priceless.

I'm glad we got to drink wine, smoke scoobs and party hard from time to time. I'll never forget them (although don't remember them entirely). You were hell of an entertainer on and off the stage mate and our thoughts are with your family and friends. You'll be missed.

Anonymous said...

From GTK to the Love Addicts,Ian weaved in and out of my life like no other.To the Family ,friends and admirers xxx Paul Fraser

Anonymous said...

Rilen was always the man.

From the first time I saw him with X in about '87 or '88 at the Kardomah Cafe in Kings X as a teenager through dozens of performances in various outfits up till June this year at the Sando, it was always special and Ian never gave less than 110%. What a fucking pro he was.

Nothing was as thrilling as X in full flight, with Ian leading the charge. Not seeing the Stones, Iggy, AC/DC, Motorhead, Neil Young, even Miles Davis or Johnny Cash! My mates and I always wreaked havoc after an X gig; you just couldn't help it.

Ian was everything rock n' roll is meant to be about - from his slicked back hair to his cuban heels, and always the songs.

Vital to the last, Ian will be missed by so many in such a genuine and heartfelt way for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

The service was great. Really nailed all the important things about the guy. Just wanted to say to Tracee, you did a fantastic job.
I apologise for laughing when you said 'he touched us all' but you know...He touched as many of us as he could get his hands on!

Anonymous said...

Now you can have a beer 'upstairs' with Pop. We'll all catch up one day but for now: we loved you, mate. It was a privilege to know you.

Anonymous said...

I got to read a poem at Ian's funeral. To say it was an honour is the understatement of the century.. I lost my jacket, silk tie, mobile phone and cracked a rib between the wake and dawn. I can just hear him quietly chuckling. Anyway, I was asked to send the poem to this great site, so here it is (I hope)..Jesus, the world without Rilen..we must not lie down!! This is for him, all his family, and anybody that ever got "Rilened".


Brown-eyed handsome man
I drank from your cup and
it nearly killed me
but I never felt more alive
We peeled the walls off some dump in Warnambool
then Buick-cackled back to Melbourne
ruling the roundabouts
with Biggs and Jones,
ruling the roundabouts,
Radio On
You said you really rocked last night Skoey
I said couldn't think of a reason not to
and smiled for three days
Then we lost the car
Back-tracked till we found
your beautiful big bruised baby
waiting patiently in a St Kilda carpark
daring some fool to Steal It
I stayed at yours
wrote a note for ' Tilla's teacher
signed it from you
cos you were out getting the roast
or maybe asleep
or all of the above

Brown-eyed handsome runaway train
sneer to snog in under a minute
"fuck the end, I know how to start it"

Crashing burning table smashing heart-breaking bastard-angel saboteur.
Taught us everything we've forgotten
Motherlode of Rock
stroking Romeo's head
on a hotel bed
while down the road they're removing the roof for you
sneer to floor in under a minute
"fuck the start, I know how to end it"

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

g'day Barman
It may seem strange getting a comment here so long after your original post...but here goes.

I regard my self as a Ian Rilen, but I never got into X, in fact only saw them once at the Tote.

Did catch the Tats often when they were resident at a pub in Carlton back in the early '70s. hahaha when Angry was Angry and Ian just a bass player.

Now the Love Addicts are a different kettle of fish, particularly the stuff on 'Love is Murder' 1st Album.
Often caught the Addicts at the Espy in St Kilda...think Ian was living in St Kilda at the time.
That back bar use to rock on a Satdee arvo.
I was lucky enough to catch 'em a couple of weeks before Ian's passing in Bendigo.
Ian been born there, I figure it was a bit of a farewell to his home town.
Even tho obviously sick, he was on fire as usual. Unfortunately the majority of the crown didn't realise they were in the presence of greatness.

I'm not having a go at youth, but yes they were a young crowd and had a different music taste. It was Friday night and they were just about getting pissed and being rowdy amongst themselves - Ian having to play over them.
Yes, a true aussie legend passed away, but will never be forgotten by many.
Barman, further to why I'm here at your mention Ian's Buick do you know much about the car, and where it is now?
There is a car Museum in Newstead Vic (about 50 clicks from Bendigo)
With many old Buicks...this morning the Buick Car Club of Australian were visiting, I guess about 50 various models were represented from 1923 onwards.
I know nothing of the marque cept what I have gleaned from the song of Ian's '401' ...thats 401 cubic inch or 6.6 ltrs in modern parlance...what ya might call a muscle car!
I spoke to a couple of blokes and asked if they knew of Ian and his music. Most had heard of Rose Tattoo, but totally unaware otherwise.

So yeah as I was saying, if Ian's car is still around or any info about it, Id be interested to know.
either here or by email

cheers and thanks for your words

The Barman said...

Brian - I think Ian's family had the car, last I heard. I'll check.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Barman
..blimey another question for you.
Seeing you have connections, do you know when, or if, the album Ian was working on before his passing, is going to be released?

The Barman said...

It's due out any tick of the clock and it's an absolute killer. Cocktails in the gutter.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that info too - will keep an eye out, so to speak.