The Painkillers
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The Painkillers

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The best kept secret in music

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5/5 stars

Maybe it's damaged hearing, a hankering for those increasingly scarce things called organic songs, or just old age, but two of the best albums to cause middle ear imbalances in these parts in the past 12 months have been acoustic. In 2005, there were the Appalachian stylings of the Salmon/Peno-powered Darling Downs' "How Can I Forget This Heart of Mine". Now I'm dosed up on Perth's Painkillers, whose "Drunk On a Train" is a folk-punk prescription formulated to blow 'most any blues away.

Traveling light with just drums, guitar and voice, The Painkillers are trashy, whimsical, funny, quirky, poignant and, dare it be said, wonderful. And they have great tunes. These are observations and diary notes as much as songs. The writing gets a little hard to read at times but there's much of the charm. Vignettes about being blotto on public transport, chatting up girls and hanging out can't go wrong when delivered like this.

Keeping time is James Baker, a man for whom the term Legendary was tailor-made. You may have been Born To Be Punched but he's meant to be revered, preferably with an ale in hand. Make that a tray of beers. The man's not a camel. Perth punk's original one-man scene, his resume includes notable service with The Scientists, Le Hoodoo Gurus (the "Le" not being the only thing they shed), the Beasts of Bourbon and The Dubrovniks. And he could have trademarked striped T-shirts in the days when the fashion stylist to Jet was still an itch in her father's groin.

Doing the vocalising, guitaring and any other odd jobs is Joe Bludge, a Perth solo artist of growing blues repute who also played in some local band I never heard of but presumably others did. Joe's a generation apart from James and on his own admission would probably flop if called up to appear on Spicks and Specks with his bandmate's curriculum vitae as his specialist topic. Not a problem because at times he seems to be effortlessly channelling a healthy whack of Sir James' trash-rock sensibilities. But let's not call in The Exorcist just yet...

No-one should be surprised when they're moved by simple songs delivered on an acoustic guitar. After all, 90 percent of rock and roll was written that way. The Painkillers work because they know this and take their lead from the likes of Leadbelly, Dylan and Johansen. There's a faintest of echos of the Presleys (Elvis and Reg)

Joe Bludge wrote all the originals bar two co-writes ("Drunk on a Train" and "Redfern Girl") and the drummer stays well away from the microphone with frontman aspirations of James Baker Experience days apparently on the backburner for now. The singing job's ably filled by Bludge, whose laconic, down-home vocals are wonderfully weather-born. At times sounding like Dylan without the damage - even adopting a UK passport for "Soho"- his voice is home to more characters than your youngest kid's end-of-term infants school musical. Self-effacing lyrics like "Cara-Lane shall we move to Perth/And live at the end of the earth" don't hurt either.

Painkillers songs are like the coin-operated movie machines that used to populate amusement piers and old-time fairs. Pop in a coin and crank the handle to watch a re-enactment of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight, or a heavily made-up tart who went to school with your great grandmother being raced off by a villain with a handlebar mo. They're not the same vintage but there are lots of quirky little movies to explore in songs like the gentle "Honey Bees" (replete with simulated buzzing), the ultra-catchy title track and the pigeon pair of geographically-displaced girlfriend stories, "Soho" (with its scads of electric guitar) and "Redfern Girl (where wheezy harmonica and Baker's rolling drums come into their own).

Johnny, Jerry and Arthur would nod on approvingly in appreciation of The Painkillers' treatment of "Lonely Planet Boy", the solitary and entirely appropriate cover song that shuts down the album. It's possibly more wistful than the original, if possible and anyone who's made sense of this review so far should take to it like DavidJo to black nail polish.

It's evident that The Painkillers sold their souls to the devil for a case of Swan Lager and a battered second-hand drum kit at some dusty crossroads outside Rockingham, on the southern reaches of the Perth-Fremantle Delta. For that we should all be glad.

– The Barman

- I-94 Magazine


THE PAINKILLERS - Train Of Consequence

Comprised of dead-set Perth legend James Baker on drums and Joe Bludge on everything else, The Painkillers are a new band with an old methodology. Their debut release Drunk On A Train is out now, and the band play the Hydey on Friday, September 1, and Sunday, September 3, then the Velvet Lounge on Thursday, September 14. Joe Bludge also plays solo at the Perth Blues Club on Tuesday, September 12.

"To be honest I wasn't really familiar with most of his work," admits a chuckling Joe Bludge of his partner in musical crime James Baker. "I knew the bands he was in, and had heard a few songs, but I certainly didn't know his career as well as a lot of people do. It's pretty much been other people filling me in on his background," laughs Bludge.

How the pair came to form The Painkillers, then, is something of a twist of fate. Bludge, already becoming known in the local scene as a solo performer, seemed to be in the right place at the right time to catch the attention of the inauspicious-looking Baker. Take one solo performer, add one veteran drummer, and the rest is writing itself. Though Bludge speaks modestly of himself, he is very quick to point out the massive impact Baker's musicianship has had on his life.

"He's just such a great drummer," Bludge begins, "and, you know, he hits them so hard. I think he just understands the songs and knows how to put drums to them. It's pretty easy to write when you have a drummer like that."

And does the younger gun get at all overwhelmed by the veteran's reputation? "Well, not really, because I just wasn't a die-hard fan of the bands he was in," Bludge admits without making a fuss. "Everyone else seems to think it's a bigger deal than I do (laughs) because to me he's my mate and he's our drummer. I know there's a lot of serious James Baker fans in town, and they get more caught up on the 'legend' thing than I do."

One would expect that Bludge's down-to-earth mentality is part of what appealed to Baker to begin with. That and - it almost goes without saying - his musical prowess. The Painkillers, for those uninitiated, is what happens to folk music when it's played with a punk rock frame of mind… for want of a better description. Writing such organic music, Bludge explains, is in itself an organic experience, and one that follows its own train.

"Writing songs with James is pretty easy," he says, "because some of the songs I write at home and James then adds his ideas to them… some of them are written together… and some of them are ideas that James brings to me to work on. We're both pretty much coming from the same place, and I think now we both know what The Painkillers is all about, so we can get down to it pretty easily."

Coming to this mutual understanding of their own music has seen The Painkillers become more and more focused and self-aware. Drunk On A Train documents this evolution, with some of the songs being part of the duo's first generation batch, and others being more recent. Bludge explains that it was their independent label Blazing Strumpet's enthusiasm that saw the CD become a realistic prospect for release.

"We'd recorded some songs, but I don't think we were going to release them, then the Blazing Strumpet guys said they'd like to put them out, which was surprising and awesome. I know those guys are big fans of James' bands… like a lot of people in Perth."

However incidentally, Joe Bludge has written himself into this mammoth career, with The Painkillers being another quality entry into the Baker CV. Bludge himself, though, somehow seems destined to follow a similar rise to cult stardom. His solo work (which, it has to be said, is not Painkillers stuff sans-drums) possesses the same kind of young guy / old guy timeless charm last seen in a youthful Nick Cave, though sounding somewhere between Dylan and that lonely busker who breaks your heart.

At this point The Painkillers may be Bludge's most recognisable work, and he himself may be somewhat overlooked due to his musical partner's stature, but when you consider said musical partner never used to be 'Perth legend James Baker', but was just a cool drummer in bands that had more 'famous' members; it stands to reason that Bludge's destiny rests in no one's shadow.

If life was a romantic comedy, then Joe Bludge and James Baker would be the same man… somehow ripped out of their own timelines and put together to save each other.

Needless to say, the soundtrack would kick fuckin' arse
- Mike Wafer, Xpress Magazine - August 06, Mike wafer


“Who is Joe Bludge and where does he come from? Well if you listen to the song Joe Bludge on The Painkillers album you might just find out. According to this tale of woe featuring Joe’s sidekick James Baker on some very tasty syncopated drums Joe is supposed to come from Kansas or maybe Gin Gin. Wherever it doesn’t matter. Josh Reynold’s alter ego who croons in a Suicide come rockabilly sneer has got it bad and that ain’t good! Apparently there’s been a thousand songs written about Joe Bludge and this is just one of them.

James Baker saw Joe Bludge performing solo at The Castle Hotel over a year ago performing his own self written gems and thought to himself these songs need drums. “My drums.” says Baker in his usual no nonsense drawl down the phone. Before Joe Bludge was invented Josh Reynolds was the singer and songwriter in the very quirky and difficult Mrs Henry.

The Painkillers grew out of that Castle gig and in the last few months the two piece have played constantly supporting headline acts and doing it for the kids down at the Hydey and Mojos and the Rosemount. The band’s popularity has grown due to a few factors. Mr. Baker’s Hall Of Fame Wami Award certainly reminded people that this living legend was very much alive. Not merely resting on his Beasts of Bourbon/Hoodoo Gurus/Scientists/Victims laurels but still bashing out very relevant rock in his hometown. Aligning themselves with a record label such as Blazing Strumpet Records was another good luck charm. The Strumpets’ catalogue of Homicides, zxspecky, Project Mayhem and The Standard Deviants is a force to be reckoned with. All releases come with very distinctive covers and the label’s motto seems to be “ make music that is honest and certainly not flavour of the month”. Recorded half at Bergerk and half at Max “Mongrel” Drucker’s Sound Session Studios the Drunk on A Train CD will be launched at the Amplifier Bar on the 26th August with Sex Panther, Fall Electric Orchestra and The Volcanics in support.

The title track has already captured many a listener’s imagination all knowing that feeling of drunkenly chatting up a girl and sleeping on a train till there are no more stations. This is one of the few Baker songs amongst a collage of Josh Reynold compositions. Grab’s favourite is Honey Bees an uncharacteristically moody mid tempo ballad which is a tribute to those things that go zzzz zzzzz around the place. Josh’s vocals are doubled to great effect and the support from James is impeccable as always. Facility Friend is another character we’ve all met and for some of us stays a companion for too long. As Josh sings “Are you gonna come through? I know you’ll come through cause you always do.” Waiting for the man can get you down and on the Dylanesque Porcupine that friend is there again rearing his ugly head when the rest of the world lets poor old Bludge down. Reynolds is a master of stylistic voicings sounding like a folk poet one minute and then Iggy or Ian Hunter the next. His voice has an authority that sounds a lot older and wiser than his years. See them borrow another drumkit and steal another’s band’s fans very soon.”
- Groove Magazine, October 06



THE AGE, Melbourne


Drunk on a Train
The Painkillers
(Blazing Strumpet/Reverberation)

4 stars out of 4.

James Baker played drums for many of Australia’s great rock bands – the Victims, the Scientists, the Hoodoo Gurus and the Beasts of Bourbon – but left before they took off. And now he has applied his powerful primitive drumming style to new duo The Painkillers, teaming up with acoustic guitarist Joe Bludge. Drunk on a Train contains a suite of 11 lo-fi organic songs that fuse the early acoustic Bob Dylan with the detached cool and New York drawl of ‘80s solo era Lou Reed. The catchy title track and Wild & Western Land are reminiscent of the punk folk styling of soon-to-be-touring Hammell on Trial and punk poet Jim Carroll; while Facility Friend and the whimisical Honey Bees recalls slacker rocker J Mascis’ mellower offerings and Porcupine is reminiscent of the Lemonheads at their most reflective. It’s the cracked vocal, lived-in lyrics, loose playing and 3am on the couch-and-beerscharm that make it so appealing.

PATRICK DONOVAN


- THE AGE


The Painkillers
Drunk On A Train
Blazing Strumpet/Reverberation
Reviewed by Marc English

Drunk On A Train is Perth group The Painkillers debut release. Known around Perth for their energetic and honest approach to playing live, this two-piece have produced a recording that captures this to a T.
The opening and title track Drunk On A Train takes you on a possible autobiographical journey of drummer James Baker’s (Ex The Scientists, Hoodoo Gurus, Beasts of Bourbon and The Dubrovniks) Perth metro rail transit system experience, hence the title. Need I say more?
Honey Bees is a live favourite, a softer melancholic track that oozes honey itself albeit with guitarist/vocalist Joe Bludge sometimes sounding like Neil Young, sometimes like Iggy Pop with a splash of Tom Waits.
Overall the album has a little bit of something for everyone with smatterings of rockabilly, delta blues, folk punk and saccharine infused pop soaked in whiskey.
The Painkillers are touring Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane this month. You can find full dates at www.myspace.com/thepainkillers.

- Rockus



Support band Devil Rock Four are into their last song at The Ex in front of a small crowd, in town from Melbourne. Apart from headscarves (a la Johnny Thunders) there’s not a lot I can tell you. The summation from someone who should know is that they were very excellent cock rock, and while I have far too many promos in the pipeline to go and scrounge a copy of their CD, the word was pretty positive.

If it was Cock Rock it was well removed from what’s up next and it’s a shame the room isn’t full for Perth visitors The Painkillers. They are drummer James Baker and guitarist/vocalist Joe Bludge and you could say they do a nice line in punk-folk. Baker is a founding father of and/or sometimes unwitting attitudinal role model for much of what we’ve come to know as Australian trash punk. A member of the Scientists, the Beasts of Bourbon and the (le) Hoodoo Gurus, he’s been near invisible on the East Coast since the demise of would-be International Big Deal, the Dubrovniks. Joe Bludge is a bit of a dark horse – a generation younger than James and a fixture on the small Perth blues scene. There’s a bit of a Hoodoo Gurus reunion going on in the front bar when I arrive with Clyde Bramley and James Baker firmly in control of glasses of amber fluid. Good to see.


For a duo travelling light there’s no shortage of friends/followers assisting with changeovers between sets. Not that there’s a lot to set up other than an amp and a kit. Joe takes the stage in mild-mannered shirt, tailored slacks and bare feet and when James is prised away from Clyde et al at the bar, it’s in characteristic striped T-shirt, leather pants and Cuban heels. Trash rock chic.

If you haven’t wrapped your ears around the quirky charms of The Painkillers’ self-titled debut album you’re missing out, and the first few songs show the duo have been writing new material and moving forward. The Painkillers keep it simple and distinctive. Baker’s ebb-and-flow drums provide the rolling dynamics and bedrock, Bludge’s driving acoustic guitar and off-kilter vocals the colour. It’s as “punk” (whatever that means) as you want it to be in its attitude - and it’s worth reflecting that 99 percent of songs written in that genre were probably worked up on a battered acoustic six-string anyway.

My only misgivings were (a.) that what looked like a hired kit (you expected James Baker to haul his own all the way from Perth?) sounded like a bag of shit and (b.) the brunette in the shorts and thongs down front had the most annoying in-between song banshee scream I’d heard in many a month.


Sydney garage rock fixture Craig Moorebeers (aka the Tommy Iommi look-alike at the front of most shows) asks for – and gets – a segue into “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (where would Sydney be without the Stooges?) but the bulk of the set is self-penned. “Lonely Planet Boy” and - from out of left-field - Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (there’s that scream again) are the exceptions to that rule and both well-delivered. The online “hit” “Drunk On a Train” gets an outing late in the piece.

The killers for mine, however, are the ‘geographical chick tunes’ - “Soho Girl” and “Redfern Girl” – which are left to the encore. James Baker is happy to remain “the drummer…just a drummer…in a rock and roll band” but alludes to his one and only solo single as a vocalist (“Born to Be Punched” b/w “I Can’t Control Myself” on Redeye – just try and find a copy, if you can) with a shouted “Oh No!” as he passes the microphone after the set proper. If it wasn’t a seminal moment, it was a fucking funny one.

- I94 BAR


Posted November 21, 2006
Drinking on Trains:
A reflective beer with
the legendary
James Baker
The name James Baker is synonomous with Australian garage rock. His musical exploits read like a who’s who of legendary Australian music – one third of legendary Perth proto-garage punk outfit The Victims, original drummer (and songwriter) with the garage pop incarnation of The Scientists, skinsman in the first (and best) line-up of The Hoodoo Gurus, founding member of Australia’s best known rock supergroup, the Beasts of Bourbon and drummer with the sadly underappreciated Dubrovniks.
Baker’s distinctive primitive drumming style has defined much of the music he’s been associated with; his empathy with, and affection for, the garage punk genre is as vivid in the bands he’s played with as his classic Brian Jones-meets-Fred Smith pudding bowl hair cut. In the mid 1980s Baker also ventured to the front of the studio to record a cover of The Troggs’ "I Can’t Control Myself" and the original (and highly amusing) "Born to Be Punched". After The Dubrovniks broke-up in the mid 1990s Baker retreated to Perth where’s stayed active, but well under the music scene,at least east of the Western Australian border.
Baker’s name has cropped up again recently as one half (with Joe Reynolds aka Joe Bludge) in Perth duo The Painkillers. The band’s debut album “Drunk On a Train” is rightly receiving plenty of kudos (read The Barman’s glowing review here). Baker is about to make his first journey east in over ten years to promote the album. PATRICK EMERY caught up with the legendary James Baker to discuss his history, legacy and contemporary activities.

James Baker and Joe Bludge contemplate having a myspace.com hit single and the riches that brings.
I’ve read that you were profoundly influenced by your time overseas in the mid 1970s when you saw many of the classic UK and US punk bands. What are your memories of those gigs?
My memories are great. It changed my whole attitude to music – not necessarily changed my attitude, maybe, because I was already into the New York Dolls and MC5 before I went away, but made it easier to put a band together. It was a very exciting time to be there, going to see all those bands in London in ’76, ’77. Punk rock did change a lot of things, and lots more people picked up instruments, lots more women picked up instruments which was great – it wasn’t racist or sexist or anything like that. It shaped modern music today more than anything else, more than Aerosmith or anything like that.
Were you playing drums before you experienced the US and UK punk scenes?
Yes. I was in a couple of bands, one called Black Sun here in Perth which played Stooges songs, and another one called Swing City Boys that wanted to sound like the New York Dolls. But none of them did anything apart from playing a few school dances.
You’ve always had a very distinctive drumming style. Has that always been your preferred style?
Oh yeah. My biggest influence is Ron Bond from the Troggs. I always try and sound like him no matter what music I play. He was a big influence – simple, basic primitive drummer which is what I like.”
Your musical history up until the demise of The Dubrovniks is fairly well known. What have you done since The Dubrovniks broke-up?
I played in a couple of bands here, once called Novakill, one called the Tear Jerks. We had a little bit of success here on the local scene, didn’t do too much and broke up too soon. I’ve actually been playing but you guys wouldn’t have heard about those bands.
When was the last time you played live in Melbourne?
About 14 years ago (laughs).
Have you actually played outside Perth in that time?
No. We went to Sydney to do the fourth Dubrovniks album, but we didn’t do any gigs. That was 1995 or something.
What about the last time you toured Europe with The Dubrovniks – was that about the same time?
About the same time, yes.
When did you first start playing with Josh Reynolds (aka Joe Bludge), and what attracted you to playing with him?
Well I knew him before then in a band called Mrs Henry which I thought was quite a good band. I saw him solo one night and I always got along well with him as a person and I thought ‘wow, I could add drums to that and it would sound really good’.
So I went up and asked him straight away, and we had a jam the next week and it worked out really well – it worked out better than I expected. I’m really happy with the recording. We have heaps more songs that we’re going to record in January, I think.

No pain no gain: The Painkillers live.
Is the Painkillers a shared musical vision, or are you both bringing something different to the music – given that your background is garage rock, and Josh’s background has more folk?
That’s a good observation. I do come from a more punk, underground scene. Josh has played more folk punky sort of stuff, although we both appreciate the same sort of bands. He’s a - I94 Bar


Discography

"Drunk on a Train" through Blazing Strumpet Records, September 2006.

Main radio interest on track 1, "Drunk on a Train" and track 3, "Honey Bees".

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Perth City: The Painkillers sloppy, raucous style and their penchant for hitting thing’s hard has made the acoustic guitar/drum combo a cherished fixture on the local circuit, and they are about to spread their tattered wings.

The duo’s well-regarded debut album, “Drunk on a Train”, was released in September through Blazing Strumpet records in conjunction with Reverberation, comprising of 11 tracks recorded at Bergerk Studious with Al “Dr Alien” Smith. The album was released locally in late August at a packed out gig in The Amplifier Bar, Perth, and has gained airplay on alternative stations around Australia, with the title track recently slotting in at number one on the JJJ Unearthed Jukebox.

The album release was the culmination of a busy schedule of gigs undertaken locally by the PK’s over the previous months, including tour support spots for The Beasts of Bourbon, Pharaohs, Brian Hooper, Spencer Jones and Dave Graney, in between a stack of “home and away” gigs across Perth and Fremantle.

In support of the recent release, the Painkillers are also pleased to announce an East coat run of shows starting on November 24 in Brisbane, Sydney on the 25 November, immediately followed by an extended visit to Melbourne, finishing with the Tote on 28 November.

HISTORICAL NOTE : The recent popularity of The Painkillers has also lead to a renewed interest in the duo's iconic drummer, James Baker and his remarkable career. Revered for his iconoclastic approaches in the debut releases of all his major bands - The Victims, The Scientists, The Hoodoo Gurus, The Beasts of Bourbon, the ever fashionable James Baker Experience and The Dubrovniks - as well for the classic songs he contibruted on those and subsequent releases, Baker has long weilded the drum-sticks in a fashion primitive enough to prick the ears of the uber-cool. Teaming up with acclaimed punk-folk soloist Joe Bludge, Baker's work with The Painkillers represents his current, somewhat self-reflexive take on rock and roll.