Sunday 4 September 2011

The Illusions - Mirror Image LP Shark SF359, 1981

Looking like an unknown Music De Wolfe library LP, the eye you see peering over Bruce Lee and Geoffrey Holder's shoulders on the LP cover above is one you're unlikely to have seen staring at you from any record stacks before. An obscure Melbourne powerpop record that truly sank without trace - it has literally taken us over a decade to track down a copy. More on that later.

The Illusions were a pop band from the Blackburn and Box Hill suburbs in East Melbourne. Members were Mark Davis on vocals, guitar and bass, Phil Tregonning on vocals and guitar and Peter Allan on drums. We caught up with Mark recently to get the skinny on their sole LP Mirror Image.
Phil, Peter and I went to school at St Leo's senior school together and in about 1971 I started to learn guitar. I just loved music. The Monkees in particular appealed to me - catchy, fun songs with great melody lines. We got together by chance in Form 4, 1973 I think, and started jamming in a mate's dad's shed, he was a ham radio expert and built us some little amps. We called them the rats' nests due to all the wires amongst the valves. When we left school we would practise songs most nights and weekends, as well as going to see bands like The Aztecs, Madder Lake, Red House Roll Band etc.

As we all worked days we decided that rather than play live at night, that we would do a Beatles and record our songs at night after work. In 1981, we found a studio called Labsonics in South Melbourne run by Gerry Duffy (Labsonics still exists in Sydney today). We would go about twice a week for about two months to put down the tracks. He had a 24 track two inch tape machine which was really cool, as being a three piece we liked the idea of overdubbing a lot to fatten up the sound.

The backwards guitar on Gone Too Far really stands out. How did that come about?

This was an idea I had as I read somewhere back then that the Beatles did it. We just put the tape reels upside-down, played the lead break as normal and once played the correct way that's what comes out. That's my favorite memory of the studio time: beer and experiencing a bit.

I played a 1972 Fender Mustang through a Gibson amp with distorion and chorus pedals and Jazz Bass on all the songs. Phil used his Fender Telecaster. Drums were Ludwig.

The name Illusions was my idea as we were a band that did not play live much, but locked ourselves away in the studio. Mind you, the cost was difficult to maintain as studio time was expensive and all paid for by the band.

We were never a punk band - that scene came a bit later, we preferred our own songs, but loved going out to see all the other groups around. Bands that influenced us? Lots: The Gentrys; Shocking Blue; The Beatles; The Monkees; Suzi Quatro; The Aztecs; The Who; Humble Pie; Madder Lake; ELO; Badfinger; Jo Jo Gunne; The New Dream.
Despite the diverse list of musical mentors perhaps the biggest influences that can be heard on the album are at the poppier end of the spectrum: The Beatles and Badfinger. Given there are only eight tracks on the LP, one problem is that the songs are all a bit long. Nevertheless, there are lots of good ideas at play. Mark is humble about the LP.
I thought only two or three songs were any good: Say It Isn't True, Gone Too Far, I Was There. These songs were written about things I was feeling emotionally at the time. They were personal things. Say It Isn't True for example is about the death of John Lennon. I Was There is about being pushed into a law degree I could not cope with...I wanted to be in a rock band.
You only pressed 100 copies of your 7" Empire Builder, how many copies were pressed of the LP?
Come again?
The reason we only made fifty copies was that I was was not sure how the LP would go. We went to all the radio stations and labels we could find to give our records to - Au Go Go, Missing Link, 3RRR, 3CCR, EON FM, Molly, Deluxe Records, Mushroom, etc. Only 3RRR gave us a chance. I was very disappointed we couldn't go further, but Phil and Peter really didn't have their heart in it after a while. I did some solo stuff but it never made it to vinyl.
No wonder this was tuff to track down. We teased you with a 69 copy pressing last week but as always we like to one-up ourselves from week to week. Here's our and Mark's favourite two tracks.

Say It Isn't True [Download]

Gone Too Far [Download]

Update: Download the whole LP at Girls From Tahiti.


bristolboy said...

Definitly an early ELO influence there as well - Nice tunes

Davis88 said...

Thanks bristolboy it's great to hear that people enjoy listening to our Music after all these years.
Mark Davis