That Time Alex Smith From Moving Pictures Asked, "Who's Shannon Noll?"

30 November 2015 | 12:48 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

"Whether it was him or whether it was the MD of the show, it was a stroke of genius!"

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures

The cast of Moving Pictures are scattered around the globe these days. "Well, I live in London," frontman Alex Smith explains. "I've lived in London for the last 23 years. Ah, let me see: Andrew [Thompson], the sax player kinda lives wherever work takes 'im; um, Garry [Frost, guitar/keyboards/vocals], Ian [Lees, bass] and Charlie [Cole, keys/trumpet] live in Sydney and Mark [Meyer, drums] lives in Adelaide." On his post-Moving Pictures life, Smith shares, "I've got a son at university and another girl in her last year of high school. I work in special needs education using music to help kids communicate. So that's what I do in London and then I come over here [to Australia] and jump around like an ageing madman." He must forget... "The words?" Smith interjects with a laugh. "Yes." We can only imagine how hard it is for Smith to hear himself over the enthusiastic crowd singalongs during the band's hits. "It's really quite amazing," he marvels. "You look out and see everybody mouthing every word and you sort of think, 'Wow!' 'Cause I mean I have trouble remembering the words; they don't, you know." Well at least he can always hold the microphone out when in doubt. "Yeah, exactly, 'When in doubt, hold it out,' that's right," he jokes.

'"Puts on shock-jock voice] Whaddaya think about Shannon Noll covering your song?' And I just said, 'Who's Shannon Noll?'"

So Smith would've been living in London when Shannon Noll's version of What About Me? stormed the charts then. "That was really crazy, because I started to get phone calls from television stations and radio stations. '[Puts on shock-jock voice] Whaddaya think about Shannon Noll covering your song?' And I just said, 'Who's Shannon Noll?' Because, you know, Australian Idol was not shown in England. And I never heard it until I came back out [to Australia]. But I don't mind it. I sang it with him on Saturday — or was it Sunday? — Sunday I sang it with him in Newcastle; he got up and sang it with us and I got up and sang with him." Did people go nuts? "Yeah, a little bit," Smith downplays. "It's a great song; the song has its own form. I'm never worried about his version. I mean, people used to say to me, '[Puts on universal dickhead voice] Oh, you must be really pissed off Shannon Noll stole your song,' and I'd say, 'Well, one) it's not my song; two) whether it was him or whether it was the MD of the show, it was a stroke of genius!' You know, if you've got a program about singers; find a song that's great to sing! And that's one of them."

Smith also lived "in and out of America just working as a songwriter" for a spell and admits he found writing songs for other people "a little sort of dehumanising". "I can't stop writing songs," he reveals. "The analogy I always use is: it's not a tap you can turn off, it's a stream and the stream of consciousness runs and you write what falls out."

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

In the early '80s, Moving Pictures were signed to the Glenn Wheatley management team alongside Australian Crawl, and both bands are preparing to head out on tour together in 2015. "The first national tour that Moving Pictures ever did was opening for Australian Crawl on the Ports Of Crawl tour, which was 1981," Smith illuminates, "and that was before we had released anything and they had just released the Sirocco album." Once Moving Pictures released material, they were quickly booked for a Countdown appearance. "The first time we went on Countdown and we were doing Bustin' Loose, Adam Ant was the guest presenter and it was mayhem! You know, can you imagine in the height of Ant Mania, the studio? God, almighty!" he laughs disbelievingly. "But yet, the [Moving Pictures] album [Days Of Innocence] went gold from that so that was cool. That was in — I think October or something, of '81, and then we went back [on Countdown] again in February to do What About Me? and after that it was just mayhem." When asked whether it felt like a quick rise to the top for his band, Smith considers, "Well we were just working. I mean, things went crazy, and they were crazy, but we had our heads down, bums up just working — that's all we did. And, um, we enjoyed it. You know, no matter what was going on everything revolved around that two hours on stage every day; it didn't matter what else happened, the most important thing happened [on stage]. That's what it's actually about, is getting out there and doing the job and showing people that you actually really love what you do, 'cause I think that's the communicative part of it."   

On their latest collection of classic tracks, Picture This, Moving Pictures cover Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, which shines a spotlight on The Boss's lyrical content as comparable to Smith's in that both artists conjure a distinct sense of place (even though they hail from opposite sides of the Pacific). "Sense of place I think's a good expression," Smith allows. "My songs have always — to me they've always been little mirrors of my life or reflections of the lives of people around me and what they've been through; you know, it's like that thing you see at the end of television programs, '[Puts on stern voice] Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.' Um, I mean it's almost where the name of the band came from 'cause when we were first starting out someone said to me, 'These songs, they're like little film scripts.' And so I sort of thought, 'Ooh, Moving Pictures - there's a good name.'"

"One of the reasons why we broke up in the first place was because we were caught in a terrible legal situation with our American label."

Another song on Picture This Never, from the Footloose soundtrack — is one Moving Pictures didn't play "for years because [they] never got paid for it". "Somehow or other we got ripped off and we've never seen a cent from that," Smith laments. "It's been in two films [2007's Hot Rod is the other] and we've never seen a bean but, you know, one day we might get it back, who knows?" Our conversation turns to legal expenses and Smith shares, "One of the reasons why we broke up in the first place was because we were caught in a terrible legal situation with our American label and there just didn't seem to be any way out of it short of breaking up, you know? So that's what we did. And, um, we just sort of got on with our lives and then, as the years passed, we figured that we really liked playing together again. 'So let's get together and do it,' you know.   

"We did a reunion tour in 2011 and it's the first time we'd all been in the same room together for 24 years, but it was great! It was a bit like you'd only stepped out for coffee 'cause you spend that kind of intimate time with people and you develop a special bond, you know." When asked to share some of his memories from the 2011 Moving Pictures tour that celebrated 30 years since the release of their debut Days Of Innocence long-player, Smith shares, "Oh, that was quite amazing. I mean, it wasn't the largest tour in the history of touring but it got things really started, because we realised how sort of rabid the fans were; they just wanted more and were very, very emotionally charged to see us. And the gigs were amazing... The very first night we got together again and played after all the years it was quite amazing to suddenly find myself standing — it was like a dream, sort of a dream that I'd a had a million times in the intervening years; suddenly I was back inside that kind of maelstrom of sound that we made, that I was part of the creation of. It was really quite wonderful to just be there and these days we stand on the stage, we play and we find ourselves laughing at ourselves like we used to do. And the guys are playing so amazingly well and it's just such a beautiful feeling. You know, there's like a holistic thing: it's like the wheel's come back around and this is what we're supposed to do."