Greenhouse’s Unfinished Business: Geelong ’90s cult favourites on triumph, tragedy and a long-awaited debut album

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Greenhouse’s Unfinished Business: Geelong ’90s cult favourites on triumph, tragedy and a long-awaited debut album

Credit: Tony Mott
Words by Tyler Jenke

It’s been 30 years between drinks, but as Greenhouse release their long-awaited debut album, Centre Of The Universe, Michael Robinson discusses the triumph and tragedy that led to this point.

It was in the late ‘80s that the Greenhouse story began. Forming from the combination of the guitar-pop-oriented The Famous Five and the more atmospheric The Scarabs, Greenhouse’s origins weren’t in their home of Geelong, but rather in Collingwood, where they made their live debut as The Living Kind.

Before long, Greenhouse – which comprised guitarist and vocalist Michael Robinson, bassist Dean Linguey, guitarist Johnny Helmer, and drummer Glen Galloway – were playing every chance they could get. Inspired by the emotional depth of UK post-punk outfits such as The Cure and Cocteau Twins, Greenhouse’s sound found a welcome home in Melbourne’s indie Fitzroy scene, where they would sell out the beloved Punter’s Club for the launch of their ‘See-Saw’ single in 1990.

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Supporting the likes of the Clouds, The Killjoys, Falling Joys, and international names like The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Greenhouse were a band on the rise, with their releases receiving not just local, but national airplay as well.

“We were these little guys from down in Geelong,” recalls Robinson. “I guess we were pretty ambitious, and that was evident in our sound.

“I think there’s one review from way back that Craig Mathieson did, and he was talking about booking a stadium for 1997, ‘cause that’s where it sounded like it was going to go. Which, obviously, it didn’t.”

Indeed, as the grunge explosion took hold, so too did Greenhouse find themselves something of an anachronism of the local scene. Courted by a major UK label and flirting with a different sound on final single ‘What It Is’, internal dissatisfactions found the band deciding to split.

With members going on to work in different areas, Robinson became something of a local celebrity thanks to his work as the legendary Reil Diamond. But his dissatisfaction with playing a “piss-take character” slowly grew, with reflections back toward his previous band making it clear there was still more to be done with Greenhouse.

“I think that’s what drove the desire to record this album,” Robinson recalls. “Because it really was unfinished business.”

Geelong ’90s cult favourites Greenhouse reunite, returning to their roots with first headline gig in 27 years

In early 2020, the members of Greenhouse reconvened with the intent of creating new music. Hiring a converted church in Lyonville for four days, the band laid down the tracks for what would become their long-awaited debut album, motivated to tie up some loose ends from years before.

“Johnny and I thought it was a great idea,” Robinson explained, “and even though Glen was the first person to step away from the band, he harbored some really strong regrets about not having an album out there.”

Tragically, these sessions would become the last for Galloway, who would pass away just four weeks after recording. Recruiting the likes of Glenn Bennie, Lisa Gibbs, and Ivan Khatchoyan, Robinson completed the track ‘Rising Star’, which would be played at Galloway’s funeral soon after. “We were then resolved to finish that album; to make that record,” he explains. “We had to now.”

Ultimately hampered by the sudden advent of COVID lockdowns, Robinson forged ahead working on the record. With Helmer laying down guitar parts in the studio, Linguey recorded bass remotely from Williamstown, while Bush drummer Nick Hughes was recruited to add percussion to the record from the US.

The result though is an album that doesn’t see a reunited version of Greenhouse resting on their laurels and relying on nostalgia, it sees a contemporary band delivering a record as strong as any other modern release. “If Greenhouse had kept moving forward, this is the closest thing to the record we would’ve made,” Robinson explains.

“It’s not like we’re a million miles away from what our core sound was, I think that we’ve developed and we have a contemporary sound,” he adds. “We don’t sound like an old band.”

With the album slated to arrive in early 2023, Greenhouse will be returning to The Barwon Club on October 22 to launch new single ‘God-Like’ (backed with the Grant Smith memorial version of ‘See-Saw’), before supporting a reformed Cordrazine at Melbourne’s Howler on November 5.

For Robinson though, it’s the start of a new chapter for a band whose story ended far too abruptly. While Linguey might not necessarily join his bandmates as they move forward, the release of their long-awaited album (possibly the longest wait for a debut album in Australian history) marks an important milestone in the story of an equally-important band.

“I think for Dean it’s the closing of the circle, and for the rest of us it’s about taking that leap of faith,” Robinson explains of Greenhouse’s future. “We couldn’t forgive ourselves for not having a go, and I know that’s how Johnny and I feel.

“We’ve got to give this a red hot go because we think we’ve got something to offer and we need to know.”

Catch Greenhouse at The Barwon Club in Geelong on Saturday, October 22. They’ll be joined by special guests Hamish Cowan from Cordrazine playing solo and The Maggie Pills. Purchase tickets here

Keep up with the latest from Greenhouse here