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Beyond the law: Acting in concert

Every Issue

Cite as: April 2014 88 (04) LIJ, p.99

From wig to gig – drumming with the Lex Pistols is a relief for Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry.

Cast an eye over Justice Lex Lasry’s Twitter account and you read his tweets (particularly as president of the International Commission of Jurists Victoria) on a roll call of human rights issues – execution, mandatory sentences, press freedom, violence against women.

Then there’s an unexpected change of pace – an item on an upcoming gig for the Lex Pistols – the band the Supreme Court judge presides over as founding member and drummer.

In April, the band will perform at a Mansfield wine festival. After that there’s a booking at the Essoign Club (“they are very enthusiastic, we filled it last time, the place was really jumping”) and in June it’s Bottled Snail’s Battle of the Bands.

Be prepared to dance if you catch the act by this busy band of legal professionals – Justice Lasry (drums), Director of Public Prosecutions John Champion SC (lead guitar), barristers Michael Cahill (bass) and Alister McNab (saxophone), and Worksafe senior legal manager Jocelyn Cole (lead vocals, keyboard).

The Lex Pistols play feel-good music mainly from the ’60s to the ’80s, which topped the charts then and gets generations of nostalgic music lovers to their feet now. “Basically, we do songs that make people get up and dance,” said Justice Lasry of the 80-odd songs the band selects from to cover on their charity outings – Gloria, Pretty Woman, Fire, Dreams, Black Magic Woman, Hallelujah and You Really Got Me among them.

“We do Rolling Stones songs, Van Morrison, earlier and later stuff. We’re not exactly a concert band, people don’t just come to hear us play, they want to enjoy themselves too. We belt it out, we’re pretty loud.” Indeed. At a private function one night, a local hospital complained the noise was interfering with its equipment.

Justice Lasry started drumming in the family garage aged eight, around the time his jazz-loving father took him to see Duke Ellington. At university he had lessons and played in a band which was, in his words, “pretty bad”. However he didn’t pick up sticks again until the mid-’90s when he became reacquainted with the instrument he loves to play.

“Some friends and I started to play a bit, fooling around, and it evolved from that. It’s a bit of a moving group, they come and go. It just happened that initially everybody was a lawyer. Occasionally we play with a few people from Mansfield although they are pretty serious musicians.”

Do they talk shop? “Occasionally, but not much, that’s not why we’re there. Something will have happened and we will talk about it while we’re setting up. Once we start playing that’s the end of it.

“I love it, I wish I’d played more. If there is reincarnation, which I doubt, in the next life I’d like to be a professional musician, a really good player who could make a living out of it.

“We were at Bruce Springsteen [and the E Street Band concert] and I wondered what it would be like sitting in the green room with 10 minutes to go knowing there are 15,000 people out there wanting to hear you play. That must be really something. At that show drummer Max Weinberg was phenomenal. He played for three hours without so much as a break between the songs.

“The drums are a fairly demanding instrument I can tell you. You get really tired, particularly at this age. Everything’s going. I think I keep pretty good time, that’s about all I can say. I’m a very rudimentary drummer.

“You are thinking about the song you’re playing, knowing where you are in the song, feeling its rhythm, making it work, complementing it. You are certainly not thinking about work.” For Justice Lasry, drumming is a relief from his demanding work. “It does, absolutely, clear my head. You are not thinking about the case. You are thinking about what you are doing. You have to be. You have to have something that takes your brain away from what you are doing week in, week out.

“Unlike a lot of people, I don’t define myself by just being a judge so I need to get away from it and do something completely different.

“Historically judges did tend to retract so you only saw them in court. I don’t agree with that.

“We all have lives and do things apart from be judges. I just keep doing what I used to do, except for a few things which I can’t do.

“I have a job and I play music,” said Justice Lasry, who does talk to the audience when he plays and in breaks has audience members talk to him – about music, not law.

CAROLYN FORD

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