Stillpoint was recorded in 1973 in just six days and has a wonderful feel of immediacy.(Classic Rock Music)
We listen back over 40 years later and applaud their desire to make a mark on Australian music that was different to what others around them were doing.”(This review)

This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

Time to pull another Aussie album from the Crate, and this week and when this album came out, it caused a little stir, with some saying it was a mighty progressive album, and others saying it was full of “fillers”. Personally, I believe that overall is was groundbreaking in it’s particular genre.

The group is Madder Lake and this is a vinyl album and is titled – Stillpoint. It was released on the Mushroom Records in 1973 and has the identifying code of MRL 34915. It only has 7 tracks. It was rereleased on CD in 2009 by Aztec Records.

Madder Lake has its genesis with 2 young students at what was then, Swinburne Institute of Technology and were playing in their band, San Sebastion in and around Melbourne, with limited success.

Originally a covers band, some time between mutating from San Sebastian to Madder Lake, they began to introduce original compositions, being switched on enough to recognise that strictly covers bands had limited appeal, and lifespan.

With the rise and rise of a new wave of British progressive rock music, the guys were particularly drawn toward groups such asTraffic and King Crimson and by late 1970 the decision was made to become known as Madder Lake. The term is most widely interpreted as being a crimson based special water paint – but in the growing “head sub-culture”, it was seen as a reference to alternative psychedelia – and certainly the names of the tracks that quickly followed in the next year or so, seemed to reinforce this.

Early Madder Lake, late 1970

This form of the group saw Mick Fettes on vocals, Jack Kreemers on drums, Brendan Mason on guitar, Kerry McKenna on bass and John McKinnon on keyboards. With Melbourne based Michael Gudinski looking out for new acts to present to the public in this developing music genre, and Madder Lake looking to establish themselves wider than pubs, the match was made and by 1973 following them being they were the opening act at the inaugural 1972 Sunbury Pop Festival, they became the headline act!

In February of that year they released their first single with the unlikely title of Goodbye Lollypop, which struck a chord in the groups growing band of followers and it went to number 15 in Melbourne and cracked the top 40 Australian singles chart. Things were rocketing along for the group and they supported the Rolling Stones at their Melbourne concerts at the Kooyong Tennis Centre.

Supporting the Stones

In April ’73 Mushroom released their classic debut album, Stillpoint. This album was recorded at TCS Studios in January and March and produced by John French. It was another breakthrough success for the band and provided Mushroom with their first gold record. It reached #11 nationally and #2 in Melbourne, where they had become one of the top live draws. The album is beautifully framed by Drak’s wonderful cover illustration, which complemented the music in much the same way as Roger Dean’s famous covers for Yes. The distinctive Madder Lake logo, designed by Ian McCausland, completed the package.

In August another track from Stillpoint was released, and it showed the group had lost non of their penchant for evocative names, one being 12 Lb Toothbrush, which fast became one of the groups most recogniseable tracks. By this time John McKinnon had been replaced by Andy Cowan, in what would be the first of quite a few membership lineup changes over the next few years.

Madder Lake photo to promote Stillpoint

In 1974 the group released its second album – Butterfly Farm. It was received with far less enthusiasm and it seems that significant momentum had been lost and in fact by 1976, after more membership changes, the band didn’t fold as much as go into a hiatus, in fact over the years several hiatus’s and it was in 1975 that many believe the real “crunch” came.

According to the Madder Lake website – “Madder Lake returned to Melbourne and leaped into the project, drastically curtailing live gigs (and thus their income). Through a friend, they were able to use an empty pub in the dockland area of Port Melbourne as a regular base in which to write, arrange and rehearse the new music. They made several tapes for the project, including a full preliminary demo made on 4-track at the ABC studios in Perth. It’s not known if these ABC tapes have survived, but the band at least do have a cassette copy (although the quality is necessarily limited). Around 90 minutes of songs and linking music was composed, a rough set of working lyrics had been written, and according to Mick the project was more than ready to hand over to Measham for the next stage, the orchestral arrangements .

Unfortunately, this was the point at which Brave New World became one of the great “lost” works of Australian rock. Mushroom’s initial interesting in the project rapidly cooled, Measham’s concert commitments kept him away and as it dragged out over months, the band saw the writing on the wall, and it was eventually shelved. Because it was written to be performed as single piece, the band only ever played it live once in its entirety, although one favourite segment was preformed at gigs as a stand-alone piece for a while.

The combination of the Madder Lake’s innovative music and the Brave New World book leaves you wondering what might have been. We hope that some of the Brave New World demos will find a public release in the future, and it’s also possible that, with the advent of new computer technology, it might be possible for the group to realise the work electronically in the future.

Stung by the failure of this ambitious project, the band limped on through 1975, but the various forces acting on them were tearing the formerly close-knit group apart. Lack of record company support, financial pressure, the grind of five years’ constant gigging, internal stresses and the hazards of the rock’n’roll lifestyle were all taking their toll. As Mick ruefully observes:
“We just hit a brick wall at a million miles an hour … in those times you were just on a merry-go-round, and you just went on it in concentric circles until you reached the centre, and then it spat you out It wasn’t just us — it happened to so many people.”

Things came to a head at the end of 1975. While on a trip to Sydney, Mick Fettes, who was very much the voice and face of Madder Lake, decided he had had enough, and one night before a gig at the Bondi Lifesaver he quit the group.

The group has resurfaced several times over intervening years and reissued with bonus tracks, Stillpoint on 10 October 2008 and Butterfly Farm on 24 March 2009. Fetes who had come and gone and come and gone rejoined the band and in 2009,Madder Lake were Andy Burns on keyboards, Fettes, Kreemers, Mason and McKenna.

In 2013 they released the critically acclaimed album ‘World‘, their first album in 39 years. and in December of that year, Mick Fettes once again retired and was replaced by Ian Ferguson ex-RJSS, Carson and the Blue Dukes on lead vocals.

Group membership over the years:

  • Mick Fettes — vocals *
  • Jac Kreemers — drums *
  • Brenden Mason — guitar *
  • Kerry McKenna — bass guitar, guitar *
  • John McKinnon — keyboards, vocals *
  • Andy Cowan — keyboards, vocals
  • Ian Holding — bass guitar
  • Tony Lake — vocals
  • Colin Setches — vocals
  • Luke McKinnon — drums
  • Andy Burns — keyboards
  • Ian Ferguson — vocals

* Original members

The album was in a gatefold style and along with the front and rear covers, it has what is now an iconic left and right hand side picture frame, along with basic album details on the right hand side.

Inside covers Left and Right hand sides

Stillpoint – Track Listing

1. Salmon Song – 8:23
2. On My Way To Heaven – 4:53
3. Helper – 5:12

1. Listen To The Morning Sunshine – 5:03
2. Goodbye Lollipop – 3:37
3. A Song For Little Ernest – 4:29
4. 12 LB. Toothbrush – 6:02

Rear cover

Track 1Salmon Song reminds us immediately of the influence of bands such as Pink Floyd and King Crimson had on the boys, and, to be honest some 40+ years later it holds up well. Kicking off with a slow pulsing bass line, the track builds in intensity and has some very good “tension” and “release” moments. At times I flash on Syd Barrett and Hawkwind – but this is not to denigrate the music being played, in fact in some ways with years of separation, I can listen back and appreciate it even more now it is not in competition with these artists or the plethora of other English prog Rock groups of the time.

It is easy to see why they were so successful at the festivals of the day, and with the TF Much type crowd! Here is a an edited version of the 8 minutes 23 seconds of Salmon Song. Enjoy it as it takes you back to somme fairly “heady days”.

Salmon Song [Shorter edited version]

On My Way to Heaven is quite a boppy track, it fairly bounces along and reminds us what a good voice Fettes had! Helper,track 3, is significantly an instrumental, despite having lyrics around the mid-point. and toward the end. It may be a favourite among dedicated Madder Lake fans, but it’s not one of mine.

Turn the album over and Listen To the Morning Sunshine is the first track. You do need to get past the first minute, which is a rather over extended gentle (being kind), tedious ( being brutal) opening – but the pace picks up and although the actual lyrics will never set the world on fire, the delivery is fine and the energy of the playing is excellent. Around the 3 minute mark the tempo drops back for a nice jazz/blues short interlude, before a distorted voice jumps in and then it is a case of, “let’s power up”! Having “powered” up and got our blood rushing the track then cleverly falls into quite a catchy musical refrain. This was quite an advanced piece of Australian music for its time.

Track 2 is the track that gave them their first hit single, the one with the evocative title of Goodbye Lollipop. In many ways this track stands out from the rest because the overall sound is distinctively different. This IS a pop song! But that’s cool, and while it obviously did a lot for those who bought the single, I do find the repetitious lyrics of Goodbye Lollipop really are a let down and when you listen closely the construction of the song is not as strong as other tracks on the album!

I won’t make any fans for these comments.

Track 3 is A Song For Little Earnest. Now I like this track – a lot!

I really wish I could have found a copy of the lyrics to reprint, but the word construction is really quite good and demonstrates that the group had the ability to write good lyrics, but the strength of the piece is the music. There is some splendid guitar work and the band works hard to keep it all coherent, while interjecting weird and wonderful sounds that don’t distract but do add to the feeling of the piece.

Once again we are reminded that here is little doubt about Fettes vocal abilities – I would l have loved to have heard him sing some straight blues because I think he has an amazing voice! Oh, and I like the approach the group took the the backing harmonies, very “Who” like. Overal this is a well constructed, played and produced track that does demonstrate the qualities of the group.

A Song For Little Earnest

The final track has the honour of having (in my mind) the strangest title of the seven songs on the album. 12 LB. Toothbrush is a most excellent excellent track. The opening really does make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, with its understated power and musical emotion. Fantastic keyboard/organ work, fabulously understated but tight drumming, and some very progressive ‘space” effects for the days where even those who had synths struggled to get decent sounds, Madder Lakeshowed they were going to be the best at what they did.

12LB. Toothbrush really has so much going for it all and the fantastic, but oh so short guitar work around the 2:45 minute, is so reminiscent of Santana’s style of play, and, his ability! Yer, the lyrics aren’t going to win awards for literacy, but what they do provide does seem right and the track finishes off as it started – energetically. This is my favourite track although, I like the version on the single mix better.

12LB. Toothbrush

So, here we have one of Australia’s innovative groups, who like all that strode in Australia to be really different, like Murcepts, and even Spectrum to a degree, the group suffered from being just a little too different. I was speaking to a long standing Australian Rock artist the other day, and he commented that you don’t really make money being too innovative! He’s right!

Yes like Spectrum/Murcepts, they had singles that were successful and among their fans they were highly appreciated and loved. However in the wider Australian music market they went, largely, unnoticed. This is the price far too often paid for being different.

We listen back over 40 years later and applaud their desire to make a mark on Australian music that was different to what others around them were doing. They most certainly sit, well deserved, in my Crate and certainly are part of the Cream of that Crate.

In regards to having this album – well once again it is a MUST for collectors of Aussie music from the 1970’s, it is a must for collectors of Aussie music in general, and if you want something that is different, this should be in your collection. A copy of the original vinyl Stillpoint album is not going to be cheap. There was one copy of Ebay – $80.00 plus postage. There are multiple copies of the album on CD and strangely, the re-release with bonus live tracks is cheaper, than the CD release of the original album (no bonus tracks)!

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