Iva Davies is one of Australia’s most accomplished musicians and composers with a career spanning over 30 years with his band Icehouse, and as a composer for film and theatre. It was a privilege to produce this radio special in 2014.
The number one song on the Australian pop music charts in 1980 was The Buggles ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, accompanied through the year by such gems as Michael Jackson ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’, The Village People ‘You Can’t Stop The Music’, Split Enz ‘I Got You’, The Vapours ‘Turning Japanese’ and Queen ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’.
In May 1980, Australian radio stations started playing a song by Sydney band, Flowers. ‘Can’t Help Myself’ made it into the Australian Top 10 and was the first song from their debut album, ‘Icehouse’. I think I was first in line at my local record store to by the single and was enormously envious of my older brothers who would regularly see Flowers playing at the local pub.
IVA DAVIES: We came from quite a distinct stream of music which generated by the punk movement out of Britain, but then it morphed into a strange hybrid because of technology. There was an explosion of technology, especially synthesiser technology, at that period, so we were a kind of punk band with synthesisers which was a bit odd. But clearly, these other people were not, including Michael Jackson! There were all sorts of strange things going on, strange fashions; it was a very interesting time.”
The first song we put out was called ‘Can’t Help Myself’ and we’d been playing all these classic punk venues for about three years before we put out that first record. I remember being told it had become a disco hit in Melbourne and I was semi-horrified. I was very pleased it was a hit, of course, but a disco hit – we weren’t a disco band!
By the time we got to 1980 we’d been playing quite a few of our own songs but still had lacings of the odd cover version of things not even particularly fashionable at the time, things like T-Rex songs, but by then we’d really turned into an original band and signed with a small independent label in Sydney called Regular Records and we’d recorded our first album, and although they constitute really the first 10 songs I ever wrote, they did have a certain flavour about them that I guess was, again, a hybrid of punk with synthesizers.
CAROL DUNCAN: Iva, you mustn’t have been very long out of the Conservatorium by this stage?
IVA DAVIES: I dropped out of the (Sydney) Conservatorium when I was about 21, so I was about 23 or 24 by this point.
CAROL DUNCAN: So how did you decide to steer your songwriting and music releases in that environment at that time?
IVA DAVIES: It’s a terrible admission to make considering that ‘Can’t Help Myself’ made it into the Top 10, that I was probably fairly unaware of radio except for 2JJ. That’s a terrible admission for somebody who’s trying to break into getting airplay on radio!
CAROL DUNCAN: Something like The Vapors ‘Turning Japanese’ would have been all over 2SM (in Sydney) at the time. 2SM would have been the number one commercial pop music station in the late 1970s.
IVA DAVIES: Indeed, and I missed a great deal of that. I think we were pretty well buried in our own world and our own world had been dominated by what I’d listened to as I grew up, quite a lot of classics, psychedelic and heavy rock bands including Pink Floyd and so on. And then when Johnny Rotten (the Sex Pistols) arrived, the world was turned upside-down quite literally.
He put all of those big bands out of business overnight and London was the place to be. I remember very clearly when Keith (Welsh) and I, our bass player and co-founder of Flowers, we’d been playing almost every night of the week, sometimes nine shows a week. There were clubs all over Sydney, there were clubs all over Melbourne, there were really great bands everywhere and on any given night down the road there’d be Midnight Oil and INXS and any number of bands.
When we arrived in London for our very first international tour, we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s get a copy of New Musical Express (NME) and go and see a band ’cause this is where it’s all coming from!’ And there was nothing on!
I was absolutely gobsmacked that Sydney was a hundred times more active than London on a club scene. It absolutely mystified me. All the pubs shut early, there was nowhere to go!
CAROL DUNCAN: Who did you admire at the time?
IVA DAVIES: I didn’t buy albums of anybody, I didn’t consume music. I was very curious about music but most of what I listened to was via 2JJ. 2JJ was a very progressive station; I think it’s been forgotten to some degree. 2JJ were playing things that had been bought on import – they hadn’t even been released in Australia yet – and so it was fascinating.
We were hearing things we thought before anybody else in the world had heard them, things like Elvis Costello, XTC, mainly British bands but the odd thing coming out of America. There was a real movement of punk and new wave.
CAROL DUNCAN: So you and Keith have taken off to London, you’re going to see all the bands, but there’s no-one home?
IVA DAVIES: There’s no-one home! I remember thinking at the time, ‘Well where did The Cure come from and where did The Clash and The Damned and The Jam come from? Where are they all’?
I had imagined that London was heaving with little clubs with all those names playing in them every night but it was really something created through the tyranny of distance, I guess. We had amplified that whole thing that had started with Carnaby Street, The Beatles, and Rolling Stones; and in my mind, and I’m sure in the minds of many other Australians, this was the mecca that we were going to visit. But it turned out it was really as much a product of BBC1 and radio and record companies than it was of an active pub music scene which was exactly what we had in Australia.
CAROL DUNCAN: So, what did you do, turn around and come home?
IVA DAVIES: We went off touring. We went off touring with Simple Minds who were just starting to break through in Europe. They’d a quite successful album, and we did a reciprocal deal with them where we said, ‘OK, if we are your support band in Europe, that will help us, and you come to Australia and be our support band there because nobody knows you. In fact, to this day, and I’m sure Jim Kerr from Simple Minds would take credit in saying that tour we did with them really broke Simple Minds in Australia – it was off the back of that tour that they started achieving success here. Of course, many many albums and many many successes later I still catch up with Jim Kerr quite frequently.
CAROL DUNCAN: I remember seeing the two bands at the Manly Vale Hotel.
IVA DAVIES: Very possible! That was one of many hotels in that northern beaches area, and I ended up living on the northern beaches by accident. It was quite tribal. There was a very big pub at Narrabeen called the Royal Antler and it was our first proper gig, I guess, and almost residency. At one point we and Midnight Oil were alternating weekends. We never met them, but there was this kind of unspoken rivalry for the same audience of mad, drunken surfies.
CAROL DUNCAN: It was one of Sydney’s great beer barns.
IVA DAVIES: It was and they were mad, of course, mad drunken surfies and probably a few other substances, as well. But they were great nights. It was a big place; I think it held something like 1500 people. And you’re right, we probably did attract slightly different audiences, and certainly we also had the other side of us which was playing the inner city hotels which, of course, were very driven by the punk movement, so we’d look out on a place like the Civic Hotel and there’d been a sea of black and safety pins.
CAROL DUNCAN: Why did the name change come about? Was it as simple as swapping the band name and album title?
IVA DAVIES: It was, but we actually had no choice. What we hadn’t realised was that while we were happily going along as Flowers in Australia and New Zealand, as soon as we signed to an international record company and they said, ‘We’re going to release this around the rest of the world, we need to do a little check on the name. It hadn’t even occurred to me that a band name is like a company trading name and, unfortunately, there were at least three other acts around the world trading on the name ‘Flowers’. One of them being the very, very famous session bass player, Herbie Flowers, who you probably know best for being the creator of that wonderful bass line that introduces Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.
So there were objections and we simply had no choice, we had to come up with another name. This has happened to a number of Australian bands. It happened to Sherbet who became Highway, and The Angels who became Angel City. Our logic was fairly simple – people here in Australia and New Zealand only know us by two things, that is the name of the band ‘Flowers’ or the name of the album ‘Icehouse’. So, we became Icehouse.
A band name becomes its identity in a far bigger way that just a set of letters. I’ve had this discussion with my 17-year old son who has got a collection of friends in a band and they haven’t been able to think of anything. I keep asking what the band is called and they’re called something different every day. I said ‘you better get it right because it will end up owning you’.
CAROL DUNCAN: Your son has actually played with you?
IVA DAVIES: Yes, oh you know about this! I had a fairly mad idea last year, although the idea had been around since 1983. I remember we were touring in Europe and we had a number one song in Europe so there was a lot of pressure on me. I was doing millions of interviews and we were playing very big festivals of 30,000 people.
We were playing on one and I was standing on the side of the stage next to my band and Peter Tosh’s band was playing – Peter Tosh was the co-founder of Bob Marley’s Wailers – and it was a big band, 9 or 10 people on stage, backing singers and whatnot, and I said to my bass player, “See the guy at the back going chukka, chukka, chukka on the guitar, the laziest job in the world? I want his job. I had a conversation last year with somebody about this moment and they said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’
Our manager thought I was mad, a number of promoters thought I was mad, too, but what we did was completely re-invent Icehouse as an eight-piece reggae band. We added some extra guys from Melbourne to give us a brass section and we re-arranged every one of the hits that we’d been playing in the classic repertoire as reggae songs.
We put two shows on – one in Melbourne, one in Sydney – as a kind of Christmas party because my feeling was that the reason we were doing it is because reggae makes you want to dance and smile and laugh, and we had the best possible time, it was just fantastic. We’ve just released the recording of the Sydney show and re-named the band DubHOUSE – the album is DubHOUSE Live.
I wanted to get my children to come. My daughter is OK because she’s 20 but my son was under age, under the drinking age, and the only way I could get him in was to put him in the band. So I said to him, ‘Look Evan …’ he’s17 and a very good guitarist, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not going to get a rehearsal, you’re not going to get a sound check. Here’s a recording of a rehearsal of Street Cafe done in this style, you’ve got the guitar solo, go home and learn it and I’ll see you on stage.”
And so the poor guy was thrown on stage with absolutely no preparation whatsoever, but fortunately, he had done his homework and had a great night.
CAROL DUNCAN: How do the kids see your career, Iva?
IVA DAVIES: Well the strange truth is that they didn’t. I finished the last tour that we did back in the day, as it were, when my daughter was six weeks old. Effectively, we didn’t play again and my children grew up.
In 2009, our long-time tour manager, Larry, who works for a very big audio production company – he’d been working for with us since 1984 – came up with the idea for Sound Relief (concerts held in Sydney & Melbourne for 2009 bushfire relief) and actually volunteered us, so we were the first band on the bill for Sound Relief.
By that time in 2009, my daughter would have been 14 or 13, and my son 12 or 13, and that was the first concert they ever saw me play. So they’d grown up all those years not knowing anything about it, or relatively little.
CAROL DUNCAN: Did they think Icehouse was cool or were you ‘just Dad’ and therefore couldn’t possibly be cool?
IVA DAVIES: Strangely enough, I seem to have breached the cool barrier into the cool area. A very strange thing happened, before that Sound Relief show and before my daughter really got to appreciate my association with it. She came home from school one afternoon, waltzed in the door and announced, ‘I LOVE THE EIGHTIES! I love EVERYTHING about the eighties!’
Strangely enough, the eighties are going through a whole new generation of cool at the moment. Except for the hair, and a lot of the clothes.
CAROL DUNCAN: When you look at that part of your career, the pop/rock part of your career, what do you see, Iva?
IVA DAVIES: I’m proud that we worked very hard, I believe, to maintain a kind of class and a quality. That went through everything, even the recordings themselves. I went through the graduation from vinyl to CD, which was a massive turnaround, and it happened incredibly quickly.
I remember having a talk to a record company about it and they said, ‘Last year we manufactured 80% out of vinyl and 20% out of CD, this year we’re manufacturing 80% out of CD and 20% out of vinyl, and the following year we’re not making any vinyl at all. That’s how fast it turned around. But ‘Measure for Measure’, our fourth album is one of the first three fully digital recordings ever made in the world, which was a real milestone, so it’s the first completely noiseless recording that was made for the new format of CD. It’s moments like that that I reflect on and think, well, that’s because we really put a lot of care and attention into these things.
CAROL DUNCAN: Iva, you’re also seen as one of the pioneers in Australia of bringing in synthesizers, computers, the Fairlight and so on. You mentioned an interesting word there, ‘noiseless’, and that’s perhaps where the feud happens between the vinyl purists and people who are very happy to purchase their music in a digital form whether on CD or via digital download. How do you see the vinyl vs CD war when it comes to audio quality?
IVA DAVIES: I noted with some amusement touched with horror a program that Linda Mottram did on 702 in Sydney where there was this discussion about vinyl, and she spoke with a so-called expert who was out of a university, and with due respect to that professor I desperately wanted to call in and say, “Can I just tell you about what actually happens when you’re making pieces of vinyl and why they sound the way they do, and how it is absolutely possible to make CDs sound exactly like vinyl IF that were the endgame that you wanted to have in mind.
I won’t go into it now but the fact of the matter is it’s all about a process called mastering. The way that tapes, mixes, were mastered for vinyl had to be very particular because of the intolerance of vinyl – vinyl can’t carry very much big bass. I found that out with the Flowers album when I insisted to the co-producer that we put lots of bottom end into it and then realised a bit later on when the mastering engineer said to me, “I can’t cut this to vinyl, it’s got too much bass in it.” They’re the sorts of mistakes that you make when you’re young.
I’m a firm believer in anything that doesn’t have moving parts and that is digital. I’m afraid I’ve moved on from anything old-school quite happily.
CAROL DUNCAN: Did you call in?
IVA DAVIES: No, I didn’t, I just thought it’s probably too difficult a conversation to have in detail over the radio but it does infuriate me because I’m sure if you got any mastering engineer on to the radio they’d say to you it’s mainly because people don’t understand how these things are made.
CAROL DUNCAN: What gave you the confidence to leap into these new technologies?
IVA DAVIES: Perhaps it was more out of ignorance than anything, I certainly didn’t see any risk involved, but the main driver for me was that these were new toys. Every time something new was invented, my eyes would light up and I’d think, ‘Imagine the possibilities!’
I remember expressly that conversation I had with our management where, out of sheer co-incidence they’d moved offices from where they were in Bondi Junction to the top storey of a two-storey building in Rushcutters Bay and the ground storey was where they made Fairlights, believe it or not. Management were oblivious to this, they had no idea what was going on down there. But I did and I came to the managers one day and said, ‘I desperately want to get one of these machines, they are amazing.’
Of course, I was proven correct because they revolutionised music forever. I think apart from the technology of recording, the sampler – which is what a Fairlight was – was the single most influential piece of technology ever created. I said this to my management, that I was desperate, that I’d really like one, but the catch was they were $32,000. That was in 1981 or 1982 so you can imagine how much money that was then – it was half a small house.
But I got one, and interestingly enough my management were quite philosophical about it. They said, ‘Well, it’s a lot of money, but according to our calculations you’ll pay for this with the first two projects you use it on.’ And they were right. The first project I used it on was my very first film score for Russell Mulcahy’s ‘Razorback’, which is about 95% Fairlight.
The great irony of that was that I kept producing bits of music, because Russell Mulcahy was out in the desert filming scenes and he kept dragging up Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, the one with Shock The Monkey on it, and they were out in the desert with this blasting away on a ghetto blaster and I got it into my head that this was what Russell likes. So I kept producing Gabriel-esque soundscapes and so on, and the producers of the movie kept coming back to me and saying, ‘No, no no – that’s not what we want, we don’t want this.’ In the end I was getting various clues from them but didn’t really know, but I had another go along the lines of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ – a fairly mad piece of classical music. I constructed all this with the Fairlight, it was a quasi-orchestral thing. I took it back to them and they said, ‘Yes! That’s exactly it!’ and I said, ‘Well, if you wanted that sort of thing why didn’t you go and get a classical composer.’
In its day, ‘Rite of Spring’ was a controversial piece of music, and Iva Davies shares a birthday with Stravinsky.
Considering that it was 1913 when that piece first hit the stage for Diaghilev’s ballet company. It wasn’t just the music; it was actually the subject matter of the ballet that I think was fairly upsetting to a lot of people. It’s all about primal sexualism, basically, so you can imagine that to an audience of 1913 that sort of idea was fairly horrifying.
CAROL DUNCAN: In 1984, you’ve got Razorback, also ‘Sidewalk’ – the third album from Icehouse, at this point did you consider that you didn’t actually have to be a pop star?
IVA DAVIES: No, I had a very strange life prior to that because I had a completely Jekyll and Hyde existence. I took up the guitar when I was 13, and taught myself, and it was probably also the year that I started taking oboe lessons. I had these two parallel lives and completely separate lives. I had a set of classical people – when I was in high school I played in a wind quintet and we used to rehearse every Saturday morning. We all had our first cars at that point. They were my friends and we went off and won the City of Sydney Eisteddfod and so on. They never, ever met the guys that I was in the acoustic band with. Ever! Because I just had these two lives. So my course was fairly accidental all the way through, it was probably always going to be accidental.
To this day, I keep remembering things that I did. I remembered that I was in the orchestra that was primarily made up of members of the Sydney Symphony and the senior Conservatorium orchestra, of which I was a member, for the staging of the two first Australian ballets in the Opera House. I would have been about 19 and, of course, that’s a fairly big moment for the Opera House to have a night featuring Australian opera in that building, and I’d completely forgotten about it. There are things from both lives that I’ve forgotten about.
CAROL DUNCAN: 1985, your double life really starts to change as you start working with the Sydney Dance Company.
IVA DAVIES: I have to give credit to our managers to some degree who recognised – Ray Hearn was managing us from the beginning. I think he considered himself to be a very erudite individual, he was very widely read, he’d seen every movie possible, and he had a huge record collection. He wasn’t a musician but I think he spotted in me the potential that if I kept on that very two-dimension wheel of ‘write an album, record an album, tour an album, write an album, record an album, tour an album …’, that I would burn out, that I needed something else to do. So it was he who went and pursued the soundtrack idea with Russell Mulcahy, and it was he who introduced me to the Sydney Dance Company who were a very dangerous company at that point. People forget that they did ballets entirely naked and this was quite revolutionary stuff in its day. They had a very young, hip audience. So it was a very smart move. But it was also a move that was good for the dance company. I had also forgotten until reminded about a month ago that in the Opera House’s entire history this has never been repeated, but they did a very dangerous thing. They put two shows on a Friday and a Saturday night, one at a conventional hour and then a whole other audience would turn up at 10.30 at night and we’d do it all again. The staff at the Opera House thought this was going to be an absolute disaster, ‘Nobody’s going to go to the Opera House at 10.30pm to see a show’, but they did and they were all my audience and they were coming to see what all the fuss was about. It was the most successful season the dance company has ever had.
CAROL DUNCAN: Were you worried about your pop/rock audience coming over to see what you were doing and being disappointed?
IVA DAVIES: I’ve always utterly failed to understand what the problem is between the various tribes of music. I started of as a bagpipe player when I was six, and although I went through that very, very particular stream of classical musicians, and they are, and they are a very exclusive lot – a lot of them, and they are a very intolerant lot – a lot of them, I think things have improved. But at that time they very much looked down their nose at ‘popular music’ and rock and roll, but by the same token it was equally prejudiced the other way around. I’ve never understood why. I don’t get that you have to be one or the other but not all of them. In my head, there was absolutely no problem with my audience turning up to the ballet.
CAROL DUNCAN: What gave you the confidence to follow both streams?
IVA DAVIES: Only because I can kind of speak both languages. I had a discussion with somebody the other night about music and it is another language. It’s certainly a language when you read and write it and I learned how to do that. But my dialogue with rock and roll musicians has to be completely different because most of the people I played with all these years don’t read and write music. But rock and roll musicians communicate in a different kind of way. So because I’m comfortable in both of those languages, I can happily flick between the two of them, at whim almost.
CAROL DUNCAN: Which is why I don’t’ let my kids drop out of their violin lessons – I want them to have that other language.
IVA DAVIES: From my point of view, by miles, the single biggest advantage I’ve had in my work and succeeding in the broad framework of popular music is the fact that I was highly trained. That is the most sure, certain way to cut every corner you can – to actually know what you’re doing.
CAROL DUNCAN: December 31, 1999, and Icehouse is performing at the Millennium New Years Eve concert outside the Sydney Opera House and there is a moment on your face where it’s just occurred to you how very special that moment is.
IVA DAVIES: The penny really didn’t drop, I mean, there was such a lot of pressure involved in that. The transmission, the TV director, Greg Beness, had synchronised a whole lot of footage to be running in parallel with shooting the performance. We had backups of backups because, of course, everybody thought that every computer in the world was going to blow up at midnight being the Y2K bug and so on. It was going out to about four billion people. It’s not as if you can get to the end of it and go, ‘Oh, we mucked that up, can we have another go?’, ‘Oh, they’ve already counted down; we’re in a new millennium’. So I was incredibly aware of all of that and actually I’ve watched back some of the footage and it takes me a fair old while to settle down, it’s (The Ghost Of Time) a 25-minute piece and it took me a number of minutes before I was, ‘OK, we’re up and running, everything seems to be working, everybody knows where they are, I can hear everything ….’
I got to the end of it and stepped off the stage, Frank Sartor the Lord Mayor of Sydney gave me a glass of champagne, Richard Wilkins counted down from 10 and the fireworks went off directly over my head and I went, ‘Wow!’
CAROL DUNCAN: From this point, your other career really takes off and you head off to work on Master and Commander.
IVA DAVIES: Yes, I’ve said to other young bands over the years, ‘Just be aware – you never know who will be listening,’ and so it was with thus that one person who was listening to The Ghost of Time on the millennium eve as it was going out, one of those four billion people, was one Peter Weir – an iconic Australian film director.
This is how bizarre the next few years ended up being for me in terms of things just popping out of seemingly nowhere. I was sitting in my studio one day up on the northern beaches and the phone rang. A voice said, “Iva, this is Peter Weir. I’m filming Master and Commander on location in Baja, Mexico. I’ve fallen in love with The Ghost of Time. I want you to reassemble your team and give me a score like that.”
The whole experience was incredible, to go to Hollywood. I remember I had a colleague of mine, my music editor, had worked quite a bit in Hollywood on ‘Moulin Rouge’ and other things. He took me to the Fox lot and was very well recognised, but the thing that became immediately apparent was how incredibly well-respected Peter Weir is in Hollywood. Even though you don’t necessarily associate him with massive blockbuster success time and time again, he’s respected by directors and quality people in Hollywood and that’s the difference.
CAROL DUNCAN: Is it difficult to do this sort of work, to create something to someone else’s demands?
IVA DAVIES: I was very fortunate because Peter Weir has immense respect for music. He said to me not once, but twice, ‘Music is the fountainhead of the arts,’ that’s how important it is to him. But having said that, he uses it very sparingly and in a very subtle way. So I had the great luxury to have three months to work on what equated to, in the end, not much more than 35 minutes worth of music. If you go and see a movie like ‘Lord of the Rings’, the composers had to write music from end to end of the film, so we’re talking two and a half hours of music. Three months to produce that amount of music meant that it could be done with care but at a fairly unstressed pace, as it were. And that was fantastic. I have no doubt that Peter Weir quite deliberately planned the whole thing that way, so that it would be NOT a stressful operation. He’s a consummate film-maker and he knows exactly what he’s doing, so he schedules and plans things very well.
Having said that, I always knew that the brief of a score writer is to write what the director wants to hear, not what the score writer wants to hear, so that was very apparent and so be it. Very often these films are the vision of a director and music is just one component of that. It should feed into their vision.
CAROL DUNCAN: What are the professional moments that you hold dearest to your heart?
IVA DAVIES: In terms of recording, I had a quite surreal moment. I was very influenced by one Brian Eno who was an absolute pioneer of synthesizers and electronic music, and in fact probably invented the term ‘ambient music’. Of course, he was a founding member of Roxy Music but went on later to become incredibly successful in his own right and especially as a producer, he produced almost all of the U2 albums – massive albums. But I’d been following him since he was an early member of Roxy Music and especially been guided by his approach to synthesizers, which was very esoteric and completely at odds with a lot of the nasty noises that were being produced in the 1980s, for example. And I thank him for that because it probably stopped me from making a lot of bad sonic mistakes.
The producer I was using at the time was a friend of his and I found myself having a conversation with the producer about the song we were working on at the time – a song called Cross the Border – I had in mind Brian Eno’s backing vocal style. I knew that the producer, Rhett Davies, had worked with Brian Eno. I turned up to Air Studios, another very famous studio in London, to do the vocal session and in came Brian Eno. So there was a moment where I was standing in the studio, standing next to Brian Eno who was singing my lyrics and my backing vocal line. That was a real moment for me because he was a real hero of mine.
CAROL DUNCAN: At what point did you realise that you had been successful enough to truly pursue anything that you wanted to do?
IVA DAVIES: I spent most of my career not quite believing that things would work. In fact, I remember very clearly – we’d been working for years and years, working around these pubs, the first album came out, and I remember the first royalty cheque turned up. The accountant for the management company asked me into the office and said, ‘Well, here’s the cheque for the Flowers album for you,’ and I looked at it and I’d been broke for years. My parents had to keep paying the odd rent payment for me and so on. We weren’t earning any money at all, the album had only just come out, and I saw this cheque and it was for $15,000.
I looked at Gino, who I had lunch with today – same accountant, and I said, ‘Gino. This is amazing. This is incredible. I know I’m just going to fritter this away. I know I’ll never get any more money out of this business. What’s the deposit on the cheapest, cheapest, cheapest house in Sydney? Well, I bought the cheapest house in Sydney with that deposit, but of course, it wasn’t the last cent that I made out of the music business.
But for many years, for a long time, I really didn’t consider that it was going to last, that I was going to make any money out of it. It’s that classic thing where, luckily my parents didn’t call me on the phone and say, ‘When are you going to get a proper job?’ they were very supportive. I think I was the one secretly calling myself and saying, ‘When are you going to get a proper job?’
CAROL DUNCAN: What are you still learning?
IVA DAVIES: I’m still learning technology because unfortunately, it won’t sit still! The industry standard for recording is a system called Pro-Tools, you very possibly use it in the studio there and it’s certainly in every recording studio in the world. I’ve been working with Pro-Tools for a very long time but, of course, like any other software, there’s a new release of it every five minutes. So I’m actually getting to the stage when I really am going to have to run to catch up! So unfortunately at my age, I’m still having to learn technology because it’s the basic tool of my trade and that’s never going to stop.
CAROL DUNCAN: Are you still as excited by it as you were in the mid-1970s when you and Keith Welsh started ‘Flowers’ and when you went and harassed your management to allow you to buy that first Fairlight for $32,000?
IVA DAVIES: I think I take it a bit more for granted these days because things have exploded in the way that they have. You can imagine the climate in which a piece of technology like the Fairlight came out; it was just mind-numbing. It was unlike anything anybody could ever imagine, whereas I suppose every time there’s a new release of Pro-Tools, it’s got a couple of lovely new features but it is a development of something which has been around for much more than a decade now.
However, having said that, there seems to be a whole new generation of software writers who are incredibly interested in music and incredibly interested in playing with sound, and these are the people who are coming up with all the new noise generating bits – soft synthesisers and all that sort of stuff. That’s kind of where the interesting new area is.
CAROL DUNCAN: And Keith Welsh has been on this whole journey with you?
IVA DAVIES: Indeed. In the music industry the whole time. He and I have been working closely over the past three years and we’ve started playing again and we re-released the entire catalogue. We put out a compilation called ‘White Heat’ which is about to go platinum.
CAROL DUNCAN: What would you want the young Iva Davies to know?
IVA DAVIES: That’s a good question! I think I probably did seize most opportunities that came my way so I wouldn’t necessarily say, ‘just go as fast as you can with every opportunity that you can’, I probably would have said, ‘Put more attention to the money and where the money is going and who’s getting it!’ As a forensic accountant, I’m a kind of ‘overview guy’ as opposed to a ‘detail guy’.