BY MIKE WELSH
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s drunken dribblings about reforming a musical group at Barney Joyce’s campaign piss-up recently, dredged up some traumatic and hurtful memories and spitefully toyed with the emotions of one Tasmanian man watching the Tamworth telecast.
Bouyed by a few Chardonnays and under the influence of a room full of beige Akubras, Mal’s musical metaphor of “the band getting back together” triggered feelings of regret and longing in Cransden Willoughby a recently retired chippy living in the Hobart suburb of Sandy Bay.
Cransden or ‘Willy’ to his mates has vacillated-for most of the past the past four decades- between ‘what could have been’ and ‘maybe it was all for the best’ for the band he formed with his mates in late 1975. The 63 year old Willoughby became agitated but slightly aroused by Mal’s glib remarks of the coalition circle being once again complete. Admittedly ‘Willy’ had had a few Savvie Bs himself but this was no ordinary election night, which at ‘Willy’s joint usually meant him shouting “look at that parasite he’d wouldn’t know shit from ice cream” and “this poor bastard is as dumb as dog shit” at the TV .
Willoughby hadn’t felt this alive since the Glenorchy Magpies won the state grannie in ’75.The seventies were his years. His beloved ‘Pies had cracker of a decade.
But it was as the founder,lead singer and sole songwriter of the tragicially short lived and genre confused 70s punk/feminist/C & W band NunsFart that defined the boy from the flint-hard northern Hobart suburb of Moonah.
Getting the band back together,up until a dozen years ago,was pretty much all Cransden thought about but in recent times he’d almost come to accept that it probably “wasn’t going to happen”. But now here was ‘Mr Harbourside Mansion’ cruelly taunting him that a reunion was possible.
It wasn’t the usual suspects of “sex,drugs and rock n roll” or “musical differences” which sank the band. Reality is that NunsFart was barely heard outside of Cransden’s parent’s back-yard fibro bungalow. If indeed the history of the Hobart live-music scene (early to mid 70s) is ever written it certainly won’t include Willoughby’s constant lamentation of “fuckin’ 7HO napalmed my true destiny”.
NunsFart started out as a four piece outfit but stretched to five to accommodate Dave Swindon,a seriously committed musician. Such was“Swindo’s” dedication to his music that he freely volunteered to trade-in his dad’s purple Cortina (Dave insisted it was Vatican Cerise) on an orange near new 73 Holden Sandman van. This was a boon for the fledgling band as they could now ‘go on the road’.
One unpaid Sunday arvo 15 minute beer garden gig at Orford 50 minutes out of Hobart supporting the hottest band to come out of Tassie at the time, Sweaty Betty, should have been a great story for Cransden to tell the grand kiddies.
Also in the band was charismatic and comprehensively unemployed since leaving Clarence High in year 9 in 1970, Kenny Slocombe who ‘slapped the skins’ with more enthusiasm than talent. Eric McDougall was an apprentice butcher by day but with ambitions way beyond the boning knife and sawdust. “Ekka” not only possessed a bit of rhythm in his bass fingers but had an uncle who owned a pub. The most exotic member of the band was rhythm guitarist Sidney Francis Brown who’d mysteriously blown into Hobart from Sydney. Last spotted living on an island off Vancouver where to this day he is still referred to by the monicka given to him by Cransden all those years ago in Hobart-‘Sidney from Sydney’.
Nunsfart’s debut-and only-album was Six Song Saturday and contained just 6 ‘short’ tunes.
Saturday was songwriting day and some Saturdays ‘Willy’ could bash out at least half a dozen winners before midday when he’d then head off to see the ‘Pies’ magoos go around. It was during one of these Saturday sessions that Willoughby wrote the haunting feminist ballad “All the 4-ply in the world won’t wipe your skid-marks from my heart”. The song was quickly “picked up” by local radio DJs Bob Cooke and Richard Moore who just as quickly “put it down”.The wacky 7HO kings of breakie radio who lovingly but firmly told Willoughby the song was “ too short and too long for commercial radio”. The title was too long and the length of the track way too short. This blunt rejection was a wicked blow as Willy as he always reckoned “Cooke and Moore were the best pair of wireless talkers between here and the mainland”. Undaunted Willoughby stuck rigidly to his radical pop philosophy which was reverse anything the Beatles did. An example was to turn the fab four’s 11 minute classic Hey Jude completely on its head.
The singer/songwriter figured “as crissy was on its way” he’d try the seasonally topical and more elongated (1min 12 secs) track…cut 1 side B of Six Song Saturday…the novelty “Who ya bringin’ to the Crissy party,your wife or a root?’
But predictably this too failed the ‘too long too short’ formula.
Finally Cransden reluctantly slunk away from his dream and grudgingly got on with his life. Eventually after a few “handy” wins by his greyhound-Jay Jay Flash (named after the “stones song) Willoughby abandoned his humble beginnings at Moonah and moved to the ‘posh’ Sandy Bay area. And there he has remained for 30 years. As a small consolation, for the past decade Willy has been smugly content in the knowledge that today’s wine snobs have plagiarised his Catholic inspired band’s name to describe the sound which should be heard when a cork is properly pulled pulled from a champagne bottle. The now mostly philosophical Willoughby is occasionally heard to rant in the front bar of the Battery Point institution The Shipwright’s Arms …“not a fuckin’ smart-arsed sommelier cent of royalties ever ended up in my pocket… but what can you do?”.
Cransden Willoughby failed rock star lives on through hundreds of yellowed and poorly lit snaps of skinny, long haired scruffs he posts on several forms of social media. And always with the “pithy” hashtag “gonnagethebandbacktogethersoon”