IT’S NOT THAT NICK WEAVER had so much to say and so much he could have done but never got the chance: that man was always busy, always productive, right up until the day cancer got him.
A multi-instrumentalist before he was a teenager, the holder of a bachelor of contemporary music degree who was always hands-on rather than academic, he founded Deep Sea Arcade with childhood friend Nic McKenzie, making two albums and touring around the world, surviving a major label experience in that decade (no small feat by any means) making sometimes psychedelic, sometimes grooved pop music.
During and after Deep Sea Arcade he was also in Salmon Brothers, The Tambourine Girls, The Strides and Watussi, was an in-demand session player and producer and then, on the side, in the late-night hours, in the moments he could snatch for himself, he was writing and recording and plotting a solo record. At 37, he’d done a lot; he had more to do.
The only thing that stopped him, the only thing that could stop him, was a rare metastatic bowel cancer that took Weaver in early 2021. A cancer that ripped through from diagnosis to its end in three months, giving him just enough time to marry his partner, Tia, but not enough to finish that record.
Which is where his mother stepped in.
Helen Wellings, a ground-breaking journalist and more than capable musician herself, stepped away from her job at Channel 7 and called in friends and collaborators like Simon Relf, of Salmon Brothers, and Nick Meredith, of Tambourine Girls, with the singular goal of getting that album done and out.
They had the sound files, they had the work – which she estimates was about 95 per cent done already by Weaver who had played almost every instrument and engineered the recordings – they had his notes, including the orchestral arrangements he’d written. All they needed were the drums, the strings, and a finish for the record that would be called Won’t Let Go.
“He knew exactly where he was going with this. He was very definite about it,” says Wellings of the album which has just been released. “When we were told that he didn’t have a very long time to live – we didn’t realise it was only going to be another couple of days – he went home and was quite devastated because he’d felt that he was going to get through it [but] he was so clear in his vision.”
Effectively an executive producer overseeing the strings recorded in Los Angeles, the drums (played by Nick Meredith, Miles Thomas and Carlos Adura) and the mastering in London, not to mention the finer details of cover image, checking for typos in the liner notes, and the publicity material, Wellings talks about feeling “an enormous responsibility, even humility” in her work in a time when “Nick’s music was in my head 24-hours a day”.
“I don’t have a fraction of the musical expertise that Nick possessed, so I can only hope I’ve communicated faithfully on his behalf,” she says. “I just needed to stick with it because at times it got really difficult but I’ve got to know him a lot more myself from listening to this music and I just wish I’d talked to him more about it. But you just don’t: life is busy, he was busy, always doing stuff.”
Wellings is keenly aware of the potential for this release to be seen as one of those quasi-grave robbing exercises that estates of far more famous artists than Weaver have engaged in, dredging up half-finished or discarded songs, sticking other musicians onto recordings. To be, in other words, disrespectful and avaricious.
That Won’t Let Go isn’t, that its mix of layered pop with definite ‘70s shades – a cover of Bob Seger’s Still The Same fits in quite comfortably – dreamy tones with direct lyrics, and always fluid rhythms, feels naturally Weaver, is the best response.
“When he was in hospital, talking about it, I asked if he had enough songs for the album, ‘oh yes, yes: there are 15 songs’,” Wellings remembers. “He was definite about it. Definite instructions about how these drums were to sound. And he said ‘do what you can so I can really get it going once I’m over this’. He said I want people to hear it.”
Won’t Let Go won’t be the end either, with a Salmon Brothers album that was also all but done before his death, due in 2023, and possibly more from The Tambourine Girls. The picture we have of Nick Weaver just keeps getting more detailed.
“He was a fascinating person and I think these songs reflect that depth of emotion and experience of life,” says Wellings. “He listened and he thought a lot.”