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It was announced last Friday that early next year Melbourne’s pop music heroes, Icecream Hands, will reissue – on vinyl and CD – their fabulous 1999 album, Sweeter Than The Radio.

The 20th anniversary edition will be remastered and come with bonus tracks, fitting for their best-selling album. Is it their best album? Probably, though this corner of the world has great affection for 1997’s Memory Lane Traffic Jam.

In any case, that’s a good excuse for Wind Back Wednesday to head down a memory lane of its own to 2011 when the band reunited to record a new album, play some shows and give the world more guitar pop joy.

Main Icecream vendor and father, Charles Jenkins, explains why a band still works, and how a packed room can solve many of the world’s problems.


Not long before he picked up the phone and became Charles Jenkins interview subject, the man who has quietly acquired a reputation as a superior songwriter had been Charles Jenkins inordinately proud father.

The day had begun at the primary school where his youngest child, Elliott and the school rock band performed Ray Charles' What I Say - not your standard primary school repertoire.

"It's just nice to see and good to that they're lucky to do such material and that they get to see that music is not just about a midriff shaking on TV," says chuffed Dad. "My sons are gun players. We're lucky, we've got a keyboard, and the piano and a drum kit, guitar, ukulele, mandola [an eight string instrument a little similar to a mandolin], all sorts of nonsense.

"My older son, Henry, who is 13 does this circuit where he just plays each instrument and after about half an hour or so on each one, he'll start again at the beginning and do another lap. It's a great thing to see though I don't know that he is aware that is doing it."

That may suggest Henry Jenkins has the makings of the ultimate solo artist. I wonder whether he will take any advice from his father. Jenkins senior has been playing in bands for more than 20 years, the last 15 of them with Icecream Hands, the Melbourne band who have been dogged torch bearers for very fine melodic guitar pop songs.

While the band took a long break at the turn-of-the-century, Jenkins released two very well received solo albums before returning to the fold with last month's Icecream Hand's reunion album, The Good China. What's the attraction for him in playing in a band again when he's been his own man?

He laughs. And keeps laughing. Eventually he says, "Oh boy. How long have you got?"

"The thing about the Icecream Hands is I don't think I'd go and form a new band like the Icecream Hands at this stage in my life. But it is this thing which has been there for so long and every now and then I will write a song and think gee the Icecream Hands could really do that well. And I can't really explain why sometimes.

"The question is why do I still do it? Well this band has never been financial at all, it's always been a loss, so it's always been a creative outlet. I'll write a certain number of songs where the best bunch of guys to play them, the ones who could make the song sounds the best are the Icecream Hands."

Oh yes, one more thing. "And it's great to play to a packed crowd. I don't play to packed crowds when I play solo."

What's interesting about the new album is that the kind of definitive Icecream Hands songs, the big book chorus tunes with their jangling guitars, haven't been written by Jenkins for some time.

A few years ago he told me he was "over songs with choruses". On The Good China what fans would call "classic Icecream Hands" moments are coming from the other songwriters who now share the writing duties much more evenly.

"Launceston has a chorus, Say That You Want Me Some More has a chorus," he objects with a laugh, naming two of his songs on the new album. "But you're right, I have enjoyed songs that don't have them. But I've written some songs recently that I think the band would do and they're kind of upbeat with choruses."

Songs with choruses are coming back! It's going to be all the rage in a few years, you mark my words.

It may be that Jenkins is picking up tips elsewhere. Recently he has been doing some work recording music in various correctional facilities.

"That was so creative and so enjoyable, writing songs with at risk teenagers. It just made me realise how much I do enjoy the whole creative process."

Even his day job, never the most inspiring part of any jobbing musician's life, has been making him happy. Since the record store he worked at for years folded, he has been taking notes at lectures for people with disabilities, covering a wide variety of subjects including history and art. It may turn him into the well rounded artistic figure of the Melbourne music scene.

"Heaven forbid," Jenkins jokes. "It would be a shocking thing to wake up one day and realise that."

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