The Dirty Three are a Melbourne music institution. Their vibrant, raucous, free form compositions are as visceral as they are hard to categorise. To see them live is to witness something special.
But like many well known artists, their performing roots are humble.
The members of the band - Warren Ellis, Mick Turner and Jim White - were all veterans of the local Melbourne music scene and were well known to each other. Prior to the the Dirty Three's formation, Ellis and White had been in a band together, Busload of Faith, and Turner and White had played together previously in several local groups.
In an interview recorded in 1994, Turner recounts what happened next:
The line up would be Ellis on violin (he had once had classical training), Turner on bass and lead guitar and White on drums. The new band played their first gig in front of a handful of punters at the Baker's Arms Hotel on Anzac Day, 1992:
The music was experimental and wild. Ellis attached a guitar pick up to his violin with a rubber band, giving it a unique, high pitched squawk. The music was, and has largely remained, entirely instrumental, with mumblings or anecdotes between tracks the only vocals. Each track took the form of an extended jam with a loose structure, and was much longer than the usual rock or punk song. From the same interview noted above, Ellis explains:
The proprietor was obviously happy with what the band had produced, as the first gig lead to a Friday night residency that lasted several months:
Currently, I live in Abbotsford, only about fifty metres from the Bakers Arms Hotel. Sadly, live music is no longer performed there, replaced by a mass of pokie machines, and it's the sort of joint where you can buy a six pack over the counter at 8am if you feel so inclined. It's as hard to imagine The Dirty Three playing there now, as it is to imagine the same band playing in front of a small crowd for free.
But while the pub may have seen better days, The Dirty Three quickly found success.
Their first recordings, a tape of a rehearsal at Turner's house, were given away (!) at gigs the following year and generated considerable excitement. And their live shows, spreading out from The Bakers Arms to more prestigious venues around Melbourne, became word of mouth successes due to their unpredictable energy.
|The Dirty Three play the Evelyn, January 1993. Note Mick Turner's art |
in the gig poster, which would become a feature of their album covers.
In 1994, the still fledgling band gained prominent support slots for Australian tours by American bands Pavement and The Beastie Boys. National and international success would soon follow.