702 ABC is the mainstream "adult" ABC station. It also has a "youth station" which goes under the name of JJJ or Triple J. Triple J is an FM station. Prior to its emergence the Whitlam Government had allowed a very naughty child, "JJ" or "2JJ", to be created under the aegis of the ABC on the AM band. It was a wonderful station. With the emergence of FM radio in Australia JJ became JJJ and for many the dream died.
Many of those who had been JJ supporters stayed on, or in some cases, having followed JJ to the FM band to listen to JJJ, returned to, the AM band.
Some years ago, JJJ came up with the idea of promoting local original talent (strangely, for those of us who were around at the time of the advent of JJ, this had been part of the agenda of the original station on the AM band) and set up a concept known as "Unearthed". James Valentine, who had been a saxophone player of note during the 1980s and thereafter, and who had been the sax player for 1980/90s Aussie band "The Models" had somehow transformed himself into a radio announcer, children's author, and in the course of so doing, had found himself as the "Afternoon announcer" of 702 ABC. Whether James had the idea to cock his snoot at JJJ, or whether it was just coincidence, the arrival of "Exhumed" on the AM band of the ABC, in 2012 stood alongside "Unearthed" on the FM band.
In 2013 "Exhumed" entered into its second year. By that time, Brian Ralston had completed a recording of "Mid Life Crisis" and "Oldest Roadies On The Earth" which were, in his view, perfectly suited to the concept of the "Exhumed" competition. He checked with Lilo Blyton, who had played fiddle on a number of tracks that Brian had by then recorded, and she was prepared to be part of a "Self Tort" band to enter the "Exhumed" competition. Oldest Roadies was submitted and received an early response with James wanting to play the song and have Brian take part in a "mini-interview". The following Monday, James rang to say that "Self Tort" had made the Sydney final of ABC 702's Exhumed competition.
The other finalists were Okapi Guitar Band, Kone of Silence, Primates, and Christine Jane. Listening to the entry tracks of the other finalists, the concept of Self Tort comprising an acoustic guitar and violin seemed a tad thin.
The rules that prevailed at the time enabled a finalist to be supplemented by other performers. Brian called upon the drummer with whom he had played in “Sirrah” in the 70s and “long term” friend, Graham Doust. Graham was interested in the idea, but did raise some caveats – he resided in Coffs Harbour, and he didn’t have a drum kit.
Meanwhile, the rules provided that each band could have one member under the age of 35. Brian had for, a couple of years at that time, been an irregular visitor to the Bundeena Bowling Club’s “jam night” and had met up with and played with Ben Hewson. Ben had, as it transpires, actually been a member of a band which had reached the 2012 final of “Exhumed”, Danielle Karis and Park Folk.
Ben was initially hesitant, as he had again been co-opted by another Bundeena/Maianbar band to be part of their outfit. However, as luck would have it, that band did not make the final and Ben was available to be part of Self Tort.
However, while this was going on, Brian received a message from Chris Stafford, offering his services as bass player, if needed. Brian and Chris had met, for the first time, at SongsAlive Australia’s Song Comp Awards Night in early 2013. Chris had actually won, amongst a swag of other awards, the “Songwriter of the Year” award that night, and Brian had also won a couple of awards. The idea of Chris playing bass as part of the Self Tort band had immediate appeal, particularly as it would free up Ben to play guitar.
Geography, though, still played a part. Ben was at Maianbar, Brian was at Lugarno, Lilo was, at that stage around Cremorne, Chris was at the Hunter Valley and Graham was in Coffs Harbour. And there were only two weeks till the final.
Chris, Lilo and Brian met together in the week which preceded the final. Ben and Graham met Lilo and Chris for the first time on the afternoon of the final. The rehearsal’s duration was unfortunately reduced because Graham’s flight to Sydney was delayed. Also, there was no drum kit available at rehearsal, and Graham provided the beat via a kitchen stool and drumstick. But, it also seemed to be gelling.
A taxi ride then followed to Circular Quay. The Basement had a backline which was available for all finalists, so we basically just needed our respective instruments.
One of the real buzzes of the final was the way in which all of the finalists got together, supported each other and had fun. We were sort of corralled into an area away from the audience. An air of "friendly competion" seemed to prevail.
It was one of those magical nights where everything just gelled. Even when fans of the “Primates” started to enter the venue, it emerged that quite a number of them had links to Lugarno Soccer Club with which Brian had had a close association and, of which he was a Life Member.
The Basement was packed with the supporters of each of the bands, and others such as the members of the Broken Hands, a band which had entered the competition and wanted to suss out what the finalists had to offer.
Although many of the audience had attended to follow a particular band, the response to all acts was very supportive. James was a very genial host, and Lawrence, and the rest of the ABC and Basement staff were all particularly helpful, ensuring that those involved had a fun time.
Brian Ralston's Self Tort were the first band to play after an intermission - a good draw as it enabled the band to have a drink or two to settle the nerves, and to absorb the feel of the evening. "Mid Life Crisis" was the first song and it was really a case of pitching a song to the right audience. The live video appears below:
The video below reveals the winner: