By bringing together two very different influences, almost like adding oil to water, the Cruel Sea created a style of rock which extended Australian rock & roll culture and, at the same time, made them one of the most successful Australian groups of the '90s.
It started as an idea guitarist Danny Rumour had carried with him since his days in punk rock bands. As a regular at a Sydney pub, whenever a band cancelled or there was no gig on, Rumour would jump on stage with a few local musicians and play an instrumental set using equipment the hotel kept in a back room. People always loved it whenever it happened and when Rumour's group Sekret Sekret split up after seven years, he decided to explore the idea with a permanent group. The new group the Cruel Sea took its name from a Ventures instrumental from the '60s.
The instrumentals-only Cruel Sea played its first gigs in 1988, setting up behind the pool table at another hotel in Sydney. There was so little room, the guitarists would have to move so pool players could play their shots. But within weeks of starting this residency, the Cruel Sea was drawing regular crowds of up to 300 people. Operating the lighting at some of those performances was moonlighting Beasts of Bourbon singer Tex Perkins.
It wasn't until a party a few months later that the Cruel Sea and Perkins were formally introduced. The Cruel Sea was playing and Tex Perkins came up and said he'd like to have a go at putting lyrics to some of their instrumentals. That was something else Rumour had had in the back of his mind: to attract the right singer one day. Already an Australian music legend for his rock & roll swagger, the Cruel Sea couldn't have wished for anyone more qualified or interesting than Perkins.
At first the union was only a casual one. Perkins would only contribute to some songs and because of his commitments to the Beasts of Bourbon, he could only play some gigs. An initial 12" Down Below EP was expanded into the full-length debut Cruel Sea album, also called Down Below. More comfortable with the bringing together of their two halves, clean instrumentals, and rough-edged rock vocals, with the second album This Is Not the Way Home, the band expanded their musical influences. A tour with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds through Europe helped the band work its style into place.
With another temporary suspension of activities by the Beasts in early 1993, Perkins was able to devote himself to being a permanent member of the Cruel Sea. The result of that concerted effort was the album, The Honeymoon Is Over. It reached number four nationally and was awarded with four ARIA Awards, Australia's Grammys. More international sojourns followed.
With each subsequent tour and album, the Cruel Sea has continued to explore their multi-faceted personality. On stage and record, there are less instrumentals. Tex Perkins contributes to the sounds during the instrumental parts. Occasionally the band still performs without Perkins and Perkins has kept up an occasional involvement with the Beasts of Bourbon and has also recorded two albums of his own, Far Be It for Me and Dark Horses. ~ Ed Nimmervoll
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