Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Battle Of The Supergroups - Division Two - Home Leg

Following the break-up of pop-rock stalwarts Models in 1988, founding member Sean Kelly attempted to launch a solo career with the single ‘Thank You, Goodnight’ (which happened to be the name of Models’ last tour), but the single bombed and by early ‘89 Kelly found himself at a loose end.

So, he made a few calls to old friends in the business, with a view of putting together an informal band to play a few gigs (Sound familiar? Check out the September Party Boys post for a similar tale). The impromptu cooperative was initially dubbed Sean Kelly and His Absent Friends. The initial line-up was a bit of a revolving door affair, usually dependant upon the availability of individual members at any given time. Sean Kelly and His Absent Friends kicked off life as a touring act in May ‘89, with Kelly (vocals/guitar) joined on occasion by Wendy Matthews (vocals), INXS bassist Garry Gary Beers, Nicole Ainslie (keyboards/vocals), ex-Model Andrew Duffield (keyboards), ex-Model James Valentine (saxophone), ex-Jimmy Barnes guitarist Michael King, and ex-Machinations drummer John MacKay. Within a couple of months the high profile group were supporting Crowded House at the July ‘89 ‘Rock For Land Rights’ concert.

Over the course of 1989 the chemistry continued to gel well for Kelly and His (now not so) Absent Friends. So much so, that they entered the recording studio late in the year to lay down a few original tracks that Kelly and the others had been playing live. Out of those sessions the first single released by the newly named Absent Friends was ‘Hallelujah’ via the rooArt label. The playing roster on that track comprised Kelly, Matthews, Beers, Ainslie, Duffield, Valentine, King and MacKay, with guest contributions from Roger Mason (keyboards, ex-Models) and INXS drummer John Farris (who contributed percussion to the B-side track ‘Come Clean’).

Such was the demand for Absent Friends as a live act, the band felt it would be a waste not to capture their unique chemistry on an album. Over the first part of 1990 they recorded the material for their debut album, cleverly titled ‘Here’s Looking Up Your Address’, released on rooArt through BMG Music. The fifteen track album was released in May, and was preceded by Absent Friends’ second single, the quirky soul-funk amalgam ‘Hullabaloo’. I loved the song’s raw energy and Kelly’s rough and ready vocal delivery, and purchased it on vinyl 45 at the time. Enough other people did similarly to push ‘Hullabaloo’ to #45 on the Australian charts mid year.

The next single from Absent Friends would take the band to a new plane of success, and indirectly launch the solo career of long time session singer Wendy Matthews into the Australian pop stratosphere. ‘I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You’ was a beautifully crafted cover of the Eddie Floyd penned classic. The cover to the vinyl 45 single credited the song to Absent Friends featuring Wendy Matthews, and rightly so as Matthews delivered a sublime vocal performance. Also guesting on the track was vocalist Peter Blakeley (backing vocals), fresh from his own major hit ‘Crying In The Chapel’ (1989-OZ#2). ‘I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You’ almost matched that effort, peaking at #4 on the Australian charts during July 1990, and later won the ARIA Award for ‘Best Single’ for 1990. The album ‘Here’s Looking Up Your Address’ found its home inside the top 20 during the same period, and yielded one more minor hit with the dreamy, lingering ballad ‘Harmony’ (OZ#91).

Absent Friends then supported INXS on their European tour, with ex-Eurogliders bassist Ron Francois taking Garry Gary Beers’ place in the Absent Friends line-up. GANGgajang keyboardist Geoff Stapleton stepped in to fill the void on keyboards left by the departure of Andrew Duffield, whilst Ainslie and Valentine also withdrew from proceedings during this period.

The band continued to tour over the Australian summer of 90/91, out of which their final recording surfaced with the live EP ‘Networking’. Soon after Kelly decided that Absent Friends had run its course, and the band members went their separate ways. Matthews soon after recorded her debut album ‘Émigré’ which featured the beautiful ‘Token Angels’ (OZ#19). Kelly and Stapleton pieced together another band during 1992 called The Dukes, who had a couple of minor hit singles in Australia with ‘Gonna Get High’ and the brilliantly raucous ‘Faith’ (which I’ve included a bonus link too).

For mine I’m thankful that Absent Friends found a home together, creating an undeniable chemistry that reflected a whole that was even greater than the sum of its already talented parts.

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