Alex Morton, the man behind the legendary Last Record Store and new contributor to Upstream Whispers, sat down with Sarah Carroll to talk about musical allies, Marcel Borrack’s sandwiches and her enthusiasm for country and rockabilly music.
Live at the Last Record Store
You’ve always had a knack for finding players with whom you seem to share a great empathy. Can you share some insights about some of your influences and musical allies – I know that you and Andy Baylor, for example, go back a long way.
Andy is someone who I’ve adored and worshipped for as long as I can remember. I started watching his bands play when I was 18 or 19. I’d ask him to jam with me when I first started playing guitar and stuff and he was always very kind. Rick Dempster was another guy, and Paul Pyle – just these lovely blokes – I’d hear them and just love their music. Their playing was so exciting. I loved their ability to play as a unit, found that fascinating. I found that with just about all that generation before me – country players and blues guys in Melbourne were always very generous and open in sharing what they knew with me. I was sort of blind, as kids are, to my shortcomings, but they were always so kind.
But the point could well be, if you had too many shortcomings, they maybe wouldn’t have bothered?
Well I guess not. I think it was just that they liked me and they could see that I was so keen! Rick Dempster and Andy and I were standing around after a show not so long ago, sort of patting each other on the back, and Rick said to me “You know Sarah, you’ve really come on” (laughs). And I said “Look Rick, if it hadn’t been for people like you, there’d be no people like me.” And I’m always so grateful for their support and kindness.
So Andy and I just sort of kept on colliding over the years. We’ve both tried to involve each other in things we’ve done, like that run of gigs he put on at the Rainbow Hotel during the late ‘90’s – tribute nights to Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers and the like – he’d always give me a call and ask me on the show, which I was just knocked out by. So I asked him to play fiddle and guitar on my first album “YIPPEE!” and he offered to help produce that – put a band together and brought ‘em in and we recorded seven or eight songs in two days. And he of course played again on “WAHINE”. And so it’s just natural that we still do lots of stuff together, put bands together and so on. We’ll be working together this month at the Echuca Blues Festival on the Boot Camp, which is a project to encourage young local kids to play and get involved in music.
Marcel Borrack is another person you’ve worked with a lot over the past few years. How did this come about?
This came about as a result of me, Dan Warner and Marcel all being on Mick Thomas’ label, Croxton Records. I’d known Dan from years ago when I was slinging piss at the Punters Club and he had a residency there. But I hadn’t met Marcel yet, so that was a happy accident! Mick sent the three of us off on this great 25 date tour. We did it hard but we all had such a great time – pissed ourselves laughing the whole time. I’d just come out of the break-up of GIT, and was not so used to working at close quarters with people I didn’t know so well, so the whole thing could have been a complete disaster. But Mick’s judgement, as usual, was very sound and he helped to forge a relationship between the three of us which has been incredibly fruitful ever since.
Marcel’s work, both in a production and a performing sense, on both Dan Warner’s gorgeous “Night Parrots” album and your own “Wahine” is testament to that.
Indeed! When I came to record my second album I decided I wanted Marce to produce – I felt that he got me as a vocalist and that was the area I wanted to concentrate on ; I knew he could give me the answers and the guidance that I needed. If you’re going to ask someone to produce your record you must have faith in their decisions. Marcel’s ear for detail is incredibly fine and he found that in me also, so we communicated well on that level – and I’m a good listener. But I deferred to him on lots of stuff.
He’s got a great set of ears, has Marcel.
Yeah, he does – makes a good sandwich, too!
Can you tell us some more about your relationship with Mick Thomas and Croxton Records?
When I’d completed my first record, “Yippee”, I sent the tracks to Mick because I didn’t have a label and I thought I’d just see what he reckons. The understanding from the beginning was that I wanted his opinion but didn’t want him to feel at all obliged – if he says no, that’s cool; if he likes it, then great! And that’s what happened – he came straight back to me and said “I love it – wonderful – lets go.”
What I really like about my relationship with Mick – he’s a blunt guy – a classic Aquarian and you get what you get, but he has that great quality of global vision and global awareness which I really admire. So I trust his opinion and his judgement, and I know that he’ll tell me exactly what he thinks. So he made it possible for me to put out my first album, and then he went ahead and put out the second one (“Wahine”), and that led to him and me and Van Walker going out on tour. We each had a new record out, so it seemed like a good idea.
And was it?
Yeah, it was awesome! Different – sort of Dad and the two kids in a way, although I was Mum also; I did a lot of the legwork, chased bookings, scouted out venues and so on, so it was a collaborative effort. We all got to introduce each other to different places, and Van got to see a lot more of the mainland. Yeah, it was heaps of fun.
Mick’s always been a help to so many – he was always really supportive to me when I had the record store, and he turned me on to a lot of great stuff.
Yeah, he’s a great bloke, Mick, and I’m glad to be his friend.
Did you always have such boundless enthusiasm for this kind of music?
Yeah, older people would ask me, when I was 16 or 17, “How did you get into this sort of music – country and hillbilly and so on?”. Well, I had a school friend, Jenny McMahon, who’s a film-maker now, and we used to go and see The Rythmatics who had a residency at The Creole Club in West Melbourne, and we’d go there rain or shine. We’d walk from Fitzroy to save beer money – $5 for pots by not getting cabs! They were the first band I began to go and hear live and I guess that just opened the door. They were actually an R&B band, and I went from there and began to get into the rockabilly scene, and so it went. I feel really fortunate that I’ve had all these people come into my life and introduce me to so much.
As do we to have you in ours! Thanks Sars.