It’s a warm January day in Tamworth and thousands of people have descended into town to see some of Australia’s finest musicians perform. Out on Peel Street, a woman named Mandy is busking by singing her lungs out, trying to engage passers-by with her powerful voice. Next to her is her partner, an Irish-born gentleman named David, producing rhythms from his guitar to accompany her voice. Like many of the other street performers, he is there to entertain and share his love of music with those who wish to listen.
Unlike the other performers though, by Monday next week he will be sitting back in his office in Adelaide, overlooking UniSA City West Campus, presiding over South Australia’s largest university.
In this Verse Magazine exclusive, we uncover the less well-known musical life of UniSA Vice-Chancellor David Lloyd, speaking to the man himself about everything music, from his Dublin-based gigs in his 20s, to his former band member that went on to become a boyband sensation, to what he really thinks of U2, and his own chance encounter with Enya.
Tell us a little bit about the bands you’ve played in. How did it all start?
I got a part-time job in a musical instrument shop when I was sixteen and started thinking a little more seriously about music at that stage.
One band I was in called Degas and we thought it was a very French impressionistic artists’ name but it looked good. Everyone used to introduce us as ‘dig-ass’ and it was me, a lad from the shop and his brother. Our lead singer was a guy called Niall O’Neil. We did a gig and the gig was okay but the band had creative musical differences as you kind of get when you’re in your late teens and Niall left the band and he signed up in a boyband. This is when Take That and engineered bands were starting to become big. Niall ended up in a band called OTT and they were huge, they had Number 1’s across Asia. So he became really famous after he left our band.
Then I ended up in a band which was called Kiev, like the city, and it was actually because the guy who was the lead singer in that band. His real name was Kevin and the Irish for Kevin is Caoimhín and he shortened it to Kiev. He was in the Eurovision song contest in 1989 with his band Kiev Connolly and the Missing Passengers. It was probably the worst performance Ireland had in Eurovision history for a generation. Ireland had probably won it six or seven times and he didn’t do very well. I wasn’t in the band at that stage and Kiev was sort of his comeback.
Were there any other bands you took inspiration from or any musicians that kind of inspired you?
In Degas we liked The Police. Our drummer, Gavin, was very good and he liked how Stewart Copeland drummed so we use to play as many of his songs as we could, and we liked Pink Floyd as well.
Do you still keep in touch with the people you played in the bands with?
Yeah I do actually, through Facebook and it’s funny I have a few WAV files of a band I was in when I was like thirteen when we did a demo and when you kind of listen to it now it’s like ‘oh my god’! I also got given a video by Gavin, the drummer in Degas, his dad found he had an old video cassette of one of the gigs and I was playing in.
Is it a bit nostalgic?
Yeah, and I had much longer hair!
Do you ever wonder if you never completed your PhD whether you’d still be rocking out now?
Well you see when I was doing my PhD I was still working in the shop so even when I was in college we played a few ‘Battle of the Bands’ gigs in Uni. I don’t think I ever stopped rocking, I just couldn’t really see a major career move in it you know.
The Dublin music scene was pretty vibrant and there were a lot of bands that were kinda one-hit-wonders that came and went and everyone wanted to be the next U2 at that stage. So yeah we’d get little gigs but you’d never make any money out of it and you could be lucky or unlucky and I look at Niall, the guy who went on to become the singer, he did well he became a producer afterwards and you just need that lucky break and he had the talent. So we were good, but we weren’t great.
Do you see any parallels between being in a rock band and being Vice Chancellor?
I think trying to manage creative tensions is one. Some of it is performance, you know, about actually being able to stand and front up. Now I was never the lead singer but the performance piece in music gives you a certain amount of confidence. I could be standing in front of a room with a thousand people in it trying to just communicate with them and I think when you’ve performed before that comes a little bit easier.
I use musical analogies in the inductions we do for staff. I have a photo which was taken at UniSA when we were doing one of the internal gigs in O-Week about four or five years ago, and the place was jammed. There was a stage which was very vibrant and I used it to show that we were kind of in the middle of the crowd from a university standpoint and we were moving ourselves forward to the front of the crowd. So for a couple of years I was saying this is the trajectory we are on, from the middle of the pack to the front of the crowd, and then I said maybe we’re actually on the stage – that the University is actually who’s on the stage performing.
Now we’re a band, the University is the band and we’re playing the tune rather than watching someone else do it.
What’s your most memorable experience you’d take out of your time in Degas?
We were doing one gig in a pub and it was called ‘The Meeting Pint’, like the way Irish people speak like ‘the meeting point’ and this was a very long narrow room and we were the warm up act. The sound engineer from the main band was a guy called Jimmy who also worked at the shop so we knew him as a work colleague and as a mate and he was the head roadie. He didn’t really pay attention to what was going on, so he went off to buy some chips in the course of our gig and there’s this massive feedback loop going on. Nobody could figure it out and Jimmy was just gone so that one I always remember.
How did you play that one off?
Badly. We just stopped.
Onto some big stuff now: do you think U2 is overrated or underrated?
Interestingly, last week on Spotify I downloaded Zooroper (1993) and Achtung Baby (1991). I like U2 in a very niche spot from around Rattle and Hum (1988) to probably Zooroper and after then some of it like How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004) is not a bad album but I just think they’re all very old now…don’t tell them I said that!
His [Bono] advocacy stuff I think has taken away from his music but I mean when they get it right they get it brilliantly right. I think Achtung Baby is a brilliant album.
Enya or Sinead O’Connor?
Sinead O’Connor has a better voice I think, although Enya has had greater commercial appeal.
At the music shop I used to work at, people would just come in and you’d get people who’d buy instruments and things. One Christmas I turned around and Enya was standing there and she was really demure, very quiet, very softly spoken and she bought a book of Christmas Carols…and then she released Silent Night as her next single!
Not just content with being inspired by artists, it looks like you went out and inspired some as well!
No, no, no! I had nothing to do with that; I just sold her the book she knew what she wanted!
Finally, which country do you think produces better music, Australia or Ireland? Keep in mind Verse Magazine is produced in Australia…
Hmm. I think per capita Ireland has had greater musical success than Australia. When I look at Australian music there’s a certain style you can hear, you can hear a genre. There’s an Australian nature to it. Nobody has managed to get me to turn onto Cold Chisel… that hasn’t happened!
Amy Shark I think is good, I think she’s really good. So if it’s good it’s good. I don’t know which is better but in saying that Ireland might have the edge in Eurovision.
Anything else you want to add?
It would be nice to get a Battle of the Bands going at a Uni level, I think that’d be fun. I’d happily MC that one if that could be pulled off. That’s a challenge for USASA to organize that!
Words by Ryan Colsey.
Images by Geena Ho.