Suburban boy back home for theatre gig, 15th February 2015

Suburban boy back home for theatre gig

Steve Butler
February 15, 2015


Dave Warner, the WA musician once described by the legendary Bob Dylan as his favourite Australian songwriter, believes red tape is strangling artists.

Warner, whose hit Suburban Boy was a rock staple back in the late 1970s, is back home in Perth to perform his play The King and Me for Fringe World.

He was adamant the health of the arts industry, particularly live music, would get a much- needed boost by relaxing rules on areas such as noise restrictions.

Warner lamented WA’s “golden era” of live pub music from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s had made way for multi-headline act events and festivals.

He said changing times from live music or movies as almost unique entertainment options had affected artists badly.

“I know the challenges I face when, as Dave Warner’s From the Suburbs, I want to go out and do shows and how much more difficult it is now,” Warner said.

“There are fewer venues, less promoters . . . there are so many different competing things that people can go to. One of the things that killed off rock’n’roll a lot were noise regulations that were selectively implemented.

“If you were genuinely going to say, ‘We’re going to protect people’s hearing’, well how do they allow these bloody leaf blowers out there, which are twice as loud as any rock’n’roll band?

“Just have some common sense about it and say, ‘This is a fun pastime, there’s a chance for all of us to get on’.”

Warner’s Fringe World contribution is The King and Me, a musical play based around Elvis Presley dressed as a woman hilariously being the life coach for a day of the main character Craig Nelson, a cabaret performer and “middle-aged loser”.

It features many of Warner’s original songs and Elvis material and puts him back on the theatre stage for the first time in more than a decade. “Scary” was how he described his return to the spotlight.

“(But) I’d like to see if it works and if it does, I’ll look towards doing something bigger,” he said.

In many ways, the play addresses the issue of why many artists persist in the vocation when their situation appears bleak.

Aside from his published books, Warner has also written for recent mainstream television programs such as the INXS special, McLeod’s Daughters, Rescue Special Ops, Wild Boys, Sea Patrol and Packed to the Rafters, which featured an episode where Craig McLachlan sang Suburban Boy while playing the role of a faded 1980s rock star.

The song, his most popular, first took shape in 1973 as he drove in his “hand-me-down car” from his Bicton home to psychology classes at the University of WA.

“Dad was a butcher . . . for a few years it (the car) had been carrying meat in the back, so there was always this faint smell of meat.

“I was driving down the Kwinana Freeway, I remember it was drizzling with rain with the windscreen wipers going and this idea coming to me about, ‘I’m just a suburban boy’,” Warner recalled.

“In those days I used to carry one of those big, portable cassettes. I stopped and recorded me singing into it so I would remember the song. I know what song they’ll be playing at my wake.”

Warner is planning to return to WA in June for a gig to coincide with the release of his seventh crime novel Before It Breaks.

The plot follows a homicide detective who has left Perth to return to his hometown Broome.

He said he had decided against following through on an initial plan to use the book to revive the “Snowy Lane” police character from his 1996 WA Premier’s Book Award-winning City of Light.

Although Warner has been living in Sydney since 1987, he is still patriotic about WA, where his 90-year-old mother Mabel still lives.

He vividly remembered his time in the Bicton bush where he spent his early years and was a fanatical East Fremantle Football Club supporter to the point where he recorded a 1979 song about the club with the league team, including greats such as Tony Buhagiar and Ken Judge, singing on the track a month before they won that season’s premiership.

“I still consider myself a West Australian,” Warner said. “All my roots are still here, a lot of my friends and family . . . you can’t swap that. You can remember all these venues and you’ve got all this history pumping inside you, so there will always be some expression of Dave Warner in WA.”

The King and Me is on at Mt Lawley’s The Velvet Lounge from February 17 to 22.

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