Carol Lloyd
Carol Lloyd

Musical Legend, Carol Lloyd talks to LOTL about the 1970s rock scene, being an out lesbian musician, her health, drug and alcohol battles and her surprise commitment ceremony with her long time partner, Annie Heydon

You were a part of the Railroad Gin, one of the seminal Queensland rock bands of the 1970s. Legend has it that Geoffrey Fitzgibbon, the original lead singer, was working with you at the same advertising agency and overheard you humming when you were invited to try out with the band. Is that true?

Yes, that’s pretty well how it happened…We were both writers, and when things were quiet, would get a percussion thing going with spoons, coffee cups, desks – anything we could tap – and harmonize together. Then a short time later, the Gin scored their first paid gig at the legendary and uber-cool Red Orb, a blues club… I went along to support them, and when they were offered a Sunday night residency, they wanted to expand the line-up to look more substantial….so they’d asked me up to do a number with them, singing harmonies and playing the percussion. Finally, they asked if I’d do a solo spot – a chance to sing lead.     It was 1970, and girls just didn’t sing lead in rock bands, but I found the personal challenge irresistible … I thought ‘Stuff it – why not have a crack?’ and said Yes.

After a series of health problems and potentially career-ending throat surgery, you cemented your reputation as Australia’s first rock chick when you formed The Carol Lloyd Band. What was it like to return to the stage as Queensland rock royalty?

Each year, we scooped the Qld Pop Awards with Railroad Gin, and CLB did the same. Then keyboard player and my co-writer, Peter Harvey and I won a World Wide Publishing deal with EMI International…the first Australian act to be signed by them to a global distribution deal.  Our songs were published in 27 countries and charted No.1 – No. 3 in Japan, Holland, France, Germany, Indonesia..all sorts of places.

I was then offered solo Global recording contracts by both the Casablanca … a hot label at the time, but my producer who was running Masters and Contracts back and forth, stuffed up the final negotiations and the deal fell over. I was devastated.  I went out the next day and had all my trademark hair cut off (it was insured with Lloyds of London for $100,000!), then refused to re-sign the contract with him, only to have him point out the small print my manager had missed:  If I failed to re-sign, I was banned from performing or recording with anyone else for 5 years … so I told him to shove it, and walk out of the industry, totally disillusioned, and went back into Advertising.

Your health problems have unfortunately returned and after several years of ongoing chest infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,  (COPD – emphysema and chronic bronchitis), you were diagnosed with interstitial Pulmonary Fibrosis and has given months to live.  How crucial has your love of music been for you during this time?

Absolutely critical.  Two activities help me support my oral chemo treatment: singing and swimming.  The more I do of each, the easier my breathing and the more energy I have. I plan to keep up the routine of swimming 6-8ks a week and singing for as long as I feel confident I can give my audiences 100%.   I’ll know when the time comes to stop – but that’s not on my immediate horizon.

You are particularly focused on giving back to the arts community, having worked as a mentor and producer for a range of talented younger musicians. What can the lesbian music scene do to nurture new talent?

Get to know and get behind your sister artists!… There are plenty of highly-talented lesbian music and performance artists out there, writing, playing, singing and performing across all genres.  Seek them out, go to their shows and buy their music.  They can’t survive without you so don’t force them into relying on mainstream audiences where they could potentially be either ignored, treated like objects of curiosity, or worst still, novelty acts. Get behind them, show your pride, love and support, and you will empower them to do us all proud!

You are also documenting your wilder experiences of the 70s and 80s rock scenes in your memoirs, such as your drug and alcohol addiction. How did you overcome those obstacles? If you had the chance, would you do it all over again?

For about 2 years in my early 20s, I was doing all kinds of stuff with a group of friends that included a Vietnam Vet who bought some back with him …   It was essentially mescalin-dipped, heroin-injected hash… I was off my freakin’ head on it, on average 4-5 nights a week.  I had no idea what it was or what long-term effect it was having.  So – I ended up with a smack habit, while involuntarily tripping on the mescalin. I figured I’d rather be a drunk than a junkie, so replaced the dope with whiskey… It took me about 2 years, but it worked. During this time, I joined The Gin, which gave me a reason to stay straight …

Would I do it all again?  YOU BETCHA!! I didn’t expect to see 30…but I’m still here…..Damaged but still standing!

What have been your experiences as an out lesbian in the spotlight?

In the early days, my mates in the media left me alone when they could have pointed out details of my personal life, but chose not to.. I am proud to be a gay woman, but I don’t think it is the primary thing that defines me….it’s probably more my music than my private life.  Being a lesbian has certainly never been a problem for me, and I expect that’s simply because I’ve never seen it as a problem within myself.  I’ve always been comfortable and confident with my sexuality.

Lotl June 2014You recently held a surprise commitment ceremony last August with your long time partner Annie. What was it about that day that made it incredibly special?

It came four months after I was given my prognosis, so I figured I could have as little as 6-8 months left to live, not knowing exactly how, or how long the disease would take to send me into a final decline.I, therefore, decided to throw a PARTY OF A LIFETIME –  a celebration of my life, loves and friendships designed to thank family, friends, colleagues and media for all their help, love and support over the years …   I hired the Qld Cultural Centre Auditorium, and invited 250 guests to witness and participate in a 4-hour ‘variety’ performance, featuring all the artists I love and respect …Annie and  I figured that since we had in the room all the people we’d love to invite to our wedding, we decided about 2 weeks out to have a  Commitment Ceremony to close the first half, leading into Interval.

Greg told the audience we had something to share with them before we went to a break…At that point, we projected a giant stained glass window on the back wall, and the orchestra began… our audience went nuts!   We surprised them all, and as it dawned on them what was happening, there was a wave of joyful screams!  As we exchanged vows, they all stood silently, welling up.  How fortunate am I to have found the Love of my Life, Annie Haydon – and to have so many very talented friends that helped celebrate our commitment to each other … What a party it was…!   And I ain’t done yet………!

This article was published in the June 2014 edition of LOTL