Part 1 – The Fat Mk 1 (1988 – 1989)

In February 1988, informal jam sessions started to take place on weekend afternoons at Val Tarin’s place, the old weatherboard house in Sussex Street, Victoria Park that had been the crucible for so many bands in all the years that Val had lived there.

Convening at these jams were Val (drums), Adrian Wood (keyboards and trumpet) and myself, Trevor Hilton (guitar), core members of the then-recently defunct band Love Pump. Also in attendance was Peter Hobbs, Love Pump’s resident lead guitarist at the time the band ended six months before.

Val Tarin

Adrian Wood

Peter Hobbs

Trevor Hilton

The idea was to pick up where Love Pump had left off, but to ditch the wigs and 70s outfits that had seemed more and more like an encumbrance to any earnest musical expression that could be conveyed. In short, the 70s Glam thing just seemed to be like an old joke that had been told a few times too often.

Also present during these early, nebulous, proto-Fat music get-togethers was Thomas Kayser, Love Pump keyboardist and founding member. Aside from some casual participation early on, Thomas (who, along with his girlfriend Liz Doran, was sharing the house with Val at the time) opted to decline joining this potential ensemble, and went his own way, going on to collaborate with his friend Mark MacAndrew, who shared with Thomas an interest in synthesisers, sequencers and electronic music.

Thomas Kayser

Other Love Pump alumni were also on hand during these early jams – Fred Gilbert still lived up the street, and was inevitably on hand to offer his typically acerbic commentary on the proceedings, and Peter Morse was a regular visitor to the house as well, and liked to join in with the music-making as well as the critiquing of it. Both contributed with their ideas, enthusiasm and support of the new band project, and it was certainly a great advantage to have such close, like-minded friends present at its conception.

Fred Gilbert

Peter Morse

Quite early on, Val brought Darrel Le Mercier into the fold to play congas. Darrel had been part of a University of Western Australia production that had staged a version of “The Tempest”. This ensemble incorporated actors and shadow puppetry, with the musical accompaniment provided by the UWA Gamelan orchestra, which at that time included Val, Thomas and Peter Hadley (former Love Pump bassist) in their ranks.

This production ended up travelling to Bali to stage performances there in about December 1987 (the journey to Bali ended up as a documentary for SBS called “A Tempest In Bali”).

Darrel Le Mercier

If there was ever any notion of some kind of musical direction, it was to make music with some kind of a groove that could be danced to. By March, the jams had turned into a regular Wednesday night rehearsal session, and various ideas were thrashed about.

As these rehearsals began to show some promise, Peter Hadley was invited to join this new band-in-progress. Peter had been the the Love Pump bass player who, two years before, had been asked to leave the band due to some differences of personality, which, by this time had either been resolved or forgotten (no one really remembers what the original dispute was about anyway). Graciously, he agreed, and became the sixth member of this as-yet unnamed group.

Peter Hadley

The band’s hand was forced when itwas asked to play at a benefit gig for a Northbridge Art Gallery called “The Beach”. Although this was a low-key affair that was organised for and by friends and associates, it meant that the new group had to actually get up in front of and audience and perform for the first time.

Very close to the time of this new band’s first public performance, Darrel introduced his friend Peter Hardy to the band. Peter had played Prospero to Darrel’s Caliban in “The Tempest”. As an actor by trade, he preferred to be known by his pseudonym “Wes McCordy” as a band member in order to separate his profession from this sideline activity. He brought saxophone and a wide array of percussion instruments to the fray, and to this day is still referred to as Wes by his old band colleagues.

Wes McCordy

This raw, neophyte seven piece ensemble debuted at “The Beach” Gallery in Northbridge on Saturday April 30th 1988. The band, which had hastily been named “The Fat” by Val very close to the date of the gig (after being pressured by the organisers to supply a name that they could put on their promotional material), played 6 songs, some of which even lacked a full set of lyrics, such was the undercooked nature of this performance. The songs were: “(We Are) The Fat”, Sticka Liquorice”, “This Is The 80s/Nativity Rap”, “Happy In The Jungle” (which was the working title of “What Excuse Do You Need”), “Pull Up To The Bumper” (sung by guitarist Peter Hobbs) and “Art”.

The last song, “Art”, paid tribute to the evening with its lyrics along the lines of “Signed and numbered/In a limited edition/It’ll never happen again/Blink and you’ll miss it”, the song referring perhaps to the transient nature of the band playing the song as much as art or the event itself.

Quite early on in the life of The Fat, a man by the name of James Nagy took a bit of interest in the burgeoning musical outfit. James, who was an organiser of live music events, was also a huge fan of African music, and, one day invited Val, Adrian and myself to the upstairs offices of Steve Tallis’ Monkey Music on Monger Street in Northbridge where he happened to be working at the time, and divvyed up a large stack of LPs of African artists amongst the three of us with the exhortation to go away and listen to them and hopefully incorporate the ethnic influences into the music we were making. His nickname was “African James” amongst band members for a while.

The songs “What Excuse Do You Need” and “Personal” originate from this influence, but James Nagy was also helpful for the band by asking them to play high on the bill on various events of his throughout the rest of 1988 – shows that usually had impactful, onomatopoeic names like “BANG” “WOW” “HEY” etc.

James Nagy

The first show that “African James” asked The Fat to play was a benefit gig at the Hellenic Centre in Northbridge, on Saturday June 11 1988. Again, a fairly low key affair. While The Fat played, laughing beneath the stage were Thomas Kayser and James Nagy, who took turns swamping the stage with large clouds of smoke from a smoke machine hired for the night.

James Nagy needed photos of the band for to help promote an upcoming show of his called “Wow!!”, and so, everyone gathered at my place one Saturday afternoon in July 1988 and posed together for the first time. Thomas Kayser took a reel of photos, one of which was then used in the West Australian and a couple of community newspapers to promote this Community Aid Abroad benefit night. Around the same time, I took the band into the recording studio I worked in at the time (Jingles Australia) to record a rough version of The Fat theme song for airplay on student radio stations to promote the “Wow!!” gig.

The band by this time had about nine songs in their repertoire, including a couple of new songs such as “When It’s Hot”. Rehearsals continued until August, at which point The Fat began live gigging in earnest.

The first major gig that the band played was a large “warehouse party”of the sort that was at that time becoming popular with the so-called “Ecstasy” or “E” crowd of the late 80s, called “Andy Warhol”. A variety of acts performed to a crowd of at least a thousand in a vast enclosed space. I remember Peter Hobbs’ younger brother David (Bandit) Hobbs deciding to sit cross-legged on the stage right near Peter’s guitar pedals at one point. (I only mention this because, strangely enough, some years later I saw the younger brother of the lead guitarist from Storytime do exactly the same thing one night at a gig at the Shents).

The next weekend the Fat were on a bill at the Italian Club in North Perth along with Jam Tarts Nansing Quartet and the Rita Menendez Group, MC’d by Fred Gilbert. It was James Nagy’s Community Aid Abroad benefit gig. It turned out to be another good night, marred only by an incident at the end of the evening when a bouncer at the front door of the club assaulted Fred after mistaking his playful mock-rough handling of a female friend as they came down the stairs as some kind of molestation.

After all these early highs, disaster struck the next weekend when The Fat played at the Shenton Park Hotel for the first time, on the bill of a show called an “Elvis Night”. Unfortunately, whereas the other bands had all taken the trouble to work up an entirely Elvis setlist, The Fat had only managed to rehearse “It’s Now Or Never”, “Edge Of Reality”, and a parody song called “The Cheeseburger That Killed Elvis”, and had merely interspersed these three songs amongst their regular setlist.

The inclusion of 80s “pop” into an Elvis Night nearly caused a riot amongst the crowd, and at one point an irate Elvis fan ran onstage and grabbed the microphone, yelling to the audience about how much of a disgrace it all was. In an attempt to smooth the waters perhaps, Peter Hadley then announced to the unruly crowd that if they weren’t happy with things then they could go and ask for their money back. Quite a few did, apparently, which would not have pleased the management of the pub.

After the Elvis Night debacle, the band turned its attention to making a record, and in September started recording basic tracks for what was eventually to become the six song, 12″ mini-LP “Supermarket Of Temptation”.

The rough version of “(We Are) The Fat” that was recorded two months previously to promote the “Wow!!” gig was reworked and polished a little, and a Love Pump song called “Busy Man” which had been recorded the previous year (for a student radio station 6UVS compilation LP that had stalled by this time) was summarily added to the track line-up, due to the fact that The Fat now used this song in their own repertoire. Four other songs “Personal”, “When It’s Hot”, “The Bottom Line” and “What Excuse Do You Need” were recorded from scratch.

Top Left: Darrel and Val

Basic tracks for these four songs were recorded on Saturday September 3 1988, and overdubbing sessions continued over the next couple of weeks. Mixed master tapes were sent to the EMI pressing plant in Homebush NSW by late October. These recordings perhaps act as a snapshot in time, but never measure up to the band’s live recordings.

Top Right: Val and Adrian

Right: Wes and his “box”

In September 1988, Val finally moved out of the Sussex Street house in Victoria Park that he had lived in for so many years, leaving Thomas Kayser and his girlfried Liz Doran as the primary tenants of the house. Cheerfully but firmly, Thomas made the band go and find somewhere else to rehearse, ending a long tradition of “art school” musicians playing in that house that went all the way back to outfits like The Armchair in the early 80s.

Eventually The Fat found a newly-opened rehearsal rooms facility called Soundworks in the industrial area of Bayswater. It was run by two Italians named Frank and Gino, and became a kind of home base for The Fat. Over the 3 or so years that we rehearsed there, Soundworks grew in size from a corridor with 3 or 4 rooms off it to a large warehouse space complete with an audio accessories shop.

The pictures on the left were taken at Soundworks by Robert Frith, a professional photographer and friend of the band.

During this time, The Fat played at Peter & Mia Hobbs’ wedding reception and performed at the Fremantle Town Hall for an architect students event called the “T-Square Ball”. There was even a backyard housewarming party gig in Wembley for Val’s girlfriend Sharon where the police attended on more than one occasion to warn about the volume level.

New songs such as “Funky Stuff” “Can’t Think Of Nothing” and “Hallucinations” were worked up and added to the repertoire. A great sense of cameraderie and spirit had evolved within the band, and there was a feeling that anything was possible. For about five minutes there was even talk of touring over on the East coast of Australia.

In late October 1988, Robert Frith and Peter Morse directed The Fat in their one and only videoclip, shot by Robert Frith on Betacam-SP. The song chosen for the clip was – once again – “(We Are) The Fat”.

Locations included Karrakatta Cemetery, A Woolworths supermarket in Cottesloe, the beach, and an old ballroom converted into an apartment that painter and friend of the band Richard Gunning lived in.

The resulting video aired on ABC’s Rage as well as some local music programs, and ended up collecting a WAAMI award for best local music video in 1989.

The Fat continued to play throughout the rest of the year. In November, we shared a bill with the Lee Buddell Quintet at the Fremantle Town Hall in a show called “Jazz Dive”, and played at a large performance and art “happening” at what was at one time known at the Gotham studios in the “Cultural Centre” of Northbridge (another James Nagy production). We opened with a version of the 60s “Batman” TV theme.

In December, the band played at a Fine Art Degree Show at Curtin University, a show called “Dressed To Kill” at the Praxis Gallery in Fremantle, and rounded out the year by playing a New Year’s Eve gig to a packed house of about 500 hot and sweaty punters at the Queens Hotel in Mount Lawley.

January 1989 saw The Fat playing at the Shenton Park Hotel for the first time since the Elvis Night debacle, as well as doing a string of Saturday night gigs on a semi-regular basis through to the end of February at the Highway Hotel (later called the Coronado) in Claremont.

Jazz Dive

Jazz Dive

On Friday March 3 1989, The Fat held a record launch at the Shenton Park Hotel to officially mark the release of their independently-produced mini-LP “Supermarket Of Temptation”.

On Friday March 17 the band played a fairly sparsely-attended gig at the Seaview Tavern in Fremantle, then two days later played to a large outdoor crowd in the Somerville Auditorium on the campus of the Univesity of Western Australia, as one of many bands on the bill of the 6UVS “Neon Picnic” show.

On the 27th was an Easter Monday gig at the Shents, then on the 31st was a multi-band Friday “Sundowner” show at the Curtin Tavern, Curtin University in Bentley. Unfortunately, The Fat was last on the bill, and by the time we got on stage, everyone had gone home. We played to literally nobody – well almost. Danny Passionfruit, who later became the Fat’s bass player, once told me that he remembered coming into the tavern with some friends during an intermission of a play they were watching nearby and having a bit of a dance before hurrying back for the second half of their show.

6UVS FM Neon Picnic

The Fat’s mini-LP “Supermarket Of Temptation” was released in March 1989 and promply did nothing. As an independently-produced record with no real means of being distributed other than the local independent record stores such as Dadas and 78 Records, and in an age where vinyl was being outmoded by the CD (Errol Tout was one local artist who had just released a CD), as well as the age-old problem of getting local music on commercial radio, it was an uphill battle to garner much interest in it.

The situation was not helped by a particularly spiteful review in X-Press Magazine by a journalist named Mick Taylor, who had become unhappy with a couple of members of The Fat over negative comments they had made about a nightclub he was co-managing called “The Power Station” when they visited it with their partners one night. Consequently, the same band members were sitting at an outside cafe called “L’Alba” one day when Mick Taylor walked past, saying “Hi guys, my review of your record is in tomorrow’s X-Press”. The next day he had departed Perth for good and gone to Melbourne. Any reports of his current whereabouts would be appreciated.

Some years later, I was sitting having lunch at Caffe Sport in Northbridge, when James Nagy came and sat at my table to have a chat. At one point he mentioned “Supermarket Of Temptation” and said that he believed that Peter Hadley’s observations on what had been the problem with the record was what he himself also thought. “Oh”, I said and nodded in quiet agreement, and let it pass, thinking to myself “I wonder what he’s talking about?”. Never did find out. In hindsight perhaps, it could be argued that the contents were a little rushed and possibly slightly under-produced. “A good demo” as someone put it. The actual record jacket itself had a lot going for it, with a front sleeve painting by Richard Gunning, and back sleeve notes by none other than Dolph Subway (aka Peter Morse), as well as an insert with printed lyrics and with pictures by Roberth Frith.

Because I ended up with all the unsold record stock, Peter Morse used to like to joke that I had “everything The Fat ever recorded”.

The band played a few more gigs in April and May of 1989 – a benefit gig for tree conservation called the “Glass House Party” at Club Limbo, Northbridge, a gig at the Entertainment Centre supporting Rick Astley, and a couple of final Shenton Park Hotel gigs. A few new songs “The Walking Song” “Dancing” and “The Big One” were added to the setlist over this time.

Then the band ceased playing, as I was away on a three month trip to the USA that I had been planning for the previous two years. Shortly after I left, the rest of The Fat combined with The Waltons to play a one-off show as “The Fat Wallies” at a dubious event in Fremantle called the “Hookers and Perverts Ball”.

The active performing life of this incarnation of The Fat encompasses just over one year, which is certainly the longest I ever played live with any one collection of musicians. By the end of this year the band had well over a dozen original songs in its repertoire, as well as a few covers like “It’s Not Unusual” and “Pull Up To The Bumper”, and a few old Love Pump tunes like “Sexual Magnet” and “Sannu”. Lack of record sales aside, it had been a pretty good run, and mostly fun, with generally appreciative crowds dancing to our music wherever we played.