Paul Kelly says of John Dowler in his new biography, written by Stuart Coupe, “John had all his records in his room. That’s where I first heard the Ramones, Jonathan Richman and Tom Petty. Being In John Dowler’s room was a big musical education. The first Talking Heads album, Television, John Cale’s Paris 1919. John and the guys in the Hoddle Street house were the guys who set the taste. They were the cool kids. They’d been to England. They could quote the lines from French films and knew exactly the right stuff to be listening to. Chris Langman loved Bob Dylan. John Dowler did too. Dylan was obviously a big influence but so was all the other stuff.”

John and the guys in the Hoddle Street house were also in a band, called Spare Change. Spare Change had also come from Adelaide, and had already made their mark on Melbourne’s inner city scene before giving Kelly a place to stay and play and his “big musical education”. Spare Change were Paul Kelly’s entree into the Melbourne scene; the scene in which he made his name.

Spare Change released one single in 1976 – which got them a colour spread in Spunky! Magazine – and recorded an album that would remain unreleased until after their demise. They were a band caught out of time; future Hunters & Collectors co-founder Greg Perano was part of Spare Change’s entourage, and told Coupe, “They would dress up, glam-rock like, almost pre-war Berlin. They were very stylish and would wear a bit of eye makeup. All the guys had pretty eclictic tastes. They were like English dandies influenced by the Velvet Underground, Gram Parsons and Big Star. They re big David Bowie and early Roxy Music fans.”

Their taste had been deemed impeccable when they started and would have been the envy of a maturing Nick Cave and Rowland S Howard, not to mention any number of mascaraed New Romantics, a few years after they called it quits, but Spare Change ultimately got caught in the crosshairs of punk. Their demise eventually left guitarist Chris Langman to join Paul Kelly in the Dots and co-write some great songs, including “Leaps & Bounds”. The band’s other guitarist, Robert Kretchmer, would eventually join Icehouse, and John Dowler would return to Adelaide to form Young Modern, who have been called Australia’s first power pop band. Young Modern moved to Sydney and shared management with Cold Chisel and the Angels but eventually stalled, after which Dowler, Langman and Kretchmer briefly regrouped back in Melbourne, under the name the Glory Boys (with future Crowded House bass player Nick Seymour in tow). Dowler came close to success some years later with the Zimmermen – a band that early on gave key members, Steve Connolly and Michael Barclay, to the Coloured Girls and later included an ex-Dot or two – who had a big indie hit with “Don’t Go To Sydney” and signed a deal with Mushroom.

If Spare Change were a band caught out of time, John Dowler has continued in a similarly out of sync position throughout his musical life. Young Modern split just months before the Knack put skinny ties and Beatles licks back on the charts, and the Zimmermen’s slightly countrified folk-rock sounds preempted the whole Americana thing by a decade or so. These days Dowler pretty much combines everything that he’s done previously into a seamless whole. His music bears his stamp rather than a time stamp, and new album 12 Stitches is indicative of that.

John Dowler’s Vanity Project formed in 2014. John always had something on the go, but a couple of Young Modern reunions brought a close to John’s “wilderness years”, and his new musical partners, younger guys who’ve grown up on the sort of stuff Dowler has always loved, have given him new intent.

12 Stitches is the JDVP’s second album on much loved Sydney label Half A Cow, whose owner Nic Dalton is a long-time fan. “Work Of Art” is the album’s second single. It is at the more melodic end of a spectrum that reaches a surprisingly sparky guitar and drums attack – and an exceptionally strong dose of Dowler wit – on tracks like “Fucked If I Know” and “Centipede, and includes a bit of Big Star’s Third-like desolation on a surprising and stunning reworking of the early Split Enz classic “Time For A Change”.

John Dowler’s Vanity Project:
John Dowler – lead vocals
Mark McCartney – guitars
Justin Bowd – guitars
Michael Stranges – drums
Julien Chick – bass (Stephen O’Prey plays on the album)

“Work of Art”/”Ordinary Man” the second single from 12 Stitches by John Dowler’s Vanity Project is available now on all digital platforms on Half A Cow Records.