• Sally Feldman

Hits and memories: 8

Carleen Anderson, True Spirit (1994, Circa Records/Virgin)

While this was released long after I first met him, Carleen Anderson’s debut album always takes me back to a cavernous and dusty warehouse at the end of Murray Street in Perth, and the one and only Ali Omar.

Ali was a Scousersmall, wiry and wildly talentedwho delivered me from Simple Minds, Hunters & Collectors, The Hoodoo Gurus and a host of others – whom I loved , I hasten to add, though found them hard to dance to – back into the arms of soul.

Jed and I had moved over to Perth from Sydney in 1985 to escape the not-so-veiled threats of a company based in Leichhardt that imported and distributed Adel Rootstein mannequins. We’d planned to set up a mannequin renovation studio in Sydney after our return here as permanent residents, but, having spent some time making decent money and excellent friends in Perth during our initial year-long working holiday, decided to head back west instead to avoid, at best, going broke, and at worst, getting knee-capped.

We still went broke, mind.

The warehouse was a boiling hot, pigeon-shit-filled space behind Jack Sue’s diving shop down the end of Murray Street, which Jed and I rented and transformed into a ‘studio’ (I use the term lightly). It had a corner we’d sealed off with massive lengths of plastic sheeting to create a spray booth to restore the city’s chipped and dishevelled store mannequins. Jed would get masked-up to do the spraying, while I sat in another corner painting faces with oils, just as we’d done in London.

Our friend and housemate, Andrew, who was a journo at The Australian, would lend us his car, a maroon Austin 1800 Mark II, complete with cream vinyl interior, to do our pick-ups and deliveries while he was at work during the day. The only time I’ve ever been given a ticket was in Perth, when I ran an amber light in that car, packed to the gills with naked torsos. To Jed and me, Perth seemed entirely populated by police – they’d even hover about in pairs at pedestrian crossings waiting to pounce on jay-walkers.

At night, we’d help out at our friend Annie Car’s pop-up nightclub, Meccanos, upstairs at The Melbourne Hotel, serving drinks at the bar, or, my preference, being door bitch out the front. Or I’d flip burgers with Annie at Equator, a super-grungy music venue on Beaufort Street run by Annie’s friends, beautiful Gem and her devilishly handsome partner, Ken, the ‘It’ couple of inner-city Perth at the time. Annie, Gem and Ken also designed, screenprinted and made clothes under the label XXX – as one did in the mid-80s.

Ali had arrived via Bali, where he’d fallen in love with Gem, and pursued her back to Perth. There, he proceeded to lure her away from hapless handsome Ken. He came armed with an amazing creative energy, a ferocious temper and a ton of mixed tapes, and loved hanging out with us in the warehouse, watching us working and playing his music. He’d roll a joint and groove along to Cameo (‘Single Life’, ‘Word Up’), Gwen Guthrie (‘Ain’t Nothing Goin’ on but the Rent’) and Jocelyn Brown (‘Somebody Else’s Guy’), and talk and talk and talk.

Jed and I both loved him – he was less like a breath of fresh air, more a sharp smack in the face – but not for very long. That incredible force of nature turned on itself, helped along by a predilection for self-medication, and we parted ways a few years later after a particularly bitter fight.

That said, Ali was among the most stimulating and interesting (and interested) people I’ve ever met. He’s also the reason I’m sitting here today, writing at a table overlooking the garden of a house I share with the man he introduced me to 32 years ago.