A tale prior to the Icehouse
by Iva Davies
Spellbound - Vol IV Iss III
© September 1999

Here is a question which was emailed to us, and we did indeed "pass it on to someone." A sincere thank you to Iva for allowing us to print his well-written, in-depth answer.

Question: Just wondering if you might be able to answer a question (or pass it on to someone). I was reading some stuff on the Cold Chisel website, and from there it said that Iva Davies actually used to do the transcribing of their songs when he was in college (I think it said). Any truth to this rumour? The story goes that a lot of the Chisel stuff is in the wrong key, because Iva had a small tape recorder that always ran slow.

Answer: Prior to the formation of Flowers (post Afghan) I kept myself alive by cleaning and subsidised this with writing lead lines and piano arrangements for Australian publishers. This sort of work was the result of John Brommell who was the publisher that picked up on "Back to California" and provided me with this sort of work as a patronage of sorts (I had no money, and rent to pay!). I did all this work from home and at one point I was used by virtually every publisher in this country. Hence during that period I was responsible for the creation of the sheet music (with piano arrangements) for nearly every Australian hit song and a lot of international artists as well. Work included Dragon, Little River Band, and Cold Chisel song books, Richard Clapton songs, Elvis Costello song books, and Graham Parker and the Rumour, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Russell Morris, Andy Gibb, Split Enz, Skyhooks, Daddy Cool (in fact hundreds of Australian artists).

The tape recorder was provided by Col Joye (a legendary Australian Rocker of the Johnny O'Keefe era). The tape in question (Cold Chisel) was dubbed by a slow machine at the publishers (unbeknown to me) and I was most impressed that the lead guitarist (Ian Moss... who I of course met much later) could play such amazing things in such ridiculously difficult keys. Nonetheless I proceeded to faithfully render them into manuscript and it became a songbook. It wasn't till years later and some more experience of tape recorders that I realized the publisher's technical error. I take no responsibility for it although I have had the opportunity to point it out to Don Walker since.

It should also be noted that for the greater part I was not provided with lyric sheets and therefore am convinced that there are countless lyric errors immortalized in the sheet music (created by me) all over the place. There were some notoriously difficult singers to unscramble and I think the most outstanding would have to be Richard Clapton... my apologies retrospectively (God knows what I wrote of some of his lines!).

Once I became practised at this work I could write down most of the melody, harmony, and a lot of the lyrics in one pass of a song and complete it in two passes. I did all this without the use of an instrument... i.e. purely by the benefit of years of ear training at which I had always been adept. (Mozart once wrote the entire score of a full half hour choral piece from memory, which he had heard once during a performance at the Vatican, and was highly annoyed with himself when much later he cross-checked it with the original score and discovered he had made two small errors! Until Stravinsky (1920s), no composer ever wrote music from an instrument. He was the first notable composer to confess that he wrote with the assistance of a piano!) I would then go back and fill in all the lyric detail and finish the rough drafted score. I then (being a registered member of the Musical Arranger's Guild of Australia and Copyist) would meticulously copy in professional manuscript the final sheet music of the song from my rough draft which was then sent directly to a plate maker. This work is all done on computer now. I could produce a beautiful piece of work of a lead line with lyrics and chord symbols in this way, from scratch, in one hour total. Piano arrangements i.e. all the former work plus a two stave piano arrangement of the song emulating the backing band went through the same draft/final copy process and I could achieve this on average in three hours.

Partly because I am not a pianist and partly because I wanted to do the best to create the "band" properly on the keyboard, most of my piano arrangements are ridiculously difficult to play unless you have the technique of Chopin! They are, however, playable, though it probably would have been more appropriate, for those who might have bought them, for them to have been much simpler.

I was paid $5.00 per lead line and $30.00 for a full piano arrangement with lead line. No wonder the publishers loved me... I was led to believe that this was the going rate!

For many years I wrote my own lead lines for the publisher (of Flowers material, etc.) because I was aware of how sloppy the process can be. Unfortunately for some time I have not been able to because of its time consuming nature. I do keep an eagle eye out for mistakes though very little of my music has been published. If any publisher ever gets inspired to put out a song book (I doubt it!) I will be breathing down their necks!