Named after an old war film from many years ago, The Cruel Sea formed in Sydney in 1987. Fronted by charismatic Beasts Of Bourbon lead singer Tex Perkins, the band, who were initially an intrumental only band before Tex joined them, hit probably their highest point of popularity in the early to mid-1990’s with albums such as This Is Not The Way Home, The Honeymoon Is Over, Over Easy and Three Legged Dog. These albums featured great tracks such as “It Won’t Last”, “Better Get A Lawyer”, “Woman With Soul” and “Takin’ All Day.”
The band has never officially split up since the release of Over Easy in 1999; they have been performing intermittently over the years between the other projects and commitments of various band members. The band will be performing some rare shows this November in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Tone Deaf’s Neil Evans recently spoke to The Cruel Sea’s guitarist James Cruickshank on the eve of their upcoming tour.
“It’s kind of scary when you realise Nirvana’s Nevermind was released twenty years ago this year. Someone reminded me that The Cruel Sea have been going for nearly twenty-five years now. That came as a total shock, especially when you think about how fast that time has gone,” says Cruickshank. “What has really worked for us in recent times has been getting together roughly once a year to play a short run of shows together, rather than doing a gruelling six week tour across the country, getting to the point where we can’t stand each other. This has been great with keeping both band realtions and the music fresh.”
When one thinks of The Cruel Sea, one immediately thinks of their very distinctive and immediately identifiable sound. “Guitarist Danny Rumour (AKA Daniel John Atkins) was the big factor with that,” replies Cruickshank. “He was the one who loved his surf music and bought that element to the band.” That genre is especially strong in some of the band’s early instrumental tracks such as the magificent “Fangin’ Hoons” and the delightful “4”, which had high rotation on Triple M back in the early 1990s, lifting the band’s profile markedly.
“Overall, the sound of the band was very much a collaborative effort. We jammed a great deal together, and everyone bought something to the table. This is what meshed and combined to create our sound. Tony Cohen, our producer, would simply try to highlight the sounds that made us sound like us on record.”
Something this scribe and many others loved about The Cruel Sea, apart from the music, was the utterly wicked sense of humour that came through on both a lyrical level and, particularly, in some of the band’s music videos. Who can forget the sight of Tex Perkins in drag in the “You’ll Do” video? Another standout was the “It Won’t Last” clip, where the entire band were dressed up in similar looking clothes and completely taking the piss out of boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC, who were huge at the time.
“I thought the video really worked with the song’s beautiful r’n’b groove, a great music/visual counterpoint. Videos are tedious to shoot at the best of times, we wanted to have some fun with this one,” laughs Cruickshank. “The genius of the video is that we all kept a straight face and looked utterly sincere and serious while doing the most ridiculous choreographed dancing. The choreographer was standing behind the cameraman, and we were simply imitating and not really learning the steps!”
When asked about the possibility of recording new material, Cruickshank is contemplative in his answer.”The Cruel Sea have toured the world, won ARIA’s and many fans across the world. Over eight albums, we’ve amassed a great back catalogue. We’re currently without a record deal as well. All of us are older and slightly wiser than when we started. Also, many of us have other commitments, such as other bands or family. There’s no panic of ambition like there is if you’re young and your band is just starting out. However, having said that, it’s not totally outside the realms of possibility.”
Apart from The Cruel Sea, Cruickshank cites the recent twenty first birthday party of Tex’s daughter, Tuesday, as one of the most satisfying musical experiences in his life of late. “It was so much fun to simply play music without a work element to it, to play for pleasure and with some great musicians. Definitely a case of doing it for the fun of it. I found that very gratifying”.
And the future of The Cruel Sea? “I’m very proud of our back catalogue and the fact that it has a very Australian sense of identity to it, but not in a negative way. It’s great in this country that you can still play music as an older man, irrespective of current trends or fashions, and still do it with dignity. Also, to be able to play for fans of the band, without any inside or business pressures, is very gratifying. All of the band members still get along really well and are great friends above everything else. If we were to go full time again with The Cruel Sea, I don’t know if there would be the same sense of joy and camaraderie amongst us. Simply put, it’s been a lot of fun revisiting roughly once a year or so”.