A Cup Of Tea With Don - By Angela Costanzo

 

Don Walker begins our interview solicitously, asking if I have a copy of the album and then suddenly: "Is it your cup of tea?". And while I did like the album, I feel he's been in the business long enough not to throw a hissy fit when I admit that until I received 'We're All Gunna Die', I wasn't what you'd call au fait with a great deal of his material. Luckily, this assumption proves correct, and he's unfazed at the thought that the CD is not permanently wedged in my CD player.

'Well, for a start, tell me what's normally your cup of tea?" he begins matter-of-factly. And after tentatively listing a few favourites, I ask the same.

"At the moment? I've got a great compilation of Gene Vincent's. And Julie London. She was a sort of B grade film starlet in the 'forties, a blonde bombshell type that they liked to get on screen at that time, who ended up hooking up with a band leader, Bob Troup (who also wrote Route 66), who led big bands at the time, a jazz guy. She's very low-key, very dry 'fifties music, usually accompanied by an acoustic bass and a jazz guitar. The kind of music that you see in Twin Peaks, 'fifties music, very soft but very dangerous sounding at the same time."

And his new album is also something he's very happy with.

"Oh yes. I love it all. I think it's all much better than anything else around. Including Julie London. Light years ahead of Nick Cave (he was on my list); someone I have listened to, and like a lot. But I think he's got a long way to go to catch up to what I'm doing. But he's doing a good job, you know, by and large."

"Coming along well," adds someone in the background, and he repeats, laughing, "yes, he's coming along well for a young bloke. He's always had very good instincts, and if I hadn't had the jump on him by a few years he'd be a real challenge..."

The critical response to the album has been, "...until you came along, pretty much unanimously positive, "he laughs. "But your reaction hasn't been negative," he assures me, "it's just not something that you drive through traffic lights to get home and put on the stereo. Some reviews have been over the top positive, but reviews don't mean a terrible lot in the real world. A great review and a $1.20 only buys you a cup of coffee.

Don Walker's figuring it out as he goes along.

"I'm not insecure about this kind of thing because I realise my stuff is only going to be liked by one in ten people, and it's sort of designed that way. It's designed fir me to like it, and my tastes don't accord with most people, so I don't really expect that everybody's going to like it. When you're doing a raft of interviews like this, everybody you talk to figures that if they're not passionate about it, they have to put up a bit of a show otherwise you'll spit the dummy and not talk to them. Not that they really care if you did, but it's really their job to get something they can write about.

"So what can we give you to write about?" he muses. While professionally things have been quiet for him, a lot of private things have happened.

'We had a baby girl eight weeks ago, and so most of my time and energy has gone into preparation for and post-production on her.

"But we'll be over in Adelaide in October. You probably noticed that the band you saw at the Oriental sounded different to the album, the main difference being that I went out live with Ian (Moss) playing guitar rather than the guy on the album. He's very much a sort of 1950s Gretsch player, whereas Ian is a modern, big rock and blues player, and there's a pretty significant difference in the sound. Also, because Ian's so good at what he does - he's fairly dominant - he's going to affect the sound a lot. It remains to be seen where the new guy we're touring with (Ben Nightingale) will take it. But I'm not one to carefully design a sound as it is on the album and then be super precious that you have to retain that particular character when we go out live."

The last time we spoke, we discussed the difference between Walker's work with Catfish and with Tex, Don & Charlie. Certainly, seeing the two shows here, the 'concert' aspect of Tex, Don & Charlie contrasted sharply with the pub mood of Catfish.

"Definitely, the songs that I'm choosing for the show are ones that will work in a pub, as far as this material will work in a pub. I mean it doesn't work nearly as well as if l was playing an ACDC or Status Quo repertoire but you know, choosing that end of the songs. We could choose the other end of things and do a concert thing. I wouldn't rule that out, in the future. But playing in a concert situation has the disadvantage in that I can imagine you get a little self indulgent with what you're doing. I always remember, going back some decades, there was a stage of music, late 'sixties going into the early 'seventies, with a lot of experimentation that only worked in a concert situation, and I was deeply into a lot of those bands.

"But I can remember sitting through two days of those bands at a festival when a band came on stage that just got up and played simple rock'n'roll, and nobody in my generation had heard that for about three or four years. And the whole place just exploded. That was an early version of the La De Das. They'd just come back from a recording session with the Beatles, and came back as a four piece guitar band that played rock'n'roll, and just knocked everybody flat because they had so much energy compared with the concert stuff. Anyway, that's a long diatribe off the point.

"I'm trying to do something quite difficult with this music, because there's nowhere I can go and listen to something somebody has done and say 'oh yeah, that's how it's done'. There's a fair danger I'm going to screw it up, because I'm figuring it Out as I go along. But the way I see things, what I'm trying to do is quite important. That's not to say that I demand that masses of people out there agree with me, but in the end, you have to do what's important to you. In the end, the judgement on whether it's hit or miss will fall somewhere about 50 years down the line. There's a lot of things that seem incredibly important that sound a little silly ten or twenty years later, and I just hope that I'm not one of them. That's really what I'm aiming at. Not to be one of them."

Don Walker plays at Flinders Uni on Fri Oct 27, Crown & Anchor Hotel on Sat 28 & the Oriental Hotel on Sun 29

1995 dB Maganzine (Oct)

 

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