A brief history

Where do you start to tell the story of two brothers’ musical adventures? Do you begin with their first gig? Do you go back to when they wrote their first song? Or when one of them first made an awkward shape with his left hand to attempt a chord on a guitar? Or do you travel back to a time when a song first sent a shiver down a youthful spine?

The two brothers at the centre of this story, Josh and Joel Meadows, were born in Sandringham, a bayside suburb of Melbourne, Australia, in the early 1970s. They spent four formative years of their childhood in West Papua, the western half of the island of New Guinea, which was (and remains, at time of writing) under Indonesian rule and was known at the time as Irian Jaya.

Their father, David, was an accomplished musician — a pianist and double bassist with a beautiful voice. Their mother, Tanya, sang in the church choir. Music was always around the boys. They were exposed to nursery rhymes, hymns and other church music, folk songs from the time and other music their parents listened to — Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, Peter Paul & Mary, Antonio Carlos Jobim — and more. Their father died tragically at age 32 in West Papua and their mother brought the boys back to Melbourne.

Out east

They settled in Montrose, where Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs meet the tall trees of the Dandenong Ranges. The little family lived in a small house on a dirt road, close to the bush. The boys had many opportunities to encounter the creatures that lived therein — possums, gliders, cockatoos, rosellas and smaller birds like honeyeaters, thornbills and silvereyes. Both boys developed a deep connection to the natural environment.

But Montrose was changing. Property developers, aided by a compliant local council (notwithstanding the tireless efforts of Cr Len Cox), were moving in, buying up land, bulldozing and carving it into house blocks. A yearning to protect the bush from the relentless, crushing greed of property developers was to underpin several of the Sugargliders early songs.

I feel fine

A close family friend, Colin, who lived two houses up the road, owned every Beatles album. He introduced the boys to the music of the greatest pop group of all, helping them distinguish Lennon’s songs from McCartney’s, guiding them through the evolution of the band, introducing them to the mysteries hidden in the Beatles’ lyrics, artwork and legend. It was to prove a huge influence on the boys.

In the mid-’80s Josh and Joel’s mother re-married. With Paul came another suite of musical influences — most of which the boys actively resisted, but some of which subtly wormed their way into the music Josh and Joel would later make. Paul’s record collection included Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Kate Bush, Bruce Cockburn, Steely Dan and Neil Young.

But of course Josh and Joel’s main infatuation was with new music they heard on the radio. Some of their favourites in the early to mid ’80s were the Sports, Haircut 100, Adam & the Ants, Thompson Twins, Human League, ABC and the Police. Gradually their attention shifted away from the charts as they discovered and sought out bands like the Smiths, the Cure, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, the Violent Femmes, Billy Bragg and the Housemartins.

And at some point during 1987 or 1988 Josh and Joel decided they wanted to be part of this pop thing. Both could play piano, but they realised a guitar was what they needed. Joel bought a cheap, glossy black acoustic guitar from Hans’ Music Spot in Croydon and taught himself some basic chords from Bert Weedon’s ‘Play in a Day’ guitar manual. They were on their way.


With Joel on guitar, Josh hitting drum sticks or a tambourine and both of them singing, their first songs emerged, They had titles like ‘Hypermart’, ‘Election day’, ‘Tightening our belts’, ‘(What I do with my) Saturdays’ and ‘Pinstripe frenzy’. Joel wrote most of the music, Josh most of the words. Already they saw themselves as a songwriting partnership. But they didn’t imagine themselves performing as a duo; they wanted to be in a group. So they got together with two friends, Kenny (bass) and Dave (drums), to play their handful of songs and see what would happen. The four gave themselves a name (The Meadowlarks!) and rehearsed on at least two occasions in late 1988.

Meanwhile, Josh found himself in a university tutorial with one Dave O’Neil, then the bass player in local pop/ska outfit Captain Cocoa, later to be much more well-known as a comedian, FM breakfast radio host and regular guest on ABC TV’s music quiz show ‘Spicks & Specks’. Josh told Dave he was part of a band that was looking for gigs…

The Meadowlarks’ rehearsals weren’t clicking, but Josh and Joel kept writing songs and over the summer they started performing them, busking, on the streets of Croydon and Melbourne. Sometime in January Josh got a phonecall from Dave O’Neil. Would you like a gig supporting Captain Cocoa in early February? Josh knew the Meadowlarks couldn’t possibly get a passable set together in the time available, but he thought he and Joel might be able to. ‘Yes!’ he replied. So what’s the band called? Josh said he would have to get back to O’Neil about that.

The brothers spent a couple of days considering the all-important issue of the name. There were longlists and shortlists and lengthy discussions about which other bands they would end up next to on record shop shelves if they chose particular monikers. Eventually, after agreeing that they liked the liked the idea of being filed between the Style Council and new indie pop darlings the Sundays, Josh phoned Dave O’Neil and told him the band was called the Sugargliders.

Hot nights at the Baden Powell

Captain Cocoa also came from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, just not from as far east as the Sugargliders. Dave O’Neil (bass), his twin brother Glenn (vocals), David Wookey (drums) and Anthony Eaton (keys) grew up in Mitcham, halfway between the city and Mt Dandenong. They were joined by Mark Murphy (guitar), Adam Dennis (trumpet, guitar), Leon de Bruin (trumpet, until he left to join the Great Moscow Circus) and Andre Elhay (sax). Together they made a big, jumping pop sound that was a little bit Madness, a little bit Dexy’s and a little bit Farmers Boys. The songs were about life in the suburbs: stolen bicycles, friends who change, girls who like to shop. In early 1989 they were playing nearly every weekend, they had a loyal following and they sounded fantastic. (Over the years Dave O’Neil has got a lot of comedic mileage by making out that Captain Cocoa were crap. They weren’t. At their best they were fun and funny, acerbic, insightful and very danceable.)

The Sugargliders’ first gig was on 3 February 1989, supporting Captain Cocoa at the Baden Powell Hotel in Collingwood. Josh and Joel played ten songs — all originals apart from Lloyd Cole & the Commotions’ ‘Pretty gone’ — with Joel on acoustic guitar and Josh hitting drumsticks together and occasionally shaking a tambourine or an egg shaker. The loyal Cocoa crowd listened politely to the nervous young debutants and clapped them warmly at the end of each song.

The Cocoas were happy with their new support act. There were three very practical reasons for this. One, as a duo with hardly any equipment, the Sugargliders could fit on the stage in front of Captain Cocoa’s drum kit and keyboards, meaning the Cocoas could leave their gear set up after soundcheck. Two, the ’gliders’ view of the world was compatible with the main band’s. Both sang about love and society and rejected the macho posturing so common in Melbourne’s music scene at the time. Three, there was no chance of the acoustic duo upstaging the Cocoas with their big brass sound! It was a good combination. The Sugargliders were to support Captain Cocoa 20 times over the next three years.

Captain Cocoa’s nurturing of the Sugargliders gave the young band a huge boost. So did another unexpected event. The boys’ auntie Fay White, a folk singer of some renown, headed off on a 10-month road trip around Australia with Josh and Joel’s uncle Terry and cousins Ilka and Tali, leaving her vocal PA and two microphones in Josh and Joel’s care. The PA allowed the boys to practice at gig volume, get used to the sounds of their voices amplified, practice harmonies and experiment with a drum machine. They lugged the PA to a few backyard BBQ performances, but most of the time it stayed set up in Josh’s bedroom, where it was in use several nights a week.

The gig offers kept coming and the boys kept saying yes. They regularly added new songs to the set and dropped weaker ones. In 1989 they played 17 gigs. They started a mailing list and posted out flyers every time they had a gig in the offing. Joel gave guitar lessons to Josh, who bought an electric guitar. More and more of their songs featured two guitars. But instead of the acoustic being strummed and the electric playing lead breaks or ‘jangling’ — the standard pop combination — they did it the other way around because Joel, the acoustic guitarist, was the better player and could handle the lead breaks and intricate lines. An acoustic guitar lead over a strummed electric became a distinctive feature of the Sugargliders’ sound.

On tape

Their initial attempts at recording were on borrowed 4-track tape machines, first in Maryborough, then in Thornbury. The results were pretty awful, but it didn’t dissuade them from putting four finished songs on a tape, calling it Kylie, getting 50 copies dubbed and selling them at gigs. The brothers were in a highly productive phase and their DIY ethic was strong. They were constantly writing new songs and wanted to unleash each new song on the world as quickly as they possibly could.

Late in 1989 Captain Cocoa trumpeter and guitarist Adam Dennis offered to help the ’gliders’ with their next recording attempt. Over three sessions in November and December at AD’s home studio set-up they recorded four originals (‘Rude awakening’, ‘The passenger’, ‘Daylight saving’, ‘Tightening our belts’) and two covers (‘Birth of the true’ by Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera and ‘Short attention span’ by Mark Murphy of Captain Cocoa and Ripe). Keen to get these songs out, Josh and Joel put the six songs on a tape, called it Crime & Punishment, got 200 copies dubbed, launched the cassette with a footpath gig outside Gaslight Records in Melbourne, sold 45 copies on the day of the launch, then sold the remainder at gigs in early 1990.


Jason Reynolds was a central figure in Melbourne’s small indie pop scene. He had a weekly radio show (Witch in the Colours, on 3PBS, then later on 3RRR), he DJ-ed on Saturday nights at indie club Thrash & Treasure (Reynolds was generally responsible for the treasure) and he ran a record shop (Exposure Records) where he would sell you the records he played on the radio and at the nightclub. Exposure was in a tiny shop in Kew. The sheet metal sign out the front featured the slogan ‘Get hep to the jive’ alongside a groovy dancing cartoon woman and a man who looked like an extra from Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby Doo. The first thing you saw when you walked through the front door was a kitchen table with about 30 new release 7” singles, many of them imported from the UK or the US, carefully laid out flat on the top. Labels like Creation, 4AD, Sub Pop, Factory, Bus Stop, Parasol, Subway and Sarah featured prominently. By early 1990 Josh was a regular customer. By the end of the year he had a Saturday morning job at the shop.

Around this time Reynolds started his own record label, Summershine. Its first release was Ripe’s debut single, ‘We’re all trying to get there’. Josh and Joel loved the Ripe single, loved Summershine’s low-fi, pop-at-all-costs ethos and wanted to get the Sugargliders on the roster.


The boys had written a new song they felt had the gravitas necessary to become the Sugargliders’ first single. It had gentle verses, a lilting harmonica line played by Joel, a bassline (their first) and a loud overdriven half-minute of guitars at the end. Josh’s lyric was about disappointment and disillusion. They called it ‘Sway’. They recorded a demo of ‘Sway’ and potential b-sides ‘This travelling song’, ‘Progress lullaby’ and ‘Sweet’, along with a cover of the Sea Urchins’ song ‘Please rain fall’, at Adam Dennis’ home studio, the Drawingroom, over four sessions in March and April 1990.

Josh was studying journalism at RMIT in Melbourne. In the basement of the journalism building was a 16-track recording studio, used mostly by media studies students. A media student friend of Josh’s, Simon Wood, had access to the studio and knew how to use it. The Sugargliders spent a day recording ‘Sway’ at RMIT and another day mixing it. Simon Wood engineered, with help from Adam Dennis. It is not known whether Wood submitted the final mixed version for assessment.

Jason Reynolds liked the finished product enough to schedule it for release as a 7” on Summershine, assigning it catalogue number shine 004. ‘This travelling song’ and ‘Progress lullaby’ went on the b-side.


They started playing gigs at the Perseverance Hotel in Fitzroy. It was the perfect venue for the Sugargliders — small, warm, intimate and inviting. The mailing list regulars felt extremely comfortable at the Perse and their numbers grew. Danny Foster, writing in In-press, reviewed one gig (9 August 1990) thus:

The back room at the Perseverance is a loungeroom with no stage and a decidedly cosy atmosphere. A 9:30pm rush at the door fills the place easily and eager punters squat under the mics. The Sugargliders kick off with a short, sharp burst of pristine pop. ‘Sway’ glides in next. The upcoming single is an uncluttered dual guitar excursion into a well-trodden genre, but it is given an instantly likeable edge by Josh’s energetic vocals and brother Joel’s delirious fretwork. The harmonica pipes in and gives the sound a breezy feel to complement the lyrics: “Riding a pushbike with no hands seems quite a natural thing to do when you’re young”. Like a majority of their material the song is achingly short… The addition of a drummer on ‘Bleak house’ swings the set into a more solid pop vein. A nameless cover [It was the Orchids’ ‘Carrole-Anne’ — DW] and then the best tunes, thoughtfully left till last, leave the crowd wide-eyed and itching for more: the harmonica-spiced zest of ‘Hypermart’ and the yearning vocal and pure melody of ‘Give me some confidence’ show the Sugargliders in their finest form. The Sugargliders are filling a long vacant niche in Melbourne’s music scene with personality and talent — but most importantly, they’ve got the songs.

The aforementioned drummer was Marc Fulker, a friend of Josh and Joel’s who also grew up in Montrose. Josh and Joel realised a number of their new songs were calling out for a drummer, so they asked Fulks (as they often called him) to join them. He ended up playing 24 gigs with the Sugargliders and drummed on several recordings. The three of them would rehearse around Fulks’ drum kit in the small bunker, soundproofed with mattresses and egg cartons, underneath the drummer’s house. It was there that some of the Sugargliders’ most popular early live songs were born — songs like ‘Bleak house’, ‘Give me some confidence’, ‘Police me’ and ‘Aloha Street’.

The Sugargliders launched ‘Sway’ at a packed Perseverance on 6 October 1990, with Adam Dennis, Mark Murphy and Steven ‘Two Tone’ Parker supporting. There was a wild feeling around the town that night. Collingwood Football Club had won the AFL premiership that afternoon, ending a 32-year drought. The Sugargliders were lucky Mark Murphy, a one-eyed Magpies supporter, turned up for the gig at all. And if he wanted to sing ‘Good old Collingwood forever’ several times, on that night no one could blame him.

Riding a pushbike with no hands

Reviewers were kind to ‘Sway’ without raving about it. “Beginning as a subtle acoustic piece featuring winsome harmonica, ‘Sway’ builds through its deepfelt verses to the final 30 seconds where a rampant guitar hammers the melody and vocals,” Craig Mathieson wrote in Beat. “Bittersweet, intriguing and promising.” John Mangan, writing in The Age’s EG, said, “Angst is a rare commodity in our pampered late 20th Century western economy, yet there is a distinctly hard edge to the disappointment expressed in this mellow guitar and harmonica ballad”.

The ’gliders continued playing live at every opportunity, with Fulks’ drumming adding strength to the second half of the set. In December 1990 they returned to RMIT’s basement studio to record the title track for their second single, ‘Furlough’, another song about people changing and leaving their ideals behind, this one a frenetic two-and-a-half minute stormer with drum machine backing. They chose to record live favourite ‘Give me some confidence’ at Oasis (formerly Timbertop) studio in Ringwood. Josh had arranged cheap studio time through a friend of a friend, hoping they could capture the sound of Fulks’ real drums more effectively in the big studio than they could at RMIT, but the session was rushed and the results disappointing. Still, the song remained a favourite with the mailing list gig goers, so Josh and Joel made ‘Confidence’ the lead track on the 7”, even though the single was called ‘Furlough’.

Give me some confidence

In ‘Give me some confidence’ Josh pleads with his love to give him confidence their relationship will last, even in the midst of all the upheaval going on in the world. ‘Confidence’ is notable for containing one of the first known references to climate change in a pop song: “And can we find some truth / before the oceans rise too high…”

The third song for the single was ‘Coffee’, a fragile beauty that showed the ’gliders at their most delicate — Josh strumming two repeated chords on the electric while Joel’s gorgeous acoustic lines weave myriad patterns across the plain tapestry.

Jason Reynolds gave ‘Furlough’ catalogue number shine 007 and it was released in May 1991. Once again Melbourne’s community radio stations and street press supported the single with reviews, interviews and airplay. ‘Furlough’ became the first Sugargliders song to get an airing on Australia’s (Sydney-based) national youth radio network JJJ. The first pressing of the 7” sold out quickly, so Reynolds ordered a second pressing. (The sleeve of the first pressing had a black pic with blue writing; the second had the pic in blue and the writing in black.)

“Another three tracks from the post-My Bloody Valentine Walker Brothers,” wrote Craig Mathieson in Beat. “Acutely jangled guitars form the basis for some impassioned, but wry, lyrical observations and the whole tone swiftly throws hooks into your head.”

The Sugargliders launched ‘Furlough’ at the Tote in Collingwood, with support from Girl of the World, a dynamic young three-piece (Tim, Bart and Cam) who were to play with the ’gliders on ten occasions in the following three years. The Sugargliders’ record launches always had a sense of occasion about them. For this one they hired a bubble machine and some extra lights, giving the dark interior of the Tote an unfamiliar light-hearted atmosphere.

By the time ‘Furlough’ was released the Sugargliders had already written and recorded the three songs for their next single.


‘Book of dreams’, ‘Fret’ and ‘Police me’ were recorded at RMIT’s basement studio with Marc Fulker on drums (except for ‘Fret’, which had a drum machine) and with Andrew Parks and Adam Dennis behind the desk. Twenty years on ‘Fret’ sounds very dated, but the wah-wah guitar part, played by Ripe guitarist Peter Moran, still has plenty of zing. On ‘Book of dreams’ the Sugargliders sound like a band that wants to stretch its wings, but finds it can’t open them fully inside the birdcage. The guitar solo is a highlight of the song. Joel played it three times on three different guitars in an attempt to thicken the sound and make it more complex. One of the guitars was a left-hander he borrowed from a friend, Nick Freeman. Joel learned the solo on the left-handed guitar because he wanted the sound of the strings being struck in a different way. Fulks’ drumming on ‘Book of dreams’ is crisp and dynamic too. Yet overall the song comes across as a bit flat. The Sugargliders were starting to feel the limitations of recording on the cheap.

‘Police me’ is the song on the 7” that probably stands up best to the harsh assessment of time. Fulks’ drumming is driving and thunderous. Joel’s acoustic guitar picks out its most strident lines to date. Josh’s vocal is at once defensive, passionate and angry, but a bit cheeky too: “We’ve been called immature / but that’s not all that has been said / Someone made the accusation that we were still breastfed / And there may some truth in that / but I don’t think it’s what they meant…”

They gave the single a title unrelated to the three songs — Butterfly Soup — and used a Wendy Aitken photo on the cover (with permission). It was released in August 1991 as shine 012. The band maintained the butterfly theme by summoning Beat journalist Cameron Adams to the Melbourne Zoo butterfly enclosure for an interview.

The Sugargliders launched Butterfly Soup at the Tote, with Hurdy Gurdy and Girl of the World supporting. Rebekah Duke reviewed the gig for Beat:

Draping the stage in netting and multi-coloured butterflies, the Sugargliders perform old and new tracks, such as the searing ‘Fret’ from the new 7” along with covers to show where they’re coming from. Aztec Camera’s ‘Down the dip’ is treated with a vigour and energy that would make Roddy Frame most proud. Josh and Joel harmonise sweetly and tug at your 12 heart strings with their songs of aching and longing, but can sure rock out when required. Finishing with a raucous version of ‘Love and mercy’ (yes, the Brian Wilson track), the Sugargliders prove that tunes are in, harmonies are back and pop is nowhere near dead.

In In-press Danny Foster wrote:

The Sugargliders are diabolically good tonight. From their covers (Aztec Camera, Brian Wilson) and their older songs — ‘Police me’, ‘Bleak house’ — to their singles — ‘Sway’, ‘Confidence’, ‘Fret’ — and their great new material — ‘Faux pas’, ‘If you can read’ and ‘Never could stand’ — it’s all guitar melodies five foot thick and lyrics as warm as Spring air. There are tirades against pollies, girls with no soul, highway disasters and the media… Some of it is actually danceable, while most is just falling and laughing pop with the texture of daffodils and the grace of a butterfly. Josh, Joel and Marc have built their musical house upon a well-defined rock — the view is magnificent and the surrounds are more than comfortable. Pop song, it’s time you came back home.

Butterfly Soup’s first pressing (red sleeve) sold out; Reynolds ordered a second pressing (green sleeve).

Letter from a lifeboat

So the records were selling and the gigs were generally going well. But Josh and Joel knew their songs were not reaching their full potential. They had written a new song, ‘Letter from a lifeboat’, that would demand a much fuller treatment than anything they had attempted to date. They started to look around at ‘real’ studios. Josh had first visited C’est Ça studio in Collingwood when he got the Crime & Punishment cassettes dubbed there in late 1989. Now the brothers went back and were shown around the place by the owner, Norman. They had a short meeting with the young house engineer Siiri Metsar. She didn’t have a long and impressive CV, but Josh and Joel warmed to her immediately and felt she would be a good person to work with.

The brothers had been saving their gig money, but they knew they could blow it all very quickly if they didn’t prepare well before the C’est Ça sessions. So again they headed off to Adam Dennis’ home studio. They spent a long time with AD on demos and pre-production for ‘Letter from a lifeboat’. It was a different sort of song from anything they had done before, with its looped, shuffling beat, tight guitar and drifting harmonies. The sweetly sung lyrics paint a post-apocalyptic picture of a damaged planet crying out to be rescued. They recorded demos for ‘Lifeboat’ and b-sides ‘Strong’ and ‘What we had hoped’ over four sessions.

On a hot day in early January 1992 Josh and Joel, accompanied by AD and Murphy, entered C’est Ça studio to record ‘Letter from a lifeboat’. The song needed to begin with a sense of drama. To create the ‘swell’ at the start a single guitar chord was recorded and Siiri flipped the tape over (a la the Beatles’ ‘I’m only sleeping’) so the chord starts small and rises to a crescendo, at which point the shuffling drum loop kicks in. Murphy played the beautiful bassline on a bass guitar borrowed from Dave O’Neil. Siiri captured Joel’s fluid acoustic guitar lines better than they had been captured before. Joel, AD and Murphy sang the shimmery backing vocals, which took their cue from PM Dawn’s ‘Set adrift on memory bliss’. The lush crescendo at the end of ‘What we had hoped’ needed more than the brothers’ vocals and synth. After some coaxing — and agreeing to perform only with the lights off — engineer Siiri Metsar sang with them, an octave up. It was a day of hard work and creativity hitherto unmatched in the Sugargliders short recording history.

A week later the same crew was back at C’est Ça to mix the three songs.

Josh and Joel were rapt with the finished product. They were convinced ‘Letter from a lifeboat’ was something special. They thought it might be the song that would take their music to a wider audience and push the Sugargliders to another level.


The boys had been fans of the legendary Bristol pop label Sarah Records for about two years, having been won over by songs like the Springfields’ ‘Sunflower’, the Field Mice’s ‘Song six’, the Orchids’ ‘It’s only obvious’ and others they heard played on Jason Reynolds’ radio show. Josh and Joel also felt an affinity with the label’s politics. Through their sleeve inserts and fanzines Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd left pop fans in no doubt Sarah Records was anti-corporate, anti-war, pro-nature, feminist and socialist. As they wrote on the back cover of Shadow factory, the first Sarah compilation LP, “it’s just POLITICS, not as some distant, unreal end, but as something encaptured in everyday life… popmusic as a spontaneous, loveable thing, created and bought in an onrush of NEED without needing to SAVE UP for weeks… so it’s idealism, so what, it’s a good place to start. Standing up alone (much harder), DOING, just what feels right… Something to do with — oh, let’s just say changing the world.”

Those words rang so true to Josh and Joel. They too defended idealism (see ‘Police me’). They too had a reverence for the 7” single. They too wanted to change the world, one pop song at a time.

Josh and Joel had posted copies of their last two Summershine singles to Matt and Clare, not seeking a reply, but just wanting to make sure Matt and Clare were aware of the Sugargliders’ existence and, perhaps, to pave the way for an eventual collaboration — if/when the ’gliders had something worth offering the label. Now, with ‘Letter from a lifeboat’, Josh and Joel felt they did. As soon as they had a final mixed version of ‘Lifeboat’, ‘Strong’ and ‘What we had hoped’, they sent a cassette to Bristol, with a letter explaining the songs were hot off the press, had not been promised to another label and were Sarah’s to release, if the label wanted them.

The reply was not long in coming. On the evening of 28 January 1992 (Josh’s birthday!) Clare phoned to say she and Matt liked the songs and wanted to release them as sarah 63.

Everybody supermarket

The week after that first phonecall from Sarah Records, Josh and Joel were back in Fulks’ bunker trying out a new song called ‘Aloha Street’. Drummer Marc Fulker’s absence from the ‘Letter from a lifeboat’ sessions was not a sign of anything amiss between him and the brothers. In recording their songs Josh and Joel always tried to identify the essence of each song, then record it with the instruments and in the style that would best capture that essential nature. Some songs required real drums, some a drum machine or a loop, others no drums at all. They never wanted to force a song to fit a pre-determined line-up. They believed the line-up should be determined by the song. ‘Lifeboat’ had its shuffling loop, ‘Strong’ wanted a punchy, open drum machine, ‘What we had hoped’ didn’t want any beat at all, beyond the rhythm that comes from a plucked acoustic guitar.

A week later they wrote ‘Seventeen’. The week after that they wrote the third song for the next single. At the time they called it ‘Green sea tea leaves’. Later it got the name ‘Fruitloopin’. Remembering how much ‘Letter from a lifeboat’ had matured and improved in the demo and pre-production stages, they arranged with AD to demo the three new songs at his home studio.

Meanwhile they continued to play gigs, with AD as their trusty live sound engineer. One terrific gig from this period was the Sugargliders supporting the Underground Lovers at the Tote. The Lovers’ album Leaves me blind was to be released the following year on 4AD offshoot Guernica. It was a sold out Thursday night gig at which both bands delivered first class performances. Another memorable occasion saw the ’gliders and Girl of the World hit the highway to play down in Geelong. The predominantly surfie/student crowd seemed more bemused than enamoured with the Melbourne popsters, with one audience member calling out, “just play some George Thorogood!”

Before the Sarah deal had come about Josh and Joel had promised to contribute an original recording to a four-song International Pop 7” being put together by a friend of theirs, David Harris, in conjunction with German indie pop fan Peter Hahndorf. Josh and Joel went back to RMIT’s basement studio during the first half of 1992 to record ‘Everybody supermarket’, a drum machine song with a choppy electric guitar and vocal infused with a big dose of childhood wonderment… “Mum’s just got this letter and she says it’s addressed to everyone / So we stood out on the footpath and opened it out there and the sky was blue”. The song title was taken from a Vietnamese grocery on Victoria Street, North Richmond (since demolished), the name of which had always appealed to Josh.

Another faux pas

Back in November 1991, before they signed to Sarah, the Sugargliders had recorded two songs, ‘Another faux pas (in the cathedral of love)’ and ‘Skylight salt’, for a 7” for Brighton (UK) label Marineville. These two songs appeared on the a-side of the 7” and the band‘s first Summershine single ‘Sway’ appeared on the b-side. Marineville‘s Andy Parker designed the sleeve, which Josh and Joel were both delighted with. The Sugargliders launched the single with a gig at the Empress Hotel in August 1992 and gave away copies of the 7” to the first 80 payers through the door.

The intuitive acoustic parade

Copies of ‘Letter from a lifeboat’ started making their way into the country in late May. The song’s first Australian airing was, appropriately, on Jason Reynolds’ radio show on 3RRR. Reviews of the single started to appear. For the first time they were not only in Australian publications. Dave Jennings reviewed the single in Melody Maker:

The Sugargliders’ engaging existential poem-in-song is attractively syncopated in a Latin sort of way, even though — believe it or not — the Sugargliders appear to be a pair of sensitive, thoughtful Australian chaps. Strewth, they must be lonely. Whatever, their breathy tale of uncertainty, loss and unease is hurried along by sharply shuffling beats, crisp handclaps and florid Spanish guitar. Mellow, but intense and absorbing; the sort of record that should ideally be listened to last thing at night, in order to virtually guarantee yourself sweet dreams.

Victoria Thieberger reviewed the single for The Age’s EG:

Formerly of local indie Summershine Records, the Sugargliders are now with the groovy English label Sarah, becoming the second Australian band on their books… ‘Letter from a lifeboat’ is a simple summery number filled with breezy harmonies and shuffling drums. It doesn’t sound at all like it was recorded in Melbourne. Lie back and think of Bristol.

Craig Mathieson had this to say in Beat:

The intuitive acoustic parade of the Sugargliders cross-hybridizes with a muted Funky Drummer beat for a compelling tale of desperation that marks their debut for British label Sarah. Recommended.

They did a joint single launch with Girl of the World, whose brilliant ‘Circus’ had just been released by Parasol in the USA. Both bands were Melbourne born and bred, but both had found homes on highly-regarded record labels overseas. An affinity quickly developed between the members of the two groups. The launch, at the Tote, culminated with all six band members on stage performing two covers — the Sea Urchins’ ‘Please rain fall’ and the Field Mice’s ‘Sensitive’.


Josh and Joel returned to C’est Ça to record their next single — and this time they brought with them Marc Fulker and his drum kit. Siiri Metsar again engineered, with Adam Dennis and Mark Murphy providing wise musical counsel and occasional cameos. A-side ‘Seventeen’, a song about that teenage moment when you don’t know what’s coming next but everything seems possible, needed to create a special mood if it was to work. A prominent bassline and the highland drum beat gave the song a strong bottom end, but Metsar didn’t let the track get cluttered — she kept it very open, leaving room for Joel’s delicate acoustic (and Murphy’s sparkling electric in the second verse) to shine.

‘Aloha Street’, a tale of shallow lust and bitter reflection, is built on Marc Fulker’s urgent drum performance… “Our eyes first met across a crowded pool / it was clear we’d gone to very different schools / The smoke rings from her lipsticked lips / spoke to me of cancelled trips.” Joel and AD sing the backing vocals in the “is there love in the heart of it” part. The song concludes with Josh’s enigmatic “Something that was said a long time ago is gonna make a whole lot more sense when I read it out tomorrow”, followed by Joel’s blistering acoustic guitar solo, pushed through a very small practice amp.

The third song on the record is a young man’s look at growing old. The ‘ooo-ooo’s in the coda were sung by Murphy, and the indecipherable voice at the end is his too. Josh and Joel weren’t sure what he said, but to them it sounded like “Fruitloopin’, yeah”. The song had its title.

A week after that main session Josh went back to C’est Ça and re-did his vocals for ‘Seventeen’, convinced that the first attempt hadn’t been good enough. Not long afterwards they returned to mix the three songs, then they sent a tape to Bristol and hoped Matt and Clare would like them too.


Joel was studying sculpture at the arts school in Prahran, an inner southern suburb of Melbourne. In 1992 he became president of the Prahran student union. It was a busy, fun, social time — meeting with the school’s administration, defending students’ rights, organising events and making lots of friends in the process. There was also a tinge of sadness in the role. The small Prahran college was becoming part of the huge, multi-campus Swinburne University, and Prahran’s student union was to be swallowed up by Swinburne’s student representative body too. This experience was to inform and shape a coming Sugargliders song…

During August Clare phoned to ask if the Sugargliders would be interested in touring Spain with Blueboy in November. Josh and Joel said yes, but the plan soon fell over. Still, the offer got Josh and Joel thinking about the idea of playing some shows overseas later in the year. Josh phoned Clare. If the Sugargliders came to England in November-December, with new single ‘Seventeen’ just out, could Sarah help them line up a few gigs? They could and they did.

Meanwhile, Robert Cooper came along. Robert was a regular Saturday morning customer at Exposure Records. He and Josh would discuss pop music over the new releases table. Robert told Josh he played bass guitar and said he would be interested in playing with the Sugargliders if they ever felt the need for a bass player. Josh discussed it with Joel and in September the three of them started rehearsing together. Things clicked immediately. Robert loved a lot of the same music as the brothers, so reference points were easy to find… “You know, like the bass in ‘Ticket to ride’…” or “How about we try it in a Cherry Red sort of style…” Robert was available to go to England with them in November-December (Fulks wasn’t), so the three of them worked up a set of songs that featured bass guitar, drum machine, acoustic and electric guitar. They rehearsed together seven times and played two gigs with the Josh-Joel-Robert line-up before leaving for the UK. The last Melbourne show before the England tour was a record launch for ‘Seventeen’ (sarah 67).

Impossibly romantic

Reviews for ‘Seventeen’ were generally favourable:

Seventeen is a melting, semi-acoustic swoon of a song about losing control of your life and loving every second of the dangerous experience. It’s impossibly romantic, but the little personal details in the words and the lovely guitar shimmers melt away cynicism. (Melody Maker, 24 October 1992)

The Sugargliders are two brothers from Melbourne who desperately want to be the Go-Betweens circa Send me a lullaby. A noble ambition, undoubtedly, and one which they just about pull off on the angular bedsit angst of ‘Aloha Street’, right down to the deliciously amateurish guitar solo. (NME, 17 October 1992)

As fragile as they wanna be, ‘Seventeen’ is a chiming ode to youth rather than a call to arms. And over on side two things get kinda funky with ‘Fruitloopin’, which is not a million miles away from the halcyon days of Aztec Camera, but groovier. (Beat, 28 October 1992)

The legendary English radio presenter John Peel was fond of ‘Seventeen’ and is known to have played the song on his BBC show on at least two occasions. Bernard Lenoir (often called ‘the French John Peel’) also took a liking to the Sugargliders, playing several ’gliders songs on his show on national radio station France Inter Radio.

Something in the striving

Before leaving for England Josh and Joel also found time to demo three new songs with AD. The brothers were keen to record their next single in the UK and they asked Matt and Clare if it would be possible to arrange some studio time with Ian Catt, who had engineered records for the Field Mice and St Etienne. As usual, making the demo recording with AD was extremely valuable in helping develop the songs.

The three tracks they wanted to record in England were ‘Ahprahran’, ‘Corn circles’ and ‘Theme from Boxville’. The first two of these started life as tunes by Mark Murphy. Mark’s band Ripe had released an album, Filterfeed, and an EP, Tough guys don’t dance, and were in the process of writing and recording songs that would comprise their definitive LP, The Plastic Hassle, which was released by Shock in Australia and Beggars Banquet in the UK. They had a well-deserved reputation for loud, intense and powerful live shows. Occasionally Mark wrote pop tunes that he felt weren’t suited to Ripe, some of these he gave to Josh and Joel in case they could use them for the Sugargliders.

Josh wrote most of the words for ‘Ahprahran’, even though the kernel of the lyrics sprang from Joel’s experience at the Prahran student union. The song’s central statement, “There’s something in the striving that is worth holding on to”, expressed a sentiment that echoed through many Sugargliders’ lyrics and bore similarities to the title they eventually chose for their 1994 compilation album, We’re all trying to get there.


The Sugargliders were in England for just 36 days, but they squeezed a lot into the five weeks. Matt and Clare walked them around Bristol, showing them the sights — Royal York Crescent, the Avon Lock, the Clifton suspension bridge, Revolver record shop, the ‘D is for DRUM’ graffiti done by Polly Harvey across the front doors of the old Bristol prison, the pub where you can get seven different ciders on tap… The Sugargliders played gigs in London (with Blueboy and Secret Shine), Reading (with Blueboy), Leeds (with Boyracer and Hula Hoop), Sheffield (with Mrs Kipling and Snog), London again (with Brighter), Bristol (with Saturn V and the Haywains) and Oxford (with Saturn V and Heavenly). In a Melody Maker review of the show at London’s Camberwell Union Tavern Ian Watson wrote:

The songs present themselves not as confessionals but as excerpts from the ’gliders’ private lives. The musical feeling may be one of hazy indulgence, the calm chords and sweet melody lines resembling a laid back Pavement, but listening to these songs is like eavesdropping on another’s closest secrets. (Melody Maker, 12 December 1992)

They managed to fit in two recording sessions while in England. The first was in Derby with Josh’s pen friend of several years, Jyoti Mishra, aka White Town, who was to have a massive worldwide hit with ‘Your woman’ in 1997. With Jyoti they recorded three songs: ‘Unkind’ (on which Jyoti and Ilka White — Josh and Joel’s cousin, who travelled with the band for parts of the tour — sing backing vocals), ‘Beloved’ and ‘If you can read you’re in trouble’. The second session was two days recording and one day mixing with Ian Catt at Cat Mitcham, London, where they recorded the three songs for their next Sarah single: ‘Ahprahran’, ‘Corn circles’ and ‘Theme from Boxville’. They spent a lot of time playing around with keyboard sounds and samplers, something they hadn’t done a lot of before, to get the deep bassy drones in ‘Ahprahran’ and the various noises in ‘Boxville’. Joel enjoyed playing the bassline for ‘Ahprahran’ on Ian Catt’s beautiful Burns of London bass guitar.

Josh, Joel and Robert also saw a lot of other bands play live while they were in England, including the Sundays, Brian, the Boo Radleys, Juliana Hatfield (twice), Matthew Sweet, St Etienne and the Beautiful South. It was Josh and Joel’s first ever visit to the UK (in fact, it was the first time either of them had left the southern hemisphere), so they revelled in things most Londoners thought nothing of — riding on the tube and the double decker buses, visiting galleries, museums and cathedrals and eating at pubs, chip shops and Indian restaurants.

Haven’t seen the shore for so long

In January 1993, back in Melbourne, Josh and Joel returned to C’est Ça to record a new song, ‘Trumpet play’, that they intended for the A-side of their next Sarah single. They were accompanied by Robert Cooper (bass), Anton Proppe (drums), Siiri Metsar (audio engineering) and Adam Dennis (general wise oversight).

‘Ahprahran’ (sarah 72), the first Sugargliders single to be released on 7” and CD, came out in March. Cameron Adams made it a single of the week in Beat:

The Sugargliders grace CD for the first time gracefully on this London recorded, Ian Catt (St Etienne) produced best-yet EP. The suburban lament of ‘Ahprahran’ hits home — literally. Now dab hands at the gorgeous and wistful pop song, the Meadows brothers enlist the help of Mark Murphy (Ripe) on the title track and the tender yet quotable ‘Corn circles’. Then things get funky on live favourite ‘Theme from Boxville’.

The Sugargliders launched the single at the Evelyn Hotel on 2 April with support from Girl of the World and a young three-piece called the Lucksmiths, fronted by Josh and Joel’s cousin, Tali White. Even then Tali, Mark and Marty had a great rapport with each other and the audience, not to mention a clutch of catchy, clever pop gems.

The ’gliders continued to play live at every opportunity and most of the time now they were the headliners. The mailing list grew and they had good crowds at most of their shows. Josh and Joel usually decided on the support acts and during 1993 enjoyed offering gigs to the Lucksmiths, Greg Ng’s band Afterglow, Blindside (featuring Nick Batterham, later in the Earthmen, and Hamish Cowan, later in Cordrazine), the Daily Planets and Snowblind (featuring Patrick Robertson, later in Motor Ace, and Bianca Lew, later in the Steinbecks).

Sarah Records gave the OK to ‘Trumpet play’ as the next Sugargliders single, with two of the songs recorded by Jyoti Mishra, ‘Unkind’ and ‘Beloved’, on the flipside.

Reinventing penicillin

Josh and Joel continued to act like there was not a day to be wasted. By May they were back at C’est Ça, recording three new tracks — ‘Will we ever learn?’, ‘Dolly’ and ‘Reinventing penicillin’ — all drum machine or drum loop songs and all with Robert Cooper on bass. The subtle intro section for ‘Will we ever learn?’ came to Joel in the studio and they were able to successfully add it to the start. The song has many guitar parts, all of them played by Joel and Mark, which weave together in a Marresque fashion to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The main guitars used were Joel’s green Maton electric, Josh’s tobacco-burst Epiphone Casino and a bright blue borrowed Rickenbacker. On ‘Reinventing penicillin’ Murphy played the beautiful tinkling four-note chord that adds so much mystery to the song.

‘Trumpet play’ (sarah 77) was released in July and entered the NME indie singles chart at #25. The paper’s in brief round-up of the week’s releases said “new single from prolific melodic Australian groovers, with the A-side recorded in Melbourne and the two flip tracks in less exotic Derby — out now”.

The single reviewer in UK mag The Independent Catalogue wrote:

Australian cult heroes give our acid jazzniks something new to nod along to. Fluid and folky, but funky enough to make Jamiroquai cry. Suggestive of acoustic Style Council or Durutti Column, there is a smouldering intensity, but it’s the flowing rhythms that win through.

Cameron Adams, reviewing ‘Trumpet play’ for Melbourne’s Beat wrote:

Late night pop with ribald rhythm section and an insistent groove you don’t expect. The teasing guitar gives way to some air trumpet, making this another fine single from the band that can and frequently do.

Top 40 sculpture

By July the ’gliders were back in the studio, but this time not at C’est Ça. Wanting a bigger drum sound for two of the three tracks for their next Sarah single, they opted to go to Sing Sing in Richmond to work with engineer Kaj Dahlstrom, the man who first recorded Kylie Minogue’s ‘Locomotion’ — with a full band (including a string section!) — before the singer signed to Mushroom.

The three new songs were ‘Top 40 sculpture’, ‘90 days of moths and rust’ and ‘Yr jacket’.

‘Top 40 sculpture’ starts with a Latin percussion loop, Robert’s bass, Joel’s choppy electric and Josh’s clear-as-a-bell vocal. The chorus is all overdriven guitar with AD’s majestic trumpet across the top. Murphy contributes the beautiful C&W guitar line in the second verse and his Ripe bandmate, Darren Seltmann (later to play on several Steinbecks records and to win a swag of ARIA awards and other accolades for the Avalanches’ album Since I left you), beats the drums in the second half of the song. The lyrics seem to be about perseverance, even when the future is unclear and way ahead uncertain. But it was the final verse references to their home town (and particularly those to North Melbourne Football Club players) that aroused the most interest in footy-mad Melbourne: “Here at home, we walk alone in safety / It’s a big city, but the risks are small / Saturdays can still provide some comfort / Laidley, Allison, Carey, Longmire… goal!”

Moths and rust

Josh and Joel were very excited with how ‘90 days of moths and rust’ came to life in the studio. The song, co-written with Mark Murphy, methodically builds to its killer chorus: “Without you / High off the ground / Feathering the nest / A nest with a view”. Seltmann’s drums kick, Cooper’s bass is playful and athletic, the guitars chime is the verses and buzz in the choruses. For perhaps the first time the Sugargliders sounded like a ‘real band’! In many ways ‘90 days’ is a peek into the future, being in same vein as many of the songs they were to write and record with their next outfit, the Steinbecks.

The last song of the three, ‘Yr jacket’, is completely different — fragile, stripped back, seeking comfort — just Josh’s voice and Joel’s acoustic guitar.

They recorded and mixed the three songs over three sessions and sent the final versions to Bristol.

‘Will we ever learn?’ (sarah 83) came out in September 1993. Cameron Adams made it a single of the week in Beat (15 September 1993), describing it as “reminiscent of an early Smiths song or a brash Go-Betweens, this is all dynamic pop guitars and despondent vocal”. There was, for the first time, a video to accompany the single. It was filmed by Sharyn Bant on location in Montrose, Croydon and East Camberwell. The Sugargliders launched ‘Will we ever learn’ on 9 October at the Empress Hotel, with no support band, but a pop disco preceding the ’gliders.

‘Top 40 sculpture’ (sarah 86) was released in January 1994. The band launched the single at the Empress with the Lucksmiths supporting. NME’s single reviewer said “the Sugargliders knock out a trio of songs as warm as a baby’s smile and every bit as tender, somehow avoiding mawkishness”. Back in Melbourne, Cameron Adams reviewed the single for Beat (2 February 1994):

“Carey! Longmire! Goal!” declares Josh Sugarglider, an ardent Roo supporter who is now feeling the tide of adoration coming his band’s way. Frente nod to the wistful ’glider guitar on their new single [‘Lonely’], half of Ripe play on this EP and a compilation of all their Sarah singles is due out in time for the footy season. Goal!

We’re all trying to get there

February 1994 was a busy month.

The Sugargliders played a gig with the Earthmen, Autohaze and the Tender Engines, to mark Summershine Records’ fifth birthday. It was a great night. The Sugargliders were now on Sarah, the Earthmen had a deal with Atlantic offshoot Seed in the USA and Autohaze was considering a contract with id/Mercury, but there was a sense that Summershine was still home. Label supremo Reynolds was now releasing records predominantly by hip overseas acts like East Village, Seam and Eric’s Trip. In 1994 he would release the Moles’ superb album Instinct in Australia.

The Sugargliders also had a Thursday night residency in February at the Evelyn Hotel. It was a month of musical growth for the band. Josh, Joel and Robert varied their set every week and had a different support act each time. Most weeks they did a song or two with the support band as an encore. On a couple of occasions Bianca Lew (Snowblind) joined them on drums for the final three songs of the night — ‘90 days of moths and rust’, ‘Top 40 sculpture’ and a faithful (some said reverential) cover of the Boo Radleys’ ‘Lazarus’. When Adam Dennis jumped on stage to blast out the trumpet lines of ‘Top 40’ and ‘Lazarus’, the audience was unknowingly getting a sneak preview of the first line-up of the Steinbecks.

We’re all trying to get there (sarah 619), a 12-song LP/CD that compiled two songs from each of the ’gliders’ three-song singles for Sarah, was released in March ’94. The band and the label wholeheartedly agreed on the principle of deliberately leaving one song from each single off the compilation so people who had bought the single still had an ‘exclusive’ track.

Understated and unforgettable

The album received some great reviews.

Steve L Burt wrote the following in Cambridge, Mass, daily newspaper The Harvard Crimson (3 March 1994):

SUGARGLIDERS We’re All Trying to Get There LP/CD (Sarah)

Quietly — very quietly — the Melbourne duo of Josh and Joel Meadows has been crafting some of the most understated and unforgettable pop songs to emerge from either hemisphere in quite some time. They started out by copying the early Go-Betweens: lightly plucked guitar riffs bubbling around and under half-spoken vocals, so that the emphasis always feel on the words, and only on the third or fourth listen did anyone realize the Sugargliders’ (or the early Go-Betweens’) melodic originality (Some of those early songs can still be found as 7”s on the Summershine and Marineville labels, or on the new Just a Taste [Slumberland], which mixes three terrific Sugargliders compositions with about twenty very mediocre offerings from other Aussie pop groups. For the Go-Betweens, try the 1978-1990, a well-selected ‘best of’.) By 1992, the Sugargliders had added dance music and white-soul moves to their repertoire, putting backbeats and sound effects into their otherwise still-sedate songs; this form of the band recorded five singles for the English label Sarah, each with a different drummer (or a drum-machine). You can now get all five, from 1992’s ‘Letter from a lifeboat’ up to the just-released ‘Top 40 Sculpture’, on the Sugargliders’ new singles compilation We're All Trying to Get There. The ‘Lifeboat’ single was forgettable, but the entire rest of the repertoire, given undivided attention, will slowly become profound and moving. One of the reasons lies in the Sugargliders’ ability — the rarest thing in the world — to integrate melodic neatness with the aforementioned back-beats. ‘Reinventing Penicillin’, for example, could be a good slowed-down New Order song, and ‘Trumpet Play’ nonchalantly imports a soft ‘jazz’ trumpet and jazz-club background noise into the end of what would otherwise be a rolling, groove-oriented late-night ballad. You may have to turn the volume knob way up to discover the way in which this, or any other Meadows song, is built, from the words onward, and what makes it interesting. Much more so than could ever be true of any louder type of pop, the Sugargliders’ songs become vanilla-flavored background music whenever you can't pay enough attention to them, whether that’s because you’re listening while writing a paper, or because your speakers turn all tones to tin. Listen loud, however — especially to the long last two tracks, ‘90 Days of Moths and Rust’ and ‘Top 40 Sculpture’ — and the novelty in these interlocking acoustic guitar tones and undulating beats moves in, and stays for weeks. Whichever Meadows brother is singing — or half-singing, half-speaking — sets out the lyrics with such understated sincerity that it’s impossible to believe the everyday events he’s describing — walking out of a jazz club (‘Trumpet Play’), reading a newspaper advertisement (‘Theme from Boxville’) — don't move and amuse him as much as he says they do. Which may lead you to wonder why such everyday events don’t move, or amuse, you as often as they do him. In the very best Sugargliders songs, the Meadows’ vocal timbres aren’t what hold your attention: the lyrics do. The last person to comment so incisively, and with such a sense of having been hurt, on boy-girl stuff may have been the early Elvis Costello; but where he always blamed his ex-girlfriends, the Sugargliders always blame themselves, which I find much more attractive. In ‘Will We Ever Learn’ for example: “Would you say it’s human / To expect to be loved from foot to head? / Well my head’s been on holiday / Since the day we met...” Or in ‘Ahprahran’, for example (Prahran being the Melbourne suburb where the Meadows brothers live): “Last Sunday I heard myself say / A good day for you is a good day for me / Can't believe I've sunk this low / Is there something in it? I don’t know...” ‘Aloha Street’ alternates the self-reproachful lines of the verses with a rebarbative four-note hook that seems to be making fun of the singer’s romantic aspirations. “Our eyes first met across a crowded pool” and then the hook, “It was clear we’d gone to very different schools...” The compact guitar solo, when it comes, is a deliberately squeaky, pathos-filled echo of the triumphant 70s lust you’d be likely to find at the end of a Cheap Trick song, the Sugargliders’ quiet aplomb here, as everywhere on the album, sounds like the product of diminished expectations, sounds resigned and hopeful at the same time. Anyone to whom that attitude appeals will be likely to find, and love, it in the delicately ironized pop songs collected on this splendid long-player.

Cameron Adams reviewed the album for Beat (9 March 1994):

THE SUGARGLIDERS We’re All Trying to Get There (Sarah)

If you missed the joke this album is named after Ripe’s great lost debut single, which was the victim of a nasty pressing accident. After several years of singles (most defiantly on 7”) this is the historic first Sugargliders album, although it is a compilation of their Sarah singles (ie. conveniently discarding their early stuff). Sarah, for those who don’t know, is the British indie label that poached the ’gliders from their Melbourne home Summershine. We’re All Trying… opens with ‘Letter from a lifeboat’, a song for which the term forlorn was created — their first real dabble with groove and greatness. ‘Strong’ has insistent bass and footy-chant vocals, ‘Seventeen’ is a poem come to life. But it is ‘Ahprahran’ that is their finest three-and-a-bit minutes. If you could physically squeeze a Meadows brother you’d like to think this is what would come out. It’d probably even taste nice. ‘Theme from Boxville’… revolves around three different songs, at least one of which Aztec Camera should have written in ’83. ‘Trumpet Play’ is the mutant cousin of ‘Boxville’… more loping bass and a distinctly 3am tune. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke. ‘Will We Ever Learn’ is as rock and roll as things get. This sounds like ‘What Difference Does It Make’ by the Smiths, played in a suburban Melbourne garage. It also includes the ever-quotable line “…as predictable as a tired Mark Seymour lyric”. ‘Reinventing Penicillin’ continues their experimentation with addictive rhythms that are miles away from their humble acoustic origins. Then the last taste of their wares comes with the ‘Top 40 Sculpture’ single and its superior b-side ’90 Days of Moths and Rust’, a Ripe-like guitar treat, unsurprisingly co-written by Mark Murphy of Ripe. They’re as Melbourne as football, but increasingly international. This compilation lets you hear them grow up, plug in and pop out. They may never make a proper album, but these almost hits and memory joggers will do just fine for now, thank you.

Ian Watson wrote the review in Melody Maker (5 March 1994):

THE SUGARGLIDERS We’re All Trying to Get There / Sarah 619 / CD / LP

A resume of the Sugargliders’ six-single, two-year career, the idealistically titled and warm-hearted We’re All Trying To Get There, recalls the gooey adolescence of Australian brothers Josh and Joel Meadows in much the same way as a sun worshipper might enjoy a lazy daydream by the sea. First love and teenage heartbreak are wistfully mulled over, with songs like ‘Strong’ and ‘Aloha Street’ unfolding like the tear-stained pages of diary or the plot of The Year My Voice Broke. Not that this is awash with sadness — nostalgia mercifully bathes even the most hurtful memories. A surreal oceanic undertone also keeps this collection from being a simple reverie. ‘Letter from a lifeboat’ seems hopelessly adrift, and while the lush Spanish guitar and tender trumpet stress softer emotions, a feeling of being all at sea recurs so often that it eventually becomes comforting. Perhaps they’re trying to say that we can never be sure of our position in life, no matter how ‘mature’ or ‘successful’ we may be. If so, this LP serves as a handy reminder that romance is in the eye of the beholder. And that naivety should always be cherished.

Time’s up

Sometime in February, perhaps while they were on stage at the Evelyn making fresh band sounds with Robert, AD and Bianca, or perhaps during March, when We’re all trying to get there was getting good reviews and seemed to neatly sum up an era that was ending, Josh and Joel decided the Sugargliders’ time was up. The brothers had always expressed their admiration for footballers and politicians who quit before they went downhill. Now it was time for Josh and Joel to practice what they preached.

They announced the end of the band with a media release to the local music press and the mailing list faithful and set about preparing for a final gig.

“So many bands achieve what they set out to do and they just keep blundering on,” Josh explained to journalist Cameron Adams (‘This bird has flown’, Beat, 8 June 1994). “Whereas we feel that the Sugargliders were an expression of who we were and what we were doing at a certain time and that time has come to an end…”

The Sugargliders achieved more than most in their five years. Beginning life as an acoustic duo weaned on Aztec Camera and the Housemartins, they saw themselves as an antidote to the proliferation of dumb rock bands in Melbourne at the time. “Our first gig was supporting Captain Cocoa at the Baden Powell Hotel in Victoria Parade,” says Josh… They were the first band to shift major units for the then-infant Summershine label with a series of proudly vinyl releases whose sleeves demanded they be ‘filed under pop’. A cursory listen negated the need for any such message. The subsequent overseas success of this string of releases led to their signing to Britain’s Sarah Records. This label has such a dedicated following across the world that most Sarah fans buy sight unseen, knowing that a certain quality is assured. The Sugargliders’ singles were so popular a British tour was conducted over Christmas ’92. Their one and only album We’re All Trying To Get There was a compilation of their Sarah singles — a wildly eclectic chronological representation of their flirtations with heavy mood, slight funk and the ever-present youthful pop. Mark Murphy of Ripe lent his songwriting skills to a number of the tunes, using the band as an outlet for his poppier ideas. “If we’d kept going it’d be too easy to put us in a box,” says Josh. “A lot of people’s perception of the Sugargliders is a couple of brothers mucking around on acoustic guitars and it really hasn’t been that for a long time. When people have that in their mind it’s awfully hard to change it.” A final gig has been planned, with a number of local bands (many influenced by the ’gliders) contributing Sugargliders covers to a tribute cassette available at the gig. The Meadows brothers have musical plans for the future which make this final gig the last hurdle before they move on. “It’s the last time any of these songs will ever be played,” says Josh. “no reunions — we promise.” (‘This bird has flown’, Beat, 8 June 1994).

A goodnight kiss

The final Sugargliders gig was at the Club in Smith Street, Collingwood — a big venue for them and one with plenty of expectations attached to it. Josh and Joel had seen some unforgettable gigs at the venue over the years. An underage Josh had witnessed Australian dance act I’m Talking launch their classic album Bear Witness there in 1986. Bands on the legendary New Zealand label Flying Nun always seemed to play at the Club when they came to Melbourne. Between them Josh and Joel had seen the Bats, the Chills, the Clean, the Straitjacket Fits and the Verlaines all play at the Club.

So the pressure was on.

But despite the pressure, or maybe because of it, it was a good night. They opened by miming ‘Theme from Boxville’ — Josh, Joel and Robert striking a variety of rock poses through clouds of dry ice while the recorded track pounded out through the venue’s PA. From there they played songs from every era of the Sugargliders’ short career. Marc Fulker came to the stage and drummed on ‘Police me’, ‘Furlough’, ‘Aloha Street’ and ‘Give me some confidence’. AD and Bianca joined Josh, Joel and Robert for ‘90 Days’, ‘Top 40’ and an extended dance mix of ‘Coffee’.

At the end of the night the dry ice cleared and everyone went home, many of them with a copy of A Goodnight Kiss (a tribute cassette, put together by David Harris, featuring a range of Melbourne bands doing Sugargliders covers) in their pockets.

The Sugargliders had ended. But Josh and Joel had new musical plans. In fact, while they had been preparing for the final ’gliders gig, they had also been rehearsing with Robert, AD and Bianca a bunch of new songs that were to soon make their way onto the first album by the Steinbecks.

But that is another story.

Declan Weismuller and Kylie Stuyvesant
June 2012