GANGgajang has been part of the Australian pub music landscape since 1984 when their self-titled debut album permeated our summers with hits such as This is Australia, House of Cards and Gimme Some Lovin’.
Thirty-two years on the band is still together. With the same lineup. A tribute to the mateship of a bunch of lads who grew up together on the road. Somehow that’s the underlying feel of GANGgajang: it feels good because it is good.
‘We’re good mates,’ says Robbie James, vocalist and guitarist for the group. ‘I think of GANGgajang like a league of gentlemen. We are all nice to each other! It’s so un-rock’n’roll! Sure we have our disagreements, and that makes us closer.’
GANGgajang are Robbie, Mark Callaghan, Geoffrey Stapleton and Graham Bidstrup. Their bass player Chris Bailey passed away in April 2013 of throat cancer. The band still feel the loss.
‘Being without Chris is weird every day of my life to be honest. When you have been with a band that has been together 32 years and toured the world and made records, you have a real closeness. I think I have had more breakfasts with the band than with my own family. Chris still finishes sentences for me every day; he’s a brother in arms. It was at Chris’s urging that we did this last stuff. One of his last things he said before he died was ‘Please don’t stop, I want you to keep going’. He was even suggesting bass players!
We know how lucky we are – we know it’s very rare that a band sticks together with the same members.’
Perhaps part of the magic of GANGgajang is rooted in the magic of their place of inception. Sydney in the 1980s was a remarkable place. Alive with music and culture, but still blessed with a naivety and lack of self-consciousness that made it such a centre for Australian music.
‘You could feel it as a musician,’ says Robbie, reflecting on that era, ‘and for the decades leading up to it I always wanted that to happen and I always knew it would. I knew when the Aboriginal bands came up and were part of mainstream music we had arrived. That’s the Aboriginal culture: you sing about your country to keep it alive; an unsung land is a dead land… (that’s from Songlines by Bruce Chatwin). The Indigenous people believe quite literally that music created the world and the songlines criss-cross the whole country and it’s still there today and the songs created their world. I like to believe that too. I think that crosses to all our cultures…’
The band are currently recording a new studio album. Robbie laughs at the band’s recording history.
‘Four studio albums in 32 years. We are a bit slack. We are very Aussie. We don’t like being pressured! We’ll do things when we are good and ready. I think that’s part of our longevity too – we have no airs and graces!’
In March, they released the first new single, Circles In The Sand, taking us back to where it all began. It reminds us once again of who we are, where we live – and in doing so offers a glimpse of a different, more inclusive future. Their current single, Not Waiting Around, has just been released and both these singles were added to a remastered release of the band’s 1985 debut album GANGgajang, titled GANGgajang Remastered. When the album was first recorded, it was mastered purely for vinyl, as the digital era had only just begun to exist, hence the decision to remaster this classic Australian album, three decades later. GANGgajang Remastered is available for digital download and on CD from the band’s website and Facebook page.
GANGgajang is the kind of band that rolls with the punches. While most bands are eager to get overseas, Ganga was always a bit reluctant.
‘We didn’t really have any massive desire to go overseas, we just like doing what we do. We went overseas a few times. We went to Brazil more than anything. There was a guy who used to run a radio show over there and hosted surfing competitions around the world; he hosted one in Australia in the 80s and he took back all this Australian music that we were deeply part of, and he started playing all these songs on his radio show and then 10 years later he gives us a call and says, ‘Come to Brazil and play,’ and we ask but why?
Even on the plane we are wondering why we are going to Brazil – the guy will do his money. We got there and our songs were famous there. Our first gig was to 5,000 people and they knew all the lyrics!’
‘GANGgajang needs things like that to make us do it, we need pushing, we are not the most active…
‘In that studio we got about five or six songs started. We re-mastered our first album; it was our classic album; it was never remastered for digital. I put it on the shelf. We have so many new songs we haven’t recorded yet. We only have four studio albums in about 32 years.
Playing all the hits from their first album, along with new songs written over three decades, GANGgajang play Lismore City Hall on Friday 9 September with Antibodies as support.
7.30–11.30pm, 18+. No concessions.
Tickets $30 in advance, $35 at the door if available.
On sale now from NORPA Box Office: