'There Would Be No Repeat Of This Moment': Capturing The Reunion Of Bluebottle Kiss

14 March 2024 | 2:40 pm | Ben deHoedt

Upon the screenings of 'Bluebottle Kiss: Never Leave Town - Live In Sydney', filmmaker Ben deHoedt has taken The Music on the journey of tracking the band's reunion.

Bluebottle Kiss

Bluebottle Kiss (Cerdit: Jared Harrison)

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Songwriter Jamie Hutchings was walking along the beach after having a surf. He saw that some gallows-humoured brigand had written “BLUEBOTTLE GRAVES” across sand piled onto dead bluebottles - the “man o’ war” jellyfish known to cause one hell of a sting if you found yourself in their embrace. Around that time, Jamie had also been taken by the image conjured up by the title of a Jesus & Mary Chain B-sides collection: Barbed Wire Kisses. Such was the inspiration behind the name Bluebottle Kiss.  

It's a self-contained statement of intent which captures the sweetness and viciousness that is a signature of this band. In the 1990s - when Bluebottle Kiss (or BBK) came to some prominence as one of the Sydney indie artists that were snapped up by major labels - this dichotomy was confounding from a “commercial” perspective as genre and category ruled. Yet the “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed upon the knuckles, the heart on the sleeve which inevitably smoulders and blackens, are the stuff of life. Why shouldn’t an artist which brings forth honey and blood in equal measure be embraced? They are us, and we are them.

BBK was always greater than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, the line-up which really connected with me was the one which reconvened after 20 years, performing across 5 cities in 2022. I was finishing production on my William Arthur / Glide documentary (Disappear Here), having interviewed band members and Australian artists including, Jamie Hutchings. I got in touch with him and made plans to film and record a show – capturing the reunited Revenge Is Slow (2002) line-up of Richard Coneliano (drums), Ben Fletcher (guitar, vocals), Ben Grounds (bass) and Jamie (guitar / vocals).

After a test run in Melbourne, I flew to Sydney for the Crowbar gig. This was a pretty gonzo affair with three cameras (two static, one operated on the fly by me at the side / front stage) and a capture of the raw multitrack audio from the desk (thanks very much to Daniel Arena), which I would later mix. I had no idea how any of this was going to go. I just had to strap in and hold on. 

I hadn’t seen this band perform for 20+ years, and it had been about as long since I had listened to their records. Yet I felt this overwhelming sense-memory of attending almost every gig they did in Adelaide from around 1996-2002. I felt this dream-like recollection of my life at that time. Bluebottle performed with a cohesively ecstatic fury that I’d not seen before. In youth, perhaps there was more self-consciousness and dark introversion, whilst in middle age – in this case, a lean, sinuous middle age – those formative layers have eroded to reveal a pure, joyful passion for the music, performance and shared experience. I was moved.

Like an Anselm Kiefer painting that has been left to cure, absorb its time and atmosphere and then is stripped back and redefined to reveal a true, complete self – Bluebottle Kiss transcended their past and went beyond revisitation. On stage, Jamie is the impassioned, sensitive, wryly humorous and occasionally crazed narrator, all pathos and poetry. Fletch has become this mesmeric, theatrically convulsive shaman, conjuring clouds and thunder from his guitar, crooning in beatific harmony with Jamie. There is a sympathy, a call and response in gesture and movement between the two of them, like a dance. Groundsey on bass is the quietly swirling undercurrent, eyes closed, taken away to another place yet somehow containing it all. He is our immersion, our dark tunnel into the world unfolding before us. Richo is counterpoint and anchor, flair and energy, pure enjoyment and participation. He is one of us – we can see him mouthing the words – but he’s also driving the chariot and throwing the explosives. Collectively, the band resolutely veer between vulnerability and menace.

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I was behind a camera a couple of metres from the stage for the whole show, feeling that dissonance of anxiety and determination that every film maker has when the moment has arrived to document something for all eternity. There would be no repeat of this moment. BBK may do more shows together, but there’s only one 20 year reunion gig in Sydney.

I felt a constant pull away from the monitor to the unfolding celebration on stage, but forced myself into a state of focus. At times, it felt like wrangling a snake, but I stayed sharp and kept the endgame in mind. Later that night, crashing at Richo’s place, I couldn’t sleep. I needed to unload all of my footage at home and see what I had.

The capture somehow worked out. I was surprised, as the venue was so hot and in a state of constant movement. The kick drum was the hammer of Thor, but the impact on the footage sort of works, adding to the aliveness of it all. The multitrack source, paired with a recording of the room (that really makes a difference - always get a room mic in there), was everything I needed to get a final mix together. This was an epic labour of love (I work full time, so this was evenings and weekends), with Jamie’s feedback helping me hone it all - the sound of each song, the balance of instruments, the vibe of the show and dynamic range all kept firmly in mind. This is a very rich, dynamic sounding record. The film edit was an equally detailed process of discipline, experimentation and patience. It was like carving away at a sculpture.  

We now have this beautiful, gnarled thing called Bluebottle Kiss: Never Leave Town – Live in Sydney. With the upcoming screenings, it will be my first feature length film to be shown publicly, and I’m beyond proud to have mixed a Bluebottle Kiss live record. Their albums are fully realised paintings which live and breathe on their own terms, but live, the band are unshackled from the artistry of the studio and enter a different realm. In the 90’s, I always wished that I could hear on record what I had heard on stage – that heart wrenching quiet, that tightrope of power and chaos, those unyieldingly discordant vamps - tumbling and overflowing. This live album and film – in as much as it is possible for these formats – are definitive snapshots of what took place in Sydney on October 22, 2022, when Bluebottle Kiss played their set to a packed, enrapt, sweaty house. This is how the band sounded, this is how the night felt.

Tickets for screenings of Bluebottle Kiss: Never Leave Town—Live In Sydney are available here and here. You can also pre-order the live album here.