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Mick Thomas on New Memoir, Living Above Pubs, Sticking With St. Kilda

Former Wedding Parties Anything frontman captures his life of poetic folk storytelling and sweaty pub-rock in revealing new memoir and album.

It’s his birthday, but he’s working. Mick Thomas spent the past year completing These Are the Days, a revealing memoir that uses the stories behind his songs to tell the tale of his life as a musician. There’s also a companion 23-track double-CD called These Are the Songs. Ahead of an appearance at April’s Gum Ball Festival, Thomas will host a book launch on March 22nd at Melbourne’s Sky Theatre.

We recently caught up with the former Wedding Parties Anything frontman for the latest instalment of our Living Legend series, discussing his new output and how, while he no longer lives above pubs, he still spends a lot of time playing in them.

Happy birthday.
Thanks. I’m 57 today. Same age as Prince when he died.

Are you feeling healthier than Prince?
Well, you’d want to feel healthier than Prince. I feel pretty good and I think I’m going all right. I’m still out and about.

So, you’ve got a memoir and a retrospective album. Is 57 an age where you start looking in the rearview mirror at where you’ve been and what you’ve done?
I guess so. The whole project came out of me having a whole lot of records that were being deleted and falling out of print. I wanted a record with a bunch of that stuff on it that I could still sell at gigs, because that’s my bread and butter these days. And to make that a warranted kind of project, with the whole physical side of records diminishing, I wanted to put a book with it to make it substantial for people. Plus people can’t stream a book.

Is it true you’re not at all fond of the way the debut Weddings album Scorn of the Women turned out?
None of the Weddings are comfortable with the way that album ended up sounding. It was the Eighties and they were recording music a certain way and we certainly got off to a really bad start with our recording career. It was a weird time for technology and music and it was a bit of a pity. But then again, I just bought the Natalie Merchant album where she re-recorded her first album. I love her music, but God, that’s 25 bucks I’ll never get back. Re-doing your old songs can be fraught. So for all my misgivings about that first Weddings album, it was what it was.

Weddings have done reformation shows over the years. It’s usually football games that provide the impetus, right?
You’re right. The first time was the Community Cup in Melbourne in about 2007 and it felt good. We played Grand Final Eve in Melbourne for a few years, but then to keep it going every year would rob it of expectations a bit, so we stopped. We played Scorn of the Women at the Enmore Theatre and we played our last show in 2012 at the EG Hall Of Fame induction, which is a big deal in Melbourne. And if that’s it, then I’m happy to leave it with that. Never say never, but it’s pretty unlikely we’ll play again.

You’ve written a clutch of songs about football and I know you follow St. Kilda. Is there anything more frustrating than being a St. Kilda supporter?
Being a Richmond supporter, I reckon [laughs]. It was pretty tough watching Footscray [the Western Bulldogs] sweep all before them last year. Although it does prove that you can come out of nowhere and do it, so there’s hope. For me the bottom line is knowing that your club is not run by a bunch of dickheads who make bad decisions. As long as they don’t do that you’ve got to keep supporting them.

You wrote “Step In, Step Out” at the Hopetoun Hotel, and you’ve lived at different times above the Hopetoun, the Annandale and the Punters Club. Have you found it generally a good idea or a bad idea to live above pubs?
I think at a certain point in your life it’s fantastic. By living there you get to observe people and witness their lives and see them behaving in a certain way. It totally worked for me in those periods of time. If I would have had to live above the Punters Club 365 days a year I would have gone mad, but the Weddings were touring pretty heavily, so I spent about 100 nights a year above that pub for a couple of years. All the rooms are above the stage, so I remember coming home and going, “Oh fuck, the Cosmic Psychos are playing tonight and all I want to do is go to my room and watch a video.” But after the bands finish you can just go downstairs at 11:30 and have a couple of late ones and afterwards you’re already home.

“For a Short Time” is a song that often closes your shows and it holds a special place for both you and your fans, doesn’t it?
Yeah, but I try not to do it all the time. It gets in there at the second encore if we get one. People have to earn it, otherwise it just becomes a meaningless ritual. I think the reason people get so much out of that song is that it’s a tribute and testimonial to comradeship. It’s about the person who’s not there, the person who has passed on, so I see why people attach emotion to it. But I won’t be badgered into doing it as a fait accompli.

Do people come up and tell you what the song means to them specifically?
Oh yeah. Also, I do private gigs quite a lot now. Older fans want me to play in their backyard for a 60th birthday or 40th wedding anniversary. There have been a couple of nights like that where you become aware you’re playing for someone who’s not going to be there very much longer. Their friends say they want us to play “For a Short Time” and I realise we’re playing for someone who has pretty much been given the sentence and I ask, “Are you sure you want me to play it?” And they say, “We are fucking so sure. You have to play that song.” And so you play it and you watch people losing it and it means so much to them, so you can’t deny them. It can be very confronting at times, but it’s nothing but an honour for me that people make something I’ve written a part of their lives.