In 2001, a wedding band sat on the deck of Stawell RSL club, at a crossroads.
The mother of the bride had told them to turn the volume down, the bride herself told them to turn it up, and they’d just found out they weren’t getting fed that night.
“I’m finished with this. Let’s go back into the pubs and make it our last stand,” said the drummer.
So they did.
Taking their name from their timekeeper’s mission statement, Last Stand began a journey that has seen them become reliable favorites in venues across western Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, their repertoire spanning everything from Dragon to Guns and Roses and 3 Doors Down.
Next year the quintet will celebrate 20 years together, dating back to singer Noel Taylor and rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Greg Radford’s time in the band at the RSL that night, “The Roomers”.
The present day line-up consists of lead guitarist Rod Ahern of Minyip and Horsham locals John Davey on bass and Rick Baulch on drums – all with previous experience in Wimmera pub bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s and all whom have been with the band for at least 10 years.
Noel said they had developed several techniques over the years that kept the band going.
“No sooner do we finish (a gig) than we shake hands and say see you later,” he said.
“Greg’s up one end of Natimuk and I’m up the other end, and I don’t see him for around four weeks. We only get together when we have a gig or do rehearsals.”
Rod said not playing every weekend also helps.
“We have shows locked in for Horsham next year, so we can fill up the rest of the year with stuff we want to do rather than things we need to do because we need a show.”
The band rehearse fortnightly in Greg’s tin shed at the edge of Natimuk, every bit the spiritual home Abbey Road was to the Beatles and Headley Grange to Led Zeppelin.
Inside a door topped with antlers and the sign “Last Stand”, a whiteboard with an ever-changing list of songs to learn keeps them disciplined.
T-shirts from their favorite gigs adorn the walls, as do lanyards, posters and newspaper clippings from the gigs they’ve played. Noel has even kept the set lists from some of The Roomers’ last gigs and Last Stand’s first ones.
The souvenirs of life on the road speak to a bygone era in the Wimmera’s music scene – an era quite removed from what the band’s members see today.
“We used to have really good bands come through here,” Noel said.
“The Angels, ACDC, Hush, Stevie Wright played at the town hall and they all stopped over on their way between Melbourne and Adelaide.
Greg agreed. “It has changed remarkably in the past three or four years with push ‘n’ play acts – a bit like karaoke.
“Some acts might have a guitar and stuff, but that’s what’s made it hard for us to cover our costs – which is all we do. Now one bloke turns up, gets his $600 and away he goes. We’re getting paid about the same as we were 15 years ago – $100 to $150 each – and we still get there at 3pm to set up and are still there 3am.”
Rick said the change can also be seen in the lack of options available for the Wimmera’s young musicians.
“My son was in a band with John’s for a while. It was great, but then one person moved away and it sort of disappeared. He hasn’t gotten into another band since.”
John said: “I feel sorry for the younger generation. They haven’t got it as easy as we did. It doesn’t seem there are bands to take over when we’re done.”
While it’s hard to pin down a favorite show from the hundreds they’ve done – including supporting Jimmy Barnes, Rudely Interrupted and their most recent one at the Bull and Mouth hotel – they do remember their least favorite – particularly Noel.
“I buried my mother on Saturday morning, and we did a gig at Nhill Town Hall on Saturday night. That was pretty tough,” he said.
“She died suddenly, and we had to wait for family from Tasmania to come up so they wanted to do it on the weekend. So I said, ‘Dad, I’ll postpone the gig’ and he said, ‘No you won’t or I’ll kick your ass. I’ve got a lot of people here to look after me, go and do your stuff’.
“These boys helped me through it. I’m grateful for that. They’re like brothers to me.”
That might seem a cliched line, but Last Stand proves this cliche exists for a reason.
“Some boys had operations and health scares and we’ve seen them through,” Greg said. “We virtually stick together, like when John’s wife nearly died in a car accident. Batch, our old bassist, came back in and away we went for six months.
Rod said: “It’s a soul thing, it gives you something to look forward to. (It’s) literally like another family.”
Rick said: “The best part about it is we’re all on the same level as humans and musicians. Nobody’s trying to outdo anybody else, so that’s why it works so well.”
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