Hi Riff Raffers,
Within my substantial vinyl record collection there is a twelve inch extended play by ‘The Goanna Band’ titled, ‘Living On The Razor’s Edge’. Released in 1979 there was a limited print of 500 (maybe 1000?). It was produced by Broderick Smith on the Custom Press label a subsidiary of EMI. Two of the four tunes were reworked on Goanna’s (band name was shortened to Goanna) highly successful debut long play release of 1982, ‘Spirit Of Place’ and another appeared later on their follow up album of 1985, ‘Oceania’. The tune that has never seen light of day again is ‘Sometimes’ which has harmonica blown by first named band member, Ian Morrison. Ian also sings lead on this song. Who is this mystery Goanna man? His name pops up again on the liner notes as co-writing ‘Living On The Razor’s Edge’.
The Goanna Band evolved from humble beginnings back in ‘sleepy hollow’, the country town of Geelong in 1977. They had emerged from a folk trio named The Ecto-Plasmic Manifestation Concert Band whose three members were students of Deakin University and included Shane Howard from Dennington. The Goanna Band had an ongoing residency at the ‘Argyle’ hotel where they would play Shane’s originals, but also cover a couple of Dingoes classics, the Kerryn Tolhurst penned ‘Singing Your Song’ (a personal favourite) and ‘Goin Down Again’. Kerryn had a strong connection with the band over the journey. Playing the ‘band in the hand’ on the Dingoes tunes was Ian ‘Morrie’ Morrison perhaps emulating his idol Broderick Smith. Brod even provides backing vocals on ‘Living On The Razor’s Edge’ from the EP. The band was managed by Ian ‘King Of The Coast’ Lovell who owned the Eureka hotel in Geelong. Later, at the Eureka, a fledgling Goanna would support Cold Chisel who were on a National tour promoting the 1979 ‘Breakfast At Sweethearts’ album.
In May 1981, Shane on Doctors advice took time off and ventured to Uluru (Ayres Rock). Here, close to ancestral spirits, an awakening occurred which later would manifest itself into the writing of an Australian classic. A significant event occurred around this time which raised their stocks, they supported James Taylor on his national tour in 1981. From there they signed to the WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) record label and an album was in the making. ‘Spirit Of Place’ was chock full of top tunes from the anthemic hit single ‘Solid Rock’ (which WEA were reluctant to release as the lead single), the melodic follow up single ‘Razors’s Edge’ right to the rocking finale ‘Children Of The Southern Land’. The reworked ‘Razor’s Edge’ (also with a shortened title) featured Ross Hannaford on lead guitar and Ross Wilson on backing vocals. Goanna reached the lofty heights within the fickle music industry quickly, maybe too quickly, however a band with a message about our nation and it’s heritage was just what the doctor ordered. I met Shane briefly in 1982 at ‘Goanna Manor’ a two story building in St. Kilda just opposite the ‘Junction’ oval-the home of the mighty lions (Fitzroy Football Club). He was shy, friendly, very humble and gracious. Recently I asked Shane about the writing of ‘Razor’s Edge’ and the mystery Goanna man Ian Morrison. Shane responded,“Living On The Razor’s Edge is an old song. I wrote it when I was hitchhiking up the East Coast of Australia back in 1975. Many years later, Ian Morrison, who was in Goanna, added the lyrics for the the third verse, Lulu’s too tired of living down beside Torquay. She’s getting herself together, financially. She says, One of these days I’m just goin’ to lie in the Sun, But right now I’m wondering if that day ever comes. Ian lives in Geelong and works in Melbourne.” In 1979 the last part of the third verse was sung as, ‘She’s gonna have a holiday and lie down in the sun. Well I don’t really know (yeah), but I’d say she’s on the run.’
It was interesting to look back at old footage for the mystery Goanna man. Couldn’t see him at ‘The Venue’ in September 1982 when Solid Rock was belted out, but hang on there he is singing, front and square on the Kerryn Tolhurst penned ‘Underfoot, Underground’ (features on the remastered deluxe version of ‘Spirit Of Place’). Viewing Countdown in 1983 there he is strumming an acoustic guitar (was it plugged in?) on ‘Razor’s Edge’. Was Ian at the Myer Music Bowl for the ‘Stop The Drop’ concert? Yep. There he was stage left dancing and providing backing vocals on ‘That Day Is Coming Sooner’ (sooner than you think). Hanna’s there too.
Shane and Ian must have been close buddies. In 1984 they travelled overseas together visiting Europe and the United States. The ‘Goanna’ boys searched LA for Billy Payne, former keyboard player for ‘Little Feat’ (in the early days they covered some of their tunes) to produce their follow up album. They had met Billy earlier on the James Taylor tour. Initially Mark Knopfler was tendered for the position, however he became unavailable due to commitments with his band ‘Dire Straits’. With Billy on board ‘Oceania’ was in the making. The album was considered by many as a failure. It never had a chance, it could never measure up to the debut album. Shane reflected later, “we tried to change and stop being too commercial, but we changed too much and it failed.” (Canberra Times, 8th December, 1988). Not sure if Shane was referring to the first album being commercial (I wouldn’t have thought so) or the tunes that followed, but it was a shame that ‘That Day Is Coming Sooner’ a single they recorded in 1983 wasn’t represented on the new album. The band toured intensively promoting the album spending enormous energy and money. They would never recover. By 1985 Shane suffered a breakdown leaving his wife and four children and the band. He eventually would reside in a caravan at the Gulf Of Carpentaria sorting out his thoughts and place in the cosmos. His return to mainstream existence would not be for another three years.
Shane on his comeback trail released a warts and all solo album ‘Back To The Track’. The title track was a cracker, an up tempo tune featuring Steve Gilbert on the mouth harp. This would be the first tune since ‘Sometimes’ that we would see Shane combine again with the most owned instrument in the world. A few more solo albums would see Shane pair with some of Australia’s harmonica royalty. Jim Conway in his own inimitable style blows harp on ‘Without You’ from the 1990 ‘River’ album and Chris Wilson wails away on the cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Silvio’ on the 1993 album ‘Time Will Tell’. Shane even has a crack in a rack, Bob Dylan style on tunes throughout his solo catalogue. Okay! I hear you ask what about ‘Morrie’. Not sure he was involved in any of Shane’s solo projects, however he returns on Goanna’s 1998 album, ‘Spirit Returns’ (Kerryn Tolhurst produced) singing backing vocals. ‘What Else Is A Life’ is a ripper tune from this hard to obtain release. The last we knew of Ian Morrison was as a ‘Lobby Ambassador’ for ‘The Westin’ Hotel (part of the ‘Marriot’ group) in Melbourne.
Postscript: You may notice the plane identification on the wing of the ‘Razors Edge’ single (seen above) is FRE-DDY. This relates to the unusual disappearance of twenty year old pilot Frederick Valentich in October of 1978 in the Bass Strait ‘Triangle’. Goanna believed he had been living on the razors edge. The story held some significance for me as the airport he flew from was only minutes from my family residence and Frederick was only a year older than myself. If it was a hoax, as many maintained at the time, it’s strange that to this day there is still no sight of the plane or Freddy. Funny sort of hoax!
Here’s the final part of Fred’s radio transcript with flight service.
9:11:52 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet – The engine is, is rough idling. —I’ve got it set at twenty three—twenty four… and the thing is—coughing.
9:12:04 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet—Roger. What are your intentions?
9:12:09 DSJ FS My intentions are—ah… to go to King Island—Ah, Melbourne, that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again //open microphone for two seconds// it is hovering and it’s not an aircraft. 9:12:22 FS DSJ Delta Sierra Juliet.
9:12:28 DSJ FS Delta Sierra Juliet—Melbourne //open microphone for 17 seconds// [A very strange pulsed noise is also audible during this transmission.]
Over & Out!
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3 thoughts on “Goanna Man Of Mystery”
Enjoyed the article, interestingly from the perspective of a peripheral band member. I followed the band from their early days at the Argyle Hotel in Geelong West – bit of a dive and saw their first gig at the Eureka. They were a lot more rockier in the early days. I distinctly remember a couple of cover songs they played exceptionally well, Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and Little Feats “Keepin’ Up With the Jones”. They lost that harder edge with the departure of their original guitarist (never found another guitarist as good as him) and drummer. They were also the first band to play at the revamped Melbourne Sports & Entertainment Centre (1983) as the Santana support act. One of the best concerts I have ever seen. One of the highlights of Goanna’s set was “Four Weeks Gone” with the stunning slide guitar crescendo at the end. Their second album Oceania was disappointing and I subsequently lost interest in the band after that. The Spirit Returns was quite a good comeback album. I also enjoyed much of Shane Howards solo work.
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Thanks Gregg for adding to the article with your early memories. Cheers Shep