Interview with Tim McGee
Jarrod Zlatic: The Limp were from Newcastle, when exactly did The Limp form?
Tim McGee: I’m not entirely sure, it must have been mid 1979, the earliest recording I’ve got with a date on it is October ‘79 so I’d suspect probably the earliest we’d played would have been September ’79.
JZ: What was Newcastle like in the late 1970’s?
T: Well most of my friends who’d wound up in bands had either gone to university in Newcastle or teacher colleges…or were working in Newcastle and had just left high school… Newcastle was a fairly sort of a rough working class kind of town with a lot of rock and roll but it was mainly all pub rock which we would very rarely go and see, it was kind of the big suburban beer barns all through Newcastle, which had covers bands, the whole rock and roll culture was all covers bands but at the same time a lot of bands would come to Newcastle university and we’d seem them and we’d also go to Sydney very regularly to see international acts and Sydney acts.
JZ: What sort of international acts would you see?
T: I’d suppose when I was at high school we’d come down and see acts of the day y’know, people like Frank Zappa when he toured and Tom Waits…I mean we always had sort of taste which I suppose was out of the mainstream so it was more progressive kind of stuff at that time…and then when we’d left school punk had just started and we started listening to English and American punk music. We started coming to Sydney and going to pubs down here and little clubs to see those bands but in Newcastle there was absolutely none… even the university virtually didn’t tour any Australian punk bands…bigger ones like Radio Birdman only ever played once in Newcastle at a big art school ball…so we basically got the train down to Sydney as regularly as we could. That sort of led to Pel Mel starting, which was my sisters and friends band and that was in early 1979.
JZ: Was there much of a scene in Newcastle before you moved to Sydney?
T: No, there was none before Pel Mel, the scene was really just kind of…y’know bluesey kind of pub rock. There was really nothing. The main reason I suppose that Pel Mel formed was so we could go and have nights with a band playing really. As soon as Pel Mel formed we got hold of a room in a pub at the Grand Hotel in Newcastle which was this really tiny pub…It just had one little back room that was very rarely used, a kind of function room. We just used to set up the PA there on Friday nights and all our friends would come and eventually it grew and grew and grew and it was absolutely packed out and it became the only kind of real non-mainstream night in Newcastle in the late 1970’s.
JZ: After Pel Mel started doing stuff in Newcastle around that time and people started coming, did more bands start snowballing from there?
T: Not really, there was one other kind of…sort of quasi-new wave type band but we didn’t really kind of like them.
JZ: Was that the Swami Binton people?
T: No, that was long after. They were like the younger brothers of all my friends (laughs). No, there was this band X-Factor that started up that were like a new-wave covers band and they used to play in pubs and wear safety pins through their nose and stuff but it was pretty laughable but no…there was no other real bands. The reason The Limp began was that Pel Mel got sick of having to play all night as there was no support bands so they’d do three sets and they didn’t have enough songs so they’d have to do a lot covers and they were sick of being on stage all night with one bands repertoire, so my sisters and I and Dave Weston, who was the drummer of Pel Mel, formed this splinter band to support Pel Mel.
JZ: What sort of music was The Limp trying to emulate or taking points from?
T: I suppose Pel Mel were a bit more poppy and a bit more new wavey so from day one we were a bit more left of field…we would have been listening, by 1979, to post-punk stuff then, so it would’ve been all kind of English Factory records and American no-wave stuff.
JZ: I’ve seen set lists of yours and I noticed you did covers off No New York.
T: That was a really big album for us…especially for Mars, we were really hooked on that band. That super minimal, eerie sort of slightly alien sound that they get, scratchy guitar and tribal drumming…It was really the kind of early Limp sound really…that was the closest thing we’d ever heard to what we really liked playing around with.
JAMES VINCEGUERRA: How’d you come to hear that compilation?
T: Well I had it…we went out and bought it…we read reviews of it.
JV: So it was readily available?
T: Yeah. Every time we were in Sydney we would go immediately to import record shops and comb their racks and cart records back to Newcastle, people would give you money to buy records when you were in Sydney.
JZ: So I guess, even though I know you already said that nothing was going on in Newcastle at the time…why did you move from Newcastle to Sydney? Was there anything specifically why you decided to move?
T: Well it was really Pel Mel…I mean we would have moved anyway to get jobs, and once I finished university I was never going to stay in Newcastle but the reason the bands moved was because Pel Mel started to get interest outside of Newcastle and they got sick of playing The Grand and the art school and the university and the few other venues. Judy and Graeme [Dunne], who were the main sort of stays of Pel Mel, moved down to Sydney in 1980 and eventually, not long after, the rest of Pel Mel went down there and so The Limp was kind of on-hold for a while. Then I moved down there after a while, in the end of 1980, and we kept playing in Sydney. The main reason was Pel Mel were getting offers to play in Sydney pubs and record with Double JJ…and tour around and go to Melbourne and stuff like that – so they wanted to move to Sydney.
JZ: Before you moved to Sydney did you have much contact or awareness of what was going on in Sydney, the local scene there?
T: Yeah, because we’d been coming down a lot to go to The Grand Hotel and the Sussex and Fun House…then almost immediately we started coming to Sydney and playing places like that – this is a bit later on from that but …other kinds of pubs and clubs in Sydney, just coming down for one weekend and playing one gig and going back, we started to meet people and bands started to be put on our bills we started to meet and…by the time we moved down there we started to know people in other bands and I moved into a house with a whole bunch of people that wound up in those small band’s. Lindsay[O’Meara, of Voigt/465] who was later in Pel Mel and who was in a lot of those bands. Angie Plevey, she was very close friends with Phil Turnbull [of Voigt/465] and Gordon Renouf [The Slugfuckers] who was the bass player… I was living in Surry Hills, Dave was living in another house on Commonwealth Street, Judy and Graeme were living in Redfern, my sister Jane was living in Redfern too,..that was how it kind of happened.
JZ: Once you moved to Sydney…was there many people coming to your shows? What was the audience like?
T: The Limp were always supporting somebody so we would have been on either the bill with Pel Mel or the little bands like Wild West and The Dead Travel Fast and the Slugfuckers – so yeah there was an audience (laughs) you’d be surprised, the weirdo music scene was prospering. Some really big shows we played at the Parish Hall, would’ve been a couple of hundred people coming to that gig…Sideways, which was some kind of youth community centre, there was a very big show there with ten bands which would’ve been absolutely packed…There was quite an audience at that time for those kind of gigs
JZ: What was Primate Records? They released both the Limp and Pel Mel.
T: It was just us, it was just Judy and me
JZ: Did the 7”s sell well at the time?
T: I suppose we just sold out whatever it was we made – I don’t even remember – we used to go get them manufactured in those days – you could go to a record plant – you could actually take your tapes – I do remember going to get the singles mastered in Paddington and then you would take those stampers to this record plant and they would deliver to you 500 or a 1000 7”s in little paper sleeves and you’d stick them in the printed sleeves…it was real home industry sort of stuff but I’m sure it would have only been 500 or 1000 or a couple of thousand of a single
JZ: Couple of 1000 – that’s a lot…
T: Maybe it wasn’t that – maybe it was 500…
JZ: Just from reading things about that era – a lot of y’know, even no wave bands pressed up huge quantities of records compared to today. Did it seem like there was more of an audience?
T: People bought singles in those days and you could get them into record stores and we didn’t have a distributor – we’d just go around to the five stores in Australia that sold indie records and so there was one in Brisbane, three in Melbourne, three in Sydney, and one in Adelaide and one in Perth and that was it really. You had to get them there yourself so we had to mail them off to other states. Pel Mel used to go visit record shops when they were on tour and do interviews to promote it and that was all you did. Pel Mel only had that one single independent – once they got on Gap Records that was all done by the record company – they had EMI or someone distributing them..
JZ: Did Primate do anything except for those two 7”s?
T: No, that was just us putting out singles.
JZ: How important was Double JJ at the time for your listening habits?
T: Very, very important. We’d sort of been listening to Double JJ since it started…it’s completely different feel to what it is today – there’s a very fixed sound of the station but back in those days it was very DJ by DJ, seeming to have their completely own radio show and play list and so you just dispensed with two thirds of the DJ’s because you didn’t like what they played and you just listened to the shows that worked for you. They were also very important in that they did a lot of live to airs, and they did recording sessions –they recorded ‘No Word From China’ for Pel Mel – they did a live to air from Sydney uni with Pel Mel and they had recorded Radio Birdman and fantastic things we’d taped off the radio so they were a really big part of feeding into giving indie bands exposure. People like Stuart Matchett, who in those days was the young backroom radio producer, really slogged it out trying to find out and help bands like Pel Mel. They were a big influence and big help.
JZ: In Sydney, at the time, there was that big rock and rolly, Detroity, Radio Birdman thing and there was the more “arty” M-Squared scene, was there much interaction between the two?
T: Oh no, completely different worlds. I mean we’d gone to Radio Birdman gigs in Sydney and Newcastle, and Detroit bands used to tour – they were great and I’d love them but once we moved to Sydney…it was sort of the end of it by then…third generation Detroit bands were around and they weren’t as good and it had become a bit of a tough mainstream scene by that stage – Lipstick Killers and people like that. It wasn’t really the same thing anymore by the early 1980’s is my feeling. Maybe our tastes had moved on a bit as well. We were less Iggy Pop and more Talking Heads…and fashion changed so quickly in those days…Melbourne had this really good experimental culture…people like Tch Tch Tch, Clifton Hill stuff, Equal Local. Those bands where so out-there in their days – I remember the first time I had seen Equal Local play – I’ve never heard anything like this – it’s like a new genre being invented. Especially hearing it live…they could pull it off. Whirlywirld, I saw them once, I just didn’t know where it had come from. It was a whole bit of a lot of different things put in the one band.
JZ: I think the funny thing about Whirlywirld is that…Ollie Olsen used to work in a import record store in the 1970’s before punk…you can hear a lot of that German progressive stuff in it. People talk about punk being year zero but…
T: It never felt like that…a lot of the stuff you listened to before punk was even more relevant once punk had sort of happened and…you just didn’t go and abandon it all, abandon electronic music – it just wasn’t like it, it just kept on digging into that stuff and finding more and more, so on one hand you’d listen to screechy things like The Heartbreakers and the next record that’d go on the turntable was Neu! or Eno and Cluster.
JZ: In what ways did the Limp sound evolve over time?
T: Well…unlike someone like Pel Mel, because they were more song writing oriented, and more aiming for a wider audience and using good song writing and good playing, The Limp really just devolved where it suited us. Whatever the last thing that sounded interesting. The first era of The Limp with David Whittaker as the bas player, who was the non-bass player…was really just very, very, deliberately primitive no-wave, drone kind of rock music. Very quickly The Limp developed out of that into these kind of more open ended improvised sort of longer songs with just spiralling looping kind of playing and that’s the middle sort of era of The Limp I suppose…and then by the time we moved to Sydney and especially by the time we had gotten Graeme Dunne as the bass player we started doing funkier songs and more poppy …almost like a completely different band. If you go back to the beginning, Mars covers, and you compare it to the songs we recorded at Double J it’s like a different band – tight and funky and quite melodic. It was the evolution of the time I suppose.
JV: Can you tell me about how you, when you got to that final stage of The Limp - what happened leading up to you guys not making music anymore?
T: Well what really happened was that we’re all young and basically everyone was saving their money to go overseas, so one by one people went overseas and the final killing of The Limp was me going overseas. Glenn Nelson, who’d been in The Limp and had sung on the last line up of The Limp – and had also played keyboards for quite a while, he’d gone to England during 1982 and I was then the last person to go, my sister Jane had already gone long before that and so when I left…Pel Mel kept playing and put out their second album when I was overseas and so by the time I came back from overseas in 1984 there was no real interest in reforming or reviving it.
JV: I guess around that time a lot of those bands still were going, M Squared etc. How had the scene evolved – where was it at that point?
T: 1984? By 1984 it seemed like the smaller bands scene had fallen away a fair bit and Pel Mel were playing…they used to tour with Mondo Rock and people like that…and that was the next step up really in those days, kind of mainstream acts. The small bands in the inner city – there was much less of them and we were kind of less interested in them – there wasn’t as many of our friends playing around and the bands that were around weren’t as good and I was a bit jaded as I had been in London…so coming back here it seemed really kind of stale in comparison…it had probably peaked by certainly 1984 though Mitch and the guys at M Squared were still recording, I’m sure Scattered Order where still playing and those guys, we would’ve gone to gigs of theirs …all those long running bands that had gotten to a certain point where still around but the smaller ones had fallen away.
(Originally published in Mountain Fold magazine, Vol. 1, Is. 4 - 2010)