Thursday, June 23, 2011

JANE CLIFTON A girl in 32 Mirrors Interview

She has been a Stiletto. She's been locked up in Wentworth with Bea and Vinegar Tits. At the Adelaide Cabaret festival, Jane Clifton sings songs about every house she’s ever lived in.


For some people, okay…a LOT of people Jane Clifton will always be Margo Gaffney in Prisoner Cell Block H. Some people will remember her from classic ABC kids show Round the Twist. Others will have fond memories of her appearances on Countdown in the 1980s, guesting with Jo Jo Zep on Taxi Mary or her own top ten single Girl in the Mirror. And the more senior amongst us remember the great band she fronted in the 1970’s called Stiletto. Jane has continued singing, acting and writing novels. She is an all-round renaissance gal.

Her latest book is called The Address Book, which along with her Adelaide Cabaret show Anywhere I Hang My Hat Is Home, tells the true story of Jane cashing in her super funds and going round the world to revisit every one of the 32 houses she has ever lived in. So along the way there are stories and songs, some revelations, scandals and laughs.

My earliest memory of you was as part of Stiletto in about 1976. They were a very Melbourne/Toorak ‘alternative’ band. I always imagined they lived round the corner from Skyhooks in Carlton. What are your memories of that period?

“For me a lot of it was very Melbourne-based. There were a lot of incredible bands like Jo Jo Zep, Billy T, the Sports and the Sydney ones like Radio Birdman. It was kind of the same time as punk and there was a really healthy scene. You could play the Mathew Flinders from 3 to 6pm, then go over to Martini’s and play 9 til twelve and then play somewhere else from 12 to four in the morning. And all for $75 (laughs)...but you were working.”

Adelaide certainly had a circuit but it was a bit different wasn’t it?

“Yours was the University scene. We’d come over and we’d do Flinders, University of South Australia and get billeted at the Uni’s and we could do a weeks worth of gigs at a time. You’d play at the Arkaba and stay at the little Arkaba (*Court) up the road.”

Were you always acting while you were singing?

“Always! When I was in Stiletto I was still doing shows at the Pram Factory or wherever. It was always simultaneous.”

My memory of that period is that it was a really fertile period for creative people. Apart from the music scene flourishing, there was also fringe comedy and the alternative theatre and cabaret scenes. There was also a lot of crossover between those different areas. Is that how you remember it?

“Definitely, there were lots of people in lots of different streams of things. So people like me and Red Symons (from Skyhooks, and later Hey Hey) for instance we were in a band together and at the same time he was in a play, which I was directing. None of us thought it was a career. It was just having fun and doing things because they were interesting to do. Not because we were going to have a job as an actor or a musician. We were just kind of doing it.”

I get the impression the opportunity to do that is considerably reduced these days as everything is about ‘career trajectory’ and ‘market penetration’.

“Yes but the industry is a lot more developed too. You can go to the Victorian College of the Arts and study how to be a roadie. You can study advanced rock’n’roll 101. Back in those days you often just figured at some stage you’d go back and finish off your degree and end up being an English teacher. It was really only when I got to my thirties I thought I might have to go back and finish my Dip Ed. I realised I wasn’t qualified to do anything else except what I am doing already. I realised that this was my job and there was no going back.”

Even though she played the role of Wentworth Women’s Prison’s resident rough, sharpie-haired, prison bookie and fire-starter in Prisoner (Cell Block H if you’re in the UK or USA) thirty years ago, the show still has a massive cult following. It is still amazingly popular in the UK and with strong pockets of obsessive fans in the USA and at home. The cast members can still be flown to the UK for Prisoner fan events where people pay 100 pounds each to spend the afternoon chatting with the former fictional inmates getting photos and autographs and buying memorabilia.

“It’s been a cult show now and it has been for thirty years. At the time it was certainly popular when it was on the screens, but its longevity is mystifying. It’s not on TV in the UK at the moment but it’s only just stopped in the last couple of years. If we were getting royalties from Prisoner I never would have had to work another day in my life. But we didn’t. The only pain is that there are constantly thirty year old images of the very thin version of you. So you do occasionally think ‘Oh go away!”. But it does mean I can go back to the UK occasionally and make some money. Which is great. They organise a personal appearance and 50 or 100 people turn up, have dinner with you, have their picture taken with you and bob’s your uncle!”

So the show you’ll be doing in the Cabaret Festival is a kind of travelogue of all the houses you’ve lived in.

“Yes. I’ve just written a book about my trek around the world to visit every house I had ever lived in. There were thirty two houses. I was a British Army kid and we moved around a lot. I was born on the Rock of Gibraltar, grew up in Germany and Malaysia and so forth. And there is a lot of music in the book. This is like the songs from The Address Book so I’ll be reading bits of the book, and singing some of the songs that are featured so it’s like a musical voyage back through my houses. The music varies from music from my mothers’ record collection from when I was growing up Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra. The MGM musicals. 60’s girl group stuff from when I came to Australia. I cover the Stiletto period and my single Girl on the Wall. A whole bunch of things that are a musical odyssey that brought me to the way I sing now.”

It’s a great idea for a show..

“I hope it works Ian! (laughing)”

Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home premiers at the Festival Centre Banquet Room on June 22 and 23.

Ian Bell

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