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Radios (Re)-Appear : a Deniz Tek interview

by Alex Wheaton (dB Magazine - Adelaïde)


"Twenty years ago today, 'Birdman was in full swing - right in the middle of our time, so that really gives you the perspective of how old it really is,"
says Deniz Tek, guitarist with Radio Birdman, a band who occupy a unique position in the annals of Australian rock history.

Radio Birdman did it first, did it harder, and broke up sooner, than any other Australian band. They were too much too soon, and their legacy has been felt, through a slew of eighties pretenders right down to this day.

Not for nothing has there been considerable discussion about silverchair`s rendition of Birdmans New Race with You Am I's Tim Rogers at the ARIA Awards earlier this month; a song subsequently included in their live encores.

"They were doing it at a gig were they?" Tek asks with evident amusement. "Ah, good."
"I'm trying to look at it as though the band had a long break and now we're going to play another show."
That's been easy enough for Tek, as he's still playing regularly, principally with the Deniz Tek Group.
"To me it's another gig," he says, "although it is an exciting prospect to reanimate a corpse or breathe life into a dead thing and see if it comes back. I suppose a better analogy would be to start up an old aeroplane that hadn't been flown in twenty years. You just don't know if it's going to go or not."
Those knowledgeable about Tek and the 'Birdman will appreciate the delicious irony of that analysis. After the breakup of Radio Birdman at the conclusion of a European tour in June 1978 Tek resumed his studies in medicine, had his degree conferred, and then joined the US Marine Corps where he qualified as a jet fighter pilot.

"That was a boyhood dream that I had," he tells me. "the best way to fly is the military, there's no question of that."
He spent nine years in the Marine Corps, flying A4 Phantoms, F4s, and for a brief time, the F18:
"the Marines were always the last to get new equipment,"
he notes laconically.
"I learned a tremendous amount from that because up until that time I had a very loner personality partially it was my lack of skill in dealing with group dynamics that screwed Radio Birdman in the first place.
One of the things I learned in the military was how to work as a team toward a common goal. I think that's the best thing I got out of that military mindset."
Early in 1995 five former members of Radio Birdman got together in a Sydney studio to oversee remixing of the two albums, 'Radios Appear' and 'Living Eyes'.

Present were Tek (guitars), Chris Masuak (guitars), Pip Hoyle (keyboards), Warwick Gilbert (bass), and Rob Younger (lead vocals). Drummer Ron Keeley was not.

"That was really the event that set the tone for being able to get together.
Putting the albums together, especially the remixing of 'Living Eyes' which took an entire week to do - and all the guys were there except for Ron who was in England.

But all the other five guys were there in a room for the first time since the band broke up, and we just realised it was pretty good to be together we've all stopped being psychotic, and we thought, 'Well, maybe we were a little bit hasty in terminating the association', because the music sounded pretty good, and we enjoyed each others` company.

So we thought 'it's not such a bad thing to be together working on Radio Birdman stuff!"

When an offer to tour as part of the Big Day Out came through later in the year, the stage was set, but Tek is adamant:

"If the music hadn't aged well we would have called it a day."
He sounds a note of caution, mentioning complaints from other members about missed credits and contentious artwork reproduction.

"Like everything else in this band there's already been controversy. It's funny, because just being back as Radio Birdman means we're back in control and have to pay attention to everything. It's quite incredible how everybody's focussed again."
I had read a story suggesting Ron Keeley hasn't looked at a drum kit since the breakup in June 1978

"Well he hadn't until June when we met up with him in Paris," Tek admits. "[Deniz Tek Group] were playing a gig and he showed up from London, and he ended up hitting it off really well with our drummer Nik (Reith, ex- Celibate Rifles), and the two drummers got together and ended up becoming best pals.

The next thing I know is that Nik has invited Ron to play a couple of songs, so I look around and there's Ron on the kit, picking up the sticks for the first time in all that time.

He did a pretty good job, I was surprised. He was always able to divide time in such a way that the song sounded like it was going faster than it really was, and it always seemed to be accelerating when it really wasn't."

Several times through the interview, I find myself apologising for the retrospective aspect; what is the correct procedure for asking a band about their twenty year hiatus, and why is news of a 'Birdman reunion news at all?
Does this say something about the current state of Australian music generally?

Does Tek remember all the gigs, I ask?

"It's a big collage in the back of my mind. I'm probably like everybody else, I don't really remember what Radio Birdman was really like. I remember what it felt like to play, but have no idea what it felt like from the audience perspective."
On Friday 25 November 1977, Radio Birdman played at the Marryatville Hotel in Adelaide, an event filmed by ABC TV. Tek remembers some of that one. He chuckles.

"When there is film, it tends to supplant memory, because that becomes the memory. I know that film better than I remember the event." Flashback to the present: "Me and my ensemble just finished recording, and I'm pretty excited about it. I'm as excited about that as I am about the Radio Birdman stuff."
And as to Radio Birdman, I can't help myself but ask whether there are palns for further recording He allows that he, Masuak and Gilbert all have material they're working on, but as to a future for the band after Big Day Out.

"I think everybody is holding their breath to see if it starts," he says, suggesting a previous analogy. "If it starts then we'll see where we want to drive it to."

Alex Wheaton

Radio Birdman perform as part of Big Day Out 96. The remix albums are out now.

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