Iconic 80s pop-rock band, Mental As Anything, will perform their chart-topping hits when they take to the stage at The Hills Shire Council’s Australia Day celebration at Bella Vista Farm on Friday, January 26.
Ahead of the event, band member, Greedy Smith, gave FOCUS an insight into life on the road, their new EP and what Australia Day means to him.
Q. When did you know you wanted to become a musician?
G: My dad played the tuba and when I went to high school they said you could apply to play an instrument in the school band so I bought a big tuba home because Dad had played tuba. But he made me take it back because I was asthmatic and he didn’t think I’d be able to play it. He got me a harmonica instead so it all started then and I would serenade the cat. I soon found out that cats don’t like the harmonica.
I’d been writing songs on the piano a bit but I’d been playing the harmonica and doing a bit of singing in The Mentals and the other guys said this is all very nice but we don’t want harmonica in every song – can you play the organ? So we found an old Italian wedding reception organ and I started playing and from that day on I’ve been struggling to work out how they work. They say a little knowledge is dangerous but sometimes the less knowledge you have, the more able you are to come up with something no one else has thought of – you don’t know the rules you’re breaking.
Q: If you hadn’t devoted your life to music, what do you think you would have done?
G: I was at art school so I probably would have been a painter or sculptor. A couple of our guys left to become full time artists, but I’m still totally distracted by music.
Q: What would you say were your key creative influences?
G: My big brother is three years older than me and he was very keen on music. He’d do the washing up after dinner and I’d dry and we’d start off listening to Ward Austin on the radio. We had a tiny little record player between the two of us and he’d buy the records. He taught me about the blues and we were in a time during the 60s where there was so much good music being written on the top 40 that we were surrounded by it and I just wanted to be part of all that good music. Still now my favourite music comes from the 1960s.
Q: The Mentals could be described as creative, innovative and very quirky. How would you describe the band?
G: Looking back we were an Art School band who had to play for our fellow art students and they could detect pomposity. If you were pompous they would give you a very hard time so we made light of it. We wanted to say things, but we did it in a light-hearted manner. We ended up writing songs that were different to what was going on around us because we were catering to this art school scene where we first started out. We took that idea for our song writing after art school and it stood us in good stead.
Q: Mental as Anything songs are a huge part of the soundtrack of the lives of people who grew up in the 70s and 80s. What are the main songs fans scream out for at your gigs?
G: They always want the Nips are Getting Bigger and they love Live It Up, Too Many Times, our cover version of Rock and Roll Music from Romeo and Juliet and You’re So Strong. We put out a single every three months during the 80s – it was a huge time.
Q: A great Australian pastime was watching Countdown. What was it like to appear on the show?
G: You were always in a rush to fly down to get down there – I remember the first time I went to Countdown I hadn’t even been in a plane before and there was an air strike. So we had to go in a single engine plane from Bankstown Airport to Melbourne and it took about three and a half hours!
It was always a bit of a blur when you went on – you’d do your rehearsals and you’d be kept in another room and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by screaming kids and cameras whirring and Molly being Molly. And we did it quite often. TV was surreal, particularly Countdown. If you were in a band, everyone knew what other bands were doing just from watching Countdown.
Q: The band has a new EP out – which direction has this taken you in?
G: Martin wrote half the songs and I wrote half. We are using new recorded material and it’s going down pretty well – particularly songs like Goat Tracks in My Sandpit and The Luckiest Player. It’s produced by Steve James who did Rock and Roll Music for us – he recorded songs for Monty Python’s music so he’s got a great sense of humour.
Q: After playing for so long, what do you still like about playing live?
G: Getting it right, playing it properly and singing something well. Martin hasn’t been in the band for a while and I’ve been singing his songs, and it’s been making me a better singer. It’s all about connecting with people. A lot of people know our songs and they want to hear them – that’s the reason I want to play them!
Q: The Mentals are ironically Australian – what can audiences at The Hills Australia Day celebrations expect?
G: A lot of the people will know a lot of our songs like the ones we mentioned before plus Working for The Man, If You Leave Me Can I Come Too and Mr Natural. Basically we will be covering our history from about 1978 to the present. I think people will be pleasantly surprised!
Catch Mental As Anything at The Hills Shire Council’s Australia Day event on Friday, January 26 at Bella Vista Farm from 12pm to 9pm.
For more info and other exciting events on in The Hills this summer, check out www.summerseries.com.au.
To stay up to date about Australia Day in regards to venue capacity, parking availability and in the unlikelihood of an emergency, register online at www.eventbrite.com.au/e/australia-day-2018-thefarm-updates-registration-41688231623.