Man of many colours

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Music - CAMERON ADAMS

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.

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