Read a great biographical story of Glenn's early musical life written by Glenn A. Baker for the inside sleeve notes from his album Old Haunts.
Touring with Spike Milligan and opening for the likes of Harry Chapin, Frank Zappa, Sherbet, Cheech & Chong and Manfred Mann's Earth Band is not the CV of your average musician, but then Glenn Cardier is not your average troubadour.
Without any doubt the most articulate and creatively insightful singer-songwriter in contemporary Australian music, Cardier has always done things on his own terms. He gave it his best shot throughout the '70s, completely hung up his six-string for over twenty-five years before a 'comeback' in 2002 that has thus far spawned four outstanding albums...' (Rattle The Cage, House Of Mirrors, Exiles From Eden and Stranger Than Fiction). (Trevor Leeden, Rhythms Magazine 2013)
‘Australian singer-songwriter Glenn Cardier's enigmatic and compelling songs have enchanted audiences from London's Marquee and Ronnie Scott's Club, the Glasgow Apollo and Liverpool Empire, through to Sunbury and the Sydney Opera House’
In 1970, the former Queensland art teacher was talent-spotted by Festival Records after an appearance in a TV songwriting competition on Brian Henderson’s Bandstand. Glenn Cardier’s early folksy songs, performed solo on a nylon string guitar, displayed a highly individual style of songwriting as evidenced on his recently released limited edition double CD of unearthed treasures Old Haunts (The Lost Songs 1972 - 1979)
Cardier relocated to Sydney in 1971, recorded two albums for Festival and picked up the Australian Record Awards ‘Best New Talent’ The bespectacled, bowler-hatted singer-songwriter became a mainstay on the Sydney folk scene, performed at the first two Sunbury festivals and appeared on the ABC’s alternative rock program GTK.
Glenn’s restless spirit led him to the UK for four years, playing the folk clubs up and down the country, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, and Roy Wood (Move, Wizzard). He cites these years as crucial to the development of his on-stage persona, the wry, dark humour and the punchy, distinctive guitar/vocal delivery. Dave Pegg from Fairport recorded his ‘Dance Numbers’, still a popular show - closer for the band.
In the 80’s, after touring extensively with old friend Spike Milligan and fronting the rocking Bel-Aires on the Sydney pub circuit, the ever-reclusive Cardier turned his back on performing for 25 years.
In 2002, prompted by a musician friend, Cardier dusted off the old ’56 Martin and played a string of Tuesday nights in Sydney’s Excelsior Hotel. Though he was largely unknown to the new audience, his style, wit and stage presence once again proved popular. ’It was like re-acquainting myself with an old friend’, he said. More importantly, a batch of new songs emerged.
Glenn recorded the CD Rattle The Cage in his downstairs home studio north of Sydney. He played most of the instruments himself, his intention being to gift the record to his friends and loved ones. ABC Radio somehow obtained a copy and Cardier picked up healthy airplay, particularly in Darwin NT. ‘I even considered using a band name for the record. I thought the old Glenn Cardier was long gone’ he said. Rattle attracted glowing reviews -
'Rattle The Cage' CD (2002) - '...his trademark combination of incisive observation and skewed wit is still intact here, wrapped in a blues-infused rock that shows off his seasoned voice. The years have made his voice gruffer and occasionally craggier but he hasn't lost his knack of juggling a genuinely sensitive moment with one that raises a wry smile...'
House Of Mirrors (2004) followed -
'...a national treasure...' (Glenn A Baker)
'...Cardier is our finest contemporary singer-songwriter BAR NONE...' (Rhythms Magazine 2004)
Then Exiles From Eden (2008) -
' ...Cardier can get gruff with the blues but hasn't lost his silken acoustic touch. Four Stars!' (Weekend Australian)
Glenn Cardier assembled the Sideshow in 2009. The band’s first gig was filmed and released on DVD. Live At Lizottes immediately aired on Fox.
'...some of the finest songwriting this country has produced' (Sydney Morning Herald)
In 2012, Glenn Cardier and the Sideshow recorded Stranger Than Fiction, a powerful collection of songs that was shortlisted for the Cooper’s Australian Music Prize that year, an extraordinary achievement for an independently produced album.
'4 stars. Superb. Cardier deserves the respect afforded to Richard Thompson or Loudon Wainwright...'
(Courier Mail 2013)
'There's no-one else on the Australian music scene quite like Glenn Cardier; from the finely chiselled storylines, and the razor sharp observations to the off- kilter delivery of his cryptic vignettes, he is a genuine one-off, a maverick, and you wouldn't want it any other way.'
(Rhythms Magazine 2012)
Feature Story by Keith Glass, Rhythms Magazine August 2008
Ian McFarlane’s fine book The Encyclopedia Of Australian Rock And Pop has the following among its listing for Glenn Cardier. “A popular solo performer on the early ‘70’s scene. In much the same vein as James Taylor, Doug Ashdown and Ross Ryan.”
Cut to 2002 and you would encounter a very different animal. One that at first put me more in mind of Don Van Vliet (ie Captain Beefheart) if he’d ever given any of the above a cursory listen and decided to pick up an acoustic guitar to hit the solo troubadour circuit. Cardier perhaps could fall into the category of ‘whatever happened to’, but as he is quick to point out, maybe he never really happened in the first place; not having the luxury (or perhaps albatross) of a hit record to cement his persona with the public. What he did have was an unusual amount of faith from a major record label to initially put out two albums within a short period of time along with five singles to try and garner a hit. Thus, perhaps he was someone pigeonholed into an era.
To the casual observer that might be the entire story, so who was this new (albeit more mature) artist of the same name I’d stumbled across? With a gritty vocal style, compositions that gave a serious nod to the blues (along with sardonic humour and off-beat subject matter), Cardier had both the assurance of a seasoned performer and the vitality of a new one.
A listen to his album Rattle The Cage was even more illuminating. With no other players save the cello of Ilse de Ziah mentioned in the credits and what was a pretty well fleshed-out instrumental accompaniment, it became apparent Cardier was a one-man musical army. The album ran the gamut from unadorned acoustic guitar and vocal pieces up to full productions and it was seamless, fresh and interesting. In the following years, there have been two more albums all containing great songs and performances that Glenn has passed my way and I have continued to be delighted and amazed, thinking in a just world he would now finally be a household name.
I guess it is just a very small household. Some good reviews, ABC radio play and internet sales is about it but just lately Cardier has been out gigging a little more and even (gasp) getting some of his recorded sound down live with the help of other musicians. I am joined by other critics giving the thumbs up and comments such as this by producer Andrew Pattison, “you know something special is about to happen when the front row of the audience is overflowing with the headline musicians at the festival” – have fueled the fire. Really though it is the talent and dogged determination of Cardier to produce at the highest level that makes even this modest story way overdue. There’s a need to find out more about the missing years, before he took his Martin D-28 out from ‘under the bed’, dusted it off and began to play once more.
Of course it wasn’t quite like that. In 1974, under the Whitlam government’s Council For The Arts travel grant scheme, Cardier headed off to England to seek fame and fortune on the international stage. He found instead a grueling, often debilitating but always educational work ethic in the roots level folk clubs where performers often played with no amplification whatsoever (we are talking not even a public address system). He says today, ‘you had to be funny, get the audience involved – it was a great grounding and there were some fine pickers there too.’ These were the same places where the likes of Martin Carthy, John Renbourn and Sandy Denny had much earlier learnt the ropes, and indeed soon Cardier was in the midst of such luminaries as Dave Swarbrick, Jerry O’Donahue and fellow expatriate Trevor Lucas, who was at once stage tapped to produce Cardier’s album, still for Australian label Festival. He had an active publishing deal and the Aussie mafia extended far and wide enough that Olivia Newton-John recorded some of his songs. Actually her manager Peter Gormley (also Cliff Richard/The Shadows) was helping Glenn get established too. It was a wood-shedding period that Cardier thinks back on fondly although I can’t help but think the day-to-day grind may have been difficult.
Nonetheless, headway was being made and on the album that was released the mercurial but comparatively young and inexperienced Labi Siffre was in the producer’s chair. With Siffre himself at the time a successful but highly misunderstood gay black man strait jacketed into a near cabaret world, the resulting album was always going to be interesting but perhaps even further away from the ‘real’ Glenn Cardier than his Australian records. After all, Cardier had started out as a lead guitarist in a surf/Shadows band, then led an acid-rock Cream style trio called the Revolution before his more public persona as a soft rock folkie. As later career moves would prove, he and Siffre were both victims of perceptions they would one day redress and the album did little to win Cardier any wider audience. Nevertheless, as the artist says now, ‘once again I had some fine musicians playing on my album including the Shad’s drummer Brian Bennet, so imagine how that felt’.
With a daughter approaching school age, Cardier decided to head back Downunder. Perhaps the most valuable contact made during his UK stint was Spike Milligan with whom Glenn later toured extensively in Australia and Asia. His relationship with the brilliant eccentric Goon was a highly personal one since reflected on in song; we’ll get to that soon. He was also fortunate enough that the phone would ring and he’d be on tour with everyone from Harry Chapin to Frank Zappa. The other piece of happenstance was to end up with a composition on the flip of a big selling hit single. As Glenn tells it, David Sinclair, the original person responsible for signing him to Festival, was now (1978) working for WEA and they needed a flip side fast for the Mojo Singers ‘C’Mon Aussie C’Mon’ – just about a guaranteed hit due to maximum exposure on World Series Cricket. So it came to pass that the song ‘Establishment Blues’ by Sydney Hill piggybacked on to a Number One hit. Cardier had worked the idea up pretty quickly and wisely or foolishly (he was still signed to Festival) recorded it under a pseudonym – needless to say he kept the royalties.
Building a house and his own studio took up a fair amount of the next two decades with a brief time out as member of the more rockin’ Bel-Aires plus a final solo single for his label in 1980 called ‘Expectations’ b/w ‘I Saved Annette From Drowning’. Then nothing save a compilation called ‘Everyday Maniac’: The Festival Files Volume 20’ in 1991 by which time newfangled CDs were the norm but Festival were faltering on their catalogue sales so just try and find one of those suckers today. At least album compiler Glenn A Baker was a Cardier true believer , having already hand balled one of his songs over to Ol’ 55 during their chart assault. It is a friendship that has endured and even Glenn A’s best friends will tell you he can be a true endurance test! I kid the ‘Rock Brain’.
Back to the Glenn in question; Cardier admits he was rusty when he first re-surfaced but the years of home-studio experimentation and the strength of his songwriting paid dividends as did the fact you no longer needed a recognised label to get your stuff out there. The surprise was there were old fans who remembered, and new ones too. Of his new material, Glenn self-deprecatingly says, ‘I guess the only one stupid enough to sing these songs was me,’ but he had been out and about a little, seen Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson. That got the juices flowing, but as he says, ‘the epiphany was I was going to have to start again.’
Not being bound to any rigid preconceptions was a welcome bonus, Cardier was in doubt about having the chops, but ‘I worked on some open tunings, refined my style and worked out a way I could present my new material at this time of my life’. No longer a sweet voiced young performer, Cardier still sees his more recent songs as getting back to the confessional honesty of his early years. While perhaps pining for an old school studio he says, ‘I assemble these three-minute things here at home. It’s not an art project but I do approach it in terms of collage, I love the old sounds, I collect old guitars and it might reflect all the music I’ve grown up with put in a blender.’ The result is indeed a mix of blues, rockabilly, openly sensitive singer-songwriter stuff and everything in between. More than an emotional grab-bag, Cardier has the innate ability to hit on a nerve or get inside a subject as the homage to Milligan ‘Free To Fly’ illustrates:
Easy now, you’ve come too far
To see it all end like this,
But it weighs heavy on your mind –
Sometimes it’s all you can do
To drag yourself around
In this Godawful mess –
In this drunken waltz
On this slippery slope –
Still we sing songs of hope. Songs of hope.
With thanks to Cardier’s Elbow Room Music, I’ve included this to give you an idea that here is a truly superior songsmith worthy of your investigation. The above is from Glenn’s second album since his re-emergence 2004’s House Of Mirrors. Four years on and we got Exiles From Eden, a loosely thematic near masterwork of which the artist is justly proud. With too many fine songs and too little space left to talk about them (‘Invisible Ink’ sticks out as an ethereal wonder), let’s just say the album is full of love. Mainly for life and a woman but also for guitars and a car – the balance of the spiritual and the material is all there – if Cardier and his partner are the exiles so are we all, we might as well make the most of it.
As you can see, Cardier’s work has me thinking I’m just a sinner too – right now I’m committing the deadly one of envy, wishing I could write as well as he does. I urge you to check out his website, or better still buy an album and support this ‘national treasure’ (thanks G.A.B.) if he comes your way.