This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 155 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
Australian rock music has had many “heroes”, but the man and the music I have pulled from the crate this week for an Australian album review, possibly remains as one of “the”, if not “the”, true icons of Australian Rock ‘n Roll.
The artist is Billy Thorpe who on this album was solo, although supported and assisted by friends and fellow musicians.
The CD album is the 2010 Tangier, which was sadly the last album ever recorded by Billy Thorpe. Released through Sony Music it has the code 88697762602 and has 10 tracks.
The story of Billy Thorpe really is, the story of the second-wave of Australian home-grown rock idols.
With the likes of Johnny O’Keefe having paved the way, Australian audiences began to not just accept, but idolise their home-grown stars.
While starting strongly few would have guessed just how big he would have become.
Born in March of 1946 in the UK, he arrived in Australia with his parents in 1955.
After a short stint in Melbourne they moved to Queensland and by the age of ten, Billy was on Queensland TV singing and playing guitar.
In 1963 Billy moved to Sydney and hooked up with a surf music group – The Aztecs.
In 1964 the first recording by the Aztecs featuring Billy as lead singer was released, and that was the well received Poison Ivy, which made the number 1 spot in Sydney and heralded a series of TV appearances and further singles.
In 1967 the Aztecs broke up and Billy started his first stint as a solo artist but in August 1968 he moved to Melbourne and formed Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs.
It was a mixed time for Billy and financially difficult, however with the addition of “super-star” guitarist, Lobby Loyde and with his encouragement, and new hard and loud Aztecs were formed and they quickly became the premier heavy rock outfit.
In 1972 the group really headlined the now famous Sunbury Pop Festival, and that cemented Billy Thorpe as one of our all time rock heroes.
There was great success during this time and Billy scored a role in the local production of Tommy. Then after more line-up changes, Billy broke up the Aztecs.
The year was 1975. Billy went solo again and reached the shores of the US in 1976 and recorded some great material including the fantastic album Children Of The Sun, and the track by the same name hit a sympathetic note in audiences.
He continued to record and play throughout the US and Canada.
To everyone’s amazement, he gave up playing in 1984 and formed an electronics consulting business. However music was never far away and in 1986 he had his own recording and production studio in LA, which turned out some memorable work.
In 1990 along with Mick Fleetwood, he formed a group called The Zoo which released both singles and an album.
In 1991 he toured Australia with the band and while here, was inducted into the Aria Hall of Fame.
In 1993 another version of the Aztecs featuring Billy was formed and they toured and released the box set – Lock Up Your Mothers in 1994.
In 1996 Thorpe formed the Billy Thorpe Band and over the next six years toured and played to adoring fans.
Then in 2006 he commenced work on his “opus” – Tangier, although really the groundwork started much earlier.
TANGIER started out as much more than just a music project for Billy. It began as a family affair.
In the year 2000, on the insistence of a close friend, Billy decided to take Lynn, his wife and life partner of over three decades, to Morocco with a group of their closest friends to celebrate her 50th birthday.
Billy himself would describe the experience as the “most amazing time I’ve had in all of my life.”
“The whole Moroccan thing was very much an experience for Bill, Lynn and his family together,” says Jack Thompson, who voices the role of the narrator on the TANGIER tracks “A River Knows” and “In A New World”.
“And it’s an expression of that, of his life opening up in particular way. ” [Mushroom Music Publishing]
Billy wrote of the project, “While sitting in a 2000-year-old house in the Kasbah in Tangier, Morocco, that May, the sounds that gave birth to my current work in progress, Tangier, came floating up from the Kasbah and through an ancient window like a dream, something called me that day and it won’t let go.”
Michael Chugg described it as an Arabic rock fusion concept album with a peaceful message.
“We were in Morocco with Billy and his wife Lynne about five years ago,” Chugg said.“For Lynn’s 50th birthday, he arranged to throw a surprise party and he flew his daughters in and he organised a section of the Royal Moroccan Orchestra to play.
None of them could speak English, he couldn’t speak Moroccan, but it was magic, and it all took off from there.”
Although Billy passed away before the album could be finished [sadly Thorpie died on 28 February 2007 having suffered a massive heart attack], but through the efforts of many close friends the project was brought to a conclusion.
None were any more important than Lynn Thorpe.
Lynne married Billy in 1971 and you only have to read books like Thorpe’s autobiography, Most People I Know, to understand that the relationship had its ups and downs, but in the end was passionate and enduring.
Lynne Thorpe did much to make sure this music project was finished and it is a testament to her, Billy, and his friends that we are left with an amazing last piece of work.
It is somewhat stunning to realise that it was ten years ago that the album was released!
While naturally loaded with superlatives, the piece of writing put out by Mushroom Records to describe the project is worth repeating.
“TANGIER is a hypnotic, beautiful, bewildering musical trip.
Prepare to be swept away on an aural journey like no other, bringing together dozens of musicians from different cultures, orchestras, choirs, epic symphonic pieces from another time and place, otherworldly sounds and rhythms, rock jams, funk outs, unforgettable ballads.
Centre stage in this musical maelstrom is the unmistakable voice and spirit of the irrepressible and visionary Billy Thorpe.”
The Mushroom press goes onto say: “Following Billie’s death, it was Amanda Pelman who began the drive to get TANGIER completed“.
When Billy shuffled off his mortal coil, we never questioned completing TANGIER as a duty of care to our friend,” says Amanda. “I said to Chuggi the only way to do this is to forensically go through everything that’s in the studio.”
With Chuggi’s financial backing, the exhaustive and emotional process was undertaken to trawl through all of Billy’s studio hard-drives to see exactly what had been captured.
There were literally hundreds of takes, arrangements, different vocals – seven years worth of recording which took nine months to analyse.
ARIA Award-winning producer Daniel Denholm was brought in to pull all the pieces together. Daniel, a celebrated composer and arranger in his own right, set about reconstructing Billy’s vision.
More extraordinary multinational players from around Australia and the world were brought into the mix.
Among them, the great Mick Fleetwood, Billy Thorpe’s former band mate in the early- ’90s LA rock outfit, The Zoo.
“I played on about three or four songs on TANGIER,” says Mick. “It was very haunting and meaningful for me, sitting alone in the studio with Bill coming through the speakers. I spent three or four days over-dubbing, just me and Bill.
That was a trip. “Billy had told me about his connection in Morocco, how he’d been working on ideas for long time.
I felt so much a part of what he was doing and I understood it and it was an honour for me to do that.”
Other guest performers on TANGIER include Egypt’s Tawadros brothers, Venezuelan-born flautist Pedro Eustache, Sydney violinist Richard Tognetti, as well as Australian singers Vanessa Amorosi, Brian Cadd, Connie Mitchell, Ian Moss and Melinda Schneider.
“I’m sure Billy would be proud of what we’ve done and that it’s finally coming out,” says Daniel Denholm. “For anyone to express themselves in the way he has done is no small feat. And thank God there was such great support from Billy’s family and [executive producers] Michael Chugg and Amanda Pelman, to give me the opportunity to pull it off.
It was a very special time and it was an honour to be given that responsibility to finish Billy’s work.”
The CD itself has a beautiful full colour picture depicting the moon rising over the desert of Morocco, which as the gateway to Africa has always held fascination and been full of exotic stories.
The accompanying booklet is 8 double sided pages in full gloss colour containing “snaps” of shots depicting life in Tangier and providing us with the lyrics to all the songs.
The final inside cover is a full and comprehensive listing of everyone associated with the project, and the centre is a double page picture of the dessert with a traveler on a camel being transfixed by the rising moon and a couple of paragraphs from Billy on his experience in Tangier.
So it’s time to visit or re-visit, the music.
1 Marrakesh 4:54
2 A River Knows 4:25
3 Since You’ve Been Gone 5:28
4 Gypsy 5:05
5 Tangier 5:17
6 Fatima 7:14
7 Long Time 4:49
8 In a New World 4:45
9 We Will Be There 3:07
10 Out of Here 4:41
Let’s start with the albums “calling card” – track 1: Marrakesh.
Immediately from the first note we are transported to this ancient African country as a range of traditional string and percussive instruments kick the track off, quickly supplemented by a gentle wash from the more traditional western orchestra.
In kicks Billy’s voice and the hair stands up on the back of my neck.
This track is a brilliant opening to the album, as the story vacillates between the beauty of Tangier and the harsh reality of New York, as provided by a “radio” breakthrough broadcast of what is happening in New York.
It doesn’t take long to realise that this is a new face of Billy Thorpe.
If we want to hear hard rock, then on this occasion we go elsewhere. This is because what we are getting is something that is quite beautiful and haunting.
Now when I say we are not getting “hard rock” that doesn’t mean there is no power in this track, oh there is!
This is mostly provided by the short staccato “power” guitar as well as the sheer strength of the playing of all involved, along with the mix of traditional and modern instrumentation and orchestration that fills our ears and soul.
It was simply impossible to bypass track 2 – A River Knows.
I thought having listened to track 1 that it would be probably be my favourite, but when track 2 commenced it reached out and grabbed me by the throat.
We find a brilliant percussion opening supplemented with flute, but then, we are seduced by the drumming, until we are awoken with the voice of Jack Thompson narrating a story over the drums.
Born on wings of feathers gold
Sunlight dreams a crimson morning
A secret kept, a vow unbroken
The phoenix rises without warning…….
This approach is very effective but would have become boring if left at this stage, but no concerns here because if there was one thing Billy was not, it was boring.
In comes a definite statement from a guitar, understated at first, as Billy sings behind Jack’s narration –
A River knows when rain is falling
A new born baby softly crying
A river knows when rain is falling
Then in comes a really, really beautiful guitar line. I wish I could tell who was responsible.
Then the musical hook of this piece is developed out with strings and other instruments.
The production and engineering really stands out in this track, instrument placement has absolutely spot on, and differentiation between the various instruments is outstanding. It builds and builds into a majestic piece with Billy and the producers allowing the musicians to shine while Billy supplements the musical story with his subtle vocal lines.
What an amazing track!
A River Knows
Track 3 – Since You’ve been Gone, is far more a “traditional” Billy Thorpe type track. It starts with and heavily features guitar, bass and drums and Billy’s vocals, of course. A beautiful ballad I could see it being sung by someone else in tribute to Billy!
Track 4 is Gypsy.
It commences with a traditional flamenco style of playing, and the theme is picked up and carried by a traditional instruments in a gentle style until around 2 minutes when the pace picks up and the orchestration enriches with a full on selection of traditional and conventional instruments.
It is an instrumental and moves along and entertains again proving, that vocals are not necessary for a track to be complete.
It would be hard to move past track 5 without a comment as it is the “feature track”, inasmuch as it shares the same name as the album – Tangier.
Again the lush richness of of traditional instruments dominate the track, but don’t overwhelm it.
Billy’s voice is simply extraordinary in this amazing production. The track picks up a theme of Marrakesh as again we have that “radio voice” reporting back on what is happening in New York – a harsh picture of what can be a harsh city.
In the meantime Billy and the musicians create a real “sonic casbah” that is utterly impossible not to become involved in and suggests that this track, Midnight in Tangiers, is indeed mystical, magical and a delightful place.
Quite at odds with the New York “scene”!
At this point I voice my one criticism of the booklet – it would have been fantastic to have has some idea of who was playing what instrument on what track.
Sure all musicians are listed but with the guitar and drums (conventional kit) being an utter treat on this track in particular, I’d like to know “who” is playing what!
We are privy to knowing that the bass was played by Ian Moss but really, I wanted more.
Fatima – track 6, is an honest to god “rocker”.
We have new found music spirit that had both captured Thorpie and in turn was being “channeled by him through the track.
It’s almost impossible not to want to dance to this track – in fact it IS one of those tracks where if your feet aren’t tapping it must be because they are either nailed to the floor, or, you’re dead!
At over 7 minutes in length it is perfect for the dance floor
We love the way “Fatima” bangs her tambourine in this track and we love the energy of the playing. Billy’s voice is just perfect for this track, and why not he wrote it and it just reeks of his style of delivery. The imagery is wonderful, I mean here is an example of the lyrics:
“As the last veil hit the floor
Big Albert rolled
Right through that door
Like a truck“
The funky mix of traditional rock band sounds with the subtle strings and other non-conventional rock instrumentation is perfect – I say it again – this track really rocks!
Then! Just as you are engulfed in power music, at 6:34 it breaks into a beautiful acoustic refrain to see the track out.
Track #7 is Long Time.
It is another instrumental track that moves between good uptempo rock and lush orchestral interludes all awash with a North African flavour.
If it were a meal on a menu, you would be sated after eating!
Track 8 – In A New World is a dead set opening movie theme!
Commencing with drum rolls and crashing gongs and beautifully arranged strings, it would not be out of place at in any setting demanding gentle and evocative music, because that is what it is.
But Billy loves surprising us and as we settle into a gentle melodic interplay of the instruments, the tempo picks up and the voice of Jack Thompson again comes in to tell the story – it might just be the story of the love between Billy and Lynn!
The penultimate track is We Will Be There – and it drops in – demanding silence, demanding attention.
Using an Acapella opening by Billy supplemented by a set of wonderful backing voices, it is superb.
The feature IS Billy’s vocals and the music sits quietly in the background simply providing a gentle bed for his vocals to rest upon.
If you want to hear some superb engineering and production go no further.
Reverb is such an overused process, and often is used to “hide” what should be hidden. Congratulations to those involved in the final production, you have used your reverb wisely and effectively!
This brings us to the final track – track 10: Out Of Here.
Starting with rolling acoustic guitar and subtle cymbals Billy sings to us in his magnificent ballad style.
To be honest, there is nothing “North African” about this track. But, we don’t care!
What we are now being exposed to seriously good Billy Thorpe, and in a strange and wonderful way, it is perfect – because we have stripped away all the the beautiful and colourful veils (just like Fatima), and we are left with a “naked” Billy Thorpe to finish off this album.
The track builds in pace and intensity and Billy tells his final story of his “Tangier” experience and yet, in context with everything we hear leading to the end of the CD, this track is actually understated.
There are no exotic “native’ instruments and soaring strings – but yet it just seems right. It is a reflection of not just a journey, but of Billy!
Can you come as you are
We’ll watch the stars appear
We will shine like a sun
You come as you are
We watch the stars
I just wanna go home
I just wanna go home
I just wanna go home
Out Of Here
We do win Billy Thorpe.
We win because you have left us a beautiful legacy in this album, but, you won as well.
You did shine like a sun, and not just in “Tangier”, but all over Australia. You came home to us forever.
The list of those involved is really, who’s who!
Billy Thorpe – Arranger, Composer, Drums, Guitar, Percussion, Primary Artist, Producer, Quotation Author, Vocals
Dai Pritchard – Guitar
Dario Bortolin – Bass
Joe Accaria, Paul DeMarco, Mark Kennedy, Moustafa Serange, Hamish Stuart, James Tawadros, Bree Van Reyke, Mick Fleetwood – Drums, Percussions
Rob Shannon – Tabla
Denis Simsek – Darabukka
Mohamed Al Alaoui, Joseph Tawadros – Ouds
Veronique Serret – Leader, Orchestra Contractor, Violin
Richard Tognetti – Soloist, Violin
Anna Albert, Julia Broom, Caron Chan, Brielle Clapson, Sophie Cole, Alice Evans, Andrew Evans, Mariana Green, Victoria Jacono, Belinda Jezek, Narine Melconian, Michele O’Young, Leigh Middenway, Oliver Miller, Airena Nakamura, Mirabai Peart, Jennifer Taylor, Natsuko Yoshimoto, Stephanie Zarka, Alexandra Mitchell, Thomas Dethlefs – Violins
Nicole Divall, James Eccles, Stephen King, Christopher Moore – Violas
Melissa Barnard, Leah Lynn, Julian Thompson, Timo-Veikko Valve, Adrian Wallis – Cellos
Nigel Crocker, Brett Page, Dave Panichi, Gregory Van Der Struik, Warwick Tyrrell – Trombones
Adam Malone, Paul Panichi, Simon Sweeney – Trumpets
Euan Harvey, Ben Jacks, Marnie Sebire – French Horns
Ian Moss – Guest Artist, Guitar (Electric), Vocals
Melinda Schneider, Brian Cadd, Connie Mitchell, Vanessa Amorosi – Guest Artists, Vocals
Shauna Jensen, Maggie McKinney – Vocals (Background)
Graham Jesse – Sax (Soprano)
Ngaire De Korte – Cor Anglais, Oboe
Lachlan Doley – Clavinet, Organ (Hammond)
Pedro Eustache – Flute, Nai
Haydn Mackay – Flute, Piccolo
Steve Fitzmaurice – Sax (Tenor)
Jack Thompson – Narrator
Ashley Irwin – Orchestration, Score Preparation
James K. Lee – Score Preparation
Jackie Orasacky – Orchestration, Arranger, Bass
Tim Palmer – Mixing
Amanda Pelman, Michael Chugg – Executive Producers
Brent Clark, Greg Clarke, Lynn Peterson, Lachlan Mitchell – Engineers
Daniel Denholm – Engineer, Orchestration, Producer, Score Preparation
Julie Simonds – Score Preparation
Lynn Thorpe – Photography
In 2011 Tangier became the first ever ARIA album to be awarded posthumously, at which Lynn Thorpe urged her husband too “keep rocking in heaven”.
As an album it most certainly stands out, and as a Billy Thorpe album, while we might be greatly saddened that it is his last work, we can be ecstatic that it is a wonderfully crafted piece of work befitting his legacy.
To all the naysayers who said he had nothing left and the reviewers who complained that it was an “over the top” set of works that had too many people fiddling, all I can say is crawl back into your collective boxes.
As Lynn Thorpe commented in so many words during an interview, even in its rawest form it was magnificent.
What his friends and colleagues have done after his death is to have polished this gem until it truly shines like the moon over the Moroccan desert!
My penultimate comment is back to a few reviewers who moaned and complained that the album was over-produced, over-tinkered, that it contains “clunkers” and on and on!
OK, the job of a reviewer is to listen to the music, to understand what the artist is communicating, to make a judgement of its quality, to find the points of commonality that listeners will be drawn to, and to be honest.
I guess these “guys’ will claim they were being “honest”!
Well, in my very honest opinion, I think they either spent little time listening (probably a quick once through play), or, they just want to be “contentious” for the sake of the “talk”!
This album is an absolute must for collectors of Australian music, Billy Thorpe fans, audiophiles, lovers of crossover world music and quite frankly, anyone who wants to be taken on a journey of music and imagination.
Vale Billy Thorpe – you were a “rocker” with a deep soul, and this album proves it!
Finally, to do the music justice I have provided full tracks, and, I ask that you “don’t steal this music“.
Royalties and sales are hard enough to garner for Australian artists, and I’m sure Lynn and her family would appreciate you purchasing this rather than just stealing it.
There are of course just so many videos of Billy Thorpe on Youtube. But I have chosen three that are particularly relevant to this album and this review.
Official promo clip
Billy Thorpe – Tangier clip (It is worth the 30 second of advert to see this)
A tribute to Billy and Tangier and the journey
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.