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The Cruel Sea: Smokin’.

9 December 2002 | 1:00 am | Paul Rankin
Originally Appeared In

Tales From The Sea.

The Cruel Sea play The Zoo on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

By now everyone knows that The Cruel Sea began as an instrumental band, sans Tex Perkins. Very recently, however, we were given a delightful reminder of just how great an instrumental band the Sea were and, occasionally, still are. With Perkins busy with his solo Dark Horses stuff, the original quartet Jim Elliott, James Cruikshank, Dan Rumour, and Ken Gourmly (or, as he likes to be credited, Kenny Lee G) decided to rediscover their roots and head out on small-scale instrumental tour.

It’s just one example of how The Cruel Sea have learned to really enjoy being The Cruel Sea again. Ask any of the band members about a period in the mid to late ‘90s, when there was something financial at stake, and they’ll tell you that being a member of The Cruel Sea wasn’t so much fun. In Gourmly’s own words, it was like, at times “fear and loathing in the Superbowl”. A turning point came after a year or two’s hiatus and the subsequent recording of last year’s Where There’s Smoke album.

“Oh well we’ve been together fifteen years and so far,” sighs Gourmly, “we’ve gone from being twenty-five to forty and so to find ourselves enjoying each other’s company, on the road even, having respect for one another, and having exhausted just about every reason there is to break up, to find ourselves enjoying making music and enjoying each other’s company is just like, I don’t know it’s really corny, but it’s just like looking at your wife after fifteen years and going ‘baby, you’re looking good! Come to Daddy’. So it was good. We don’t feel silly or out of place at all doing what we do and that’s due to the kind of music that we play and the kind of music we’ve always drawn upon. So you know, I don’t want to stop playing music just cause you know someone at Triple M told me I was too old. Or the record company drops us ‘cause we’re old. I want to be making music ‘til I’m a grumpy old cunt.”

“So that [Where There’s Smoke] was a turning point for us because there we were, making another album enjoying ourselves and enjoying each other, and making a good offering and doing it without a lot of fuss and without a lot of expense. So we just kicked a big fat goal from that one and we want to keep doing that.”

And with that aim in mind, The Cruel Sea have recorded and released another home grown album just in time for Christmas. Titled We Don’t Work We Play Music, the release is a double CD, the first disc featuring a mix of Cruel Sea rarities and soulful covers. The second disc features live material, mostly recorded at The Zoo’s birthday shows last ear, an event to which they are returning. Brisbane shows in December last year.

“Look basically it’s this,” Gourmly explains the motivation behind the new album; “everything’s a balance between giving a shit and not giving a shit. And if we just want to put our more records, do what we’re obligated to do as musicians, as a working band, and just put fucking stuff out there hopefully once a year through this studio budget kind of regime.”

“And we kicked a goal last year with Where There’s Smoke, we were really happy with it, we recorded the whole thing in three weeks, and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg, and in a lot of ways it was really well received as a kind of return to the nature of The Cruel Sea. And so with that we were very happy.”

“So we recorded a run of shows up in Brisbane and then we just took the recording mobile stuff down to James’s place who lives on a hill in Federal overlooking God’s country and we just spent four or five days doing whatever came off the top of our heads. It was unplanned, unrehearsed, so we recorded a whole bunch of stuff, some of it just stuff we pulled out of our asses, some of it stuff that’s been hanging around for fifteen years. And even though we’re not particularly precious about what covers we do, basically they just have to be learnable and playable in a fifteen minute time frame, but actually listening to it, a lot of them, the take that you’ll find on the record, which is either the first or second take, is us just finally getting through to the end of the song without fucking up. So you just get this really nice restrained, underplayed kind of thing. So it has that really lazy, restrained, absolutely live feel, you can even hear the crickets chirping in the background, the toaster popping, and that’s kind of the essence of The Cruel Sea anyway, so we scrubbed it up and it cost us nothing to record, and we thought yeah this is really good. So here it is and it has our full endorsement. If you want to say we’re cheap cunts, go ahead, I don’t give a fuck.”