Vinyl Connection approached Mike Rudd, founder of Australian rock legends Spectrum, Ariel and various other musical entities, for a cyberchat. Mike kindly consented.
VC: Anniversaries are often a mixed blessing. How did you approach this particular milestone: fifty years? (By the way, what actually happened in 1969?)
MR: Well, to start off with, the 50thtag wasn’t my idea. I think it was a calculated rebranding of the Double Bill shows we’ve been doing with Madder Lake by others further up the food chain – a point of difference to attract the attention of a blasé audience. It’s not strictly accurate ‘cause my career’s been going since 1964, but it’s a nice round figure to conjure with.
1969 was the year of Spectrum’s birth and I suppose it’s relevant because we still call ourselves Spectrum – even though I’m pretty much the last original member.
I say that knowing perfectly well that the original drummer Mark Kennedy is still around and Ray Arnott’s still alive somewhere north of here. The issue of money remains an impediment after all this time and I’m hesitant to approach Mark in particular because of uncertainty in this area.
VC: At the beginning of Spectrum’s set last weekend, you observed that you’d clocked up half a century in the music biz having had just one hit. If you stumbled across a second hit, does that mean we’d get a century?
MR: I’ve spent a lot of time since I wrote “I’ll Be Gone” trying—and not trying—to write a follow-up. By ‘not trying’ I mean that I didn’t write IBG as a single particularly – it was just a song and it would be nice if that MO could be replicated. I’d been working with Ross Wilson’s Party Machine (as bass player) before 1969 and when Ross scuttled over to the UK I determined to base a band around songs that I’d written – and IBG was my first attempt.
VC: With such a goodly selection of albums and songs to choose from, how did you go about picking the set list for this series of gigs? There seemed to be some leaning towards shorter songs.
MR: The band’s song list is essentially a selection of the retro-Spectrum material played by the budget versions of the Spectrum, Mike Rudd’s Indelibles and The Three-Piece Suits. The core line-up is Peter ‘Robbo’ Robertson (drums), Daryl Roberts (keys) and Bill Putt’s replacement, Broc O’Connor (bass). The addition of Madder Lake’s guitarist Brenden Mason to the Spectrum line-up has created the point of difference and Spectrum is now exclusively performing as this five-piece line-up.
As for the song choices, there were some songs that were suggested by Laneway Music when the concept was mooted a couple of years ago and I’ve since added quite a few of the singles by Spectrum, Murtceps and Ariel to the list. (See the set list annotations below) This may account for the prevalence of shorter songs, but there’s only so much indulgent meandering a Spectrum audience can take these days—even at these dedicated concerts there’s only ever a handful of real Spectrum devotees.
VC: I fear I was one, craving “What the world needs (Is a new pair of socks)”.
“I’ll be gone” is something of an Australian anthem. So much so that an album consisting entirely of covers of the song was released in 2001 as a charity project (I’ll Be Gonz). Have you ever listened to the entire CD?
MR: I have listened to the Gonz album, but not for a long time now. There’s a core of ‘legitimate’ covers but quite a few of them were commissioned on our behalf by Paul Stewart (Painters & Dockers) to flesh out the album and are suitably bizarre as a result.
My mother came over to Melbourne for her grand-daughter’s wedding a few years ago and saw me do an acapella version of IBG at the wedding after-party. The crowd all joined in joyfully and most of them were very young—Mum was most impressed. It was the first and only time my Mum saw me perform.
I’m incredibly grateful to have recorded such a durable song and one which is still greeted with such affection when we render it today.
VC: The gig I attended at the Thornbury Theatre and Ballroom was very civilised. Chairs, tables with tablecloths, a decent bar and plenty of space to park zimmer frames. What was it like staring out at that sea of Senior Citizens?
MR: The novelty of playing to old people wore off quite some time ago. I’m very grateful our senior audience takes up the considerable challenge to even venture out at night, let alone stay up late. I actually think I prefer to play during daylight hours myself these days.
VC: The Aztec CD re-issues of Ariel and Spectrum albums are excellent. Meanwhile, the original LPs are going for silly money on the internet. Any prospect of vinyl re-pressings?
MR: I’m ambivalent about the vinyl culture. In some respects I feel duped that the CD format, once promised to be the be all and end all, has all but been discarded, but time marches on regardless. The Australian vinyl products in their day were probably the worst quality in the world and I was pleased to see the format go. And now we live with lo-fi mp3s that make even crap vinyl sound tolerable.
Listening to albums recorded in the ‘70s on serious vinyl makes absolute sense – I dig that being into the ritual of vinyl signals that you’re actually/possibly interested in the music… and the jackets are more impressive, etc. But CDs still work at gigs, which is where we still occasionally sell stuff.
VC: Indeed. Somewhat to my surprise I found myself purchasing both the 2-CD re-issue of Rock & Roll Scars and a t-shirt.
Further plans, musical or otherwise?
MR: Always plans. I’ve got stuff brewing in my home studio, but I’m no technical nerd and right now progress is minimal. Live-wise I’d like to see the Spectrum model prosper with the other off-shoots (incl. me playing solo) doing the hard yards. ‘You can’t always get what you want’ is an apt quote.
VC: I think I can safely say that those in the audience for the current gigs are certainly getting what they want. Thanks for your time, Mike. Your gold watch is in the post.
MR: It was fun.
Saturday 12 May 2019, Thornbury Theatre & Ballroom
(Annotated by Mike Rudd)
Launching Place Part ll [Spectrum] 1971 single, B-side
(“I’ll Be Gone” b/w “Launching Place Pt 2” released only in mono in Australia until the Raven Records Ghosts: Post-Terminal Reflection compilation (1991, see feature image), but in stereo in Germany (!) with a different version of LP P2)
Play a Song That I Know [S] Milesago 1971 (B-side of “But That’s Alright”)
Make Your Stash [S] Spectrum Part One 1971
We Are Indelible [Indelible Murtceps] Warts Up Your Nose 1973 (B-side of “Esmeralda”)
But That’s Alright [S] Milesago 1971 / edited version, single
Red Hot Momma [Ariel] Rock and Roll Scars 1975; B-side of “Jamaican Farewell”
Indelible Shuffle [IM] Testimonial 1973 / single
Keep on Dancing [Ariel] Rock and Roll Scars 1975 / single b/w “I’ll Be Gone”
Some Good Advice [IM] 1973 Warts Up Your Nose
I’ll Not Fade Away [Ariel/Glynn Mason singing] Goodnight Fiona 1976 (written by Glyn)
It’s Only Love [Ariel/Glynn] single / Aloha1977 (another Glyn comp.)
Disco Dilemma [A] Aloha 1977 / single
Jamaican Farewell [A] A Strange Fantastic Dream 1973 / single
I’ll Be Gone [S] 1971 single, A-side; Aloha 1977
Esmeralda (Encore) [IM] Warts Up Your Nose 1973 / single
Vinyl Connection’s review of the concert (and trawl through the Rudd catalogue) is here.