Iva Davies From Icehouse Reflects On 40 Years Of “Great Southern Land”

2022 marks forty years since the inaugural release of ICEHOUSE’s legendary anthem Great Southern Land, written by frontman Iva Davies in homage to Australia and its landscape while homesick on the band’s first overseas tour.

ICEHOUSE has performed the song on stages all over the world since then – for many, Great Southern Land is ICEHOUSE – but then in concert, memories are reawakened by songs like Hey Little Girl, No Promises, My Obsession, Crazy, Electric Blue, We Can Get Together and Man of Colours. Whether you are a long-term fan of their music or are encountering them for the first time, you’ll be struck by the beauty of their melodies and progressions. The band is every bit as iconic as Great Southern Land and as open to contemporary transformation. It was a real honour to speak to the legendary Iva Davies about Great Southern Land and playing the Adelaide Festival.

You must be looking forward to the Great Southern Land 2022 Concert Series which is already under way and what is shaping up to be a massive year?
I can’t really describe the weirdness of everyone being completely unemployed for two years. It is a big team I work with and the same team I have been working with for eleven years. The tentacles reach out even further with people who haven’t been able to do anything but it is incredibly exciting.

Does that create a little extra pressure knowing how big the team is and the need to get the wheels turning a bit faster?
The feeling is more that they are carrying me in a weird way rather than the other way around. I sent a text to one of my crew a couple of nights ago and she is an incredible cook, we’re talking Master Chef, not that I watch any of that stuff, just ridiculous skill, but what she had been doing in lock down is every week she choose a different country and it turned out an extraordinary feast based on that country’s local dishes and ingredients and so on. This has been going on beyond sixty countries that she is up to now, it has been incredible, her partner is also one of my crew so I said to her that he’ll be the size of a tank by the time we get back on the road. It is a joke obviously, they are incredibly fit people, they have been trying to find ways to negotiate through not working by staying fit and occupying themselves. These people are incredible and as I say they are carrying me not the other way around.

How did you find lockdown last year? I heard you started playing golf?
Yeah! I have had a whole lot of projects going on while I have been prevented from performing. I’m sitting in front of four guitars and they are in my bedroom believe it or not. I have taken delivery of three amplifiers. Those amplifiers are a project in themselves in so much that they have been with a technician for nearly a year and he has been rebuilding these vintage amps. During lockdown I procured one from Paris and one turned up in Perth, they are identical to the amplifier I recorded in the period that included Great Southern Land. My intention is to get them up and running and back on stage after thirty, forty years so I’ve had all that going on. I’ve got someone getting these guitars up to speed so this project has been going on for a year. These are the sorts of things I put in to action when I knew I couldn’t do anything else. Right, let’s get this bit sorted out! It has been a strange assignment, there was a period where the guy who was fixing my guitar had it for seven months and he sent a text saying it was done and at the time South Sydney was in complete lock down. I couldn’t go and pick it up for months and months, it just sat there. Then finally I got to go and deliver another one to him. It has been strange all those constraints.

Are there any plans to make new music or is there any pressure to do so?
That is the obvious thing that people seem to be doing and there is a plethora of new releases because people have been in lock down in their bedrooms with their various recording systems turning out lots of songs and making lots of recordings. It didn’t really occur to me as they were lots of practical things that I needed to get done that were way ahead in priority for me. I can see why that has happened with other people but that wasn’t my immediate priority. I didn’t look at the situation and go we should be doing some Zoom performances or writing songs or whatever. I have a pause or not so little pause to get all these practical things done such as guitars repaired, amplifiers restored and all that sort of stuff. In a weird way it did serve its purpose for me but not in a creative way directly.

Can you believe it is the fortieth anniversary of Great Southern Land and did you ever envisage that it would have a life of its own with a timeless legacy? When you think of Australia you think of that song.
The short answer is obviously not and recently I wrote up what will become a press release at some point putting the history of that period when that song was created. It was interesting to do that because it put in to perspective. The perspective was that it was the first song that I wrote in what was to be a collection of songs. After the big Flowers album, the debut album before we changed our name was massive and gave course to a lot of international interest and then signed up to an international label going on to conquer the world with that album. Then it all went horribly wrong really but I ended up finding myself on my own with the prospect of writing a very difficult second album. Great Southern Land was the first song I wrote in that collection. At the time I took in to my managers to show them that I had made a start because they were incredibly inpatient. Everybody was waiting for me so I took in the demo of Great Southern Land, here’s the first one, I’ll get back to it shortly and keep writing more songs. That was my perspective on it and it wasn’t like I had done anything unusual. It was like here is the first song and carry on. They reacted straight away, everyone reacted straight away, the record company reacted straight away. I didn’t get it then and sort of still don’t get it, it is amazing and difficult to comprehend that I am still talking about it forty years later.

That generational change and getting in to your music must be cool as well?
There are lots of things that are incredibly exciting and mysterious that generational thing is one of them. It is mysterious because when I was growing up and an album came out and I heard it and I went wow. There were lots of pivotal clouds in the sun but when I heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon my friends who had been following them got their hands on an import copy, which no one had heard Dark Side Of The Moon as it wasn’t out yet, very few people knew Pink Floyd and I went to a house warming party and there it was playing on a stereo. It blew my head off and at the time as important and amazing the album is, this stuff is reasonably temporary, probably not a very good way of describing it. I couldn’t imagine anything coming out on a recording to be something still referred to fifty years later. Now we are watching Get Back The Beatles documentary, you’re looking at something now and going was it really that important, wow it must be, it is extraordinary we are watching this stuff fifty years later and it changed the world. As a songwriter I was never thinking in those proportions.

Plus it was far simpler times back then compared to what we are facing right now in 2022?
That is true, I still confused really because at my age I finding it difficult to pick out music that I like that is being created now. Certainly in relative terms when you compare it with The Beatles or whatever, logic would dictate to me that there is something going on that something that was released yesterday will people be talking about in fifty years time? I can’t pick it anymore! I find that quite bewildering and it is making me feel old.

Did you feel like that when you reflect on the vinyl release of White Heat with all those awesome hits? It is incredible to see the history of Icehouse with that package.
The vinyl thing is interesting and the whole process of going through that and getting a test pressing and approving it was great. It was going through a process that I had not been through for a while, when did CD’s come in? 1986 was the year we put out our first album on CD and it is wonderful to pick up a package like that and enjoy the artwork and the whole thing. It is strange as that what’s old is new again and seeing my children who are twenty five and twenty seven getting incredibly excited by vinyl is something I thought I would never see. I can remember the process of getting rid of vinyl happened incredibly quickly. I spoke about 1985 and 1986 the fourth album Measure For Measure, I can remember having a meeting with the managing director of our distributor and he was talking about the figures of phasing out vinyl, eighty percent vinyl and twenty percent CD’s this year and the following year eighty percent CD’s and twenty percent vinyl, then the follow year no vinyl at all. It was extraordinary that it was just gone. It is fitting looking at it now in 2022.

Is it tough leaving out certain songs and equally tough knowing there are certain songs you wouldn’t be able to leave the city having not played them?
It gets tricky because everyone has there favourites including members of the band. Some things are good to play live that were not necessarily great big hits. That is another perspective of putting together a live set because some of the big recorded hits don’t necessarily translate as well as other songs in a live setting. You might feel obliged to play them but they aren’t as much fun as other songs.

The Adelaide Festival show on the Village Green is shaping up as an awesome night. You must be excited about that one?
We did a show back in 1988 with the Adelaide Festival of Arts which arguably turned out to be the biggest crowd that has ever been drawn by an Australian band. It was completely unforeseen, we had sold forty five thousand tickets and double that number turned up plus on the night without tickets. It turned in to a free for all but I’m sure that isn’t going to happen this time! It will be very interesting revisiting of history for us.

Interview By Rob Lyon

Catch Icehouse performing on the Village Green at The Adelaide Festival. Tickets from the Adelaide Festival and for the reaming dates dates through Live Nation

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