Long may he Reyne: Answering the Crawl three decades later

It’s been more than 30 years since his former band played their last show, but James Reyne is aware he’s still known as “that bloke from Australian Crawl” to a large section of the population.

Jul 10, 2020, updated Jul 10, 2020
James Reyne's new album Toon Town Lullaby is out now. (Photo: Jason McCormack)

James Reyne's new album Toon Town Lullaby is out now. (Photo: Jason McCormack)

That’s despite his solo career having yielded more top ten singles – including ‘Fall Of Rome’, ‘Hammerhead’, Daughters Of The Northern Coast’, ‘Motor’s Too Fast’ and ‘Slave’ – than Australian Crawl did during the band’s eight-year existence, and the fact he’s releasing his 12th studio album, and first in eight years, today.

“That’s a reality that doesn’t worry me,” the singer-songwriter told InQueensland matter-of-factly. “I mean, I sometimes think it’s funny when I’m introduced as – ‘the lead singer from Australian Crawl’ – well hang on, that band finished in 1986 …

“But that happens less and less and I totally understand that in any conversation with me about whatever I’m doing musically or what I’m doing in ‘showbusiness’, so to speak, Australian Crawl is going to come up, because it was a band I was in, and the band was successful.

“I don’t remember a lot about it,” he said of his years with the band that produced enduring radio staples such as ‘Beautiful People’, ‘The Boys Light Up’, ‘Errol’, ‘Downhearted’ and ‘Reckless’.

“I know it happened because there are pictures and I’m in the pictures, so I know I was there but if you ask me about it …  not many people remember specifics of what they were doing 30-plus years ago.”

That’s not to say punters don’t have particular Australian Crawl gigs permanently etched in their memories, or to suggest it’s dissuaded fans from trying to remind Reyne of very specific encounters they had with him decades ago.

“There was a period there when I was touring with [former Hunters and Collectors frontman] Mark Seymour – it’s the only time I’ve ever gone out after the gig and signed merchandise when people buy a CD, and I only did it because I was with Mark but I swore I’d never do it again,” he laughed.

“I used to say to the audience ‘look we’re going to be signing CDs, if I met you at 10pm, or 2am, in 1981, I’m telling you now, I don’t remember’, and without fail, there would be some guy going, ‘maaaate, 1981! Remember at that club? … ‘ And no, I have no memory of it.”

And for the record, he’s already the one about how not being able to understand what he was singing on those early Australian Crawl recordings.

“The first couple of records I ever made with Australian Crawl, I didn’t know what I was doing, it was what I would call barely controlled yelling, and that, coupled with me just sort of mouthing the words, and also the old some of the words being odd to hear in a pop song …  I can certainly understand why in those very early but then I got stuck with it.

“You get tagged with something and it takes forever to lose the tag. Now, if you’ve listened to any of my last probably ten records, you can understand every word, but unfortunately, I got tagged with that thing early on.  Now they kind of do the joke, ‘maaate, I can understand every word that you’re singing!’”

Reyne’s new album Toon Town Lullaby, which is being distributed by Mushroom Records subsidiary Bloodlines, comes eight years after its predecessor Thirteen.  It’s the longest period of time between full-length releases in his career but he said there was no particular reason for the longer-than-usual lag between albums.

“I had some songs, there’s no rush, when you’ve got them ready, you just sort of think ‘well I’ve got some songs, I’ll go and make a record now’,” he said.

The album’s title track refers to Nashville – where Reyne wrote some of the material – which “calls itself Music City”, and as Reyne explained, “Americans call tunes ‘toons’,” which evoked a cartoonish sensibility.

“I heard the phrase, ‘I’m going to kick some tyres, light some fires and punch a hole in the sky’, which is a phrase that the American Top Gun pilots, use to use before they began their engines. I thought it was just a great phrase and I’d love to get it in a song, so it’s just a mixture of stuff, it’s not really about anything.

“I mean the second verse is about trying to go, well, where has the muse gone? Calliope is the Greek muse and St Cecilia is a muse, so it’s just that thing of ‘don’t desert me, muse, don’t desert me in this time of need when I’m trying to write songs!’ Some songs start with one little idea and off it goes, I go off on these tangents, you know?”

Another highlight from the new album is ‘Low Hanging Fruit’, which could be broadly interpreted as a dissertation on the current state of the music industry but as Reyne told InQueensland, the lyrics came to him quickly while watching last year’s ARIA Awards.

“I’m usually not allowed to watch those sorts of shows because I just end up shouting at the television,” he joked.  “I watched some of it, and I had the music, I had the chords and everything and I wrote the words in what seemed like in about half an hour after watching the ARIAs.

“Once you get the analogy of the low-hanging fruit and the fruit tree, then you’re got to make sure you mention roots and leaves and all that stuff and I stole one line from Warren Zevon – ‘Desperados Under the Eaves’, because it rhymed leaves.”

Reyne said he was partway through a solo tour in March, waiting to board a flight, when social restrictions arising from COVID-19 were put in place.

“We were sitting at the airport, about to get on a plane to go to Sydney to continue with this tour we were on when we got the phone call saying ‘it’s over, go home’,” Reyne said.

“So from that second, no one was going to earn any money and until we can go back and play in front of somebody in a place where people pay to go and see you, like it used to be, we’re not going to earn a cent.”

Reyne was supposed to be in the middle of another tour with Seymour right now, but those dates – including performances at QPAC and Southport RSL – have now been rescheduled for next year.

Before then, he has some shows scheduled to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Australian Crawl’s debut The Boys Light Up, including two shows at The Tivoli in Brisbane in November.  He said there was still some uncertainty about some of those dates proceeding, but was remaining cautiously optimistic.

“For instance, we’re playing the Palais Theatre in Melbourne and that’s sold out that holds 2800 people,” he said. “Now I’m realistic enough to think they probably are not going put 2000-plus people in that place by the end of the year.

“I don’t know that and I don’t think anyone knows that but sometime in August or early September, we’ve got to decide whether we’ll proceed with those dates so we can reschedule.”

James Reyne’s Toon Town Lullaby is out now

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