30 years on since forming, Strange Tenants are still regarded as the godfathers of Australian ska. In addition to that, they are the most recorded ska band of all time – and they are headed down this way to play at the Ocean Grove Festivus on Saturday, April 12. The music scene has changed a hell of a lot since the ’80s, and although they aren’t playing six nights a week anymore, Strange Tenants are still enjoying playing music together. I recently got the opportunity to sit down with Bruce Hearn from the band for a retrospective chat.
With a new lease of life, Strange Tenants are back out on the road and it feels just as good as it did back in the day. There have been a few reunion tours in the years following the initial breakup; the most recent reunion was inspired after seeing legendary English band The Specials play in Melbourne a few years ago. “The Specials played in Australia for the first time ever a couple of years ago and I went along and saw the gig and was just absolutely blown away. People started to ask when the Strange Tenants were going to be back out on the road as a band and so I rang all the boys and they had been waiting for the call up,” Hearn said.
Saxophonist of the group, Robert Calvin, is a local and so this Festivus gig is a homecoming of sorts for the Tenants. Main organiser for the festival and renowned Hammond player Tim Neal has a history of playing in guest spots with the band, so make sure you head down to see their unmissable set.
Although there may not be as many gigs for bands in pubs and clubs these days, the rise of social media has helped young bands get off the ground. “On one level, the internet and social media allows for independent bands to generate their own momentum without having to rely on record companies and that has always fitted in with our ethos as we have never had a record company or management behind us.”
Having released four singles, three mini albums, and two full-length albums over their four-year career as a band, their rise to the top of the game was thanks to alternative radio stations. Within their short initial career, the Strange Tenants were lucky enough to share the stage with U2, Style Council and UB40. “We had a great tour with Style Council. Paul Weller was scared of flying. He knocked himself out on the way over from England but absolutely refused to fly from Melbourne to Sydney for our gig at the Hordern Pavilion. We had to then take the train up with them. We souvenired a whole carriage on the train, set up amps and instruments and partied on. This was in the days of before mobile phones, which is a bit of a shame because that moment was definitely worthy of being documented.”
With 72 studio-recorded tracks and 56 live songs, the Tenants were one of the hardest working bands in Australia. On their own backs they managed to play 1200 gigs in four years and cement themselves in Australian music history. Be sure to head along to see music royalty playing in your own backyard.
When&Where: Festivus @ Ocean Grove Park – April 12
Written by Tex Miller