NOW that it's done, making a concept album about the Azaria Chamberlain case seems inevitable. And now they've done it, The Paradise Motel seems the inevitable band to make it.
Like Lindy Chamberlain, mother of the disappeared baby Azaria, the members of this fleetingly-and-once-again Melbourne band were always outsiders in their own land. Singer Merida Sussex was born here to a physicist father and historian mother but moved to England aged three. When she returned here at 15, she says, ''I felt so alienated''.
In her early 20s, she was working in St Kilda Public Library when she met her soon-to-be bandmates. ''They'd just come from Tasmania, so when we got together it was like we were all not really belonging in Melbourne,'' she says.
The seven-piece outfit played here for a couple of years, recorded an album and moved to London in 1998. It was there - feasting on the expense account when they were taken out by the record company (''we were the last wave of that big money-throwing situation,'' Sussex says) but living on toasted-cheese sandwiches when all at home together in their tiny East End house - that the outsiders came to a surprising conclusion.
''It was amazing touring Europe and America, but the shock discovery was that the artistic voice of the band was directed at Australia, it had nothing to do with being in England,'' chief songwriter Charles Bickford says. ''We discovered our Australianness in London.''
It was out of that belated self-realisation that the idea of the Azaria album was born. ''We wanted to write a record about a contemporary event that was unique to Australia and part of our shared experience,'' Bickford says. ''A lot of artists explore things like convicts eating each other, but to me that's the ancient past.''
Though she was a child in England at the time, the Azaria story felt very present to Sussex, too. ''It was one of the first moments I got a sense of the desolation and the fear of Australia,'' she says. ''Before that it was just a nice place to go where your grandparents lived.''
There was a more personal connection, too: ''One of the forensic experts was an acquaintance of my parents' and she was staying with us at the time, so there was a lot of talk of blood spray patterns.''
Still, it took the band more than a decade to get around to making Australian Ghost Story (but only two days to record it, in Warburton). In between came the inevitable acrimonious breakup, marriages, three births and a death.
There was also the small matter of Bickford's burgeoning career as an interior designer, and as creator and star of a television gameshow about collectables. Yes, really.
The Golden Lot started, he says, as a ''mid-brow'' design show for the BBC but morphed into something more downmarket for commercial channel ITV, in which contestants had to guess the relative value of various objects (imagine a cross between Antiques Roadshow and The Price Is Right).
''I could feel myself being dragged into the Death Star,'' he says of the ungainly evolution of the program. ''But it was very good for my design business.''
Now he runs a mid-century design shop called Modern History in Richmond. But with a fresh album out and two more in the works the band is, to his surprise, once again a going concern.
''I just accepted that I'd lost music forever,'' Bickford says. ''Then I came back to Australia and it all switched on again.''
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/music/paradise-regained-20100929-15xh7.html#ixzz2GzanlrMf Karl Quinn