Negativity - The Scientists (In the Red)
Holy crap. First Scientists long-player since 1987.
You know, I'm old enough to remember when I first heard powerpop. And I also remember the first time I heard the Scientists' first single, which I thought was rather bloody wonderful. I was lucky enough to always hear Scientists' records before purchase and every record they put out, no exceptions, had to be in my collection.
We were often startled, because you never quite knew what the hell was going on in this band. It was like they had these... bees in their bonnets, and took delight in shoving them into people's faces, much to their alarm. Once they'd got used to the bees, of course, the band found (or invented) wasps.
Leanne Cowie (nee Chock), Boris Sudjovic, Kim Salmon and Tony Thewlis. Collectively known as The Scientists.
Ever have an attack of the stupids?
No? Must be me then.
See, The Barman asked me to do this interview with Kim Salmon to mark an Australian Scientists tour with the classic "experimental" line-up. A phoner. I wrote back saying, I couldn't, I'd be in Melbourne.
The first thing you hear when the stylus drops on Radio Birdman’s “What Gives?”, “Aloha Steve & Danno”, ”Descent Into The Maelstrom”, “Do The Moving Change” or The Visitors’ “Hell Yes” are the drums.
Solid, to the point, perfectly simple, lots of swing and dead on the money, That drummer’s name is Ron Keeley, who also played with Radio Birdman precursor The Rats (with Warwick Gilbert and Rob Younger), The Other Side (with Rob Younger) , The Hitmen (with Chris Masuak and Warwick Gilbert) and Comrades of War.
I wanted to hear Ron’s story first-hand and have a beer or three with him in his adopted home of Woking, Surrey,l just outside of London. It's only a short, 17,000-mile trip from Sydney, Australia. We met in The Crown, a wonderful old-style “wet pub” (no food, no gambling, no TV - just drink, so what’s not to like?) in July 2023.
Read on at your own peril.
Mark this one in your diary: Kim Salmon is taking the late period line-up of The Scientists out on the road in Australia for just four gigs later this year.
The Scientists Earth Tongue Cull - The Band Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide 4 March 2023Photos: Alison Lea
It's the middle of Festival season here in Adelaide. As I walk toward the Lion Arts Centre, in the mid-1980s a sprawling, possibility-ridden centre of the most extraordinary range of Fringe shows for several years, Adelaide is chockas with assorted revellers starting out on their Saturday night of revelling, or whatever it is people do on a night roaming from club to club.
Many of the professional scroungers have arrived and are already parked on the footpath. A few will raise enough shrapnel for a box of goon and spend the rest of the night abusing passers-by until they're either kicked or arrested or both, followed by Maccas for brekky at the cop shop. A top night out; Adelaide can compete in the big leagues.
It's early yet (6.30pm), the doors open at 7, and the first band, Cull, will be on shortly after.
So. I see this bloke amble out of the venue. Spotting me, he ambles down the stairs and comes over. It's probably my new Josh Lord “Neotribalism”. T-shirt (huge red skull on the front) (note product placement). He comes over; 'Are you here for the gig?'
Kim Salmon in full flight. Photo by Barry C. Douglas of Barry Takes Photos.
Before we start: The Scientists were bloody brilliant; Geelong hosted a magical gig. See them while you can, you may never get this chance again.
Now, then. There really are times when not being a multi-millionaire is, frankly, a bit of a fucking niggle.
So there I was, reading that a certain band were going to tour Australia - they’ve played a few reunion gigs overseas as one of the two guitarists lives in London - but they haven’t toured Australia in well over a decade. So there’s every chance this could well be the last time I’ll ever see them.
Iconic bands recording new music years after their prime-time is fraught with peril. Recapturing old magic is nigh impossible when every member has inevitably moved on, musically speaking. Only a few succeed.
The Scientists - as in the Salmon-Thewlis-Cowie (Chock)-Sudjovic line-up - have been an off-and-on, reformed concern for years, coming together for occasional festivals or the odd juicy support tour as, and when, members are available. They put together this five-song 12" vinyl EP between Australian shows and released it to promote their first US tour in 2019.
These days, their laboratory is spread over two continents with guitarist Tony Thewlis living in the UK and the rest of the band in Australia, so parts of the recording have been worked up inisolation and stitched together. Knowing how the sausage was made, in this case, doesn't detract from the taste. The EP, and the single (an updated oldie) that goes with it, rocks in its own uniquely primeval way. Completists should note that it was was proceeded by a digital-only single in 2017.
Tony Thewlis and Kim Salmon fronting the Scientists at Sydney's Southern Cross Hotel in 1982.
The Scientists at their peak were unmatchable. A glorious collision of droning, caustic, fuzz guitars, minimalist bass, anguished lyrics about alienation and ominous, funereal rhythms, they created something unique after landing in Sydney in 1981.
Originally ragged New York Dolls-inspired popsters back in Perth, the re-constituted Scientists stripped their music back to its darkest roots, concoting their own brand of psychedelia and incorporating influences like Suicide, the Stooges and Captain Beefheart.
Too big for their own Surry Hills backyard, the band moved to the UK in 1982 and, in typical expatriate Australian underground band fashion, starved before going on to influence countless other acts into the ‘90s and beyond.