Summer brings back fond memories of a grandfather clock and freight trains for ICEHOUSE frontman Iva Davies.
Originally from Wagga Wagga, a young Davies would spend his school holidays in the seaside town of Kiama on the New South Wales South Coast at his grandparents' home on Gipps Street.
“We would get the train up to Sydney then down the coast to Bombo Beach station which I remember very clearly. I spent a lot of time mucking around under that railway bridge, in the lagoon, out on the rocks fishing,” Davies recalled.
Two noises punctuated his stays in that house, he said. The annoying ticking and chimes of a small grandfather clock next to the bedroom and the sound of trains going through a tunnel and into the night.
“When I visited there about 10 years ago [the house] was still there then, I’m assuming it’s still there,” the now 62-year-old said.
Davies will get the chance to revisit his childhood haunt during this year’s Red Hot Summer Tour where ICEHOUSE lines up with other Australian chart-toppers of the ‘80s and ‘90s in Port Maquarie, Kiama, then Dubbo.
This particular bodyguard was in the top 15 in the world kickboxing championships. He made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a string bean.Iva Davies
Those extended school holiday stays began to fade when Davies was around 10 and his family moved from the Riverina to Sydney, a city where he began to immerse himself in music.
Bagpipes were a favourite of the young musician though were put in mothballs early. They won't be coming out again anytime soon after a repairer confirmed there was no hope for the original set.
It has been a different story for the much loved oboe, a wood-wind instrument that took Davies to the Sydney Conservatorium (before he dropped out at 21) but is still part of his stage presence today.
“I do play but nothing like I used to be in my professional days, but nonetheless I can achieve a result,” the multi-instrumentalist said.
ICEHOUSE has enlisted Michael Paynter (an established musician in his own right) who takes the lead in some songs while Davies has a breather, literally.
“He’s an extraordinary singer. I let loose on a couple of my songs because he brings something to them which is original and different and Man of Colours is one of them … so I’m quite happy to take a back seat in that and play the oboe,” Davies said.
The past year has been a celebration of 40 years in the pop-rock world after ditching classical music training for a pub covers band with a few original Flowers, that would become ICEHOUSE. Throughout its history, Davies has remained the only constant in the oft-changing line-up of the group.
Unlike many other musicians that have preceded the star or walked in his path, Davies resisted temptations to indulge heavily in drugs and alcohol and instead took a more holistic approach.
“One of the ways you can ensure you will lose your voice is to go out to a club and talk over loud music for hours on end until three in the morning, so it was never really an option. I can’t speak for the other guys in the band, of course they didn't have that same sort of pressure,” he said.
“It was tricky on a lot of occasions and I certainly went out and had a good time but there was definitely a discipline there driven by that absolute hard learned lesson of not burning myself out.”
Davies spoke of the relentless touring, especially following the release of their biggest-selling album Man of Colours in 1987. The pressure would have pushed him to breaking point if it wasn’t for a champion fighter.
“There were 14 months of touring with that album," he said. "Seven of those months were in North America alone and we were in a different city every day."
For days on end he would wake to catch a plane to another city he hadn’t seen before, greeting record label representatives who were hungry for a bonus so therefor would drag him to endless media interviews, before he was allowed to spend an hour or two at his hotel in between the soundcheck and the gig.
“I never eat before a show so often I found myself alone in a hotel room with room-service at two in the morning then a few hours sleep, get up and catch another plane,” Davies said.
Soaring fame meant he couldn’t go anywhere without a bodyguard – a man renowned for his champion kickboxing skills, a man who saw something was seriously wrong.
“This particular bodyguard was in the top 15 in the world kickboxing championships. He made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a string bean – and he recognised I was starting to mentally and physically fall apart,” he recalled.
The bodyguard demanded the music mill leave his client alone for at least two hours every day, so they could find “the smelliest, dirtiest boxing gym in the city” so he could teach Davies to fight.
“It wasn’t just about the training, it was really about the kind of window of getting away from everything for that two hours every day and that was what really saved my life,” he said.
Exercise still plays an integral part of Davies’ life, though he has swapped hard-core fight training for something a little lighter, something he never dreamed he would be doing.
“I’ve done the most unthinkable thing that I’ve always promised myself the whole of my life that I would never do, and that is I’ve taken up golf,” he laughed, also noting he is the world’s worst golfer.
“It was just something I associated with people who were old who couldn’t do anything more active that that, I really didn’t get the zen-like experience of actually being in a beautiful place and just walking.”
Touring life is a lot more relaxed these days, with Davies and his band-mates not constricted by the call of their record label. Nonetheless fans of all ages are still eager to catch hits like Electric Blue, Great Southern Land and We Can Get Together live with the group playing to more than 250,000 people in 2017.
Davies said obviously their patriotic anthem stirs a lot of emotion from the crowd – and the band – when they perform it, but there were a number of songs that drew a party atmosphere.
“Audiences have changed because of the fact that 20-year-olds can now have access to any music they want to explore and they do explore it because they can be carrying around tens of thousands of songs in their pockets … I probably owned three albums that I painfully saved up to buy,” he said.
“There is so much music available and it’s a different system that exists now than it did when record companies really made their choices for you.”
Over the years ICEHOUSE has shared the stage with a number of national and international greats such as David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Hall & Oates but there is still one act Davies has on his bucket list.
He “absolutely reveres” English alternative rock back Radiohead (who spawned hits such as Creep and Karma Police). He has had the privilege of watching them live before but would be ecstatic to see them in Australia again, let alone play on the same bill.
ICEHOUSE and the Red Hot Summer Tour play at Kiama Showgrounds on April 14. Tickets via www.ticketmaster.com.au