By Ben Cameron
Alongside musical chops, a good sense of humour is essential to the work of Castlemaine muso John Phillips (rear).
Arguably most renowned for his work in the early days of Goanna, the 56-year-old says it was his days in the most unlikely of places – the Australian post-punk scene – with band Kikx in the early 80s, which taught him a thing or two about looking on the brighter side of life.
“We supported Nick Cave’s Birthday Party and their performance incited a riot, which was pretty funny,” John says.
“The venue refused to pay them until they placed a public apology notice in the Geelong Advertiser. They actually did it – perhaps they needed the money back then!” Phillips would learn professionalism was important but “hey, have a sense of humour about these things.”
It’s probably what drew him to Sons of the Blues, a duo he formed with Sutton Grange’s Patrick Byrne, which has sated their love for both Southern American Blues and self deprecation.
“There is something in the blues that ignites a primal rhythm,” Patrick says.
“Gets your foot stomping and your body grooving.”
“Sons of the Blues have a great respect for the history of the Blues players and their subsequent musical influence,” John adds.
“We also relate to the comic aspect of the music and the lyric use of self-depreciation. The blues genre allows lots of freedom and the chance to improvise.” Self described as the “children of invention”, John and Patrick also bonded over another unlikely artform: swimming.
“We initially got to know each other when our daughters were in the same swimming class a few years ago,” John says.
“We discovered we both played blues and thought it would be interesting to have a jam and see if it worked.
“This happened at our outdoor cinema event for friends and family where we screened the Blues Brothers movie – shades and black suits in tow!
“We share a desire to reprise some of the most influential music from the past and to have a good time doing it.” Speaking of the past, John was around before Goanna was Goanna but a folk trio called The Ecto-plasmic Manifestation Concert Band, with fellow Deakin University students Shane Howard and Mike Biscan.
“I was at the first rehearsal when the Goanna band was christened with its name in a Geelong backyard,” John says
“I became a member in the second line-up of that band. The most memorable things included learning about the songwriting process with Shane, supporting Cold Chisel at the Eureka Hotel and being the lead guitarist in the first studio recordings.” The Sons’ latest tune might be called Put the Past Behind You but a career spent supporting some of the biggest names in Australian music through his work in Goanna, Kikx, The Urban Principle and Za Za Biskit, he’s holding onto the memories for dear life.
“The support gig for AC/DC was amazing,” John says. “It was the early days, around 1977, when Bon Scott was in the band and they’d just started to tour promoting the High Voltage album.
“I was in a band called Raw Deal, with Wayne Jury on lead vocals. The show was at the Sundowner Hotel in Geelong, where AC/DC had a residency on a Thursday night.
“The crowds just kept getting bigger each week and their performance was electrifying – it made the hair on my back stand up – I’ll never forget that.”
Or a Midnight Oil support with Kikx.
“I found Midnight Oil’s performances astonishing, they were unstoppable and world-class from the get go,” John says.
“We did shows with them at the Crystal Ballroom in St Kilda and at Deakin Uni in Geelong.
“The Oils road crew were total pros, and made sure all support bands had everything they needed for a top show.”
Sons of the Blues will bring their skills for the second annual Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival.
“We have always had our ear to the ground when it comes to live music shows,” John says.
“We went to the festival last year and were impressed by the event and the local support for something like this in Bendigo.”
Sons of the Blues play the Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival (November 8-11).