Marking The Spot

13 June 2012 | 6:08 pm | Steve Bell

“We wouldn’t have minded playing the game if it had of been on our terms, but no matter what you think you’re never really in a position to dictate terms to someone who’s got millions of dollars and you’ve got twenty cents.”

More X (Steve Lucas, Kim Volkman & Doug Falconer) More X (Steve Lucas, Kim Volkman & Doug Falconer)

Sometimes you've just got to know when to fold 'em. For Steve Lucas, the decision to pull up stumps on Oz rock legends X – they band he formed in Sydney back in 1977 – was not taken lightly, but one he knew deep down just had to be made. The catalyst seems to have been the 2011 release of X-Spurts – the long lost 1977 demo recordings of the original line-up – and the corresponding realisation that Lucas was the only original member of the band still alive. Legendary bassist Ian Rilen, drummer Steve Cafiero and guitarist Ian Krahe have all passed on – Krahe's tragic death before the band even released anything prompted Lucas to take over guitar as well as vocal duties, even though at the time he could barely play – and although X had soldiered on with different line-ups over the years, Lucas realised that it was the right thing to do for his fallen comrades to finally disband one of Australia's finest ever rock troupes.

“That was the definitive X and having got that out finally  – and knowing that I could never re-produce it – that was like, 'My job is done',” Lucas reflects of X-Spurts and the band's final hurrah. “It's more of an intellectual decision than an emotional one, although it's becoming an emotional issue for me now. I suppose I was just going through a lot of old photos and footage and listening to a lot of the old stuff and training up new people to do it and I just thought, 'Well, there's been a lot of people come and go, and most of the people who went it was because they actually died'. It's one thing to do a few shows to keep their memory alive, but then to go on rebuilding X with a whole new line-up, it just started to feel like I was cheating a bit.

“No matter how good a line-up I get I'd never feel good about going in and doing another X album, but then again I'm writing stuff continually and I've got to have an outlet for it, so if I'm going to do anything new with conviction then I have to stop doing X.”

With the last ever scheduled X show happening in Brisbane this week, Lucas looks back on the formation of the band, which began when a disgruntled Ian Rilen left the then-mighty Rose Tattoo to start something a bit fiercer.

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“X came out of a lot of chaos,” Lucas recalls. “Me and Geoff Holmes and Ian Krahe used to hang around a lot in this old school hall, just banging around and making music with a couple of other guys from school. I ended up moving to northern NSW for a while, and Ian and Jeff started knocking around with this guy Eddie Fisher, who brought Ian Rilen into the mixture. I happened to be in town for one of those rehearsals – the first time that Ian walked in – and that was pretty bombastic. Personally I decided that it wasn't really my cup of tea – it was a little bit doom-like with two guitars going and Ian splashing around, but then there was a huge fight and Ian Rilen and Ian Krahe went their own way. Then a friend of Ian Rilen's called Irish John told them about Steve Cafiero, and then Ian Krahe sent me a telegram – “New band, bring voice” – so I came back [to Sydney], we rehearsed for three weeks and then we started gigging and never looked back. We charged forward into the fray.”

X began playing shows immediately – one of their first gigs was supporting Cold Chisel and Rose Tattoo at the Paris Theatre – and became notorious just as quickly; their gigs renowned for violence and strife which quickly found them banned from many venues. But their brutal music was intoxicating, from the get-go completely different to anything else happening around them at the time.

“Ian wanted to get away from the Rose Tattoo sound for sure – he wanted to do stuff that was a lot harder and faster, whereas Ian Krahe, Jeff and I were always into the hard and fast,” Lucas remembers of the X aesthetic. “But we didn't particularly want to sound like anything; we just didn't want to sound like everything else. So that gave us a little bit of an edge, because we liked a lot of music but everyone was running around copying everyone else, so we just thought, 'We're going to do it our way' and we always did from that moment on. We loved the Sex Pistols and we loved the Ramones, but we loved Eddie Cochrane and we loved The Kinks, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who – but you can't copy all those people without losing yourself. It wasn't as much that we wanted to be different, more that we didn't want to be like everyone else.”

From the outset X's staunchly independent stand was as much to do with their deep-rooted suspicion of the music industry as it was any higher calling.

“We wouldn't have minded playing the game if it had of been on our terms, but no matter what you think you're never really in a position to dictate terms to someone who's got millions of dollars and you've got  twenty cents,” Lucas laughs. “Ultimately they can wait you out. But early in the piece, Steve and Ian Rilen had been playing in bands for a good ten years before Ian K and I came along, and they had a lot of contacts. But Ian K and I were pretty young and idealistic and we didn't want to know about it so much. We ended up doing our own album and our own distribution, which basically consisted of driving around Sydney in a ute and dropping off albums at independent record stores, and just carrying on gigging. It was a very DIY kind of band.”

While it's obviously the end of an era, Lucas has a lifetime of memories from X and is ultimately proud of what the group of friends achieved.

“Sometimes,” he ponders when quizzed about being proud of his achievements with X. “When I'm at a gig and people from bands come up and say, 'We love what X did!' and 'X is an inspiration!'– I feel pretty proud then. But when it's royalty payout time and I don't get anything then I'm pretty disappointed. It's sort of sad that we made such a big impact and have so little to show for it, but you can't afford to dwell on things like that. If that's it, that's it – whatever we were meant to do we've done and I've got to be happy with that. I've got to be proud, there's nothing else. We certainly never had any middle-of-the-road aspirations, we always wanted to be ourselves and thumb our noses at the industry and everything it stood for, and make some killer music along the way. I reckon we did that.”