penny 2018Penny with her Japanese band the Silver Bells at her "Tokyo" album launch at Melbourne Museum. Pic by Gary Hallenan

Album: “What Would I Know”, Brian Henry Hooper (Bang! Records)
This posthumous album release is startling in its beauty, rawness and poignancy. Songs about romantic and filial love and songs about death are delivered in Brian’s signature kicking against the pricks style.

Mick Harvey's production appears to form a bridge between the states of life and death. This leaves the listener unsure whether our bard has in fact crossed the River Styx to Hades; while the instruments, like bellows, breathe life into a raging fire. Are they all bellowing from the Underworld or are their feet still firmly planted in the land of the living?

Like Orpheus, the musician, poet and prophet (armed with an electric golden lyre and a distortion pedal) performing in front of Hades, God of the Underworld (clad in a black leather jacket), in the hope of retrieving his ill-fated bride Eurydice, Brian Henry Hooper sings songs to make gods weep.

You can even hear Cerberus, the three headed dog who guarded the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving, barking on the track “Seventeen Years”.

“What Would I Know?” is both Thanatos rock and an elixir for immortality.

The artwork by Laura Henriques is equally uncompromising.

Brian Henry Hooper may you rest in peace.

Gig: The Breeders live at The Forum, Melbourne.
The Breeders performed old and new songs to an adoring audience. Their unique brand of pop rock oozes charm, attitude and sophistication. They have finely honed the essence of infectious catchy melodies and song writing and mixed it with elements of surprise in the arrangements and in the delivery. There wasn’t a weak link in the chain. Each band member was completely integral to the whole. Kelley Deal is a girl after my own heart. Her guitar playing is free of any guitar cliches or conventions and she pulls such cool guitar sounds too.

Gig: Brian Hooper benefit - Prince of Wales Hotel, St Kilda
What a night! Some amazing music was heard and played by Six Ft Hick, Kim Salmon and the New Scientists, Gareth Liddiard, Adalita and Mick Harvey with his awesome band comprising musicians who have played with Brian. Rosie Westbrook kicked off the night and I was privileged to join her on stage for a passionate rendition of my song “Poison Berries". The mighty Beasts of Bourbon were just incredible with Spencer, Charlie, Tex, Tony and the most important man in the room - Brian Henry Hooper on bass.

There was an outpouring of emotion and love from the rock n roll community and the musicians on stage. It was an incredibly bonding, illuminating and cathartic experience. Perhaps the greatest highlight for me was hearing Brian Hooper’s songs performed by the other musicians who played on the night. Such amazing songs! Such brilliant heartfelt performances…and Brian was there to hear them too. For a songwriter that is GOLD.

Film: NICO 1988, screening at MIFF film festival, Melbourne
Italian-Belgian biographical film based on Nico, directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli. This film was an extremely realistic and gritty portrayal of the life of a touring musician. Unsentimental and devoid of glamour, at times desperate and seedy, it tells it like it really is.

I had the pleasure of touring with Nico when Wet Taxis supported her in Australia in 1986. I don’t think Australian audiences were quite ready for her unique brand of Euro rock. No electric guitar and no bass guitar in her band, just keyboard instruments, drums and percussion. This was almost unheard of in the alternative underground rock scene in Sydney at the time. I was pretty impressed by the first performance I saw of hers at The Sydney Trade Union Club but as the tour progressed to Byron Bay and Brisbane I was totally hooked. On the music. Nico had this otherworldly presence both on stage and off stage. It was like she was from another planet or era. She seemed disconnected from the contemporary world around her but also an important piece of the puzzle. Actress Trine Dyrholm was just magnificent as the enigmatic Nico. What I love about Nico and her music was her ability to sit not just outside the mainstream but also outside the underground scene. She was totally unique and followed her own distinct path though music.

Gig: Senor No, live at Cherry Bar, Melbourne.
The band members from Señor No hail mainly from the Basque Country. This was the last gig of their Australian tour and they played like demons. High energy rock n roll combined with some really great playing and song writing. As for the song writing, my opinion is gleaned from the melodies, chord progressions and arrangements. The lyrics were mainly in Spanish, a language I do not understand, however, the phonetics and rhythm of the language really suits the idiom of rock music. I am a firm believer that rock n roll belongs to all cultures and languages, if done well. Plus the spirit of rock n roll in not about following rules (in this instance, singing in English), but in breaking them. Señor No delivered on all fronts!

Gig: Crossroads: Alexander Hacke + Danielle De Picciotto, live at ACMI cinema, Melbourne
Featuring Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten and artist and musician Danielle De Picciotto. This nomadic duo have been touring for eight years, searching for and fulfilling their artistic dreams. They turned a real life experience of quitting the daily grind of life to follow your dreams into an artwork - a silent film of their pilgrimage across Europe, North America, Australia and Mexico with imagery by Danielle and a live performance by the two of them combined. Beautiful, brave and emotive it really made me reflect on my own artistic journey through life.

Gig: Tex, Don and Charlie at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne and Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney.
Hearing Charley Drayton play drums with Don, Tex and Charlie was a real treat. I always learn something new about music every time I hear him play. The new tunes were cool and captivating.

Gig: Radio Birdman, Croxton Park Hotel, Thornbury
A killer set from Birdman featuring much loved songs both old and new with some real surprises thrown in. Adalita and her band played a great set as well, as did Los Chicos from Spain. That jacket Deniz Tek was wearing was a stroke of genius! He’s always been one of the best dressed in show biz.

Talk & Film: Don Letts, Thornbury Theatre
UK punk legend and iconic dub and reggae DJ Don Letts talked about his career in music and film, his experiences of late 70s London punk scene, and the unification of punk and Jamaican reggae culture. His documentary “Two Sevens Clash” was also screened at this event. Letts managed The Slits, formed the group Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones (ex-The Clash), and using the punk DIY ethic directed videos for artists including The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Undertones, and Bob Marley. He came to notoriety in the late 70’s as the DJ that single handedly turned a whole generation of punks onto reggae and he has been actively involved in film making and various artistic pursuits ever since. He is a real DIY kind of guy with a seemingly unquenchable creative fire still burning within.

Gig: J.P. Shilo “Jubjote”, Melbourne Town Hall.
It was a real treat to hear the huge dynamic Grand Organ, the largest Grand Romantic organ in the Southern Hemisphere played by multi-instrumentalist J. P. Shilo at The Melbourne Town Hall. The performance was called “Jubjoté” and it is a French term for emerging from a dream without knowing the end and trying to return to find out what happens. This concept formed the narrative of JP Shilo’s spoken story and musical composition. I felt privileged to be sitting in that space hearing these ethereal sounds whilst I mused about the days of old and days gone by.

2018 was another busy year for me with the launch of my new album Tokyo”. The songs for “Tokyo” were co-written with Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman. It was recorded in Tokyo with musicians from the Tokyo psychedelic rock underground scene. Deniz Tek also contributed his signature guitar licks and harmonica to some of the tracks. The album was produced by myself and Gaku Torii (Tokyo), with Deniz Tek and myself doing a lot of work on the pre-production in Sydney. It was mixed at Hothouse in Melbourne.
This album was a huge project for me to take on - this was no home studio recording job! It took years of work in the planning and in the execution and the results were well worth the effort from my perspective.

This project was generously funded by The Australia-Japan Foundation. Their support was crucial to the realisation of this album.

“Tokyo” was released on Kerosene Records in Japan and was launched in Tokyo on 26th July when I performed there with my Japanese band The Silver Bells. The Silver Bells features Masami Kawaguchi on guitar, Louis Inage on bass and Yuichi Takahashi on drums. They are members of some of Tokyo's greatest psychedelic and free jazz experimental bands, including Miminokoto (with Acid Mothers Temple alumni), Aihiyo (Keiji Haino), Los Doroncos, LSD March, New Rock Syndicate, Derakushi and Aural Fit.

The Silver Bells came to Australia and backed me at the “Tokyo” album launch for my Off The Hip Records CD release at Melbourne Museum’s Nocturnal event on Friday Sept 7th. Also on the bill were two of my favourite bands - the Taipan Tiger Girls and The Pink Tiles plus DJ Adalita and Tomo and Frank Inc – performance artists inspired by the underground theatre and punk music scene in 1980's Tokyo.

It was a truly spectacular evening with Japanese inspired films and cuisine plus plenty of rock n roll and noise with feedback loops and synths. The Museum's team of experts gave a series of talks exploring Japanese crafts and culture, Japanese connections in understanding our amazing marine diversity, Japanese scroll-mounting, printmaking and lacquerware (urushi), amongst other things.

How lucky was I? I couldn’t have asked for more!!! Intrigued? You can buy it here.

I planned to bring The Silver Bells to Sydney to launch “Tokyo” there, however, unfortunately the venue double booked so our show was cancelled. I did come up to Sydney for a couple of solo shows a few weeks later where I was joined by Sydney band The Maladies who formed my backing band for a couple of songs at my Sydney “Tokyo” album launch. What a great band! I do love The Maladies!

I will be doing some shows in Europe to promote “Tokyo” in March 2019 with Dim Dero (drums) and Vinz Guilluy (bass). Stay tuned to I-94 Bar for more news on this…

Another special event for me in 2018 was my performance at The Yarra Hotel, Abbotsford, Melbourne, as part of The Leaps and Bounds Music Festival. This event was curated by myself and promoter Jules Sheldon. We handpicked some really cool bands to play with me that night. Bands apparently influenced by me in one way or the other including Little Desert, Ms. 45 and Ov Pain. Thanks also to Katie Dixon (bass), Timothy O'Shannassy (drums), Andrew McCubbin (guitar) and Sly Faulkner (bvs) for joining me on stage.

Other magic moments for me included playing with Jack Howards’ Epic Brass in Melbourne and Sydney. We made the trek to Sydney to play at The Factory Theatre, Enmore. It was a big band to take on tour but as well as being incredibly versatile and talented, Jack Howard is very well organised and a thoroughly great guy to be around. Jack Howard’s new solo album “LightHeavyWeight” is a cracker of an album. Inspired by the trumpet/soundscapes of artists like John Hassell and Japan’s Toshinori Kondo, “LightHeavyWeight” features Jack’s lyrical trumpet lines and arrangements layered over pulsing grooves and a rich sonic palette of synths, slide guitar and heavy bass. Enigmatic, smoky, dangerously exotic lounge music. This album is really fantastic and just katapulted my Top Ten list for 2018 into a Top Eleven.

I performed with synth legend and Viking noise warrior Ollie Olsen at The State Library of Victoria – a totally improvised set, as part of Melbourne Music Week. It was a real pleasure to be invited by Bek Anthony from the State Library to play with Ollie. So great to see our grand old public buildings being utilised for these types of events as well.
I also did a few shows with the very talented Julitha Ryan (vocs and keys) and Idge (drums) under the moniker “Fire & Ice” and we laid down a few tracks at Soundpark Studio. You will be hearing some more from us in 2019.

These shows were some of the many highlights for me personally. The sad news was the passing of some very dear friends of mine - rock n roll Generals Brian Henry Hooper, Spencer P Jones and Conway Savage. They were all people I have known for a very long time. They have been huge sources of inspiration and encouragement for me and my music. Another dear friend Chris Fahey from Sydney also passed away. He was a true supporter of musicians and the artistic scene for as long as I can remember.

Rest In Peace you guys. See you on the other side….