by Neville Davies
The Beginnings of Icehouse
Perhaps the seed which grew into Icehouse was sown way back about 1970, when a year 9 student of Epping Boys High School sat cross legged on his bed strumming his elder brother's guitar. He had been at this for the whole three weeks of his school holidays. In this time he had taught himself to play and was now composing little songs to sing to the accompaniment of his new found instrument.
Not that this was his introduction to music, for this lad had lived with and participated in musical expression from the cradle. He had even been in bands, as a very young piper in a Scottish band in primary school days, then as a member of the Epping Boys High School Band. Also, as a student of oboe at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, he was already performing with various orchestras and chamber music groups.
However, this self imposed holiday task was Iva Davies first move into acquiring the particular musical skills which were destined to place him in the forefront of Australias popular music industry as the focal personality of the group we now know as Icehouse.
The Birth of Flowers
Iva played and sang with a few groups of friends during and in the years following high school. In fact, he even recorded two long forgotten singles of songs co-written with some of these friends during this period. However, it was not until some years after, in 1977, that he joined forces with a friend, Keith Welsh, to form the rock band which grew into the Icehouse we know today.
Iva provided vocals, lead guitar, and the musical arrangements. Keith played bass guitar and, otherwise, demonstrated a keen capacity for the business organization of the embryonic band, thus acquiring the skills which lead to his later occupation of a manager of music groups.
Keith and Iva collected together other young musicians and a few friends and relations to act as a road crew. They then began working the pubs and other rock venues around Sydney with a repertoire of cover songs from such classic rock performers as T-Rex, Lou Reed. Brian Eno, The Beatles, The Kinks and The Easybeats. They needed a name to reflect the punk, leather clad image they had adopted and eventually came up with the rather tongue-in-cheek title of "Flowers".
Throughout 1978 and 1979,the reputation of Flowers and its repertoire of classic rock covers grew steadily in the Sydney live music scene. Iva Davies note perfect arrangements and the Flowers interpretations were so faithful to those of the original performers of the songs they covered, that the band earned the title of "a punk jukebox". Even today many of the older Icehouse fans still nostalgically recall the Flowers gigs at such venues as the Stage Door, Bondi Lifesaver, Manly Vale Hotel and the Royal Antler.
For some time, Iva, Keith and the other members of Flowers struggled on, working by day in their various jobs and performing by night wherever they could find bookings. Then ,finally, as the reputation of and demand for the band allowed, the daytime jobs lapsed and they threw themselves at the mercy of their public. This was their period of the most depressingly grinding hard work and financial hardship, as it is for any aspiring young group of musicians. In fact, most such bands do not survive this time, but Flowers was one of the few which hung on till some meagre measure of self-sufficiency was reached.
Keith and Iva stayed constant, experimenting with various changes in the rest of the line up. The set of rock classics gradually became punctuated with Flowers originals written mainly by Iva, at times in collaboration with keyboard player Michael Hoste. Performances of these originals prompted questions of when the first Flowers recordings were going to emerge, and negotiations for recording contracts merged with the ever present round of gigs.
And so, Flowers entered the eighties with the reputation of commanding the highest performance fee for any "unrecorded" band in Australia. Whilst this may not have been any great assurance of financial security, it was some measure of the considerable progress made in musical and performance standards. At this stage the group also boasted a fairly stable four piece line up, consisting of Iva and Keith on vocals lead guitar and bass guitar respectively, Anthony Smith on keyboards and John Lloyd on drums.
Early in 1980 Flowers was signed to the independent Regular Records and entered the studio to place their first album on record.
The Pick of the Bunch
In spite of the background of performing songs written by others John Lennon, David Bowie, Lou Reed etc. This debut album consisted entirely of Flowers originals.
The first of these, "Cant Help Myself," appeared as a single in May 1980 and soon began to receive considerable air play on Sydney and Melbourne radio, thence permeating through the other states of Australia. By August it had found a place in the top 10 singles in national charts. By the time the album was ready for release, "Cant Help Myself" was joined in the top 40 charts by a second hit single, "We Can Get Together."
The album Icehouse, on its release, met high critical acclaim. The headline to a review by a leading rock critic in a Sydney newspaper read Flowers Come Up With the Pick of the Bunch, and was typical of the reaction of both the rock gurus and the record buying public. It quickly jumped into the top 10 on the national charts where it clung for weeks and weeks. In the middle of 1981, some nine months after its first release, it still lingered in the top 40 charts, having recorded sales equivalent to four times platinum.
The name Icehouse came from the first track, a haunting moody song by Iva Davies, inspired by two large old mansions in the suburb of Lindfield on Sydneys North Shore. In one, Iva himself occupied a rather cold gloomy flat. The other, a few doors away was used at the time as a half way house for convalescing psychiatric and drug affected patients. The usage of these two old houses, if, indeed, they still exist, has probably so changed that the atmosphere in which the song Icehouse is steeped no longer remains there. The song itself has lingered on band has come to be accepted almost as the signature tune of the band. It remains as popular with todays audiences as those of 1980. So too have the three hit singles from the Icehouse album, "Cant Help Myself," "We Can Get Together," and "Walls."
New Horizons, New Challenges, New Name
Flowers toured extensively and intensively in Australia through the latter part of 1980 and the first half of 1981, promoting the songs from Icehouse. This Australian touring culminated in the Odd People Tour in May and June of 1981.
The success of the debut album earned for Flowers the Johnny OKeefe Award for the best new talent at the Countdown Awards in April 1981. It also aroused the interest of overseas record companies, and negotiations with a number of major labels finally resulted in the band signing with Chrysalis Records for the worldwide release of the Icehouse album. A problem encountered in these arrangements for overseas was the name of the band. The name "Flowers" was registered to other performers in England and America and, for legal reasons, had to be replaced by a new name. And so, at the conclusion of the Odd People Tour at the Capitol Theatre on 27th June 1981, the compere, Charlie Foxx of Radio 2SM, informed the audience that they had just seen the last performance of Flowers. Henceforth the band would be known by the title of its debut album Icehouse.
Armed with this new name and a reputation of major local success, Iva Davies, Keith Welsh, Anthony Smith and John Lloyd nervously set forth in July 1981 to meet the challenges of the big wide world of rock music outside Australia.
First Overseas Tour -- Fantasies, Frustrations, Foundations
This first overseas tour was so packed with incidents and mixed fortunes that it must have seemed more like three years than three months to the members of the young Icehouse and its crew. Through it, they laid the foundations of a world image that has grown in stature over the succeeding years, but this enviable reputation was neither suddenly nor easily acquired.
The tour commenced with a brief successful stint in New Zealand where the debut album had already reached platinum status. Then to London where their record companys publicity machine had been heralding the arrival of this new sensation from down under in glowing, even fantastic, terms. Besides adding fuel to the already consuming nervousness of the band, this fanfare had the disheartening effect of goading a substantial segment of the British rock press into a savage backlash against the Oz invasion of their scene, and Icehouse found itself pinioned on the spearhead of some of its most vicious invective. In spite of this, the band acquitted itself well and their performances through England and North America were generally well received. The Icehouse album enjoyed considerable airplay, creditable chart performance and generally favourable reviews, particularly in the U.S.A. and Canada, but failed to make the big commercial breakthrough achieved a few months later by another Australian band, Men at Work.
The first leg of North American touring was marred by two road accidents involving vehicles carrying their equipment. The first of these was near Edmonton in Canada when the Icehouse road crew was run off the road by an approaching horse transport whose driver had dozed off. It resulted in the death of several horses, some injuries to the drivers and passengers of both vehicles, considerable damage all round and the cancellation of one or two dates while sufficient equipment was assembled to allow a resumption of performances. A week later, a second truck carrying their stage equipment was written off near Chicago, but on that occasion the band played on.
In a run in the U.K. in September, Icehouse played support to an emerging Scottish band called Simple Minds, thus making a connection which resulted in Simple Minds appearing as special guests on the Australian Icehouse tour in November,1981. This was Simple Minds introduction to the Australian live music scene and to the considerable rapport with Australian audiences which this group has held ever since.
Returning, Regrouping, Reawakening
Icehouse came back from this first overseas tour as a far more experienced and mature, but very tour worn and tired group of performers. Their return was greeted by the release of a single, "Love in Motion" backed with "Goodnight Mr. Mathews," which had been recorded between gigs in London.
At the close of 1981, the band had finished its return to Oz gigs and the single was hitting the high spots in the Australian charts. Rumours were starting to circulate that Icehouse was breaking up. Indeed, after being constantly in each others company, and touring and performing the same material for more than a year, Iva, Keith, Anthony and John were all ready to go off and do their own things for a while and leave thinking about the future of Icehouse to another later day: and so they did.
Iva Davies retreated to the inner suburban home he had just acquired, to rest, recuperate and think about songs. Some months through 1982, he emerged with the basis for the second album which the Oz rock world had been impatiently demanding for so long.
A new Icehouse six piece line up was assembled, comprising three former members of Flowers, Iva, John Lloyd and former Flowers keyboard player Michael Hoste, a new guitarist from Melbourne, Bob Kretschmer, and two Britishers, Andy Qunta (Keyboards) and Guy Pratt (Bass).
This reborn Icehouse emerged in late 1982, almost a year to the day since the last Icehouse performance, and set about presenting the Primitive Man album to the music world.
© 1992 Neville Davies