Late one night I received a phone call from John Williams - founding member of Scum of The Earth (and world renowned classical guitarist). This didn't surprise me, as John often called people late at night - having no concept of the passage of time himself, the tortured artist that he is....
What did surprise me, however, was John's request that I write a few words about the band, to serve as liner notes for their cd. I was dumfounded. I had been an avid fan of the band for many, many years. "Yeah, right, like you've got around to doing a CD..." was my reply.
Yes folks, until the piece of round silver plastic that accompanies these words was pressed and sold, the Scum Of The Earth experience was strictly live.
Ladies and Gentlemen, what you possess in your hands is nothing short of a miracle. The 'world's laziest band' have finally released their debut album.
Obviously, it's too much to ask that they record all in one session, so the tracks you find here date from 1990-1998. A true work in progress.... even these liner notes, took all of nine months to write.... well, nine months to procrastinate, and then one night of writing before deadline...
This CD has been likened to watching sloth's (or is that slothe?) in mating season. A long wait for something offensive to the senses. But I digress...
Many members passed through the band over the years, and most of them are found somewhere on this recording. It brings a tear to the eye, to think of the preparation behind this release.
Forming the band was the easy part. Scum of the Earth met many, many challenges throughout their life span. Challenges that would crush a lesser band. Whilst they had their share of lineup changes over the years, the ever-changing faces weren't the main problem.... No, theirs was a deeper challenge, at the very core of their being - probably best described as 'motivational'. It wasn't always that way.
I remember the excitement of booking the first rehearsal...and, hey. If they had all turned up who knows? They could've gone to the local curry house together, or something. Turning up to important events (e.g. rehearsals, gigs, recording sessions) was a stumbling block for the band. In fact current drummer, Beef, was part of Scum for a full year before he met all the members.
Precautionary steps were taken, and flyers for their live shows were amended accordingly. As well as giving details of the lineup, the date and the venue; an extra message was added saying: "If you see someone from the band...please tell them about the gig.... OK??" Whilst this tactic was somewhat effective for getting all of the members to the particular venue on the date in question...perhaps it needed to be a little more verbose. Remember - this isn't an ordinary band we're dealing with, but a fragile and delicate ecosystem of rare beauty and pure genius - often so caught up in their art, that subtleties were easily missed.
No, the message should have read: "If you see someone from the band.... please tell them about the gig...and please tell them not to forget their guitars, straps, picks, drum kits, basses, amplifiers etc. Oh screw it...If you own an instrument of any kind, please just bring it along, 'cause we'll probably need to borrow it.... thanks. No, wait.... forget about the whole gig thing...how about we just all go have a curry instead?"
As far as dedication goes, full marks are to be given to John - the fearless leader. He rarely missed a rehearsal and only forgot a handful of gigs. And as soon as Beef (drums) purchased a guitar and an amplifier and started bringing them to every show, John's equipment/memory problems were also solved.
Well may we laugh now? However, in order to understand the great minds and forces behind Scum of The Earth, one must delve back in time - to the climate of their conception. When we look in retrospect on the career of Scum, we're taken back to a troublesome time in history. A point that many look back upon in shame. A time so completely devoid of style and substance, that one wonders how anything timeless could have emerged.... and yet it did.... it did.
At the turn of the decade there was a whisper growing on the streets which would one day become a mighty roar- a veritable tidal wave of passion, sound and emotion. In these turbulent years the kids demanded with one voice; a new sound. A music that would express their growing dissatisfaction with politics, art, life and society (remember the key to becoming a punk icon is to use the word 'society' as often as possible...).
A band had to rise to meet the challenge set out for them, a band with vision, a goal, purpose and direction. A band that would be the embodiment of the disgruntled generation X'ers. That band was of course, Nirvana, but the point is, it could have been Scum.
In fact the founding members of Scum, quite liked Nirvana (before they sold-out, of course) and furthermore could easily have written songs like 'Lithium' or 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', but they refused to write gibberish. They preferred to eat curry and door knock for the ALP. As a result Scum wrote hard-hitting songs about government expenditure and Sharon Stone (and society).
When times were tough and morale was down, longstanding bass player, Phil, came into his own - holding the band together through thick and thin. It has been speculated that Phil's ability to whip up a hearty Vindaloo or Rogan Josh was the glue that kept them going in the hard times. Though it didn't make for a pleasant smelling rehearsal space.
However, Phil was not without his shortcomings. A frustrated bass player who reverted back to calypso riffs (e.g. "satisfied') in times of undue stress - Phil used a five string bass as if to say "Hey, I'm only one string away from being a guitarist". He needn't have bothered. Five strings were usually about three more than John had on his guitar at any given time anyway... Actually I'm not really sure if John even owns a guitar... Phil also had the arduous task of having to grow accustomed to a different drummer almost every time they played. Scum's first drummer Dave "Penguin" Nunn, quit the band after losing both his drum kits (and society) somewhere in his bedroom.
Shortly after came a succession of drummers eerily all named Andrew. Andy "the Case" Case, Andi "Megadeth" Jackson and Andrew "Beef" Fevre. Beef aptly plays on the bulk of the record, while only two songs feature Andi Jackson. Andy Case is not featured at all playing drums on any recordings herein.
As for Andi Jackson, I honestly don't know where to begin telling stories about him. I seem to vaguely remember him trying to impress girls by telling them that he was an ex-member of Megadeth...(and society). Fortunately his drumming days were tragically cut short when his house caught fire. In the wee small hours of the morning he awoke to find his house burning, and raced outside completely naked (don't ask...) to call for help. He leapt over his front fence, landed awkwardly and broke both his feet. To his dismay, he was alone on the street, naked, with two broken feet and a burning house behind him. Needless to say, he'd never drum again. Three weeks later he joined Scum.
After the band put a court restraining order on Andi, Beef joined the ranks of Scum. Beef, a self described "towering embodiment of manhood", was exactly what they needed. An average looking band at best, Beef soon became their pin-up boy with his charming boyish looks...not unlike a young Marky Mark. Beef also had the ingredient that the other drummers had been lacking. Dedication, commitment, and a drum kit (not to mention a spare guitar, amplifier, strap, tuner, lead and pick -all readily available for John)
This short history now brings us to the vocalist. Scum only had two of those. Marcus and Daniel. Marcus being the original vocalist (featured with the rest of the original lineup on the very last track on the album - "Under A Spell") left the band due to hearing problems incurred by Phil's sub-sonic B string (the five string bass really pulls the chicks). After an initial crossover period which saw the band have two frontmen, Daniel took over (which is completely in nature with his personality...) After Marcus left, Daniel brought a new focus and strange vegan smells to rehearsal.
However by placing a microphone in Daniel's hand John and Phil had created a monster. A barrage of abuse was hurled at unsuspecting punters. I remember one time; Dan so overcome and choked up with emotion informed a less than enthusiastic audience that they "were not cool". Soon Dan's vice like grip became megalomaniacal and problems ensued. He proceeded to offend other bands on the bill just for the fun of it. Soon he was teasing bands sharing rehearsal space. Problems escalated and Dan started to verbally abuse passers by, household chemicals, petroleum products, multinational corporations vegetation and society. He needed a new outlet for abuse...thus forming CeaseFire.
It is Daniel that vocalizes and socializes on the majority of this recording. He finished up the layout on the CD (he's also responsible for the art direction of the band) and left for a vacation lasting six months. Two days after he left, and well over a year after the last recordings had been made, John decided to take Scum back into the studio. He enlisted the help of CeaseFire bass player, Dave (a scum fan from way back) to do vocals on a couple of tracks, and was even so brazen as to do some vocals himself. Three songs were recorded at that time - marking the most recent work of Scum.
So there you have it, from humble beginnings, to humble endings. Scum of the Earth. "Better Late Than Never" is a discography of sorts that will no doubt be overlooked by the punk police.
When flipping through the annals of punk history.... no doubt funded by some corporate major label in a desperate attempt to sell more Offspring records...one may easily overlook references to Scum of the Earth.
However, to a few of us - particularly those who knew the band, this record is a landmark, a milestone. While John Williams, Phil Green, Daniel Phelan, Andrew Fevre and the others may not be household names - they are known and loved by several Indian Restaurateurs across Australia
In the six years that have passed since I first saw Scum of the Earth play live I have seen well over a thousand bands. People often ask me which band were the worst. My usual answer is "What did you say?" (The hearing isn't quite what it was...) and after a moments thought I would have to say Scum of the Earth.
When things went wrong, they were a shambles... But, at least you couldn't blame the mix. Andrew "Three Outdoor Gigs" Preston, had done sound for the band since day one and could more than mix a cup of soup. No, it was always something else...I remember one time when Andi (ex drummer/psychopath) ran out of drum sticks and thought if he just bashed the drums and cymbals with his knuckles everything would be OK. It wasn't...and neither were his knuckles. "Look at this man...bleeding for the sake of ART!!"
The next question I'm asked is invariably, "Who were the best band you've ever seen?" That one requires no thought. "Fugazi..." I earnestly reply ".... but Scum of the Earth, come a close second."
When Scum had it together, it was sheer brilliance. No, it wasn't necessarily 'tight', nor was it a remarkable show of 'musicianship'. But it was always, always entertaining. Very, very entertaining. Even on a bad night, you left the venue satisfied. If the venue was left standing that is...
My first Scum show, way, way back in 1992 held at original drummer, Penguin's house ended when the aforementioned abode (and society) was burnt to the ground by an over enthusiastic fan. (No, it was a separate incident to the previously mentioned fire). By an odd stroke of fate, it was later found that the perpetrator was none other than Beef - the current drummer. It's a small world, is it not?
Well may we politicize music, and well may we idolize music; but when all is said and done, music is merely entertainment. A way to make the passing of time more enjoyable. And that, my friends, is what Scum of the Earth excelled at.
- Ian "Molly" Meldrum