For me this was a much-anticipated Album. I used to have a well-worn copy of Only Human on vinyl when i was younger. Like all great records it puts you in a place and for me that place was Stewart Street, Balmain circa the early 1980’s:
‘It’s the start of summer before it gets too hot. The Frangipani tree opposite our run-down weatherboard cottage is green and full of leaves. It’s a little too early for the buds to unfurl but their fragrance still fills the street. There will be an afternoon storm sweeping across the peninsula in the next hour or so, a regular occurrence at this time of year. The temperature will drop 10 degrees in as many minutes but it will pass just as quickly as it started. The languid summer breeze off the Harbour, quickly drying the wet pavement and reclaiming the evening.’
I’d always been under the impression that Mark Gillespie was a Sydney songwriter. Tracks like Suicide Sister or Bad Scene seemed to me cemented in the streets of Kings Cross. Like fellow contemporaries, Richard Clapton or Don Walker (Cold Chisel) the imagery i formed was that of the Strip joints lining Darlinghurst Rd, El Alamein Fountain in the rain or Sweethearts Cafe at five in the morning with the first of the Garbage trucks rumbling past. So it was a surprise to learn (with the benefit of the re-releases extensive liner notes) that Mark Gillespie hailed from Melbourne and the seedy romance he conjured up was more Fitzroy then Potts Point.
Only Human was a stunning Debut album. Like Elvis Costello’s My aim is True or Lloyd Cole’s Rattlesnakes, the music arrived fully formed. Right from the very outset, here was an artist in command of his songs and ready to lay them out in the public arena. There is no learning the craft in public for Mark Gillespie, the lesson is strictly one-sided and it’s the humble listener who sits down in front of the stereo to be tutored.
I tend to gravitate towards the melodic and the melancholic. So it’s the slower numbers (or the Torch Ballads if you were going to be unkind) that capture my ear.
Long & Strong is a beautiful number. Ross Hannaford’s slow hand on lead guitar is the equal of anything that Eric Clapton would do if asked to sit in for the session. The tempo change towards the end is something i really like and a device used to good effect on another track, Bad Scene.
Suicide Sister is close to a favorite cut for me. The “Do Wop” backing vocals are very Lou Reedish ala Walk on the Wildside. My favorite however is Damsel in Distress. I like the push/pull/come/go/stay/go away refrain running through the lyrics.
And to round it all out there’s an interesting little aside in the accompanying song notes to Mayday in Arcadia. If you were to going to be a smarta..s and transcribe it into an equation it would read something like:
Ig (ignorance) = Bl (bliss) – West
Bl (bliss) = Kn (knowledge) – East
Ig (ignorance) = Kn (knowledge).
Most of the album can be found on YouTube but I’d really encourage you to splash out and buy the wonderful re-release that the folks at Aztec Music have put together.
It’s a labor of Love. Beautifully produced and packaged with informative liner notes, bonus tracks, commentary from Mark himself and much more.
Look I’m not averse to ripping music from the internet and will pull whatever the latest hit is off YouTube for the kids. It’s throwaway music that i feel no compulsion to throw my money away on. But small-scale outfits like Aztec Records are run on passion and the smell of diesel fumes and deserve your fiscal support. So rather than link to a free download (do yourself and them a favour and go out and buy it).
Till next week.