Peter Black: Alive and Dangerous
25-Jul-2012 Words: Brian Giffin
Pix: Andrew Pittman
Latest release: No Dangerous Gods in Tunnel (Citadel)
On May 18 2012, while working as a taxi driver, Peter "Blackie" Black, founder and guitarist of Sydney punk legends the Hard Ons, was bashed in the head with a skateboard. In a remarkable but not wholly unsurprising community effort, family, friends and fans worldwide pitched in with donations and staged benefit shows that helped pull him through the expensive medical situation he was left in. Less than two months later, Blackie has returned to his Wednesday night residency at Sydney's Sandringham Hotel with his good friend Michele Madden and will be launching his new solo album No Dangerous Gods in Tunnel there the night this story goes online - July 25. Loud caught up with Blackie to discuss his recovery, his solo release, the Hard Ons re-issues and the support he has received getting back on track.
Are you recovering well?
It's so slow mate, that it's very frustrating. From all accounts, I'm in some ways quite lucky. I look at it that way
You're performing again. That must have been a big step.
It was. I was pretty nervous. You know, health-wise I seem to be ok except the blow to the head has given me pretty bad vertigo and dizziness affects. That's quite common. I remember the first night - because you know it's Michele, it's her residency gig that I was playing at - and she's going, "C'arn! You can do it!" Because I'd been practising at home by myself quite easily, sitting on a stool and belting away. So I thought, Yeah, fuck this shit! No worries! So the first show I did, there was a part where - you know, I'm quite a piss-poor singer so I closed my eyes to squeeze out a note and got a really bad attack of vertigo and nearly fell off the stool! [laughs] But no one noticed, and I opened my eyes and recovered quite quickly. I had to shift my bum around to get my balance back.
So the prognosis is good? You're going to get past that eventually and get back to normal?
Yeah well I have to be! You know, I have an overseas tour booked and I refuse to cancel it. And when I went and saw the last... the neurologist, they looked at my latest scan - I got some more scans done a week ago - and she said, "You know what? I really don't think flying is going to be very comfortable, but I don't think it's dangerous anymore."
That's great news man. And it must have warmed your heart when so many people came out in support of you. Even people like Jello Biafra were throwing their support behind you.
Yeah, that was incredible. I can't even begin to tell you how insane that was! It... I don'tknow, it's hard to talk about it without being sappy, but to say that it was mind-blowing is an understatement. You know, Ray (Ahn) sort of got the ball rolling... I still can't believe it actually. I'm thinking of ways of saying thank you, and I think I've come up with something that I don't want to talk about until I get it done. But I just feel like I owe everyone a huge thank you because the support has been incredible.
Well it's good that we're even able to talk to you today man. Let's move on now to the album which you've been working on for quite a long time. I remember speaking to you many years ago when you were doing your first solo album. How is this different from that?
It's different as... I think it's a lot more focused. It's a lot more... well, this one is purely acoustic. Whereas the other one was electric and I had some friends come in and play drums and stuff; this one is purely acoustic. It's how I perform them live. Um... well, it's all the things you could say about a record. [Affects a critical voice] It's more mature. It's a direction forward.
You know, with the solo thing, I kinda wanna do a few different things that I'm sort of planning over the next bunch of years. I just wanted to make a record really representative of how I do the solo stuff live. Just me and an acoustic.
When you do your solo slots, are you doing all the stuff from the album, or are you shuffling them about?
I'm shuffling them about. Some of those songs are quite old and I'm very impatient. And especially the fact that I'm doing a residency I've sort of made it a task of debuting a song each week. I get excited over new songs. I just have to play 'em. I'm playing a huge chunk of the record, but there's still some of the record actually that is very hard to play live and sing at the same time. It's a mixture.
I know that you really don't care about stuff like this, but you were mentioned recently as one of Australia's Top 50 guitar players. Did that surprise you that someone had thought to put you on that list?
Very actually. I've said this before, but my style is dazzling them with bullshit, you know? It's kinda funny to be up with guitar players who are technically fucking phenomonal. I'm like, "Oh boy, how'd I sneak in there?" But it's really nice! It's nice to be acknowledged, you know. Yadda-yadda-yadda, all that sort of thing. It is true, it's not the sort of thing I care about because I really care about music and I don't think music is like a contest and I don't need a trophy for it or anything like that. Having said that, when someone takes the time to acknowledge you for this or that, it's heart warming. It's really nice.
How are the Hard Ons re-releases shaping up? You've done one already. How is that coming along?
Really well. Me and Ray are really excited about it obviously. Just the fact that we can do something like this, because for quite some time we've had people complain about, you know, not being able to buy this or not being able to buy that. So for ages we talked about, "Man, we gotta do this one day. It's kind of not cool that people are spending a fortune on collecting this shit." We've always kind of prided ourselves on being, we call it VFM, which is Value For Money, so that's exactly what we're trying to do. We're trying to find as many bonus tracks as possible; be really representative of what the band was at any particular time. Just the fact that we can look and go, "Fucking Hell! We're getting our stuff re-issued in deluxe format! We have been around for thirty years. Fuck, we're old!"
I remember when the assault on you happened, Michele came out and talked about how you had picked her up when she was going through some bad stuff. Can you say now, that she has really done the same thing for you?
Definitely! She was very adamant into pushing me to perform again. And I was like, "I can't! I can't move my head, I can't close my eyes!" The vertigo thing is - the only way I can describe the way you feel after an attack like this is, and people who've had head injuries will know what I'm talking about, but it's like you're walking on a ship on a rough sea. It's bizarre. And other times it's like I'm ok, and I can go up and down stairs and whatever, but other times it's exactly what it feels like. Or it's like you've just stepped off the Zipper, and you're trying to walk out the gate and it's like "Fucking hell! Why is the gate moving?"
Michele was very supportive, and she's pushed me into performing perhaps quicker than I would be. Between her and Ray, it's been amazing.
Is there material in this experience for you?
Oh, I don't write that way. I don't ever write consciously. I think art should come from an unconscious place to be pure. But no doubt it's gonna effect me. The first song that I finished after all this happened - and you know, I was quite worried about if I was going to be able to do it again, because who knows what happens to you after you've had a knock up there... I was very grateful that the creativity was still there. As you can imagine it was a massive relief. Especially when I'm writing for the solo thing, you have to be very concise because in a band format you can hide behind volume and the rest of the guys, but in acoustic you can hear every word you're saying. And the first song I wrote afterwards, yeah, it definitely talks about what it's like to be - uh! - you know, stuck at home, the victim of a crime... scared what's gonna happen to you, yadda-yadda. But it's not conscious. I sort of looked at the lyrics afterwards and went, "Ah, fucking hell. This is really depressing!"
Depressing yes, but also a relief that you were actually able to do that.
Very! You can't believe... I won't admit it to anyone but when I came up with my first melody after this happened I probably shed a couple of tears of relief.
Blackie launches his album at the following shows:
25/7: Sandringham Hotel, Sydney
28/7: Islington Pharmacy, Newcastle
4/8: Music Farmers, Wollongong
9/8: Port Macquarie Hotel, Port Macquarie
10/8: SCU Bar, Lismore
11/8: Prince of Wales Hotel, Brisbane
12/8: Tym's Guitar, Brisbane
17/8: Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine
19/8: Tote Hotel, Melbourne
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