The Screaming Tribesmen – Igloo

By • Apr 8th, 2008 • Category: Secret History of Australian Music

It should be obvious by now, but if you want to sell me your record, couple it with some chiming chords, a memorable lyric and a catchy hook, and I’m all yours for the next three to four minutes.

The plangent chords and echoed vocals of The Screaming Tribesmen’s “Igloo” create a chilling landscape, blanketing the song in a reverberating wall of sound, making you feel like you’re there, sheltering from the storm, while an arctic wind whips outside. The songs setting, the frozen surroundings of the “polar zone” is the complete antithesis of the tropical warmth of Brisbane, Australia — where both the Tribesmen, and this song originated.

Released in 1983 on Citadel Records, the roots of “Igloo” date back to 1979 and a 60’s garage rock band called the 31st, formed by Tribesmen singer/guitarist Michael “Mick” Medew. The 31st would retain some notoriety over the passing of time, as both Ron Peno and Chris Welsh of Died Pretty and Brad Shepherd of the Hoodoo Gurus played in this short-lived band before moving on to greater things. The dissolution of the 31st, along with another Brisbane band, The Fun Things would set the scene for the formation of The Screaming Tribesmen in 1981 by ex-Fun Things drummer Murray Shepherd along with bassist John Hartley. Shepherd explains, “They broke up, along with The Fun Things and I formed the band from the Fun Things rhythm section, Myself and Hartley, and asked Mick from the de-funct 31st to join us.” The Tribesmen would go through several line-up changes during their career but this was the classic line-up that recorded “Igloo” in late 1982.


The Screaming Tribesmen – “Igloo” (Citadel, 1983)

I was instantly floored when I first heard this song. That cavernous guitar rumble and the haunting melody, the thumping drum fill that hides behind the chorus and the lyrics that captured my imagination. “I live in an igloo in the polar zone/at night I dream of a red telephone”. It’s not exactly Wordsworth, but it more than does the job. Keen on hearing more, I quickly came to the realisation that “Igloo”, (co-written by Medew and Peno from their 31st days) was a one-off, and that whatever Peno’s contribution to the band was (more about this below), the cerebral touch of “I tried to make friends with the Eskimo, but his thoughts were buried deep in the ice and snow” was gone, replaced with the b-grade schlock of “I’ve got a date with a vampyre girl tonight”.

“Igloo’s” over-reaching message of isolation, loneliness and despair is captured perfectly when Medew, after asking the Eskimos for help with food, spits out the line “I just see white around here/I don’t know what to do”, sounding like he’s hanging on by a thread. The melodic guitar sound that was indicative of that era (cf. Exploding White Mice, The Lime Spiders, The Hoodoo Gurus) is something which the Tribesmen would later move away from, pumping up their image (torn denim, long hair and chains) to serve a hard-rock crowd. As is my want when a song like this grabs me, I’ll pick up my guitar and try and disassemble the parts and decipher the lyrics. There’s a line in the first verse which had me at a total loss,

“I felt so lonely when my Samoyed died/I felt my tears freeze when I finally cried”

I didn’t have the benefit of a lyric sheet at the time, and as such couldn’t work out exactly what he was crying over. All I could recognise was the first syllable and it irritated me no end. Eventually I dug out a dictionary, went through every entry beginning with “sam” until I hit jackpot. How many of you know what a Samoyed is? I surely didn’t. A Samoyed is a breed of dog that is suited for colder climbs, originating from North-West Siberia. Find a picture and you’ll see one of the happiest looking dogs ever. I was instantly humbled. If this dog died, I’d cry too.

Both Medew and Peno would get a songwriting credit for “Igloo”, but purely based on the rest of the Tribesmen’s recorded output (and ignoring an interview here in which Peno speaks about the lyrics), I always attributed the words to him. In this interview he explains the inspiration for the song coming from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, borrowing the symbolism of the igloo as being white and pure, and juxtaposing this toward the end of the song with the refrain “listen to the shoeshine boys”, which he admits were a black 50s doo-wop band from Alabama. Sadly, no mention was made of the Samoyed that I had grown so fond of. I always find it incredibly satisfying when you actually come away from a song enlightened. Peno could’ve taken the easy route and said “I felt so lonely when my dog died,” but he went the extra yard and plumped for the geographically correct Samoyed. Attention to detail should never go unrewarded, and neither should this song.

Thank you to Murray Shepherd for clearing up some factual details.

The Screaming Tribesmen – MySpace

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6 Responses »

  1. Hello,

    I was spent some time in aspen in the winter season… I really love snowboard and it what i was doing there… one day I bought the dvd MTN.LAB of the guys from DC… that day I heard Igloo the first time, and after this song was always in my “snowboard playlist”… it’s really great!!

    What I wanna know is where can I get the lyrics from this music!

    Thaks!

    My e-mail: caiogalimberti@gmail.com

  2. I`m from Norway (born in 1973). I`m collecting all music featuring any member or family member of Hoodoo Gurus. I was so lucky to get a reply from Rod Radalj, we have been corresponding a lot. I got beer poured all over me by Beasts Of Bourbon on a festival in Halden called “Down On The Farm” (they used the English words) in August of 2007. I met Rob Younger (who sang duet with Hoodoo Gurus on the Kinky-cd) outside the hall when I waited for a concert with Radio Birdman in Oslo in October 2007, I asked him: “are you with the band? Please give my tape to the band”. I had no idea on who I was talking to until the concert started. The vocalist of Fleshtones patted me on my head when the rack of microphone fell down from the stage and all over me (he even said “sorry”), That was last year. Rod Radalj has said my demos sounded great. I would love to go to Australia, listen to bands featuring Clyde Bramley, James Baker, Hitmen etc. I can probably pay for a record produced by Brad if I can pay a part of it every month next year. My brother-in-law (please check out http://www.frodekjekstad.com) called up Lonnie Morgan before he died, paid for a record, wrote all the material (plays jazz-instrumental guitar) and went to New York. I just need a confirm from Brad and an invitation to a concert! (I don`t have any albums by Screaming Tribesmen yet, but I`m saving up….).

  3. If you like Igloo you’ll be interested in Mick Medew’s first recording in more than 15 years. He and his band The Rumours have an album “All Your Love” on I-94 Bar Records. Info here: http://www.i94barrecords.com

  4. Barman.. You are so HIP! :) I love that you are everywhere good 80s oz rock is :)
    Hope all is well man hehe

  5. LOL good stuff

  6. OMG!!!
    I have tryjng for years to find out who sung this *********** song!!!
    I have it on cassette somewhere, yeah that’s how long ago. Probably from THAT GOD John Peel. Kept plugging in the only lyrics I knew then suddenly TOO DAY it matched up with your site.
    THANK YOU THANK YOU…
    I know this might seem silly but you know…music really expressed how I felt and still does ..and this was one of those.

    Now I’m gonna find out about there other stuff if poss.
    So SO :):):):)

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