Have you ever wondered how earworms are born? Songs like I Hear Motion, Barbados or even the theme from Round The Twist?
Lecturer in music composition, keyboardist with iconic bands Models & Absent Friends, and ARIA Hall of Fame inductee Andrew Duffield doesn’t have to wonder. He’s lived a life that has delved into every musical avenue that Australia has offered, from movie and television soundtracks to top 10 charting singles.
More than anyone, he knows that for every blockbuster hit there are experimental first steps, for every success there are countless attempts, and behind every closed door is a new opportunity.
In the late 70’s Andrew was experimenting with sounds that could be created on his rudimentary analog synthesisers, working with visionaries like Ollie Olsen and Nick Cave.
“We were kind of drawn together by the punk movement, half of them from a new electronic music scene, half from this punk garage rock school, and an amateur kind of soif de vivre – a feeling of just going for it,” Andrew recalls.
In this punk-inspired landscape he scored his first movie, Film Work, only to be lured back into a band environment, joining Sean Kelly in what would become one of Australia’s iconic bands: Models.
A songwriter and keyboardist on Models first three albums, Andrew laid down an impressive collection of adventurous, pioneering songs, from Happy Birthday I.B.M. (the song Molly Meldrum said could have been a hit if they’d released it as a single) to fan favourites Two Cabs to the Toucan and the sparse, Stevie Wonder inspired I Hear Motion.
Andrew reveals the birth of the oddly named Two Cabs To The Toucan, “it was actually written about wanting to go clubbing in Adelaide after supporting The Police, and the club at the time was The Toucan. Hence the song!”.
Duffield left the band in early 1985 over creative disagreements. While he co-wrote the massive hit Barbados for the album released after his departure, it was a bittersweet success. He wasn’t happy with the direction the band were moving in, this new phase was moving too far from their experimental roots and into a commercial pop sound, an irony not lost on Duffield as his next major venture after leaving the group was into sound production for advertising and television.
In fact, only four years later he wrote the insanely catchy theme song for Round The Twist, a song that continues to be played to this day … it was even used to open the show for Mark Ronson’s stadium tour last year, much to the crowd’s delight.
“It’s really kind of interesting,” Andrew relates, “because I teach sound design at RMIT – and I teach at the VCA – and the kids, well, they’re not kids, obviously, but they grew up with that program and so it has this sort of real meaning for them.”
He laughs, “they really admire it and cite it as an influence – a kind of musical influence – which is great!”
In the 15 years leading up to 2003, Andrew’s production company became the most awarded sound production company in Australia, working for the biggest names in the region, including Qantas, Coca-Cola, Nike, and the unforgettable Sick ‘em Rex ad for AntzPantz and the quirky Tomatoes … it’s a … Sony television commercial.
The past few years have seen a resurgence in interest of all things 80’s, and while new music has yet to be released at the scale of their early career (two EPs in the past decade with hints at a third in 2017), Duffield has been enjoying sporadically touring Models with former colleagues Sean Kelly, Mark Ferrie and Ash Davies.
“What the show is about is to come and play the songs people know, which isn’t to say that we don’t mess with them a bit. The technology has changed a little bit, there’s no brass section, I do all that on keyboards,” says Duffield.
“It’s a compact four piece band the way started, which grew in the eighties with backing singers and brass players, but now we’re back to that creative core with bass, drums, guitars and keyboards.”
For most of these gigs they’re back as the headline attraction, but some see them sharing the stage on a level pegging with other greats like Icehouse, Simple Minds and The B-52s … reminiscent of the heady days when they were invited to open for other mega-stars like Ramones, The Police and David Bowie.
“The idea is to just keep touring and recording and trying to get back some of our material that was never mastered to CD,” he teases, “In the archives there are all these missing b-sides of twelve inch singles or bits that haven’t seen the light of day.”
If there’s no Models gig near you at the moment, you should immerse yourself into the musical world of Andrew Duffield with this curated YouTube playlist.
A shortened version of this article was originally printed in Zarraffa’s Grind magazine, Issue 24 (currently not online). This is an expanded version featuring unedited text and more images.
- Check out Models online: Facebook | Official Website | Models ‘topic’ on YouTube
- Their fans on Facebook also provide terrific up-to-date posts and interesting historical tidbits
- Or delve further into Andrew’s work at his own website
- Rhys Jones at Retro Universe has written some terrific articles about the evolution of Models
- Michael Witheford has an excellent two-part interview on Australian Musician with Sean Kelly, Andrew’s partner in Models crime, to discuss the full history (as of 2015) of the band
- Bonus treat for the diligent: photos midway down this page of the 80’s line-up Models modelling. It’s as bad as it sounds.
- If you’re truly wanting to dive head-first into the Australian music scene that gave birth to Models, From St Kilda to Kings Cross is a fascinating site (with “invaluable” input from the one and only Mr Duffield) based on a PhD on Melbourne & Sydney’s music scenes in the 80’s and 90’s.