Friday, July 10, 2009

The Evolution Of Models

After Sean Kelly tuned out of being a Teenage Radio Star, he looked for a career change. Well, no not really, but he did become a model, or to put it more accurately, he became the driving force behind a new band called Models.

In August of ‘78, Kelly hooked up with former Teenage Radio Stars’ bandmate Pierre Voltaire, who had left the Stars constellation just a few months prior to Kelly, and taken up a post with JAB. The newly defunct status of JAB, allowed Voltaire to drag along a couple of his former band mates, now in need of a new group home. Along with Sean Kelly (vocals/guitar), and Pierre Voltaire (bass), the initial line-up of Models also comprised Ash Wednesday on keyboards, and Janis Friedenfelds (AKA Johnny Crash) on drums. In a 1986 interview with Smash Hits magazine (courtesy of, Sean Kelly made reference to the first Models’ line-up being like JAB, only with himself in place of former JAB vocalist Bohdan X. Initially the going was slow for Models, as Kelly acclimatised to band life without the creative sounding board of James Freud. New material was penned steadily though, and over the latter part of ‘78, Models began to play a few live gigs in and around the Melbourne area, honing their sound together. Before year’s end, bassist Voltaire was ‘encouraged’ to leave, in favour of the more R&B inclined Mark Ferrie (local Carlton bands like The Leisuremasters and Carrl Myriad Band). Over the opening months of ‘79, Models quickly established a solid following on the live circuit - after all, these guys weren’t novices. Support slots with overseas acts like Dr. Feelgood, and the Stranglers, further consolidated Models’ growing reputation. Tracks such as ‘Body Shop’, ‘Years Ago’, ‘Whisper Through The Wall’, and ‘Brave New World’, quickly became crowd favourites at the band’s gigs (but many of these crowd favourites wouldn’t make it onto studio releases). By August of ‘79, Ash Wednesday had left to pursue solo projects, and was replaced by keyboardist Andrew Duffield, ex of experimental electro-pop group Whirlywirld. Duffield would prove a key addition to the creative evolution of Models. The Kelly, Friedenfelds, Ferrie, and Duffield roster, is generally considered to be the first ‘classic’ Models’ line-up.

Models’ first appearance on vinyl came during October of ’79, via a single that was actually a giveaway at the band’s gigs. The single was recorded and produced independently, and released on the Crystal Ballroom label (it was recorded live at a gig at St. Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom). Credits (and presumably costs) were split between Models and a former label mate of the Teenage Radio Stars, the Boys Next Door (who would emerge as the only long term survivor from the Suicide roster - albeit as the Birthday Party). The Models’ track was ‘Early Morning Brain (Is Not The Same As Sobriety)’, with the Boys Next Door flip-side being ‘Scatterbrain’ (not sure if the common theme was coincidental). The single wasn’t well received, and not seen as representative of the band’s sound. Models were said to be dissatisfied with the release of the single, or as Sean Kelly later revealed, they hated it, and when coupled with internal tensions, it was enough to lead to the break up of the band during November of ‘79.

Had it not been for an invitation proffered by legendary producers Harry Vanda and George Young, Models may have been lost to the Australian music scene then and there. Significant industry buzz had reached the ears of Vanda and Young, and they invited Models to record some demos at the famed Albert Studios in Sydney (it also helped that the producer behind the Teenage Radio Stars single ‘Wanna Be Ya Baby’, Les Karsky, was on staff at Albert). That was all the motivation the band needed to reform, and they kicked off their ‘comeback’ with a packed New Year’s Eve gig at St. Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom (soon after laying down a few tracks at Albert Studios). With a new lease on life, Models went into overdrive on the road during the first half of 1980, and in addition to their own extensive gigging, the band scored support slots for several high profile touring acts (Midnight Oil, The Vapors, Magazine - see previous posts, The Ramones, B-52s, XTC). The surge in Models’ profile was enough to incite a furious bidding war for their services, from several major labels.

July 1980 saw Models enter the studio to begin work on their debut album. The band opted to make the recording process a self-funded affair, in an effort to retain a degree of creative freedom in studio (which included producing the album - with the assistance of engineer Tony Cohen). Mushroom Records (ironically the label that handled Freud’s Radio Stars) won the bidding war and signed Models to a deal. Prior to the album being finished, Models independently released the single ‘Owe You Nothing’ in August of 1980 (or at least gave it away to fans at their live gigs). The song had been recorded late in ‘79, and with the B-side, ‘Progressive Office Pools’, emerged out of the Albert Studios’ sessions a few months before. In November of 1980, Models released their debut album ‘Alphabravecharliedeltaechofoxtrotgolf’ (students of the NATO phonetic alphabet rejoice), and per their request to Mushroom Records, no associated singles were released, though Mushroom did issue a promotional 12-inch EP which featured the album track ‘Two People Per Sq Km’. The album’s title was inspired by Sean Kelly’s brief stint with the Department of Defence, prior to embarking on the life of a rock and roller.

Models also took the potentially risky decision not to include many of the fan favourites from their live shows, undoubtedly to the consternation of some. But it allowed the freedom to expand their musical palette, within the safe experimental proving ground of a recording studio. Many of the tracks that made it to the album evolved out of studio improvisations, which aided in giving the album a raw, spontaneous quality, despite the obvious engagement of cutting edge technology. Models were nothing if not fearless in their experimentation of styles and instrumentation, and both Kelly and Duffield were key to that. Into the Models’ melting pot were poured liberally dashes of glam rock, art-rock, punk, new wave guitar driven pop, industrial-synth, ska/reggae-rock, and electro-pop, all laced with cryptic, at times confronting lyrics. Sean Kelly’s raw, straining vocal style may not have been to everyone’s taste, but it suited the Models’ model perfectly, and his emotive screams and sighs (and muffled enunciation) were already becoming a key component of Models’ sound. Andrew Duffield drew on his experience with Whirlywirld, and an obvious partiality for the U.K./Euro synth-pop movements, to infuse the album with generous brush strokes of inventive synthesizer throughout (as evidenced on tracks like ‘21HZ’). Despite the absence of so many ‘live’ favourites, fans of Models supported the album in numbers, pushing ‘Alphabravecharliedeltaechofoxtrorgolf’ to a high of #32 nationally, early in 1981. Songs like ‘Kissing Round Corners’ and ‘Pull The Pin’ echo strongly some of the work of contemporary British bands at the time, such as The Members and The English Beat, whilst the sensationally synth-driven ‘Happy Birthday I.B.M.’ is an example of what synth-pop can sound like, when drenched by sunshine through a haze of oddball playfulness.

With a well received debut album behind them, Models took up an invitation to open for British powerhouse The Police on their Australian tour, during February of ‘81. Just prior to that tour, drummer Janis Friedenfelds left the band (later to join rambunctious rockers Sacred Cowboys), and his place in goals was taken by Buster Stiggs (ex of Phil Judd’s vehicle The Swingers - see future post). Models so impressed with their performance, that Derek Green, vice-president of The Police’s label A&M Records, offered the band an international distribution deal (which they duly accepted). The band then set about recording some demo tracks at Richmond Records, with the intent of sending them to the U.K. in preparation to record their second album over there. They worked principally with Tony Cohen at the production helm, and the resultant sessions so impressed both Models and Cohen, that a decision was taken by Mushroom to release a six track EP, or ‘mini-LP’, on 10” vinyl. Kelly, Duffield and Ferrie shared song writing duties across the tracks, whilst Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner dropped by to produce the off-beat track ‘Atlantic Romantic’. There was an effervescent, spontaneous quality across the entire EP, highlighted by the sunny-side up ‘Two Cabs To The Toucan’ (backed by a very clever promo video - which I recall seeing on ‘Countdown’ at the time), showcasing Sean Kelly’s distinctively ‘post-night-on-the-town’ vocals. The capriciously charming ‘Cut Lunch’ found itself at #37 on the Australian chart menu during August of ‘81, but Models would have relied on a long distance telephone call to receive the good news, as they’d already arrived in London to begin work proper on their second album.

Producer Steven Tayler (Underworld, Sting, Peter Gabriel) helmed the U.K. sessions at Farmyard Studios, and the resultant album ‘Local &/Or General’ was released in October of ‘81. The British release via A&M featured an altered track listing, which included the ‘Cut Lunch’ tracks, ‘Two Cabs To The Toucan’, and ‘Atlantic Romantic’. Models were nothing if not uncompromising in their approach to recording music - they knew only one set of rules, their own. That’s not to say they weren’t heavily influenced by outside factors, but their melding of disparate elements rarely resulted in anything other than an idiosyncratically Models’ song. During their stint in England, Kelly and co. were strongly influenced by the burgeoning reggae scene, driven largely by expatriates from the Caribbean (they weren’t the only musicians heavily influenced by the reggae scene). A local Jamaican steel drum band called The Kentones make an appearance on the ‘Local &/Or General’ set. Despite experiencing the after effects of walking headlong into a set of glass doors in the recording studio, Sean Kelly turned in some of his best work to date, and was backed by a band that seemed to be confidently hitting stride as a cohesive unit. The melange of avant-garde, experimental laced fare permeated throughout the album’s eleven tracks, which even included a snippet from a rollicking version of the old Tornados’ surf-rock classic ‘Telstra’ (Sean Kelly had been inspired to belt out a version of the song after he’d learned that Richie Blackmore had been a guitarist with the Tornados). Models’ version not only showcased Kelly’s dexterity as a guitarist, but a strong synergy within the band. It also effectively captured the strong ‘visual’ aspect to Models’ music of that era (the band’s live shows frequently featured a slide show accompaniment). Whilst the ‘Local &/Or General’ album managed to peak at #30, despite regular airplay on the increasingly popular JJJ radio network, the title track single, which dripped with dark alley atmosphere, spliced with an oddly anthemic chorus, fell short of seeing any chart action.

As 1982 dawned, Models entered a phase of tremendous instability in their playing roster. Firstly drummer Buster Stiggs departed, to be replaced by Graeme Scott, and an additional guitarist, John Rowell, was also recruited. That model Models was a brief affair, but did perform together at the Mushroom Evolution Concert, held in Melbourne during late January. Next to leave the catwalk was bassist Mark Ferrie, who formed a new band, the aforementioned Sacred Cowboys, which included former Models’ bandmate, Janis Friedenfelds (Ferrie also released a remixed version of the song ‘Unhappy’ - he had performed the lead vocals on the original version from Models’ ‘Local &/Or General’ set). Sean Kelly then pulled the definitive masterstroke in the Models’ career to date - inviting old friend, and onetime Teenage Radio Stars cohort, James Freud to join the band (although as Kelly whimsically stated in his 1986 interview with Smash Hits magazine, Freud “sort of miraculously popped up from nowhere”). As mentioned in the previous post, Freud had seemingly exhausted his options with his Radio Stars/Berlin projects, and gladly accepted the gig as Models’ co-vocalist, and new bass player (a major shift from his previous instrument of choice, the guitar). In return, Models were gaining the services of an exceedingly talented, and pop savvy, musician. Soon after, Kelly, Freud, and Duffield tested the in studio chemistry as part of the support cast for the album ‘Fear Of Flying’, by vocalist Bohdan, formerly of JAB, who were of course former label mates of Teenage Radio Stars.

Freud’s first official assignment with Models came via the stand alone single ‘On’, recorded during the first half of ‘82 with legendary producer Lobby Loyde, and later released in August of ‘82 (#1 on independent charts). It was a suitably eclectic offering, boasting a more prominent guitar presence, and featuring a strong bass riff from Freud. But the musician merry-go-round hadn’t finished, as soon after both Rowell and Scott left the scene, closely followed by Duffield, whose departure would turn out to be more of a brief sojourn. By mid ‘82, Kelly and Freud had located a new drummer in the form of New Zealand born Barton Price. Price had been playing most recently with a Sydney outfit called The Proteens, but initially made the jump across the Tasman as part of the Kiwi band Crocodiles (Jenny Morris’ old band - see previous posts). For a brief time, Models toured as the powerhouse trio of Sean Kelly, James Freud, and Barton Price (the trio appeared in the promo video for ‘On’), and for an even briefer period keyboardist Gus Till joined the fray for gigging purposes. A refreshed and reinvigorated Andrew Duffield then returned to the fold, and completed the second ‘classic’ Models’ line-up, no doubt to the relief of all concerned at the time.

Models had already exhibited distinctly cinematic leanings, via a short film produced to accompany the ‘Cut Lunch’ EP. They explored that interest further late in 1982, when they produced a film titled ‘Pop Movie’, which cleverly melded animation with live footage of the band. The film was aired on the television rock show ‘Nightmoves’, and even gained a limited cinema release at selected venues. 1982 had proved to be a tumultuous one for Models, but with Freud on board, there was reason to think that 1983 might see the band raising the bar, both creatively and commercially.

Thanks to Warwick from 80s Dreamer blogspot (see link in Ultra Cool Retro Links) for helping out with some great source photos, little known tidbits, and access to a 1986 interview with Sean Kelly. To read the interview in full, and more, check out Warwick's Models' fansite at -

Just to retain some variety in proceedings (after all it is the spice of life), my next post will be a non-Models related affair, though it will cover the career of another fine Australian band. The Models’ odyssey will resume, with parts three and four hitting cyberspace later next week.

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