Features December 10, 2019

The story behind the 30th-anniversary reimagining of 1927’s debut ‘…ISH’

The story behind the 30th-anniversary reimagining of 1927’s debut ‘…ISH’
Cameron Daddo in the studio

Sydney-based Origin Music’s …ISH REIMAGINED project – a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the chart-topping success of rock band 1927’s debut album …ISH – has become a bigger project than planned.

Origin co-founder and creative director Philip Mortlock tells TMN that the original idea was to give just a few songs the re-imagining treatment.

It developed into a full-blown album featuring names from musical theatre (Normie Rowe, Cameron Daddo), country (O’Shea, Brisbane-based Judah Kelly), singer-songwriters (Russell Morris) soul-blues (Stella Angelico and Cookin’ On 3 Burners’ Jake Mason on horn and Hammond) and fresh faces Sophie Jones, Aby Smith, James Van Cooper and Chris Murphy.

Rowe’s theatrical rendition of ‘Compulsory Hero’ was released just before Anzac Day 2019.

“It’s already finding its way into being embedded as a song which Vietnam vets, in particular, can identify with,” Mortlock notes.

‘If I Could’ by Bathurst based Sophie Jones was added to country radio and the Country Music Channel.

Normie Rowe takes it back

Daddo’s ‘To Love Me’ is out Friday, December 6, and is presumably set for airplay on the smoothfm network where he presents a show.

Daddo had returned from a decade of working in the US when Mortlock sounded him out on whether he was interested in getting back into recording music.

…ISH is my favourite album of all time!” he exclaimed when told of the project. “I play it all the time.”

Early 2020 will see the release of the set’s pièce de résistance, O’Shea’s female/male duet on the classic ‘That’s When I Think Of You’.

Now some of the artists are pushing to present the album live.

“We hadn’t even considered it because the artists are based all over the country and O’Shea are in Nashville,” Mortlock explains. “Some of them have tight schedules.

“Russell Morris, the hardest working man in show business just had two hours before soundcheck after he arrived in Sydney.

“Michael Carpenter, who produced the album, is also keen to do that. Nothing is organised yet. Maybe a one-off, maybe a run through some cities.

“It’s a logistical problem we have to solve but there’s certainly a lot of enthusiasm there.”

Out Of The Box

In early 1989, …ISH had streaked straight out of the box to #1 on the ARIA chart. It stayed there for four weeks.

The record went on to sell 500,000 copies – the biggest Australian debut album at that time, and still in the Top 10 of that list.

It also nibbled at the bottom end of the US, New Zealand and UK charts.

Penned mostly by songwriter Garry Frost – who’d written ‘What About Me’ for his earlier band Moving Pictures – …ISH was acclaimed as a collection of A-1 love songs.

One of them (‘If I Could’) became a staple at weddings, others were popular requests on radio dating shows.

‘That’s When I Think Of You’ is regarded as one of the great Australian torchers.

Except it wasn’t written as one.

Two years before, Frost’s then-publisher – the late John Bromell of Warner Chappell – had told him to write songs for an Australian movie being made and set in the Vietnam War.

It was about the bloody Battle of Long Tan, a bitter fight in a rubber plantation in August 1966, which pit the fresh-faced 1st Australian Task Force and People’s Army of Vietnam against the Viet Cong.

‘That’s When I Think Of You’ was based on a series of letters written by mostly-teenage soldiers back to their sweethearts.

‘Compulsory Hero’ investigated the mindset of conscripts who went off marching for their country.

‘The Mess’ contemplated who was going to clean up the mess after the war. The movie was never made.

In fact, different studios would try to take the story to the big screen two or three more times until Danger Close this year.

Garry Frost – the songwriter

Putting The Band Together

Frost and …ISH producer Charles Fisher reckoned they should put a band around the songs.

At the time there was scepticism from some musicians that 1927’s rapid rise and hefty pop following were due to a record company prefab.

Frost this week virtually rolls his eyes. “I spoke to every record company and none of them were interested in the album!” he chuckles.

“Finally after a year of looking for a deal, Charles revived his Trafalgar Productions record label to put the album out.”

When Frost was putting 1927 together, he spotted Melbourne covers band singer Eric Weideman on Nine Network’s Hey Hey It’s Saturday’s Red Faces talent quest segment, performing The Police’s high-pitched ‘Roxanne’ as a dare.

He quickly rang up the show to get the singer’s number and struck paydirt when the unknown’s vocal range did justice to the theatrics inherent in his songs.

Trafalgar Productions was an offshoot of Trafalgar Studios in Sydney, which Fisher co-owned.

Its distributor was Warner Music Australia. Its managing director at the time was Mortlock who at the time was riding high with INXS, Cold Chisel, Boom Crash Opera and Jenny Morris.

The Re-Imagining Begins

The …ISH REIMAGINED project began for a simple reason.

After Mortlock left Warner, he moved into music publishing with Origin, and signed up Frost about twenty years ago.

“We keep looking for new opportunities for Garry’s songs, which all publishers are supposed to do. “

Origin’s Phillip Mortlock

Origin now also has the 1927 catalogue, and been re-releasing the albums through its label. The …ISH songs are still alive.

Weideman continues to tour, record and perform as 1927 and currently on the road behind their EP Paper Aeroplane.

Data shows that radio is still playing …ISH songs 50 times a day and they have notched up a million plays on streaming services.

What makes them resonate is the detail and realism Frost puts in his songs.

Moving Pictures’ ‘What About Me’, for instance, had been inspired during the days he’d worked with special needs children, and had accompanied one to a milk bar and noticed how the little boy had been treated by the shop keeper.

Frost says: “A lot of my lyrical ideas come from reading books, especially autobiographies.

“You get a deeper understanding of how people think. Some come from interpersonal relationships.

“You take what you can from where you can.”

When Mortlock and producer Mike Carpenter started making a list of names, Normie Rowe was the first person Mortlock contacted about ‘Compulsory Hero’.

He did not know Rowe but instinctively knew he’d nail it. Rowe had been Australia’s biggest pop singer in the ‘60s when he was drafted, and cheerfully went off to do his bit.

He later realised that the government had deviously and falsely claimed his birth date had come up in the draft and used him as a PR gimmick.

The Vietnam stint, Mortlock recalls, “absolutely ended Normie’s career as a pop singer when he came back.

“He reinvented himself, and became a huge musical theatre artist. He ticked a few boxes: he’d lived through it and he could put the sense of drama into the whole thing.”

Carpenter also suggested some new names he’d been working with on other projects at his Love Hz Studio in Leichhardt, Sydney.

Most had heard the …ISH songs in their parents’ record collections or on radio, regarded it as among their own favourites.

“This was a recording project true to my heart,” Carpenter reveals. “I grew up with this album and to work on these songs with all these great singers was a very rewarding experience.”

Origin’s initial target audience for…ISH REIMAGINED is an obvious one.

“It’s the people who grew up with the album, who were in their late teens or early 20s in those days and now in their mid-40s.

“So we’re bringing it to the attention first to an older demographic but as the younger artists on the project showed, …ISH has already jumped generations.

So freshening and reimagining those songs gives them an opportunity to be heard in another way. “It opens the market to a much wider age group,” they say.

“The original songs are already getting millions of streams and …ISH is proving to be a very popular album on streaming services. We know 500,000 people bought the record.

“We are aiming at getting the new versions on playlists and making people listening to the originals aware of the re-imaginations.”

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