Icehouse frontman Iva Davies is bringing his newly reformed band back to New Zealand this weekend for their first tour in 17 years. He talks to long-time fan Scott Kara about his lengthy career
It was 1982, or perhaps it was 1984, I can't quite remember. Iva Davies, the frontman and mainstay of Australian synth-rockers Icehouse is a little foggy about the exact concert date too. One thing he does remember about their show at New Plymouth's beautiful Bowl of Brooklands was having terrible sunburn.
"I had probably the worst sunstroke I ever had in my life," he laughs. Ah yes, back in the days when no one knew what sunscreen was and basting yourself with coconut oil was in vogue.
"I was violently ill in fact, so hopefully the show was still okay," he laughs again.
It was. Then again, back when I was a wee nipper growing up in Taranaki, my sister and I were big fans of Icehouse's second album, Primitive Man from 1982. We had it on tape. It's an Australian classic. Not only does it have Oz anthem Great Southern Land on it, but it was one of those intriguing albums - thanks to dreamy synth rock tracks like Street Cafe and Hey, Little Girl, and the dancey post-punk bop of instrumental Glam - that showed there was more to Australian rock than Cold Chisel and AC/DC.
Until last year Icehouse had been in stand-by mode since the late 90s, apart from a few shows and recording projects here and there.
The impetus to get the band - at least a version of the band, with Davies as the one constant - back together was the 30th anniversary of their name change from Flowers to Icehouse, in 1981. They released an album as Flowers entitled Icehouse in 1980, which had debut hits Can't Help Myself and We Can Get Together on it.
The interest in Icehouse sounds like it's still alive and well, in Australia at least. Last year they played a surprise show at the Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne - capacity 500 - and packed in 1200 punters, and have been on the bills of the Meredith Music Festival and Homebake.
Not bad for a band who haven't toured for 17 years - and they make a return to New Zealand this weekend playing the A Day on the Green concerts with Daryl Hall & John Oates at Church Road in Napier today and Villa Maria Estate in Auckland tomorrow. Kiwis were big Icehouse fans throughout the 80s. This popularity peaked with the release of 1987's Man of Colours which included hits Crazy and Electric Blue, a song Davies co-wrote with John Oates.
"I was at the bar at the Mayflower in New York and the barman handed me the phone and it was John Oates," he remembers. "He said, 'we need to write songs together'. And we did, he flew out to spend a week with me in Australia."
As well as playing live, Davies (along with the band's co-founder and original bass player Keith Welsh) is also in the process of reissuing the group's back catalogue, which began last year with the re-release of Icehouse and the collection White Heat: 30 Hits.
"So the last year and a half for me has been like the rebooting of Icehouse," he says sounding very business-like. "Keith was the one who reminded me that it was the 30-year anniversary of the name change and it would be a good opportunity to put out this 30th anniversary edition of the album."
Davies had two storage sheds full of unreleased Icehouse material and footage, and the three disc reissue of Icehouse includes the original album, a live set, and a DVD.
The DVD has live footage of the band from the 1981 Sweetwaters festival in New Zealand which was headlined by Split Enz and Roxy Music.
"It was shot by New Zealand television and they did a fantastic job. The sad thing is they shot the entire show but some of it didn't survive the 30 years unfortunately. The five or so songs that did had been beautifully mixed and so it really is a bit of a gem."
There are definite periods in the evolution of Icehouse and Davies plots it out album by album.
"The Flowers' album sits out there on its own. It was an album developed by a band playing live over three years, playing those songs hundreds of times before we got to record them," he says.
"Then it changed and every album from then on was a studio album that came from very sophisticated demo recordings."
These more complex music-making techniques is also the reason Icehouse has had many different band members over the years.
"So for example when I wrote Primitive Man, it was so loaded with keyboards that we needed two keyboard players - and similarly I couldn't possibly deal with all the guitar parts so it went from a four-piece to a six-piece. So I can track all the albums depending on the technology I was using at the time."
The third album, Sidewalk, was dominated by Davies, using the first ever sampler, the Fairlight CMI. And the band's most popular period from 1986's Measure For Measure to Man of Colours was characterised by Davies' work with producer David Lord.
"By the time I did a second album with David Lord I was prepared to give him a lot of rope and I was also prepared to do a lot of experimenting. Man of Colours is the result of that."
In the mid-90s though, Davies needed a change.
"I had just had my first child at that point so I think life was changing for me. And I'd been going for 16 or 17 years and I wanted to get out of the regimented way of writing a new album and touring. What I wanted to do was have a break from songwriting and that's what led me to do what ultimately became a covers album, The Berlin Tapes," he says of the album that covered songs by everyone from David Bowie and Roxy Music to The Cure and Killing Joke.
It also resulted in the ballet Berlin for the Sydney Dance Company, and from there he went on to do big music projects for the millennium and the Sydney Olympics, along with soundtrack and TV work.
"I've been busy. Quite busy," he laughs.
Still, you get the feeling that being back in the band is what he loves most.
Where and when: A Day on the Green, with Hall & Oates and Goodshirt, Church Road, Napier, today; Villa Maria Estate, Mangere, tomorrow, 4pm
Listen to: Flowers - Icehouse (1980); Icehouse - Primitive Man (1982), Man of Colours (1987)