Saturday, May 31, 2008

Geisha Experience A Short Time Chart Affair

Australian band Geisha had a string of minor hit singles during the mid 80s, the biggest of which was their 1986 hit ‘Part Time Love Affair‘ (#24). Sadly Geisha would never crack the top 20 despite writing some of the most finely crafted pop music of the era.

The Melbourne band formed in 1983 as Geisha Detail, drawing on musical and stylistic influences such as 70s glam rock and English New Romantic bands such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. At the heart of the band was singer/guitarist Chris Doheny. Doheny wrote the liner notes to Geisha’s 1998 ‘Best Of’ CD, and gave some interesting insights into the bands development and history. Doheny himself had been involved in bands since he was 14, inheriting a musical legacy of sorts from hits family. As he wrote “music is in my blood”. On the origins of the band’s name Doheny explained that his father had spent a lot of time in Japan immediately post-war. Doheny had been brought up with countless stories and had developed an interest in the culture. It was his idea that Geisha Detail’s members tie khaki brown died bandages around their calves in homage to Japanese soldiers - this was a fashion accessory Duran Duran had already employed in early promo clips.

With INXS as another strong influence musically, Geisha Detail started to take shape. After a legal dispute with a former member of the naming rights, Doheny changed the name simply to Geisha. Other members in the band during this period included Doheny’s younger brother Donoghue, recruited to bass. Geisha shared the same management as Pseudo Echo, who had recently broken through to the big time. The band was building up a solid live following and had sent out countless demo tapes looking for that same big break afforded stable-mates Pseudo Echo. That big break came via Michael Matthews at EMI in Sydney, who after receiving a blank tape from Geisha (an honest mistake) went to see the band play live. At the time Geisha were playing support for a small time U.S. act called Berlin. It was late 1984 and Geisha’s time had come. By year’s end they had recorded their debut single ‘Fools Way’. It received solid airplay and was promoted with a moderately expensive promo-clip, but fell just short of the Australian Top 50 (#53).

Within a few months Geisha’s eponymous debut album was released, and by the end of 1985 things were looking on the up and up. A solid touring schedule continued, and Geisha was regularly sharing the bill with the likes of Eurogliders, Kids In The Kitchen and Pseudo Echo. Chris Doheny wrote that ‘it was a lot of fun’. In December ‘85 the song ‘Kabuki’ (#42) debuted which was the first song I recall hearing of Geisha’s, and remains to this day one of my favourites. 1986 was a turbulent time for the band with several lineup changes, and the band’s biggest hit ‘Part Time Love Affair’ (which charted as high as #3 in the band’s hometown of Melbourne). By late ‘86 Geisha had been pruned down to a three piece, comprising Doheny, Ken Sheppard (bass) and Brett Luton (drums). Within months a completely revamped and expanded lineup was fronting audiences, with only Chris Doheny the constant. Doheny explained in retrospect he felt all the changes were a mistake as “all they did was confuse and alienate our audience”. He also wrote that had the original lineup been kept together Geisha would have been “much more successful”.
A second album ‘Midnight To Dawn’ (late 1987)failed to build on the foundations of the first, though yielded one moderately successful single in ‘Calling Your Name’ (#57). In April 1988 Doheny announced the end of Geisha due to a myriad of legal and contractual issues that were weighing the band down. Doheny went on to play in several covers bands through the late 80s and early 90s. In 1997 he issued his debut solo single ‘Can You Hear The Rain?’. In 1998 the original line-up of Geisha reformed to play a gig marking 10 years since the band’s break-up. Material originally recorded for a planned third album back in 1988 has recently been released for the first time as the CD ‘No Second Prize’, as well as Chris Doheny releasing the CD ‘Acoustic Memoirs Of Geisha’ (a subtle reference to the movie title - I think not).

In my humble opinion Chris Doheny was one of the most talented song-writers to emerge from the Aussie pop/rock scene during the 80s. I was fortunate enough to purchase a copy of ‘The Very Best Of Geisha’ on CD back in the late 90s. It’s rare to say about any group’s ‘best of’, but there really isn’t a dud track on this compilation. I haven’t seen it around in the shops for years but most of Geisha’s original material is now currently available through Chris Doheny’s website, which has a link to the CD reissues.

Check out the promo clip for ‘Part Time Love Affair’ for a taste of Geisha:

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