Man of many colours
THIRTY years ago Iva Davies was prowling the ABC studios fronting Australian band Icehouse.
Back in 1981 they’d just changed their name from Flowers to Icehouse ( the name of their debut album) and were regulars on Countdown with hits such as We Can Get Together, Walls and Can’t Help Myself. Fast-forward to 2011 and Davies ( pictured) is back in the old Countdown studios, now home to Spicks And Specks.
Davies is back on the radar for the 30th anniversary reissue of the Icehouse/ Flowers album, released in October 1980 in Australia, 1981 internationally.
While many contemporaries from the ’ 80s long ago re-formed and reissued, Davies has deliberately kept a low profile. There’s been only a handful of Icehouse shows ( the biggest being Sound Relief in 2009) and their back catalogue has been frustratingly elusive. No Icehouse material is available on iTunes; there’s no website and no singles compilation.
Davies is one of the few Australian artists who own all their recordings; most belong to record companies.
Savvy business decisions from the early days have given him a lucrative career and, more importantly, total creative control. He’s said no to having iconic hits such as Great Southern Land and Electric Blue used in TV ads, and no to all manner of ’ 80s package tours and support slots.
Now, after two decades with the same publishers and record label, Davies is with Universal music.
The new deal is being christened with the reissue, boasting bonus musical and visual material. A new website is up and running and Icehouse are on Facebook and iTunes. More reissues are planned for next year, as well as the band’s first comprehensive greatest-hits release.
Yet Davies remains modest about future plans for Icehouse.
‘‘ We haven’t really played that much, just a handful of shows,’’ he says. ‘‘ I’m interested to see how this album is received and see if there is any interest at all in us playing live.’’
Such modesty means Icehouse remain one of Australia’s most underrated bands, but the figures speak for themselves – almost two million album sales in Australia alone, hits in the US, UK and Europe and a slot in the ARIA Hall of Fame.
Their debut helped take Australian rock out of the pubs in the ’ 80s by embracing technology while sticking to their punk roots.
The reissue fills in many historical blanks. Davies and manager Keith Welsh ( also the bass player for Icehouse from 1977 to 1981) used forensic detail to hunt down recordings from the era. Davies has two garages full of Icehouse recordings; Welsh even found one live song on eBay.
‘‘ There was so much donkey work that went on,’’ Davies says. ‘‘ Before we could choose the live songs we had to restore the entire shows of lots of concerts and wade through seven versions of We Can Get Together. The further you go back into the archives, the less technology there was, obviously.’’
Indeed, the tapes that vintage concerts ( from the late ’ 70s and early ’ 80s) were recorded on had to be ‘‘ baked’’ before they could be used on new technology.
‘‘ I had a mixed reaction to a lot of them,’’ perfectionist Davies says.
‘‘ They were not sophisticated recordings; they’re kind of rough and flawed. I was going through reams and reams of tapes to find perfect versions and there just weren’t any. It was initially hard for me to think ‘ OK, I can live with that’.’’
A 1981 concert filmed for New Zealand TV is included on the reissue, as well as multiple appearances from Countdown.
‘‘ We straddled a strange area,’’ Davies says. ‘‘ The girls at Countdown had a different perception of us than the people who saw us on the same bill as Radio Birdman. We had an inner-city dark punk history which suddenly went on national TV.
‘‘ The period that followed was driven by a whole new world of technology.’’
While Davies is not nostalgic, listening to his debut album for the first time in decades was an eye-opener.
‘‘ These songs were the first ones I’d ever written,’’ he said. ‘‘ I deliberately tried not to make them about me to give too much away. But now when I listen back it’s totally me.’’
Davies’ teenage children got to see Icehouse for the first time at Sound Relief.
‘‘ I’d always been very private. My children really had no idea what I did. I think they are getting the idea of what went on now their peers are listening to stuff from the ’ 80s,’’ he says.