Screaming Jets front man, Living End drummer jam with Murray Bridge teenagers

Dave Gleeson and Travis Demsey have visited the Station to speak with young musicians from the Band Connections program.

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Dave Gleeson from the Screaming Jets jams with Jacob Lavery, Jacob Smith and Jaidyn Watermann at the Station last Wednesday. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

At any time over the past 30 years, you could have found him swaggering about in front of crowds of thousands at hard rock shows around Australia and the world.

His band, the Screaming Jets, filled venues such as Melbourne’s Festival Hall, and he went on to become the front man for his musical idols, the Angels.

Yet there was Dave Gleeson on Wednesday afternoon at the Station, Murray Bridge’s youth centre, holding court before a handful of teenaged musicians.

Beside him was Travis Demsey, the original drummer for ARIA-award-winning rockers the Living End, no stranger to stadium shows and world tours himself.

Both spun stories of hard living at the pinnacle of Australian rock’n’roll: neverending tours, flights, fights, TV appearances and opportunities to hobnob with celebrities from Ian Thorpe to Snoop Dogg and Eminem.

But both men also reflected on their own underprivileged childhoods as they urged the local kids to follow their dreams.

Demsey grew up in a dysfunctional, violent family: his dad an alcoholic, his mum working three jobs.

At 15 he spent his time skateboarding, getting in fights, stealing cars with his mates and moving from school to school.

A teacher changed his life by sending him to a time-out room that contained an old drumkit.

“Being a stupid young person, I got on the drumkit and hit it with some sticks and I remember ... it was like BANG, it was like electricity,” he said.

“It was like, that’s what I want.

“The more I did that, the more I felt really good about myself.”

Within weeks he found himself practising every day, channeling his rage, watching bands like the Screaming Jets and Hoodoo Gurus – “I’ve still got the gold tooth from one of those nights” – and planning a future.

“I put my head down, I started removing myself from the bad situations ... I started saying, you know what, if you go out on Saturday night, you’re going to do something stupid, I’m going to get punched in the face and it hurts,” he said.

“If I stay at home and watch Rage and practise on my practice pad, I don’t get hurt and I get closer to my goal.

“I’m not tall enough, I’m not good looking, I’m not even really that good at what I do ... but what I had was the ability to keep pushing and go ‘I really want this, I’m going to work towards that’.”

Within six years he was a millionaire, living in Los Angeles, rubbing shoulders with the stars.

Though it all – the rise and the fall back to ordinary life, after he left the band in 2002 – all he really wanted was to keep playing the drums.

Gleeson grew up one of eight kids in working class Newcastle, New South Wales.

He dreamed of playing rugby league, but a fractured neck in his early teens put an end to that.

He only started playing music when a high school friend asked him to join a band.

Over the next couple of years they played hundreds of shows, three or four nights a week, working as roadies or rehearsing every other night – “the more you rehearse, the better you get”.

When the Screaming Jets first started touring in 1989 they would drive 14 hours to play to half a dozen people.

Winning radio station Triple J’s first national battle of the bands catapulted them into the national spotlight.

Soon they were spending $90,000 on a film clip for their first major single, Better, full of shirtless musicians, wild animals and flaming guitars.

He marveled that today’s young musos could record their music or produce videos through a smartphone, and distribute them to the world, for next to nothing.

“The sky’s the limit with what you guys can do,” he said.

The pair finished up by jamming with some of the local teenagers and youth leaders.

The session was part of the Station’s Band Connections program, a hang-out group for musicians under the age of 25 which meets every Wednesday at 5pm during the school term.