The High Priest of Magik

© 2001 Duncan Fry

Did you watch that history of Australian Rock show on the ABC recently called It's a Long Way to the Top? (subtitled 'It's a very, very long way to the top if you don't live in Sydney')
Parochialism aside, it was a fascinating series, although it reinforced the baby boomer's view that, with a few major exceptions, the fire went out after the 60s and 70s. And also revealed the producer's subconscious wish to be cast as a Go Betweens band moll.

The week after the third show in the series, the one covering the late 60's, I started to get a whole lot of emails and phone calls from people wanting to know more about a part of my life that I had almost totally forgotten.
No, I wasn't famous or anything, but for a short while I existed in the reflected glow of a performer who, while never becoming a household name, was a major Australian influence on live stage presentation. He couldn't play a note of music, couldn't sing his way out of a paper bag, yet his unique style is remembered today, 20 years after his death.
His name, of course, was Geoff Crozier. A.K.A. The Mad Magician, High Priest of Magik etc. Apparently someone had asked for information about him in the chat room and been given my name as someone who might know. How on earth do people find out these things? Beats me.

So now my secret's out. Yes, I was the first guitarist in Geoff Crozier and the Magic Word.

In 1967 or thereabouts I had answered an ad in Go Set magazine along the lines of "musicians wanted for sensational new act". The previous band I was in ('The Rave' - cool, huh?) had imploded, and I was looking around for something to do. So I went along to the audition, not really expecting much.

The auditions were held in a rambling guesthouse in Hawthorn run by his parents on a huge block leading down to the river. Geoff lived in a large subterranean closet underneath the house that was jammed to the roof with magic tricks and props. There was barely enough room for three people to stand, let alone setup drums and guitar amps. Various musicians turned up all through the afternoon; some took one look and left immediately, some played a few notes and then left, some just stood and stared as Geoff whirled around doing magic tricks.

What he wanted was free-form continuous music for the 30 minutes or so that he performed, while clouds of oily smoke, flashpots, and strobe lights alternately choked and dazzled the audience.
Most of the musicians who turned up for the audition couldn't handle such a laissez-faire attitude to the music side of things.

"But what songs are we going to play?" they would whine.
"No songs, just play, play" Geoff would reply, setting off another flashpot.

By a process of attrition the band was whittled down to me, a bass player called Cal, and a drummer called Tom. We just banged around on various chords for a while in a no holds barred continuous solo reminiscent of the final chaos of My Generation. Tuneful it wasn't but I think it had just the right amount of anarchy for Geoff, and by having no fixed form it could be stretched out or shortened as required.
So, that was it. We called ourselves The Magic Word, although that was a bit risque for some dance promoters and on those occasions we were The Magic Pudding. Who would have thought promoters, an avaricious breed who would sell tickets to their grandmother's cremation if they thought they'd get away with it, were that precious?
Every week we worked around the Melbourne dance circuit, although just what audiences made of the whole thing I don't know. The shows always ended in absolute chaos - things would fall over, unintentional sparks would fly from electrical bits and pieces, while sometimes the smoke machine refused to smoke and just squirted hot oil over everything and everyone!

Pity the act that came on after us!

The Magic Word's first TV appearance on In Melbourne Tonight. Geoff had just climbed out of the giant teapot on the left

Geoff's daytime job was as a set painter at Channel 9, so with his connections there we did quite a few TV performances (see photos). At first they were live, but the production people had a hard time coping with the lack of a fixed, rehearsable format, so later TV appearances were mimed to a couple of tracks we put down in their recording studio.

Many people I'm sure thought Geoff was as mad as a cut snake, and it's true, he did occasionally appear to have a tenuous grip on reality, but he was a hell of a nice guy to work for. I never once saw him crack the shits with anybody, apart from the occasional promoter who richly deserved it, and he never had a bad word to say about anybody.

He was also a shit hot magician, and very well respected by his peers in the magic biz.
One night after a gig we were having a bite to eat at Leo's Spaghetti Bar in St Kilda, when he bumped into a fellow magician. Well, fair dinkum the two of them had the whole restaurant entranced as they did endless close-up magic tricks involving coins, spoons, knives and forks, plus the inevitable pack of cards. Just as guitarists always seem to have a plectrum in their pocket, so do magicians always have a pack of cards about their person.

Like all good things it eventually came to an end. They say you can't stand too close to genius without getting burned, and I was certainly feeling its heat. Playing in the band seemed to be costing me much more money than I was earning from it (some things in the music biz never change, do they) and the amount of stage equipment and sets we were carting around was getting out of hand.
I'd also had my prized Rickenbacker 360 12 string stolen during one of the TV appearances. It was a rare early export model with 'F' holes instead of the curved dagger ones - absolutely priceless today. Think early Who or George Harrison. I replaced it with the cheapest Fender Telecaster copy I could afford - nicknamed the 'East Doncaster' - and was a bit pissed off over the whole deal.

'In Melbourne Tonight' with Geoff and the boys and my prized Rickenbacker 12 string, later stolen

So one day I told him I was leaving to just to get my brain back in some kind of order. He shook my hand, we parted on amicable terms, and I never saw him again.
I'd follow his career from time to time, and see his name on posters with the Indian Medicine Magik Show, and then the business of getting on with my life took over.

When I read of his death in 1981 I felt just as sad as I did when Jimi Hendrix died. A great talent had suddenly passed.

But hey, although I don't think in his wildest dreams Geoff would have expected to be compared to Hendrix, at least people are still talking about him and his influence on the face of Australian live music.

Can't really ask for more than that, can you?

Publicity photo with a young (19) Dunk clutching the 'East Doncaster' - the Rickenbacker's replacement

Click Here for More Geoff Crozier info just come in...

Here are MP3s of a couple of TV backing tracks you can download and listen to. Quality is OK - they're taken from the original acetates and are actually in stereo!. The vocals are exactly as Geoff wanted them. He couldn't sing, so he spoke them down the end of a long tube held up against the microphone. The distortion on them was quite intentional!

Right Click on the link and use the Save As/Save Target As option to download them (Mac Users drag the link onto the desktop)

Track 1: As I was walking up the stairs 876K
Track 2:
Never get the fever 1.1Meg

All Music © 1968, 2001 Duncan R. Fry

This story first appeared in Connections, (now CX) magazine

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