Remembering the glory days of his band The Lighthouse Keepers brings a tear to Greg Appel’s eye.
The ‘80s indie pop group were “a rung back” from the likes of the Go Betweens and The Triffids – the latter, label mates they toured the UK with in 1985.
The five-piece were “sentimental favourites amongst the generation who came of age in the inner cities”, from a sentimental time close to the songwriter’s heart.
“There was a very active band scene in Sydney which we were part of at that time,” the Bulli local told the Mercury.
“There was a lot of music going on and [lots of] Australian bands. It was like everyone was in a band at that point … there was a big independent scene.”
It still amazes Appel when he meets people who tell him “they were there”, and reminisce with fond memories of songs like Ocean Liner and A Time of Evil.
The Lighthouse Keepers disbanded in 1986 but have since reformed to play the occasional gig – including most recently a 60th birthday party.
“We have some weird fans like [politician] Tanya Plibersek, who I got to write the forward for the book – she came to this other reunion show and a mutual friend put me in contact,” he said.
The book Appel refers to is Confessions of a Lighthouse Keeper, a memoir but also a snapshot of our nation’s culture, due for release in 2019.
“It’s kind of like a journey through Australia’s difficult entertainment scene from my point of view, with people I’ve met along the way,” he said.
A fan of ocean swimming and an occasional surf, the tall and slender fellow has taken an interesting path.
It has wound around a camera; convincing well known musicians John Paul Young and Steve Kilbey (of The Church) for lead roles in his play Van Park; creating a musical described as a “French garage cabaret” and teaching at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus.
Life behind the lens began after doing a communications degree and dabbling in music video clips for his band.
Appel has since worked on numerous documentaries for screen and radio. He produced the ABC documentary Long Way to the Top about Australian rock music; and was a director on the surf history documentary Bombora: The Story of Australian Surfing.
Currently he is working on documentaries about one of the nation’s greatest bands, Midnight Oil; a series on streets, including Wentworth Street in Port Kembla; and a series on flight attendants for screen.
“You couldn't say it’s easy, like I’ve come this far which is quite a long way, and made a living – it’s been quite a good living – but it’s precarious,” the creative said.
“It’s a tiny industry, it’s all about people, it’s about 95 per cent about who you know. It probably shouldn’t be that way but it is.”
Appel’s first professional foray into musical theatre was the production Van Park, which did make it’s way to The Vault in Port Kembla in 2010.
It told the tale of a group of has-been rockers who wound up living in a caravan park together, with Kilbey and Young “perfect together” in the lead roles.
“Theatre’s a very difficult business, it’s worse than music and a number of other things,” Appel said.
“It’s just like a money draining sieve, other than that it’s good fun, doing a live show is amazing.”
The thrill of a live stage show enticed Appel to write another, Excuse the French! This stemmed from a documentary he made about the musical history of Paris.
“I enjoy putting together whacky musicals,” he said. “And I just wanted to learn the songs.”
It was first performed around four years ago with a bunch of friends and family – a production organised about once a year since.
The next one will be at Marrickville Bowling Club on January 3.