Shane Pacey Interview By Bob Gordon
It was 1989 when the Bondi Cigars emerged in Sydney. How has the band endured for so long? From the outside it’s never looked like there was any chance of it stopping…
No, the only way we’ll probably end up is if one of us is not able to do it anymore. Especially Alan (Britton, co-founder/bass) and I. Alan’s 10 years older than I am and he’s a family member with me. We just still enjoy it, really. I mean, we’re one of those bands that doesn’t do the same thing every night. We have a lot of space in our music for spontaneity to happen. I think if we didn’t have that, we’d be in that graveyard of bands that aren’t with us anymore because it can weigh you down, playing things exactly the same way every night.
So that’s what’s kept us going… and the fact that people still come to see us.
From being a local Sydney band in the blues scene when you started and then going national, there must be so many bands that you played with along the way that only went for a couple of years or certainly aren’t around anymore…
Yeah, well, when we started there was a whole scene in Sydney of bands like us. We were a little bit different in that we did a lot of original material, and we were probably a bit more contemporary with our rhythms and stuff. But yeah, there were so many great bands and we were just one of them. All we did was decide not to hang around in Sydney too much and go out on the road, which a lot of those bands didn’t, mainly because a lot of them had day jobs and stuff as well. So it was a very semi-professional scene as it probably still is, the blues scene. We were one of the first bands to just load up the cars and go.
The initial years of a successful band are like a honeymoon period, where you’re a chart band and there’s a fair bit of radio play. Then time goes by, and different gears kick in as you gain longevity. Does the nature of success, or what’s perceived to be important, change, and looking back what do you feel are the real accomplishments of the band?
I think just being able to make a living from it for so long is an accomplishment in and of itself. Just to be able to do it on our own terms with our own music, not having to bow and scrape to anybody. We’d had that as you say, that little honeymoon period where we’re kind of ‘this year’s thing’ that we never took overly seriously. We just knew that we wanted to keep playing and keep creating and keep progressing as best as we could. It was just having a level head because when it happened to us none of us were particularly young even then – I was the youngest and I was in my 30s, and the other guys were a bit older. So everybody’s been around the block a few times. So we’re very cynical to certain aspects of the music scene, which stood us in good standing in a way.
You co-founded the band with Alan some 34 years ago, how would you describe your working relationship and bond with him?
It’s a bit hard to describe actually, because we’ve never really been the types to hang around together when we’re not working but it’s more than a business relationship too. It’s kind of hard to explain really, but it’s almost telepathic, in that respect. I mean, we’ve certainly had our moments, both being very strong headed, but I think we’ve both learned to rein it in a little bit over the years just for the ongoing survival of the band.
Certainly we would do anything for each other in that respect, but the whole band’s like that. There’s no rampant egos in the band who make it hard for everybody else. It just never has been like that. If anybody’s coming into the band in the past that’s been a bit like that they just haven’t lasted very long. This line-up has kind of been pretty solid since about 2001, so that’s quite a long time. It’s two-thirds of the band’s life, really, and it’s just because we’re pretty civilized people.
I mean, there are some monsters out there that I’ve come across (laughs), but if anybody in the band was to be like that it would be me because it would be very easy for me to pull the control freak thing because I do most of the singing and I write most of the songs and in a way I’m the frontman, but I just don’t. It’s best to approach it like that.
Blues is a music of the people and I think you really see that play out when a community gathers at festivals like Bridgetown. What do you enjoy about festivals in general, and as a performing experience?
Well, I mean, it depends whether they’re working or not, but most of the ones we do are pretty well run and organised. The stages are good and all that kind of stuff.
It’s just a different experience. Even though we’ve always done pretty well, you’ve still got to pull the crowd at festivals. It’s a myth that you can just go and play at a festival and there’s gonna be a big crowd there. I’ve seen some bands play to nobody at festivals, but we’ve always been a bit lucky that way, but even then, amongst that big group of people, there’s gonna be a fair wad of them who don’t really know what you’re doing. So in a way, you’re going to have to win them over.
Having a certain portion of the crowd that knows you helps because it just kind of rolls along then. But you’ve still got to work a little bit hard, because there’s going to be a fair amount of people who might have heard of you and have come to see what you’re like, and then you’ve still got to kind of turn it on. The great thing about festivals is to meet up with people you haven’t seen for a while – other musicians and audience people. They’re just great for that.
The Bondi Cigars have played at Blues at Bridgetown a few times over the years. What are your main recollections?
Well, it’s always been one of my personal favourites. And it was really weird because we tried to get on to Blues at Bridgetown in the late ‘90s, we really wanted to play because we’ve always kind of had a bit of a soft spot for Western Australia generally, and we knew that was a good festival, but there was this vibe about us that some of the people who were organising at the time thought we were some kind of bikie band.
So we were trying to tell them we weren’t that really, we did get a few of those guys come and see us but we were much more of a wide-ranging thing. We didn’t aim at those kinds of people. We only really got on when a lady came to see us at the Charles Hotel in Perth and saw immediately that we were much more of a friendly kind of proposition than a bikie band.
Then we got on, and the first year we played we just pulled incredible crowds at the festival. The first gig we did was in the beautiful hall that they set up for some of the smaller bands and people couldn’t get in. So they didn’t do that anymore they put us in the tents after that.
We’ve had some amazing sets over the years, and we tend to do it every couple of years. So it’s quite a few now. It’s always one I look forward to on the calendar and I’m always a bit disappointed if I can see that we’re not coming.