Get To Know Neil Gardner

Nic: Hi Neil. How surprised were you when Kevin Blyth contacted you about re-releasing Said The Blackbird again?

Neil: There were only 50 copies of the original Said the Blackbird pressed but they ended up being scattered far and wide.  Over the years since 1972 I have been contacted by interested collectors from around the world. This was as much for the rarity of the record as anything else. Hearing from Kevin out of the blue with a proposal to re-release the album was a wonderful and completely unexpected surprise.

Nic: What was the first record you bought? And do you remember where from?

Neil: I bought ‘The Muskrat Ramble’ a 45 by Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers, at McKinlay’s electrical store in Smithton, Tasmania.

Nic: Were the record stores good in your town?

Neil: There was only one to begin with.  It sold a modest range of records but you could get stuff off the top 40.  A few years later when the family moved to Burnie, a larger town along the coast, there were a few shops that sold records.  The best was the record bar in Lloyd Campbell’s electrical shop. It was run by a bloke called Russ Tattersall who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the record industry and a boundless enthusiasm to match.

Nic: Who were your favourite bands or singers?

Neil: To begin with, whoever was charting: early Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Johnny Horton, Frankie Lane, later Peter Paul and Mary, Donovan and Dylan and the ‘British Invasion’ in general but they were all eclipsed by the Beatles.

Nic: Were you a big record collector?

Neil: As a kid, I could only afford singles and EPs. I’ve probably got about 100 LPs now.  I haven’t counted how many CDs I’ve got.

Nic: What was the home stereo/record player like in your house when you were a kid ?

Neil: We relied on the radio for our music until around 1964. We didn’t own a record player but my older brother used to bring home his portable player on Uni vacations. We eventually bought a cheap battery powered player. I discovered that we could play records backwards by putting the batteries in back to front. It was a very basic little unit, but when my little sister and I played Sgt Peppers on it for the first time, the magic still came through.

Nic: What was your parent’s taste in music like? Did they play records?

Neil: My parents liked the pop music of the forties and fifties, particularly The Weavers. In the years before television the entire family would spend every Sunday afternoon listening to the Top 40 on Melbourne radio and a couple of different top 10s in the early evening. Unlike most of Tasmania, Smithton was close enough to the mainland to pick up Melbourne radio.

Nic: In the United States, a lot of budding musicians had their ‘wake up moment’ when the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. What was yours?

Neil: I remember one Sunday afternoon in 1963, before Beatlemania happened in Australia, a DJ in Melbourne, without any fanfare, played a new single by a band from England called the Beatles. It was their third single ‘From Me To You’. That was the first time I ever heard them. What immediately struck me about them was how happy and excited they sounded.

Nic: I read you were inspired by the folk and protest songs of the Sixties. Did this translate into any actual protesting where you lived?

Neil: There wasn’t a lot in the way of organized demonstrations up on the coast. Some of us sang anti-war stuff, but mostly let the songs do the talking. There would have been more organized demonstrations in Hobart. But that was before I moved south.

Nic: Tell me a little about the Brumida/North West Coast scene you were part of?

Neil: In my final term at school in 1967, I met two new students  David Paulin from Ulverstone and Mike Raine from Penguin. Along with a third associate called Bruce, whom I never met, they had formed Brumida; a collective of likeminded young people with a mission to write create and entertain.  It involved writing and staging plays, writing and printing magazines of poetry and eventually staging folk concerts.  North-West Tasmania was very provincial and we had to make our own entertainment.  Culturally we were quite successful but none of us made a fortune.  In 1968 David began working in Television in Launceston, Mike and others went to Uni in Hobart. Brumida people became very active and influential in the Uni folk and blues music scene in Hobart.  I went apple-picking in the Huon Valley and dreamt of making a record.

Nic: As the 60s turned into the 70s what musical trends inspired you?

Neil: I spent most of the 70s hoping the Beatles would get back together.  I re-discovered bands I’d overlooked in the 60s like the Moody Blues, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, the Incredible String Band and T-Rex: and new bands like Split Enz, XTC, Ian Dury and Elvis Costello

Nic: Your album was recorded in Hobart. Was that where you were living at the time or was that the studio of choice for you?

Neil: At the end of the apple season in 1971, I moved to Hobart, where Nick Armstrong, a sound engineer with the ABC had set up Spectangle Studio.  I had worked with Nick on a couple of earlier projects and he was my natural choice.

Nic: Tell me about the other musicians who play on a couple of the songs on the album?

Neil: Nick Armstrong had contacts in the Hobart rock scene who were willing to help out: John Russell Lead Guitar and Piano, Rob MacFie Bass, and Phil Stubbs and Robbie Millar on drums.  John Lavery a dear friend from up on the coast joined me for ‘The One Legged Soldier’ and Ian (Gyp) Montague a Queenslander from the folk scene joined John and I for ‘Does your daughter still ramble at night.’

Nic: And finally, how did you get to have the unprinted surplus inners for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass to use for your album cover?

Neil: For some reason when All Things Must Pass was released in Australia they ended up with a surplus of components from the triple album cover i.e. the blue, mustard and grey inner sleeves. Nick Armstrong put in a successful tender for the mustard sleeves which were used for ‘Said the Blackbird.’ Needless to say, I still treasure this very tenuous link with my all-time favourite band.

How Kevin found Said The Blackbird