The name Icehouse is ostensibly a front for classically trained musician Iva Davies. He has been responsible for directing the band's career, and has assembled musicians under the Icehouse banner as required. During the band's formative years, Davies' brand of modernist pop rock was compared unfavourably with that of UK artists like David Bowie, Roxy Music and Ultravox. Nevertheless, Davies is a natural pop craftsman who helped pioneer the use of The Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) in this country, scoring intermittent international success along the way.
Iva Davies was actually born Ivor Davies (in 1955). He began his musical career as a teenager studying oboe at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music and playing in The ABC National Training Orchestra. He signed to RCA in 1975 as a solo artist and issued two glam-pop singles, `Leading Lady'/`Gonna Give You All My Love' (credited incorrectly to Iva Davies, July 1975) and `Back to California'/`I Can't Reach You' (as Iva Davies and Afghan; October 1975). At the time, Davies cited his influences as mainly from `classical structures', but admitted that Led Zeppelin, Marc Bolan, George Harrison and Elton John had also had their effect on his music. The singles were not successful and Davies made a living writing transcripts for music publishing companies.
With the advent of punk/new wave circa 1977, Davies acquired an electric guitar, and reinvented himself as the black leather-clad, black Les Paul-slinging frontman of Sydney pub dance band Flowers. The lightweight band name was deliberately misleading because Flowers was a heavy glitter-punk band that established a reputation by playing note-for-note covers of classic rock songs by T-Rex, Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Kinks, Sex Pistols and the like. Someone coined the phrase `punk jukebox' to describe Flowers.
In mid-1979, John Lloyd (ex-High Rise Bombers, Paul Kelly and the Dots) and Michael Hoste replaced Don Brown and Adam Hall respectively. The band supported UK visitors XTC and Magazine, and toured nationally with The Angels and Cold Chisel. By that stage, Flowers had begun playing original material, mostly written by Davies, but some co-written with Hoste. Flowers signed to the Regular label and began recording an album. Anthony Smith replaced Hoste halfway through the sessions.
Flowers' first two 7-inch singles, `Can't Help Myself'/`Send Somebody' (also issued on 10-inch format; May 1980) and `We Can Get Together'/`Paradise Lost' (July), were national hits, peaking at #10 and #16 respectively. The Cameron Allen/Iva Davies-produced Icehouse album (October) was full of dramatic and brooding, yet accessible rock. The album hit the national Top 5 (#4) and by the end of 1981 had sold over 100 000 copies, establishing Flowers as a major new band. A third single, `Walls'/`All the Way' came out in January 1981 (#20 in March).
New-found success began to take its toll on the band's solidarity. Following tours of Europe and Canada, and not long after the commencement of recording for a follow-up album to Icehouse, the band broke up. Only the `Love in Motion'/`Goodnight Mr Matthews' single (#10 in November 1981) featuring the old line-up emerged. By that stage, the band had become known as Icehouse because of a legal restriction outside Australia. The business-minded Keith Welsh went on to become part of the Dirty Pool management team, and managed Do Ré Mi and Boom Crash Opera.
Davies recorded the Primitive Man album virtually as a solo release. Its three singles, `Great Southern Land'/`Uniform' (August 1982), `Hey Little Girl'/`Glam (October) and `Street Cafe'/`Over the Line' (February 1983), were major national hits (peaking at #5, #6 and #18 respectively). Primitive Man reached #1 in October 1982, and went on to sell over 100 000 copies. Icehouse later contributed `Great Southern Land' to the soundtrack of Yahoo Serious's 1988 film Young Einstein.
Meanwhile, in early 1983, Davies assembled a new Icehouse line-up comprising Hoste, Lloyd, Robert Kretschmer (guitar; ex-Parachute, Eric Gradman: Man & Machine), plus Englishmen Guy Pratt (bass; ex-Killing Joke) and Andy Qunta (keyboards). In May, `Hey Little Girl' reached #17 in the UK, #14 in Sweden, #13 in Holland, #5 in Germany and #1 in Switzerland. Primitive Man also hit the Top 10 in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Icehouse toured as support to David Bowie on the European leg of his Serious Moonlight tour.
The Sidewalk album reached #4 in Australia during July 1984. It yielded the singles `Taking the Town'/`Dance on' (#22 in May), `Don't Believe Anymore'/`Java' (#22 in August) and `Dusty Pages'/`Stay Close Tonight' (November). At that point, Davies wrote (entirely on the Fairlight Music Computer) and recorded the soundtrack to video-clip director Russell Mulchay's debut feature film Razorback. In 1985, the Sydney Dance Company approached Davies to write the soundtrack to the ballet Boxes. Davies collaborated with Icehouse guitarist Robert Kretschmer on the project. The ballet premiered on 7 November 1985 at the Sydney Opera House. Davies, Kretschmer and a guest percussionist from Japan, Masaki Tanazawa, performed the music. Boxes was issued as a rare soundtrack album.
For the Rheet Davies/David Lord-Alge produced Measure for Measure album, the Icehouse line-up was Davies (vocals, guitar, keyboards, Fairlight), Kretschmer (guitar), Pratt (bass), Qunta (keyboards), Simon Lloyd (sax, trumpet, keyboards), Steve Jensen (drums; ex-Japan) and Tanazawa (drums), with Brian Eno (ex-Roxy Music and later known for his work with U2) treating the keyboard parts and singing backing vocals. Measure for Measure reached #8 in May 1986, and featured the singles `No Promises'/`Perfect Crime' (#19 in January), `Baby You're So Strange'/`Too Late Now' (#12 in May), `Mr Big'/`Sister' (#14 in August) and `Cross the Border'/`The Flame' (October). The Measure for Measure touring band comprised Davies, Kretschmer, Qunta, Lloyd, Vito Portolesi (bass) and Paul Wheeler (drums). Icehouse toured the USA, where Measure for Measure had reached #55 on the Billboard chart. Glenn Krawezyk then replaced Portolesi on bass in late 1986.
Stephen Morgan replaced Krawezyk, and the band entered its most successful phase with the release of the #1 album Man of Colours (September 1987). The album went on to sell 540 000 copies in Australia alone, making Icehouse second only to John Farnham in the popularity stakes at that time. It yielded three Top 5 hit singles, `Crazy'/`Completely Gone' (#3 in July), `Electric Blue'/`Over My Head' (#1 in October) and `My Obsession'/`Your Confession' (#5 in December), plus two Top 40 hits, `Man of Colours'/`Komsaka B' (February 1988) and `Nothing Too Serious'/`No' (June).
Man of Colours won the 1987 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards for the Best Album and Highest Selling Album. It also made #43 in the USA, while `Crazy' (which Davies co-wrote with John Oates from Hall and Oates) became a massive US hit when it reached #7 during April 1988. `Electric Blue' followed `Crazy' into the US Top 10 when it peaked at #10 during June. The only Icehouse records for 1989 were the single `Touch the Fire'/`The Last Out' (#13 in Australia during November) and the double compilation album and video collection Great Southern Land. The album peaked at #12 on the national chart in January 1990. The other new track included with the compilation, `Jimmy Dean', reached #47 when issued as a single in February 1990.
Qunta left at that stage. Icehouse's seventh album, Code Blue (October 1990), was Davies' most ambitious (but flawed) work to date. The album yielded the singles `Big Fun' (#47 in August 1990), `Miss Divine' (#16 in October), `Anything is Possible' (#49 in January 1991) and `River Meets the Sea' (March 1991). The album featured the basic Icehouse line-up of Davies, Lloyd, Wheeler and Morgan, while Paul Gildea (guitar) and Roger Mason (keyboards; ex-Models) were added for touring purposes. Code Blue, however, barely sold platinum (70 000 copies) and Davies slipped from view. In 1992, EMI issued a new Icehouse compilation, Masterfile, which also contained a new version of `Love in Motion' (a duet between Davies and Christina Amphlett), which was issued as a single.
After two years of recording inactivity, Davies re-emerged with a new Icehouse album, Big Wheel (November 1993), and the CD singles `Spin One' (July), `Satellite' (October) and `Big Wheel' (March 1994). With the basic line-up of himself, Lloyd, Wheeler and David Chapman (guitar), Davies came up with one of the strongest Icehouse albums of all. Nevertheless, it failed to reach the national Top 40. Big Wheel also furthered Davies' interest in computer technology. A limited edition run of the album came with one of the first dual interactive computer disk/CD packages available in Australia. The Apple-compatible disk contained lyrics, album credits, animated graphics, artwork, an Icehouse history and discography and storyboard for the `Satellite' video clip. There was talk of a double album of Icehouse remixes at that stage called Full Circle, but its release was shelved until 1997.
In 1995, Davies recorded an album of cover songs as the score for the Sydney Dance Company's ballet production of Berlin. The Berlin Tapes (November 1995) included songs by a number of Davies' acknowledged influences such as David Bowie, Lou Reed and Roxy Music, plus seminal new wave outfits Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, Talking Heads, Public Image Ltd, Killing Joke, XTC and Simple Minds.
In 1999 Ignatius Jones (former lead singer of Jimmy and the Boys, and creative director of Sydney’s millennium celebrations) chose the old Icehouse song, ‘Great Southern Land’, as one of the songs for broadcast on New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1999. Iva Davies re-recorded the song as a symphony called ‘The Ghost of Time’ with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which Roadshow/Warner issued as a CD EP in December 1999. Davies also performed a 25-minute set at the millennium celebrations.