Above: a catch-up with an old mate from the Enfield days Rainer Fritsche, taken at the Sydney Opera House
Above: Mid drum solo with the rest of the orchestra waiting - Opera House 2019
Above: On stage with The Zep Boys and Orchestra - Edingburgh Usher Hall 2017
Above: A bit of bottom lip biting going on here whilst playing drums with Tanunda Town Band and a familiar face on piano!!
Above: Brad at the Cargo Club in Adelaide 1994, playing with Fifi and the Flames.
Above: Jamming with brother David and Geoff Meikle at a winery on the way home from Enfield Bands Mt Gambier trip in the early nineties. Ably assisted by Darren Cameron and Tony Nicholls!!
Above: Melbourne Hotel room shenanigans with the usual Enfield Band suspects, Brett Polain is at Brad's
Above: Playing music with his bros in the rumpus room, late 70's.
Above: Ready to go on Hammersmith Odeon 2019
Above: Young Bradley Polain already on his way up in the world!
Above: Brad with his other best brass banding mate, Ed Armstrong. This might have been Robbie Benger's dress up birthday party in 1985-86.
Above: First lesson with Dad mid '73
In 1973 two good things happened. In January, Bradley James Polain entered the world. Later that year John Winston Lennon recorded ‘You are here’. In the opening line of the song Lennon reminds us that ‘From Liverpool to Tokyo it's a way to go’, proving beyond doubt that Mr Lennon was not only a legendary songwriter but good at geography!
Back to Bradley James.
Over his life’s journey Brad Polain has also found his ‘way to go’, specifically from OG Road to the London Palladium and back…..several times. His journey, which he has described effortlessly in his own witty and whimsical way, from the Enfield Band Hall to London and beyond has seen him use his formidable talent to great advantage while practising his craft as a professional musician.
Brad is a credit to his family and has used his high calibre genetic inheritance wisely. He is a cracking bloke, full of optimism, bright as a button and does not have one disingenuous bone in his body.
I invite you to travel Brad Polain’s road with him. It really is ‘the way to go’.
Geoff Meikle, 2020.
Brad Polain ...... Brass Band and beyond - Musical profile.
Hi there, my name is Brad Polain.
I was born here in Adelaide back in January of 1973. Lots of you would probably know various members of my family; my Dad, Bill Polain, stalwart of many brass bands throughout the years, most notably Glenelg and, Tanunda through the late 70’s and early 80’s. Some of you might remember my Mum, Charmaine, who was well known in the brass band scene as an excellent accompanist. I probably listened to a lot of you rehearse for solo competitions in my lounge room as a young lad.
I didn’t enjoy it.
Some of you might also have heard of my big brother, David Polain. Mum always said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, which brings me to my other big brother, Brett Polain. Brett played a mean bass drum on some marching gigs in the early 90’s. (Just jokes, by the way. I get along well with Dave too) There was lots of music in our house. There was even more drums! 3 drummers and a pianist in fact. It seemed a bit lopsided, so naturally I went for the drums to really drown the piano out properly. I started playing from a very early age and to be honest, I don’t ever remember not being able to play the drums. There really was a lot of music in the house in those days. Dad listened to everything from jazz and Blood Sweat and Tears to Santana, The Beatles and old musical soundtracks. David was already beginning his unhealthy obsession with John Williams movie soundtracks and Brett was into pretty standard pop music that was on the radio, Billy Joel, ELO, etc etc.
So there was a lot of different stuff happening on the record player. I really liked The Beatles at this stage, I was very excited to receive a ‘Best Of’ cassette for my birthday at the age of 6. Dad, Dave and Brett were all playing in a brass band from as early as I can remember. It was just the normal thing around our place. Dad also played lots of other gigs on drums or trombone that were mostly trad jazz or some other 60/40 type of music.
Although my Dad never really gave me formal lessons it would be a lie to say he wasn’t my first teacher. I would spend hours of the day watching and listening to him play and then try and mimic everything that he was doing. He had countless tapes of recordings he had made with the bands he played with and I listened to these endlessly. In the early days, before we built a rumpus room out the back, Dad would teach drums in my bedroom and I would ask to go and lay in my bed while he taught. Quite often I would fall asleep while he was teaching. No hearing protection of course. They breed ‘em tough on O.G Road. I’m sure that David and Brett were also big influences on my drumming life at this time too. It wasn’t until a bit later that I started to form my own interest in music styles.
Later in life I had proper lessons with Laurie Kennedy and he was able to help mould me into the player that I am now. Between the ages of 14-17 I got really serious about my practice regime; rudiments, techniques, the most reading I ever did. Laurie was an absolute gun teacher and I wouldn’t be half the player I am today without his guidance.
Thursday nights at our house were Tanunda Town Band nights; we’d have an early-ish dinner and at around 6.45pm, all the Adelaide based contingent of the TTB would start arriving at our house (John Pettigrew, John Van der Koogh, Johnny Richter.. there were other people whose names weren’t John too). It was the closest port of call to Tanunda for all the crew that travelled to the Barossa for rehearsal. I’m sure that the Port barrel in our back room helped entice a lot of the people to believe that it really was the best way to get to Tanunda!
David and Brett would also trundle off to Enfield Band rehearsals at least one night a week. So I guess I just wanted to be just like them. Brett saw the light not long after this and ceased all forms of playing music.. until his triumphant return on the marching bass drum in the early ’90’s. So yeah, ceased all forms of playing music…
I first arrived at Enfield Band Hall sometime in 1980 or ’81. I can’t remember exactly which it was. My most vivid memory of this first night was realising that there were already about 17 other drummers and they weren’t going to be able to accomodate me on the kit. I was pretty upset by this as I had already worked out some pretty sick beats to show them. Imagine my dismay when I was handed a tenor horn and told that this was a ‘cool’ instrument and that I should have a go at learning it. I mean, c’mon. The tenor horn. Even tenor horn players are, at best, indifferent about their instrument. So I took it home and squeezed out a few notes but politely informed them that it wasn’t really for me. The drummer count had reduced to a measly 13 by the time I took the horn back, so I felt that I was in with a good chance. But NO! Here’s an Eb tuba for you. Have a go at that and see what you think. I’m not sure I ever got further than making really big fart noises out of it. Needless to say it didn’t end well. When I got to the band hall for the 3rd time, almost all of the other drummers had spontaneously combusted (*see Spinal Tap) and I was finally able to settle into a role that I was comfortable with.
This was my first ever foray into reading music. I had absolutely no idea what was going on (not much has changed) An early memory of this time was listening to the other drummers who were there (It might have been Danny Caiazza, Ashley Roling and Gordon Stewart) all counting out bars of rest. It was obviously a lot of bars of rest as they started counting 1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4… before long they were up to 25 2 3 4.. I had never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life and honestly believed they were just sprouting random numbers, so I joined in, starting with 67. I quickly realised I wasn’t doing it right but really had no idea how to do it right.
I’ve never been much of a reader and it is one of my biggest regrets that I never knuckled down and learnt how to do it better. The worst thing was, I still didn’t get to play the kit much as there was only one drum kit part, of course. The rest was percussion, tambourines, shakers, tympanis, or other large items that I really had no interest in. Ashley was the king of the percussion section and the drum kit at Enfield, he made the decisions about who would play what. I had some lessons with him around this time, primarily to try and sway him to the idea that I was the best drum kit player for all the tunes. I don’t think it worked.
These early days with Ron Arthur at the helm went a long way to shaping my musical life. It was the first time I’d ever had to play a marching rhythm. It was the first time I’d ever had to play a swing rhythm (Ron told me I didn’t swing) It was the first time I’d ever had to play with any sort of discipline. Up until then I’d just play the things I heard on the record player or the radio. Somehow, Ron always managed to find a way to be encouraging as well as getting the result he wanted. He was a fantastic leader to so many young musicians in those days. His patience and enthusiasm for us was inspiring.
I think having the ‘brass band, we play a bit of everything’ approach really helped characterise my approach to future musical situations; just work out a way to get it done. Say yes, then work out how to do it later, even though it might not really be your ‘thing’ (Except for latin rhythms which I’m still terrible at) in my opinion, this is the best way to become a well-rounded musician and give yourself the best opportunity at getting the gigs.
The most memorable times for me were the years between 1985-90. Lots of great fun trips away with the band; Melbourne, Mount Gambier, Hawker, Whyalla. The hangs with other bands at competition times. Discovering new music with band friends (brass or other styles) I really enjoyed the camaraderie of the bands in the days of playing there. I made some of my greatest, life-long friends in the mid 80’s playing at Enfield. I’m sure that most others will have similar stories, albeit with different timelines and locations.
I was never much into the contesting side of the band.
I enjoyed the social aspects of hanging out with my band mates on the weekend as well as practice nights, but never really liked the stress of being judged. I did do some solo comps early on, in fact, I do remember that I argued my way into a Champion of Champions play off at one solo comp. I had won my section and argued that qualified me to play off against the other winners of their sections. I don’t think a drummer had ever been allowed to compete against other ‘real' musicians for the ultimate top spot. I didn’t win and I really lost interest in it very quickly after that. It’s not that I mind playing in a pressure situation; some of the best music I’ve ever performed has been made under extreme pressure. I just never loved the idea of being judged, even though I sort of know that lots of people in the audience are doing it anyway. I put a lot of pressure on my own performances and myself when it comes to anything music related. I’m extremely critical of myself and all of my work. I would say that most artistic people are the same.
Most of my banding days were spent at Enfield, although I did manage to play on numerous occasions with Tanunda, once with Campbelltown Brass, once with Elizabeth and I reckon I did some rehearsals at Salisbury but I don’t remember doing any shows with them.
The time with Campbelltown was hilarious; It was on the open top of a double decker bus on New Year’s Eve 1985, celebrating 150 years of South Australia. Campbelltown used to wear those ridiculous white helmets with an enormous spike in the top and we had finished playing and were back at the band hall. I was taking my helmet off and the bus lurched a bit and I stuck the spike of the hat right through the snare drum skin. Maybe that’s why they never asked me back.
My big bro, Dave, took over the conducting of the Enfield senior band in 1989. This was a super exciting time for me as I felt he really pushed the boundaries of what brass bands could sound like. I think we actually made it swing, at least a little bit.(I had practised my swing playing since Ron had told me it wasn’t very good) I distinctly remember playing a very decent version of the classic Dave Brubeck tune, Blue Rondo a la Turk and wondering how a brass band could ever pull that off. I started doing gigs with my dad in jazz bands like the Royal Garden Jazz Band when I had just turned 12.
I was a fully-fledged member of my first band, ‘Garth Whitney and the Debonairs’ at the age of 12 and a half. Just quietly, there was nothing too debonair about it, but I think we got away with it. It was actually a great learning vehicle for me; I developed a good knowledge of lots of jazz standard songs, and began to understand song forms, something which I think is super important to becoming a good solid musician (not just a drummer) A couple of years later I discovered rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and other ’70’s bands who all had incredible drummers and my musical life was forever changed. Around this time, I also started to play a bit of guitar, something which I still do today.
I started to ease my way out of Brass Bands around the age of 18. My first band out of high school was with Catherine Lambert and The Hep Hounds. I moved through a veritable ‘who’s he’ of the Adelaide music scene of the early 90’s playing with just about anyone who’d have me - Sandra Pires, Fifi Blue and The Flames, The Soul Commitments, Reggae On and the Airbenders. I moved South and lived in Tassie for a few years, playing with one of Australia and New Zealand’s greatest soul vocalists, Leo DeCastro. It was an absolute delight and I still cherish those days. He was the first guy who really made me listen to the vocalist and want to be a better musician. I wanted to play music with him, not just play the drums. It was another great learning curve. If you haven’t checked out the Johnny Rocco Band album from 1976, do yourselves a favour. It was around this time that I began singing a little bit, just doing some backing vocals, very tentatively.
Not long after that, I moved to Melbourne and did the Melbourne and Adelaide seasons of the original production of The Boy From Oz, with Todd McKenney. Then, spent 8 months touring through Central and Eastern Australia with pop bands, lots of singing and learning about being on the road. Spent time in South East Asia and China on The Hard Rock Cafe circuit, playing 6 nights a week to an empty room. Then moved to the NT for 3 months and spent close on 10 years in Darwin gigging in pop/top 40 bands, sometimes up to 10 shows a week, playing drums and being the lead singer for a lot of that time. Also spent a few months in America working with some fabulous writers, engineers and producers; most notably, Val Garay, whose work on Kim Carnes classic Bette Davis Eyes, won him a Grammy award (I’ve held that Grammy), Charles Fischer (Savage Garden, Hoodoo Gurus), Tim Palmer (U2, Robert Plant, Ozzy Ozbourne) and Phil X (Bon Jovi). While I was there I ended up playing on albums by Olivia Newton John and Vanessa Amarosi. I also wrote a bunch of songs with some friends, one of which ended up on a Top Ten album in Holland and was awarded Gold status (40,000 copies).
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have performed or recorded with some
amazing international and Australian musicians including, USA Blues
legends Big Jay McNeely and Earl King, Phil X (Bon Jovi) James Morrison,
Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) Andrew Strong (The Commitments)
Chris Stills, Emmanuel Corrella (Australian Idol) Shanna Crooks, Brian
Cadd, Wilbur Wilde, Rick Price, Peter Cupples, Chris E Thomas, Lachy
Doley, Simon Patterson (Hey Hey it’s Saturday) James Muller, Unitopia,
Swanee, Paul Gray (Wa Wa Nee) The AIrbenders, The Royal Garden Jazz
Band. The Olivia album was awarded Australian Platinum (70,000 copies)
and Vanessa Hudgens went Gold in the USA (500,000 copies) These proudly
hang on my wall at home. They’re like the music degrees I was never
disciplined enough to obtain.
A few years ago, when we lived out in The Riverland for a while, I stopped gigging as a full time job for the first time in my entire career. It was nice to take a little break from it, but after a while I began to yearn for an artistic past time. I bought myself a camera, took 3 photos and put it away for 18 months, because it was very difficult to understand the terminology. After a bit of perseverance and a lot of encouragement from my partner, I retrieved the camera from the wardrobe and slowly learnt what to do with it. I feel like I’ve managed to develop a bit of a photographic style. I really enjoy getting out in the elements and shooting landscapes and night time starscapes.
I used to think that I was a jazz drummer who played some fusion licks… but nowadays I’m not so sure. I still play a bit of jazz but I find if you’re not playing that music all of the time, it’s a very difficult style to simply fall into and pick up where you left off. Not that you can do that with any style, but with jazz it seems to be almost impossible for me to achieve that.
These days I play lots of pop/rock styles, I devote most of my time to two major projects; one is The Zep Boys. We play the music of Led Zeppelin in a tribute show, although it’s not one of those ones where you dress up or anything like that. We just play the music to the best of our abilities. I’ve been a member for about 6 years and have been really lucky to take in some incredible experiences in that time. We’ve done a lot of shows in recent years featuring a 35 piece orchestra, one of them arranged and conducted by my big bro, Dave.
I truly believe that my time with brass bands and following conductors has really helped me to integrate the two sides of this show. We played at The Sydney Opera House 4 years running, completed two incredible tours of the UK and Europe, playing amazing iconic rock venues like London Palladium and the Hammersmith Odeon. When we played The Palladium, our singer was resting before the gig but the orchestra wanted to rehearse Stairway To Heaven to practice the vocal phrasing entries to all of the verses. Our MD knew that I could sing, so they asked me to sing it for the rehearsal. After we finished going through it I went up to our bass player and said, “Did I just sing Stairway To Heaven, at The London Palladium backed by a 35 piece orchestra while playing the drums? It may take some time to top that!”
The other project I’m involved in is The Hindley Street Country Club. The premise of the band is this; a bunch of guys and girls get together in a studio, we take a well-known song and change it slightly to make it ‘our version’. We record and film it, and then upload it to Facebook and YouTube websites. It’s developed quite a following in recent months, notably in the USA and we’re currently in negotiations for a tour there (when all the Covid madness is over) We have a big gig later this year at Thebarton Theatre.
I’m currently attempting to record an album of original material, which has been an ongoing project for the best part of 10 years, on and off. I’m hoping to use the Covid slowdown of gigs to get some of my friends to help with some extra parts and get it out later this year. Look out for it in 2030.
So there you go. I feel like I’ve prattled on about myself for bloody ages and if you’ve got this far through my story, you’re probably wanting a cup of tea. Or something a bit stronger, perhaps some Oxy.
It’s sure been a hell of a ride from the Enfield Band Hall on a Wednesday night in the early ’80’s. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe it’s all real and it all stemmed from wanting to be like the rest of my family and get involved in brass bands. It really was the greatest grounding and musical upbringing I could have wished for. Playing music has taken me to all corners of the globe and given me some of the most incredible memories and experiences in my life. I hope it will continue to do so for many years to come.
Many thanks to Geoff Meikle for giving me the opportunity to tell you a bit about it all.
Brad Polain, 2020.