Thursday, November 02, 2006

Farewell to Ian Rilen

Richard Sharman photo

My older brother was 16 in 1976, and an early fan of punk rock. He would go visit his new friends and bring home cassettes of local alternative radio station 3RRR- their signal wasn't strong enough to pick up out where we lived- and I'd sneak into his room and borrow them. On one tape, sandwiched between the Boys Next Door doing “A Catholic Skin” and the Little Murders’ “Things Will Be Different” was X doing “Delinquent Cars”. That clanging guitar, the bouncing bass line, the strange lyrics in that deadpan voice…I was intrigued and got hold of more, a whole album’s worth in fact, including “Present”, “Suck Suck”, and the anthemic “ I Don’t Wanna Go Out”.

So they were on my radar for a while before Ian & Steve re-formed the band with Cathy and moved down to Melbourne. It was a flush time for rock n roll, with clubs and gigs aplenty. But there were a bunch of us that chose to be at every X show, following them backwards and forwards across town, from the Prince of Wales to the User’s Club via Melbourne Uni and the Tote. They were just superb live, and had presence to burn, unlike so many other bands around at the time, who just had attitude. Ian and Steve were yin and yang to look at onstage- Steve the lanky dapper longhair and Ian the nuggetty crew-cut one in that white singlet. And of course most of the boys fancied Cathy Green like mad. “TV Glue” was always the high point of the set for me. Am I dreaming when I remember seeing this played with a horn section at least once?

I was writing back then, and after I did a live review for B Side, mutual friend Helen Meyers offered me the use of a spare studio at 3PBS to do an interview with the band. Perhaps unwisely, I took a couple of six packs of beer & a few bottles of red wine along to lubricate the process…but the result was an entertaining read at least.

Fast forward to February 1990- I was living in Surry Hills, Sydney, with Spencer P Jones. One warm Saturday morning, a huge crimson car nosed down our narrow little street and squeezed into a parking spot outside the house. Ian emerged, road case in one hand, amp head in the other and came in, talking a mile a minute. He’d just driven up from Melbourne overnight, and had decided to stop off for a drink. He kicked his boots off, quickly changed his jeans, locked the car and then we were off. I bailed out after an hour or two, (11.00am drinking isn’t my strong suit) and didn’t see Spencer or Ian for the rest of the weekend.

Not long after that I went and lived overseas til 2001. A couple of months after I came back, I went to the Espy to see the final show by Spencer P Jones & the Last Gasp, the magnificent 14 piece outfit he’d put together but had grown tired of shepherding. And while I was standing at the bar in the dim light of the Gershwin Room, an elderly looking gent in a shabby-chic suit & pork pie hat came over and said "Hello mate"...not only had Ian had spotted and recognised me after 10 years, he came over for a chat and a beer.

Over the past few year or so I must’ve seen him play with the Love Addicts eight or nine times. The swaggering, roaring set they unleashed on the big stage of the Palace as part of the benefit for his old mate Pete Wells. Those cramped and sweaty shows eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe with the crowd down on the sticky carpet of the Greyhound Hotel. There was always plenty of give and take

I also ran into him out & about occasionally, often pushing a baby stroller down the footpath. He was proud of all of his children, but there seemed to be something special about the way he looked at Romeo. I’d usually make some dumb crack about how odd it was to see him holding pram handles instead of an instrument. Looking back now, maybe he was holding onto those handles as support for himself just as much for the security of his son.

At the recent benefit show held at the Prince of Wales, I was talking to Janine Hall, the former Saints bass player who’d been a housemate of Ian’s in the past. Janine was close to tears as she told me how worried she was by the news he was too ill to come along himself. The show itself was great, but there was definitely something lacking without his presence. I went to see him on play on October 13th- and he couldn’t make the show. Kim & the Whisky Priests filled in well that night but within the next few days there were rumours swirling round and it was pretty clear things had taken a bad turn.

I went to the Greyhound a few nights ago. It was pretty full for a Monday, though it was happy hour from 5 .30 til 7 .30, and beers are only $2.00. There were a few familiar faces in there, and someone had written “Vale, Ian Rilen” on the blackboard.
I got a drink, put a few of his tunes on the juke box and sat in a chair in the same spot Ian stood and played the last time I saw him here. When the opening bars of "Booze To Blame" started playing, the whole place went quiet for a minute, then Rob (the landlord) went behind the bar to turn up the volume...and suddenly it seemed like everyone wanted to talk about him, to share a memory or a raise a glass. The jukebox got fed again and again, and I think every song of his that they had got an airing. Hearing them – “Halfway Round The World” especially- released a lot of the tension I’d been feeling all day. Well, that and the beers. I said a silent farewell to his shade and didn’t stay too long.

So rest in peace Ian- countless gigs, seven bands, four children, one life.

3 comments:

  1. Great tribute...you're not imagining the brass section...the guys from H&C in fact. They were some of my fav X gigs. El Salvador was the X song that benefitted most from the brass IMHO

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