What it was like to manage TISM in the 1980s
20.07.2021

What it was like to manage TISM in the 1980s

By Gavan Purdy; as told to August Billy

Former TISM manager Gavan Purdy takes us on a trip down memory lane, telling of how he first came across the band in 1984 and the relationship that eventuated from there.

Australia’s premier iconoclasts TISM are in the midst of a comprehensive reissue campaign, unearthing much-loved bootleg recordings and rarities via the DRW Entertainment label.

The latest instalment includes a vinyl pressing of the band’s very first demo tape, ‘This Is Serious Mum’, which was recorded to cassette in 1984. There’s also ‘Punt Road’, a 1987 rehearsal recording captured ahead of the single release of ’40 Years – Then Death’.

The artwork for the 1984 demo tape features a hand-written note addressed to Melbourne music professional Gavan Purdy, who would soon become TISM’s manager. Here, Purdy tells the story of finding the tape on his desk and what it was like to work with TISM in the mid-to-late-‘80s.

For the record, the note in question said, “Dear Gavan, we are The Beatles. You could be Brian Epstein. This Is Serious Mum”.

Purdy: I was one of those people who got drawn into the music in this city by stumbling across Triple R. That completely opened up this new world to me of the music that was going on. I was going out to see bands every night of the week and buying all the records and that segued into me doing a radio show on Triple R [titled Can You Dig It].

One of the seminal people for the scene in Melbourne at that time was Bruce Milne, who had a label in Melbourne called Au Go Go Records. He connected with me through Triple R and said he’d like to do a compilation album for Au Go Go. A couple of the acts on the record – which was called Asleep At the Wheel ­– were Painters & Dockers and the Huxton Creepers. They were represented by an agency called Vamp, and then I was asked to go and work at Vamp, so I jumped at that.

One day when I was working at Vamp, I’d gone out to grab a bite to eat and when I came back there was this tape on my desk from a band called This Is Serious Mum. I played it and thought it was really good, but each time I played it, I just got more into it.

Keep up with the latest music interviews, news and reviews here.

Some people would call TISM a parody, but I never really heard it like that, because musically they weren’t. Lyrically it was pretty clever and the humour was a big part of it and certainly that got me at the start, but the music was pretty electro-punk or something. It was exciting – really new and something different.

Around that time, TISM had won a battle of the bands that Triple R had put on. The PA blew up while TISM were playing and there was no power. With a lot of groups when things like that happen, they just can’t really deal with it. But when it happened with them, they went into one of their dance routines and they blew everyone away and won all these fans at Triple R.

My initial dealings were primarily with [TISM members] Ron Hitler-Barassi and Humphrey B. Flaubert. What I learnt getting to know them, even though they had not really even done anything at this point, they had already created this amazing history. So they were doing all the things that a functioning band would do: rehearsing, writing songs, producing the tracks, but they just weren’t putting them out.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by TISM (@this.is.serious.mum)

They were all super into it and they were into exploring what could happen with the band, but it wasn’t like they were depending on the band to get up in the morning. They all had burgeoning careers in different professions, all university educated, but they were really good friends and they were doing what they thought was fun.

The reference point at that time was The Birthday Party and Nick Cave. That had a really big influence over Melbourne, stylistically, fashion-wise; it was massive. But that cool factor, TISM saw themselves more as daggy people who couldn’t be that. That’s definitely a big part of hiding the identities.

It just happened that what they were doing was actually very good. So when it was a little bit more out in the public sphere and they were doing proper gigs, it just blew people away. It was just really powerful, what they did.

The first gig I saw them play was at The Tote on a Tuesday night. They already had a vibe – there was probably 100 people in the room. I’d listened to that tape so many times and I’d just fallen in love with ‘Defecate On My Face’. It’s such an amazing song. So I said, “I’ll put that out, if you want to?” They were up for it and it just sort of rolled on from there.

Get your hands on the This Is Serious Mum and Punt Road records here.