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Black In The Saddle

8 August 2012 | 10:28 am | Brendan Telford

It’s been a horror year for Peter Black, otherwise known as Blackie, wild axeman of seminal Aussie rock icons the Hard-Ons. Yet as he shows Brendan Telford, he’s as resilient as they come.

It's been a tumultuous year for Peter Black, to put it mildly. One third of one of Australia's best loved bands the Hard-Ons, the guitarist known to all as Blackie had a lot to look forward to – the release of his second solo album, being named one of Australia's best guitarists by Australian Guitar Magazine, and an impending tour of Europe and Japan all loomed on the horizon. He's never taken such things for granted, and his primary source of income came from driving a taxi, a profession he thought was perfect for a musician. However in May things turned drastically after he was assaulted after picking up a fare and was left unconscious with skull fractures and a swollen brain.

“I won't lie to you, it's been the most fucked time of my life,” Black states plainly. “I've had a trilogy of really fucked up shit happen to me before the assault too. I don't know, I guess I've had such a good run, being a young kid in a punk band and travelling the world, that there had to be some shit thrown in my direction at some stage. I'm not enjoying it, but what can you do? That's life.”

Whilst it's incredibly heart-warming to see Black back on his feet again, the after effects of that terrible night continue to plague him to the point that it impedes upon the greatest love of his life.

“I get bouts of vertigo still, which is a real worry because the hospital said I should only have it for six weeks and it's getting closer to two-and-a-half months,” he continues. “It's certainly much better than when it was when I was in hospital. I just got back from a jog, I can do things like that, and the fitter you are the better you recover. When you get a knock on the head, I don't know the full mechanics of it but it fucks with your inner ear, and I'm doing these vertigo exercises that make you feel like you're going to puke all the time. I feel a little nervous picking up a guitar, because I feel like that I mightn't be up to par anymore. And with the acoustic stuff, I'm a long way off feeling proficient at that stuff, so it's all rather cumbersome.”

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Black may have been down, but the overwhelming level of support that came out of the woodwork from the Australian music industry proved to him that he was far from finished with this mortal coil.

“Mate, you've got no idea,” Black marvels. “I can't talk about it without getting insanely sappy! You keep thinking that the music industry is this and that, we've been playing for thirty years and we don't make a cent, it's all so hard. Then something like this happens – the amount of support I got was astonishing. It blew my puny fucking mind to kingdom come! The way everyone rallied together – friends, family, the music industry as well – I can't thank them enough. It's been paramount. When I get better I want to do a bunch of things to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart – I don't know how I'm going to do it yet though.”

In many ways Black already has, because if there's one place the music community wants him to be, it's back on the stage. He's out on the road, testing the waters with the solo material that makes up his new album No Dangerous Gods In Tunnel. This venture into the acoustic domain is worlds away from the Hard-Ons, especially because of Black's aversion to the form; therefore making the process something that Black admits is starkly alien yet perversely enjoyable.

“I picked up the acoustic quite late in life,” Black opines. “It's something that I've fallen for heavily, I wish I'd started doing this shit years ago. One of the main catalysts was being at a party and this dude handed me an acoustic and said, 'C'mon dude, play a song!' I said, 'Nah man, I can't do any of this shit!' But I walked away thinking, I actually couldn't play it, I didn't know where to start, what to do with the instrument. It's a killer creative outlet that I think I was blinded to because, even today, I don't have a love for acoustic music. Too much of what I hear to me sounds just like a demo. The acoustic guitar is a beautiful instrument, and it should be used to make beautiful music. It may be my ignorance, but so much of it's folk, which I just do not listen to. And I feel that I let myself be blinded to that for far too long, so much that I look at an acoustic now and think, 'Fuck, where have you been all my life?' If you're going to use the instrument it has to sound like that's the best way to present it, not like a guy who is showing the rest of his band how a melody goes.”

The music present on No Dangerous Gods In Tunnel is vastly different to anything that Black has put his name to previously, a fact that he believes is the natural course of the artist.

“For me the real notion of growing as an artist is to expand,” he muses. “You have to get harder as you get older, to keep challenging yourself. You can sound like a retread or an RSL artist, which is why I've always wanted to experiment, to fuck with the form. Because of my punk rock background, I always thought of going solo as a bit wanky, which was an idiotic attitude to have. So whilst the first album I had fuck all money so was just giving it a go and seeing what came out, I could distil what I knew into something focused, with no electrics or drums, using strings too, which challenged me in other ways than just playing the bloody thing.”

Above all else the fact that Black is back in the saddle is great news for everyone, most of all to himself, and he's revelling in this new chance.

“Music is a part of me, so touring the solo stuff is massively positive, to be playing again,” he tells. “Ray [Ahn] has been getting me to do some tentative Hard-Ons and Nunchukka [Superfly] rehearsals; even though my neurologist and brain specialist are saying that I shouldn't be in the same fucking room as loud amplified music, let alone playing it! But I've been doing twenty-minute lots, then twenty-minute breaks, and if I get tired I go home. They scratch their heads and say, 'Look, it's just not recommended!' But when I explain how important music is to me, they shrug their shoulders. If it's doing good for my soul, then in the long run it's doing me less harm, more good.”