Countdown Memories

An interview with IVA DAVIES by Jason

On the afternoon of Friday 23rd July 2004 I did a phone interview with Iva Davies of Icehouse. In 1980 Iva and his band Flowers hit the airwaves and had a great impact and a past growing popularity with their fresh sound, brilliance and raw energy.
Flowers scored such hits as Can't Help Myself, We Can Get Together, Walls, Sister and the fabulous Icehouse from their legendary debut album "Icehouse". In 1981 the band's name Flowers changed to Icehouse and they topped off their success with Love In Motion.
By 1982 Iva went on to enjoy further success and earned hit after hit throughout the 80's from Great Southern Land, Hey Little Girl, Don't Believe Anymore, Taking The Town, No Promises, and Electric Blue just to name a few! Other great moments through out the era included the Glam Rock tribute track Glam, Dusty Pages, Street Café, M.R Big and many more. Iva has constantly been working in the music industry since the heyday of Icehouse and has a loyal following for the great music he has made from past and present. Iva has also recently recorded a reworked cover of David Bowies "Heroes" which coincided with the Athens Summer Olympics.  In this interview Iva and I talked about Countdown, his musical history and what's happening now in 2004! Many thanks to Iva for his valuble time and his manager Gino for making this interview possible... ENJOY!

Jason: Well Iva, you've had a long lasting and amazing career and it goes back to 1977 when yourself and rock bass player Keith Welsh formed Flowers, how did that all come about with forming the band?

Iva: At that time I was um, what's the word? I'd resigned from the orchestra and I'd sort of given up a career and so I was floundering as you do in your early 20's and cleaning. And it so happened there was a flat next door with a squash court which I got a job cleaning and the manageress had a son Keith and we met. They knew that this sort of musician type was in the building next door and we shared an interest in a lot of music we had in common, and he had had a couple of covers bands. I'd never played in an electric band before, I'd been a acoustic musician and that sort of lead to you know, the formation of the covers band really is I guess a you know, a fun thing to do on weekends and that kind of went from there.

Jason: Okay, and in 1980 Countdown was extremely huge at the time and Flowers were given their first national exposure when performing "Can't Help Myself" live in the studio. Were you excited to perform on Countdown and did you feel this was a big turning point for the band at the time?

Iva: Um, it's a fair question but I honestly can't say that I had a perspective on Countdown prior to that. We'd been touring and playing flat out for a couple of years, a number of years and getting a larger live following and getting professional management and so on. And I guess it seemed somehow or other a logical thing to come up. But obviously yes it would have been exciting to appear on television, but I think the importance of Countdown. I think I probably didn't have any real perspective of at that time.

Jason: And do you think as time went on that Countdown had a great effect on Australian Pop Culture with promoting bands and contributing to chart success e.t.c than if it hadn't been around?

Iva: Oh, there's no doubt that it did. And I think it was highly under estimated until relatively recently in fact, how much influence it had. Not only that but going back further than Countdown with the sort of predevesed at the time, I think it only really came to anybody's realisation once there wasn't an equivalent existing at all. And the lack of that kind of vechial had effect on the music business in general. I don't think that Countdown was appreciated for what it was.

Jason: Definitely

Iva: And, I mean it's easy to make a parallel with something like Top Of The Pops and I think that still exists, then you still get a lot of momentum that we don't have here.

Jason: When performing on Countdown were you always pleased to appear on the show live in the studio, and do you have any great memories of appearing on Countdown?

Iva: Um, it was always a strange experience and I'm sure you'll hear that from just about everybody who performed on it, you know.

Jason: Yeah, I have heard that, yeah...

Iva: The fact that you sort of had to run this goblin through a crowd to get on the stage in the first place. And I can recall the waiting period where you were simply standing on the stage waiting to actually start playing with a whole live audience in front of you was probably, they were the most awkward minutes I think I've ever had in my life! Um, where you don't really quite know what to do. But I think television is a particular environment, as is the making of films and the recording of an album is nothing like as glamorous as it's often made out to be. The huge amount of waiting and sitting down, so I think to that extent we just all took it in our strides and said, well this is the way it works and this is what you do...

Jason: Also in 1980 Flowers won an award for the Johnny O'Keefe "New Talent" award at the T.V Week Rock Awards, was it a thrill at that time to be recognised in that way?

Iva: Absolutely, and the sad story surrounding that is that we were I think playing somewhere. We couldn't actually attend and it was picked up by somebody on our behalf, and the actual award itself went missing and I've never ever had it in my hands. So if anybody's got it can I have it back! Ha, Ha, Ha...

Jason: With the performance of my favourite Flowers song "Icehouse" on the Countdown Awards, I thought it was a fantastic performance. Was it memorable for you, and do you remember that performance well where you were in that kind of box?

Iva: I do remember it and it's often commented on

Jason: Yeah, it's great!!!

Iva: I think the image itself was something quite striking

Jason: Yeah, definitely...

Iva: And I really have to give the credit to the people who put that together because at that time I don't think we were in a position to be telling people the way we you know, wanted to be presented and so on. So it was really an initiative of Countdown I think.

Jason: And the song "Icehouse" is there any hidden meaning behind that song at all?

Iva: Oh look, it's a much talked about story. Like most of my songs it's an amalgamation of a whole lot of things, there isn't any one single story and the story itself is really a fiction. Um, there were a couple of elements I guess which gave me idea's and one of them was the extraordinary flat that I lived in which was a very old flat and unbelievably cold. So there was a physical element and in those days I had absolutely no money and I weighed 9 and a half stone and it froze the whole way through winter and summer

Jason: Okay

Iva: But the most striking image I guess which gave me the story, the made up story was that in those days I was one of those you know, classic rock n roll people that stayed up all night and sleeped all day. But there was a very old house across the road in which the lights never went out and it had a very strange personality. And I used to watch it, sort of during the day and the night and see the population change every 3 months. So it seemed to be always populated by itinerant people and I guess it had a fascination and apart from anything else a very peculiar building. And I produced this song and this story and that was well before I found out that in actual fact it was a psychiatric half way house.

Jason: Oh really, okay

Iva: People who were there for 3 months and people who just come out of some serious establishment and were reintegrated back into society. Um, so in actual fact it kind of all added up in the end but I wrote the song sort of quite unwittingly but I didn't actually know that at the time.

Jason: Also by the very early 80's, in the UK the New Wave and New Romantic movement was really big. But in Australia the scene was very much pub rock dominated with bands such as Cold Chisel,Australian Crawl and so on. But with Flowers, I feel that you guys seemed to cross over extremely well to a large audience, because your sound had an almost Gary Numan meets Ultravox influence in an interesting way. Flowers seemed to reach the pub rock scene and at the same time the more electronic and new wave based fans to. Why do you think Flowers had such a broad appeal on a large audience?

Iva: We sort of um, it's an interesting comment. I think that Keith and I who was very much a unit driven by Keith and myself were very conscience of not joining any club. And our set list as a covers band was diverse and we were playing things that were very, very current, things that hadn't even been released in Australia, things like new Iggy Pop albums, new Brian Eno albums and so on. But as well as that we were doing a whole flag of by then quite ancient Glam Rock like T-Rex but we roughly fitted in the mould of a punk band of that era, being a fairly loud sort of band. So we didn't really belong to the Radio Birdman Club you know, and The Saints. We didn't really belong to the Ultravox club of pure Electronica, um but we were aware of that. We were aware that we were playing to fairly hard audiences and we played fairly hard music but we didn't sort of actively join any of those movements whole heartedly including the New Romantic period, which I found quite disturbing

Jason: Okay

Iva: As a sort of fashion statement we scrupistley avoided it

Jason: Okay then... Now in 1981 "Love In Motion" went Top Ten in Australia and Icehouse supported Simple Minds in the UK and then Simple Minds supported Icehouse later on. Were you a fan at all of Simple Minds and was this an exciting thing to happen for you?

Iva: Um yes, I was introduced to Simple Minds early. I think because they were part of that generation of bands who were not necessarily very high fashion New Romantic bands but more interested really in the potential of Electronic music, and the Electronic technology that was being produced then, and so we had that common ground. Their very early recordings are quite experimental in that area

Jason: Yeah, they are definitely

Iva: So we sort of shared a kind of music component rather than being part of a, I don't know. I think Simple Minds to weren't necessarily the great fashion statements of bands like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were. I think Simple Minds were far more credible bands than that.

Jason: In 1982 you basically went solo with the "Primitive Man" album. How did the split from Flowers come about?

Iva: It was one of those peculiar situations where there was never a conversation had. The process of writing the songs was purely as a result of the fact that when we had been away touring I picked up 2 machines which proved to be really vital things, well actually 3 in fact.
And I was always looking for a way to write songs, and the way that I write songs is usually tape recorders and basically building the songs layer by layer by layer. And what I'd bought was the very first Linn Drum machine, a sort of landmark machine and the very first Prophet 5 synthesiser as well as at that time, the first sort of really viable home 8-track recorder. So I was then able to write those songs completely independent of anyone else, and having done that I think it naturally evolved into a suggestion that well why not do the album exactly the same way? So, it was sort of was a mechanic of the songwritting process and it is true that Flowers as a unit at that point was toured to within an inch of it's life and I think we were all happy to have a break from each other anyhow.

Jason: Also in 1982 with Countdown being huge, you won an award for the most popular male performer at the Countdown Awards. You also had a Top 20 hit with "Hey Little Girl" in the UK and in Germany, and a Top 5 hit album all around Europe and so on. And to add to that you toured with Bowie and I think Peter Gabriel. Was that a real stand out time for you?

Iva: It was a stand out time. The truth on the Peter Gabriel, Bowie thing is that we were offered tours with both of them and they happened to coincide. And so we were in this unfortunate position where we had to actually choose between either touring with Peter Gabriel or touring with David Bowie!

Jason: Wow, okay...

Iva: So Peter Gabriel didn't happen and I've very much lament that because I was a major fan and still am of what Peter Gabriel does. But certainly at that time which was a really peak period I think for him um, and yes the experience was amazing. I think the Bowie tour was fascinating from exactly the point of view that I'd hoped which was that I wanted to see somebody of that statue operating and how it all worked. Apart from seeing David Bowie on stage it was partly the mechanics of the whole thing that fascinated me how you deal with a crowd of 70,000 people and what goes on behind the scenes

Jason: Yeah, Definitely

Iva: So it was a fascinating time. And you're right, as well as that we were having things like the Prince of Belgium invite us to parties and you know all that sort of trappings that go with it. So it was very exciting, yeah...

Jason: Moving on to the later part of the 80's with the dismiss of Countdown in 1987. Were you surprised when the show ended or do you think it had a good run?

Iva: I was surprised I have to say. My feeling was and still is that there was nothing that provided that vehicle and any attempt to replace this were fairly short lived

Jason: Yeah, Definitely... Like Countdown Revolution!

Iva: Um, and I just felt that really, it left a fairly large hole which still exists as far as that. I guess to some extent it's been filled in a bit by cable but in terms of supporting Australian music I think nothing's ever replaced Countdown.

Jason: Yeah, for sure... And do you think it's much harder for original bands and artists to get that needed exposure these days without shows like Countdown, and with the hole extreme manufacturing that's going on like the Idol reality T.V shows?

Iva: Um, I certainly think it's getting harder, wer'e going through a hard period. I think people do forget though that this is not the first sort of manufactured music period in history

Jason: Yeah, that's right

Iva: And interestingly, we were part of a punk movement, which was generated by a whole generation of youth who were sick of having disco feed to them

Jason: Yeah, sure

Iva: Um, so the whole thing looks fairly circulate to me often. As one, the only thing that's the unknown is when the circle will turn. I think you've seen a few attempts to turn it back with the grunge period and so on. But I think there is somehow or other a kind of need for live music, though it may be reduced at the moment because of the dominance of club music but it seems to not go away, it just quietly retires for a short amount of time and then comes back

Jason: Yeah

Iva: So, I mean I'm removed from the discussion to some degree these days but the advent of completely manufactured pop people doesn't surprise me because it's happened in the past.

Jason: Okay, now firstly let me say I've heard the new single on the official Icehouse website called "Chemicals" and it's a great track. And with the supposed new Icehouse album it's going to be called "Bi Polar Poems", is that right?

Iva: Oh look, the whole album is a work in progress and sense so is the title. Really all it is, I'm just showing off I guess on occasion some of the new things that have been written over the last few years.

Jason: Okay

Iva: And there is no concrete plan to release them. To a large extent my belief is that they're completely inappropriate for the environment of music as it is at the moment.

Jason: Oh, Okay

Iva: Um... so there's no real kind of pressure or necessity for me to put those on to a C.D. So I guess apart from anything else they are there really for points of interest for um, we have a fairly large international fan group who are connected via the Internet these days. So it's really just for them I suppose, or really for people who are interested.

Jason: You've also just recorded Bowie's classic "Heroes" to coincide with the upcoming Athens Summer Olympics. How has this all kind of happened?

Iva: Um, it happened as a result of an approach from the 7 Network who are broadcasting the Olympics. And one of the versions that  interested them was a very stripped down and mellow version of"Heroes", but they wanted a couple of versions. They wanted one that was fairly more, fairly straight ahead in Rock n Roll. So in actual fact I've recorded "Heroes" more than once, and that's where it fits in the scheme of things

Jason: Also is there any chance at all, that Icehouse would do any live gigs anywhere in Australia in the near future at all?

Iva: In the near future I wouldn't think so. We still you know, communicate regularly and very occasionally we actually do perform. We performed at the end of last year at a radio awards show, and we actually performed an unreleased new song. Um, but as for the sort of idea of putting on a tour I don't think that's under discussion at the moment.

Jason: Also, at the moment a lot of bands are releasing DVD's with all their video's e.t.c. Do you think the Icehouse video compilation "Masterfile" will ever make it to DVD with any extra bits and pieces?

Iva: Um, I think there's certainly discussion of a DVD of that nature, yeah.

Jason: Because all the Icehouse albums were remastered on C.D recently to not so long ago...

Iva: That's right, um the prospect is likely and because I'm sort of involved in the whole process as an engineer fairly hands on these days. I think it would be a fairly large undertaking because I'm sure it will be done better than most are these days. The process of remixing the entire collection of songs in 5.1 is something I would love to do, but it is a far more thorough kind of approach then is generally done with these kinds of DVD's. I don't know whether you know much about it, but you know say 5.1 is generally used which that sort of seems the way to do it. I think if we were going to do it we would do it properly.

Jason: Okay, and with Icehouse's videos did you have great input in what the final result of the video would look like?

Iva: I think um, the common process in those days was to really leave it in the hands of the director and art director

Jason: Okay, just out of interest who directed the "Don't Believe Anymore" video?

Iva: Now that was directed by Dominique? Oh, and I can't remember his name. He was a previous art director of Russell Mulchay

Jason: Oh Okay, because it has a very Russel Mulchay look to it, I feel...

Iva: The thing you'll find is that Russell did a number of clips for us.
And then some of his p personal started branching out on their own, and certainly the fellow that did "Don't Believe Anymore" was one of those, I think the first of those to branch out. If you had a look down Russell's credits and the crew, if you can get hold of those, for some of the earlier clips you'll find a Dominique? Ah, or something of that description who.  Marcello something. Um, and similarly, and I'm really gonna muck this up! Something like Hopkins who was the next art director went off to not only to produce clips like "Taking The Town" and a lot of other clips for people, but I think has subsequently gone on to be quite a successful film director

Jason: And also with the release of Masterfile in 1992, there was a bonus track added on the compilation which was a re recorded version of the 1981 hit "Love In Motion" featuring the lead vocals from Chrissie Amphlett from the Divinyls. How did that duet basically happen?

Iva: Um, it was a process of bringing out producer Bill Laswell to Australia who's sort of a very famous producer of that period, and very involved in world music and ambient music and a lot of diverse things. And he was responsible for doing a long remix of "Great Southern Land" I think it's something like 15 minutes long. Um, and also producing that version with Christie doing the vocal, and that process didn't really involve me at all in actual fact. That was a kind of studio lock out situation where I wasn't allowed in basically!

Jason: And did you like the way it turned out?

Iva: Well I think, you know it's been posed to me the question about remixes and whether I have a problem with them and I never have had a problem. Because the originals always exist as the originals and these are simply alternate versions. And some people wont even bother listening to them because I only like the originals, I guess I'm probably like that

Jason: Yeah I'm like that to, pretty much. Kind of like the  Icehouse remix album "Meltdown"

Iva: Exactly, having said that I'm not threatened by anybody else's kind of view of the song as well, so it's something I'm not at all precious about.

Jason: Oh okay, and how do you feel about people covering your songs. Take for example The Whitlams covering "Don't Believe Anymore", did you like that cover?

Iva: Well I just find it very interesting to hear what other people hear in the song. The songs really only have one perspective from my point of view and it's the way I heard the song. Um, sometimes other people bring something quite different to it and so I was sort of fascinated to hear Tim Freedman's version of it. Because he sang it in a very Tim Freedman way which is very unlike the way that I sang it. So you know it's a great compliment also as a song, and that someone would want to cover it.

Jason: Oh okay, I think that's about all I have to ask you.
It's been a great pleasure talking to you and thank you for your time.

Iva: Well keep up the good work.

Interview conducted by Jason Grech, Copyright © 2004