Monday, September 1, 2008

Moving Pictures Lead To The Sound Of 1927

It may have been the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere who pioneered the medium of motion pictures in 1895, but it was a group of Sydney based pop-rock musicians who came up with the concept of Moving Pictures.

One of the most underrated rock groups on the Australian music scene, Moving Pictures premiered during 1978. At the epicentre of the band were vocalist Alex Smith and guitarist/ keyboardist/ songwriter Garry Frost. Charlie Cole (keyboards), Andrew Thompson (saxophone), Ian Lees (bass), and Paul Freeland (drums) were added to the cast that set about forging a strong reputation as a pub rock act with R&B influences, playing anything up to 250 shows a year. Their early sets included a mix of original material and covering the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. It was evident early on that the energetic stage presence of singer Alex Smith was an effective focal point, not to mention Smith possessing one of the most powerful set of vocal chords in the country.

In early 1981 the hard work paid off when Moving Pictures were signed to the Wheatley management team (run by former Masters Apprentices bassist Glenn Wheatley). The band released their debut single 'Bustin’ Loose’ in October 1981 (OZ#43) - thanks to members of the Countdown Australia FB page for correcting my earlier error on this. The song was included on the band’s first album ‘Days Of Innocence’, which made a solid debut on the Australian charts in October ‘81, continuing to sell steadily over the summer period. But it would take the release of the blockbusting second single to redefine Moving Pictures’ profile on the Australian rock landscape.

The Garry Frost penned power ballad ‘What About Me?’ was released in early 1982 and was soon saturating both AM and FM dials on radios across Australia. ‘What About Me?’ debuted on the charts during February and five weeks later was entrenched at #1. It held off the competition for a marathon six weeks, going on to become the second biggest selling single in Australia for 1982 (behind Survivor’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ - see future post). ‘What About Me?’ was released in the U.S. later in 1982, reaching a respectable #29 and spending 26 weeks inside the Billboard Hot 100. It was re-released in the U.S. market in 1989, climbing to #46 at its second attempt (I’m not sure why it was re-released in America at that time). Lyrically the song was initially inspired by a personal experience of songwriter Garry Frost. As Frost recalled, at the time he was working in an educational role with autistic children, and one day he went to a local corner shop to buy some lunch. There was a small boy waiting patiently to be served but he was being overlooked, which sparked the idea in Frost of all the other people in the world being overlooked. ‘What About Me?’ returned to #1 on the Australian charts during 2004 for Shannon Noll (runner-up Australian Idol). Moving Pictures were scheduled to tour the U.S. in support of the likes of REO Speedwagon and Hall & Oates, but their American label Elektra collapsed, putting a full stop on the band’s U.S. foray.

At the same time as ‘What About Me?’ was perched atop the singles’ chart, Moving Pictures’ album ‘Days Of Innocence’ was propelled to the top of the album charts. It spent seven weeks at the summit and 61 weeks on the chart overall, going on to become the #4 biggest selling album in Australia for 1982, the band also winning Best Single Award at the 1982 Countdown Awards (the forerunner to the ARIA’s) for ‘What About Me?’. The album yielded two more hit singles, ‘Sweet Cherie’ (#51) and one of my favourite Moving Pictures’ songs ‘Winners’ (OZ#12). Having been catapulted to the pinnacle of the Australian rock scene, Moving Pictures then faced the unenviable task of living up to the heightened expectations for their sequel effort.

‘Back To The Streets’ (OZ#37) was a strong lead out single from Moving Pictures’ sophomore album ‘Matinee’ (OZ#16), but the album failed to produce a blockbuster feature the likes of ‘What About Me?’. The three follow up singles ‘Where They Belong’ (OZ#80), ‘Back To Booze And Blues’, and ‘Never’ (OZ#80) largely failed to capitalise on the band’s profile at home. Moving Pictures toured Japan in late 1983 and received another potential key to unlock the lucrative U.S. market when their song ‘Never’ was included on the #1 soundtrack to the movie smash ‘Footloose’. But as is the case with so many artists on the verge of the big time, internal frictions led to a key personnel change during 1984 when songwriter Garry Frost left the band. The band never recovered from Frost’s departure, limping on as a touring act only over the next three years until their ‘Last Picture Show’ tour of May 1987 queued the rolling of the band’s end credits.

Alex Smith formed his own band the Volunteers, which evolved to become DBM by 1989. Smith went on to front The Blues Liners and recorded a one off single in 1992 titled ‘This Time Tomorrow’ (produced by Asia’s bass player John Wetton). I recall seeing Smith as a contestant on Australia’s TV quiz show ‘Sale Of The Century’ back in the early 90s. From memory I think he actually won quite a lot, maybe even the car - actually if anyone recalls that I’d be curious to know. He is based in the U.K. these days (working in music based special needs education) but did tour Australia during 2005 under the Moving Pictures banner, with Charlie Cole on keyboards. Several other members of Moving Pictures went on to form the blues band Chasin’ The Train.

Meanwhile Garry Frost had kept himself busy post Moving Pictures. He formed the short lived duo Roberts Frost with singer Brenton Roberts, then retired from the scene for a period of time to write songs. In 1986 singer Eric Weideman made an appearance on the ‘Red Faces’ segment of the popular Australian TV variety show ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’. Usually the segment was reserved for rank amateurs and bizarre novelty acts but Weideman’s rendition of The Police’s ‘Roxanne’ caught the ear of Garry Frost, who heard in Weideman the vocal talent that could deliver the cache of songs he had been writing.

So keen was Frost to snap up the services of Weideman, he drove from Sydney to Melbourne to sign up the singer to his new band. With younger brother Bill on bass and James Barton on drums, Garry Frost was ready to launch the second phase of his career. The band took on the moniker 1927, most likely in reference to the fact that the film ‘The Jazz Singer’ was released in 1927. ‘The Jazz Singer’ was essentially the first feature length motion picture with sound, so my completely groundless theory is that Garry Frost thought 1927 would be an appropriate reference in relation to his former band’s name Moving Pictures - a new sound. If anyone out there has a better theory, or even one based on fact, regarding the origins of 1927’s name, please let me know. It took a year, and countless rejections from record labels, before Garry Frost and 1927 finally scored a recording deal. It came via producer Charles Fisher, who had worked with Frost on the Moving Pictures ‘Days Of Innocence’ album, and who ran Trafalgar Productions in partnership with Hoodoo Gurus’ front man Dave Faulkner.

Fisher produced 1927’s landmark debut album ‘…Ish’ which was released in 1988 (he would also produce Savage Garden’s hugely successful debut set). Frost’s dedicated song writing mission paid dividends as the album was a critical and commercial hit, ranking up there with Men At Work’s ‘Business As Usual’ as one of the most successful Australian debut albums of the 1980s. ‘…Ish’ spent a total of 61 weeks inside the Australian album charts, including four weeks at #1 during mid 1989. The album was certified five times platinum, racking up an astonishing 400,000 plus in sales. It also featured several songs that became major hits on the Australian charts. ‘That’s When I Think Of You’ was the advance single release and the up-tempo rock ballad put 1927 on the chart calendar at #5 (UK#46/US#100). The promo video for the song also featured one Dannii Minogue (she of the Kylie’s little sister variety) as Eric Weideman’s fictional love interest. Late 1988 saw the release of the straight power ballad ‘If I Could’ which proved to be 1927’s biggest hit, peaking at #2.

The hits kept rolling out for 1927 in 1989 with ‘You’ll Never Know’ (OZ#20), ‘Compulsory Hero’ (OZ#13) and ‘To Love Me’ (OZ#52). At the 1988 ARIA awards, 1927 won the Best Debut Single and Best Debut Album (shared with the Rockmelons for their album ‘Tales Of The City’) categories. For Garry Frost it was confirmation of his immense talent as a songsmith and musician. For Eric Weideman it was a long way removed from his humble beginnings on a throwaway TV variety show segment. During the long tenure of ‘…Ish’ on the charts, 1927 maintained a frenetic touring schedule, also recruiting the services of former Moving Pictures’ keyboardist Charlie Cole. In late 1989 1927 began pre-production on their second album, when founder and principal songwriter Garry Frost dropped another bombshell and retired from active duty with the band.

The parting was an amicable one though, and Frost maintained an associate role with 1927, continuing to contribute some material (though Weideman took on the main song writing duties) and co-producing the band’s second album ‘The Other Side’ (OZ#4) with Charles Fisher. Released in mid 1990, ‘The Other Side’ yielded the top 20 hit ‘Tell Me A Story’ (OZ#17), but lacked the depth of quality offered by ‘…Ish’. Though finely crafted pop songs, neither ‘Don’t Forget Me’ (OZ#53) or ‘The Other Side’ (OZ#80) made a major impact on the charts.

1927’s profile largely faded from the Australian music radar during the next two years. Though the band were still in operation, albeit with a revamped line-up, with drummer Barton and keyboardist Cole replaced by Phil Campbell and Dave Dwyer respectively. In November 1992 1927 unveiled it’s third album, but the eponymously titled set scarcely rated a mention. Though a solid enough effort, it lacked the knock out punches offered previously by Frost’s song writing. The album crawled to #56, whilst the only single to chart was ‘Scars’ (OZ#59). Financial and artistic dramas combined to end the run of 1927 during 1993. Weideman kept a low profile before releasing a single in 1996 titled ‘Nothing I Can Do’, though the song’s only association with a full length album came via its inclusion on a 1927 ‘best of’ compilation released the same year. Garry Frost still writes music though not so much on a commercial pop basis, and he is a partner in a Sydney based post-production facility. In 2004 he put together a music project called Mizair and released an album of the same name. Eric Weideman has taken a revamped 1927 line-up back out on the road in recent years.  They have played support for touring acts such as Roxette and The Rembrants (both during 2012).  A 4th studio album, titled 'Generation i', had been slated for some time, and finally hit shelves and download sources during 2013.  1927 lives on.


Duncan said...

As requested,

The version I heard was that 1927 was the year Television was first demonstrated across long distance broadcast by Scottish Inventor John Logie Baird. So thus TV in a way took the place of Moving Pictures...Logical really.

Best regards

Duncan Wood

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi Duncan,

many thanks for the info re. the origin of 1927's name. Definetely makes sense. Just as well the 'Logie' awards were already in existence or Frost might have ended up using that :)

A. FlockOfSeagulls

Christopher Dean said...

I heard at the time the band was active that the name, 1927, was taken from the year the first jukebox was produced. I think it was on Take 40 Australia or something like that.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Thanks Christopher - that's as good a suggestion as any I've heard - I recall not so long ago driving by a local suburban pub and reading the enscription "Established 1927" above the entrance, and the band 1927 immediately came to mind.

I hope one day Garry Frost himself reads this post and can give us a definitive answer, or maybe it's better left to conjecture.