Monday, March 30, 2009

Trust No-One But Tall Tales And True

In 1989, I recall buying a vinyl 45 single of a song called ‘Trust’, by an up and coming Australian band, Tall Tales and True. It was a catchy, up tempo acoustic rock track, that reminded me very much of Lloyd Cole (& the Commotions - see Oct. 08 post). I was still very much in a singles buying frenzy at that time, but ‘Trust’ was the only song from Tall Tales and True that I purchased in that period, though I recall their single ‘Summer Of Love’ from ‘92. It wasn’t until 2002 that I finally purchased an album from the band, in the form of the 2001 compilation ‘That’s All Folks’. On first play, I asked myself the questions, why didn’t I listen to more of this band at the time they were around, and why didn’t they enjoy more commercial success? Like so many Australian bands of bygone eras, Tall Tales and True remained on the fringes of mainstream success, in the end consigned to being one of Australian music’s best kept secrets. Time to uncover some truth in the tale behind Tall Tales and True.

The Western Australian city of Perth has produced more than its share of quality Australian artists over the years - Eurogliders, Dugites, Christie Allen (see 08 posts), several members of INXS, Jebediah, End Of Fashion, and the Triffids, to name a handful. Perth born singer/songwriter and guitarist Matthew de la Hunty, added his own name to that list when he formed the Sydney based trio, Tall Tales and True, in 1983. de la Hunty had grown up listening to, and being influenced by a myriad of musical styles, from the music of 60s giants like Dylan, The Beatles, and Rolling Stones, across the stylistic spectrum to late 70s punk/new wave exponents like Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Cure. His first experiences of live music, included local Perth outfits like Scientists, and the hugely influential Triffids.

In 1983, de la Hunty made the trek across the Nullabor Plain and beyond, to arrive in Sydney, eager to have a crack at the big time. He found two kindred spirits in music, Paul Miskin (bass/vocals), and Dave Ashleigh (drums), and the trio were dubbed Tall Tales and True. Over the ensuing 12-18 months, Tall Tales and True did the hard yards on Sydney’s thriving inner-city circuit, and eventually came to the attention of local indie label Survival in late ‘85. Producer/engineer Nick Mainsbridge, who would later work with other emerging bands like Ratcat (see Aug 08 post) and The Sharp (see future post), was at the helm for the trio’s eponymous debut mini-album (six tracks), released in September 1986. The single ‘Wasted Life’ was lifted from the mini-album, but neither attracted much of an audience beyond the band’s Sydney fan base. Over the course of the next eighteen months, Tall Tales and True released a further two EPs, ‘Up Your Street’ (1987), and ‘You Got Your Troubles’ (1988), with Mainsbridge again at the production helm.

A combination of the band’s live profile, and increased airplay of their music on indie radio stations like JJJ, led Tall Tales and True to sign with the fledgling, but high profile rooArt label. The band contributed a remixed version of ‘You Got Your Troubles’ to the rooArt compilation album ‘Youngblood’, released in September 1988. Tall Tales and True sat comfortably in the album’s track listing alongside artists like Martha’s Vineyard, Hipslingers, The Hummingbirds (stylistic stablemates to Tall Tales and True), and The Trilobites. Tall Tales and True shared a rooArt single release with The Trilobites shortly after, featuring the remixed track ‘You Got Your Troubles’. During 1988 the band independently released the cassette only album ‘Dirt’, a compile of fifteen tracks, taken from live recordings and early demo work.

Over late ‘88/early ‘89, the trio worked on their debut full length album, again with producer Neil Mainsbridge. Matthew de la Hunty had accumulated a strong cache of songs, that would showcase his willingness to engage a broad spectrum of musical styles, drawing on past eras, but mirroring in part the work of contemporary Australian bands like Crowded House, late era Triffids, Go-Betweens, GANGgajang, Died Pretty, and Falling Joys (see future post). The lead out single ‘Trust’, released in April ‘89, was first class acoustic rock at its best. Aside from the echoes of Lloyd Cole, particularly in the form of de la Hunty’s heartfelt vocal style, the track always puts me in mind of the Cure’s hit ‘Friday On My Mind’ (not entirely sure why). ‘Trust’ achieved a respectable #59 on the Australian national charts, and became a favourite on the indie JJJ radio network, going on to be voted #93 on their annual Hottest 100 list. In May ‘89, Tall Tale and True’s debut set ‘Shiver’ hit stores, featuring ten songs in all. The album spawned three more singles, ‘Hold On’ (OZ#96), ‘Heart’, and the edgy and emotive ‘Passing Out The Chains’, the latter evoking the sound of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, or the Cruel Sea. The ‘Shiver’ album received a warm reception on the charts (OZ#52), and earned Tall Tales and True an A.R.I.A. Award nomination in 1989, for ‘Best Debut Album’, as well being released Stateside and in Europe (a not insignificant feat for an indie Australian band back in the 80s).

Tall Tales and True embarked on a tour to Canada late in 1989, initially set down for three months from a base in Toronto, but they extended the tour to nine months, encompassing stints in the U.S., Britain, and Europe, extending into 1990. Guitarist/violinist Simon Alcorn, augmented the trio for the early stages of the tour, with Triffids’ guitarist/violin player Rob McComb replacing Alcorn for the U.S./U.K./Euro legs. In April ‘91, the five track EP ‘Superstition Highway’ was released, with guitarist McComb featuring on the edgy pop-rock title track. Over the ensuing twelve months, violinist Vanessa Lucas was also added to the core trio, as an auxiliary member of Tall Tales and True. During 1991, the band joined labelmates The Hummingbirds, alongside Canadian rock outfit The Pursuit Of Happiness (see future post), for the ‘Trilogy’ tour. At the end of a long stint on the road, Tall Tales and True had arrived as a more focussed, and mature outfit.

The quirky, atmospheric single ‘Lifeboat’ was floated during the second half of ‘91, followed in early ‘92 by the timely ‘Summer Of Love’ (timely in seasonal terms). The latter, a radio friendly slice of jangle guitar pop, reached #62 nationally, and was a tasty little appetizer for Tall Tales and True’s sophomore album. In my recent years, whenever I’ve listened to ‘Summer Of Love’, I’ve been struck by how comfortably the song would fit on a Powderfinger album (very Bernard Fanning-like vocals). ‘Lifeboat’ went on to earn Tall Tales and True two more A.R.I.A. nominations, for Engineer of the Year (Nick Mainsbridge), and Best Video (director Brendo Young). In May ‘92, the ‘Revenge’ album hit stores, offering up a dozen tracks, recorded in part in Australia, and in London (during their last tour). Mainsbridge produced the entire album, aside from the next single, the feel good ‘Watching The Wind Blow’, which had been produced by Chris Lord-Alge (cut his teeth in the 80s, mixing work for the likes of Tina Turner and Chaka Khan). The winds were favourable for ‘Watching The Wind Blow’, and delivered Tall Tales and True their highest charting single (#45) in mid ‘92. The ‘Revenge’ album (OZ#36), spawned one more single with ‘Looking For A Place’ (OZ#98), and featured the emotive duet ‘Anything 4 U’, with vocals/piano by Margaret Ulrich (who also featured on ‘Watching The Wind Blow’ as backing vocalist).

Just as they appeared on the verge of elevating themselves to new heights in the pecking order of Australian popular music, Tall Tales and True pretty much slipped from view, and lost all momentum. During mid ‘94 de la Hunty, Miskin, and Rashleigh reconvened in a Sydney warehouse to record their third album together, and have one more tilt at breaking through into the big time. The trio revived the rousing and ragged edged feel of their early work as a garage-band, way back when, lending a stripped down, live feel to the likes of the very grungy sounding lead out single ‘You Sleep I’ll Drive’, released in October of ‘94. The album ‘Tilt’ was released shortly after (on rooArt/Warner), and was the least acoustic-based of the trio’s efforts, evidenced in tracks like ‘Happy Birthday’. The album yielded a second single in early ‘95, with ‘Moonshine’, but neither single nor album managed to shine on the charts, and soon after the trio called it a day.

Drummer Dave Rashleigh went on to play with the Jackson Code, before joining Sydney based outfit WEMO. Bassist Paul Miskin formed the band Angel Gear in 1997, followed by a new project called The Good Vibrators. He also performed regularly with Jodi Phillis (ex-Clouds - see future post), and has composed/produced several film scores. Singer/guitarist Matthew de la Hunty eventually returned to his hometown of Perth, and released his debut solo album in 1999, ‘Scissors, Paper, Rock’, followed by ‘Welcome To My Rock And Roll World’ (2001), both on the Q-Stik label, which extended de la Hunty’s sound beyond his Tall Tales and True work. In subsequent years de la Hunty has balanced production/remix work for other artists, alongside continuing to record his own material, and lecturing in song writing and production. Most recently, he has fronted a Perth based neo-punk styled outfit called The Smokin’ Eldorados, no doubt still spreading tall tales, and the musical truth.

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