A Side of Madder Lake

A fresh faced young lad brought in some records to sell the other day. Some were good, some not so, but we came to an equitable agreement. Among them were the two Madder Lake studio albums in pretty good condition. “Ahh”, I said to him, “sadly Mick Fettes died yesterday.” He looked at me blankly.  “Mick Fettes was the singer of that band…”, I said, “Madder Lake… He was like an Australian Joe Cocker.” I know it’s not fair to make these sort of comparisons but my young customer got the idea. Mick Fettes was a unique performer with an amazing voice.

Stillpoint was Madder Lake’s first album and it quickly became an Australian classic. It was one of Mushroom’s first releases and therefore has the original Mushroom label designed (if my memory serves me correctly) by the brilliant Ian McCausland. Madder Lake had the distinction of opening the first Sunbury festival in 1972. A year later riding on the success of the album they had grown to be one of the headliners of Sunbury ’73. Vendors quote some ridiculous prices for Stillpoint – sometimes over $200 – but in reality you can shop around and get a good one for around fifty. Butterfly Farm was the follow up album, not quite as good in my opinion, but much rarer which paradoxically makes them more expensive.

There is one interesting thing about Stillpoint that makes it special for me. The LP format used to force artists and producers to make some agonising decisions regarding song order. Because there were two sides to a record you needed to get a balanced 20 minutes on each side. This task is not so tricky when you have a dozen 3-minute pop songs to juggle around. But progressive rock bands like Madder Lake tended to write longer songs giving less flexibility.  Sometimes these complications resulted in one side of an album being ‘better’ than its flip side – it’s all in the ear of the beholder of course. I get records where one side of the vinyl has been played to death while the other side is near mint. No guessing which side the previous owner loved the most.

For me Madder Lake’s Stillpoint album is a case in point. There is nothing wrong with side A: Salmon Song (8:23), On My Way to Heaven (4:53), and Helper (5:12). It is a fine 18 minutes of Australian bluesy rock. But side B has to be one of the best sides of rock music ever produced in Australia: Listen to the Morning Sunshine (5:03), Goodbye Lollipop (3:37), Song for Little Ernest (4:29), and 12lb Toothbrush (6:02). Play it LOUD and play it often. If you can’t be bothered turning it over, it doesn’t matter, just give side 2 another blast.

If you like this article you may like Tait’s Modern Guide to Record Collecting (Melbourne Books, 2016). Available from me or direct from the publisher.