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Bill Tolson was a founding member of Greville Record Store in the 70s and by the 80s established Indie label Rampant. Fast forward to 2020 and Bill has a new Single called The Old Days Were The Better Days and keen to hear how those days were better as well what happened in the decades between radionotes thought it time to have a chat with them.

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Bill Tolson performs solo and with his band The Learners since 2015, after a break from music for a while there.

Rampant Records released music for the likes of Stephen Cummings (The Sports) and Hugo Race (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds).

SHOW NOTES: Bill Tolson

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Feature Guest: Bill Tolson

Additional Notes:

Next Episode: Three Years On

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First version provided by REV team member Jason S – check to audio before quoting wider

John Murch: Bill, welcome to radionotes.

Bill Tolson: Good day, John and thank you very much for having me on. I did a hand full of just tunes that I had on the side with a young producer, a guy called Charlie Irvine, a very talented young man and actually the son of the guitarist Russell Irvine, who plays in the band, The Learners. Just produced a handful of songs and that was one of them, and it’s a little ditty, it’s a little reflection, an observation of life and I suppose a song that you can write when you get a little bit older.

John Murch: Five decades under your belt, but only a year later from being married.

Bill Tolson: Absolutely correct, John. I’ve had a lot of life changing experiences over the years. I was very much into music when I was younger and I had a bit of a break in family life, and I suppose building a little bit of prosperity, and had a few children and things, and settled down into that and further on, as the years went by, things change, as they often do. I found myself getting, very much, back into music, really in about 2015 was really a turning point and just really felt…

Bill Tolson: I’d lost my father in 2014 and I was brought up in the type of environment where you had your mum, you had your dad, and when you’ve had that consistency over such a long period of time, I suppose you take things for granted and losing my father was quite a bit of a shock because we used to swim at the pool and go to sporting events together and things. He was a very sprightly, fit guy that was playing soccer up until his 80s. That was a main turning point, which actually, influenced or wrote a song for me, which this still does relate to The Old Days Were The Better Days.

John Murch: A Son Of An Immigrant?

Bill Tolson: John, thanks so much for doing your research. That’s a song I wrote about my dad. I’m the son of an immigrant to a man who sailed across the sea to start a new life and family and look. He was an amazing man, a Northern Englishman. The song I was actually thinking about is a song called You Are Not Alone, after I lost dad and I obviously lost grandparents and things early personally in my life. I found my self in bed asleep and this thing, You Are Not Alone, is coming into your head and I think it was a therapeutic time. Thinking from that I wrote a song called, You Are Not Alone, basically after assessing things and thinking about what people go though.

Bill Tolson: You’re not alone in any of these because any of these things that happen, billions of other people have been through them, so it was like a consoling little song. Yes a song called, Son Of An Immigrant, is a song that I did write about my father.

John Murch: 2015 is where that song you’re talking about just there, You Are Not Alone, off the Ride LP. Was that your first release or were there some releases back when you first started in the ’70s?

Bill Tolson: I actually was in a band called As Clear As Day. There was an old ’80s clip on YouTube, a song called, Some Excited Feeling. We supported the local bands at the time like Painters and Dockers, and played all the Melbourne venues, the Alvaco Hotel, we did Moomba and things. That would have been around ’86, ’87. Interestingly enough, the bass player in that band, a guy called Matthew Kane, I’m now actually playing with now with another guy called Rusty. So we’re all around the same age group. Now we’re all fit and spritely and doing our music, but just on that song writing thing and I was thinking about it before speaking to yourself.

Bill Tolson: The first year or two I was literally writing 30, 40 songs a year, and reflecting on it, and the writing that I’m doing at the moment. It’s obviously a creative process, but the beauty of it is you hear… And I think there’s two styles of writing, of song writing. I think one is where people would go, “Oh,” and look, I’ve heard some great song writers. I’m not saying there’s a right way or a wrong way, but I’ve heard some great writers go, “Oh, no. Every afternoon, at four o’clock, I will sit down for a couple of hours and I start writing, and I’ll write and if I don’t want to write I’ll just sit down there and do it.”

Bill Tolson: My approach, which I think is fortunate, for myself because I’m probably not that disciplined and a little bit, fly by the seat of my pants a bit. All of the songs I’ve written, most of them I’ve written in one shot. They’ve just all come out and I’ve tapped it into notes on my phone as it’s been coming into my mind, the thoughts. And the good thing about it… And I know if I hadn’t done it that way or if I’ve tried another way, they never seem as natural or as flowing because they’re not. I did read a great… I think it was with Bob Dylan. “I don’t will the songs. I welcome them.”

John Murch: We’re going to use the single The Old Days Were The Better Days as a bit of an anchor of this conversation. I want to pick up Take You Back, too because we were talking about your father to acknowledge he did pass away back in 2014.

Bill Tolson: Yep.

John Murch: Did I see a photo of you and your old man what would’ve been a classic kind of Aussie car?

Bill Tolson: Yeah, that was my father. That would’ve been his first car that he’d bought brand new, and then they ended up selling to buy a house in Armidale. That’s just shows how times have changed, too, John. You could literally sell a car to buy a house.

John Murch: House, yeah.

Bill Tolson: I know the parents’ house was only like £3000 in 1964. The car was probably £1000 going back to those days.

John Murch: That’s what we’re saying about the old days possibly were better days. There was some sort of equality between things. Even if they were a bit expensive, there was some sort of equality to them.

Bill Tolson: Oh, John, I’d love to share. I’ll give you a real, true life example of how much things have changed, and I just then brought this up again with my daughter when we were out to lunch last weekend. In 1964, these were all absolute, factual figures. My father drove trams in Melbourne. His pay was £1,000 a year. The same year, he bought a house in Armidale. That house was £2,996. Having said that, that song is probably more, from my experience, just about how life has changed for me. I haven’t mentioned this publicly, but I could mention it now because I sort of can deal with it now, but five years ago, too, I lost a son, and that son was an incredibly talented person. They were 21 when they passed away.

John Murch: My understanding of Connor and the Rising In Sin, I hope I’ve got that right-

Bill Tolson: Riders Of Sin, and he put out about seven, eight-odd albums. They’re all on Bandcamp. Just such a charismatic guy. They say the good die young, and I think there’s probably a bit of truth in that, even when you watch the news, and things that the lovely person that’s been killed in the-

John Murch: He was 21 years of age. It sounds like it was like whisker of a year from your father’s passing as well.

Bill Tolson: Correct.

John Murch: What got you through that? Was it music or was it something else? How do you get through that? What was 2015 like for you, Bill?

Bill Tolson: Honestly, I would have just howled for probably about two or three years. I mean, they’re like you just go, “Ah!” You’d just be in pain because it’s that you never think it’s going to happen to you. You know what I mean? It’s not good to acknowledge, but you’d watch the news or you’d watch this and, “Oh, yeah. Well, that happens over there, and that happens there.” There’s a song I wrote that’s called Immune. You see things that happen on the news, but you never think it’s going to happen to you. It’s got that sort of thing running through it. Look. It was just I did lots and lots, and lots, and lots of writing during that period, but look.

Bill Tolson: You just have to like… There’s not much you can do. I mean, it was like you’d suffer, as I suppose any normal person would, from grief, so you would break down. You’d be driving and you’d be, “Oh!” That’s what would happen. I took Connor to see the Rolling… We saw the Rolling Stones a few months before that. We saw Bob Dylan. I bought him tickets so he could go and see the Beach Boys at the Palais. I’m just saying this totally objectively because when they were wakes and different things, there would just be hundreds of people. He was just so charismatic and he was honestly one of those people that never said a bad word about anyone, and he was just cool. He was just a cool, young dude that people loved.

Bill Tolson: That’s not the reason it’s tragic. It’s tragic. Obviously, it’s just tragic, but the fact that he was also… We played soccer together. We swam together each week. We played music, too. Not a lot of music. I was involved in business and I worked in… I was involved in businesses and things for a while, but we still did a lot of things together. I remember when my father took me to see the Battle of Britain, and I watched it again recently. I didn’t really like the film. I just remember being there with Dad at the theatre. Saw dad all the time, but I remember him taking me to the theatre, so these things I thought it’d just a lovely thing for Connor to do.

Bill Tolson: The last couple of Stones concerts prior to that, through contacts, we were backstage. I was sitting in the back garden one night, and I’m thinking they’re taking Connor, and I said, “No.” I said, “I’m going to do it.” So I knew we couldn’t get the normal good seats because it was a different promoter, so I actually spent three grand for two tickets just so that we had amazing… The experience was incredible. We’re five meters from some wraparound liquid Jagger and Richards, and things coming out.

John Murch: Giving Connor a sense of consistency of that father-son relationship?

Bill Tolson: I genuinely believe I was, but I’ve been a family environment where we’d go to the Royal Melbourne Show. I’d go with my parents or to Moomba, and you’d just do it every year.

John Murch: Yeah.

Bill Tolson: You’d just do it. You wouldn’t never skip a beat, right? So the same with our family or my family. We would go to Moomba every year. Now, I was separated and after that divorced, but still even as a family unit, we were going to Moomba until the kids were 20. We were all members because my father was English and he played professional soccer. I worked out now I only really like soccer because Dad liked soccer, but I played soccer with him at Corfield Park just socially, and often Connor would play, and another son James at the time was playing as well, but we had that Melbourne Victory. We were members for 10 years, and we had five seats. I’d go. Dad’d go. Connor’d go, and if not, another child, whatever.

Bill Tolson: So no. I think that family consistency thing… Look. It’s healthy. I mean, it’s good. It’s healthy for everyone in the family.

John Murch: Back to Connor. He did the guitar work on Annie, the opening cut?

Bill Tolson: Correct. I was recording then. It would have been the first piece of music when I decided because I was working and I thought, “Not work so hard. I want to get into music,” because I realized I’m getting older, and I do want to do it. I started just recording at home. Connor played, and look. We were just beating around, and I said, “Oh, you want to whack some guitar on this and be paid?” I mean, he’s an exceptionally talented drummer as well. He just had amazing feel and groove. Within a moment, he had picked up the Gibson Les Paul and he just does this amazing little blues riff, and he was just kid, but he just had amazing… A young adult, obviously, at 20, 21, but just incredibly talented.

Bill Tolson: The same with drums, he was an exceptional drummer, and he used to jam with a mate called Stefan. He’d have Stefan over every night. Look. The family home was around the corner, like literally 100 yards away. He’d have his mate Stefan over, and they’d just record every night. They’d pop over, and of course, they’d be more familiar with the newer technology, which is what your garage bands, and the Logic and things like that that people are using on their Macs. No. Look. That was the first really full where I think, “Oh, I want to do some things.” That was some just writing and stuff I had, which I put down and recorded, very basically.

Bill Tolson: I can’t really play keyboards, and I did most the instruments myself, it would have just been a one, plod, plod, plod, plod drum beat behind each track, but having said that, look. Songs like You Brighten My Day, and I think it was the first sort of release, really.

John Murch: I’m trying to find that connection of whether or not it was the father’s passing or whether or not it was a connection or something you could enjoy doing with Connor that sparked you in getting back to music.

Bill Tolson: Oh, that would be definitely had an influence. I mean, even Connor we’d be playing Rolling Stones songs together, and it was quite interesting. Even Mum was saying, “Connor you probably got to move out of the home soon. You got to do this. You got to be responsible. You got to get a job,” so I’d be the one just I had Connor doing some work for me. I run sort of a bit of a rooming house setup, and we did actually… I played with him once just around the corner in a little coffee shop called Platform 3, but I was saying, “Connor, now mate, you could do some covers, and you could do this once. You could pick up 150 bucks doing that. You can do some coffee shop work.”

Bill Tolson: So just the normal dad stuff saying…and one of the real tragedies was, too, to sort of top it off, I said to… because, look. Alanna was very studious, his sister, as far as working. We’d see each other at least once a week in an evening on a Sunday evening normally, but also during the week for swimming and other bits and pieces, but I said to Connor this statement that I heard. I said, “Connor,” I always played that disciplinarian role, which I don’t think’s a bad thing. It might not be as fashionable now.

John Murch: You know, the old days were better days.

Bill Tolson: Yeah, so the old days were the better days is obviously based around these tragedies or these things hadn’t happened in my life. I hadn’t lost a son. I hadn’t lost a father. There was just a real consistency, and look. I had been working hard in whatever field I was doing, and you’d also work with a plan to help your family, and they really were, and also just another little story about that. I remember having dinner with my father and the whole family was there. Billy, and his name was Bill as well, he said, “Oh, Billy, things are getting so bad now with people, and the young people.” I said, “No, Dad.” I said, “Dad, they’re actually exactly the same.”

Bill Tolson: He said, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “Well, the old people whinge about the young people.” I said, “They were probably doing that since the caveman days,” when the guys is going, “Oh, they can’t carve a wheel as well as we used to out of rock.” At the end of that song, I say, “Every generation tells you so,” so I think every generation may go back and go, “The old days were the better days.” Whether I suppose they are maybe about the times that they lived in or just themselves being younger, so that comment to Connor, I said to Connor, I said, “A boy does what he wants to do. A man does what he has to do.”

Bill Tolson: I said, “You’ve really just got to get”… I know that sounds pretty boring, dad talking to son, but that seriously had a huge impact. The next week he’s got this job. He’s doing some work here. He just changed, so I think he snapped because I sort of gave him the heavy words. “Connor, bad income. You’ve got to get it together.”

John Murch: Open your wings, so to speak, through that music education, taking him to gigs, having an open conversation that you’re able to say, though, that you’ve got the respect because you gave the respect.

Bill Tolson: Absolutely. I think, also, you mentioned just to follow I did open Greville Records with a guy that I went to school with. I was 18 years old. We’d saved $3,000 each and we bought $5,000 worth of records, and opened Greville Records, which is still there today.

John Murch: Hold onto that story. We’re getting back to that, but back to Connor and yourself, though, about taking him under your wing, about being the responsible father.

Bill Tolson: So I suppose there is the lead by example, and look. I think everyone looks back, obviously, and goes, “Well, God. I’m not perfect.” Obviously, no one is and I’m certainly not. I think I was quite hard and fair. I probably didn’t toll away too much crap so to speak, but I think that firmness… I think what it is it’s good to learn to do things, and learn, and fail, and then you get better at… You’ve got one game of pool to learn how to play. You got a game of table tennis. You got to pick up a guitar. You can’t just pick it up and go, “I know what to do and put it”… You know?

Bill Tolson: So you’ve got to try a bit, but I think that Connor picked up some musical genes, and I’m not saying they’re definitely from me or wherever they are from, but he was just exceptional more natural. 16, 17, 18, 19 could I or could any or many people write songs like that, and really just love it? I love the background and the history. That’s what I was saying. He loved the fact, “Oh, Dad opened Greville Records.” You know what I mean? He was just a natural. He had this most ridiculous record collection. A couple of things, he was into Charles Mingus, but then he’d know everything about everything.

Bill Tolson: He’d go, “Dad, your songs are a little bit like Graham Nash’s songs.” That’s what Connor told me. I have to think twice about… Oh, that’s right. Crosby, Stills, Nash, I haven’t heard any of his music. I had a briefly listen to some, but it was so broad. Records were still coming in the mail and stuff. Well, he has, but he hasn’t really started, and I’d bought some Beach Boys at the Op Shop, and he’d go, “Oh, Dad, can I borrow these?” I’d cut a second copy of Dylan Planet Waves, and I’d give him that. I was sort of giving him records, and he was a sponge, but he was just a cool guy. He was very charismatic. Having had that situation happen to me, when I watch the news or I just know as a fact, millions of people lost their son because they didn’t come back from a war.

Bill Tolson: Next weekend, a few people will lose their son. I’ve come to accept it’s part of the deal. Right? It’s a deal I thought I would never be involved in, but it’s part of the deal. When I think about it, when my wife… I never thought I’d be saying, “First wife and second wife.” My first wife lost a son. My first wife, I’m sorry, she lost a son, but she also lost a brother when she was younger. The woman, Debbie, that I’m married to she lost a younger brother, died of an illness when he was three. You know. I don’t think we have to tell anyone out there, but I thought I was immune, which is a totally stupid thing to think. You are not immune if you play under the sun and the moon.

John Murch: I’m going to put a link in the show notes, I hope you don’t mind, to his band camp.

Bill Tolson: Oh, no. Please, please.

John Murch: I don’t know if you know more about this, but there’s also a tribute record on vinyl of all things, which must have called into his love of the vinyl record.

Bill Tolson: Correct. That was put together by a group of his friends, and as I said, he just had so many friends. People knew of him, and he also played in numerous musical things at the Corner Hotel, and different clubs around Melbourne, and things, so he was performing as well, not totally regularly. I’m saying this totally, totally objectively and it’s sort of irrelevant, but he was just so incredibly talented. He was a good looking kid. He would have gone well in his field.

John Murch: We’re currently in conversation with Bill Tolson. His brand new single as a solo artist is The Old Days Were The Better. That’s why we’ve been talking about his late son Connor there, as well as his late father as well. A lot of grief there within your life. Apart from your brand new wife, what brings you happiness?

Bill Tolson: Good question. My brand new wife. Debbie is someone that I’ve known for quite a long time, about eight-odd years, and-

John Murch: Oh, okay. Sorry. I thought it was very new.

Bill Tolson: No, no, no. Well, it is.

John Murch: You took your time to put a ring on it.

Bill Tolson: Oh, no. We’re married for around 12 months, and what is it? The 16th of February next month. Okay, so I think after death or after grief, I would have really mellowed, settled down, instead of just flying by the seat of my pants, and doing everything. I lost the will to really want to work. I found that futile and, fortunately, having the position to be able to support myself, so thank God for that.

John Murch: Can I ask you about work?

Bill Tolson: Yeah.

John Murch: How can I put this? The line of work that I think you’re working in was that of real estate, which is about happiness, about building new dreams, about homes, as well as houses. Did you just get a disconnect with the work that you’re in because of what you were going through in your personal life at the time?

Bill Tolson: Absolutely. What was driving me was no longer important, and no longer driving… Can I say, look? I always liked music when I was young, and played guitar and things. I ended up learning guitar when I was about 10 years old, but I found when I had entered the music industry and things I actually really liked the talking, wheeling, and dealing, and that’s what I loved about real estate because I’d always been pretty much self employed doing things or if I wasn’t self employed, I’d be given the freedom to feel that I was self employed because I was always responsible.

Bill Tolson: If I was working in a shop, they’d be giving me the keys, and they’d say, “Go and live upstairs.” So it was always that type of arrangement. So that’s why I sort of… I had always had an interest in property, and going back to the parents’ house, and watching them grow over time. I thought, “Yeah. This property thing is”… Real estate is like being self employed. I like it because you wheel and deal. So you’d just constantly be ringing up people. “Hi. How are you?” And be doing the right thing, and doing everything you possibly could to get them the best price for their house, but I liked it because I liked being self employed or was being self employed in many regards, and it was like running your own business.

Bill Tolson: So the money that you generate from the sale of a house you’d basically just split it with the office that you worked with. I didn’t like it that much that I’d want to buy into a business. I was offered a number of times, “Do you want to buy into a real estate office?” I sort of declined those offers, but I certainly liked the freedom of it, and then there’s not as much evening work as people would have you imagine. I’d normally be home by five or six o’clock. Once a week, I might meet someone at six or seven, and I’d get home, and yes. You work the weekends, but I think it’s one of those things. I’ve been fortunate to have the positive attitude that the things I’ve done I’ve really enjoyed doing them at the time.

Bill Tolson: I love doing them, like when I was selling Heralds at 10 years old, when I was working in a pizza bar, whatever I was doing I’ve enjoyed it. Now that I’ve step-down, I couldn’t do it. You’re right. The reason I know I can’t do it is because of those things aren’t important, and it just sort of knocked a lot of superficiality away from me. When I say, “It wouldn’t matter what line of work you would do,” it just wasn’t that important. At the end of the day, family is… I’ve probably never even really said this, but family is really important. Your loved ones and your friends, and I think we all know that. You go out with your mate, your girlfriend, your wife. A bunch of you get together.

Bill Tolson: You go out for dinner. You go out for lunch. They’re important times. Those things make you feel really good.

John Murch: 1983 you founded your own independent label where you got to work with the likes of The Sports Steven Cummings, and Hugo Race of the Bad Seeds. What was it like running a record label?

Bill Tolson: So I worked in retail at a shop called The Mighty Music Machine in South Yara when I was about 16 years old. From that, I opened Greville Records, spent about two or three years at Greville Records, got tired of retail, got out of that. I actually started working for a company called Musicland in Melbourne, well, Musicland Record Distribution Company, and that would have been the early ’80s, I’d say around ’82, ’83. That was basically a record distribution company, and we would fill that gap of what the major recording companies in the country weren’t distributing, so there was a lot of independent records, like local bands where people would release their own singles.

Bill Tolson: Even with Greville Records I released a single called the Cuban Heels, which had Spencer B. Jones in it, so I released my first record actually at Greville Records on the label Greville Records, but look. Within that business, I was working for a distribution company. I thought, “Oh, it’d be fun starting a label.” People do start these labels because they like music. I started releasing a few cassettes originally. The first artist I released were Not Drowning, Waving, and they knocked on the door, David Bridie and John Phillips, and they’re still very, very good friends nearly 40 years later. I saw John Phillips last weekend.

Bill Tolson: So I started working with Not Drowning, Waving and releasing their records. So the successes on the label, I suppose, Steven Cummings the Lovetown album, and there was an album that I absolutely love. I remember being at the recording sessions of that, and it did actually end up relaunching Steven’s career to a higher level. Look, but that was recorded at John Reese’s home in Hawthorne at the time, the bass player of Men At Work, who had an eight-track recorder in his home, and Mark Woods, a sound engineer who still does sound for the Models, and done sound literally for Crowded House, he was doing it for. He did it for TISM. I think Hunters and Collectors, but lots of them. When the big beer bands were happening, Mark Woods was the studio, the sound engineer guy.

John Murch: I’m just smiling a little because you just named dropped TISM as if it was like just another band.

Bill Tolson: Yeah. Well, TISM we distributed their album, but then had… It was deal where Musicland, I think, may have paid for some of the pressings and things, but we had good success with an album called Great Trucking Songs of the Renaissance, which did very well for an independent release. Yeah. We were dealing primarily with the management, which was Gavin Purdy, and I think Mark O’Lynch at the time. We released and distributed their record, and I think running that label, and yes we’d releases the record, and I think the record were an absolutely fantastic band. I still know Hugo. I’ve seen Hugo do some shows. I’m trying to think of one other… Blue Ruin, Adam Learner played bass in Blue Ruin. He was the guy playing bass in the Learners.

Bill Tolson: There’s a lot of longterm relationship stuff happening there, but look. With these labels people do it because for the love of it. It’s like a hobby. It made my work more interesting. I did a lot of the promotional side there, too, John, like getting bands on Hey, Hey and Countdown at the time. They were great times.

John Murch: I’d be amiss not to ask. How did you find Daryl Sommers?

Bill Tolson: I don’t know him personally on any level, but having said that, I worked also with Barry Michael, the guy that did that sort of comedy ditty tune that became a bit of a hit. Barry Michael was on Hey, Hey that became bit of a hit, and I released a CD for him, and we had Daryl Sommers producing it, and also Paul Hester playing drums on it. That was at Platinum Studios in Richmond. That probably would have been around mid ’80s, I suppose, ’84.

John Murch: Let’s get a clear understanding of the Bill Tolson Greville Records story. How did Greville Records become part of your life?

Bill Tolson: At school, we were into the punk bit. I would have been 15, 16. My friend’s older brothers were going to England. They were dying their hair blue. They’d be coming back wearing t-shirts and leopard skin prints from torn shirts and things from Boy in London. We were very much following the punk scene. We also, as fate would have it, went to school with the Birthday Party, all of Nick Cave and the crew, so those guys were one year, I believe, ahead of us at school. So Nick Cave, Tracy Pew, Mick Harvey, and Phil Calvert. I used to watch them practicing in the school canteen. So at Corfield Grammar there was a school canteen underneath the main hall, and they’d be practicing. They’d be playing.

Bill Tolson: What was interesting I thought is like I’d always remember they played Rolling Stones songs. That always confused me, but they did. So when they was young kids at school, they would have been, I suppose, 16, 17. They were doing the occasional Stones cover, but I did see them at early gigs at the Ballroom and the Tiger Lounge, so I always had quite a strong interest in music. I saved up money actually doing a part-time job working for DeMartina family in a little pizza bar on High Street, which I pretty much ran for them like five, six nights a week after school, and then often after I’d done that we’d have a break.

Bill Tolson: We’d play cards until two or three in the morning, and then we’d go to Food Square Market and unload watermelons and pumpkins out of the trucks at Food Square Market, so that was quite an exciting time for a kid, and I was also earning good money. I was at school working. I had actually saved up about $5,000 living at home, and my first, I suppose, job that I actually had to go for was a job in a little record shop opposite the Jam Factory in Chapel Street called the Mighty Music Machine. It was actually like a disco shop, a dance shop. Molly Melvin used to come in there once a week. They’d important all the American dance disco titles and things.

Bill Tolson: I worked there. I worked there for a year, and then I thought, “Oh, maybe could I open a record shop?” Now, this is with no business plan, no thoughts. A guy that I went to school with, Andrew Magee, we were friends at Corfield Grammar, and we just had the idea of opening a record shop, and came up with the name Greville Records. We would have opened it… No one can put an exact date. Bruce Miln and people are trying to get us to put a date, but I think it was about October 1978 that we opened it. I really don’t think too much thought or strategy was necessarily put into it. There was definitely no business plan. Rightly or wrongly, it wouldn’t have been too different to most of the things I’ve done in my life.

Bill Tolson: That’s primarily through instinct. Basically, we’re music enthusiasts. It’d be a fun thing to do open a record shop. Look. In retrospect people go, “Oh, wow. That’s amazing. You were 18 years old, and you opened a shop,” but we just thought, “You know, you open a shop, so what do we need? We need some records. We need some shelving. We need a shop.” So we rented a little shop, and it’s funny how the world works. That shop was actually rented from Ian and Scot Office on Chapel Street. It was a tiny, little shop just a few doors down Greville Street on the right. It used to be a bead shop, and there was a little upstairs area. We just ran the retail side downstairs.

Bill Tolson: There was probably literally room in that shop for a wall down each side, and a couple of racks in the back. We basically just put some records in the window, had a little counter. My father did the sign. My father did some sign writing I think in England before he immigrated back to Australia as a 10-pound pom. There is a photo on my Facebook page, my main photo, still. I don’t tend to change these too much, is a photo of myself and my mom outside Greville Records, and that would have been when Dad had probably just finished, would have done the page or soon after the store would have opened, so that’s probably the earliest shot of the shop.

Bill Tolson: Originally, too, I was still working at Mighty Music Machine when Greville then opened, so I was limited with being there. We loved music. We had the opportunity, so we did it. Through luck or whatever, Greville Records is still going there today, and Warwick owns it, and Bruce Miln has bought into the shop recently. Andrew Magee, I believe, sold many, many years ago. He was with a partner at the time. They owned it after I had left. I think even Nigel Renard from Missing Link may have even owned it for a little while or had some money in it. He bought Missing Link Records off Keith Glass.

Bill Tolson: Look. There was just a time I think everyone ideally is blessed with growing up at a certain time. They’d meet different people. If you’re in New York at the right time, you’d be meeting Lou Reed, other people. It was just our little culture or our little group, and we just grew up with those people at that time, and they were great times, but I’m sure the people today and after us will have their experiences with their musicians, and their things that were great times, too, but really it was really as simple as opening a shop, go and lease a shop. We put some shelves in. We put some records in, and we’d open it up. I didn’t see it as being any more complicated than that.

John Murch: Are we losing our sense of nostalgia looking at the next thing all the time?

Bill Tolson: I’d say maybe a general thing that people do have an attachment with what they’ve grown up with, obviously. I am very guilty of not listening to much new music or very little new music. I am so guilty of that. I’ve got a nice, solid record collection. I just got all my Dylan I want, all my Stones, my Lou Reed, my Bowie, my whatever those artists may be, but I can’t say that I’m running out every week and buying a new record or searching for something new. I suppose that may also go back to how inundated we are with information. It’s so easy to be absorbed in these things. There is so much to be absorbed in.

John Murch: What’s the most modern artist that you have in your record collection that you actually listen to?

Bill Tolson: In all honesty, I’m bad. I go back to the past. I do. When I followed a group of friends over to Japan towards the end of last year and picked up some new CDs of bands that I saw there, but unfortunately, I’m guilty, charged. I should be charged.

John Murch: Hrishikesh Hirway, who does Song Exploder did a breakdown of a song that you have on your Bar Band to Learn playlist on Spotify, and it’s Closing Time by Semisonic. What does that song mean to you?

Bill Tolson: I think that’s a great song. I just love it. It’s just a really great pop song. I think it’s just a great song. I like singers that express themselves, so I suppose it’s got great expression, passion. It’s a bit of a rock tune. Now, the reason I’ve got those Spotify playlists is I’m playing with a bunch of guys at the moment. We’re doing an original album of eight new songs and a couple of covers, but I’ve been jamming with those guys, and those playlists are some of the songs we’ve been jamming on, so that’s why they’re there.

John Murch: Can I share that more publicly? Because there are some-

Bill Tolson: Absolutely.

John Murch: … great tracks on there.

Bill Tolson: So I’m working with a group of guys at the moment. We started playing songs like Busload of Faith by Lou Reed. There’s obviously a choice of songs from the three different members of the band, but a Busload of Faith I absolutely love by Lou Reed, and I think we do a little rockin’ version of that, so I’m enjoying now playing some drums and singing, and doing a little three piece free flowing feel, more like a Neil Young Crazy Horse-type thing, just a rockin’ out. I think we’ve got some great songs, and we did start working on covers, but now we’re working on the originals to ideally release an album over the next couple of months. We’re probably working at this stage under the name Busload of Faith is the name of the band.

John Murch: I’ve been admiring that bicycle in the background for a while. We seem to be in your study or in your… What would you describe the room you join us from today?

Bill Tolson: It’s pretty much a lounge room. We’ve obviously got a bedroom and other rooms and things, but let’s look at this.

John Murch: This is the old real estate agent coming through. There’s both a U.K. and a U.S. flag.

Bill Tolson: No. Oh, that’s just the Stones.

John Murch: Oh, okay.

Bill Tolson: That’s my heritage over there. There’s some paintings and things, a couple of amps, a 50-disc CD player, the DVD, the VHS player, so this is like very large lounge roomy bedroomy, so we can practice. See? There’s some guitars. I’m sort of living the dream, really, John. I’ve got a chopper. I’ve got this one. When I had an apartment in St Kilda I had this chopper. There’s a drum kit, so it’s like there’s a rehearsal room here as well. There’s some records with a set list. It’s a pretty good setup. I put this together for you today.

John Murch: I notice that you left the reclining nude within the shot for the entire conversation.

Bill Tolson: That’s a repro… I just bought that from… Look. The beauty of getting a little bit older is that you can have stuff from when you bought 20 years ago or whatever, 30 years ago. That’s like the little messy workbench. There’s an old piano underneath there.

John Murch: I was going to ask you about the piano because on the cover of the single for The Old Days Were The Better Days, I assume that is the piano that is featured in that and possibly played on as well. Where did the piano come from, if you don’t mind telling us? What’s the story of the piano where it came from?

Bill Tolson: I’d be more than happy to tell you that. When I worked in real estate a lady was selling a house, and she had an old piano, and she wanted to get rid of it. There’s some hard garbage around here. I love Op-Shops. I love bargains. Yes. I just organised and had it delivered in. So I was basically giving to just aesthetically. I don’t really play piano. I can play a couple of chords, but just aesthetically I like… It’s nice to create and then you feel happy. Again, it’s very subjective, but I like having the old stuff around.

John Murch: To my left is the pianola that was my late aunty’s, who we laid to rest last Thursday at the age of 93. It was your mother or your grandma who was the famous artist around those parts?

Bill Tolson: My mother’s an artist and been painting for about 30 or 40 years, primarily Australian landscapes. She’s a member of the Melbourne Art Society and the different painting groups and things, and my father as well out of interest, so that just trying to see-

John Murch: There is about 20 to 40 paintings on the wall, and he’s currently showing me one of a eucalypt?

Bill Tolson: That’s an Australian landscape, which was done by my mother. These paintings, of course, is just you’d probably see there. They’re done by my father.

John Murch: What was your father’s connection with horses do you think?

Bill Tolson: Okay. My father believed he was reincarnated, that he was an Indian. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t something that he brought up every week, but certainly I’ve probably heard it from him twice, so he had an affinity with horses. He liked painting as well, and he did do landscapes, and things as well. He just liked horses. My father loved animals. He was a very, very kind man. I was sort of brought up in that environment. They’re vegetarians. My mother and father for a good 50-odd years, way before it was fashionable. I think a lot of that was because of the cruelty factor of killing animals and things.

John Murch: Did you in any way take up the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, though?

Bill Tolson: No. No. My mother was, I suppose, kind enough or fair enough that even when we were young we’d still have a chop with our potatoes and broccoli. I feel blessed that I was fed simple meals when I was young. We still to this day and most nights we’ll just have some potatoes and broccoli, and a simple sort of meal for dinner, but no. I still enjoy having a steak when we’re out at the restaurant each week or whatever, so no, not vegetarian. Quite aware of it’s important to eat, obviously, well. I don’t eat a lot of junk food, but no, certainly not vegetarian.

John Murch: What’s your favorite meal to make your new wife?

Bill Tolson: Potatoes, broccoli, maybe a bit of fish.

John Murch: That sounds really good. Bill, before you leave us, I want to get back to the art. The opening of the Saint Kilda Art Crawl.

Bill Tolson: A couple of years ago, there was a group of, I suppose, St Kilda residents and the council, and I know on the day after I played a few tunes. Basically, promoting art in St Kilda. So they’ve got a lot of spaces and there was a few vacant premises on Fitzroy Street, for example, and it was named the Art Crawl, and they basically just had art exhibitions in different spaces around St Kilda, and promoted those, and that was a couple of years ago. Now, they did another one last year. I’m not sure if there’s one happening again this year. They had a bit of a launch at the Vineyard Hotel in St Kilda.

John Murch: Art has really treated you well, at least in the last few years.

Bill Tolson: Absolutely. It has because I suppose it helps you express yourself. You’re certainly not feeling like you’re keeping everything in because you can get everything out. I know that we practice here once a week with the guys. I just feel fantastic after and I think the wonderful thing with singing is the expression of it and being able to express your thoughts and ideas, and views of the world.

John Murch: Bill, thanks very much for joining radionotes.

Bill Tolson: John, thank you very much for having me, and much appreciated. Thank you.