Friday, October 10, 2008

The Eastern Dark remembered

The Eastern Dark has been on high-rotation yesterday, as part of an effort to get into finishing some liner notes for a bunch of Australian music from the same time and place. I can’t help noting that this band was head and shoulders above anything else of its kind.

If it’s going to be power/punk-pop, it needs three essential ingredients.
The first of these is melody – preferably in shovel-loads. That’s a no-brainer and sometimes I despair that people don’t get this. The Ramones had melody to burn and knew, maybe instinctively, that this was at the core of all great music, which was especially crucial when they stripped it back to basics.

You also need power, some rough edges to make the ride more interesting. Then there’s a less definable element loosely described as character. This comes from themes (sex and death are often recurrent) and some sort of conviction that a band or artist isn’t putting you on, even if living in someone else’s shoes in a lyrical sense.

Technical things like dynamics and tension are important, but it’s the melody, power and character combined that make powerpop/pop-punk music memorable.

The Eastern Dark was really the vehicle for James Darroch, ex-Celibate Rifles bassist and member of a handful of other unrecorded and short-lived Sydney bands like Slaughterhouse Five. He wrote great songs (“Pretty Pictures” was his) but the Rifles weren’t big enough for three leaders, so Darroch took his leave. The Eastern Dark came about (as great bands often do) when three sympathetic players entered each others’ orbits. James Darroch sang and played guitar. Melodic bassist/back-up vocaliser Bill Gibson and un-tutoured drumming powerhouse Geoff Milne were more than just the other pieces of a puzzle, but it has to be said that James occupied the driving seat. Amazing music resulted.

That they only released one single (“Julie Is a Junkie” b/w “Johnny And Dee Dee”) when they were around is tragic enough, but that a road accident claimed James Darroch’s life is the real loss.

The Ramonic single was excellent and it’s probably an achievement that it sounded as good as it did, given stories of near insurmountable problems with the studio where it was recorded. But the posthumous “Long Live The New Flesh” EP was a jaw-dropper, especially the soaring “Walking”, the bittersweet rollercoaster “I Don’t Need The Reasons” (maybe their best song) and the simmering resignation of “It’s Over”.

There was obviously a massive emotional investment in Darroch’s tunes that tell stories of loss, lies and anger and this recording underlines that the forced demise of The Eastern Dark was indeed monumental.

While I kick myself for not seeing them more often live, buy, beg, borrow, steal or download "New Flesh" or the out-of-print Half a Cow compilation “Where Are All the Single Girls” which appends most of the live “Girls On The Beach (With Cars)” live double LP.

Just for the hell of it, here's the only known footage of the band shot at Sydney's Caringbah Inn (I wuz there.)


The Stash Dauber said...

funny -- i thought about these guys today for the first time in awhile, spinning the original "do the pop!" comp while recovering from dental surgery. synchronicity.

T. B. Player said...

More synchronicity....Canadian pop "supergroup" The New Pornographers came through town last week and, mid-set, lead singer Carl Newman stopped and asked if anyone in the audience knew where to get anything by his "favourite band" The Eastern Dark. Apparently he'd been record shopping that day and was surprised we weren't stocked in every store. The wife was there and looked suitably embarassed at having left me at home, while the kids comprising the bulk of the audience shrugged and asked "who?".....

Tharks for the props, Barman. I miss that cunt every single day.