Bryget Chrisfield explores a favourite record which spelled the lift-off to cultural stardom for an important act. This month: I’m Talking’s Bear Witness (1986).
Two of Kate Ceberano’s 2018 appearances reminded me exactly how much she slays. As one of the ‘Friends’ performing on the Jimmy Webb & Friends’ Australian tour last August, Ceberano absolutely raised the roof during her immaculate rendition of MacArthur Park, which features famously baffling lyrics (“Someone left the cake out in the rain…”). Who sang it better: Ceberano or disco diva Donna Summer?
Then in October – as Patron of the inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMAs), held in Brisbane – Ceberano delivered a powerful keynote, interspersed with a couple of songs during which she accompanied herself on keyboard. Following the shocking confession that a manager once told her, “I wish I’d had you when you were young,” Ceberano’s closing statement, “I don’t believe my best has been delivered yet,” made us all rise to our feet and collectively get something in our eyes.
Probably the first time I ever experienced the funky brilliance of I’m Talking – a seven-piece fronted by two women of colour, Ceberano plus Zan Abeyratne (ex-Grand Wazoo and Bang) that also boasted a female bass player, Barbara Hogarth – was at LaTrobe University back in 1985 when they supported a Dutch band called Time Bandits. (Check out I’m Only Shooting Love – craptacular ‘80s wonderment complete with keytar solo!) University gigs used to be all the rage for us underage ragers!
Kate and Zan were up there on stage, owning it, nailing fluid unison dance moves that we immediately starting copying from our front-row posi. The pair favoured tube skirts, peplums, satin and lace, as well as awesome headwear (we suspected their stage outfits were custom made since we could never find any similar funky-fresh gear in shops); let’s face it, we wanted to be them, and Ceberano was only a few years older than us. Plus, she grew up in the nearby Melbourne suburb of North Balwyn – how dare she be so cool!
One week shy of her 16th birthday, Ceberano auditioned for I’m Talking, which rose from the ashes of experimental funk outfit Essendon Airport. At a Richmond rehearsal studio across the road from Young Talent Time HQ, Ceberano sang two covers: Last Night A DJ Saved My Life and Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, which the band went on to record (it was the B-side to I’m Talking’s 1985 12” single Lead The Way before being released as a standalone single that same year). Ceberano had the X-factor from the get-go; listen to her flawless vocal on sax-tastic track Someday (from I’m Talking’s 1984 EP of the same name, recorded by the band’s pre-Zan line-up) below.
American drummer/producer Fred Maher – who went on to co-produce Lou Reed’s New York record (alongside The Velvet Underground icon), was flown out to Australia to produce I’m Talking’s debut/only album Bear Witness (1986), which peaked at #14 on the Kent Music Report (Australian albums chart), contained two Top Ten hits on our singles chart (Do You Wanna Be? and Holy Word) and is certified Platinum. The album’s engineer/producer Martyn Webster had just finished working with UK sophisti-pop act ABC (yep, The Lexicon Of Love makers).
Now remastered and reissued, you can pick up a deluxe edition of Bear Witness which includes previously unreleased rarities and dance remixes from the likes of Stock Aitken Waterman (Do You Wanna Be?). It’s now available on vinyl as well.
Earlier this year, I’m Talking also released a brand new live compilation album, Dyin’ To Be Dancin’ (recorded during their golden years, 1984 – 1986, at now-defunct-but-legendary Melbourne venues The Club and The Metropole Hotel).
The music video for my personal fave I’m Talking song, Holy Word (which we originally misheard – and sang along to – as “Hollywood”), was filmed at Chasers nightclub in Melbourne (a young Magda Szubanski is allegedly in the clip; see if you can spot her!). Zan actually took lead vocals on Holy World (still a thorn in Kate’s side) and this song also appeared on the soundtrack to the 1987 horror film Howling III. (How’s the tagline: “Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Down Under…”!?) Zan also sings lead on Bear Witness album track It’s Over.
At the 1984 Countdown Awards, I’m Talking won Best New Talent and Best Debut Single (Trust Me) and Ceberano collected the award for Most Popular Female Performer at the final Countdown Awards (held in 1987).
Despite only existing as a band from 1983 to 1987, I’m Talking played some pukka gigs in their time: Oz For Africa (our version of Live Aid) and the INXS-headlined Rockin’ The Royals concert (both in 1985) as well as the touring Australian Made concert (alongside INXS, Jimmy Barnes, The Saints, Mental As Anything, Models, Divinyls and The Triffids) in 1987.
Post-I’m Talking, guitarist Robert Goodge experienced considerable success as part of Filthy Lucre (with DJs Gavin Campbell and Paul Main) when their legendary remix of Yothu Yindi’s Treaty became Australia’s first international club hit.
We can’t wait to find out what’s next for I’m Talking’s various band members following their reunion tour (the band initially re-formed to perform support duty for Bryan Ferry’s 2019 A Day On The Green shows before announcing their own headline dates). As for Ceberano, her interpretive prowess is showcased to perfection throughout her latest record, Tryst (a collaboration with piano maestro/ jazz legend Paul Grabowsky; read our review here). If you don’t shed real tears during the pair’s For Cilla (Medley), we recommend you make an appointment with a cardiologist. Stat.