The Missing Garden Gnomes were:
Ian McIntosh: Vocals, guitars, mandolin, harmonica
Stuart Mann: Vocals, guitars, harmonica
Vincent Murphy: Vocals, guitars
Joe Nonis: Vocals, drums
Jeff Phillips: Vocals, bass, saxophone, clarinet, harmonica
David Solomon: Violin
The Missing Garden Gnomes were my first "proper" band. I'd played in another one which was mostly covers and wasn't very satisfying, given that I clearly wanted to be the next Mick Thomas. So it was in 1992 sometime that I sat down in my parents' dining room with my mate Stu and we started to try and learn each other's tunes, and even write some new ones.
We first started looking for a drummer and as anyone who has ever tried to put a band together can testify, finding a good drummer is hard. We got in touch with a guy we'd gone to school with who we somehow remembered played the drums. So along came Joe.
We advertised for a bass player in the paper. Goddamn, the internet might have been handy if it was around then. Might have been a few more to pick from...but as it was we had to settle for Jeff. Have some of that, Phillips! Ha ha.
Nah, Jeff was actually a pretty creative bass player when he wasn't falling asleep. Hang on a minute...a couple of teachers in the early 90's form a rock band and the one called Jeff is always falling asleep... oh man I just had a total head-slapping moment...it's all so obvious now! That was obviously a MESSAGE from some higher power! If only Stu and I had picked up on it we could be multi-millionaires having a three-way backstage with a green dinosaur as we speak! My life is now devoid of meaning.
One evening while busking in Northbridge, Stu and I put a beer carton sign on the guitar case saying we were looking for a violin/fiddle player. Amongst the saturday night revellers, this very much older (45-ish to our 20-ish), slightly reserved, mohawked English gentleman stopped to enquire about the sign. A few minutes later we had booked a rehearsal date with a violin player who was to become synonymous with the Missing Garden Gnomes sound. Dave's playing electrified the gigs and provided a well-needed, distracting focal point for the rest of us who were new to all this.
(Dave, if you're out there somewhere - it'd be great to get back in touch. If anyone knows the whereabouts of an arty English violin-playing feller - who would probably be in his early 60's by now, I guess - let me know.)
Anyway, we started gigging and entered the National Campus Band Competition in 1993, winning our first two heats and making it to the state finals. On the back of that, we got hold of a manager who was the long lost twin of Bargearse. To his credit he did get us some pretty cool gigs, with the likes of Weddings, Parties, Anything, Things of Stone and Wood, Gangajang, Deborah Conway, The Sharp and Ed Kuepper.
One interesting aspect of the band that was initiated by this manager fellow - that he was damned sure that we needed if we wanted to make it in this business - was that we needed to up the ante in terms of our image. He was dead set that we needed some sort of theme or ....uh....uniform. Look at Devo. Kiss. The Beatles, even. We weren't so sure about all of this, wanting to be as cool and rock and casual about this as we could, but hey, this guy was dining with Tina Turner when she was in town and I guess if we wanted to keep getting the good gigs...well....
This is how prostitution starts.
Let that be a lesson to you, kids. You go ahead and stay true to your art. Tell your manager you don't need no stinking uniforms. Trash that hotel room.
Anyway, Jeff's lovely mum was and still is I'm sure a dab hand with the sewing machine. We were younger and fitter and fancied that we should go for a band uniform with a less-is-more attitude (and in case you're wondering, yes I am most certainly cringing as I write this).
Enter the coloured vests. I'm not sure if any of the original photos showing the gorgeous colour of these creations still exist, but you can wonder at the resplendence of the Missing Garden Gnomes in full regalia circa 1993 in the promotional poster over on the right. Notice the desperately hopeful signatures at the bottom. I'm taking a guess that we probably signed five of the posters and that one of each exists in each former band member's shed. That's where mine was. Thought I'd better take a photo of it before it inevitably makes its way onto the bulk rubbish.
In early '94, Stu left the band, and I tracked down Vince through (what I'm sure is) an archaic musician database maintained by a guy named Rowan Goss who ran the Studio Music Centre where we rehearsed in Osborne Park. Vince came on board and was immediately the class clown of the band. Vince is a great singer-songwriter in his own right and can be found here.
Around this time we went through a second round of self-doubt regarding our image, and (...oh god, serenity now...this is good therapy apparently...) somehow we ended up with these massive puffy shirts, Seinfeld-style. I have to accept more than my fair share of blame on this one - I remember being quite enthusiastic..."Guys! Like, pirate shirts! It's so obvious, why haven't other bands thought of this before? Let's jump on it before Pearl Jam steal our idea."
In the interests of openness and sharing, over there on the right hand side I give you the last remaining image of the puffy shirts.
Late in '94 we felt the need to get some of this down on tape (no digital recording and ProTools goodness for us, kids. Shoebox in t' middle of t' road, etc etc). Being without the luxury of any sort of record company providing us with free recording and hookers, we gathered what was basically life savings for most of us, so that we could afford to record a 4-song EP at renowned Perth studio Revolver. The result was our inaugural release Socks. Based on sales in Australasia, Europe and the US, the record was certified Playdough and then after further sales it went Double Laminex. Feel free to listen to it, or download it, from the Socks playlist on this page.
Mid-1995, we finally got around to having a CD launch, at the now extinct Lonestar Hotel in Northbridge. (Finally we were free of all uniforms by this stage.)
The CD Launch went well, really well, but by then I had itchy feet and needed to just get on a plane. I was planning to travel at the start of 1996, so we started to talk about finishing up. It's funny, because Dave had started to drift away to this other band, and we had only just replaced him with the only actual real female member of the Missing Garden Gnomes ever to exist. Jenny was someone I tracked down through the WA Conservatorium of Music, I think. (I'm so sorry Jenny, I have searched and searched my stuff for a mention of your last name, but given that I knew you for like a couple of months and haven't seen you for about 16 years I hope you'll forgive me....). She was so incredibly down to earth and despite the fact that the tone of the jokes in the rehearsal room had to be a tad less dry-reachingly disgusting, it worked really well. It was just a shame that she came along just as the tide was going out on the band.
So, given that we weren't breaking up due to any particular angst or squabbles, we decided to get down as many songs as we could in one single day at Revolver. We had about 14 hours and managed to record 19 songs, with a few hours of mixing on top of that. This may explain a bit of the rawness of the tracks found in The Messy Breakup Album. Normally you'd have time to overdub, say, an out of tune violin for example. Listen or download over there on the right.
We had one last gig supporting Weddings, Parties, Anything, at which we played half the songs with Dave and half the songs with Jenny - her first and last gig as a Gnome.
Anyway, the experience of being in the Missing Garden Gnomes can be summarized by the end of the evening of the above-mentioned CD launch. It was the biggest crowd we'd had off our own back, i.e. not supporting a big touring act, and we had some 450 folks through the door so we were well chuffed. Let me just preface this by saying that we had never been...shall we say... overrun by gig-going young women wanting at all costs a taste of the high life that is the Perth original music scene. It's fair to say that up until this point we were largely unencumbered by groupies of any description. It wasn't that we were overly particular either: send us your poor huddled masses etc and we will attempt to persuade them into a quickie in the carpark at the Herdsman. You get the idea. Anyway, back to the big night in question. We played our little hearts out and to our minds the crowd were cranking. We left the stage after the encore and there were a few backstage opinions among some band members that we should be reasonably expedient in getting out there to mingle amongst the crowd so as to maximise chances.
"Ha ha, never fear, lads, for tonight we shall feast like Kings! Did you not hear that roar? No, we shall take our time (packing up our own gear - shouldn't that have told us something?) and when we are ready, the bounty shall be plentiful."
We wandered back out into the pub. All 450 patrons had moved on. Quite literally an empty pub.
"Yeah, why not."