THE Screaming Jets is one of the greatest rock and roll bands that Newcastle – and Australia – has ever produced.
About to clock up their 25th year, the Jets will roll home next week for a three-night stand at the Cambridge Hotel as part of a Real Deal Tour that has taken them the length of the east coast on a welter of sold-out shows.
Front-man Dave Gleeson – all wild eyes and long ringlets – and bassist Paul Woseen lead the current version of the five-piece band that gave the world such Aussie classics as Better, Helping Hand, and their amped-up version of Rowland S. Howard’s Shivers.
But one founding Jet – guitarist Grant Walmsley – is not part of a tour that warns the punters to ‘‘strap themselves in for the real deal’’.
And therein hangs a rock and roll tale. The conventional wisdom is that Walmsley left the band back in 2006.
That’s how Gleeson remembered it when the Newcastle Herald rang him at his Adelaide Hills home.
He wasn’t real keen to talk about it, saying ‘‘things didn’t go down the right way’’ and ‘‘no one went away feeling good’’ but he stood by accounts published in the music press that talked of a bust-up over Walmsley’s TAFE teaching job.
This one, from MTV in 2009, headed ‘‘Why Grant left the Screaming Jets – the situation got ugly’’, sums up the Gleeson viewpoint: ‘‘Grant was teaching at TAFE and also had other commitments.
He wanted to work the band’s schedule around his teaching commitments and personal goals.
‘‘There are five of us in this band and we couldn’t just work around Grant’s wishes. He threatened us, saying the band will be nothing without him and it all got a bit narky.
‘‘We, as a band, decided we had to continue without Grant and the whole thing ended up in an ugly legal battle I don’t really want to discuss. But put shortly, it cost the band and the issue is resolved, but Grant isn’t on speaking terms with us any more.’’
Contacted at his Kahibah home on Thursday, Walmsley said he and his old school and band buddy had talked a few times in the past few months, but it was still hard going.
From his point of view, Walmsley says he never left the Screaming Jets. His version of the 2006 bust-up has him at a music industry conference, being asked by two friends if ‘‘we could go somewhere quiet’’. ‘‘At first I thought they were going to tell me someone had died, but they said they had heard on the street that I’d been sacked,’’ Walmsley said.
‘‘I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’, and then I found an email that was sent to me on behalf of Paul and Dave with a whole lot of conditions that they wanted me to meet.’’
While Gleeson and the others were complaining about the restraints of Walmsley’s TAFE career, Walmsley said he had been arguing the band should increase its pulling power and earning capacity by playing less.
‘‘We’d got to the stage where it was like a Cold Chisel or a Midnight Oil, the band was a Cadillac and should be put in the garage for a while,’’ Walmsley said.
‘‘You don’t use a classic Cadillac every day of the week, you get it out for special occasions and that’s where we were with the Jets.’’
Both sides called in the lawyers, and the end result was a settlement that Walmsley says he has no intention of breaching.
He says more than once that he is wary about saying too much about his dispute with Gleeson, saying that ‘‘no matter how I put it I still run the risk of sounding like I’m whingeing, like it’s sour grapes’’.
‘‘At the height of the band’s career it was no secret that Dave had a big mouth and burnt many bridges with people in the industry all over the world and some of the things he did cost the band dearly.
‘‘But I always stood by him. I was a very loyal friend. Once after one of those troubles Dave said: ‘Why don’t you sack me?’ And my response was: ‘Because you’re my friend’.’’
And he was right.
Gleeson, 45, and Walmsley, 44, were schoolmates at Marist Brothers Hamilton.
Their first band, Sudden Impact, began in 1981. Another band, Aspect, followed, and Woseen joined the pair from Nick Raschke’s underground band, the Embers, in 1988. Newcastle guitarist Richard Lara and drummer Brad Heaney, from the big Sydney band, the Radiators, rounded out the line-up, and the Screaming Jets burst forth in 1989, with their debut album All For One landing two years later.
At least 10 people have been Screaming Jets over the years, but Walmsley is proud he was ‘‘the only guitarist to play on all six Screaming Jets albums’’.
Although their conversations crackle with regret and bitterness, Walmsley and Gleeson still seem – from this writer’s distance, anyway – to have a lot in common.
They could finish each other’s sentences, and when Gleeson says that former guitarist Lara jumped on stage recently at a couple of Queensland shows, I have to ask the obvious question.
‘‘He’s more than welcome to get up and play a song or two with us, if it came about’’ – Gleeson pauses – ‘‘organically.’’
‘‘Everyone who has participated in this band over the years are part of where the Jets are now,’’ he went on.
‘‘There is not one person whose input I would begrudge or belittle and Grant was a huge part of what we are.’’
Remarking that the Stones were touring again with guitarist Mick Taylor – a member from 1969 to 1974 — I asked Walmsley about the possibility of a Cambridge reunion.
‘‘Wrong comparison, I’m the Keith Richards of the band,’’ Walmsley said.
‘‘And as Keith said about Mick Jagger’s solo efforts, I didn’t write those riffs for someone else to come in and play them.’’
Reunion hopes up in the air
MARK Tinson is a legend of the Newcastle music business, having done it all from Countdown to country punk. He also shares a TAFE office with fellow teacher Grant Walmsley, which means he might have heard a bit more than most of us over the years about the ups and downs of the Screaming Jets.
Talking with the Newcastle Herald yesterday, Tinson recalled seeing them in a tiny Los Angeles club at the height of their powers in the early 1990s. ‘‘They had a rotten sound system but the sound guy was making the thing gag with distortion!’’ Tinson said. ‘‘I reckon it was about as close to AC/DC as I’ve ever seen a band.
‘‘You forget how good they were – they did a lot of overseas touring with some incredible bands.’’
Tinson has heard the story of the 2006 parting of the ways between Gleeson and Walmsley many times, and chooses his words with care. He says the Jets lost more than a guitarist when they lost Walmsley.
‘‘One of the really strong things about the band was the way Grant played rhythm guitar and he was also the principal songwriter,’’ he said. ‘‘You lose that, you lose a lot.’’
He understood the reasons for the split and said young bands needed to make sure they got good advice.
‘‘We’re talking about the music business here,’’ Tinson said.
‘‘Maybe things might have gone better had they done some sort of music course at TAFE. But did they go wrong? They’re the ones with a wall full of gold records.
‘‘Dave Gleeson is one of the most charismatic front men we have ever had – from Stevie Wright [originally with the Easybeats] on to Bon [Scott of AC/DC], Peter Garrett and Michael Hutchence. But as a band they were probably their own worst enemy when it came to dealing with record companies. The stories about Dave are out there. That said, he is an incredible front man.’’
Tinson said that as much as fans might want an onstage reunion at the Cambridge, he doubted it would happen. Here’s hoping he’s wrong.