KNOCKING ABOUT THE OLD HAUNTS AGAIN
"When I say: ‘This is fifty songs I forgot I wrote’” quips Glenn, "people say ‘What were you on?” Fair question because, in this one package his 70s recording output is more than doubled. Take the three albums and handful of singles that bore his name back then and here's as much again.
It’s… well pick your preferred cliché... a treasure trove, a Pandora‘s box, a chest of delights, hidden gems. Every song here is unreleased, unheard - at least as a recording and by him. (We even left off a studio cut of Australia because a performance of the song was included on the Sunbury '73 triple album set). It’s a cache of Cardier that not even the eager imagination of the most hopeful devotee could have conjured up.
He was a charter member of what he has termed the Great Folk Scare of the early 70s - a Brisbane school arts teacher with a head full of songs, fingers on fire and a quirky, idiosyncratic approach to pretty much everything who headed south and became inextricably intertwined with the troubadour movement of the day. He had a rapidfire song output, like the young Dylan - putting them up for competitions, TV talent quests, special nights at folk clubs, or just his own amusement. Whatever came into his mind or crossed his line of vision was likely to become a song. He was infatuated by words, the idea of them - to say nothing of UFOs, Elvis and other greasy rockers, misfits, absurdity, losers in love, bottle blondes in pink chiffon, flash finned cars: performers of all shade and assorted cultural trash. A stand that hasn't really wavered.
Those who recall seeing him in Sydney from 1972, seem to first bring to mind his humour, his wry patter and the songs that had them chortling. Some even recall heading for the doors in righteous indignation as he took outrageous liberties with sacred texts - certainly it was too much for some when he transformed Leonard Cohen's Suzanne into the gloriously irreverent Tarzan. They were usually back the next week though, ready to go a-rollicking again.
But had they been less concerned for their funny bones and more for their cerebral and emotional state they would today be marvelling instead over his ability to swing effortlessly from hearty howlers to insightful, gossamer-light tracings of the map of the human heart - a rare talent and capacity that would bring him great and consistent acclaim thirty and forty years on. For as Rhythms magazine declared in recent times: "Cardier is our finest contemporary singer-songwriter BAR NONE." Not for nothing did a Canberra newspaper review of the early 70s declare him to be "An immense iconoclastic talent."
Glenn had a respectable debut album (a privilege certainly not afforded all his peers) to pave his way but the rather serious image projected by Days Of Wilderness seemed to be swiftly swept aside by the Cardier - who ruled at the Kirk Gallery or in university halls - the Cardier in a battered bowler hat, derelict's coat, Lennon spectacles, Groucho moustache and a hobo's stance. Oh - so Chaplinesque.
"The character at the Kirk was soon at odds with where my record company and publisher felt I should go," he now reflects. “A song like, Scarecrow, which was written before Only When I Laugh and should have been on there was thought to be too dark - too affronting. I listen now to One Last Dance and I'm disappointed that it wasn't done as a rock song with attitude."
It is of no small pleasure to him that this package is the only time that, with the music of the first phase of his career, "the quirky Glenn Cardier has been to the fore".
Though it probably didn't seem that way at the time, Glenn was fortunate that he didn't have an I Am Pegasus or Newcastle Song or Rock ’n 'Roll (I Gave You...) or Winter In America shooting him into the stratosphere, defining him for eternity. Audiences didn't come to hear the hit and then tune out (the Streets Of London syndrome). If you admired the man you came to hear all those songs that came tumbling out of him, you liked the palette that he offered, indeed you liked the man. Today there is not a ready recognition of his name on main street, which is why it is so much sweeter when there is a passionate take-up of the four albums he has turned out over the past decade or so.
Not that it wasn't for lack of trying. He put himself out there, that's for sure. What he was offered, he took. Spots on ABC TV's essential (GTK alongside the hairy underground outfits, a Sunbury '72 and then '73 bill with Thorpie and other raucous rockers, opening slots for Frank Zappa, Cheech & Chong, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Harry Chapin, tours with the La De Das and Sherbet. I remember introducing him to Garth Porter at a concert aftershow a Few years back and hearing the keyboard-playing Sherbet say sincerely: "Mate I'm really sorry for what we did to you - shoving you out on stage with just an acoustic guitar to face hordes of screaming girls every night. It was really cruel!"
Perhaps, but it was not entirely unfamiliar territory for the songsmith who had come through the late sixties in Brisbane in the ranks of acid rock bands (such as the Revolution) trying to whip up whatever fervour they could. That he could write so many songs in so many styles could not not have been unrelated to him coming out of the steamy northern capital (Sleepy Town, to some extent) with a would-be rock opera/song-cycle called Mr Fish & the Circus People. It was from that ambitious if awkward conceptual dalliance that the Procol Harum influenced A Comedian’s Joke, A Drummer's Roll came - a song from which it is possible to draw a straight line to songs on his powerful 2012 album Stranger Than Fiction.
He was a child of the fifties and all that implies (somewhere on his demo reels is a version of Buddy (Holly's Peggy Sue Got Married, an old clipping reminds us that he encored with Fats’ Blueberry Hill and he vaguely remembers doing so with Groucho Marx' Lydia The Tattooed Lady) but his observations were (and are) not always dewy-eyed. Certainly there's always been a wistful nostalgia permeating much of what he does, a contemplation of that which has passed and must always pass, but as he sees it now, "Things falling apart can be rather dark, even a little scary." He points to a car crash in Old Haunts and I would point to parts of his more recent oeuvre, like Sideshow Alley.
Writer and educator Bernie Howitt also focuses upon our title track. "There is just a hint of rockabilly menace in Old Haunts, which sounds as if it should be a sentimental ramble, but points firmly towards the pivotal day the mature Cardier discovered his Rust In The Tailfin.”
After the two Australian albums Glenn availed himself of one of Gough Whitlam's Australia Council arts travel grants (as would contemporary Greg Quill) and headed off to England with wife and new daughter for what would be a four-year stay. They lived in Aylesbury, near a folk club where bassist Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention (and later Jethro Tull) and Australian Trevor Lucas (of Fotheringay) were playing together. Trevor took him home to meet his wife Sandy Denny and said he wanted to produce him. Peggy got there firsthand put down demos with him at his own Woodworm Hilton studio in Cropredy, with Fairports like Dave Swarbrick floating in and out and likely participating. After putting down (and playing on) the version of Dance Numbers that opens this collection, Dave covered it himself for a solo album, with it becoming so closely identified with him that for some years it was the all-in closer at Fairport's Cropredy Festival. Its writer also recorded a more intimate solo version that seems to fit here.
Glenn sometimes opened for Fairport Convention (he remembers one memorable gig in Brixton), did some shows with Richard Digance at a club in East Ham, and also played the Glasgow Apollo with Welsh rock group Man. While in Scotland he recorded eight songs in the studio of Radio Clyde including a couple of his unreleased pieces.
“It all really toughened me up" he contends now, "It wasn't until I did the folk clubs over there that I realised how wanting I was in aggression. With my early stuff I hadn't really found my voice but now I was much more stylised and open to influences, I’d left Australia finger-picking nylon strings but I came back with a chipped and dented Martin steel string guitar that I’d really given a hiding. Sometimes it was a case of going for it just to make yourself heard. They weren't politely listening to your gentle little ballads - "you had to get on top of them and hold them."
The whole stay was an eye-opener; for a lot of it he was bug-eyed about the company he was moving in. It's a reasonable observation that he has always had the support and the respect of other musicians, of his peers - it comes with the admiration afforded a gifted songwriter, a sense of kinship and common ground.
It wasn't just that he was doing gigs and working with the folk A-list but that he was getting out and catching shows - Doc Watson, Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span, Ralph McTell, June Tabor, John Prine at the Theatre In The Round on Regent's Park with a guesting Steve Goodman. At the same time he was devouring the recordings and the styles and approaches and perhaps even themes of Dylan, Randy Newman, the young Loudon Wainwright lII — more than evident in some of the more embryonic pieces herein. It was a sort of hog heaven for the transplanted Aussie tunesmith... and it paid off.
Emotions stirred by the birth of his daughter Beth resulted in his single most successful song - New Born Babe, which was cut by Olivia Newton-John and included on a million-selling album. Back home in Australia his Iridescent Pink Sock Blues had ended up on a number one triple-platinum debut album by rock-revivalists Ol' 55 (and if anybody had bought Late For Class to my attention, I’m sure they would have had a crack at that as well). Berlin Zoo, based around a story he'd heard of an animal breakout after a November 1942 bombing, was being played around London venues by a folk outfit called Tabard.
Managed by Australian Peter Gormley (who had broken Frank Ifield in the U.K. and whose stable included Olivia and Cliff & the Shads), he managed to keep himself busy. His writing was as prolific as ever and he had enough runs on the board there to be able to put down whatever he turned out, even if it was just in one take.
"Whatever skill level I was at, wherever I was, I was always proud of what I'd just written and keen to demo it," he recalls. That is why we have such a surfeit of recordings, including early moments like A Secret Sound (Oysters), the Queensland New Faces winning song which led to his recording contract, and the delicate I Almost Spoke Your Name which got him into second place (behind Brian Cadd) at the Tokyo International Song Festival and was covered by Julie Anthony.
Jazz-folk singer-songwriter-poet Labi Siffre ended up producing Glenn's third album, a self-titled effort that was orientated toward British consumption, perhaps to its detriment. It's his piano playing you hear on Rome Wasn't Built In A Day, captured at a little studio in Soho and it's Glenn's own banjo playing you hear on Oh, What A Party It Was and Born Loser.
For those given to the fun of the chase and hunt, there's a bit of self-cannibalisation throughout. In his 2004 CD House Of Mirrors, Wild In The Summertime evocatively revisits ‘those old haunts again’. The chorus of Don’t Tell Me, Let Me Guess turned up in Goodtime Days on the Siffre LP and, decades later, lyrics from Born Loser would be found in the song Rattle The Cage, the Old Chicago melody would be evident in Weary Bones, and lyrics from Star Shining would shape Star, a song in the set of his 80’s pub band the Bel-Aires. Angry Young Man loaned itself to Angel's Gone in a sort of natural integration and evolution, which is why they appear together here.
“I had the energy to get my songs out there, to get them heard by somebody," he explains now. “I took great pride in crafting them, particularly during those years in England. Deep down I knew they weren't necessarily the sort of songs they played on the radio but that didn't stop me. There was a bit of consternation at my publishers with Beautiful Beautiful because it had the words ‘Then I’ll get pissed and ask for a kiss‘. There were things that stuck in my mind and became songs. Nil All Draw was about soccer violence, which was becoming a big deal then and there were headlines about Howard Hughes locked away in a Las Vegas hotel room, which I turned into Young Howard Hughes. I wasn't sure how it should be so alter I did it as a folk song I put it down again in Australia as a rock song.
Now, I think I'm most pleased with the ones that have strong stories. I think that the lyrics of I Am Your Salesman were fairly sophisticated for someone my age. Maybe there's something Fellini-esque about some; weren't we all art students once?"
When he came home - first briefly after a family bereavement in 1976 and then permanently not long after - there were more demos laid down. Truly wonderful mature pieces like the cello-laden All Through The Storm and the Newman-ish All Our Neighbours.
Crazy Like A Fox, which would later be a raucous set closer for the Bel-Aires originally, had Glenn on fairly rudimentary electric guitar and that bare and spare demo exists. But included here is a take one step on, with hot guitarist Stephen Housden (then in The Imports and later in Little River Band/LRB) ripping away; a recording put down at the same sessions as the single tracks I Saved Annette From Drowning and the rather Elvis Costello-ish Expectations which seemed to presage another long player.
He'd gone down the new wave path with Expectations, even appearing in a video clip very much of its time. But there would be no fourth album, no further support. He'd provided the flip-side of C'mon Aussie C’mon and came up with the Socka theme but something more substantial proved beyond reach. And then, around the end of a pretty packed decade it was over. The folk clubs had closed, the era of the pained and introspective singer-songwriter was but a distant memory. He returned to teaching, taking on the specialised area of troubled and difficult children (who often proved susceptible to a guitar riff, a funny lyric).
There is no strict chronology to that which you are holding; it consciously jumps all over the place, looking more for a mood than formal historical documentation. Indeed, toward the end of the second disc it gets decidedly light and loopy, visiting the Pythonesque pieces that led to Spike Milligan taking him out on the road around Australia and South East Asia. I Hate Girls, which he performed memorably on television, speaks for the gawky, geeky streak in every adolescent male. Not least being himself.
Included as Bonus Tracks are four 2013 home recordings of early songs, known well by his live audience of the day, which were not recorded (or at least that can be found). Somehow it seems right to have them finally made available. That they segue in so well speaks much of the constancy of his creative voice, and of his perverse preoccupations.
While re-rendering Supermarket Heaven Glenn recalled sharing a bill with Dave Van Ronk at the Basement in Sydney way back when and the legendary folkie being so amused, by the song... that he insisted that he be sent a copy.
He may also have been inclined to call upon recollections of his emergence in Brisbane (and the towns of Gayndah and Clontarf) where he taught art with considerable enthusiasm. "Before music I fancied myself as a visual artist" he admits. “I was even exhibited in Brisbane. But music had the stronger pull.”
When he did return to recording at a time of his own choosing, with the 2002 Rattle The Cage CD and it's successors House Of Mirrors and Exiles From Eden, Glenn was able to reconnect with his craft so effortlessly and so powerfully that soon the Australian was writing about his “mellifluous timbre and wry observant rhythms," and the Sydney Morning Herald was hailing "Some of the finest songwriting this country has produced." And it is and it long has been.
I’ll leave it to you to decide just which ones but there are moments here when it seems quite extraordinary that songs of such depth were left to languish, to wait half a human lifetime to be revealed. We can be thankful that his ‘note taking’ at places like the Voice Plant in Brisbane and Earth Media in Sydney and television studios and English boltholes throughout the tumultuous 70’s have survived; that he and others stashed away tapes and that they survived the ravages of time, being kept warm all through the storms.
For as he once sang on GTK and in one of the precious demos that has been gathered and artfully restored, Not Everybody Gets To Know, not at the time anyway.
GLENN A. BAKER