Good Reading : December January 2010
26 goodreading ı DECEMBER 2009 / JANUARY 2010 As rock historian Bruce Elder puts it, 'There was a time in the mid-80s when Red Mombassa looked for all the world like a young Keith Richard. He would stand on stage ... looking thin, small and elegantly wasted. His lean Irish face with its sharp, angular features was always staring down at his guitar and his lank hair half-covered his face. He may not have invented this quintessential rock 'n' roll image but he seemed ideally suited to it.' Yet the more successful the band, the less Mombassa was home, which added to a feeling of forlornness growing in him: while he was enjoying the band's triumphs, there was still a niggle that here he was, nearing his mid-30s and watching his life pass in endless road trips up and down the country. There was also the sense that the more time they were on the road, the closer they were to an accident. 'I can remember often feeling very nervous in the middle of the night thundering down the New England Highway with tr ucks on either side of you, semis bar relling down the other side of the road -- you start to feel very frail, very vulnerable,' he says. So he sought solace in art, drawing the passing landscape while travelling to and from gigs, filling page after page of sketchbooks with charcoaled impressions, four to a page, and taking photographs with disposable cameras as reference for later working over. For both O'Doherty brothers, mobile artwork was to become a necessary, almost compulsive adjunct to their continuing noiseworks. As [fellow band member Andrew 'Greedy'] Smith was to comment early the next year, 'Reg has been doing a hellava lot of drawing over the last few months ... he does them while we're going along in the car and colours them later. A few weeks ago we were travelling from Victoria to Adelaide and he did 27.' Smith, who often sat in the back seat of the Tarago with Mombassa, was amazed by how he would frequently draw without looking at the page. 'He'd just stare intently at the scene and get it down with a really fir m line. And it was always right. He had that ability to grasp it really quickly, and then he'd work it up later in the motel. He used to say, "You've got to get your outlines right, got to be neat." I think that what gives his work that great stillness is that it is so incredibly executed. Some of his pastels take your breath away.' [Fellow band member David] Twohill remembers after 'Reg started sketching in the car ... we used to stay in Melbourne at Her Majesty's hotel, a very ordinary old pub amid all the opulence of Toorak -- it was where all the bands stayed and you could get a beer any time of the night. A string of well-known musos would come round and Reg would be hiding from them because they would want to play music all day long and Reg just wanted to paint.' by Murray Waldren the mind and times of Reg Mombassa First becoming famous as part of the Australian rock band Mental As Anything, New Zealand born Reg Mombassa (or Christopher O’Doherty) is also known for the iconic T-shirts he designed for Mambo. Internationally he is renowned as an artist. In this extract we meet a young Mombassa, touring, sketching and living on meagre means. BOOKBITE Reg with his wife Martina and children Darcy, Claudia and Lucy (front) on the occasion of Claudia’s fifth birthday.