“I know who I am and what I do” (Michael Hutchence)
Like Alice through the looking glass, I always wonder whether it is going to be a good thing, to jump down that rabbit hole to revisit my past. But risk or rust I always say, and in this case, it was only my teenage memories of massive shoulder pads, leg warmers, and my already curly hair expanded 100 fold that I had to think about. It was a teenage, of everything Brit, loud music, local indie bands and flirting with bartenders, who would always ask what “Goldilocks” wanted to drink. To which I would invariably reply, something not too hot, not too cold….
1989, with a vinyl collection of Beatles, Kinks and mostly British imports, courtesy of my Aladdin’s cave, Missing Link Records, it was only being dragged along to a sweaty pub to see a singer whose presence commanded the stage, and who I couldn’t take my eyes off, that I first discovered Nick Barker and the Reptiles. Nick was singing, Cockney Rebel’s “Make me Smile”, still one of my favorite songs to which there’s been much barefoot dancing…. but that’s another story.
Nearly 20 years on, it was curiosity that prompted me to venture to the “Posty” in Coburg on a lazy Sunday afternoon to see Nick Barker and Justin Garner, one half of Heartache State, acoustic. The Posty, always has a relaxed, armchair feel, and this was immediately evident as Nick and Justin casually sauntered to the stage. It’s easy to forget that I’m watching a singer songwriter with 30 years hard grind, pub band experience, until the opening bars of “Look out Joe”. I had read that in one year in the early 90’s The Reptiles played 200 gigs! Nick Barker, minus that trademark long hair and Guns N Roses look, even without drums and bass, still has that edge. The crowd, who judging by their age, I suspect were mostly fans of olde, had their attention fixed to the stage, barely a mobile phone in sight, from the off.
What followed was a first set of almost an hour of songs that told stories. Stories that were relatable and sung in a thoughtful, unassuming way. We’ve all experienced heartbreak, love, loss, and, life with a backdrop country beat! like in “Cripple Creek” and “Never Easy”. The set then mixed in the harder rock sound of the 1994 release “Time Bomb’ and the quirky “Thylacine”, influenced by said stuffed animal Nick saw at the museum. While comparisons have been made to the aforementioned Guns, Nick Barker has a unique sound which has made me want to experience the louder power rock version with a full band.
But it was the raw realness of “Sunny’s Song”, which is still stuck in my head. Nick explained the song was about his son, who he also told us was an 18 year old with a tattoo that had gone wrong and a dad, that we’ve all had times we wish we had, with the attitude, it’s ok mate, I’ll take you, we’ll make it look good! The lines; “In my mind I know things aren’t right between the two most important people in my life”, “ I sit on the floor while my little world falls apart”, and “my mum and dad don’t love one another no more” are so simple. But in a raw, rip the band-aid off way, tell it like it is for kids when their parents are breaking up.
It is lyrics like these that reminded me that Nick Barker has been around the music scene for as long as I’ve been going to gigs and it’s this longevity along with tight melodic chord changes and those killer lyrics, that still get me completely absorbed in his performance.
He knows who he is and what he does…. no comparisons needed.
Facebook: The Heartache State
Facebook: Nick Barker and the Reptiles