by Neville Davies
Icehouse On Video
Bands on the Box
Most fans like to see, as well as hear, their favourite music performed and, indeed, there is probably no completely adequate substitute to being present at a good live gig. Nevertheless, the opportunity provided by television for a far larger and wider audience to share the experience of simultaneous sight and sound, without this need for actual physical presence at the performance site, has been far from ignored in the field of popular music. Icehouse, in common with all bands that have spanned the last decade or more, have been a part of the growing trend of use of the video medium in presenting rock music performance.
Local Bands on Local Shows
Icehouse, in its earlier form of Flowers, entered a television scene which already boasted a number of regular popular music programmes. Since most of these adopted a role, in part at least, of presenting the output from up-and-coming local bands, members of the band started making frequent appearances from the end of the Seventies when their potential was first being recognised.
The programmes on Australian television networks have changed somewhat in the years since and considerable variations have been made in their formats and time slots. In the early Eighties, Icehouse were appearing, in various forms, on the A.B.C.s Countdown and such commercial channel programmes as Donnie Sutherlands Sounds and After Dark, and Night Moves hosted by Lee Simon. Appearances took the form of interviews with one or more members of the band, live performances of individual hits, the playing of some of the bands video clips or combinations of these.
The interviews normally took place in Sydney or Melbourne studios, but occasionally a more exotic or unusual setting was used. In 1982, Countdown featured a Molly Meldrum interview with Iva Davies in the latters home studio among all the instruments and equipment which had been used to compose the songs on the recently released Primitive Man album. A few months later, interviews by Donnie Sutherland with a number of currently popular rock music identities, including Iva Davies, were filmed on Great Keppel Island for the Saturday morning programme, Sounds.
Songs Live on Screen
It was on Countdown that most of the live performances of single songs appeared. Almost all of the Icehouse hits prior to the Man of Colours album were performed live on this programme between 1980 and the time Countdown finished in 1987. Icehouse also made a number of appearances on the annual Countdown Awards programmes. These started when, as Flowers, they performed "Icehouse," the song, on the 1980 Countdown Awards held in the Regent Theatre, Sydney, the occasion when the band received the Johnny OKeefe Award for Best New Talent. They concluded with a performance of "Crazy" on the final Countdown programme, the 1986 Countdown Awards, on 19th July, 1987.
The Rise of the Video Clip
By far the majority of appearances on television popular music programmes would be through video clips, and this has been so to an increasing degree through the last decade. The programmes on which Icehouse appeared in the early Eighties have now all been replaced with such as MTV, Saturday Morning Live, Rage and Video Hits, and these rely on the use of recorded clips for the telecasting of musical items to an even greater degree than their predecessors. In fact, some of them consist solely of the running of video clips.
The live performance on television of single musical items by established performers is now generally confined to variety programmes and occasional specials. Since the close of Countdown in 1987, Icehouse have performed single items live on televised programmes on a number of occasions. The first of these was the performance of "Electric Blue" at the Royal Bicentennial Concert in 1988; the remainder have all been on variety programmes such as Hey, Hey, Its Saturday and Steve Vizards Tonight Live when various singles from the Great Southern Land and Code Blue albums were performed live.
Abroad as at Home
Icehouse have been regularly involved in similar types of television programmes in other countries besides Australia. The frequency of these appearances has been strongly correlated with periods of great popularity of particular Icehouse records in the countries concerned. As a case in point, members of the band made numerous television appearances throughout Europe in 1982-83 while the songs from the Primitive Man album held such sway there. The major hit "Hey Little Girl" was performed on the British Top of the Pops programme and various TV shows in other European countries.
Similarly, in North America, Icehouse filled many television dates in the period from 1986 to 1988 during the currency of the Measure for Measure and Man of Colours albums. In addition to the direct appearances, recorded videos of Icehouse songs have been telecast in all these overseas countries ever since the early Eighties.
Interviews of members of Icehouse have been telecast from a variety of studios over a wide range of countries, sometimes with a few difficulties of both language and venue. Iva Davies relates an amusing, if a little disconcerting, experience of a television interview in Belgium. The decor of the low budget studio where this took place consisted solely of a large potted palm tree and a bird perch occupied by a large live and colourful macaw parrot, providing a backdrop to the cane armchairs in which interviewer and interviewed were seated. As the interview proceeded in this pseudo-tropical setting, the parrot seemed to become more and more restless and demanding of attention. These sentiments induced him to commence attacking the potted palm and Iva found himself trying to converse with a hail of pieces of palm tree showering down behind him. Each successful felling of a palm frond was accompanied by a screech of sadistic triumph from the marauding macaw above. The interviewer proceeded on quite undisturbed and undismayed through all this chaos. The interviewee, while greatly amused by the incident in retrospect, makes no secret of being considerably unnerved at the time.
Live Concerts on Video
From time to time, full concert performances by Icehouse have been video recorded for immediate or later telecasting. One such recording telecast subsequently on A.B.C. channels in Australia was made of a performance in 1984 at Dortmund in Germany.
The one Icehouse sortie behind the Iron Curtain was to Budapest, Hungary, for the purpose of appearing in a concert performance which was telecast to a viewing population of eighty million.
Another notable case was a performance at the Ritz in New York in 1986. This was recorded for transmission on the American MTV network and was so well received that it was released subsequently on a commercial video cassette under the title, "Icehouse Live at the Ritz."
The cameras have not been idle on the home front either. Many of the performances at the Melbourne Music Show in 1988 were filmed and telecast on MTV at the time. These included the Icehouse performance concluding the opening day of the show, and the recording of this has been telecast on a few subsequent occasions.
Then, in November 1990, Icehouse were involved in two major direct telecasts of rock band performances. The second of these was the nationwide telecast compounded from the Ausmusic 90 concerts held in five major capital cities of Australia. The television programme jumped from city to city, picking up parts of the performances of the many bands appearing in the Ausmusic Series. Icehouse, as the final performers in the Sydney concert, were featured in the telecast for a few songs from their set.
Two weeks earlier, a full Icehouse concert performed in the Channel Nine Studios in Sydney, and presenting a high proportion of songs from the current Code Blue album, was telecast direct as an MTV Special.
Icehouse Video Clips
The first Icehouse video clip was made in 1980, when shots of Flowers performing the first hit single "Cant Help Myself" were filmed in a multi-storied car park in Sydney. Towards the end of 1989 the last Icehouse clip of the decade, for the new song "Touch the Fire," was produced. Both of these, together with a number of other clips from the years between were incorporated in the commercial cassette released in conjunction with the Great Southern Land album. This cassette, in fact, gives a very illustrative picture of the progress of Icehouse clips through the decade, consisting, as it does, of a representative sample, rather than a complete record of clips.
Subsequent clips have been produced in the Nineties for three of the singles from the Code Blue album, "Big Fun," "Miss Divine," and "Anything is Possible," and these have, essentially, followed similar patterns to those of the latter Eighties.
Video clips have ranged from a simple amalgamation of various shots of the band performing the musical item, through to mini-films with a definite storyline and a soundtrack consisting solely of the recorded song; or they may consist of various degrees of compromise or combination of these two extremes.
The Flowers clip for "Cant Help Myself" was an example of the former. Some of the clips for other tracks from the debut album, Icehouse, were of similarly simple style, consisting largely of live performance shots combined with some graphics or relevant shots from library film. However, the first Icehouse clips of the storyline type were for songs recorded for the debut album. The clip for the single "Walls," filmed in an old Sydney mansion, featured many visual impressions of the members of the band enclosed and frustrated by the stark interior walls of the house, thus strongly reflecting the theme and spirit of the song. Then, a clip produced in England for the title track of the debut album went a major step further into the field of storyline type clips.
The Mulcahy Marvels
The song "Icehouse" was used for the first single from the debut album to be released in Europe, though it was never used as a single in Australasia. So, one of the first tasks confronting the band Icehouse on its first arrival in England in June 1981 was participation in the production of the "Icehouse" video clip. This used the services of expatriate Australian, Russell Mulcahy who was, at the time, fast becoming recognised as one of the leading directors of music video clips in the world.
Mulcahys clip for "Icehouse" featured highly atmospheric, eerie and, at times, macabre scenes, largely in mediæval settings and representing the nightmare images of a young girl sleeping inside a transparent icehouse. The latter was depicted in the clip by a cube outlined by lighted fluorescent tubes. This same device was used a few months earlier in the staging of the 1980 Countdown Awards performance of "Icehouse." On that occasion, Iva Davies appeared singing the song enclosed in just such a cubic cage of light, and Molly Meldrum did not fail to comment on the similarity on the first and only occasion on which the Mulcahy clip was played on the Countdown programme. Whether through annoyance at this apparent plagiarism or the stated reason of the chilling nature of the childs nightmare images, the "Icehouse" clip suffered a ban on Australian television shortly after its release.
Russell Mulcahy made two further clips for Icehouse, both filmed in exotic locations and both as spectacular, elaborate and expensive as the first. These were for the two singles drawn from the Primitive Man album and which made such an impression on the European market, "Hey Little Girl" and "Street Café." The clip for the former was filmed in London and included many shots in the Sadlers Wells Theatre, particularly in the ballet rehearsal room.
The "Street Café" clip was filmed in Tunisia, in a four day visit into which was packed a lifetimes worth of difficult, unpleasant and even hazardous living experience for performers and film crew alike. Iva Davies flew out of Tunisia still covered with dust and camel dung, clad in the boots, breeches and bandolier used in the filming, and vowing never to return to that part of the world again.
Sight Over Sound
Notwithstanding the traumas involved in its filming, Russell Mulcahy produced, in the "Street Café" clip, probably the most spectacularly vivid and dramatic of all the Icehouse videos. Indeed, it was a fairly advanced link in the chain of Mulcahy clips in which each surpassed its predecessors for elaborateness and cost and which, ultimately, resulted in a reaction against, and a falling from fashion of, the type of music video clips for which he became so famous in that period of the early Eighties. There was such an obvious danger of the visuals overshadowing, rather than complementing, the music, and thus rendering the whole exercise self defeating, that a return to a more modest approach in the production of clips was inevitable.
In any case, it was not just because of Iva Davies traumatic experiences in Tunisia that no further Icehouse clips were made by Russell Mulcahy. In fact, one more clip, that for the first single from the Sidewalk album, "Taking the Town," was only not made by Mulcahy because he was unavailable at the time. This clip, which was filmed in a large warehouse building in the Sydney suburb of Waterloo, was directed by Mulcahys art director, Steve Hopkins. It featured a large content of the band performing the song to a live audience, but interspersed these scenes with shots of motor bike stunt riding which savoured somewhat of the spectacular flair of the Mulcahy clips. The stunt scenes also considerably inflated the budget for the clip to a degree which, in retrospect, did not seem to be justified in the light of the relatively modest chart performance of the song. Again, the message emerging was that it is the song and its performance that has to be paramount. The visuals can be an adjunct to the success of the song, but they cannot, nor should try, to make that success.
Return to Moderation
The trend in Icehouse video clips during the latter half of the Eighties decade and in the Nineties has probably been reflective of trends in this medium generally, in moving towards the subjugation of the visual images to the presentation of the musical item. To this end, clips generally have tended to be less elaborate than those of the Russell Mulcahy era. They favoured a re-emergence of the simple visuals of the band, or the lead vocalist, performing the song, with or without the supplementation of background images of a relevant story or atmospheric effects, but certainly with the latter being on a much less grandiose scale.
Examples of Icehouse clips from this later Eighties period and which centred around shots of the live band performing are those for "Baby, Youre So Strange," "Mr Big," and "Cross The Border" from the Measure for Measure album, for "Electric Blue" and "Nothing Too Serious" from the Man of Colours album, and for "Touch the Fire" from the Great Southern Land album. The others tended to focus more on lead vocalist, Iva Davies, in the musical performance component of the video clip.
All of them, of course, included images alternative to mere music performance, to illustrate the content and spirit of the song. These vary from a series of relevant scenic backgrounds or fragments of action or atmosphere, to a definite and relatively logically sequential storyline. The choice within this range has been determined by the type of song being illustrated. Thus, clips for the song "Great Southern Land" show the song being sung in typically Australian natural settings, while "Baby, Youre So Strange" is illustrated by a series of humorous interior scenes and actions involving strangely costumed young women and members of the band.
Pictures Which Tell Stories
While the majority of Icehouse clips since the era of Russell Mulcahy productions have not been so, there have been a few consisting of a strong and definite storyline type. The second single from the Sidewalk album, "Dont Believe Anymore," was illustrated by a video clip made in England by Peter Gabriels video maker, Mark Cello, and told a story of domestic quarrelling and a lovers stormy separation, appropriate to the sentiment of the song.
More recently, the title track of the very successful Man of Colours album was released as the fourth single from the album and illustrated by a clip telling the story of the old artist who is the subject of the song. The clip involves numerous flashbacks from the old artist painting in his studio to features of his earlier life, such as the beautiful young woman who is the subject of the portrait on his easel and his long lost dream of love. The flashbacks from the painter to Iva Davies performing the music creates the illusion that the musician is the artist as a young man. This illusion was aided by exploiting family resemblance, in having the role of the old artist in the filming filled by Ivas real life father. Furthermore, as the paintings, drawings, paints and artists equipment used as props for the filming were all executed or supplied by Ivas real life artist mother, this clip was very much a Davies family affair.
Another strongly storyline oriented clip of recent times was for an extended mix of the single "Crazy," again from the Man of Colours album. This video was filmed in Australia, in locations in the Blue Mountains and interiors in a radio station and in the State Theatre, Sydney. It tells a story based on the famous film, Play Misty For Me, with Iva Davies playing the Clint Eastwood disc jockey character, and receiving requests from an anonymous female to "Play Crazy for me."
Two Times Over Clips
Actually, "Crazy" was one of the three Icehouse singles of the Eighties for which, for a variety of reasons, two video clips were made. This rather sophisticated Play Misty version was a second clip made for the American release of the single.
The first version of it was produced by Mark Joffe and filmed in the disused Pyrmont Power Station in Sydney. It featured Iva Davies, clad in a bright red rain coat, strolling through the power station singing, amidst a chaos of crazy stunts of jumps from tops of buildings, car crashes, bike riding, martial arts and explosions. An innovative and unique aspect of this video was that the filming for the whole song was done in one take. The vocalist followed a planned path through the power station grounds and buildings, with the various stunts set up along the route. After a couple of rehearsals of the route march, the take was made of the final run through, with the camera, pointing backwards, leading the singers progress through the maze of stunts. Notwithstanding that it was a relatively low budget production, a very effective clip was produced by this original technique and, overall, this version probably proved more popular than its longer and more expensive successor.
Another case of dual clip production was the first single from the Measure for Measure album, "No Promises." In this case, the first clip was made in England where the song was recorded. It was directed by John Scarlett Davis who had made clips for such artists as Bryan Ferry and Simple Minds, and featured, among other things, scenes of a peaceful village in Wales. This was deemed to be unsuitable for the Australian and American markets, so another clip, set in Australian landscapes, was produced a few months later. It was this Australian filmed clip which was included, appropriately enough, in the commercial video released in conjunction with the Great Southern Land album.
Australian Landscapes Unlimited
The title track of this compilation album provided the third example of two clips for the one Icehouse song.
When "Great Southern Land" was released as the first single from the Primitive Man album in 1982, a video for it was filmed in a disused sandstone quarry in the Kuringai National Park near Sydney. Then, in 1989, when the song met its first release as a single in North America and Europe, a new clip had to be made to accompany the overseas single.
This time, the background Australian landscapes were provided by the Myall Lakes National Park on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. As befits the song, both clips were, of course, typically Australian in content, but the earlier one did feature a few Australian native animals, including a large goanna crawling across barren sandy earth. This latter typical Australian had obviously won many fans, since, when the new clip appeared there were quite a few appeals for "the one with the goanna." The result was that both "Great Southern Land" clips had to be included in the commercial video released in 1989.
Hazards of Filmmaking
No chronicle of music video clips would be complete without reference to some of the dramas and traumas involved in their making.
We have already made some mention of the terrors of filming the Russell Mulcahy clip for "Street Café" in 1983. These were associated with the filming location in Tunisia, where the film sets were invaded periodically by aggressive elements of the local population, and the living quarters were similarly invaded by hordes of feral cats. The traumas resulting from these events, added to the discomforts of working in the conditions of smoky atmospheres, dust, sweat and general seaminess appropriate to the story, made the "Street Café" filming a four day survival course which all concerned were lucky to complete without serious harm.
The Suspense is Killing Me
Discomfort, if not as prolonged as the Tunisian exercise, has been a feature of a few clips. The clip produced in England for "No Promises" had Iva Davies apparently floating inside a gigantic molecular structure with huge flashing globes representing atoms undergoing violent change.
Actually, for the filming, Iva was dangling thirty feet above ground level for a whole day, being suspended inside the molecular apparatus by two steel wires. He has described it as the most uncomfortable thing he has ever done in his life. "It wasnt just uncomfortable," he says. "It was excruciatingly painful as well."
Icehouse guitarist Bob Kretschmer has similar sentiments about his part in the first of the two clips made for "Crazy." His particular stunt was to bounce up and down in mid-air playing his guitar. For the purpose, he was suspended at the end of two long springs with his feet about two metres above ground level. Just before the camera came near, two film crew heavies grabbed his feet, pulled him nearly down to the ground, then let go and vacated the set, leaving Bob bouncing up and down in simple harmonic motion. This disconcerting exercise was repeated every time there was a possibility of the bouncing Bob being caught in the camera sights.
Or if Not the Suspense, then Something Else
This filming of the first "Crazy" clip involved a considerable amount of flirting with death. Most of this was performed by experienced professional stuntmen to whom close calls are an everyday occurrence. However, Iva Davies was not really expecting to come as close as he did to being the victim of a stunt gone wrong.
As he was wending his merry way through the Pyrmont Power Station, with crazy stunts taking place all around, a trailbike, endeavouring to execute a spectacular broadside close behind him, misjudged and very nearly wiped out the star. Iva was blissfully unaware of the near fatal events occurring behind his back, but did register the terrified reactions on the faces of the film crew in front of him. Still, in the final count, none of the heart failures proved irreversible, and Iva was spared to perform in quite a few more video clips to come.
© 1992 Neville Davies