A rose tattooed by another name

Geordie Leach is a part of Australian rock n roll history. The bass guitarist was a member of Buster Brown and then became one of the mainstays of Rose Tattoo over the band’s long career. But there’s much more to Geordie than meets the ear and the eye. The tatts are still there but his music has taken on a new direction since relocating to the Gold Coast some years ago. He’s teamed up with local jazz vocalist Andrea Szabo and as the Geordie Leach Band their music covers a broad range of genres – with blues, jazz, soul, R & B and country flavouring their latest release All Stitched Up. Trevor Jackson spoke to Geordie ahead of their album launch later this week at the Currumbin Creek Tavern.

So how does a bloke who’s rocked out hard with the likes of Buster Brown and Rose Tattoo now find himself working with a jazz vocalist in the shape of Andrea Szabo?

When I first started playing guitar around 11 or 12, mum was a piano player and when I would sit at her piano I would always sit on the left hand side where the bass keys were, so I always favoured the heavier bottom end in music. When I was about 15 I bought my first bass guitar and took lessons at Suttons Music in Melbourne. My teacher was an upright bass player called Gary Costello and he played with a lot of the jazz players around that time, including guys like James Morrison. Even though I ended up playing heavy rock originally I was influenced by jazz, so it’s always been part of my repertoire. In those days I was listening to everyone from Herbie Hancock to the Jazz Crusaders and later I moved on to soul and funk, then blues and rock so it’s all been part of the mix for me.

How did you meet Andrea?

When I moved from Melbourne to the Gold Coast I built a commercial studio underneath my house. I lived down the road from a piano player named Dave Fennell, who was well connected in the local jazz scene and had just finished recording an album for Andrea. She needed to get the album mastered so Dave suggested she should come and see me. He gave her a warning though, he said: “don’t be taken aback by his long hair or his tattoos and he’ll probably be wearing a blue singlet with a pair of shorts.” When she turned up at the front door she was too terrified to come into the house! She eventually accepted my invitation to come downstairs to the studio and two weeks later her album was mastered.

On the surface it seems like such an unlikely musical pairing, did it take a long time for you and Andrea to find common ground?

We were both playing walk up spots with local bands and we’d often find ourselves sitting at the bar after we’d done a few songs, so we started to get to know each other. Then we’d bump into each other taking morning walks down at Burleigh, so it seemed inevitable that we’d end up working together. We recorded an album called Mama’s New Bag and now All Stitched Up is our second record together.

Stylistically how would you describe All Stitched Up?

The first record was an R & B / blues album of obscure covers, but this one is all original songs of varying genres.

There’s certainly still elements of your past on this record with songs like the smouldering Broken Man Blues or the bluesy Save Yourself. But there’s some out there stuff on the record too like the jazz influenced Lost In Transit or the strangely gothic Love Is A Virus – what was happening there?

Love Is A Virus was a feel I’d had for a number of years. It had a really good groove and a lot of people liked it, especially the surfers. I don’t really know anything about surfing and I couldn’t see myself writing a surfing song lyric so I just hung on to it. Then we were invited to play live at a screening of the Jim Jarmusch vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. I said to Andrea I’ve got a feel here, why don’t we use it to write a vampire song for the screening and that’s what we did.

Kevin Borich guests on lead guitar for one of the album’s tracks – your friendship with KB must go back to the early days?

Oh yeah, that goes back to the days when Buster Brown was supporting the Kevin Borich Express and then later when Rose Tattoo happened sometimes Kev would get up and jam with us on stage. These days he lives on the Sunshine Coast so we get together every now and then. He was playing at the Coolangatta Hotel one evening and I invited him to come back to the studio afterwards. He didn’t get his gear set up until midnight and then we eventually finished the session around 3am. I cooked dinner for him and looked after him so it was a good night for KB, but I was on the desk so I had to remain relatively coherent! (laughs).

So when older fans that know you from your hard rocking past hear your music now what sort of reactions do you get?

It’s funny, some of the older ones have mellowed, so they’re very receptive to the new stuff and a lot of people are just fans of all music genres so they’re open to it too, but there are some who are just die hard rockers and they’ll never change.

And after all the years of the hard slog of touring do you still enjoy playing as much as you ever did?

Oh yeah, definitely. It’s the best job in the world.

The Geordie Leach Band launch their album All Stitched Up at Currumbin Creek Tavern February 18.

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