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Icehouse

For Iva Davies, the clichéd mullet and leather jacketed ‘80s Oz-rock persona was something of a false image. The Sydney-based multi-instrumentalist, while writing future classic singles for his band Flowers in the late ‘70s, was moonlighting as a bow-tied oboist in a symphony orchestra, in order to give himself options. “I was living a real double life back then!”

In the coming years, Iva, would find himself front and centre of one of the most successful rock bands in the country, before disappearing without a word in the mid-‘90s. Equally unexpected was the break in Icehouse’s 17 years of relative silence, when in July last year, an unannounced ‘secret’ gig at The Espy, was swamped by hundreds of fans who’d turned up in the hope the rumours were in fact true. The huge response soon prompted further dates being booked, and ultimately led to a tour in celebration of the respective anniversaries of the band’s two biggest albums: Primitive Man and Man Of Colours. Before the so-named Primitive Colours tour hits town, Iva looks back at the songs that made him a household name and tells why he decided make such an understated return.

 

“Part of the reason we did that show was basically to see if there was still interest in the band. Before that show, I really wasn’t confident at all but when the word got out that the surprise guests were us there were lines around the block, which was a huge relief,” Davies recalls. “It was also quite appealing playing a proper pub gig again. It was a bit of a return to our roots as well.” After Icehouse called it quits in 1995, Davies, holed up in his home studio, threw himself into writing scores for the Sydney Dance Company and a Millennium performance piece called The Ghost of Time which centred around an updated version of the Icehouse classic, Great Southern Land. For all intents and purpose though, it seemed as if Iva had suddenly turned his back on Icehouse and pop music in general.

 

“Playing in a band is actually a very gruelling lifestyle,” he reasons. “I’ve always needed to offset all that by grabbing as much quiet time as I can in order to work, which means pulling the phone out of the wall just so I can avoid any distractions. That’s always how I’ve made music, whether that’s pop or film scores,” he adds. “I look at someone like Prince, who I know for a fact had a studio on 24 hour stand-by while he was in Sydney a few months ago, just in case he had an idea for a song but for me, I’ve never been able to stop and start the process at will. It’s a bit of fragile bubble that once broken can never be regained.” His method of music-making, no matter how isolating, resulted in a tonne of credible hits throughout the ‘80s. Radio in particular loved Icehouse so much that based on playlists alone, one would have assumed they were the most popular band in the country for a time. Davies’ memory of such support however is less than enthusiastic.

 

“I never wanted to be known as the ‘Electric Blue guy’,” he laughs, distancing himself somewhat from the 1987 single. “That song was actually our only number one hit in Australia, but it wasn’t what I thought best represented Icehouse as I saw us. Although it is the song that I still get asked about more than any other even to this day.” In truth, second album Primitive Man (1984) was Icehouse’s first real mover on the local and overseas charts, however label doubt over the finished product’s hit-potential pushed Iva into an unexpectedly rewarding situation. “The American record label, who wanted to push the Primitive Man album, sent us back to the drawing board because they didn’t think we had a hit single on there,” he explains. “Basically I ended up sleeping on the floor in Giorgio Moroder’s studio – who was of course this massive disco producer in Hollywood, where we had recorded most of the album – and in the wee hours, using this guitar with a missing string, I wrote Hey Little Girl, which became our first international hit.” Talk of Moroder prompts Davies to confirm his allegiance to the rock world.

 

“I was never a disco fan at all. Led Zeppelin and T-Rex were what I really was into at the time.” As it happened, it was during the same year Moroder was enjoying success with the uber-cheesy Together In Electric Dreams, that Icehouse delivered what would become their signature single and sure-fire Oz anthem – the haunting Great Southern Land. “That song went through quite a number of changes before it was completed,” Iva recalls. “I remember the producer on that track had just done Billy Idol’s Hot In The City, which was a massive hit record at the time, and he replaced all of my synth parts with live drums and so on, and basically make it into like a big Billy Idol-type production piece, but it was just awful. But the finished version you know today was basically the untouched demo that had taken me around two hours to mix and complete and it ended up becoming this massive thing that has become our real defining moment. I really was disconnected with what it was people seemed to love about that song at the time though. I just thought, well I’ve written a song about Australia and so I had better not screw it up.”

 

BY LEIGH SALTER 

ICEHOUSE headline the Trevor Festival, taking place on Saturday January 12 on Churchill Island (Phillip Island), playing alongside Ash Grunwald, The Bamboos, Sweet Jean and more. The Primitive Colours tour comes to Melbourne’s re-jigged Hamer Hall on Monday November 5.