Shine On - On the video set at BHP for Paul's song Shine on in 1991
Shine On - On the video set at BHP for Paul's song Shine on in 1991

SHINE ON: Grant Walmsley pens tribute to Paul Woseen

In 1984, I saw The Embers perform at our City Area Surfboard Riders Club preso at the old BHP Rec Club at Mayfield. It was Paul Woseen’s first band. There he was – a bass player playing like a boss and singing like the Christ Church Cathedral choirboy he once was. I didn’t know him but I knew I wanted to. At the time, I was forming a band myself with my best mate from Hamilton Marist Brothers, Frank Manitta. We were going to call ourselves Aspect. The Embers were a few years older than us, and we were blown away by them. We thought we were cool but they made us look and sound like the school kids we were. By 1987, drummer Frankie, aspiring scribe Chad Watson and I would go watch The Embers (Paul Woseen, singing-guitarist guru Nick Raschke, stickman Robbie Carter and later, rhythm guitarist Terry Caban) upstairs at the Great Northern Hotel. Most weekends we would head to their gigs after our band Aspect had finished our own shows. For a while there, The Embers were virtually the Great Northern house band on Friday and Saturday nights. Energy was their forte. Every gig sparked a mini-revolution. They were that incendiary.

It was a ritual. The Embers wouldn’t start their gig until late, 11 pm or midnight. These shows were full of my East End surfing buddies, skins, mods, ska rude boys, punks and everyone in between. They played pretty much exclusively Sunnyboys tunes and early 1960s tunes, heaps of Stones; and Paul would take the limelight to sing The DoorsLove Me Two Times. Paul had a unique voice and was always an incredible ‘feel’ bass player. Nick was, and still is, one of the greatest guitarists you have ever heard. Together, they were beyond magical! Those nights at the Great Northern deserve their place in Novocastrian folklore. I close my eyes, open my ears, and it still puts a smile on my dial.

Nick and Paul were so different and so dangerous together – rock’n’roll at its finest! The angst-fuelled essence of what a kick-arse band should be. Unbridled brilliance. Exultant and intoxicating. Loud and good-looking. The punters knew what to expect on the set list but wouldn’t know what else would happen on any given night. A shouting match, fist fights, slam-dancing and people collapsing under the heat and strobe of the stage lights. This was real punk spirit! Brutally honest and pure. No prisoners taken and no room for the faint-hearted. A real and true punk attitude to it all.

The Embers had everything – charisma, menace, rawness, urgency and undoubtable musical talent. The frontmen for The Embers were schoolmates – just like Frankie and I were as well as Aspect’s singer Dave Gleeson. They went to Newcastle High – the same school that produced Silverchair a decade later – which happens to be just down the road from our Marist Brothers alma mater (now known as St Francis Xavier). Our Catholic school and their state school are a kilometre apart but might as well be a million miles away. Us private school types were supposed to wear blazers, ties and long socks with elastic garters. We put the right angles into square. But not Paulie. He was way too cool for school – a pioneer of the indie rock god look. He was oh so enigmatic and the sharpest dresser I had ever seen. Older than his years. He helped bring this bohemian strain of fashion to our own town – pointy boots, stovepipes, paisley shirts, neck scarf, black leather jacket, earrings … very Marty Wilson Piper meets Steve Kilbey from The Church. Paul and his Fender Jazz bass were created to have each other.

Newcastle had a serious and authentic indie scene back then with the Uptown Circus / Newcastle RSL (which fell in the earthquake); where everyone from Johnny Thunders to the Lime Spiders and Sunnyboys played, and where Paul Woseen could often be found holding court. He was the true prince of the scene while still only a teen himself. It was underground but as real and chaotic as CBGBs in New York. I was still underage and frightened shitless the first time I snuck into the Uptown – that subcultural-laced den from another dimension. Mohawks, punks, skins, mods and rockers and surfers. Totally alive, full of grime and oozing attitude. There were drugs, drink, dirt and reckless abandon. Tribal energy turned up to eleven … what was there not to love! Newy has never been just a rock town – that’s a cliche cooked up in the capital cities. Back in the day that end of Newcastle was just as much a haven for indie sounds as that of the other King Street, in Newtown. And the local version was all a short stroll downhill from where Paul had grown up. He was already a ringmaster of the Circus. And his reputation was still growing.

Frankie and I became fast friends with Paul. Music was the glue that binded us. (Frankie later decided to pursue a “real job” but we remain close, probably closer than ever, and he’s back playing music after a 25-year hiatus.) During the late 1980s, Paul’s then partner Lisa and us, all together, would catch the train to Sydney – getting there at 9 pm and then a train home, leaving at 4 am – to check out the band scene in Surry Hills and Kings Cross. Being the youngest of our troupe, I was mesmerised by what we saw and heard on our travels. But being an observer wasn’t enough. I wanted into the Sydney live scene immediately. I wanted to move the band to Sydney. Bands had to move to Sydney or Melbourne in those days. In Newy back then, it was a true case of “they said you’d never get anywhere”. We both had dreams of being a Sydney band playing in the big league. Paul was older than me and was already incredibly street-smart. I always felt safe and protected with him around – and we found ourselves in some damn perilous spots together over the next few decades.

I used to spend a lot of time at Lisa and Paul’s places in Church Street, Newcastle, and Bull Street, Cooks Hill, often crashing on their couch. They loved to cook and fed me more times than I can remember. We were like a little family and I sure felt nurtured and supported by them. It was during this time that Paul and I discovered a deep respect for each other as songwriters. He would listen to all my songs and I would listen to all his songs. I wrote Aspect’s songs and I didn’t realise Paul was writing loads of songs too. I learned that he had a burning desire for his songs to be played and recorded. I didn’t know why The Embers didn’t do original songs or why Paul’s songs, like mine, were not played by his band. I could tell it ran deep with him.

By 1989, our band Aspect had done our final shows as I wanted to take on Sydney and the world. It was a big ask. Aspect had been courted by Alberts (home of AC/DC) for some time and Mark Tinson (Heroes, Ted Mulry Gang, Record Producer) had by now taken me under his wing and would demo the songs I wrote for Aspect at the famous Alberts studios in Neutral Bay. I would walk the hallowed halls where AC/DC guitar brothers Angus and Malcolm Young and singer Bon Scott had walked – chaperoned by no less than the Youngs’ cousin, Sam Horsburgh (Rose Tattoo producer). I was still a kid and it was a dream I wanted to make come true. Paul also shared that dream. And we had some solid humans on our side. I was also mentored by DV8 frontman Greg Bryce from a very early age as our parents were close friends. (Move to Sydney was the mantra that Tinno and Brycey drummed into me. Who was I to argue with them.)

The Embers as a band broke up around this time. We had also lost our bassist in Aspect, the now late Grant Wiltshire. Frankie and myself bumped into Paul Woseen in Council Street out the front of the Delaney Hotel. (Paul was always with his dog Sam. Sam had a white tip tail and Paul would say that when he’d had a few too many, Sam’s tail would lead Paul the way back home). We chatted for a while on the footpath then – adopting the Novocastrian ethos of “never letting a chance go by”, we asked him if he would like to join our gang. His partner Lisa, by now our good mate, supported this decision wholeheartedly. It was just so right!

Paul fit in immediately. We went from strength to strength with such an accomplished and natural-born bass player. Paul lifted us to all new levels. Unfortunately for us, but so fortunate for Paul, by early 1989, Paul had been asked to join a great blues band from Canberra, called Steve Grieve and the Mourners. I would catch the train with Paul and Lisa and watch him play with them in Sydney and remember clearly seeing them at the iconic Lansdowne Hotel, where the band split about $14 from the door, after paying sound operator costs. I was so happy for Paulie! They were a great band and Steve and singer Dan Myalls were great mentors and we became firm friends. (Paul and I would go on to co-produce The Mourners as well as a great Newy band Hound). So Aspect had to finish and we went out with a huge bang after becoming one of Newcastle’s biggest draw cards. Paul with our band celebrated two huge last Aspect shows at the Cambridge Hotel and Tubemakers Rec Club (now Wests Mayfield). We had a huge party to mark the occasion. Forgive me but I can’t recall half the punters who were there. Our mate Dave Carter was there to help us celebrate. Or so I’m told. I’m glad Chad was taking notes.

By early 1989, I saw the writing on the wall and had already begun putting together a super group to take on the world. I had to convince Dave Gleeson to not join a Sydney-based duo he had been approached to join, and even harder, I had slowly but surely convinced my drummer mate Brad Heaney to join; and I had to continually convince him which wasn’t easy at all. He had grown accustomed to being in big bands with road crews and the works. He was in DV8, and I had met him through going to DV8 shows with Brycey as a kid, and Brad had recently just left the Radiators after DV8 had broken up. I had also convinced the incredibly gifted Dave Carter to join this new super band.

Dave Carter was always one of Newcastle’s most respected bassist singers. We jammed as a fourpiece for months before Dave Carter got an offer from our friend and record producer Kevin Shirley, to go to Sydney and record and try to get a record deal on his own. DC who was also friends with Paulie simply told me, “get Paul Ember”. “He really suits you guys and how you play, he’s your man”. But I told DC, “he’s joined the Mourners and is moving to Canberra where they are based.” DC was also almost as deflated as I was.

Like Timothy B. Schmit and Randy Meisner of the Eagles and Poco, Paul Woseen and Dave Carter were the two guys who could hit the high notes and play bass like nobody else, they were standouts in Our Town. (So too was Paul Coxon from grunge outfit FACEplant). Dave Carter was instrumental in maintaining my friendship with Paul also. DC taught us young guys everything he knew about music, always so selflessly.

Dave Gleeson and I learned not long after this that the Mourners had surprisingly and suddenly folded and Paul was pretty crushed. They were a truly great band and Paul deserved that gig with such amazing musicians. So Dave Gleeson and I took DCs advice. “Get Paul Ember!” Believe me, Gleeson and I wasted not one second and I vividly remember picking up Dave from his digs and going straight to Paul’s house in Bull Street. There were no mobile phones then. We actually went to people’s homes and actually talked. We went into Paul and Lisa’s kitchen, as you do, and we asked Paulie to join us. F— yes! was his immediate response. We were all so excited and the three of us knew in our bones that this would work. We had chemistry! The three of us already knew this. Together we would become the cornerstone of The Screaming Jets for many years to come. (That week I asked Izzy Osmanovic to join the band on second guitar. He turned me down but recommended a young local player called Richard Lara).

We immediately began rehearsing, and the focus was on our original material. Paul and I had by now learnt each other’s tunes. Songs like Shine On, Needle, Better, and Starting Out, were in our live sets in no time. We wrote songs together in rehearsals, and we would go through the many songs Paul and I always had ready to go also. We quickly became a force that was unstoppable! Within this first 12 months, the five of us had started the trek to become based in Sydney. We won the Triple J National Band Competition at Selina’s, Coogee Bay. Our next step was to take on the world.

We were soon playing a Monday night residency at the Kardomah Cafe in Kings Cross and were now being courted by almost every record company and publisher in the country and beyond. Within 18 months or so, our debut album All For One was released. Dave and I had done five years with Aspect and we each had around 1000 shows under our belts. We were a serious force as a live band. The five of us were untouchable, we really were. If you witnessed us then, it was literally ‘something wicked, this way comes’; the name of our first world tour.

After doing our apprenticeships in the clubs and pubs of Newcastle, and some other touring, Better became the most-played song on Australian radio and took us to international acclaim and forever changed our lives – as well as the size of the venues we had been playing – for years and years. We were now headlining the Hordern Pavilions and Festival Halls, and taking our gear around Australia with a semi-trailer, which we then transferred across the globe. Better may be considered the Newcastle anthem, but Paul’s Shine On is the dinkum Newcastle song for mine: “Cold steel rails in front of me, my steel city left behind.” So poignant, such beautiful rock’n’roll poetry.

Hyatt on Sunset LA where we were based first world tour before Hollywood Palladium playing Pearl Jam Alice in Chains and Soundgarden

It wasn’t long before The Screaming Jets played the notorious Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles with Sound Garden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. We set up our HQ in The Hyatt on Sunset, which Led Zeppelin had nearly destroyed with their wild partying. We had certainly come a long way in a short time Paulie! What happened next is a story best left for another day. Who knew what the future would hold.

My heart is broken. My sadness overflows. These wonderful memories, clear and vivid. You were my friend, we were brothers. You were an original! You believed in the vision and you gave and gave, as we all worked like no one before us. We recorded amazing music in the most famous studios around the world. Our little songs became anthems. I am so fortunate to have shared this journey with you. Side by side. All for one. I will forever cherish those reckless and absolutely crazy times. We did it brother! May your songs always touch people’s hearts. May you fly and know how loved you were and forever will be.

Say hello to our old mate and manager Aaron Chugg for us. I’m sure you guys will be catching Hendrix on tonight’s bill in paradise.

Thank you Paul for sharing so much of life’s journey with me. We shared the good and the bad but I wouldn’t change a thing, for that wouldn’t be us, or authentic or rock n roll!

Love respect and gratitude always my friend

Vale Paul Bradford Woseen