Wally Kempton isn’t often stuck for words. But on the phone from the day after New Year’s Day, and only a short time after arising from his morning slumber during his impromptu coastal holiday, Kempton is struggling to think of the most touching tribute anyone has offered about the legacy of Melbourne’s legendary pop punk outfit The Meanies. “Crikey, that’s a hard one”, Kempton ponders. “We’ve been told by a few people that we inspired them to start a band, but maybe that’s a backhanded compliment.” He chuckles. “A young couple asked us to play at their wedding,” he recalls as the fog of suppressed memory gradually lifts. Did the marriage survive, I ask? “Funnily enough, it did,” he replies, “despite the fact Ringo backed his car over the wedding cake,” he laughs.
A fresh-faced, teenaged and enthusiastic Roderick Kempton started managing the Meanies in the late 1980s, subsequently assuming bass duties as the Meanies evolved from local punk rock curiosity to national and international pop punk icons. In the late 1980s the Meanies released a series of singles on Bruce Milne’s Au Go Go label which quickly established the Meanies’ reputation in Melbourne and in other parts of the country (so much so, Kempton recalls, that Milne posited the brazen idea of releasing a Meanies tribute album shortly after the release of the early singles – an idea that the band has gradually come around to). Having toured extensively in Australia, and undertaken tours of the United States, Europe and Japan in the 1990s, the Meanies went into hiatus in the mid 1990s, returning later in the decade.
These days Meanies shows are rare, frequently coinciding with notable events - such as the release of the Meanies DVD in 2007. The Meanies’ latest public appearances will be to celebrate the release of a series of 7” singles featuring unreleased Meanies tracks and cover versions of classic Meanies tracks performed by bands such as Cockfight Shootout, Digger and the Pussycats, The Drones, Dan Kelly and You Am I. The first single, featuring (On the A side) the Meanies performing the unreleased Battle of Wax, and Spiderbait covering Our New Planet and Cockfights Shootout performing Inside will be launched at the Meanies’ old haunt, the venerable Tote Hotel in Collingwood, on Friday January 11.
Kempton explains that the idea for the 7” series was hatched some years ago, when the band first mooted the idea of an anthology of Meanies tracks. “A little while ago we sat down with Bruce Milne, who used to run Au Go Go records, which released the original Meanies singles and thought about pu8tting out a compilation. Janelle, our manager at the time, said that given that the Meanies DVD had just been released, it might look as though it was the end of the line for the band. So we decided to put out a 7” to combat that impression. We had a bunch of singles that we’d put out previously overseas, but not here,” Kempton says. “the idea then blossomed that we’d put out a series of singles similar to the first 7”s we’d released. And then we combined that with an idea that Bruce Milne had about putting out a Meanies tribute album.”
The project now conceived, the Meanies set about finding bands willing to cover Meanies songs. “The way we chose the bands was me finding out bands who loved the Meanies when they were younger,” Kempton explains. “So Augie March are going to do a song because Glenn Richards was a Meanies fan when he was younger. Angie Hart is going to do a song because she used to come and see us, plus You Am I, Digger and the Pussycats, Double Agents, Snout, and we keep asking the Spazzys, but they still haven’t got around to it,” Kempton says.
And in a slightly post-modern development, there will also be cover versions from Kempton and lead singer Link McLennan’s new bands. “We’ve also decided to do a ‘family values’ series with covers from Even and the Bakelite Age,” Kempton says.
Kempton describes the cover versions he’s heard so far as “great, and really varied”. Like the Hoodoo Gurus cover album (Stoneage Cameos) Kempton worked on a couple of years ago, the covers span the spectrum from faithful renditions of classic tunes, to eclectic re-interpretation. “The Cockfight Shootout and Spiderbait covers are pretty straight versions, and the Digger and the Pussycats and Double Agents versions sounds like Digger and Double Agents songs. But Dan Kelly has given one of our songs a bar room, vaudeville feeling – and the Drones version is truly warped,” Kempton says.
These days the members of the Meanies are regularly distracted by other activities, both musical and non-musical. Kempton is looking forward to a prosperous year with Even, the Bakelite Age takes up much of Link McLennan’s musical energy, while Tas and Ringo have day jobs to manage. Despite the infrequency of appearances, Kempton says there’s still life in the Meanies beast – and he’s certainly not bored playing old material. “Because we play so infrequently and there’s so many songs to draw from – and as long as they’re not too curly, because we don’t rehearse – it’s always enjoyable,” he says.
While Meanies shows might not be the anarchic crowd surfing frenzy of yore, there’s still the occasional spot fire of manic crowd activity. “At the start of October we did a show in Sydney that was absolutely mental,” Kempton says. “The security guy and the publican were at the side of the stage thinking ‘what the fuck?’, but they didn’t try to stop it,” Kempton says. Nonetheless, he is happy the stage diving antics have receded, and says his ambivalence toward the practice is long held. “I didn’t like it 15 years ago – some guy getting up on stage and bumping into your microphone is annoying,” he says.
In the near future the Meanies, may, or may not, choose to records another album. “When we did a tour in early December Link had three new songs, and we were surprised that he’d written three new Meanies songs”, Kempton says. Kempton says the Meanies anthology is due out on Spanish label Bang! Records, with the possibility of a European tour still on the cards. “We’re not out to rule the world,” Kempton says with a yawn. “It’s good fun, and we get to keep the home fires burning.”
The Meanies' new 7” single, first in a brand new
series, is out now in Infidelity Records and available in a select few indie
stores. The A-side is a previously
unreleased Meanies gem named Battle of
Wax and each B-side in this new series features two bands doing Meanies
covers. So on this, the first in the
series, you’ll get Spiderbait doing Our New planet which appeared on the
three way split EP Boogie Wonderland
with The Throwaways and Nice Girls From Cincinnati, plus Cockfight Shootout
performing their version of Inside,
featured on The Meanies debut album Come
n See. The limited edition singles
(there’s 300 copies of each) will go people, they will go. Catch the launch of said single numero 1 at The Tote on Friday January 11. Also prepare yourselves for single #2, out soonish, featuring b-sides by Dan Kelly & The Alpha Males as well as The Drones.