The Tea Party
“We’re back for good! – and we’re never going away again!” Tea Party guitarist and singer Jeff Martin roared to the 17,000-strong crowd in Lockport last June. After a six year break – the split was so inimicable that they didn’t speak to each other during that time – Martin, drummer Jeff Burrows and bassist/keyboardist Stuart Chatwood came back together initially for a handful of testing-the-water shows in their homeland Canada.
Kicking off with the killer riffing Writing’s On The Wall and the Eastern The Bazaar, it was immediately clear was that they still sounded as powerful and fresh as ever. They took tracks from each album, throwing in new instruments for some numbers. A theremin solo appeared on Walk To Me while the blues-rocker Turn The Lamp Down Low became an unplugged excursion with just acoustic guitars. On The River, they took it back to its roots with exclusively Middle Eastern instruments. By the end of the show – which included covers of Daniel Lanois’ The Messenger, The Stones’ Paint It Black and the Led Zeppelin-popularised In My Time Of Dying – Martin was hoarse, they put that much energy into their playing.
The Canadian dates extended to 11. In July they do their first tour in eight years in Australia (their second home where they toured 12 times, compared to 21 times in Canada) before festival dates in North America. Inevitably they’ll start work on a new album. But first, they say, they need to sit down and work through the issues which tore apart the three who met as kids in sleepy Wilson in Ontario, and were considered uncool at school because of the music they listened to and their fashion sense.
“On our greatest records, we were musically as one. Just before Edges Of Twilight we listened, like, 600 times to the Crosby Sills Nash & Young record, so much so we can’t stand to listen to it again," Martin laughs. "We could go into the studios and throw something out. But we want to make something timeless.”
“We haven’t spoken for six years, we’re just getting used to getting on the same stage together and hanging out together. There’s a lot of things unsaid that needs to be said, and it's important that we clear the air,” says Chatwood.
“For something great to happen, we need to get in touch with each other, and get in touch with the musical telepathy. It’s happening step by step, and it’s been wonderful so far. Great things will come to those who wait,” adds Burrows.
The indications are that their solo musical journeys in the past six years could crystallise the Tea Party’s elements into the greatness of albums like Twilight and Transmission. During the break, Martin moved to Ireland and then to Australia where, in between fronting The Armada and Jeff Martin 777, he sharpened his skills as a producer working with Thousand Needles In Red and Eternal. Chatswood composed video game soundtracks, including eight of the Prince Of Persia series which sold 10 million and which saw him digging further into his interest in Eastern music, “especially Iranian folk sounds”. Burrows performed with Crash Karma and hosted a radio show.
In a 2003 TV special called The Science Of Rock’n’Roll, psychologist Bill Thompson suggested that one reason why The Tea Party create such fanaticism among their following is “their fans love the fear in their music.” What did the band take that to mean?
“A lot of people search for comfort in darkness. That’s what they find in our music. As a songwriter, I push myself to limits that most people can’t do. I’m fortunate to be able to do that. Psychologically I can go to those dark places and be able to come back and write those lyrics. When I’m writing a song like Temptation, I’ve lived it. I’m not spraying fables. Every single word I’ve fucking lived. So I can get up on that stage, night after night, and be believable because I was there. It’s that experience to the extreme and the unknown, where a lot of people can’t go, that’s what they search for, and find in, our music,” says Martin
Certainly when The Tea Party first arrived in Australia as unknowns in 1993, they quickly created a following. Recalls Martin, “(Sydney promoter) Sam Righi really believed in us, and had this vision of breaking an unknown band. We were here for a month, he booked us for residencies in Sydney and Melbourne only. In the first week, we drew about 30 to the shows. The next week it jumped to 250, 300. By the end of the first visit, we were playing to 600 to 700. All in a month. Then triple j got on to us…” The rock press ran three page spreads and put them on their front covers. 1993’s Splendor Solis went gold, and subsequent tours saw The Edges of Twilight go platinum.
Chatwood says, “At (the) Alternative Nation (festival), which Lou Reed was headlining, 8,000 people left his stage when we came on. We had played to passionate crowds in Canada and we had no idea what to expect when we first came to Australia. But we found Australians went out all the time and had the same degree of passion about their music. We went to Germany right after Australia and found not everyone was passionate about us!”
During the break, the band was so disgruntled about the rise in America of the rightwing party with the same name, that reports were they wanted to sell their domain name to the party for US$1 million. Did they ever get that money? “We don’t talk finances!” Burrows chuckles to the loud laughter of the others.
BY CHRISTIE ELIEZER
THE TEA PARTY play the Palais Theatre on Saturday July 14 and an en-core show at The Hi-Fi on Sunday July 15.