Four Iconic Frontmen, One Iconic Album: Jamieson, Pyke, Cheney & Rogers On 'The White Album'

9 July 2018 | 2:50 pm | Sam Wall

The White Album Concert is back for another round. We caught up with Chris Cheney, Phil Jamieson, Tim Rogers and Josh Pyke to find out what the album means to them.

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It takes a lot of chutzpah to take a swing at the kings, but Chris CheneyPhil JamiesonTim Rogers and Josh Pyke have never been lacking there. After two runs of The White Album Concert, the four are reviving the hit show for the iconic record’s 50th anniversary. We caught up with some of Australia's finest musicians to find out what 'The White Album' means to them.

When was the first time you heard 'The White Album' and what was your impression of it initially?

Grinspoon's Phil Jamieson: I don't recall to be honest. I remember hearing tracks off it, I believe Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was in one of the SING books that were distributed 'round primary schools during the '80s. But as a whole piece of art, I don't recall.

Josh Pyke: When I was a kid trawling through my folks' LPs. It wasn't my favourite Beatles album to be honest, I was more of a Sgt Pepper's kid, but adulthood and performing it has given me a deep appreciation for the record now.

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The Living End's Chris Cheney: I was studying music at Box Hill Tafe after high school and a friend gave me a bunch of tapes - essentially all the Beatles albums. I knew a couple of the songs but that's when I first really delved into their records.

You Am I's Tim Rogers: As a child of seven or eight a teenage friend of the family would 'look after us' when the parents went wandering. He would turn off the lights and play Revolution 9 on repeat. And enjoy the mild terror and wonderment. Prick.

Which is your favourite track on the album to play live?

PJ: I love Don't Pass Me By. It just is so much fun and so strange and straight but weird at the same time. I'm also a sucker for the fiddle.

JP: I love playing Blackbird. It's such an iconic song, which certainly adds some pressure, but it's a joy to play, and the tuning I play it in (Drop G) makes everything sound good!

CC: While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It's such a challenge to attempt to play George's masterpiece with Clapton's guitar playing. Two of the all-time greats. What can I possibly add to that!? It's the toughest one for me to perform but such a huge payoff. A standout on the record.

TR: Happiness Is A Warm Gun. It twists like a body scolded with boiling water, then slinks like a muskrat. Each night it means something different. And with better imagery than I've just attempted.

What’s your favourite hidden gem on the album?

PJ: I consider most of these songs to be the opposite of hidden now as I am so intertwined with the material. That being said, I love Goodnight. Is it hidden because it's at the end?

JP: I never really knew Long, Long, Long before we did this show. It's kind of a slow burner, but it's one of Harrison's best songs I reckon. It's really cool and quite psychedelic, and the production on the recorded version is really interesting.

CC: Long, Long, Long - one that Josh sings. You get shivers down the spine when he sings it, it's such a highlight of the show. It wasn't one that I paid much attention on the album but when we did the concerts it stood out. Josh's delivery makes it special.

TR: Julia. Not exactly hidden, but the hurt and bewilderment of that boy's relationship with his mum is laid bare, then completed two years later with Mother. Hang on, must call Mum.

What’s your advice for tackling one of the most iconic albums of all time live?

PJ: Hmmm. Don't fuck it up.

JP: I think we all realised the first time we did this show that we needed to put our own spin on the songs. It's such a revered and loved record it'd be silly to try to copy it. But you also want to show respect, so it's a fine line.

CC: Take the plunge. It's sacred ground, but the four of us are such Beatles nuts why wouldn't we do it? We are aware to not go too far from the album but we are not trying to be The Beatles. We are playing the songs in our own way.

TR: Turn up, dress up, give it up. Furthermore, if yer not in it, yer out of it. It's the same approach I had to the initial blueprints for my skyscraper made of boiled cabbage and linoleum.

Have there been any change-ups since the 2009 and 2014 tours?

PJ: Not really. I've become more infatuated with different songs off the record. The band and singers involved are largely the same, though we will miss Paul Gray incredibly this time.

JP: We're always changing little things and adding harmonies or interactions. It's been such an ongoing thing that we need to change things up a bit in order to keep it organic and vibrant.

CC: Not the song allocation. We are doing essentially the same songs that have been divided up on past tours. We are going to add a few extra songs and a few little surprises. It was Tim's idea to do something special and different towards the end.

TR: Within the band, precious few. Chris is less tolerant of Phil's japes, Josh has expanded his catalogue of impressions to include the Impressionists, catalogically (sic), Phil is less tolerant of Chris's lessening tolerance. I have addressed my ignorance of pitch and range. We have some surprises in the setlist.

Where does 'the White Album' sit against stone-cold classics like abbey Road and Sgt Peppers?

PJ: 'The White Album' is a double album filled with quirk and flaws and terror and melody and avant-garde and country and rock'n'roll and craziness. It kind of has everything. It's broader in scope that the other albums, making it a great live experience.

JP: Well those other albums are both obviously much more concise and cohesive, and it's schizophrenic and long in comparison. It's been a grower. I didn't have a deep appreciation for it before performing it, but now I have a more personal relationship with it than any other Beatles album.

CC: Sgt Peppers is such a stylised album, while Abbey Road is a triumph in that the band were falling apart but made one last record together. 'The White Album' you hear four individuals splintering off but showing how powerful they were individually. A different album for any band to make.

TR: Stone-cold is no way to eat an LP, gimme a piping hot Album Blanc. Pass the hooch.

Lennon or McCartney?

PJ: I adore both.

JP: I'm on a bit of a Harrison trip actually. Lennon was a genius, no doubt, and I suppose more dark in his subject matter etc, but I think Harrison was hugely underrated as a songwriter and also a vocalist. He had an amazing voice in his own right.

CC: It's difficult, but I'm going to say Macca because I l love his solo stuff, I love Wings, his diversity in The Beatles. I mean, to write Yesterday and Helter Skelter! He is a kickass guitar player, drummer, singer, piano player. The guy is an awesome force of nature.

TR: Who did they play for? The Beatlemen? They both knew how to smoke nonchalantly and answer with charm. Excellent in a press conference, but lousy when the game became tight.

The White Album Concert tour kicks off this Friday; head to theGuide for more info.