my circus my shitshow cvrMy Circus! My Shitshow!! - Ben Gel (Ben Gel)

You're gonna love this one. It’s kicking, rampaging, no-holds-barred, pounding rock'n'roll. 

I've written about Ben Gel before. He's a no-nonsense, hammer-down-the-line bass player (currently playing in Perdition and Cull-The Band) and guitarist ... in his own outfit. On “My Circus! My Shitshow!!' he plays lead and rhythm guitars, bass and handles lead and backing vocals. Chris Charlton also handles lead and rhythm guitars, and Nick Hadley is on the kit.

Geez, I'd love to see this lot live. It looks like the drums were recorded in Camden Town, UK, and the rest in Rosewater, South Australia. How the fuck this ended up sounding so damn tight I have no idea. Loads of talent and patience, I assume.

And, the order of these 14 short, sharp and terrific songs is damn-well chosen. This is important since the songs are fast-paced and they are tight, tight, tight. Some begin with pounding drums, others with a rippling bass. But they're all great songs. The kind of thing you put on when you have a long drive ahead of you, and the disc repeats over and over and you love it 'cause you're noticing new things all the time.

And, did I tell you they sound so fucking tight? The songs roll over you like a wave. And you get back on the board and off you go again. Over and over.

Second, while there are more than a few nods to yer favourite "punk" and rock outfits of yore, you'll spot them instantly so there's no point me mentioning them. That's not a criticism; I've been too busy bouncing about the room knocking over my carefully-stacked books. Was that a snatch of Angry Samoans? Good god, is that a quality Ramones nod? Maybe, but my Lovecrafts have toppled and it looks like I've crushed my lamp. 

Bugger it. Yer only in yer 50s once. I'm sure everything will be smoother sailing when I'm older. 

Now, it's really simple. “My Circus!" rackets through so fast that not only do I not dare go through the tracks one by one (I'm old and I get confused easily), the best thing I can tell you is ... just give it a listen. If you don't like hard and fast rock'n'roll, you're out of luck. 

Then, of course, buy it.

So. After I'd calmed down, I asked Ben a bunch of questions.

Like, how'd he get started?

Ben Gel: Music began in the family.  The old man was a bass player and I grew up watching him lug his gear into the car every weekend for gigs during my formative years.  He’d occasionally take me to rehearsal where I’d sit patiently and listen.  As I got a bit older I’d often sneak a bass out of its case and have a crack at it.  It was bewildering to be honest.  

He played in cabaret-60/40 bands but the house was always full of country tunes cranking on the record player - lots of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, which I carry with me to do this day, but my musical tastes grew decidedly harder on the whole.  Mum’s records demanded equal time of course, and that meant a lot of Village People, Boney-M and of course Neil Diamond’s “Hot  August Night”. My uncle played clarinet and sax. The first band to have a significant impact on me growing up, was KISS.

What made you pick up a lump of wood with strings? 

Ben Gel: It was accessibility I guess - basses were in the house so I gravitated to them.  Dad knew I was interested, but he kinda tried to discourage me at first - I knew he saw the circuit as late nights playing to drunks, managers and publicans as sharks and the whole industry as bullshit really ... he didn’t want to expose me to that, but I guess after a while he new I was gonna do this.  He never taught me a note tho’.  “No-one taught me, I taught myself, and so can you”.  He was hard like that.

Interesting dad. He must've been proud of you. What was your first band? Looking back, how have you changed?

Ben Gel:  I started learning in earnest around 15. Playing in pubs from 18.  I’m 51 now and if I do the maths (which I’m crap at because I spent math classes writing BOOBS on my calculators), that’s about 32 or 33 years.  It can be a bit up and down over the years, but it’s pretty much entirely up these days.  It’s just what I do (outside of work-work) and I love it.  I’d sooner pick up a guitar than a TV remote, and that’s why songs have been plentiful for me in recent years.

Being in two working bands (Cull and Perdition) and utilising this project for recording and releasing whatever the fuck I wanna do really, well it doesn’t leave a lot of “other” time.  But I’d probably just be sitting around in my underwear scratching myself if I had any spare time.

First band was Crossroads - school/neighbourhood chums all 16/17.  We played Angels, Van Halen, Guns ‘n Roses, Hendrix covers etc.  We had some laughs.  We were learning our trade.

How have I changed? It might sound funny but despite the years of playing, it wasn’t until my early 40s that I was actually confident in my abilities.  Music doesn’t come naturally to me, never has.  If I’ve ‘gotten good’ at any of it, it’s only thru doing it, doing it, doing it over a very long period of time.  

And I’ve become even more of an unreasonable bastard.  There’s that.

Perdition Deborella OrbitBen Gel on bass for Perdition. Deborella Orbit photo.

There is indeed. You know, musicians get asked about their 'influences' - but there are all sorts of influences. You know, the ones that guide your personal decisions and personality, and then there's those which you know have had an impact and direct influence on your own creativity. They ain't necessarily the same ... so - that musical influences thing? Who? And, are those bands still an influence?

Ben Gel: Aussie pub rock.  You can’t turn 18, be welcomed into the pubs  on a Friday or Saturday and not notice the racket being carved out in the corner of the room.  This had an enormous influence on me. Hell, in the '80s you didn’t even have to be 18.  

I saw The Angels at the Bridgeway Hotel when I was 15 - if you looked “close enough” and you behaved yourself they’d let you in - things have changed certainly, but that very gig changed me totally in 2 hours. Doc Neeson, rest his soul, he stood alone as a frontman and entertainer. Midnight Oil, as good a live band as you’ll see; Rose Tattoo.  

Other than Aussie pub stuff, I fell into the 80’s Metal scene, particularly Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Metallica, and yet I can’t stand what came later - “Nu-Metal”.  Metal has had little influence from a composer perspective, but certainly influenced my listening habits and that continues today.

Whilst I was always aware of the Sex Pistols, in my early 20s I immersed myself in all things Punk.  I went back to The Stooges (and even further, Blue Cheer), and discovered hardcore and the So-Cal stuff from the 80s and into the 90s.  Purists don’t like it but I love how elements would merge ska (Reel Big Fish), and if you listen to my recordings, what’ll you here a bit off?  Yep, trumpets and trombones.  Biggest influence on me as a composer and musician and nearly every band I’ve been in could be described as “punk” somewhere along the line.

A fourth influence on me was Grunge.  Loved it.  I mean you couldn’t escape it in the early 90’s, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were everywhere.  It’s funny how those two bands, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden are considered ‘the Big 4’ of the movement, yet they didn’t sound a thing like each other….and with the exception of Nirvana to a degree, it was not even close to the sounds of those considered the seed of the whole movement - bands like Mudhoney, Melvins and early Screaming Trees.

Now, this LP of yours, I'm sure I hear echoes of the early 1980s So-Cal punk, Angry Samoans for instance. While there's a fair bit which is familiar, you seem to have a broad-brush approach to constructing songs. Which usually comes first, by the by, the music or the lyric?

Ben Gel: In almost all instances the music comes first.  I like to construct the framework of the song first, which is it’s music and how to structure the song.  When I think I have the music for the verses, choruses and a bridge, then I’ll try to find and fit the lyrics.  That usually means humming over the chorus and finding a melody.  

I place less emphasis on what the actual words are and any meaning or story I’m trying to convey, at least initially.  A good melody can stick in the listener’s ear all day regardless of the words.  It’s the ‘hook’ you want.  So it’s a matter of finding that melody and then developing a somewhat sensical story above it. That said, there’s a couple of songs where I re-wrote the lyrics on the record; I became aware there was an anti-establishment theme running thru this, so I rewrote a couple to compliment that theme - and scrambled to write a couple from scratch also.

I appreciate that many listeners gravitate to the lyrics of a song and a story they can relate to, and that’s absolutely fine. But for mine, I want the beat, the rhythm, the melody. And a little harmony doesn’t astray.

You're in two bands at the moment: Perdition, and Cull. How long have you been playing in Perdition? And where are they headed? Ha, same question about Cull, I think.

Cull Darrel AlbinoCull The Band with Ben Gel on bass (centre). Darrel Albino photo.

Ben Gel: I joined Perdition late 2011. My first gig was at Melbourne’s Gershwin Room at the Espy, in 2012. It was pretty huge. That was the first gig of a lap around the country to promote the compilation ‘Not Just Another Anthology’ which collected much of Perdition’s recordings from 1983-‘89.  

Of course, in ‘83 I was like 12 and not in the band!  The band ceased in ‘89 and Mark Hayes resurrected it in 2010, I think.  That album was released by Melbourne’s Reactor Records and was since released in Europe by Power-Up Records. We are slowly working on a new album, four or five tracks in, but it should be out later this year. We have a couple of good supports coming up with Guitar Wolf and Chaotic Discord.  We’ve made plenty of friends over the last decade and we have people in the UK putting together a tour for us in around August 2024.

Cull has plenty going on.  We're still riding the release of our album ‘Punk Traumatic Stress Disorder’, with support slots coming up with Scientists, Supersuckers and Mudhoney.  We’ll get to back to Melbourne in May where we're building a nice following.  Plans for Brisbane and Sydney also.  

It’s a great band to play in and we have a lot of fun.  We all bounce off each other, we have three songwriters and four singers which takes the pressure off.  Jeff Stephens is our rock solid foundation, coz the other three are all a bit crazy in our own ways.

One more question then ... what's it like being in each of these two bands? you're surrounded by legendary figures... how's it feel?

Ben Gel: Um, I just look at them as mates, really. If there’s any legendary status to claim here, then it’s found in our lunch boxes, surely.  It goes well beyond the stage.  There’s respect for each other.  Yes, we can achieve good things together, but whatever that might be, you always tend to want more.  It’s easy to look over a collective shoulder to see what the Jones’ have achieved.  But at the end of the day, for all of us, it’s a hobby really.  We all have day jobs to pay the bills.

As the man says, Ben Gel (the band) don't play live. It's not possible. So you'll have to treat this like an overseas band - get it, play it loud, especially on long straight roads driving really, really fast, and hope to god you live long enough to see them live.


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