One of the most endearing features of Australian rock is its tendency to look after its own.
Bands don’t seem to have a use-by date and their fate and future is generally left in their own power rather than the hands of a fickle fan base that would rather discard the old and usher in the new according to trends and fashions.
Because of this, Australia currently has a high percentage of bands still doing the rounds that started as far back as the 1980s, with none of them showing any signs of musical decay.
Amongst those bands are The Poor, a band who started in Darwin back in 1986 as The Poor Boys and are still slaying crowds today all over the country from their Gold Coast home base.
To continue this legacy of honour and respect The Poor have embarked on a tour seeing them play AC/DC’s legendary ‘Back In Black’ album from start to finish in celebration of the album’s 40th anniversary.
“It’s exciting and also very humbling,” vocalist and founding member Skenie said.
“Back In Black is one of those albums that… apart from one other album, it’s my favourite album of all time. When I was a kid that album shaped me as a musician as it did all of us pretty much. We just wanted to have a go and do it our way and show that we can do that shit.”
When Skenie belts out the infamous words to ‘Back In Black’, “Hell’s Bells’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ he will do so with the blessing of the band themselves, with Brian Johnson himself in awe of The Poor and particular their frontman when the Australian hard rock outfit supported AC/DC through the U.S and Australia on the 1996 Ballbreaker tour.
“We started playing that tour in Nashville,” Skenie recalled, “and it was about the third gig in and I noticed Brian was standing on side of the stage for the whole gig. When I walked offstage I went downstairs and there was heaps of our friends down the bottom and I got down there and Brian grabbed me and said (in his best Scottish voice) ‘listen, son, if I ever get the flu can ya fucken throw in for me?’ (laughs) And I just said my oath!”
Despite their already phenomenal success by that tour, Skenie looks back on the time spent with AC/DC with fondness and a slight glint in his eye.
“They were all awesome people,” he affirmed. “I remember we were in Indiana or somewhere like that and there was a Sears – they are sort of like K-Mart but massive – and we were walking around Sears and went into a $2 shop and I’m walking around and looking at the black t-shirts on a carousel and I get around the other side and there’s Malcolm Young spinning through the $2 rack and I said what are you doing here? You could buy this shop (laughs) and he goes ‘you get all the best bargains in here Skenie.’ It was a pisser.”
2019 was a stellar year for The Poor. Although not fading into the background musically, their momentum had halted considerably after coming back with the one-two punch of Round 1 and Round 2 in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The band had retained the same line-up for a number of years and the signs were there that the band who brought us one of Australia’s most recognisable rock tunes with ‘More Wine Waiter Please’ were winding down gracefully.
But in true Australian underdog fashion, The Poor secured some high profile tour spots with The Screaming Jets, Rose Tattoo and Palace of the King and the band was back where they deserved to be in the spotlight.
“It just worked out that way with the string of shows,” Skenie shrugged. “We didn’t have a plan of getting back out on the road but we did the shows with The Screaming Jets over last Christmas and it just grew from there. People were starting to take notice and then Julian Grynglas (original guitarist) left the band and we got our new guitarist in and then we did some more shows and it just put new blood back in our veins. It was like getting a blood transfusion with Poor blood.”
The injection of Daniel Cox into the engine room provided the spark The Poor needed to reignite the flame. Not that they were over it by any means, it’s just that sometimes you have to let the past go in order to press into the future.
“Our new guitarist Daniel Cox is a breath of fresh air for the band,” Skenie agreed, “and the meat and potatoes we’ve needed to make a meal and put with our steak. He’s an awesome guy and is very dedicated and he just wants to learn but he’s also an insane shredder and goes mental on stage. He is a long time fan of the band. His old man had the ‘Who Cares’ album and he reckons he stole it off him (laughs). Even though he never picked up a guitar and learnt the songs he says he was just in awe of the music every time he listened to it. I was talking to him the other day about that album because we’re gonna re-release it and he said – and I agree – that that album still stands up today to every other new album of 2019.”
After having their back catalogue formerly spread over different labels, The Poor recently acquired the rights back to all of their music, with Skenie revealing they have plans to re-release their entire body of music through the one channel.
“We’re gonna re-release everything!” he affirmed. “We’re still talking about it but it’s going to happen. We split with Sony some time ago and we have been battling them to get every right back and as of August last year, our publishing rights from EMI came back too so we own everything now. We’re just compiling it all then we wanna put it through one distributor and take it from there. More than anything the writing is the biggest thing for us and that’s happening now with Dan.”
With fans having to wait the best part of a decade for new music since Round 2, Skenie apologises for the delay but promises the wait will be worth it.
“Apart from having to do all this AC/DC stuff and learning that – which has stopped the writing process for a bit – as soon as we get these first couple of Accadacca shows under our belt we’ll be back to writing so it’s happening,” he said.
“We’ve already been playing a new song called ‘Paybacks a Bitch’. We’ve got about five in the mix that we’re messing around with but there’s only the one fully written. We don’t know whether we’re gonna go down the track of recording that one and getting it out and then concentrate on another one and record that or whether we’re gonna get the funding to record the whole album but these days it’s so hard to do that.”
While refusing to be drawn into making promises on just when new music will be released, Skenie pulled no punches when asked about the musical direction of the new material already written.
“It’s exactly what you expect from The Poor,” he smiled. “In your face, straight up dirty rock and roll. We can’t say if it will be out this year – we’d like it to be out by Christmas – but we will just see how we’re going.”
With over 30 years in the mixing pot that is Australian rock, The Poor are in the perfect position to analyse the current state of rock music in this country.
“I think it’s coming back,” Skenie answered without hesitation. “It’s been a while. There was a lull for ages and I think people now are just starving for music. The whole retro thing is cool so what we’re doing – what we’ve always done – is now we are becoming cool again. It’s funny watching it go around. I think I’ve watched it happen three times now in circles over the decades (laughs).”
Part of the reason for that is centred around the traditional Australian values of mateship and respect, with the younger generation of musicians respecting the path that their more seasoned peers have laid bare for them.
“I think that all musicians wanna learn and learn from each other and have that bond,” he measured. “Whether it’s the young ones coming through or the old ones sticking together, most musos are just straight-up good people and good people stick together. Angry Anderson is 72 years old and we’re always hanging out and talking to each other, but then again me and Joel O’Keeffe from Airbourne are talking all the time… we’ve just got that respect for rock.”
If last year was the year The Poor snatched back their mojo, then 2020 promises to be the year they consolidate their position amongst the heavyweights of music.
“We will be playing everywhere!” Skenie laughed. “We’re doing shows pretty much straight after some of the Accadacca ones and then we’re on tour with LA Guns and then Rose Tattoo later in the year and we are waiting to hear back on a couple of others so it’s gonna be another big year. It feels like we have a new outlook with renewed intensity and you only have to give us a sniff and we will come out swinging.”
Catch The Poor at The Cooly Hotel on 25 January. Tickets via OzTix.