Madder Lake

Madder Lake was an Australian rock band that released the 1973–74 albums Still Point and Butterfly Farm and charted with “Goodbye Lollipop” and “12lb Toothbrush.” As one of the earliest clients of Aussie music mogul Michael Gudinski, they played at three Sunbury Pop Festivals and cut the first studio titles on Mushroom Records.

Members: Mick Fettes (vocals, 1971-75), Jack Kreemers (drums), Brendon Mason (lead guitar), Kerry McKenna (bass, synthesizer, vocals, guitar), John McKinnon (piano, organ, vocals, ?-1973, 1976-78), Andy Cowan (keyboards, 1973-75), Colin Setches (vocals, 1975-76), Tony Lake (vocals, 1976-78), Ian Holding (bass, 1976)


Background

Madder Lake originated as San Sebastian, a blues-rock covers band formed in late 1968 by guitarist Brenden Mason and bassist Kerry McKenna, both graphic design majors at the Swinburne Institute of Technology. Each played beforehand in teenage beat groups. They rehearsed in an old dairy beside the Mason family home.

In 1969, they welcomed Mick Fettes, whose gruff caterwaul resembled Joe Cocker and Roger Chapman. He first performed with San Sebastian at a Victorian seaside pub.

By 1970, they secured a five-piece lineup with keyboardist John McKinnon and drummer Jack Kreemers. As gigs took precedence over studies, Mason and McKenna committed full-time to the band, which now performed originals inspired by Family, Traffic, and King Crimson. They renamed the band Madder Lake after the crimson dye–alum mixture used by painters. Band friend David Drakopoulos became their roadie and graphic illustrator.


Sunbury Pop Festival

In 1971, budding talent agent Michael Gudinski signed Madder Lake to his nascent booking agency, Consolidated Rock. They opened the inaugural Sunbury Pop Festival, held in January 1972 at George Duncan’s farm near Digger’s Rest in Greater Melbourne. The three-day event (Jan. 29–31) featured sets by Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Blackfeather, Carson, Chain, Company Caine, Highway, MacKenzie Theory, Pirana, SCRA, Spectrum, Tamam Shud, and Kiwi rockers The La De Da’s and Max Merritt & the Meteors.

By 1973, Madder Lake’s popularity secured them a headline slot at the second Sunbury Pop Festival (Jan. 27–29), an event MC’d by comedian Paul Hogan with sets by Bakery, Band of Light, Coloured Balls, Flying Circus, Mississippi, Sid Rumpo, and fifties Aussie rock ‘n’ roll icon Johnny O’Keefe.

On February 8, 1973, Madder Lake (as Madderlake) released their debut single: “Goodbye Lollypop” backed with “Bumper Bar Song,” both group-credited originals. This was the inaugural 7″ release on Gudinski’s fledgling label, Mushroom Records. Madder Lake marked its release at Melbourne’s 15k-capacity Kooyong Tennis Courts, where they opened two shows (Feb. 17–18) of the Pacific Tour by The Rolling Stones. “Goodbye Lollypop” reached No. 15 in Melbourne peaked at No. 35 on the national chart.

In April, Mushroom issued The Great Australian Rock Festival, Sunbury 1973, a three-record document of the second Sunbury event with seventeen numbers, including the Madder Lake medley “Down the River / 12lb. Toothbrush” (14:40). A portion of “Down the River” (2:50) also appears on a six-song 7″ promo sampler of the triple-album.


Still Point

Madder Lake released their debut album, Still Point, in August 1973 on Mushroom.

Still Point features seven group-written originals, including “On My Way to Heaven,” “A Song for Little Ernest,” and the singles “Goodbye Lollipop” and “12LB. Toothbrush.”

The album features secondary instrumentation by bassist Kerry McKenna (synthesizer) and drummer Jack Kreemers (congas, gong).

A1. “Salmon Song” (8:23)
A2. “On My Way to Heaven” (4:53)
A3. “Helper” (5:12)
B1. “Listen to the Morning Sunshine” (5:03)
B2. “Goodbye Lollipop” (3:37)
B3. “A Song for Little Ernest” (4:29)
B4. “12LB. Toothbrush” (6:02)

Madder Lake recorded Still Point at TCS Studios in Melbourne on three separate bookings between late 1972 (November 9–10) and early 1973 (January 8–11; March 28–29). They co-produced the album with studio staffer John French, and soundman on 1972–73 TCS recordings by Blackfeather, Carson, Chain, Sherbet, Ticket, and G. Wayne Thomas.

Still Point appeared in a gatefold sleeve with full-spread art by Drak (aka David Drakopoulos), whose Roger Dean-like illustration depicts a mountain valley with a distant castle under a deep-blue sky, replete with embedded hillside faces. The inner-gate displays xeroxed studio pictures of each member by John Westall. Infinity Records illustrator Ian McCausland designed the Madder Lake logo, which forms the M, L, and e (in “Lake”) with three elongated cross-hatched Z’s.

Mushroom lifted “12LB. Toothbrush” as the second single, backed with the non-album “Country Blues.”

Still Point reached No. 13 on the Kent Music Report.


Lineup Change

Before Madder Lake recorded a followup, John McKinnon cleared for keyboardist Andy Cowan, who met the band through Skyhooks guitarist Bob Starkie, a former bandmate of Mason and McKenna.

Meanwhile, Madder Lake appeared on the Australian music shows GTK and Countdown. In January 1974, the headlined the third Sunbury Pop Festival, which featured multiple acts from the prior event along with Daddy Cool, Kush, and outliers Queen, a little-known English band whose singer, Freddie Mercury, told the hostile crowd that on their next visit, they’d be the world’s biggest band.


Butterfly Farm

Madder Lake released their second album, Butterfly Farm, in April 1974 on Mushroom.

Butterfly Farm features eight group-composed originals, including “Mother Ship,” “One Star and the Moon,” and “Slack Alice,” a dramatic tale of an Outback saloon girl, as told by her pimp.

McKenna splits synthesizer parts with Cowan, who also plays organ and electric piano. Two tracks (“Booze Blues,” “One Star”) feature backing vocals by Hair actress Creenagh Bradstock and Image Records jazz-pop singer Linda George.

A1. “Rodney’s Birthday” (2:55)
A2. “Mother Ship” (7:45)
A3. “Booze Blues” (2:54)
A4. “Ride On Fast” (4:26)
B1. “One Star and the Moon” (5:20)
B2. “Butterfly Farm” (3:32)
B3. “Slack Alice” (5:08)
B4. “Back Seat Song” (3:26)

Sessions took place across ten days in mid-October 1973 at TCS Studios, where John French co-produced in sequence with albums by The Dingoes an Chain frontman Phil Manning. The engineer on Butterfly Farm, Graham K. Owens, also worked on 1974 Mushroom titles by Ayers Rock, Aztecs, and MacKenzie Theory.

In Zac’s second gatefold illustration, Butterfly Farm shows an old deep-forest mansion under seige by a giant cybernetic butterfly. Outside the mansion door, the occupant stands calm with rod in hand. The inner-gate presents the album’s credits (in calligraphy) with a second illustration of the man beside the now-slain creature. Original copies contain a two-sided poster insert with live pics and a full-scale group photo in the company of cows.

Mushroom lifted “Butterfly Farm” as the first single, backed (b/w “Back Seat Song”). In May, “Booze Blues” became the second single (b/w “One Star and the Moon”). Butterfly Farm reached No. 18 on the Kent Music Report.

In November, “Slack Alice” reappeared behind “It’s All In Your Head,” a new exclusive song co-produced by Festival Records soundman Richard Balchens.


Later Activity

In 1974, Perth-based English conductor David Measham commissioned Madder Lake for a soundtrack to a proposed TV adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian 1932 novel Brave New World. The band composed ninety minutes of music for the project, which stalled when the Australian Broadcasting Corp. pulled Measham’s funds.

By late 1975, Madder Lake lost Andy Cowan and Mick Fettes, who formed Bandicoot with comedian Shane Bourne. Cowan’s keyboardist predecessor, John McKinnon, rejoined Madder Lake, this time as Fettes’ replacement on vocals. Meanwhile, Kerry McKenna cleared for bassist Ian Holding.

In May 1976, Madder Lake released its final single: “I Get High,” a Headband cover backed with “Rodney’s Birthday,” a group original.

A. “I Get High” originated on the 1975 EMI Harvest release Rock Garden by Kiwi rockers Headband.

After this single, Madder Lake left Mushroom Records. McKenna rejoined, this time on guitar. They toured but released no new material, despite a stockpile of “literally hundreds of songs.” In 1978, Fettes brief inspired plans for a new album, which they cancelled after his second departure.

In 1982, Madder Lake reappeared with three familiar live numbers (“Goodbye Lollipop,” “Song for Ernest,” “12lb. Toothbrush”) on The Mushroom Evolution Concert, a three-record document of Mushroom’s tenth anniversary.


Discography:
  • Still Point (1973)
  • Butterfly Farm (1974)

Sources:

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