Sydney band the Clouds epitomized the definition of "almost famous." The popularity of their early material, perfectly timed to coincide with the early-'90s boom in alternative rock, was never properly seized on through a combination of mismanagement, poor decisions, and plain bad luck.
The core members and vocalists Jodi Phillis (who also played guitar) and Patricia Young (who doubled on bass) originally called themselves Scudda Hey before adding drummer Stuart Eadie and guitarist Robert Phelan and settling on the name Clouds. Their first show was as the opening act for the Go-Betweens' farewell concert at the Petersham Inn; a symbolic passing on of energy and perhaps misfortune.
While supporting Falling Joys, the Clouds slowly became popular enough to take over as headliners and were signed by indie label Red Eye Records in 1990. Their first EPs, Cloud Factory and Loot, were well-received, as was their debut album, Penny Century. Dave Easton had replaced Robert Phelan on guitar and brought a harsher, rockier sound to the album, which was eventually certified gold. Andrew Byrne replaced drummer Stuart Eadie shortly afterwards, who had clashed with the rest of the band while they were on tour. Their follow-up, the mini-album Octopus, was released a year later, though the label had tried to persuade them to wait until 1993 and record more songs to beef it up into a full-length album release. Penny Century was given an English release in 1993 by Polydor, who had effectively taken over Red Eye Records. With yet another new drummer in Raphael Whittingham, the band headed to London to tour and promote it. When they returned with a set of new demos for their third album, Polydor was unimpressed with all but one of them, "Domino," which they wanted to be a single. The band went into the studio and rewrote the music, they came out with a version of the song that slowed down the vocals until they were unrecognizable. When the album Thunderhead was released, "Bowers of Bliss" was chosen to be the single instead. It sold disappointingly.
During a tour of Europe and the U.S., they recorded the Beetroot EP in London. They ran into trouble when Polydor refused to release Thunderhead in America in time for their visit. They stayed in San Francisco while touting the album, eventually picking up a distribution deal with Elektra, who requested that they re-record the single to be less explicit for the sake of American radio. Things seemed to finally be working out, until Elektra was unexpectedly merged with East West by their owners Warner Bros. and most of their acts, including the Clouds, were dropped.
Discouraged, Easton quit the band on their return to Australia. Though the other members were happy to remain a three-piece, their label talked them into finding a new guitarist before recording again. They acquiesced and brought Ben Nightingale on board for the Futura album. Polydor were again unhappy with the demos and refused to allow the song "Mid-Winter" onto the album when it was released in 1996. Once again sales were disappointing. A video was filmed for the song "Never Say Forever," which the band hated so much they vetoed its use. When they saw it on television soon afterwards they finally called it quits, performing a last farewell tour in 1997.
Jodi Phillis went on to form the Dearhunters and Patricia Young moved to England. When Young returned to Australia in 2005 the two original members reunited as the Girls from the Clouds and released an EP called Lalalala, though they disbanded again afterwards. ~ Jody Macgregor
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