This Is Seriously Mysterious, Peter Holmes, The Sun-Herald, July 5 1998


Ah, the rock world loves a mystery - like Abbey Road, and was Paul McCartney dead. Now, who the hell makes up TISM?

Just who do the seven cretins that make up rock terrorists TISM think they are? For 15 years these electro-rock messengers of merriment and mayhem - R Hitler Barassi, HB Flaubert, J Cheese, T Blackman, J St Peenis, E de la Hot Croix Bun and L Miserables - have remained hidden from the public's gaze behind their eerie black balaclavas.

Journalists interview them from across football fields with megaphones or by fax, commercial radio stations just laugh and program another Matchbox 20 hit while fans who hang around after gigs just see anonymous men leaving a dressing room and wonder to themselves: "Could that be Barassi?"

TISM (or This Is Serious Mum, the name behind the acronym) finally scored with 1995's Gold album Machiavelli and the Four Seasons and are set to hit the heights again with their new longplayer and its dutifully naughty accompanying single I Might Be A ____ But I'm Not A _______ ____. [sic]

All things considered, it seems like a perfectly good time to play Scrooge and rain on TISM's amateur-hour parade by disclosing the true identity of these mild-mannered bean counters who moonlight in the PM as keyboard-loving culture vultures. If I'd known then what I know now, I probably wouldn't have ventured in.

Local producer Magoo is first on my list.

"No comment," he says. "I couldn't blow their cover. The people who work with them (Monday to Friday) wouldn't appreciate knowing their colleagues are in TISM."

I get wind Debbie Spillane, formerly of JJJ's Hard Coffee, knows something.

"I met one of them at the Big Day Out in 1995," she says. "We started talking and went around and watched a few bands. I didn't take much notice. It was only later that people at Triple J were saying 'You met someone from TISM!' "

What was his name?

"I can't even remember. He was terribly well spoken and seemed very civil for a member of TISM... I think a couple of them are teachers."

Melbourne's home of local music, 3RRR, could come in handy here. An anonymous voice offers some hope.

"I don't actually know them, but I know a few people who know them." Could you put me in touch? "No."

A new approach leads me to Chris Barry from Strange Days clothing store in Melbourne. He dresses TISM. Being fashionable, I feel he's sure to gossip if only I can lull him into a false sense of security.

Can you tell me who's in the band? On or off the record. Your call.

"No, of course not. Not at all."

Can you tell us anything about what they do outside of music?

"I really should say no more."

I phone the Australian Performing Rights Association, who look after songwriting royalties. I am put through to Millie.

Do you have the names of the TISM songwriters?

"I've got a whole stack of names here. Hold on a minute." My pulse quickens. "There are 12 songwriters," says the voice. And? "I can't tell you who they are, though. You have to call their record label, Shock."

Edging closer to the inner circle, I find Shock's label manager Kim Parker no help whatsoever. "I'm not at liberty to reveal anything," she says. Were you surprised when you first met them? "Kind of, I guess. They're a lot different from their characters."

TISM's managers Michael Lynch is going to be hard to break. Probably too hard. Is Lynch surprised TISM have kept it hidden for so long?

"I am surprised an an annual basis," he says cheerfully.

Triple J's Francis Leach knows the band and says they are St Kilda AFL fans. "They helped me out when we ran the Save Our Saints campaign in 94-95," says Leach, "but I had to swear the TISM oath of secrecy."

Wisely, one of the Metro's band bookers, Leo Crawford, "doesn't go into the dressing rooms", but, he says, re TISM: "There have been centuries of rumours. When they play The Metro they have a pretty tight entourage."

With mild desperation looming, I call Peter Hayes, manager of Weddings, Parties, Anything.

"I don't get involved in intrigue," he says.

A phone number marked "Confidential" falls across my desk.

"I knew one was an accountant," says Confidential. "I think his name is Sean Kelly, but not the Sean Kelly from the Models."

I am directed to another undercover lagger, "Kontiki", who reveals: "One of them is a famous TV actor." The trendy grandmother from Neighbours? Colin Friels? The line goes dead.

It is reactivated by JJJ's Jane Gazzo, who tells me TISM's anonymity "is one of the most perplexing mysteries in the music business. A friend told me (angst poet with beret) Raymond J. Bartholomeuz is in the band, but I don't believe it for a second." Do you?

*TISM's is available through Shock Records.


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