Western Providence

“Trying to leave behind this insincerity leave it to die in the burning ruins.” (Providence)

For some time I have had a desire to write about Matt Taylor’s venture with country rock band Western Flyer in the late seventies. Within my vinyl collection is their fine debut album First Flight. In my research I stumbled on a promotional photograph which came with their second and last long play, Live To Survive and I thought this would be the perfect segue. Can you spot the anomaly? I’ll give you a couple of minutes…………………………Do not read on yet…………………….okay, you can now. When I showed Matt he didn’t pick up on it at first, until he noticed guitarist Mick Elliot had three arms (and a big bouffant). I’ve tried to find the identity of our ghosting individual without success. Matt quipped “I’m okay with faces, but not arms.” I have a few suspects with Terry Inman (member of the road crew) being in the firing line. Maybe one of you sleuth Riff Raffers out there can help us?

Over my journey as a radio broadcaster and producer, a regular guest was the inimitable Matt Taylor. I loved chatting with Matt as he more than just answered a question. He would always provide deeper insights into the topic in question. All I needed to do was sit back and be an active listener. Matt was a favourite with the Riff Raffers (listeners) too, for no other artist engaged them to text, ring in or email the show. In the initial interview we wound the clock back and covered the classic Chain line up and their hit tunes Black & Blue, Judgement and Boogie. Follow up interviews delved into his solo projects which included Straight As A Die and the single I Remember When I Was Young. Later Chain line ups and his eternal relationship with legendary guitarist Phil Manning were discussed in another.

In a conversation I had with Phil prior to a Caravan gig, he was amazed how Matt could make money by selling off his blown out harps (autographed). He was wondering if he could sell off his old guitar strings. Perhaps the ‘G’ string might be of value, Phil? In one quick chat with Matt to promote some of his upcoming Melbourne gigs, he reminisced on a time when Chain was belting out tunes at Berties. He had contacted the show by way of a pay phone from the foyer of a Melbourne hotel that still required slotting coins at regular intervals. This could have been back at Berties in the sixties. Hear here Coins.

Nothing like authenticity in promoting a Chain gig in 2015! They even poured beers at the Caravan gig at seventies prices. Check it out here Beer. A Riff Raffer relayed to my show that Chris Wilson (Australian harp player R.I.P) had phoned in to another radio establishment earlier that day to inform that Matt had been observed waiting at a bus stop. Chris requested that if anyone noticed the big feller, would they please offer him a lift, for he was Australian blues royalty. Somehow I think Matt would have been quite happy catching the bus with the proletariat, especially with his passion of communal living. He may have even preferred horse and buggy! Now to return to the topic at hand – Western Flyer. I had promised the radio punters we would chew the fat over Matt’s time with this underrated country rock outfit and his mate Brian Peacock, however sadly I wound up the show’s production before this could eventuate. Most Chain and Matt Taylor followers wouldn’t have seen the country side of Matt, but they do say that country music is just white man’s blues. I asked Matt about his style of playing and specifically his third position work with the Flyer. “Hi Shep, If you play a chromatic and not use the levers its the same as 3rd position. I would have used all positions at some time with WF.” Sounds like the tune The Fine Line has Matt playing the ‘C’ Chromatic in third position.

It was in 1975 after the release of his third solo album on the Mushroom label, Old New & Intuitive, that Matt decided he had had enough of the music industry and would head off to Western Australia to have another crack at life in the commune. This time it would be with his young family and it would be their abode for just over two years. Joining Matt at the commune was his mate Brian Peacock (and family) a noted musician, who had success with a progressive rock band Procession. Simultaneously they left the commune and moved to Capel near Bunbury and formed a band, Western Flyer and record a single, Western Towns on the Ex-Press label. This tune wouldn’t make it on the album and in my opinion rightly so. Soon the band had a loyal following and a regular Sunday session gig at the popular Charles Hotel. In 1978 an album was recorded with two singles, the first in June of that year, Providence/Pieces and in November Ocean Dancer (edited version)/Double Gee Queen. My personal favourite off the album was the Brian Peacock penned, Providence (Double Gee ain’t half bad either). Providence has multi dimensions with both Brian and Matt’s vocals, Vance’s guitar and then throw in Matt’s harp, which originally I felt had a Chromatic feel, but then after experimenting with a ‘C’ diatonic (fourth position) in E minor I second guessed myself and wondered if this was the culprit. Then again perhaps it was a ‘D’ chromatic? ‘Twas doin’ my head in! So over to Matt once more and he floored me with his response, “Hi Shep, a ‘G’ chromatic is the boy your after.” My understanding is limited, but ‘Em’ is the relative minor of ‘G’ and they share the same notes of the scale (although in a different order) with the F# in common. I asked former harp and sax player of the John Farnham Band, Steve Williams, for his expert advice on this, “the Providence notes (Em) can be played on any chromatic but to get the notes easily it would be a D chromatic mostly drawn with no slide needed (like Walter playing in Dm on a C chromatic), but on a G chromatic you’d have to be careful of the C note which is an Arabic sounding flattened sixth”. (There’s more of Steve’s response to Chromatics below). After the touring of the debut album a new lead guitarist was headhunted, Mick Elliot, who at the time was with popular country rock outfit Wild Beaver Band. Apparently a phone call was made to the Station Hotel which was a thriving live music venue in Melbourne. The reason was to replace Vance Burrow. Vance wasn’t enamoured to the touring side of the band so he stayed put to continue to ride the tubes. Vance had emigrated from the United States to surf the Margaret River barrels and later sired world surf prodigy Taj Burrow.

The Flyer toured the eastern states with some success. They travelled in style staying at the best hotels and flying to the capital cities and would you believe Matt even appeared on Countdown! They supported Mike Nesmith (R.I.P) on his 1977 tour and Mike even had plans to take them to the States – unfortunately this never eventuated. A live album, Live To Survive, was released in 1978 with an amazing rendition of Matt’s I Remember When I Was Young. The single Throw Me A Line off the album had some support from radio jocks. Sadly the ‘Flyer’ lost altitude to the cost of touring and the advent of different music genres gaining popularity. They then crash landed, but not without leaving a lasting music legacy.

“Providence will bring us through.”

Western Flyer was Matt Taylor (vocals, harmonica), Brian Peacock (vocals, guitar), Vance Burrows (guitar), James Gillard (bass), Bruce Devenish (drums), Mick Elliott (guitar), John Poole-Johnson (keyboards). Bit of a super group when you look at the talent here, aside from Matt and Brian, you had Mick Elliot from Sid Rumpo and Bruce Devenish from Bakery.


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PS: Thanks to Steve Williams for helping the author in trying to understand music theory in relation to the use of Chromatic harps. In fact I suggested to Steve he should write a book titled ‘Harmonica Music Theory For Dummies’. Here’s Steve’s detailed response on Chromatics. “The chromatic doesn’t have positions…it’s chromatic …you can play in any key on any chromatic….the different positions on the diatonic are possible because it isn’t chromatic…that is, it is scalar…one major scale per instrument and therefore with it all that scale’s modes….Ist position is the Ionian mode (C major on a C harp)…2nd pos /cross harp is the mixolydian mode (G7 on a C harp)  … 3rd pos is the dorian mode (Dm on a C harp)..4th pos is the Phrygian mode (Em on a Charp)……5th pos is the Lydian mode (F major on a C harp) …6th position is the Aeolian mode (Am on a C harp)…and 7th position is the locrian mode (B half diminished on a C harp)….the Providence notes ( Em) can be played on any chromatic but to get the notes easily it would be a D chromatic mostly drawn with no slide needed ( like Little Walter playing in Dm on a C chromatic), but on a G chromatic you’d have to be careful of the C note which is an Arabic sounding flattened sixth…to play chromatic properly you have to learn every major scale just like a sax or flute….what  Walter and Matt are doing is using a chromatic but still treating it like a diatonic in 3rd pos…try to learn Alfie by Stevie Wonder…Ab on a C 64 chromonica…it will take the rest of your life …I gave up after a year….”

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