Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jenny Morris - From Crocodile Tears To QED - The Early Years

During March of 1993, I embarked on the dream odyssey of attending five Paul McCartney concerts in the space of eight days. All of the shows were in Sydney, three at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and two outdoor shows at Parramatta Stadium. It was as well I was only in my mid 20s then, otherwise I may not have had the endurance to combine clocking up full days at work, and two hour each way drives between my home base and Sydney (but then again many hardy souls manage that week in week out). Seeing the legendary Beatle in his only post Wings Australian tour to date, was motivation enough, and from time to time I’ll pop in the DVD release of McCartney’s ‘New World Tour’ to relive the memories. One stand out memory of the shows, that is non-McCartney in nature, is the support act for his Sydney gigs - singer Jenny Morris. The Kiwi born vocalist had already racked up almost twenty hits on the Australian singles charts in a career that had spanned over a decade, both as a solo artist and as lead singer with QED. I wasn’t one of those ‘last minute arrival’ concert goers, and so caught each of Morris’ support slot performances. It was the first time I’d seen her live, and like Fleetwood Mac’s 1990 support act Bang The Drum (see May post), I was mighty impressed with Jenny Morris’s on stage brilliance. McCartney’s final show in Sydney, and in Australia, for the tour, was an outdoor show at Parramatta Stadium (the acoustics were bloody awful). Sadly, a large portion of the crowd had decided about half way through Morris’ set (which I think ran about 25-30 minutes), that they wanted ‘Macca’. Jenny Morris carried on through a barrage of hoots and jeers, and I could tell by the final number that she was losing patience, in fact I’m pretty sure the set was cut short a song or two. It was one of those occasions where fire hoses should have been opened up on the rowdy section of the crowd. I remember thinking that it was disrespectful and downright disgraceful that such an esteemed figure on the Australasian music scene had been treated so shabbily. Jenny Morris may not have received due recognition of her considerable talents that evening, but her career achievements place her at the very vanguard of Australasian vocal talent.

Fifteen years prior to that McCartney support gig, Jenny Morris joined her first professional band in New Zealand. Wide Mouthed Frogs were a neo-feminist themed all-amphibian, sorry girl, group formed during 1978. Inhabiting the musical pond with Morris (vocals), were Tina Matthews (bass), Kate Brockie (lead vocals), Andrea Gilkison (guitar), Bronwyn Murray (keyboards), and Sally Zwartz (drums). Over a period of time the Wide Mouthed Frogs became associated with a couple of members of another New Zealand outfit called the Spats. Spats drummer Bruno Lawrence had occasion to play saxophone with the girls at a number of gigs, and Spats’ keyboardist Peter Dasent took on the role of musical director for the group.

By 1980 the Spats had evolved into The Crocodiles, featuring Dasent, Fane Flaws (guitar/vocals), Tony Backhouse (guitar), Bruno Lawrence (drums), and Mark Hornibrook (bass). They offered an invitation to Morris to join as their lead vocalist, and she duly accepted the gig. Soon after, Hornibrook departed and was replaced by Wide Mouthed Frogs’ bassist Tina Matthews. The Crocodiles were taken on by manager Mike Chunn (ex-Split Enz bassist) who soon had them performing regularly at venues around Auckland. In early 1980 they played the high profile Sweetwaters Festival, coincidentally on the same bill that marked the triumphant return of Mi-Sex (see recent post) to New Zealand shores. Chomping at the bit, The Crocodiles soon after released their debut single, the appropriately titled, ‘Tears’. ‘Tears’ ran all the way to #17 on the N.Z. charts, and was matched by the performance of its source album, of the same name, produced by Glyn Tucker Jr., though the follow up single ‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’ didn’t fare so well.

Within months though, The Crocodiles began to unravel, firstly with drummer Bruno Lawrence leaving (he went on later to star in the first series of the acclaimed ‘Frontline’ series), followed soon after by guitarist and mainstay Fane Flaws. Ex-Whizz Kids drummer Ian Gilroy joined for their second album ‘Looking At Ourselves’, produced by Ian Morris (no relation), released in November 1980. Before year’s end The Crocodiles had picked up a swag of New Zealand music awards, but had also experienced a further major shake up in their ranks, with Gilroy (to The Swingers - see future post), Tina Matthews, and Peter Dasent all leaving for fresh waters. By the time of The Crocodiles return to Sweetwaters in early 1981, only Jenny Morris and Tony Backhouse remained from the original roster, with the addition of Rick Morris (guitar), Jonathon Swartz (bass), and Barton Price (drums). Soon after their Sweetwaters encore, the band’s manager Mike Chunn encouraged them to hop a plane across the Tasman, and try their fortunes in Australia. It signalled the beginning of the end for The Crocodiles, as within a few exasperating months of their arrival in Sydney, the band had split for good.

The other members of The Crocodiles went on to pursue various projects, the most notable being drummer Barton Price later hooking up with the Models (see future post). Jenny Morris stayed on in Australia to try and establish herself as a solo performer. Before the end of ‘81 she released her debut solo single ‘Puberty Blues’ (OZ#88). It was the title song lifted from the soundtrack to Bruce Beresford’s teen coming of age film, which hit Australian cinema screens over the summer of 81/82. Morris released a follow up single shortly after, but ‘Little By Little’ made little impact. For the remainder of 1982, through until early ‘84, she continued to score regular work as a session vocalist, contributing to work by ex-manager Mike Chunn’s brother Geoff (also ex-Split Enz); the Fane Flaws project I Am Joe’s Music; the 1983 Models’ album ‘The Pleasure Of Your Company’ (Barton Price’s first album outing with the band); and legendary New Zealand outfit D.D. Smash’s album ‘The Optimist’ - she went on to tour with D.D. Smash front man Dave Dobbyn (see earlier post), and the New Zealand version of The Party Boys. Morris’ name also cropped up on the credits to Sydney band The Drop Bears’ 1984 mini-LP, before contributing backing vocals to INXS’ first #1 album ‘The Swing’ - the beginnings of a creative association which would play a significant role in Morris’ future solo endeavours.

During the same period, late ‘83 to early ‘84, Jenny Morris joined with ex-Air Supply guitarist Rex Goh, and bassist Ian Belton (ex-Dave Dobbyn and Renee Geyer), to form the core of a new band, called QED. The trio were joined in studio by various session players, and producers Mark Moffatt (produced Saints, Mondo Rock, Tim Finn) and Ricky Fataar (produced Renee Geyer, Tim Finn, Kids In The Kitchen - also ex-Rutle!). Among the players contributing to QED’s first album, were keyboardist Amanda Vincent (Eurogliders and later the Jenny Morris band), drummer Steve Fearnly, saxophonist Tony Buchanan, and Fataar himself on drums. Morris brought a number of former Crocodiles’ songs to the project, whilst Goh and Morris co-wrote a number of new songs.

The lead out single was the up-tempo synth pop number ‘Everywhere I Go’, which hit the Australian charts in December 1983. In early ‘84 QED performed the song ‘live’ on ‘Countdown’, an appearance that no doubt aided in boosting the song’s national chart peak to #19 soon after (#6 in Sydney). EMI had released QED’s debut album ‘Animal Magic’ during the same period, but sales remained sluggish. The follow up single ‘Solo And More’ hit the shelves in March of ‘84, but missed the charts completely, although the third single (and best IMHO) ‘This One’ reached a solid #45 nationally during the second half of ‘84. I’m not aware if QED toured much as a live act, which may have been a contributing factor to their album ‘Animal Magic’ failing to cast a spell on the record buying public. At any rate, QED ended up being a one album only project, and during 1984 Jenny Morris returned to session/touring work with other artists (Belton went on to play with Mondo Rock, and Goh with Eurogliders).

Morris had developed an exceptional chemistry with INXS, and was invited to sing a duet with Michael Hutchence on a cover of the old Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood hit ‘Jackson’, included as a bonus track on the April ‘85 (cassette only) INXS EP release ‘Dekadance’ (OZ#2) - she later performed the song ‘Jackson’ live with INXS as part of the last ever ‘Countdown’, broadcast in July ‘87. Jenny Morris was then invited by INXS to sing backing vocals on their 85/86 ‘Listen Like Thieves’ world tour. She took time out late in ‘85 to record and release her first single for WEA, titled ‘Get Some Humour’ (OZ#92), which featured a contribution from Dave Dobbyn, but it would take a song penned by friend and INXS songwriter Andrew Farriss, to provide Jenny Morris with the breakthrough hit needed to really launch her as a solo artist.

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