I, TALENT SCOUT
by Ross Sharp
The Late 1980’s …
And so, after seven or eight years, I decided to be done with the dreary drudge of the office job I’d been working all that time and explore the delights of the life of a thespian, poncing about on a stage somewhere or having a lazy lark of a day on a film set doing absolutely bugger-all for hours on end while waiting for my sixteen second scene and two lines of dialogue.
And this decision was based on little more than a couple years of part-time acting classes, a commercial and a fifty-worder as a bank clerk in a soap, but hell, I had an agent and the bells would ring and all would be fine and delightfully dandy.
After about four or five weeks, no one called, no one clamoured, the phone didn’t ring, the money was running out, my agent was proving himself to be a shonky, clammy little dickhead, and I needed a job.
Armed with a few contacts I’d gathered during my time at the job I’d just ditched, I made a few enquiries and within a couple weeks found myself at work with a small music publisher, a company comprising three people and now myself, the manager being What’s-his-name, a sunken-chested little guy whose name I can’t recall, a great big fat woman named Sue, and a young, mousy girl with a completely vacant personality who gave the distinct impression she was all set for a great future as a doormat.
This company made its living off the copyrights of a whole bunch of daggy catalogues of mostly country songs that seemed to date back to the year dot, and a healthy enough living it was too, given they were taking anything from forty to sixty percent of the earnings from each tune every time it got airplay or turned up on a compilation.
And my mission in this dynamic little outfit, now that I had accepted it, was to maintain the database of songs and such, and also to dabble in a little A&R work, otherwise known as trying to sign some poor fuckers to a publishing deal the likes of which they’d come to resent for the remainder of their sad and sorry lives.
“I think we should be looking to do more on the Australian scene, position ourselves for a progressively more contemporary outlook as far as our catalogue goes”, says What’s-his-name, adding “It’s too easy to just rest with what we have, so I’m hoping you can bring some changes over the next few years on that front, Ross.”
And so began my search for the stars of tomorrow. Yesterday, that is.
I started by wading my way through a big plastic basket of demo tapes, 99.9% of which were utter garbage.
They were all garbage. 100%. Every single one of them, without exception, most seemed to have been tossed off in thirty minutes by some poor deluded soul in a poster-plastered, dingy bedroom or down the back of a garage somewhere in the outer wilds of Menai and many were, quite literally, littered with an occasional dog bark or the sound of a fridge door closing in the background.
“Fuck this”, I think to myself, “What I need is an actual band.”
So I went out and got one.
The band I had in mind had released a couple of singles independently, were playing live gigs to good houses, and were getting very favourable media attention, mostly street press, but for the most part, the buzz was good and they were good and it was upon them that I set my sights for a signing.
I wandered down to the Haymarket based shopfront of Waterfront Records which had released the group’s independent material, introduced myself, and told them straight out that I wanted to get in touch with this band, sign them up and get them into a studio with a major label.
“You’re the type of person they’ve been waiting to hear from”, they said. “I thought they’d be getting a lot more attention, but … “, and he gave me some contact details and so back to the office I went to get in contact.
And I did.
A few phone conversations later, a few chats at a few gigs, I had made myself known, and they seemed most interested in the attention, so I asked them into the office, meet What’s-his-name, a fat woman named Sue and the doormat, and they did.
Then they came back. And we chatted for a while, and the singer says, “You’re the first ones that have shown any interest. We wouldn’t have a problem signing our publishing with you, you’d be our first choice”, and he may have been full of utter shit and waiting for something bigger and better to come along, and he would’ve been well within his rights at that, but I didn’t care, it sounded good enough to my ears and so, I decided it was time to start playing for real and get What’s-his-name to stump up some money for these guys, an advance, something, some cash incentive to get them on board and that’s what I set out to do …
I take it to What’s-his-name, he runs the joint, and I say, “We need to start talking about money now if this is to go any further, and that’s your area I guess.”
“That’s not really the way we go about things, Ross … I don’t think we want to make that type of commitment. Financial commitment, I mean. Not like that.”
“Well, we’re not really … we don’t … we can … you can keeps talks going with them, but I don’t see us putting money upfront.”
“Well … I don’t understand. What’s the point? If there’s no money, what’s the point? It’s not as if they’re looking for a new set of best friends … there has to be something in it for them. Then there’s something in it for us.”
“Yes, but we won’t be doing that.”
“Well, what the fuck are we offering here?”
“We’re not in the habit of moving like that, Ross …”
“We’re not in the fucking habit of moving at all it seems, the last time anyone signed a deal here was about a half-fucking decade ago, and he only does incidental scoring for soaps, for Chrissakes.”
“Oh, for … fuck’s … never mind.”
And that was that.
I made my displeasure known, most obviously so, and What’s-his-name made it known to the group that money was a no-go, so off they went-went.
And about a week or two after that, What’s-his-name made it known to me that I was a now a no-go and I had to go-go, and I did-did.
And the band I was keen to get signed up?
Well, about 18 months or so later, their publishing still unsigned …
Ratcat’s rise to popularity was the result of public demand and not the industry that attempts to control such demand. Completely taken by surprise, Ratcat released the ground-breaking Tingles EP in 1990 (after many independent record releases via the Waterfront Label) which, with no fanfare whatsoever, made a steady climb to the top of the National Top 40 after seven months of release. In fact, it was the highest selling EP of the year.
Soon after Ratcat released the widely acclaimed Blind Love album, which shot straight to #1 on the ARIA Album charts. Amazingly they also scored a duel #1 on the ARIA Singles chart with the track “Don’t Go Now”. History writes that the last band to have done this was INXS back in the ‘80s and, as far as we can recall, the next was to be Savage Garden not so long ago.
The little publisher that could’ve didn’t.
And how good did I feel?