My Mother came out from England in 1960 as we had a desperate shortage of nurses in Tasmania. I guess she was a ten pound Pom. She met and married my Father who was a hard working photographer, divorced with a son and 3 daughters. I was born in 1963 and we lived in Davey Street, but apparently as soon as I could walk, I was out on the road playing chicken with cars. We soon moved to Dodges Ferry where we stayed until I was old enough to go to school and not run in front of cars. We moved into a new mansion that my Dad designed in Taroona, right on the waterfront in Melinga Place. An Aboriginal name for a dead end street with 6 houses and absolute water frontage. I never appreciated how well I had it.
My older brother and sisters (from Dad’s first marriage) had moved out of home, so I was treated like an only child in most respects. We weren’t mega wealthy, but Dad would have found the money for Hutchins or Friends if I had wanted to go there. But, being close to the Taroona schools, I attended Taroona Pre-school, primary school and high school (a Hell hole in those days, the only saving grace was I met Jack Oliver (The Computer text book was Brownell/Murray/Oliver), Stephen Atkinson, David Vincent and many other incredible people. I also avoided Ken Haines). I was academic not sporty and not popular at all. The prototypical nerd. I saw my first computer in 1975 and was hooked immediately. My Dad bought me an Exidy Sorcerer which was an early personal computer, before the Apple II and way before the IBM PC, but shortly after the Altair and the Mini SCaMP. I actually owned Microsoft’s first product ever - Microsoft Basic v1.0
In those days if you wanted computer software you wrote it yourself. Piracy was rife but there was so little to pirate. One day in high school class, our relief teacher (Mr Stoke) casually mentioned that he had a Sorcerer and a life long friendship was born. I was soon spending my afternoons at his house either writing software or discussing his ideas. I learned so much from S, but none of it in a school class room.
My best high school friend, David Vincent, showed me an Apple Lisa computer. I loved the graphical user interface, but somehow I never took to Apple at that time. David went on to work for the Tasman Turtle robot company and then later for Toshiba doing copier imaging software. Always the better programmer than I was. Much later (2004?) I got invited to Apple training in Melbourne and I tried to refuse, but Apple were most insistent. They sent me a laptop in a box which I never opened. I got on a plane with a long face and dragged myself into the training room. A week later I jumped off the plane at Hobart and ran straight to NextByte and bought my first Mac. I have used nothing but Macs, iPhones and iPads ever since, although I do have a Windows PC on my desk at work. We have a love/hate relationship.
Around 1978, I rented my Sorcerer to Stephen Atkinson and I believe David Walsh developed their first gambling system on that computer. (Stephen tells me they investigated data to be precice) Kinda wish I had got some skin in that game. I caught up with them again later in life. They were living in a house at Otago Bay and just starting to make it big. Stephen is a fan of my work with Beattie's and I’m a huge MONA fan, but it never went any further than that.
I attended Hobart Matric when it was in the old campus on Letitia Street, which is now a funeral home. Quite fitting I believe. I met Jim Palfreyman there. He was the maths guru from Kingston High and I was the Prize winner from Taroona. We should have been rivals but we became close friends. Jim went on to gain a degree in maths and another in astrophysics. I never went to university. I scored a job in programming straight out of grade 12.
My programming job was nothing like I expected. I was working on a POS system for Wrest Point. The guy that wrote it was a hero of mine from Taroona High but he had a nervous break down and quit. The code was in worse shape than his mental health. I quit. I joined Dick Smith Electronics as they opened their first store in Tasmania. Within a year or so I was offered the managers job, but at 18, 5 ‘ 7” and baby face, I thought I was too young to make the right impression, so my (younger but taller) off sider took that role and I was assistant manager. A partnership that scored top store Australia wide. In the December month, we sold over a million dollars worth of electronic goodness.
That Christmas was the height of the Franklin Dam debacle and Dick sailed his yacht into Hobart to join the blockade. I had already helped (in a very small way) Paul Dimmick (Brian’s brother. Paul and his partner Michael now own Huon Bush Retreats) build radio communications for the protestors. Anyway Dick Smith had this rule that the phone was not allowed to ring more than 3 times. And Christmas Eve we were flat out. The store was packed. I was demonstrating our latest video game to about 30 families at once. After I did my speech, I would ask for a line at the register and they eagerly queued to pay their $400 each. I’m not sure where I was at the time but the phone rang. Once, twice, Steve was stuck down the back of the store, Tim was over the other side of the store, three rings and then someone answered it. “Good evening, Dick Smith Electronics, Dick Smith speaking”. Yes it was the man himself. Stuck his head in our door to see how the store was going and when the phone rang, he pitched in. Great man. Later in Sydney I was visiting the head office while on holiday and Dick made the board of Woolworths wait outside while he said a quick hello to me. I felt like a million dollars.
I did go to the Franklin Blockade - twice. Once a few days before it started. I made it as far as Queenstown and at the time I was with a good friend of mine who was surprisingly pro-dams. His last name was also Ashton, which was the same as the head of the Hydro in those days. We had a few days growth and looked pretty rough, having camped out for a couple of nights. They wouldn’t serve us petrol at Queenstown because they thought we were “greenies” until Mark flashed his drivers licence and said “Dad won’t like it if you don’t serve me”. He wasn’t related, but the service station owner wasn’t to know. The second visit was years later after it was all done, dusted and forgotten. So I never got arrested there.
Speaking of arrested, I did get arrested with Jim Palfreyman after a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening at the old Hoyts cinema in Hobart. We cheekily parked the car in the Drug Squad car park next door and a young constable didn’t appreciate our costumes. Drag was illegal (but only after dark) back then. Rodney Croome and his movement may have changed that law in Tasmania, but I don’t think he ever got arrested.
Regrettably Dick Smith Electronics changed a lot once Dick sold the last 40% to Woolworths. I left and landed on my feet selling stereo systems that cost more than most cars.
I’ve always had a love of music, but with no musical talent of my own, I could become either a sound engineer or a roadie (or a drummer, if you like to piss off drummers). So I was working for Sandy Bay HiFi in the eighties and bought a pair of second hand AKG 330BT mics from Andrew McDonald. That and my experiences with the late S Kenneth Stoke had fired up a love of recording in me. My first recording session had been as an observer when S recorded a friend of mine (Stephen Hand) reading Norse stories. That must have been about 1978. S added recorder music played by Tony Storey and the result was magic. Soon after this I made my own first recording, a piece called "The Cars and The Rain" which was really just a very long cross fade of some car sounds and a waterfall. I think I used my Sony walkman and a stereo mic on a stand. Anyway, I achieved a very stereo effect with the cars zooming by. I quickly made another piece called “Ten Minutes in a Tandy Store” which was an illegal, covert interview with a poor Tandy Electronics salesman trying to explain to a grotty teenager (me) why Tandy’s price for RAM chips was so expensive that I could fly to Melbourne and buy them and still pay less, air fare included.
I had worked for Rod Walker doing cabling and sound and acquired some of Rod’s gear. This was more for live music. Soon I was hiring it out to local bands, one of which was Chinese Eyes fronted by David Bartlett.
Not much later, I acquired a reel to reel, a mixer and some more mics. I befriended Doug Kelly (lived in Longford, played with Sirocco, owned a studio) and did a little live sound before starting my first real studio at my parents newly finished house in Taroona. I got to design the lower floor of that house as a flat for myself and I double purposed the lounge-room and work room into a studio and control room. I had slate on one end, curtains on the other and wooden shutters on the windows. Live End Dead End studio design at work. The Besser block walls were also filled with sand. With a heavy metal band going full tilt, you couldn’t hear any noise outside.
I went to see Nick Armstrong to make sure I wasn’t stepping on his toes. My business was very much part time and hobby at this stage and I didn’t want to mess up the market for Nick who made his living from it and had invested a lot of money in the industry. Luckily Nick was very receptive and supportive.
I had done a fair bit of live recording at The DogHouse with S and some more at 92FM (upstairs at the McCann Bros building, the old 7HT studios). I note their web site does not mention 92fm at all, I don’t think the McCanns were proud of us) with The Wild Pumpkins and a few other bands. Now my own studio allowed me to get a better sound. I soon added a 1/2” 8 track, new desk, effects and more mics. My specialty was acoustic and in particular strings and drums. I like to think my special talent with that old analogue tape (usually Ampex 456) was getting as much signal on the tape as possible without distortion. This gave the sound the maximum dynamic range and best signal to noise. I augmented that with an auto-correlator which eliminated tape hiss after the fact without all that Dolby stuff. The results were very good for the time. It wasn’t pro by any means but sounded as good as most LPs of the era.
I was listening to Pink Floyd, Queen, Allan Parsons, The Beatles, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Lauri Anderson and just about anything I could get my ears on. Working in a HiFi shop with a record bar (run by the effervescent Bernice aka "Rocket”) attached meant that range of music was vast. We specialised in metal and classical. I soaked up music like oxygen.
One time I was especially broke. The studio never made money. It ate money as fast as I could earn it, faster most of the time. I had over $20k of credit card debt and estimate that I spent about $70k on the studio. Anyway, I was really broke. I always said I would never do country music or punk; both of these styles leave me cold. Anyway I met Bill Cranny and started recording him. He was almost country. Probably “new country” a few years before people started using that term. If he’d made it, he would have been Keith Urban. He wrote well, played well, and took singing lessons. But he never had a commercial voice. It was good, just not the sort of good that sold. He later worked with Gary Paige ("Heading in the Right Direction") taking writing lessons and came up with some pretty good stuff. So there I was, broke and Bill came along and wanted to enter Tamworth and his brilliant idea was a cover of “Redback on the Toilet Seat” and we recorded it and I sang back up and I’ll never live it down. He did make it to Tamworth several times but never won anything. His song “Big Springs” should have been picked up by Deep Spring Mineral Water as it was bloody good and catchy. But Bill’s demo never made it unfortunately. He’s a great guy and still lives in Hobart. I see him in the street occasionally and he always stops for a chat.
Then there was another time (probably the same time) I was broke and this punk band (Toilet) came along and they looked like punks; long greasy hair, unwashed etc. But they spoke very nicely and had cash and how bad could it be? So I swallowed my pride and accepted their cash. They arrived with their gear and lugged in this bass amp that was allegedly 200W or something but it was the size of a fridge. I stuck it down the corridor outside the bathroom, well away from the studio. I miked it from the other end of the corridor. I hid in the control room with the doors shut and my big Sennheiser cans on my head but not plugged in, using them like ear muffs. The sound was deafening. They had almost finished and there was a knock at the door. It was a real estate agent (Rod Force) and he was auctioning the unit next door and politely asked if we could turn the music down. Being the cheeky bastard I am, I said I would have to check with my clients. So I get the punks and they go to the door. Poor Rod just about ran away. But they talked nicely and happily agreed to have a break until the auction was over. Rod escaped with his life which I’m sure flashed before his eyes. He still talks to me so I don’t think he remembers or if he does he has forgiven me.
Speaking of the bathroom, I designed this as an echo chamber, inspired by stories of Abbey Road and Ringo opening the door to the echo room during Yellow Submarine. George Martin is a hero of mine. I read about him and cutting tape and silly tricks he did and I tried them all. Matthew Piscioneri talked me into recording the first (1988) Jacky’s Marsh Forest Festival (which became the first "Music For Forests" album). Unfortunately, there was a loud “pop” on one song from the generator back firing. I cut that out of the tape and spliced it together and no one can tell. Matt was also the driving force behind Music For Forests as a record label. It was one of the funny business partnerships that I just fell into with little or no thought and it worked out nicely. Matt and I would go months without seeing each other and then we’d catch up and whatever we were working on would have advanced just as if we met every day.
At Jacky’s Marsh, we had only generator power. When I got the recordings back to my studio, the pitch was way off. I spoke to Greg Loader who suggested the generator was off frequency but he could fix the tapes. He built a sine wave generator, plugged it into an audio amplifier, connected the speaker terminals to a transformer and put a digital voltmeter on the end with a power point. We cranked it up, set 60Hz, dialled the volume until we got 240 volts out the end and connected the tape recorder to that. Then by varying the frequency, we could correct the pitch on the tapes. This was an amazing piece of technology.
Robyn Warner introduced me to Shirley Apthorp who was still at the Conservatorium of Music in Hobart. We were soon dating and she introduced me to Baroque music. I recorded her quartet and somewhere there are videos of my official studio opening featuring an original piece composed by Ben Sibson. I believe Brian and S taped it simultaneously on two camcorders. By this stage I was working by day at Albatross Computers and Euan Hills was a guest at the opening. I don’t think Bob Brown made it but he launched each of the Music For Forest albums for us. Shirley’s quartet went on to do many live gigs around Hobart and even recorded an instrumental version of one of Bill Cranny’s songs. Shirley and I broke up and she went on to be a world famous music journalist and now lives in Berlin and works mostly in South Africa.
Peter Crowe mixed his album "Islands of the Sky" in my studio. He recorded it live with my gear at his stone cottage in Bakers Creek Road Lucaston, very late at night after his family had gone to bed. Then we mixed it in the studio and mastered it to DAT which went off to make the CDs. He sold a decent quantity and it still sells today. He moved to Shepparton due to bad health, I’m sad to say I don’t know if he’s still with us, I hope he is. A great blues player in many good Tassie bands, he retired and then did the unplugged thing about a year before Eric Clapton made that style famous. Gary Paige got Peter an intro with a big record company and they picked up distribution of his cd. That deal lapsed but the CD did sell well.
My studio log book will reveal most of the acts I recorded over the years. But there were also live interviews with notable people. S and I recorded Professor David Suzuki speaking in 1988 at the University of Tasmania. The ABC and others didn’t get a good recording so our version is the definitive one used by all. We later recorded Rudolf Foster, a retired maths professor who had some pretty wild theories. Before he died, Rudie allowed us to interview him several times. And there were musicians like Brownie McGhee, Robert Jr Lockwood, Sharon O'Neill and Rick Brewster (The Angels).
I heard “A Childs Garden of Grass”, “What’s Rangoon to You is Grafton to Me” and “The Prairie Home Companion” and I found a love of radio. I worked on radio plays with Wayne Brooks and others. I wrote my own ("West of Reality”), but never produced it. Maybe one day it’ll be a novel instead. I have so many creative projects that I started but never found a way to finish.
Matthew Piscioneri and a bunch of friends formed a band (later called "O Serpent") at my studio. One Sunday they were jamming, goofing around mostly and the keyboard player was looking for a sound (as keyboard players spend all their time doing) and the guitarist was practicing his solo (as guitarists tend to do) and the drummer was just hitting things and the bass player joined in and suddenly out of nowhere they were playing a song. Nothing they had rehearsed or even written really, it just came out of the air. And I had the tape running and that song became Adventure. The re-recorded studio version, all multi-tracked and arranged and written down was never the same. That live version was pretty good.
Around 1987 (I think) a bunch of us got together at 246 Bathurst Street and formed a company. That was Up and Running Promotions. There was Matthew Piscioneri, S Kenneth Stoke ("Glass Onion Productions"), Michael Vuister, Brian Dimmick, Robyn Warner, Annabelle (I’m sorry I don’t remember her last name), John Stephenson and I think that was it. We were initially called “The young independents and S” but later chose “Up and Running Promotions” as our business name. There are cassette recordings of these meetings in the stuff I donated to The Archives. We decided we wanted to be like Charles Touber, a music promoter, film producer. Probably more like Apple Corps. But we had no money. Our one and only project was Metal Mania - a heavy metal concert at the City Hall featuring skateboarding. We each took a piece of the work and did our best. The TV commercial Brian made won an award. It nearly missed out as the judges didn’t believe the low budget. The Radio ads caused a stir and I’m sure every parent was totally convinced that their little Johnny was NOT to go to such a thing. The music and stage show was amazing. The skate boarders were a little lame but we had no ramps or anything, just a flat surface. The kids that came enjoyed it. But the total audience was maybe 100 and we needed 1000 to make money. Sadly it was the last joint venture with all of those people. They graciously let me keep the “Up and Running” name. My studio was called “The Ultimate” before that. My computer business later on became “Up and Running Computers”.
Robyn and Brian ("Smart Arts Productions") went on to make a few short films. Then they split up and Robyn is now married and living in Switzerland with a family of her own. Brian is working on Macbeth 1040AD with John X and Brian Ritchie. Matt went on to teaching I think. I still see Michael around and he hasn’t changed a bit, still rides a skateboard although he’s over 50 like the rest of us. S went on to 92fm and then the foreign section of Centerlink before passing away shortly after retiring.
I went on to IT (computers) and left Albatross Computers (Called ComputerLand by then) to join PCM for a few years before I left to run my own business called Up and Running Computers. In 1993 I moved out of home (finally) and that was pretty much the end of the studio. But I had met my “Yoko Ono" and we had two daughters before splitting up. Up and Running Computers was very successful (if I do say so myself) for 10 years. I briefly re-joined ComputerLand (then called XITE) and helped them crash land a failing business with as little collateral damage as possible. I like to think that a few of the best computer technicians in Hobart owe their current jobs to my recommendations, but in truth, they got there under their own steam.
Then I re-joined Professional Computer Maintenance as a partner. I met and married Katrena Crocker (Policy Director for LGAT) and we have a son. My business partners and I later sold the PCM business to Intuit Technologies and I still work there today. Although these days I manage a team of smart people who fix computers, although they drag me out for the odd high end SAN or server issue. I’m still the only Sun certified engineer in Hobart to my limited knowledge. I blog (www.uprun.com) I podcast occasionally (What the Photon) and I still love music.
My family business is photography. I was never into it. My Dad owned Beattie’s Studio. He worked there for sixty years. My (half) brother William also worked there for decades. When Dad passed away (in 2013) I suddenly got interested in restoring the historic photos that Mr Beattie had left behind. That is one of my current obsessions. (see www.beattiesstudio.com) My Mother still lives in the house and the studio is now her knitting and sewing room.
I’m sorry this isn’t as detailed and elegant as I’d like. Hopefully my recollections are reasonably accurate. I’m a juxtaposer. My creativity lies in the taking of seemingly unrelated things and re-arranging and re-purposing them into a weirdly fascinating, beautiful mess. I take random bits from everywhere and fuse them together in ways they were never meant to fit, but somehow I make sense of it all. I’d like to be remembered that way.
I’ve collected a number of interesting friends throughout my life. I think this is something S taught me. Never judge a book by its cover. Like Steve Jobs said “Here’s to the crazy ones”. And those are my friends. They’ve enriched my life so much, I thank them all;
Dr Katrena Stephenson
Robert Karl Stonjek
Steven Sydney Price
Kerry (Bas) Smith
A Euan Hills
And of course the late S Kenneth Stoke