Things I have written about The Gifthorse, my favourite Brisbane band

Sophie Benjamin
I took this photo at Poison City Weekender 2011, when the band did a one-off set

The Gifthorse’s frontman Shane Collins died in January 2018. He was so kind to me during a rough couple of years in my own life, and my life would be very different without the music he helped make. I’ve put these old bits of writing up for anyone who wants to either learn about or remember the wonderful work Shane was part of. You can find all their stuff on Bandcamp or the streaming service of your choice.

In 2013, I was asked to write the liner notes for Collection, Poison City Records’ vinyl re-release of The Gifthorse’s back catalogue.

The Gifthorse “Collection” with liner notes and my byline

The Gifthorse deserve to be lauded in Brisbane punk folklore. Their stories should be up there with The Saints playing in a Petrie Terrace share house, the hard-drinking ladies of Gazoonga Attack, the Corbett brothers fronting SixFtHick and the Mansfield-repping Violent Soho. They won’t be though, because they didn’t play the right venues in front of the right people. They didn’t have a street team or a manager or a publicist and their record label was a one-man operation based out of a small shop in Melbourne.

None of this was because they were inept. They just didn’t see any of that stuff as important and didn’t care to play the game. Instead of trying to “build a fan base” to “market” their “product” towards, The Gifthorse chose honesty, authenticity and playing shows for the sheer joy and catharsis of it. A community sprang up around them. How could you resist?

Aside from a lone festival appearance, the Gifties mostly played in small rooms to a couple of hundred people. The lack of a stage or a crowd barrier at most shows meant there was nothing — literally or emotionally — separating the band from the (usually sweaty) crowd crammed up against the mic stands and foldback wedges. The mic itself spent as much time in the crowd as in frontman Shane Collins’ hand. The Gifthorse weren’t rock stars, tortured artists or brazen careerists. They were people like us, and like their labelmate Lincoln LeFevre sang, they made us feel like part of something good.

The Gifthorse changed my life and the lives of so many people involved in Brisbane’s punk scene in the mid-2000s. This collection gives their music the audience it deserves.

In 2010, I was asked to write an obituary for the band for the now-defunct No Heroes Magazine.

Please note that I am a little bit embarrassed by my writing in this piece here, but I was 21 at the time and felt all of this very deeply and earnestly.

I didn’t know The Gifthorse for much of their lifespan, but there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wish they were still around.

Last night I dreamt of something more/and it opened up my tired eyes.

I first heard about the band through Hoist Rocky Online — a now-defunct internet forum frequented by people with an interest in the regional city of Rockhampton’s live music scene. There were plenty of Rocky ex-pats living in Brisbane and they all raved about The Gifties.

I bought their self-titled album at Kill The Music and fell in love with it almost instantly.

I was in the death throes of my first long-term relationship and not coping very well.

I was sick of my music course at uni and how they all fawned over synths and computers, sick of bloated alternative and hard rock, sick of calculated and polished pop songs, sick of music and everything to do with it.

The Gifthorse were something else. Their music was raw, simple and real. It was just what I needed; just five guys, all awkward and weird in their own way, making honest and heartfelt music.

Their live shows, like all good live shows, were a mixture of joy and catharsis.

Lead singer Shane Collins was utterly commanding, a mixture of a gospel priest and Henry Rollins, preaching, pacing and singing his heart out.

I always got a feeling that the rest of the band were concentrating as hard as they could on putting the largest amount of emotion and feeling into their playing. Grimaces, yelled harmonies, mic grabs and the occasional smile.

Everyone’s got a fear of something/we’re all cut the same way/how close have you been?

I remember trying to engage guitarist Stevie Scott in conversation up their then-upcoming EP From The Floor Up while he was tattooing me in mid-2009.

“I’m really excited about your new EP,” I said to him, wincing as the needle ran along my hip bone.

“When’s it coming out?”

He took his foot off the pedal, wiped down where he’d just tattooed and changed his gloves.

“You know my band?” he asked in his thick Scottish accent.

Yeah, I do. I really like you guys.

He mumbled a thanks and told me the release date, but he seemed unconvinced. Maybe he was concentrating on not fucking up the tattoo, maybe he thought I was some kind of annoying fangirl, maybe he honestly just didn’t give a shit.

The tattoo and the EP both turned out great.

A suitcase/full of nothing now/I take it everywhere I go/to remind me I could’ve built this thing a hundred times/but I throw every chance I get away.

“The Gifthorse are fucking dead!!!” read their MySpace page.

They’d just announced an Australian tour with Polar Bear Club and released a really solid 7”. Why end it all now? It felt like a waste.

I’ve never got a straight answer on why they broke up, but it didn’t seem too acrimonious. As I understand it, half the band was over the touring and broke-ass aspects of being in a band and the other half weren’t.

I happened to be in Melbourne when the Polar Bear Club tour rolled through town, so I headed over to the East Brunswick Club to see the Gifties play their last Melbourne show.

People rave about the East, and they’re just as mad as any inpatient. If you combined the worst bits of Brisbane venues The Zoo and (now sadly defunct) The Troubadour, that would be the East.

The Gifties played a cracker of a set, but nobody was really that into it except for me and a random guy, who I ended up making out with later on in the evening.

I’d heard stories from touring bands about how Melbourne crowds were spoilt and aloof but I’d never quite believed it. Growing up in Queensland, you’re led to believe that people in Melbourne know better than you when it comes to anything cultural.

Well, fuck that. Melbourne didn’t know shit when it came to The Gifthorse.

Some call it hope, I call it over.

I was running a fever the night of The Gifthorse’s last show, but there was no way I could miss it. At any rate, my friends Will and Josh had driven eight hours from Rockhampton for the occasion and I wanted to see them.

It was a sweltering Brisbane February night, humidity mixed with sweat.

We crammed into Fat Louies pool hall, a loveable dive of a venue in the CBD. I tried my hardest to stick it out, but I ended up leaving halfway through the second song of the The Gifthorse’s set, delirious with pain and fever.

I drifted in and out of consciousness on the cab ride home, furious and exhausted. The next morning I woke up passed out on the floor covered in an angry red rash.

I drove myself to hospital where they stuck me on a drip, did a blood test and sent me home.

As it turned out I had glandular fever, no doubt caught from the random I’d made out with in the crowd at the show in Melbourne. My liver was shutting down, my tonsillitis was the worst case my GP had seen in years and I’d have to spent the next two months in bed.

Totally worth it. Viva la Gifthorse.

Stay the same/I’ll never change/I’m always gonna be this way/’til the sky closes in.

I took this one of Shane fronting Headaches, Browning Street Studios 2010
Shane enthusiastically singing along to Fires of Waco, Browning Street Studios 2010

Sophie Benjamin

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Writer and musician. | www.sophiebenjamin.com | www.spokesmodelband.com | Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/RJNoD

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