Sydney-based singer/songwriter/pianist Louis Tillett (b. 1959) has earned a reputation as a solo artist of considerable imagination, authority and confidence, and as a sideman of redoubtable stature. Tillett has lent his resonant vocals, distinctive piano technique and powerful songwriting skills to groups like Wet Taxis, No Dance, Paris Green and The Aspersion Caste, to say nothing of his work as a backing musician with Catfish (Don Walker), Ed Kuepper, The New Christs and Tex Perkins.
Tillett's first band, Wet Taxis, started out as an experimental outfit in the manner of fellow Sydneysiders Severed Heads, Scattered Order and Negative Reaction. Wet Taxis issued one cassette, Taxidermy (1980), on Severed Heads' Terse Tapes label, and contributed tracks to the Terse Sampler EP (December 1980). By 1981, Tillett was steering Wet Taxis in a tougher 1960s-influenced direction. The line-up comprised Tillett (vocals, piano), Simon Knuckey (guitar), Tim Knuckey (bass) and Gary Bradbury (drum machine). Nick Fisher replaced Bradbury on drums in 1982. Peter Watt also joined on rhythm guitar, to be replaced by Penny Ikinger a year later. The band's repertoire by that stage comprised predominantly covers of material by American 1960s garage-punk bands such as We the People, The Moving Sidewalks, The Lemon Fog and The Chocolate Watch Band. The band's debut single on the Hot label, `C'Mon'/`Clock On the Wall' (May 1984), featured such an authentic 1960s garage/R&B sound that few people realised `C'Mon' had originally been issued by The Atlantics in 1967 (as `Come on'). Wet Taxis also issued the appropriately named From the Archives album at the end of 1984.
One of Tillett's first sideline ventures was studio band No Dance with Died Pretty's Brett Myers and The Celibate Rifles' Damian Lovelock. No Dance eschewed the electric rock framework of the musicians' respective bands for a more acoustic and melodic approach. The trio recorded the EP Carnival of Souls, which came out on Hot in March 1984. Tillett contributed `Swimming in the Mirror', Myers `Just Skin' and Lovelock `You Say'. Towards the end of 1984, Tillett also began to play with a loose aggregation of musicians under the name of Paris Green (he eventually put Wet Taxis on hold in February 1985). Based around Tillett, Raoul Hawkins (bass) and Jeffrey Wegener (drums; ex-Laughing Clowns), Paris Green was designed as a jamming outfit where other musicians would get up for a blow. Driven by an enormous energy and desire to create according to their own rules, the musicians accepted no boundaries. The band covered material ranging from Mose Allison to John Coltrane, Ray Charles to Nina Simone, and on any given night there was as many as nine or ten musicians on stage.
Inevitably Paris Green operated on an irregular basis, and Tillett resurrected Wet Taxis in January 1986 with the line-up of Fisher, Ikinger, Jason Kain (lead guitar; ex-Relatives), Rod Howard (bass) and Dr Bronstantine Karlarka (keyboards). Dianne Spence (sax), Kathy Wemyss (trumpet) and Glad Reed (trombone) later augmented the band on stage and record. Spence and Reed had been members of the final Laughing Clowns line-up at the end of 1984. Spence had started out in 1982 with Great White Noise. Michael Tinney (guitar), Lenny Bastiaans (bass, vocals) and Tony Buck (drums) completed the line-up. Great White Noise was an important part of the Sydney-based, post-punk jazz improvisation movement of the early 1980s, which also included Kill The King and Upside Down House. Great White Noise issued a self-titled cassette, and a couple of tracks from it appeared on the Various Artists compilation album March of the Five Limbs. The track `Parent Apparent' appeared on the UK compilation of Australian bands Beneath the Southern Cross on the Red Flame subsidiary label Ink (1984). The band broke up in 1984. After working with Laughing Clowns, and before joining Wet Taxis, Spence played with a band called Carnival of Souls.
Wet Taxis undertook several Australian tours (including supporting former Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico), and issued a new single, `Sailor's Dream'/`Ambulance Ride', on the Citadel label (May 1987). Produced by Rob Younger, `Sailor's Dream' was an amazing slice of horn-driven R&B. The band broke up mid-year, and Tillett lost no time in recording his debut solo album, Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, for Citadel (issued in November). Tillett utilised the services of a stellar array of backing musicians for the album, including Charlie Owen (lead guitar; ex-Tango Bravo, Paris Green, New Christs), Lenny Bastiaans (bass), Dianne Spence (sax) and Louis Burdett (drums; ex-Benders, Paris Green, New Christs). The album traversed jazz, blues, R&B, pop and rock, making for fascinating and engrossing listening. Tillett toured with a 12-piece backing band, The Ego Trippers from Hell, in support of the album's release.
In 1989, Tillett formed The Aspersion Caste, with Owen, Bastiaans, Ikinger (by then ex-Kings of the World), Burdett, James Greening (trombone), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet) and Jason Morphett (sax). The band's debut single for the Blue Mosque label (through Festival), `Condemned to Live'/`Midnight Witch' (January 1990), was an astonishing gut-bucket blues that packed a considerable punch. The single was a taster from the album A Cast of Aspersions (April 1990), another eclectic set of mat-erial driven by Tillett's booming baritone voice and smouldering organ, Owen's jagged guitar lines and the swinging brass arrangements. Mary-Ellen Stringer (ex-Kings of the World) contributed backing vocals. `Carousel'/`Persephone's Dance' was lifted as the album's second single (August 1990). Tillett took The Aspersion Caste out on the road in Australia, before undertaking a tour of Europe, where the album had garnered considerable praise and respectable sales.
The 1991 Aspersion Caste line-up consisted of Colin Watson (guitar), Jackie Orszaczky (bass; ex-Syrius), Dianne Spence (sax) and Nick Fisher (drums). Damian Kennedy then replaced Orszaczky on bass. In 1992, Tillett dispensed with The Aspersion Caste for his second solo album, Letters to a Dream (October). The album was structured as a series of replies to dreams. Many of the songs were built around just Tillett's voice and piano, with minimal embellishment from Mary-Ellen Stringer and Peter Boyd (sax). In 1995, Tillett collaborated with old cohort Charlie Owen on the album Midnight Rain, which came out in October. Tillett and Owen toured in support of the album's release. In August 1996, Tillett and Owen joined Ken Gormly (bass) and Jim Elliot (drums) as backing musicians for Tex Perkins on tour to promote his solo album Far Be It from Me.
In August 1999, Louis Tillett returned to live shows accompanied by Charlie Owen and Don Walker. His new album, Cry against the Faith (September 1999) was only available on mail order from his web site. It was another powerful release, boosted by Tillett’s distinctive vocals and remarkable piano playing. Tillett also issued the compilation CD, To Ride a Dead Pony: A Retrospective (October), which was a good introduction to his work. Tracks included Wet Taxis’ ‘C’Mon’, ‘Swimming in the Mirror’ and ‘Sailor’s Dream’, four Paris Green cuts, five with The Aspersion Caste, and the bluesy Charlie Owen collaboration ‘On Your Way Down’.