A delayed eulogy for
Lee Neale 20.5.'47 - 31.3.'19
2.6.19 - When I first met Lee Neale, (actual
first name Leo), he was in a band called 1987 (futuristic in 1969) and
was playing a green plastic Farfisa organ with brown trim that he continued
to play for at least the first year of Spectrum's career.
Since the demise of The Party Machine I had been rehearsing with a near
neighbour in East Hawthorn, David Skewes, who owned a Hammond/Leslie
rig, (the rig of my dreams being a Traffic fan), so Lee's Farfisa was
a bit of a come-down, but it soon became evident that he was a very
accomplished keyboardist in his own right and when he did get the opportunity
to play the Hammond (a band-purchased M-series topped with a Hohner
clavinet piano) he proved to be equally adept on both instruments -
not always the case, even with very talented players.
For financial and logistical reasons the band couldn't supply the Leslie
speaker part of the equation, so Lee's sound, per an unaffected
Strauss amp and speaker box, sounded less lush than the usual B3 + Leslie
combinations favoured by most bands of the era, but Lee turned this
to his (and the band's) advantage creating a fearsomely dynamic, if
ascetic landscape that had to be experienced to be believed.
Greg Macainsh gave me a cassette tape some years back of a Spectrum
gig he'd attended (pre-Skyhooks) and Lee's organ sounded even more dominant
than on record. And way more scary.
Lee recorded two albums with Spectrum (Spectrum Part One and
Milesago, the ground-breaking double album) and The Indelible
Murtceps' Warts up Your Nose and if you've never heard them
you're in for a treat discovering Lee's truly individual keyboard voice.
Spectrum and Murtceps thrived on working and touring and eventually
the privations of the lifestyle took their toll on all of us, but particularly
on Lee. An unsolicited encounter with LSD on the Aquarius Tour with
Daddy Cool eventually led to a brush with the Law that only served to
highlight the perilous state of Lee's health.
At one stage he decided to live exclusively on peanuts and at the end
of each Spectrum gig there'd be a significant pile of peanut shells
next to the keyboards. In the end I was forced to confront the fact
that Lee's odd behaviour was having a negative effect on all of us and
distressingly the band lost the services of this highly original and
Subsequently I heard that he'd briefly joined forces with Red Symons
in a Carlton-type band (possibly called Mud), after which he'd, to all
intents and purposes, completely disappeared.
Some years later I heard a rumour that he was living in a Queensland
caravan park and I contacted his relatives to see if they could confirm
this or if they knew where he was, but nobody seemed to know anything.
It was only a couple of days ago that I heard from Lee's brother, Harvey,
who'd himself just heard from the police that Lee had died in Brisbane
Hospital back in March from a cardiac arrest.
By nature Lee was an exceptionally solitary man and after briefly being
in the spotlight with Spectrum he resumed his intensely private life
with even his relatives unable to discover where he was living until
after his lonely death.
Apart from his musical talent, Lee was an original thinker - study the
detail from the TV Week middle-spread above and you'll notice that he's
ordered his Joseph's Coat T-shirt to be printed inside-out (!) and he's
wearing a chain round his neck with a tooth-brush attached.
I haven't listened to the Spectrum back catalogue in years, but I'll
make the effort to listen to the reissued early albums I've mentioned
and I know I'll be shaking my head in wonder at Lee's musical artistry.
Sometimes people live on in unconscious rituals. At service stations
I still clean my van's windscreen à la Leo and when
I'm driving I often change down the gears to neutral without using the
clutch in the approved Lee Neale methode. You know, I think
he just might approve.