When your band is called Heaven, it stands to reason that death is going to play a big role in how your career unfolds. For the Australian 80s hard rock heroes of that name, it was not one death but two that led to their reformation, which is now in overdrive after a run of shows in the past month.
Drummer and band spokesman Joe Turtur’s day job these days is catering for rock concerts. In 2009, he found himself delivering grub for the Mick Cocks benefit show at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre. Former Rose Tattoo – and Heaven – guitarist Cocks was battling cancer at the time.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen with Mick,” said the talkative Turtur. “At the time, at Mick’s benefit, he seemed pretty good, it was pretty promising but six months later, he died.
“We were all at the funeral. That was a pretty touching moment for us. John Haese, who was the guitar player before Mick… John and Mick were very good friends (despite) the fact Mick had replaced John.
“We were all there and also our manager was there, Michael Browning, and a whole bunch of people – Jon Stevens, a whole bunch of people who were associated with the Michael Browning camp at the time. And lots of media, industry folk. Of course, all of Rose Tattoo. We get on well with all those guys, we’d done plenty of gigs with Angry and stuff. It was just a big day for us, you know? It was a realisation that we are still around, we’re still healthy, let’s do it again.”
The ephemeral nature of life was also re-enforced when Mark Evans, formerly of Heaven and a little band called AC/DC, went to Canberra for a gig around the same time. He ran into the brother of ex-Heaven guitarist, Bradford Kelly.
“He said ‘How’s Kelly?’ and he said ‘You don’t know?’ Mark said ‘Know what?’ and he said ‘Kelly died… about a year ago’.
“As it turns out, he basically went to Canberra because that’s where his family was from. He was a bit of a loner… and died of AIDS. Prior to us, when he was with Swanee, he used to shoot up quite a bit and he contracted AIDS from sharing needles. None of us knew. I don’t think he even knew when he was in Heaven that he had AIDS. I suppose we’re probably all lucky that none of us contracted it – not that there were sexual connotations in any way.”
It’s the era of reunions in Australian rock – Nick Barker and the Reptiles did the circuit a couple of weeks ago and the Baby Animals are around next week. But Turtur and his men are half a generation older than those types – and twice as determined.
Former guitarist Mitch Perry had been lined up to be part of the reformation but was recruited by Lita Ford. So Rowan Robertson of LA big rockers the DC4 has filled the breach.
“Mitch (still) very much wants to be a part of Heaven,” says Turtur. “Whether that happens later on, we just don’t know. There is some talk of us going overseas later in the year. There’s also some possibility of some more work here in December and January…”
The industry Heaven have returned to is not the one they left by heading to the States to tour with KISS, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
“The big differences are that… poker machines have been introduced into just about every pub in Australia except Western Australia,” he said.
“That has taken away, from the publican’s point of view…. why spend money on a band? ‘I’ve got poker machines, they’re bringing people in’. It’s killed the music industry, literally killed it, squashed it flat.
“The way things are today with the internet, social media, you can do a recording at home. You don’t have to go to a studio. You get a Mac… straight away you can start recording music. It’s made things a little bit more flexible for the musician but as far as live is concerned, it’s made it really, really tough.
“Everybody wants stuff for nothing…we’re like a can of soup on the shelf. The venues don’t give a damn.”
As you read this, Heaven are demoing in Adelaide. They already have a producer keen on their next album. “Then it comes down to finances,” Turtur admits. “We don’t really want to do it on the cheap, we want to do it properly, we want to do it good. It’s a matter of people coming up with the money. The way the economy is in America makes it hard for musicians to do gigs.
“Laurie (Marlow, bassist) is still going to do Black Label and I’m still going to carry on with my two businesses that I have. I do catering for big events like the Blues Fest and stuff like that. I do a couple of gigs a month.”
In that capacity, Turtur will be putting on a tea party for The Tea Party this month. His toughest rider was Grace Jones at Blues Fest – “Four dozen un-shucked oysters on a Friday and also a massive plate of sashimi and a massive plate of sushi and six ripe bananas and eight bottles of Cristal” – on Good Friday!
For a man who arrived in Los Angeles about the time Axl Rose got off the bus from Indiana, the present and the past are inextricably linked.
“It was pretty crazy,” he recalled. “It was lots of nights at the Rainbow drinking with band types like Mötley Crüe and Dio and Motörhead and becoming friends with those guys and and hanging out with the big hairdos.
“There was a helluva lot of drinking going on and there was camaraderie. There was no ‘We’re better than you’. We were accepted really good by the Americans, from an Australian point of view. We were the Aussie boys who went over there and we were going to do big things in America.
“The LA Times wrote after our first gig that we were going to be the next AC/DC of Australia, which was fantastic for us.”
There comes a time in life when it doesn’t matter that such aspirations got sidetracked somewhere. It’s good enough that when people say you’re in Heaven, they’re still talking about a rock band.