Soon you’ll be reading here my interview with Greg Appel, formerly of the Lighthouse Keepers, Widdershins and other bands, film and radio documentary maker, videographer and, now, author of a book about his creative past, Confessions Of A Lighthouse Keeper.
Naturally, reading that book didn’t just send me to my Lighthouse Keepers and Widdershins records but to one night in 2011 when The Lighthouse Keepers reformed, after nearly three decades, and played – appropriately – in a modest room in Newtown to a bunch of people who had spent more than a few such nights in the 1980s.
Some things don’t change - even if the waistlines, hairlines and speed lines have.
THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS
Sandringham Hotel, September 9
It was just like the old days. The overcrowded small room was airless (but now mercifully free of cigarette smoke), the heat stifling and the band shuffled on and into place like a distracted fifth grade class after lunch.
Twenty seven years may have passed since most of us, including a couple of kids called Tanya Plibersek and Michael Coutts-Trotter, last stood in front of this band but time doesn't change everything. So they brought on Gargoyle, with its edgy introduction that blossoms into a gorgeous chorus tinged with sadness, lined up Wheels Over The Desert and its rollicking bassline and bottleneck slide guitar solo and gave us both the classic American songbook melody of Ocean Liner and the comic crowd singalong of Whisky & Gin.
Juliet Ward still chewed gum while she sang, Blue Dalton still looked half surprised and half asleep as he hooked up another harmonica run and several songs still ended in another fine mess.
Yes, other bands from this period lasted longer, sold more and consistently played well in gigs - but it was probably just those factors which separated the Lighthouse Keepers then and now.
For those of us who used to see them regularly, they were our band: their foibles were affectionately accepted because it felt like our quirks too; their lack of standard ambition was a plus not a negative; and their perceived weaknesses of thin sound, wavering vocals and a refusal to decide whether they were a ‘60s pop group, a rootsy band or a ramshackle alterna-cabaret seemed perfectly natural back then when half of us hadn’t worked out what we were going to be doing for the next 25 days let alone the next 25 years.
Sure Plibersek may now be a federal government minister, Coutts-Trotter a senior state public servant and the rest of us doing whatever pays the bills instead of planning our next visit to the Trade Union Club’s third floor, but upstairs at the Sando this night we were all bouncing along, singing along, giggling along exactly as we had back then.
Three sets later we walked out hot and sticky (but now mercifully not stinking of smoke), humming one of those Greg Appel melodies and feeling good about the world. It was just like the old days.