Daddy Who? by Craig Horne

Daddy Who? by Craig Horne

Daddy Who? by Craig Horne

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Book review by Ian McFarlane © 2018

There are many fabulous tales to be told in Australian rock’n’roll and the story of Daddy Cool must surely rate as one of the most entertaining. This is the kind of book that I had hoped to read one day... and now musician and author Craig Horne has delivered the goods.

Daddy Who? tells the full tale of one of the country’s great bands, indeed one of the most enduring and best-loved local bands of all time. The tag line on the back cover states: “Daddy Who? is the story of a phenomenon, a band that in eighteen short months changed the course of Australian rock history.”

Daddy Cool was definitely the first great wonder band of the Australian 1970s rock scene. DC comprised four musicians who together had the kind of band chemistry that is rare and precious but individually they were distinct and recognisable characters in their own right.

Ross ‘The Boss’ Wilson was the cheeky faced, bopping front man who enthralled audiences with his mage-like showmanship. Ross ‘Hanna’ Hannaford was the lanky, gyrating guitarist who knew the best licks but never overplayed a note. Wayne Duncan was the laconic, stony faced bassist with the boyish charm. Gary Young was the musical drummer who could steal the show with his turn at the microphone. In fact, all the guys could, and would, often upstage each other but together the combination was unbeatable.

Like most people of a certain generation, ‘Eagle Rock’ was the song that did it for me. I was eleven years old when it came out in 1971 and I couldn’t get enough of it, alongside the likes of ‘Come Back Again’, ‘Bom Bom’, ‘Lollipop’, ‘Flip’ and ‘Long After Schooldays are Through’. The music was fun and accessible, informed by the past yet capturing the zeitgeist of the times in a resounding fashion. ‘Eagle Rock’ was a #1 hit and the whole nation grooved to the rockin’ beat.

The thing about ‘Eagle Rock’ that got me right from the start was Wilson’s opening shout of “Now listen! We’re steppin’ out tonight”. Part invitation, part clarion call there was no way you could avoid the proposition. It’s like another great band song introduction... “Come on and hear, come on and hear Alexander’s Ragtime Band”. You just had to go with the flow.

Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! was the hit album, but later on it was the second album Sex, Dope, Rock’n’Roll: Teenage Heaven which captured my imagination. Songs like ‘Hi Honey Ho’, ‘Daddy Rocks Off’, ‘Baby Let Me Bang Your Box’, ‘Love In An F.J.’ and ‘Make Your Stash’ sounded incredible. And that album title and the “Lips” cover... wow! There was something going on here and I wanted a piece of it. Then Wilson went on to produce Skyhooks, the band that ended up stealing DC’s thunder at the top of the charts, and the local floodgates opened.

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Above: Hanna's famous “Lips” cover

But enough yakking about my adolescent adventures... what does Daddy Who? hold for the reader? One of the key things to understand is that Craig Horne was the perfect person to write the tale. Over the years he’s worked regularly with Hanna, Young and Duncan in his band The Hornets, as well as knowing Wilson well. He’s been close to the guys for years, so with an observer’s keen eye he was up to the task. He’s also written a couple of enjoyable novels, Bureaucracy Blues (1995) – the hilarious tale of would-be rock star Brian Smith and his band Shooting Gallery – and Alpha Jerk (2000), so he’s got runs on the board.

Horne has the musician’s sense for the minutiae of life on the road and the author’s flair for telling a good story. He also provides great insight into the music of the 1960s and 1970s which gave rise to a band such as Daddy Cool, by placing it within the political milieu of the day, a time of enormous social change and cultural revolution.

Horne sets the scene by exploring each member’s early careers; Wilson and Hanna in The Pink Finks and The Party Machine, Young and Duncan in The Rondells, then the formation of Sons of the Vegetal Mother which gave rise to Daddy Cool. The main act relates the full history of the band’s glory days; the early hits, touring the US three times – playing LA’s famed Whisky a Go Go, supporting the likes of Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Little Feat and Captain Beefheart – then charting the inevitable ups and downs before the 1972 break-up. The third act covers the various reformations over the years.

There are many great passages throughout. When Wilson wrote the prototype ‘Eagle Rock’, coming up with the finger picking, country blues guitar lick in A that he was sure he’d stolen subliminally from somewhere, he asked anyone who would listen, “have you heard this before?”. He finally realised he’d come up with something unique when no-one could quite pinpoint the connection.

He took the title ‘Eagle Rock’ from a picture he’d seen in a newspaper article; it showed African Americans dancing in a Juke Joint during the 1930s and the caption said they were “Doing the eagle rock and cutting the pigeon wing”. The song formed the basis of his new venture, Daddy Cool. It was that unique blend of vintage rock’n’roll, doo-wop and good ol’ rockin’ country blues that no other band in Australia was exploring at the time.

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Above: The 1972 DC line-up with Ian ‘Willy' Winter (back left)

Horne encapsulates Hanna to a T when he titles the prologue ‘Where’s my car, man?’, which was a question the guitarist asked the morning after a particularly booze-soaked and smoke-hazed out-of-town gig with The Hornets. It’s an hysterical yet affection opening gambit, so read on...

As well as making it big in Australia, Daddy Cool attracted international fans. When glam rock hero Marc Bolan toured Australia in 1973 he insisted on meeting Wilson. Comparing his hit ‘Ride a White Swan’ with Wilson’s ‘Eagle Rock’, Bolan recognised that they were both into the same boogie beat, the same guitar licks and he even declared Wilson to be a “superstar”.

There’s a quote from Sir Elton John: “Daddy Cool are one of the most impressive bands I’ve ever heard... And ‘Eagle Rock’ is one of my favourite tracks of all time”. Legend has it that Elton was inspired to write his variation on the theme, ‘Crocodile Rock’, after he’d heard ‘Eagle Rock’. Seeing as it was Bernie Taupin who wrote all the lyrics for Elton’s songs, then maybe it was actually the lyricist who created that link.

As well as the impressive narrative there are many great photos and images. In particular, I love legendary graphic designer Ian McCausland’s iconic DC cartoon which graced the front cover of the album Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! and his Teenage Heaven cartoon strip on the inner gatefold of the second album.

Reading closely, there are a couple of continuity issues with names but that’s all minor stuff. Besides, there’s much to enjoy throughout Daddy Who?. In fact, I’d nominate it as one of the select few books on the history of Australian rock’n’roll that gets the story right. Kudos to Craig Horne!

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Above: Some panels from Ian McCausland's Teenage Heaven comic strip

Dedicated In Memoriam to Ross Hannaford and Wayne Duncan.

Jesus Christ Superstar - An Australian Cast Recording

Jesus Christ Superstar - An Australian Cast Recording

Jesus Christ Superstar - An Australian Cast Recording, Live at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, December 1973

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Here are my liner notes for the new release on Aztec Records, Jesus Christ Superstar An Australian Cast Recording, Live at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, December 1973.

Kudos and thanks to Executive Producers  Coralea Cameron and Gil Matthews for seeing this through, and to Peter Chambers for recording the show in the first place.

Dedicated in Memoriam to Jon English (died 9 March 2016), Michelle Fawdon (died 23 May 2011), Stevie Wright (died 27 December 2015), Rory O’Donoghue (died 13 December 2017), Peter North (died 5 November 2005) and Wayne Matthews.  R.I.P.

You can purchase this CD at www.aztecrecords.com.au

Jesus Christ Superstar

By Ian McFarlane © 2018

It’s remarkable to consider that in the 46 years since the debut of the original Australian stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar, there has never been a recording released of the actual live Australian stage show from that time.  It was one of the most significant events in Australian theatre, and surely it deserves to be presented for audio gratification before the memories fade from the minds and hearts of those who saw it in the first place.

The wait is finally over, and Aztec Records now delivers, on double CD, a stirring performance from December 1973 that captures the show in all its glory.  Let’s explore the story of the local production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but firstly, by way of introduction, it’s worth considering some musical, social and cultural background.

Heaven On Their Minds...

Among the prevalence for progressive rock and the emergence of heavy metal and glam rock, the early 1970s could be viewed as the era of God Rock or Jesus Rock.

As the enlightened 1960s, a decade of radical social change, was coming to an end, various distressing events had unfolded that led to strong sentiment the devil’s work was bringing the civilised world to the brink of collapse: the escalation of the Vietnam War which led to considerable anti-war sentiment and numerous Moratorium marches and demonstrations; the presence of the Manson family and their part in the subsequent Tate/LaBianca murders; the murder of Meredith Hunter at the hands of the Hells Angels during The Rolling Stones’ fateful Altamont free concert, later depicted in the Maysles brothers’ documentary Gimme Shelter, etc.

Pushed by these disturbing events and social change in general, the counter-culture movement was on the rise.  Young people had been openly questioning the established order – everything from the government, the war mongers and religious institutions down.  Time magazine had even posed the questions “Is God Dead?” (on a 1966 front cover), and “Is God Coming Back to Life?” (December 1969), which led to some factions within the Church striving to come up with an antidote to the problem.  A subsequent Time cover image (June 1971) declared the era of “The Jesus Revolution”.

Young people, in particular, were encouraged to turn to Jesus Christ for guidance and answers.  Churches around the world were opening their doors to the staging of the Rock Mass, whereby electric instruments and a rock backing were melded with the standard liturgy of Christian worship.  Various Jesus Festivals were staged in the US, perhaps in emulation of the famous rock festivals such as Monterey Pop, Woodstock Music & Art Fair, or Atlanta International Pop, but with a religious focus.  Anything to keep the youth of the day engaged with the Almighty.

The arts and entertainment world even got in the act.  The first and foremost manifestation of this was Jesus Christ Superstar, the original rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics), which told the story of the final week in the life of Jesus Christ through the troubled eyes of Judas Iscariot.

Lloyd Webber and Rice had first met in 1965.  Lloyd Webber came from a very musical family and had studied at the Royal College of Music.  Rice was just starting his career as a producer with EMI and later the Norrie Paramour Organisation.  Their first successful pop stage show was the 1968 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, based on the story of Joseph from the Holy Bible’s Book of Genesis.  In 1969 they hit upon the idea for Jesus Christ Superstar, taking a year to write and record the music.

It wasn’t a particularly radical approach, as some nay-sayers would have it.  As Lloyd Webber and Rice said at the time, they were simply fascinated with the incredible drama of the Christ legend.  “Basically, the idea of the whole opera is to have Christ seen through the eyes of Judas, with Christ as a man, not a god.  Our intention was to take no religious stand on our subject matter at all but rather to ask questions.”  So they weren’t in the habit of providing answers, they were just suggesting that young people should continue to ask the hard questions.

The initial British recording featured Ian Gillan, from Deep Purple, as Jesus Christ, Murray Head as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene.  Jesus Christ Superstar – A Rock Opera (Original UK Cast Recording) was a great success (Top 10 in the UK) and the stage show opened for a long running Broadway season in New York.

Godspell, written by Stephen Schwartz, was another successful stage musical and soundtrack album, this time a modern day recreation of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.  Both JCS and Godspell were subsequently made into Hollywood movie musicals in 1973.  Call it exploitation if you will, but people need entertainment, and by any measure these were successful ventures.

What’s The Buzz...

Here in Australia, the Jesus Rock buzz took hold as well.  Entrepreneur/producers Harry M. Miller and Robert Stigwood (former managing director of Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprise and head of his own Robert Stigwood Organisation which oversaw the work of the Bee Gees) were quick off the mark.  Along with stage director Jim Sharman and musical director Patrick Flynn, they got the first local production of JCS underway.  Miller, Sharman and Flynn had already staged a successful run of the American Tribal Love-Rock musical Hair, with Tully as the stage band.

Sharman had studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) and emerged during the 1960s as a gifted and radical director on the Sydney theatre scene determined to depose traditional stagecraft.  Following his JCS tenure, Sharman directed the original Sydney stage production of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show (also produced by Miller), after which he went to London where he directed the cult film favourite The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Following extensive auditions held around the country during late 1971, Trevor White (Jesus), Jon English (Judas), Michele Fawdon (Mary Magdalene), Robin Ramsay (Pontius Pilate), Peter North (Chiaphas), John Young (Annas), Joseph Dicker (King Herod), Stevie Wright (Simon Zealotes), Rory O’Donoghue (Peter), Michael Caton (Priest) and Tom Dysart (Priest) were selected as the principal players.  Numerous other actor/singers were picked to be various Apostles, Zealotes, Lepers, Soldiers, Reporters and Court members.

White had come to Australia as lead singer/pianist with English band Sounds Incorporated. He hadn’t been onboard for the band’s most successful early phase, having joined in 1968 but the group was still touring.  They broke up in 1971, in Perth WA, following an Australian tour.  White was just about to return to the UK but found his feet quickly in Sydney with JCS.

Jon English had been singing in local bands since the mid-1960s (Zenith and the original version of Sebastian Hardie) but had yet to make a mark as a solo performer.  He’d gone to one of the Sunday auditions in Sydney but then had to take an extended morning tea break, from his job as an accountant, in order to attend call back.  He’d been aiming for a lead part but expected he might land a role as one of the Apostles or in the Chorus, so was exalted when offered the part of Judas.  English was on-stage for the entire performance which took a lot of energy and stamina.  He remained with the original production for a lengthy and successful run (705 performances between May 1972 and February 1974), then returned for the 1975-76 season.

Of course, English went on to emerge as one of Australia’s best loved solo performers with numerous hit singles including ‘Turn the Page’, ‘Hollywood Seven’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, ‘Words are Not Enough’ and ‘Six Ribbons’.  From 1984 onwards he took leading roles in many other stage productions, such as The Pirates of Penzance, Rasputin, The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore.  The versatile performer also starred in the acclaimed television mini-series Against the Wind (1979) in the role of convict Jonathan Garrett, and the popular television comedy series All Together Now (1991-93), playing the part of absent-minded, washed-up rock star Bobby Rivers.

Michele Fawdon had acted with the Sydney Ensemble Theatre and the Old Tote Company and made several television appearances in shows such as Matlock and You Can’t See Around Corners.

John Young had sung with Sydney suburban dance band Elm Tree and was doing a sheet metal apprenticeship in a government factory.  He’d also just signed to Albert Productions and issued his debut single, ‘Pasadena’, on his way to becoming Countdown favourite John Paul Young with the hits ‘Yesterday’s Hero’, ‘I Hate the Music’, ‘Standing in the Rain’ and ‘Love is in the Air’.  It’s a little known fact that, in 1971, Young had taken part in a stage musical called Jesus Revolution which was apparently so bad it had closed down after only a couple of performances.

Stevie Wright had been lead singer with the legendary Australian sixties band The Easybeats but had struggled subsequently to get his solo career off the ground.  Following his JCS run he scored his greatest hits with the Vanda & Young written and produced classics ‘Evie (Parts 1, 2 and 3)’ and ‘Guitar Band’.

Rory O’Donoghue had played in bands since his teenage years (singer/guitarist with The Pogs and Oakapple Day).  He went on to forge his most famous role as Thin Arthur, the laconic, philosophising straight man to Grahame Bond’s outrageous, 300 pound, Harley Davidson riding protagonist Aunty Jack in the successful ABC-TV comedy The Aunty Jack Show.  He continued to perform, often in tandem with Bond.

It’s worth mentioning that White, English, Fawdon and Wright had all been born in England while Young hailed from Glasgow, Scotland.

German-born/Los Angeles-raised Michael Carlos (organ, Moog synthesizer) had come to Australia in 1967, joining Levi Smith’s Clefs before forming progressive rock band Tully.  Fresh from the break-up of Tully in late 1971, he was installed as the band leader.  The assembled stage band comprised Mike Wade (guitar), Bruce Worrall (bass; ex-Sherbet) – who was replaced by Ken Firth (also ex-Tully) – Jamie McKinley (piano, acoustic guitar), Greg Henson (drums) and Ellis Horman (percussion).  With numerous, demanding performances night after night, they became a very tight musical ensemble backed by a full orchestra.

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The JCS production was moulded into a lavish, almost two hour performance, with all the singers at the top of their game.  The sets, designed by Brian Thomson, and costumes, designed by Rex Cramphorne, were impressive.  The centrepiece of the stage setting was the dodecahedron metal capsule set up on a steel cage, which split apart and unfolded like “some giant primal egg” to reveal Jesus and his followers.  There were also the 60-foot high columns of clear Perspex, standing ominously behind the elevated platform where the various Apostles, Lepers or Crowd members would gather for their parts.

The show was staged for an initial concert run from late March to mid-April 1972 – Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne (Festival Hall), Launceston, Hobart and Brisbane – before the gala premiere at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney on Thursday 4 May.  The cost of a ticket was $5.20.

Everything’s Alright...

Writing in Go-Set magazine (25 March 1972), Stephen MacLean reported:

“Religion as a topic is a bore but Jesus Christ Superstar most definitely is not.  In fact, without a doubt, it’s one of the most important events ever to hit Australia, and if Australian rock and roll is ever to progress, then Superstar is here to give it a giant shove.

“Two versions of Superstar will be seen here: the concert version, which opened at the Adelaide Arts Festival last Thursday, finishing this Saturday, and the theatrical production opening at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre early in May.  Between $250,000 and $300,000 has been poured into the production; after watching several rehearsals it’s very easy to see just where the money will be spent.

“The rock opera has a monumental cast comprising a fifty-piece orchestra, forty voices onstage and plenty more backstage people there to make it all happen.

“Despite the huge glut of products currently exploiting religion, Superstar is very much the real thing.  Many are under the impression that the show is quite old, but in fact Australia is the second place on the world stage where Superstar has been staged.

“It opened in New York little more than two months back and has yet to be staged in London.  The Australian production also appears to be the superior one; when it opened on Broadway, there was something of an uproar.  Jesus looked more like a drag queen than a revolutionary charged some critics, and a look at the American version was enough to point out to the Australian producers just where the mistakes had been made.”

MacLean also reported that on the Adelaide opening night, Barry Humphries is said to have sent producer Harry M. Miller a telegram reading: “Don’t worry if Superstar dies a death tonight, it will only take three days to revive”.

Despite the positive nature of the rock opera, the local production was beset by controversy.  Christian protesters, offended by the perceived blasphemous nature of the show, were out in force for the theatre opening night in Sydney.  They were under some misguided apprehension that the show belittled the memory of Jesus Christ, as if it were a negative prospect and the work of the devil.  Placards declared such things as “Jesus Christ Our Only Mediator!” and “Jesus Christ is our Saviour, not a Super Star”. There was even a bomb threat which proved to be unfounded.  The protesters faded away once the show emerged as a crowd favourite.

The mainstream press also took an interest.  Writing in The National Times (8 May 1972), Kevon Kemp declared “This Sydney ‘Superstar’ is a triumph, not to be missed... in a few nights from opening this production will be a tremendous piece of theatre”.  As well as praising the performers, he described the directors, designers and musicians involved as “now a triumphant force in the country’s theatre”.

In one newspaper report by Nancy Berryman, she wrote that cast members had taken an unconventional approach to getting from one side of the stage to the other.  When a cast member exited stage right, the most convenient way to enter stage left was to dash around the block outside the theatre.  Seems going via the normal route inside the theatre, up and down narrow stairs under the stage, took twice as long.  White and Fawdon regularly took the shortcut along the street, sometimes having to dodge prop men carrying scenery in the other direction.  Fawdon said, “We seem to take it in turns to catch cold”.  White, who ran four times around the block each performance including one turn in handcuffs, said, “It’s a bit hard to sing when you’re out of breath.  I usually peek my head out first to see if the coast is clear”.

Once the performance season was well underway, the players and musicians went into EMI Studios, Sydney, for a session to record a version of the stage show.  While everything was well rehearsed by that stage, it was a rushed recording and the resultant album release (Jesus Christ Superstar - Original Australian Cast Recording, on MCA Records) was a mere reflection of the full stage show, being mainly dictated to by how much music could fit onto the two sides of vinyl.  Two tracks were also lifted for release as a single, featuring Michele Fawdon & Rory O’Donoghue/Jon English – ‘Could We Start Again Please’ b/w ‘Superstar’.

In a TV advert aired in the day, Harry M. Miller extolled the virtues of the show when he announced, “Perhaps once in a lifetime there comes an entertainment phenomenon, a show that gets to the heart of all people, really moves them.  Jesus Christ Superstar is such a show and I think it’s important that you see it, with your children.”

Over the course of the show’s original two year run, various performers came and went.  In mid-1973 Marcia Hines replaced Fawdon as Mary Magdalene, the first African-American performer anywhere in the world to take the role.  Hines was born in Boston, MA, and had arrived in Australia in April 1970 at the age of 16 to appear in Miller’s Hair production.  She gave birth to daughter Dohnyale ‘Deni’ Hines in December 1970, staying in Sydney to raise her.  In 1974 Marcia joined the Daly-Wilson Big Band as lead singer, then signed to Robie Porter’s Wizard label as a solo singer.  Alongside English and Young she was an enormously popular star on Countdown, enjoying hits with ‘Fire and Rain’, ‘From the Inside’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What to do with Myself’, ‘Until Your Love Broke Through’, ‘You’ and ‘Something’s Missing in My Life’.

Also by December 1973, when this particular performance was recorded, Tony Rose had taken over as Pontius Pilate, Wayne Matthews had replaced O’Donoghue as Peter and Reg Livermore was on stage as King Herod.  Livermore went on to carve out a successful career as one of Australia’s most renowned singers/theatrical performers.  He originated the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Sharman’s production of The Rocky Horror Show and his run of brilliant one-man shows included Betty Blokk Buster Follies, Wonder Woman, Sacred Cow and Son of Betty.

In this mix we should also mention Peter Chambers.  He’d been with the show since the beginning in various roles as an Apostle, Soldier or Leper, later taking on the role of Peter as well as occasional understudy for both Jesus and Judas.  He also supplied the recording equipment which captured this show for posterity.  It was a labour of love for Chambers in later years to convert it to CD, minus all the clicks, bumps, and grinds of the handheld microphones of the day.

The original JCS run wrapped up in February 1974.  A new production was staged throughout 1975-76 – including a New Zealand tour – with English and White reprising their lead roles while Chrissie Hammond took the part of Mary Magdalene (Stacey Testro played Mary in NZ).  Two young singers who met when they appeared as Apostles in this production, Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell, went on to form Air Supply.  With massive worldwide hits such as ‘Lost in Love’, ‘All Out of Love’, ‘Every Woman in the World’, ‘The One that You Love’, ‘Here I Am’ and ‘Making Love Out of Nothing at All’, they remain among the most successful Australian songwriters ever.

Widespread interest in the rock opera took off again in August 1992 when Miller launched a revival season, this time with John Farnham in the role of Jesus.  Alongside Kate Ceberano (Mary Magdalene), Jon Stevens (Judas), Angry Anderson (King Herod), John Waters (Pontius Pilate), Russell Morris (Simon Zealotes) and David Gould (Caiaphas), Farnham featured on the #1 charting Jesus Christ Superstar The Album issued by Polydor in July.  He also sang on the hit single ‘Everything’s Alright’ (with Ceberano and Stevens, national #6 during September).

I Only Want To Say...

In subsequent years, Jon English was often asked in interviews about his time with Jesus Christ Superstar.  He was always proud of the show’s success and in his own role as Judas.  Interviewed by TV presenter Donnie Sutherland on rock show After Dark (May 1982), he recalled splitting his trousers during his audition as well as nearly getting hanged one time during his staged suicide (‘Judas’ Death’) nearing the end of the opera.

English said, “With what the stunt people called gags there’s always a modicum of risk when you’re doing it for the first time.  They were devising different sorts of flying harnesses for me to see what worked best.  I used to get a rope put round my neck and I’d fly up 60 feet in the air.  The original flying harness was made of canvas with wires attached.  Everything was checked to make sure the tension was right, the breaking strain of the wire was 2,000 pounds, the whole thing.  But they’d never check the buckles on the harness and this one time I went up both buckles broke, so I was actually hanging on, like that (motions holding on to the rope over his head), and screaming.  So the director came up to me after the show and said ‘don’t scream so much, it frightens the kids’!”  He ends with a chuckle.

In a 1995 60 Minutes episode, English described the protests that took place. “There were an enormous number of protesters, and they were very angry, they had these placards.  I walked through them one time and they actually interviewed me, they thought I’d been in the audience, because they wouldn’t go and see it, it was blasphemous.  I said ‘I thought it was very, very good in fact.  I thought the bloke that played Judas was absolutely sensational, he’ll go a very long way.’  Then someone twigged it was me and they said ‘that’s him!’ and it was literally shove, shove, push, push.  A couple of the doormen had to come out and rescue me.  It really was ‘crucify him! crucify him!’.  It was scary.”

On the 1997 TV show Where Are They Now, Peter Luck hosted a JCS reunion of the 1972-74 production with Marcia Hines, Jon English, Trevor White, John Paul Young, Tom Dysart, Rory O’Donohue and Harry M. Miller.  While the others were present in the studio together, English was beamed in via satellite from Wellington, New Zealand where he was otherwise engaged with The Pirates of Penzance.  English was in an ebullient mood and, prompted by Luck, related the time during ‘The Last Supper’ when, right at the most sombre moment, someone in the audience farted really loudly.  “We’re in this serious Daliesque pose and then we were supposed to sing but we were all laughing.  I don’t know how he did it but Trevor managed to sing his part but I couldn’t because I was laughing so much.  After the show I apologised to the stage manager but he said ‘it was the most dramatic moment on stage I’ve ever seen in my life’.”  White said, “After all these years, I thought it was you”, to which English shook his head and said “No!”

In an interview with Peter Thompson for ABC-TV’s Talking Heads (2006), English said, “Well, because it was quite a controversial show, all the loonies came out of the woodwork.  Once, at the end of Act 1 where I systematically betrayed Jesus, some nutcase from the balcony threw $6.00 worth of 20 cent pieces at me and gave me five stitches over the eye.”  Thompson then asked, “What happened to Trevor White?” and English replied, “Some idiot threw a Molotov cocktail at the stage but the wick came out, fortunately.”

Jesus Christ Superstar – An Australian Cast Recording
Live at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, December 1973

All songs written by Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice (Universal/MCA Music Publishing Pty Ltd)

DISC 1
1. Overture
2. Heaven on Their Minds
3. What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying
4. Everything’s Alright
5. This Jesus Must Die
6. Hosanna
7. Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem
8. Pilate’s Dream
9. The Temple
10. Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
11. I Don’t Know How to Love Him
12. Damned for All Time/Blood Money
Tracks 1-12 from Jesus Christ Superstar

DISC 2
1. The Last Supper
2. Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)
3. The Arrest
4. Peter’s Denial
5. Pilate and Christ
6. King Herod’s Song
7. Could We Start Again Please
8. Judas’ Death
9. Trial Before Pilate (Including The 39 Lashes)
10. Superstar
11. The Crucifixion
12. John Nineteen: Forty One
Tracks 1-12 from Jesus Christ Superstar

Lead Cast (1973)
Jesus Christ: Trevor White
Judas Iscariot: Jon English
Mary Magdalene: Marcia Hines
Pontius Pilate: Tony Rose
High Priest Caiaphas: Peter North
High Priest Annas: John Young
Priest 1: Brian Withers
Priest 2: Peter Noble
Priest 3: Bill Binks
King Herod: Reg Livermore
Simon Zealotes: Stevie Wright
Peter: Wayne Matthews

 

 

 

Lethal Weapons - 1978 and Melbourne Punk

Lethal Weapons - 1978 and Melbourne Punk

Lethal Weapons - 1978 and Melbourne Punk

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Here are my original liner notes for the 2007 CD reissue on Aztec of the seminal 1978 compilation Lethal Weapons, a snapshot of a year in the history of Melbourne punk/new wave.

Lethal Weapons

By Ian McFarlane © 2007

The tale of Suicide Records is encapsulated in this one album and its three singles all issued in the first half of 1978. Suicide was an attempt from within the mainstream rock music industry to capitalise on Melbourne’s emergent punk/new wave scene. The label was launched with a great deal of fanfare and commercial aspirations but within a year it had collapsed in a heap. So let’s be honest here: while Suicide was an opportunistic business scheme it was also a failed scheme.

Essentially Lethal Weapons (Suicide VXL1 4072), issued in May 1978, was a snap-shot of a time when the Melbourne scene circa 1977/78 was undergoing a process of change; for music fans of my generation that transformation proved to be a very exciting prospect. I was fortunate to have seen the whole thing unfold, having turned 18 in 1977. There was an air of great expectation present, the seeds of punk and new wave sown elsewhere were beginning to flower with young, new bands emerging and trying to find their own voice.

Lethal Weapons gave some of those young bands a say and even if the results weren’t exactly earth shattering it was a start. Nevertheless, the fact it was released as the original UK punk/new wave scene was in its death throes has always been proof for the nay-sayers of the album’s lack of relevance in the greater scheme of things. Possibly true but that’s missing the point. At least we have this album as a tangible artifact of such an idealistic venture.

The man behind Suicide was Barrie Earl, a gruff, burly, bolshie kind of self-styled entrepreneur who always wore cowboy boots. He’d been managing bands since the late 1960s, having ventured to the UK on a couple of occasions as a manager, taking The Cleves over in 1971 and then Mississippi in 1974. Following his English exploits he was back in Australia in 1977 with the idea of starting a label. As he was getting Suicide off the ground, by all accounts he’d regale his young charges with tales of hanging out with the Sex Pistols and the like; some took it in as gospel while others sniggered behind their hands. As he picked up Melbourne bands Teenage Radio Stars, Boys Next Door, JAB and Negatives, others such as News (nee Babeez) resisted the Suicide lure while Young Charlatans and Tsk Tsk Tsk simply couldn’t have cared less.

Earl managed to get Mushroom Records head Michael Gudinski and the likes of Ray Evans and Philip Jacobsen interested in the label, all signing on as company directors. Gudinski, however, was unwilling to put the Mushroom name to the product so Suicide was set up as a subsidiary company with distribution through RCA who threw a lot of money into the venture. This included a good deal of promotion; teaser ads and then full-page adverts in Juke and RAM, the two main rock music magazines of the day. Melbourne-based Juke also gave the label and bands a lot of press coverage with a decent number of news items and articles. RAM (based in Sydney) tended to be more analytical, as the pieces written by Richard Guilliatt (“Sign to Suicide or suicide to sign?”; 2 June 1978) and Miranda Brown (“Oz Punk Suicides”; 6 October 1978) show.

Both magazines reviewed the album, with generally constructive editorial comment. Writing in RAM, Andrew McMillan stated the good with the bad, “...Not as disastrous as many sceptics would have believed …some numbers have been touched up by executive interference …there’s a good slice of dross and the cut isn’t the best …as one of the very few Oz new wave albums around, it’s at least a reflection of the (generally) depressing state of the art here …given the standard of The Saints and Radio Birdman in ’76 it’s depressing to realise most bands here are just starting …With a lot of improvement they can claim parity with the state of the wave in the UK and USA …”

Late night TV rock show Nightmoves got behind the album with a positive review, and both Teenage Radio Stars and Boys Next Door scored appearances on ABC-TV’s flagship pop music show Countdown, quite a coup for such young acts. Molly Meldrum was very enthusiastic about TRS in particular. RCA also ensured the album got placed in record shops far and wide. I bought my copy at the local record bar in suburban Glen Waverley the week it came out. Estimates vary but seems the album sold at least 5,000 copies, possibly even 7,000.

Lethal Weapons-Advert 1978-LoRes.jpg

Aside from the music, the most striking thing about the record was that it came pressed on milk white vinyl. Indeed it was advertised as “Australia’s first White album!”. It was also issued in a Limited Edition promo run on black vinyl, although very few copies of this have ever surfaced. It appeared on cassette (VXK1 4072), with the last tracks on each side swapped around in order to accommodate the tape running time. Also, the cassette cover featured the strange caption ‘Power Pop at their best’. Someone got their grammar mixed up that day: should it have been ‘Power Pop bands at their best’ or ‘Power Pop at its best’?

The UK label that Earl probably tried to emulate was Stiff Records. The Stiff guys had a way with slogans (“Today’s sound today”, “The world’s most flexible record label”, “Pure pop for now people” and “If it ain’t Stiff… it ain’t worth a fuck” being the most memorable), and Earl came up with his own approximations such as “Modern music for modern people” and “Revving towards tomorrow today”. Musically Earl also seemed to want to operate in the same ballpark as Stiff, initially pushing Suicide as a punk label, then new wave and finally power pop as the year progressed.

One of the other positive aspects of Suicide was that Gudinski’s Premier Artists booking agency picked up the bands and Earl began putting on Suicide bands package nights. Throughout March and April, Bananas (St Kilda) put on a series of weekly Punk Nites while Bombay Rock (Brunswick) put on regular New Wave Nites, where you’d get JAB, Teenage Radio Stars, Boys Next Door and Negatives one night and maybe X-Ray-Z, Teenage Radio Stars and Boys Next Door the next week. The package nights had petered out by May, but by then most of the bands were getting supports slots to major bands, or their own headlining gigs.

Nevertheless, the impetus had dissipated by October when the label quietly folded and by the end of 1978, only Boys Next Door were still functioning as a group. While they later transformed into the more outré The Birthday Party, at least a few other popular bands emerged from the Suicide debacle, including Models, James Freud & the Radio Stars and Sacred Cowboys.

  White Label reissue (1983)

White Label reissue (1983)

There was still enough interest in 1983 for Mushroom’s White Label to re-release the album (L-27112). Pressed on black vinyl this time, it was a bit of a cheap affair with the original gatefold jacket replaced by a single cover with inner sleeve. Also, by then the original artwork had been lost and a particularly second-rate replication of the bleeding revolver was slapped on the front cover. So, in the wash-up, what exactly did Suicide deliver?

The Bands

Teenage Radio Stars

Teenage Radio Stars were one of the star attractions of the Suicide venture (alongside Boys Next Door) with Earl taking a great deal of interest in their affairs as self-appointed manager. He was obviously grooming them for mainstream stardom and in a way they had the most commercial potential.

The band originally formed as Spred during December 1977 when James Freud (real name Colin McGlinchy; lead vocals) and Sean Mantelpiece (real name Sean Kelly; guitar, vocals) recruited two members for their punk rock band to be, Graham Magnet (real name Graham Schiavello; bass) and Peter Pip (real Peter Kidd; drums). Freud was such a rock chameleon (some would say an imitator) even back then that he went from being a Bowie lookalike, with the full make-up, to a wannabe Johnny Rotten almost overnight. Their first gig was playing at Punk Gunk, New Year’s Eve 1977, alongside Tsk Tsk Tsk, Babeez and Boys Next Door.

The original venue for the concert (a church hall) was cancelled at the last minute, so the four bands set up on a footpath in Faraday Street, Carlton. It was a defining moment for the emergent Melbourne punk/new wave scene, a real street gig for a street-level movement. Earl happened to be in attendance that night and latched on to Spred and Boys Next Door immediately. A swift name change to Teenage Radio Stars for Spred and the band was underway. Freud and Kelly had already worked up a set of basic punk tunes, including the likes of ‘I’m Dirty’, ‘Knife in the Back, ‘Didn’t Know I Loved You (‘Til I Saw You on the Dole)’ and ‘Australian Aristocracy’. They may have been unashamedly derivative but they were hilarious into the bargain. Freud’s lyrics to ‘Australian Aristocracy’ went something like: “Wake up Australia/You’re fucked Australia/You’re so bent Australia/We hate you Australia… and we don’t care!”. A real hoot.

I’d been mates with Kelly and Freud at high school and was their first drummer in our little garage band, Sabre (also called Nebula at one point) when we were 16-years-old. I used to watch Teenage Radio Stars rehearse at the time and, despite a certain amateurish level of musicianship to start with, they were a very tight band even at such an early stage. Kelly and Freud, in particular, already had their sights set on being major rock stars. As soon as they signed the Suicide contract they went into the studio to record demos. TRS emerged with at least one finished song, ‘Sweet Boredom’. They also picked up gigs at venues such as Martinis (Carlton), Council Club (Richmond), Paradise Garage (Carlton), the Whitehorse Hotel (Nunawading) and as part of the Suicide Punk and New Wave nites at Bananas and Bombay Rock.

Soon after that the rhythm section left (later joining La Femme) to be replaced by Pierre Voltaire (real name Peter Sutcliffe; bass) and Dave Osborne (drums). This line-up recorded their Lethal Weapons contributions with producer Les Karski. Suicide issued the single ‘Wanna Be Ya Baby’ b/w ‘Sweet Boredom’ (103139) in May. ‘Wanna Be Ya Baby’ is a terrific bubblegumish glam punk song, ostensibly a rewrite of The Vibrators’ ‘Baby Baby’ but Kelly recalls it was only years later that he realised when Karski had taught him to play the song’s plucked guitar riff he’d actually adapted it from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ instead. ‘Sweet Boredom’, in my opinion, is the best track recorded for the whole Suicide affair. It’s a compact example of ’78 glam punk with chunky riffing from Kelly and a suitably brisk pace.

By the time the album also appeared in May, and the band got the offer to appear on Countdown, the rhythm section had changed again with Mick Prague replacing Voltaire (who joined JAB) and Mark Graeme (real name Mark Harvey) replacing Osborne (who joined Fastbuck). The band dressed up to the nines for their appearance, with Freud playing a Gibson Melody Maker guitar in addition to his lead vocal duties. TRS was one of the first punk bands of the day to score an appearance on Countdown.

By that stage, Freud had dropped the punk threads in favour of leopard skin pants and garish jackets for a new glam influenced look and direction (more akin to Marc Bolan and David Bowie than the Sex Pistols or Iggy Pop). TRS had also started getting more prestigious gig supports to the likes of Cold Chisel, Skyhooks, The Sports and John Paul Young and the All Stars. By June, Freud was declaring to Juke magazine that:

“We did it (became a punk band) to create interest. There was a demand for punk bands in Melbourne ’cos there were hardly any of them around. We thought we could make a bit of money and get some gigs. When we started Teenage Radio Stars we played very basic dance music, deliberately letting ourselves fall into the punk format. We had the choice of continuing to get nowhere or give ourselves a chance to get some attention… Yeah, I think the punk thing has well and truly run its course now.”

Clearly Freud had set a new agenda and by early August had ousted his mate Kelly from the band. Tony Harvey replaced Kelly who immediately joined a new band, Models, with three ex-members of JAB, Ash Wednesday, Johnny Crash and Voltaire (quickly replaced by Mark Ferrie). After establishing a significant live presence on the local new wave scene, Models went on to sign with Mushroom Records. TRS became Radio Stars, then briefly James Freud’s Ego, but by the end of 1978 Freud had broken up the band. He formed a new band James Freud and the Radio Stars and had a hit with ‘Modern Girl’ in 1980, then went to the UK to record an album under the aegis of Gary Numan. Following a year spent down and out in London – after the album was scrapped – Freud returned at the beginning of 1982 with the express purpose of rejoining Kelly in his band Models.

Wasted Daze

Wasted Daze really was the odd band out here. Basically a Sydney R&B outfit, the fact they covered two Bo Diddley songs (‘Roadrunner’, ‘Mona’) gives a good indication of their background. How they came to Earl’s attention in the first place, and why he thought they’d be appropriate for Lethal Weapons, is open to debate. Maybe being an energetic live proposition in the early days of punk in Australia tipped the balance in their favour; I mean these guys really could play. Indeed their two contributions here, with prominent slide guitar, are closer in spirit to Teenage Head period Flamin’ Groovies than anything else being tight but loose in that genuine proto-punk, R&B/pub rock tradition; they just stand out like the veritable dog’s balls.

In 1975 singer/guitarist Terry Wilson and drummer Daryl McKenzie were playing swing blues with Leroy’s Layabouts. McKenzie was a real journeyman drummer having started in the 1960s playing with R&B bands The Showmen, Five Just Men and The Squares, before moving onto the 1967 Sydney psychedelic soul scene in bands like Big Apple Union, Dr Kandy’s Third Eye and A Love Supreme, changing tack again with Starving Wild Dogs (1968), Quill (1969), Jeannie Lewis and Gypsy Train (1970) and others. Bass player Phil Cogan had also started out in the 1960s with the Richard Wright Group and Southern Comfort. Nothing much was heard again from Wasted Daze once the album appeared; Wilson and McKenzie continued to play in bands well into the 1980s.

JAB

Unlike Wasted Daze, JAB was perfect for Lethal Weapons. This Adelaide band started out in 1976 as a three-piece experimental outfit comprising Ash Wednesday (bass/synthesizer/other strange noises), Bohdan X (guitar/lead vocals) and Johnny Crash (drums, vocals). Their early influences included the likes of the Velvet Underground, Eno and Bowie plus certain German electronic bands such as Kraftwerk, Neu!, Faust and Can. Along the way they added a guitarist called Boris (who was later replaced by Bobby Stopa) and with the advent of the punk/new wave era began to take on a brasher punk stance.

JAB was part of the first wave of new bands on the Adelaide scene, alongside The Dagoes, Young Modern, Black Chrome, Sputniks, The U-Bombs, Warm Jets and The Accountants. Bohdan even had a solo single, ‘Time to Age’ b/w ‘You Got Soul’, issued on the Tomorrow label (MA-7203), but they found it necessary to move on and relocated to Melbourne at the end of 1977, perfect timing to be swept up as part of the Suicide package.

They certainly played at many of the Suicide gigs around town and they always looked tougher than everyone else, in particular when it came to Wednesday’s brooding, don’t-fuck-with-me stage demeanour. Still, at the time there was some contention that JAB really couldn’t play very well, often being out of tune and shambolic in the live situation (they probably were but I thought they were okay); nevertheless, they acquit themselves admirably on their two tracks here.

‘Let’s Go’, in particular is a manic blast of punk attitude and Wednesday throws in the kind of Enoesque synthesizer squall that he’d perfect during the early days of his next band Models. ‘Blonde and Bombed’ has a bizarre, almost calypso undercurrent (thanks to Crash’s drum feel) while Bohdan’s monologue (delivered in his best Cockney accent) is hilarious.

Pierre Voltaire (ex-Teenage Radio Stars) joined on bass in May 1978, freeing up Wednesday to concentrate on the keyboards, but three months later the band broke up. Bohdan joined the remnants of The Chosen Few to form Bohdan and the Instigators; he later issued several solo records and became a well-known DJ on community radio station 3RRR-FM. Wednesday, Crash and Voltaire linked up with Sean Kelly (ex-TRS) to form Models. Wednesday was later in the Metronomes, Modern Jazz, Crashland etc, while Crash was drummer in Sacred Cowboys.

The Survivors

Another out-of-town band that got swept up in the Suicide vacuum, The Survivors featured three Brisbane boys with impeccable credentials. Bruce Anthon (drums, vocals) was the proprietor of Rocking Horse Records, the essential import/punk record shop in the Brisbane CBD. Anthon was also on hand as the first, temporary drummer for the embryonic Go-Betweens when they formed in late 1977. Anthon had met Jim Dickson (lead vocals, bass) over the counter at Rocking Horse and they discovered a shared love for The Who, The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things, The Kinks etc. The Saints had only just signed to EMI when Anthon and Dickson decided to form their own band on the barren Brisbane independent scene.

Dickson was already something of a musician identity having been bass player in Brisbane’s #1 rock act of the day, Railroad Gin. Time for a re-think and Dickson and Anthon found a willing accomplice in Pete Townshend fanatic Greg Williamson (guitar, vocals). The band’s live repertoire comprised almost all covers (for example, ‘Midnight to Six Man’, ‘A Legal Matter’, ‘Everything’s Alright’, ‘Where Have All the Good Times Gone’ etc) with just a smattering of originals.

Given the lack of gigs on the early Brisbane punk/new wave scene (where The Survivors probably rubbed shoulders with The Leftovers, The Numbers, Razar, The X-Men and precious few others), it’s a credit to their determination that the guys forged ahead. They released their own independent 45 on the Real label, ‘Baby Come Back’ b/w ‘Mr. Record Man’ (RR1000) which appeared in December 1977. They had even recorded it at Window Studios, where The Saints captured ‘(I’m) Stranded’. The Survivors also toured interstate, making two trips to Sydney and penetrating the deep south by arriving in Melbourne just as Suicide was emerging. It seems that Anthon handed a copy of their single to Greg Macainsh who was acting in an informal A&R capacity for the label. Obviously Earl knew a good thing when he heard it and slapped the two tracks on the LP.

Not really a punk band, in truth a classic power pop outfit The Survivors sound is absolutely riveting on their two tracks. Mixing irresistible melodies and barely-in-tune harmony vocals with diamond hard 1960s influenced guitar hooks and a whomping back beat, ‘Baby Come Back’ and ‘Mr. Record Man’ are a pleasant contrast to the seriousness of some of the other tracks. ‘Mr. Record Man’, in particular, is a joyous ode to being in love with music. The single got reissued on Suicide in May 1978 (103181) to little interest.

The Survivors broke up later in the year. Dickson joined The Passengers in Sydney before heading to the UK where he joined The Barracudas. He later worked extensively with The New Christs and The Deniz Tek Group. Anthon and Williamson formed The Credits, issuing one single ‘It’s You’ in 1979. Received wisdom is that The Survivors got ripped off by Suicide, and Anthon certainly has no fond memories of the whole episode. Still, I’ve always thought they added immeasurably to the strengths of Lethal Weapons.

Boys Next Door

Like TRS, Boys Next Door had played at the seminal Punk Gunk gig, but they’d been around since 1975. Nick Cave (vocals, acrobatics), Mick Harvey (guitar, vocals), Tracy Pew (bass, vocals) and Phill Calvert (drums) were all students at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs when they formed the band. Initial inspiration came from British 1960s R&B/pop (Them, The Who) and 1970s glam rock (David Bowie, Roxy Music), plus a few American icons (Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Ramones). They’d already started gigging by 1977 – Keith Glass used to put them on at the Tiger Lounge in Richmond as support to his Keith Glass Band (KGB) and they’d played Martinis in Carlton etc. – but within a year they were cutting a swathe through the thriving alternative new music scene centred on inner-city Melbourne.

They probably never considered themselves to be punk as such, and the closest I can come to describing Boys Next Door’s sound at that stage is new wave power pop. Harvey had the buzz-saw guitar happening but overall it was a polite attack, the rhythm section had yet to perfect that grinding drive and Cave was still getting to grips with his idiosyncratic vocal technique. They were a close-knit bunch though; when not playing gigs you’d see them around the traps and they’d walk everywhere in tight two-by-two formation, looking surly. They might wear regulation new wave gear but next time you’d see them they’d be decked out in drape coats and shirts featuring alien-like molluscs painted on them, perfecting that whole them against us vibe.

By 1978, their live set was pretty varied; they were always bringing in new songs but ‘Masturbation Generation’, ‘Sex Crimes’, ‘Conversations’ and ‘Boy Hero’ featured prominently alongside covers of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ and Alice Cooper’s ‘Eighteen’. It’s no surprise they got swept up in the Suicide vortex; their three contributions were already well honed but perhaps lacked the necessary bite that fresher material may have inspired. Nevertheless, as the reigning kings of the scene they got the second Suicide single, ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ b/w ‘Boy Hero’ (103140) and also scored an appearance on Countdown.

By July, they were in the process of recording their debut album and desperately trying to distance themselves from the Suicide scene. Nick Cave told Juke magazine:

“It’s a bad step to make for somebody to attempt to put up a record label that is supposed to be one sort of music. That was probably the initial mistake, although it got a lot of attention because of that. I am glad we signed up (but) the songs we did on Lethal Weapons were written when we were first forming as a band about a year ago. We had no idea what we wanted to be, we just wrote them from our influences at the time. When we were doing them, we weren’t very excited about the songs… and it shows. The songs on that album are nothing really like our music now… When we did Lethal Weapons, I was happy with it ’cos I thought that maybe that’s how we sounded in the studio, but I’ve seen what we’re doing now. I just know the album we’re doing now is so much better.”

Lethal Weapons LP-Back Cover-1978.jpg

Rowland S. Howard (ex-Young Charlatans) joined in October 1978 bringing his distinctive guitar sound and song writing abilities. Door Door (Mushroom L-36931), issued in April 1979, was a transitional album and contained Howard’s ‘Shivers’ now recognised as an Australian classic. By then the Crystal Ballroom in St Kilda, the bastion of all things punk and new wave in Melbourne, had opened its doors and Boys Next Door found a new home, playing alongside all the other young bands of the day. Later in the year they moved over to manager Keith Glass’s Missing Link label and put out the 12-inch EP Hee Haw (MLEP-3). It was a sign of things to come. They’d moved into more abstract pastures, with the simple, shifting song arrangements offset by lots of jagged edges and Howard’s patented, abrasive guitar noise. The influence of overseas bands like The Pop Group, Pere Ubu, The Fall and Gang Of Four had also started to take hold. In February 1980 Boys Next Door transformed into the more artfully malevolent The Birthday Party and left for the UK.

Negatives

Negatives grew out of one of Melbourne’s very first punk combos The Reals (who alongside Boys Next Door and Babeez were the originators of the scene). The Reals comprised Garry Gray (vocals), Chris Walsh (bass, vocals) and Peter Cave (drums) plus guitarist Ian ‘Ollie’ Olsen who only stayed for a month or two before leaving to form his own group Young Charlatans. With the arrival of Michael Holmes (guitar) towards the end of 1977, The Reals regrouped as Negatives.

Negatives had an aggressive, buzz-saw punk sound and I thought they were a good live act when I saw them at Bombay Rock as part of one of the Suicide nights. Gray was certainly willing to throw himself around with much abandon in his role as front man. So it was a surprise when their contribution to Lethal Weapons turned out to be the eerie, mid-tempo ballad ‘Planet on the Prowl’. I use the term ballad with some irony here as it’s a brooding study in psycho-drama with the lone protagonist “driving wild out on the edge of the highway” where “nothing is certain ’cept death to me”. Peter Cave’s rolling drum pattern really pushes the song forward. In a strange way it always makes me think of The Doors’ ‘Riders on the Storm’, it has the same kind of effect on the listener.

It’s the most unusual track on the album, certainly the longest at over six and a half minutes. Full of unsettling sound effects and overdubs, most off putting is the sound of producer Eric Gradman’s violin drone. Peter Cave told me at the time that Gradman made his contribution without the band’s knowledge or consent but fortunately it ends as the shouted backing vocals kick in during the coda.

Negatives were probably given the shortest shrift in the whole saga, losing out to the label’s star attractions Boys Next Door and Teenage Radio Stars in the attention stakes. They’d broken up by the end of 1978. Gray went on to further infamy as lead singer for Sacred Cowboys; Walsh joined The Fabulous Marquises and then The Moodists; Holmes joined Eric Gradman: Man & Machine and later The Zimmermen.

X-Ray-Z

While X-Ray-Z had its roots in Adelaide pub rockers Rufus Red, the band is recognised as one of Australia’s pioneering new wave outfits. Rufus Red moved to Melbourne in early 1977. Sensing a change in the musical climate the band members adopted a ‘poor image’, renamed themselves X-Ray-Z and set about establishing an identity on the Melbourne inner-city pub circuit. The band comprised Peter Rich (real name Peter Doley; vocals, alto sax, tenor sax), his brother Mike D’Art (real name Martin Doley; guitar, vocals), James Wave (real name James Lloyd; bass, double bass) and Jon Ray (real name Jon Wilkinson; drums).

X-Ray-Z supported US visitor Lou Reed on his October 1977 Australian tour, and then signed to Mushroom for a one-off single, ‘Poor Image’ b/w ‘Sledge Hammer Hit’, ‘Citizen John’ (K-6951), issued that November. ‘Poor Image’ was a chunky pub rocker with a kinetic guitar riff, and the storming ‘Sledge Hammer Hit’ boasted a distinctive punkish snarl.

X-Ray-Z obviously played a big role in the Suicide package gigs at Bombay Rock and Bananas in early 1978, and had probably made enough of a name by that stage to headline their own gigs around town. Their contributions to Lethal Weapons, ‘Three Glorious Years’ and ‘Valium’, are the heaviest tracks here, akin to the heavy metalish guitar riffage of The Dead Boys. I like ’em because they’ve got an energy that goes beyond standard HM sludge. ‘Three Glorious Years’ also features a layered sax sound courtesy of Rich.

Suicide probably didn’t give the bands much breathing space and sense of longevity because most had disintegrated by year’s end and X-Ray-Z was no exception. At least the Doley brothers stayed together but they’d moved on, re-inventing themselves as Popgun Men playing in a hard-edged electro-pop vein. Peter Rich retained his stage name although Martin Doley became Mauri Bund. Dis Naylor (guitar), Andrew Picoleau (bass, vocals) and Errol Senol (real name Errol Selimi, drums) completed the line-up.

Popgun Men issued one independent single, ‘Behind Dark Glasses’, in February 1980. Rich and Bund also contributed sax and synth respectively to Metronomes’ single ‘Saturday Night’ b/w ‘Sunday Morning’ (Cleopatra CSP-22030), issued in May 1980, the connection being Picoleau who was also a member of that band. By mid-1980, Popgun Men had transformed back into X-Ray-Z with a line-up of Rich, Bund, Picoleau and Selimi.

X-Ray-Z played the Melbourne scene until early 1982 after which Picoleau joined Sacred Cowboys. Before splitting, X-Ray-Z had recorded studio demos and live material which the Polyester label combined with the three tracks from the ‘Poor Image’ single and ‘Three Glorious Years’ for the compilation album X-Ray-Z (LUV SEVEN) issued in 1988.

Lethal Weapons originally released as Suicide Records/RCA VXL1 4072 (May 1978)

1. TEENAGE RADIO STARS – Wanna Be Ya Baby (J. Freud/S. Kelly)
2. TEENAGE RADIO STARS – Learned One (J. Freud/S. Kelly)
3. WASTED DAZE – Roadrunner (E. McDaniel)
4. WASTED DAZE – Mona (E. McDaniel)
5. JAB – Let’s Go (Bohdan)
6. JAB – Blonde and Bombed (Bohdan/A. Wednesday)
7. THE SURVIVORS – Baby Come Back (B. Anthon/Survivors)
8. THE SURVIVORS – Mr. Record Man (B. Anthon/Survivors)
9. BOYS NEXT DOOR – These Boots are Made for Walking (Lee Hazelwood)
10. BOYS NEXT DOOR – Masturbation Generation (Nick Cave)
11. BOYS NEXT DOOR – Boy Hero (N. Cave/M. Harvey)
12. NEGATIVES – Planet on the Prowl (C. Walsh/G. Gray)
13. X-RAY-Z – Three Glorious Years (Peter Rich)
14. X-RAY-Z – Valium (Peter Rich)
Bonus Track
15. TEENAGE RADIO STARS – Sweet Boredom (J. Freud/S. Kelly)

 

Buffalo - 1976 and Mother's Choice

Buffalo - 1976 and Mother's Choice

Buffalo - 1976 and Mother's Choice

Buffalo-Mothers Choice LP.jpg

Here are my original liner notes for the 2006 CD reissue on Aztec of Buffalo's 1976 boogie rock master class album Mother's Choice.

Thanks to Dave Tice, Pete Wells (R.I.P.) and John Baxter.

Mother’s Choice

Ian McFarlane © 2006

In the past, I’ve often been critical of the last two Buffalo albums Mother’s Choice (Vertigo 6357 103) and Average Rock’n’Roller (Vertigo 6357 104), in as much as they lack the primal sound and arrogant disposition of the band’s early works. When you consider that the Buffalo legend that persists to this day is based solely on their first three albums, it’s a reasonable viewpoint; however, I’ve come to realise it’s also slightly wide of the mark.

As lead singer Dave Tice has explained it, they’re just different; they had a more commercial and considered sound and that was the whole idea. If we approach Mother’s Choice and Average Rock’n’Roller with that in mind, we come to realise they’re great albums in their own right and are ripe for reappraisal.

Since the end of 1974, with the sacking of original guitarist John Baxter, the members of Buffalo and their management had been working feverishly towards cracking the commercial market. Hit singles were the order of the day. In an Australian musical environment driven by the Countdown phenomenon, with commercially minded bands such as Sherbet, Skyhooks, AC/DC, Hush, Ted Mulry Gang, Dragon etc dominating TV screens and the radio waves, the Buffalo boys were keen to get in on the action.

Yet, despite their best efforts, the hit singles never eventuated for Buffalo. It seems that their early image as macho, progressive rock heavyweights still persisted; local radio stations were unwilling to play the band’s new singles (even though they’d moved on from their original psych-metal/proto-stoner rock sound) and the producers of Countdown doggedly refused to grant them a slot on the show. The members of Buffalo simply had to get on with the task at hand.

“Go, go, go Little Queenie...”

With the line-up of Tice, bass player Peter Wells, drummer Jimmy Economou and slide guitarist Norm Roue in place, the early months of 1975 found the band working in new guitarist Karl Taylor. The band’s sound changed immediately, with a more predominant boogie rock edge. New songs like their cover of the Chuck Berry classic ‘Little Queenie’ and ‘Lucky’ were perfect vehicles for Roue’s boisterous slide playing. He’d perfected his exceptional technique as a member of Band of Light, whose 1973 album Total Union was recently re-issued on Aztec (AVSCD012). Roue’s slide contributions to Total Union help to make it one of the greatest blues rock documents of the period. On a good night, Roue ranked alongside the La De Das’ Kevin Borich and Carson’s ‘Sleepy’ Greg Lawrie as the best slide player in the land.

As Tice recalls, “The change in the Buffalo sound was completely down to the change in line up. That whole organic approach where John came from, that worked for us at the time whereas Karl Taylor and Chris Turner, a bit later on, were formalised in their playing. They were both very formally educated players, much more traditional in their approach. The idea of getting into a rehearsal room with Karl or Chris and just jamming for a few hours, and saying ‘that was good, let’s take that and work with it’, all that was out the window. The later albums featured songs that one or the other brought into the studio as reasonably completed ideas or songs. Prior to that the songs were built out of whatever we had in our heads at the time. The dynamic had changed.”

“Norm Roue was different again, more like John in a way. Different style of playing obviously, in particular with his slide playing, but he was uncontrollable in his own way. He was such a fantastic slide player but unfortunately he couldn’t stick around for terribly long. Norm was very much a free spirit; things could happen while he played. Norm was one of the few guitar players I’ve been on stage with and I’ve got that ‘electric shock’ which you get when something touches you. It’s that feeling of ‘oh my god, what was that?’ Norm was one of those players, and John could do that to me too.”

The late Peter Wells put it this way: “After John left and we got Norm and Karl in, it was a different band. More like a blues, rock’n’roll kind of band. Norm’s slide guitar playing took the band in a different direction. He contributed quite significantly to the band, just in style and attitude. I don’t know if it was more successful or not, that line-up. We seemed to flounder around there for a couple of years, I’m not sure why. It’s hard to be objective about it all now after all these years. With Karl Taylor, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t work. Karl’s style was very unique too, the way he played, but in the end there was a bit of conflict there as well.”

“Lucky at love, lucky at rolling dice...”

In between their national touring commitments throughout 1975, the first order of business for the band had been to get into the studio and record those all-important hit singles. ‘Little Queenie’ b/w ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ (Vertigo 6037 055) appeared in August, followed by ‘Lucky’ b/w ‘On My Way’ (Vertigo 6037 901) in November by which time they’d completed their fourth album. Roue’s ‘Lucky’ was a stomping slice of boogie rock hi-jinks with his killer slide to the fore. It was the band’s best shot at the commercial market but it failed to chart.

During the early part of the year, three of the band members – Wells, Roue and Economou – had found time to goof off with their own sideline band, the New York Jets. Playing gigs around the Sydney pub circuit, they appeared under pseudonyms: Wells was Spik Gypsy Harris, Roue was Earl Churchill and Economou was Chuck Pyramidus. To add to the sense of reckless fun, they swapped instruments with Roue on drums, Wells playing guitar and Economou taking bass and lead vocals!

By the end of the year, however, Roue’s behaviour was becoming increasingly erratic, his fragile personality obviously unsuited to the rigours of a life spent on the road. Apparently, he suffered a breakdown of sorts while Buffalo was on tour in New Zealand in late 1975; he simply walked away from the band, never to return to the live arena. Rhythm guitarist and songwriter Colin Stead joined as 1976 dawned. As a songwriter, it was hoped that Stead would help ease the band into the more desired commercial direction. His musical background could not be further removed from that of the other members, having been part of Sydney band Lloyd’s World whose 1968 single on Festival, ‘Brass Bird’ is justly celebrated as a pop-psych masterpiece.

With the new Buffalo album finally released in March 1976, things began to look brighter for the band. They were, however, still capable of arousing controversy. Take the album’s title for example. The band originally wanted to call it either Songs For the Frustrated Housewife or Thieves, Punks, Rip-offs and Liars (a political concept) but cautious executives at Phonogram – mindful of all the fuss created over the covers to Volcanic Rock and Only Want You For Your Body – rejected the titles as being “too sexual” and “too confrontational” respectively. Lucky at Love, Lucky at Rolling Dice (a line taken from ‘Lucky’) was then suggested until they settled on the safer option of Mother’s Choice.

Interestingly enough, the album was also issued on cassette at the time (Vertigo 7127 503), with a revamped front cover that utilised only the large pink rose with yellow butterfly – from the wallpaper background on the LP cover – as the primary image. The old lady in the rocking chair had been dispensed with completely! Then even more strangely, the last track on each side (as they appeared on the vinyl pressing) was swapped around, so ‘Be Alright’ was track 4, with ‘Little Queenie’ moved to track 8.

The album kicks off strongly enough with ‘Long Time Gone’ and ‘Honey Babe’, with ‘Little Queenie’ and ‘Lucky’ keeping up the pace. We’ve included the non-album single B-sides here as bonus tracks, a cover of the Bobby Troup ripper ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ and the Tice/Taylor-penned ‘On My Way’ which help round out the whole album. ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ b/w ‘Essukay’ (Vertigo 6037 902) slipped out as a single during April but went by completely unnoticed. Overall, the stripped-down rock’n’roll sound on display is certainly accessible and energetic, with the band coming on like some of those London pub-rock bands, such as Dr Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe, simultaneously hitting their straps over in the UK. Buffalo music circa 1975/76 had that same retro feel while sounding entirely contemporary.

Because Roue had already left the band, he was nowhere to be seen in the band photo on the inner gatefold sleeve. Likewise, he was only credited on the album with “Special thanks to NORM ROUE: Slide guitar on all tracks except ‘Taste It Don’t Waste It’ and ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’”. Just as the album came out, the band suffered a further guitar-player mishap with Taylor leaving, intent on getting his solo career underway. He had his debut album, Taylor Maid (Polydor 2907 023) and single ‘You Won’t Come Around’ b/w ‘Prove You Wrong’ (Polydor 2079 086), out by the end of the year prior to which he’d formed a touring outfit called Karl Taylor & Huntress.

In the meantime, Buffalo had recruited Chris Turner (ex-Younger Brothers, Drain) as their newest lead guitarist. The London-born Turner had a wealth of experience under his belt, having started his career back in England during the mid-60s, as a contemporary of the likes of David Bowie, Peter Frampton, Steve Marriott and John Mayall. He was a very accomplished player and helped guide the band through its final year together. With his arrival, Buffalo began playing the likes of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Star Star’ and ‘Sweet Virginia’, alongside the usual Chuck Berry numbers, in their live shows. He and Stead never really gelled as a guitar team, with Stead leaving by mid year (although he did contribute the likes of the ultra-commercial ‘Rollin’’ to the final Buffalo album Average Rock’n’Roller).

Faithful Fans

Through all the ups and downs, the band’s fan base remained as faithful as ever. This is particularly evident in a wonderful fan letter published in the pages of RAM (Rock Australian Magazine), Issue #29, 9 April 1976.

No Bull in Buffalo
“Buffalo, on any night, are the most powerful raw rock band in Australia! They are the most ripped-off band in Australia! Consider where AD/DC, Hush and a host of lesser known punko rock bands got their shit from. The guitarist from Hush is playing now what John Baxter (not Dave Baxter a recent album review on Mother’s Choice would have you believe) was playing back in 1972 in Buffalo’s Dead Forever period.

“The punk rock bands that are big nationally are a watered-down commercialised version of what Buffalo has been, during the years, at different times. Buffalo has produced some of the best rock guitarists that have come out of Australia – ie John Baxter, Norm Roue, Karl Taylor and of course the ultimate heavy metal kid, Peter Wells on electric bass. Their new guitarist, Chris Turner, would rank with anyone in the world for pure rock and roll.

“But, unfortunately, Buffalo will never be big nationally – unless of course they break up or Dave Tice becomes a big solo artist, or Peter or Jim OD or something – and then there will be a situation like what happened with the Velvet Underground or MC5 in the States, where years after the event people will realise what was there. Buffalo have, I think, reflected the times at which they were recorded. For me, at least, Dead Forever was almost a hippy/dope album. Some day, people will pick up on songs like Bean Stew like they did with Lou Reed’s Heroin years after the original release of the record. Volcanic Rock was another album that probably is the only true Mandrax/downer album ever produced in Australia. Only Want You For Your Body was the ultimate punk rock statement, supremely cynical with songs like Kings Cross Ladies and Skirt Lifter. How about that for pre-Dingoes, Ayres Rock etc. nationalism! Mother’s Choice is the ultimate ‘75 Sydney neurotic album!

“Anyhow, Buffalo are the original punk rock band in Australia – the first and the best. Who else could blow a joint on national TV and get away with it? They did in fact (contrary to the report in the RAM Dirt Column) show shots on TV, in one of the two songs they did on the Phonogram Gold Fever Show, of the dreaded weed being smoked. Peter Wells looked so stoned no wonder they gave him a chair. Besides just getting away with it, Buffalo looked like they were doing it as a natural part of playing a song – like not just for a pose or something. Long live the only true Outlaw Rock Band in Australia – Buffalo!!”

A Buffalo Fan from beautiful downtown Darlinghurst (as they say on 2JJ)

In the same issue of RAM, journalist Felicity Surtees pinpointed the band’s current dilemma, with all the members (bar Economou) disowning the Mother’s Choice album. Tice summed it up with “We wanna do another album real soon and forget the other four”.

Surtees goes on to write: “It all boils down to the fact that Buffalo would like to Make it Big. It means that the new Buffalo are trying to be more ‘commercial’ in the sense that their music will appeal to a broader cross-section of the market (whoops sorry audience that’s meant to be) and it also means that the approach will be ‘more professional’. As well as arriving on time for gigs, ‘more professional’ includes things like making better use of the studio and co-ordinating the release of a record with the stage act. Previously, Buffalo procedure with their material was to write the song, then after playing it on stage for twelve months, record it on that year’s album. ‘But now,’ explains Chris, ‘we’ll be using the studio to create and enhance the music and then taking it to the stage…’.”

“Taste it... don’t waste it”

1976 was shaping up to be a make-or-break year for Buffalo. They still managed to tour nationally, playing the regular teenage dance circuit, a few open air concerts and the occasional pub gig. They even scored the national tour support slot to UK visitors Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow during November. By way of concluding this part of the Buffalo story, Tice states, “The first three albums sound cohesive but that was completely down to the chemistry of the band at the time. I’m aware as anybody that the fourth and fifth albums had lost that. Those later albums aren’t bad; they’re just different, that’s all. The sound and the songs had changed. They had a more commercial flavour, which was the whole point. What I said before about the change in guitar players is no reflection on their relative merits or abilities. With the later albums when you listen to them you realise there’s a whole different approach going on. Chris and Karl have been at various times as good as any other guitar players in the country. In some ways there’s no real way to compare them, is what I’m saying.”

I’ll leave the last words here to Peter Wells: “Even though we didn’t get played on radio, it wasn’t that bad for us. We used to work all the time, we got plenty of gigs. You didn’t really need a lot of airplay to get plenty of gigs, y’know what I mean? We battled on. But the Mother’s Choice album was pretty good, it was just a different style, more rock’n’roll. We toured more with that album; we went down to Melbourne more often. The first couple of albums sounded more Sydney-oriented to me. After Mother’s Choice we had more of a national flavour. Just with travelling around a lot more, our sound changed.”

To be continued…

Mother’s Choice originally released as Vertigo 6357 103 (March 1976)

1. LONG TIME GONE (Dave Tice/Karl Taylor)
2. HONEY BABE (Dave Tice/Karl Taylor)
3. TASTE IT DON’T WASTE IT (Dave Tice/Karl Taylor)
4. LITTLE QUEENIE (Chuck Berry)
5. LUCKY (Norm Roue)
6. ESSUKAY (Buffalo)
7. SWEET LITTLE SIXTEEN (Chuck Berry)
8. BE ALRIGHT (Dave Tice/Karl Taylor)

BUFFALO IS:
DAVE TICE: Vocals
KARL TAYLOR: Guitar
PETER WELLS: Electric bass
JIMMY ECONOMOU: Drums & voice
Special thanks to NORM ROUE: Slide guitar on all tracks except ‘Taste It Don’t Waste It’ and ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’
Also to MARK SIMMONDS who played Sax on ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’

 

Buffalo - 1974 & Only Want You for Your Body

Buffalo - 1974 & Only Want You for Your Body

Buffalo - 1974 & Only Want You for Your Body

Buffalo-Only Want You For Your Body LP.jpg

Here are my original liner notes for the 2005 CD reissue on Aztec of Buffalo's monstrous 1974 album Only Want You for Your Body.

Thanks to Dave Tice, Pete Wells (R.I.P.) and John Baxter

Only Want You For Your Body

By Ian McFarlane © 2005

With the dawning of 1974, the members of Buffalo were in a positive frame of mind. Their first two albums had sold well – Dead forever… had sold over 15,000 units, Volcanic Rock not far behind with sales over the 10,000 mark – although local radio still ignored the band’s singles with no likelihood of a hit in the offing.

Radio programmers cited the band’s raw and heavy sound – surely the essence of the Buffalo identity – as the reason for lack of airplay. This quickly became a bone of contention, with the band’s management intent on effecting necessary changes in an effort to improve the band’s commercial standing, all of which led to the disintegration of the classic Buffalo line-up by the year’s close. The band still toured regularly, drawing decent crowds to their shows, so the first move to a more commercial outlook came with the recruitment of slide guitarist Norm Roue (ex-Band of Light) late in the year.

Noted for his exceptional slide technique (heard to great effect on the classic Band of Light LP Total Union), on a good night Roue ranked along with the La De Das’ Kevin Borich and Carson’s ‘Sleepy’ Greg Lawrie as the best slide player in the land. The John Baxter/Norm Roue dual guitar line-up could have been a formidable entity, yet the line-up only lasted a matter of a few gigs before Baxter’s world came crashing down. Summoned to the manager’s office Baxter was told in no uncertain terms that his services with the band were no longer required. In retrospect it seemed a senseless move as it basically robbed the band of its most distinctive feature and boldest asset. Baxter’s guitar technique and sound had come to epitomise the group’s approach, a full on heavy metal onslaught of scorching riffs, sheer volume and over the top energy.

Nevertheless, by 1974/75 the Australian rock scene had changed considerably, with the older styled heavy progressive bands giving way to a more commercial aesthetic as characterised by the likes of Sherbet, Skyhooks, Hush, Ted Mulry Gang, Dragon, John Paul Young etc then riding the Countdown wave right into the hearts of adoring teenage fans and to the top of the charts. Buffalo’s management wanted some of the action and it was time for an uncontrollable force such as Baxter to be removed. The band continued on for another two years but its spirit was broken.

Ground-Breaking

The sheer irony of the change is that the Buffalo legend that persists to this day is based solely on their first three albums, Dead forever…, Volcanic Rock and the beast that is Only Want You for Your Body. Released in June 1974 (Vertigo 6357 102), the album sits comfortably next to Volcanic Rock as one of the most outrageously heavy and ground-breaking psych metal / proto-stoner rock albums ever released in Australia.

Buffalo-B&W#5-1974.jpg

Under the engineering/production guidance of Spencer Lee and Dermot Hoy, the guys maintained the heavy metal mayhem on such Dave Tice/John Baxter penned tracks as the absurdly macho ‘I’m a Skirt Lifter, Not a Shirt Raiser’, ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Stay With Me’, ‘King’s Cross Ladies’, ‘United Nations’ and a full-throated treatment of Alvin Lee’s ‘I’m Coming On’. While tracks like ‘I’m a Skirt Lifter…’ and ‘King’s Cross Ladies’ saw the band boasting of their sexual exploits, ‘Dune Messiah’ shifted the emphasis having been inspired by the Frank Herbert sci-fi novel of the same name. All up, this was big, dumb ugly riff-rock but the whole thing’s a fuckin’ riot from start to finish! Interestingly enough, gone were the studio jams that had filled Volcanic Rock (‘Freedom’, ‘Pound of Flesh’, ‘The Prophet’) in place of direct and tightly focused song arrangements. The band also achieved some remarkable dynamics in their sonic explorations. If anything Baxter’s guitar sound featured a more distinctive and measured tone all of which added to the album’s strengths.

As with Volcanic Rock, the album again contained a lyric sheet insert. ‘What’s Going On’ b/w ‘I’m Coming On’ was issued as a single (Philips 6037 041) in May and proved to be the band’s most powerful 7-inch coupling. As was the usual practice of the day, the single on the blue and silver Philips label was a mono mix with an edit to cater for expected radio airplay.

While the radio airplay never eventuated, Buffalo did score several television appearances throughout the year. Most significant was their series of slots on the ABC-TV’s local rock show GTK (Get to Know), the precursor to Countdown. Usually featuring bands playing a number of songs live in the ABC studios these episodes of GTK captured Buffalo in full blown concert mode. The full GTK sessionography was: ‘Dead Forever’ live in Sydney (March, Episode 797); a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ live in Sydney (March, Episode 802); ‘United Nations’ live at the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney (April, Episode 815); ‘Kings Cross Ladies’ live at the Hordern Pavilion (September, Episode 904); ‘Sunrise (Come My Way) live at the Hordern Pavilion (October, Episode 936). Unfortunately, the audio quality for some of the GTK performances has deteriorated to the point of being un-useable, but the band is in ripping form.

Then there was the band’s turn on Melbourne TV kids show Hey, Hey It’s Saturday. Presented by entertainer Daryl Somers and his sidekick, a fluffy pink and orange puppet called Ossie Ostrich, the show was a Saturday morning perennial that featured irreverent comedy routines, live guests and assorted cartoons. Buffalo fan Steve Lorkin recalls their appearance on the show as highly entertaining. At that time Dave Tice had taken to wearing a feathered jacket, sort of a chicken suit, and as the surly members of Buffalo sauntered onto the set, there was much hilarity as everyone noted the striking similarity between Tice and his jacket and the fluffy Ossie Ostrich! Buffalo then shook the studio foundations with thunderous renditions of ‘Dune Messiah’ and the single ‘What’s Going On’.

While Buffalo was attempting to widen their appeal by capturing a younger audience, at the same time as trying to retain an adult following, they almost blew it when they became embroiled in controversy at the end of the year. While staging a show in front of 400 kids at Blacktown shopping centre, in Sydney’s vast eastern suburbs, the band called on stage a stripper known as Madam Lashonce who wielded a bullwhip dipped in blood! As the crowd stood in stunned silence she began disrobing to the band’s grinding music. Naturally all hell broke loose, with a group of mothers reportedly going berserk and screaming at the band to take her offstage! The sensationalist tabloid press had a field day with that report. While the nation was outraged, it was just another night out for the guys in the band.

"Dune Messiah... rider of the worm"

Only Want You for Your Body is my favourite Buffalo album,” John Baxter states proudly. “That to me is the epitome of our sound, that full-on heavy metal sound. To me it was a progression. On Dead forever… we were finding our way, it probably wasn’t the exact sound we were after but at the time we were happy with it. Then with Volcanic Rock we did it like a live studio album without any touch-ups. It was a very raw sound which is what we were aiming for. Then with Only Want You for Your Body we thought we’ll get this one right and make it sound really good. That and Volcanic Rock are the most representative of my guitar playing style.”

Tice continues: “With Only Want You for Your Body, you’ve got things like ‘King’s Cross Ladies’. I quite like ‘King’s Cross Ladies’ because that was just us telling it like it was, we were out there rooting and that’s what it was all about in those days. That was our celebration of that in many ways. ‘Dune Messiah’ and ‘What’s Going On’ I thought were pretty good. Also, sonically the sound’s pretty different on that album.”

All the same, Buffalo managed to outdo themselves with the wildly tasteless cover design which featured an obese, screaming, semi-naked woman shackled to a torture rack. As shown on the back cover, the band reveled in their role as leering, lascivious Aussie yob rockers, with Tice wearing a devilish grin while clad in his black leather strides ‘n’ braces and brandishing a bullwhip. And dig those wild stack-heeled boots! It was just a bit of harmless fun, yet outraged record store managers across the land refused to stock the record, some eventually placing it in a brown paper bag to hide the offending images.

Bass player Pete Wells chuckles at the thought; “There was a certain amount of humour involved in what we did. The covers were a bit over the top and there was always a bit of controversy. A lot of people objected to the covers, but we didn’t care. The covers were really significant in capturing people’s interest.”

Tice: “That cover was fantastic; we had such a laugh with that! You gotta laugh at that cover; it’s so overstated it’s just jokey.”

Baxter: “On the cover of Only Want You for Your Body, we were just a bunch of hoons. We had the boots, but we weren’t a glam band, like we’d never ever put on make up. That was something we refused to do, like Sherbet or Hush. We weren’t part of the glam scene; we didn’t want to be part of that scene. That probably didn’t help us with radio because that was a big thing in those days, getting played on radio and we never got played on commercial radio.”

Buffalo-1974.jpg

"Got your United Nations..."

The album’s place in the Buffalo canon, and indeed the pantheon of Australian rock, is significant in itself. While some people may have been offended by a silly cover design, its very presence was symptomatic of changes and upheavals within the fabric of society. Tice attempts to put it into some kind of perspective when he explains: “When we were making those early albums, we were very much contemporaries of the people we were playing to. We had the same aspirations, the same dreams, y’know? It’s a generational thing. The late 60s/early 70s worldwide was a watershed in musical history. What was being explored hadn’t been explored in that way before. Now there’s a certain amount of nostalgia involved in that music.”

“Also, one of the most popular TV shows at the time was Happy Days. That seemed like a more innocent era. But what we were doing in Buffalo and what overseas bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were doing, it was the very antithesis of that innocence. It was an expression of a new mind set as far as people’s maturity was concerned. We were often compared with Black Sabbath and I can understand why you would make that comparison but it was never our intention to be like Black Sabbath particularly. To tell you the truth, I didn’t hear Black Sabbath until we were already making records. It just so happened we were doing similar things on different sides of the world.”

The release of Only Want You for Your Body and the ejection of Baxter from the band’s ranks brought the end of an era. Pete Wells states it plainly as he recalls: “When John got the chop from the band, at the time I really did think we’d run our course, we’d had our day. The band continued for a couple more years after that, but I really think the band had finished its first era. To me the best line-up was the four-piece on Volcanic Rock and Only Want You for Your Body; that was the band at its best. I like ‘What’s Going On’, ‘United Nations’ but with that line-up, I think we’d taken it as far as we could go. It was time for a change. The music scene was starting to change around that time as well, Countdown had started. The whole venue scene in Australia had changed as well; initially we used to play a lot of school dances and then the pub scene opened up.”  

"Do you know what's going on!"

John Baxter speaks...

More penetrating are Baxter’s recollections of the upheavals. Here he speaks for the first time about the circumstances of his departure:

“Norm Roue joined and we did a couple of gigs together. I dunno if that line-up would have worked. He was a great slide player but it came as a bit of a surprise to me actually. I don’t think we even rehearsed. I think it was at Marourba Surf Club or something and he just showed up and I was saying ‘well, what’s going on’ and the others said ‘oh, he’s just gonna have a play’. I think they cooked that up behind my back, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t involved in that. Pretty soon after that I got the chop.”

“I got called to the manager’s office a couple of days before we were due to do a cruise ship tour, something we’d never done before. I was looking forward to that. So the manager called me up to the office and said ‘well, look, the guys have decided that you’re out of the band’. I was a bit surprised. I’m the sort of guy who doesn’t like to hang around if he’s not wanted, so I just took off. Thinking back I should have stuck to my guns and said ‘no, I’m not out of the band at all, you’re out of the band’. How much of that band was me! It was late 1974 and I’d put in all these years with the band. We’d been going with that band since 1971; four years and I thought to myself later ‘I shouldn’t have just weakly given in to that’. I put so much work into that band, they were my songs and my effort and they thought they could just chop me out like that. And I just went limply, ‘oh, okay, I’ll go’. I just crawled away and got in my hole for a while and never heard from anybody.”

“Then Dave got in touch with me after they’d done the next album and said ‘do you wanna hear it?’ Me and Dave hadn’t been talking, y’know? For probably about a month or something before I left, we weren’t on good terms. We weren’t even saying hello at gigs. I’m not sure why that was actually. I think it was something to do with my volume on the guitar. He used to complain a bit and quite rightly so. I was probably one of the loudest guitar players going around. But I felt I needed that to play the way I did. And in those days the PA’s weren’t up to it. I’d love to hear Buffalo now with the technology available these days.”

“By that stage the rest of the band was professionally minded in wanting regular income. I think they started looking at ‘how can the band get more success’ and they might have thought ‘well Baxter is such a loud guitarist, that doesn’t help’ and ‘the heavy metal path isn’t the right path to go’. The next album was pretty much heavy metal but it wasn’t the Buffalo sound that people were used to hearing. I think some of those songs are good.”

Baxter went on to join a new outfit called Southern Cross with ex-Buffalo singer Alan Milano, Bruce Cumming (guitar), Michel Brouet (bass) and Jeff Beacham (drums). Baxter wrote some of the band’s live repertoire, although he left six months after formation. A couple of Baxter’s songs, ‘You Need It’ and ‘Games’, appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album released on the Laser label (VXL1-4041) in late 1976. The songs were a prime example of the band’s melodic yet raunchy style of riff rock. From there, Baxter formed Boy Racer with John Gamidge (vocals) – quickly replaced by Terry Halliday (ex-Geeza) – Alan Wade (bass) and Trevor Jones (drums). Boy Racer recorded demo material for an album which has never seen the light of day; however, the band did feature in a live broadcast during 1977 for the ABC’s 2JJ youth radio station playing their signature song ‘Boy Racer’ which Baxter describes as “one of the most powerful rock songs ever written”. When the band dissolved at the end of the year after making little headway, Baxter left the music industry.

Conclusion

Dave Tice offers his thoughts in conclusion:

“John was fired by our management. It had been suggested, for some time before, that John was an uncontrollable force. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The music grew out of that, but management didn’t see it that way. One thing I will say is that through the first three albums with that four-piece, and also including the five-piece when we first started, is that the focus and the ideas within the band members were on parallel track. We had an innate understanding of what we were trying to do. A strong part of the reason for the line-up change was management preferences. They thought it was necessary to change the band. Well, y’know, John could be a bit of a loose cannon at times, but this is what comes with real creativity. I’d seen Norm do some strange things at times too, almost self-destructive.”

“So after doing those first three albums, as far as management was concerned we needed to find a way of breaking into the more commercial side of the business and their thinking at the time with John was that it was never gonna happen. The very things you can do to access that market were anathema to John, he just assumed what he did was fine. It was like ‘what do you mean radio doesn’t play our stuff, it’s not our fault, they just don’t like us’. Management’s idea was ‘okay they don’t like you, they won’t play you, but that’s because the sound is too raw, it’s not easy enough on the ear for commercial radio’. They got caught up in that way of thinking at the time. The last two albums have a more commercial sound, which was the whole idea. It’s difficult, once you get past a certain stage with a band and you’re involved with management, road crew, publicists and god knows what else, your ideas are no longer your own. Well they’re your own, but you’re under continual siege and direction by other things, other people’s ideas. We had people telling us what to wear. Y’know, ‘you have to look like this; you have to have this image’.”

“Up to that point our image was what we were, and then all of a sudden they wanted our image to be something we weren’t. It’s very difficult to sort the chaff from the grain in those circumstances. We didn’t think along those lines but we were aware that we had an 8-tonne truck, a 15-seater mini bus, three road crew, a publicist, a manager, an agent, all of whom expected to be fed. Not only that but after feeding them, we hoped to be able to feed ourselves! Plus, I personally think that if we were in a larger market doing what we were doing, or we were a band from New York or a band from London, then the financial rewards that would have gone with being in a commensurate position in those markets meant that all of us would have been doing quite well. The Australian market puts other constraints on performers. It tends to focus the realities a lot earlier than in other parts of the world. Overseas the numbers are hugely different.”

So with the end of 1974, the classic Buffalo line-up of Dave Tice, John Baxter, Pete Wells and Jimmy Economou passed into history. The order of the day was to score a hit single with the hope that Buffalo’s commercial profile would be elevated, leading on to bigger and better things. Despite their best efforts over the next couple of years, the expected hit singles for Buffalo never eventuated.

To be continued…

Only Want You for Your Body originally issued as Vertigo 6357 102 (June 1974)

1. I’M A SKIRT LIFTER, NOT A SHIRT RAISER (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
2. I’M COMING ON (Alvin Lee)
3. DUNE MESSIAH (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
4. STAY WITH ME (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
5. WHAT’S GOING ON (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
6. KINGS CROSS LADIES (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
7. UNITED NATIONS (Dave Tice/John Baxter)

NOW BLOW YOUR SPEAKERS OUT!

DAVE TICE: Voice
JOHN BAXTER: Guitars
PETER WELLS: Electric bass
JIMMY ECONOMOU: Drums & voice

 

Buffalo - 1973 & Volcanic Rock

Buffalo - 1973 & Volcanic Rock

Buffalo - 1973 & Volcanic Rock

Buffalo-Volcanic Rock LP.jpg

Here are my original liner notes for the 2005 CD reissue on Aztec of Buffalo's phenomenal 1973 album Volcanic Rock.

Thanks to Dave Tice, Pete Wells (R.I.P.) and John Baxter.

Volcanic Rock

By Ian McFarlane © 2005

By the end of 1972, Australia’s legendary progressive rock heavy weights Buffalo had established themselves as a prominent force on the local rock scene. The band’s debut album Dead forever… had sold well enough yet its true significance was rating as the very first Australian release on the prestigious Vertigo imprint which gained them valuable attention overseas.

The line-up had remained stable since the band’s inception in August 1971: Dave Tice (vocals), John Baxter (guitar), Pete Wells (bass), Alan Milano (vocals) and Paul Balbi (drums). Nevertheless, they were in a curious position when it came to their live appearances, with their local gigging schedule having dropped off considerably. As writer Richard Lyones reported in Sydney-based rock paper Sound Blast (December 1972): “The amazing thing is that, despite the tremendous sales of “Dead Forever”, despite their now international standing, despite the huge crowd they pulled to Paddo Town Hall earlier this year, promoters just aren’t booking them. Despite all that proof to the contrary, some promoters say they believe Buffalo isn’t profitable.”

This seems to have hung heavy on the band’s collective minds because they almost split up before the year was over. Tice had actually joined a new band called Mr. Madness being put together by four ex-members of Sydney-based psych-pop outfit Flake. The new band commenced gigging, but then the bosses at Buffalo’s record label, Phonogram/Vertigo, wanted them to support legendary British heavy metal demi-gods Black Sabbath at two Sydney concerts (Hordern Pavilion, 16th and 17th January 1973) as part of their second Australian tour (promoting the Volume 4 album). This was an opportunity too good to miss: Sabbath was one of the biggest bands of the day and indeed the local boys had often been compared favourably to the Brit metal masters. Tice remembers finishing the support slots to Sabbath, rushing offstage, jumping into a waiting car and heading across town to fulfill his singing role with Mr. Madness for three sets a night at Chequers disco. Naturally, his long-term allegiance lay with only one band: Buffalo.

Dave Tice remembers the Black Sabbath supports as “being really important shows… After I’d split, the record company came to us and said ‘fellas, you’ve got your album out, it’s sold well, we don’t want you to split up, Black Sabbath is coming and we want you as support band’. Dead forever… had been out for a while and we were on the same label as Black Sabbath of course, Vertigo. There was some discussion about whether we were gonna do it or not and we decided to do it and thankfully it was really good. I don’t remember seeing Black Sabbath because I had to leave straight away to play with Mr. Madness, but the reception we got was exceptional. I’ve had people come up to me in recent years and they say ‘oh I remember when you guys supported Black Sabbath and you blew them away’, y’know? Now, of course that is a matter of perspective but it’s nice to have people come up to you and say that.”

“Supporting Black Sabbath was a real highlight for me!” John Baxter declares. “We played to big crowds on both nights and we went over pretty well. Unfortunately we never got to meet Sabbath. On the first night I went up to their dressing room, knocked on the door but there was nobody around. I just stuck my head in and saw Tony Iommi’s guitar. I thought, ‘I’ll go and have a look at this’. So I walked up to it and I was feeling the strings and they were like elastic bands, they felt real soft and they were probably real light strings as well. And then a roadie walked in so I had to make a quick exit (laughs). That was it, nothing was said. So at least I touched Tony Iommi’s guitar for a split second. But it was a great gig for us. For a band that never got any radio airplay, to support Black Sabbath was fantastic.”

Revitalised Spirits

With the band’s spirits revitalised, their touring schedule immediately picked up. They scored another important support slot on the national package tour by British bands Slade, Lindisfarne, Status Quo and Caravan that did the outdoor concert rounds during February. Now down to a streamlined four-piece line-up of Tice, Baxter, Wells and new drummer Jimmy Economou, Buffalo ploughed ahead with more determination than ever and commenced work on their second album at United Sound Studios. Sound Blast reported that United Sound had recently imported new quadraphonic (four-channel) recording equipment and that the first to use the facilities would be none other than Buffalo! While working with the same producer/executive producer team of Spencer Lee and Dermot Hoy, this seemed the ideal opportunity to make an impact on record, yet the quadraphonic recordings never eventuated. What did eventuate, however, is one of the band’s greatest records and essentially the first real heavy psych metal album ever issued in Australia: the absolutely blazing Volcanic Rock (Vertigo 6357 101).

The importance of Volcanic Rock can never be overstated. This is the album that established the band’s reputation for dispensing uncompromising heavy psych rock of monumental proportions; this is the album that continues to enthrall aficionados of the genre the world over.

With the new album and its single, ‘Sunrise (Come My Way)’ b/w ‘Pound of Flesh’ (Philips 6037 035) out by August, the band was regularly headlining its own gigs around Sydney and interstate. They also picked up a major support gig (alongside the La De Das, Mighty Kong, Country Radio and Hush) to Sherbet and the Aztecs at the AMCO Supershow, Liverpool Speedway in December.

Reviews of the album were positive: “Buffalo is back. And that’s good news for those who like their rock steamin’ hot and raunchy… and Australian! (The album) thumps, it bumps and grinds gut solid from go to woe. The music howls and screams all around, and over guitar and bass riffs. It’s what you would expect from Buffalo, and that makes it easy to decide about the record… The production is good too. It’s going to be compared to Black Sabbath, but what the hell, Australia needs a band like that anyway!” (Sound Blast, August 1973).

Buffalo-VolcanicRock1973-LoRes.jpg

Melbourne based Go-Set magazine never really warmed to Buffalo, describing the single ‘Sunrise (Come My Way)’ as: “Heavy, solid, fast-moving rock. But sadly it sounds Sunbury ’72 – and strong music doesn’t date. The vocalist has a powerful gnawing sort of voice, earthy and interesting. But the Steppenwolf influences are too obvious. Other side, Pound of Flesh, is musically more fulfilling. There’s the steady pounding rhythmic section and a guitar which does some nice intricate things in a lively pulsating sort of way.”

Irrespective of the views at the time, there’s no denying the album’s power to this day. Buffalo had already earned a reputation as macho progressive heavies with the release of Dead forever…, but it was Volcanic Rock that cemented the legend. With its full quota of scorching, molten heavy metal, Volcanic Rock sounds as sweet as a Mach truck driving through a china shop, with twice as much crunch to boot! Tracks like ‘Sunrise (Come My Way)’ with its frenzied intro and pounding beat, ‘Shylock’ and ‘Till My Death’ typified the band’s attitude and approach: raw, hard-nosed riff rock, as dirty, loud and vicious as hell. Epic tracks like ‘Freedom’ and ‘The Prophet’ saw the band members stretching out and flexing their musical muscle. These songs are essentially loose jams built up in the studio, but that doesn’t detract from the overall impact.

An interesting point to note is that for the original album program, ‘Pound of Flesh’ and ‘Shylock’ were sequenced together as one long, two-part track.

"Oh Shylock... pay me now!"

“This is a very subjective thing, but I think tracks like ‘Shylock’, ‘Sunrise (Come My Way)’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘The Prophet’ are pretty much quintessential Buffalo tracks; they’re what I would really hang the band on, y’know?” Dave Tice explained. “They had that stream of consciousness thing going on, where we jammed them out in the studio; they are perfect examples of that. With ‘The Prophet’, John said to me recently, ‘I never realised what good lyrics you wrote Dave’, and quite religious in some ways. I guess John used to think that the lyrics, without sitting down and analysing them, were almost blasphemous and a little risqué. There is a bit of that but there’s a semi-religious content to them as well which is not so obvious. I think he discovered that himself in recent times. I don’t think he always took much notice of the lyrics whereas I used to labour over them quite a bit because I had to sing the damn things, y’know? Sometimes, with lyrics you write them down and then you’re appalled with having to deliver them. What might look good on paper might not come out so well when you sing them (laughs). But I could always make them work.”

“In my opinion ‘Shylock’ was our top live song, the song Buffalo we’re most recognised for,” Baxter confirms. “That was the song we played at every gig. That epitomised our style. I’d written the music at home and when I took it to the guys in rehearsals I said ‘look, I’ve got this idea, I don’t know, it’s not that good, do you wanna hear it?’ So Dave said ‘yeah, yeah, play it’. So I played it and they liked it. It was good that they did, otherwise I probably would have tossed it out. It became our most popular live song.”

Buffalo appeared at a concert held in Hyde Park for the Sydney Spring Festival 1973. Pop band Sherbet headlined the concert bill and Baxter remembers the day as wet and overcast. Nevertheless, Buffalo delivered an absolutely blazing rendition of the momentous ‘Shylock’ and all fans of the band will be intrigued to hear it after more than 30 years.

Baxter continues, warming to the memories: “The first album had a bit of variety on there; we were obviously still finding our way. It probably wasn’t the exact sound we were after but at the time we were happy with it. After that we went full on hard rock; no ballads. It was more my influences because I am a head banger. For Volcanic Rock we just decided to go full on, we recorded it live in the studio without any touch-ups. It was a very raw sound which is what we were aiming for. I’m not a ballad person myself. Being the main songwriter, I wrote all the music and got the songs going and then Dave would add his lyrics later. I’d bring ideas to rehearsal and then we’d jam on them and develop the songs from there. The music was up to me and that’s where we headed. The other guys were happy to head that way as well. I’m a heavy metal player; that’s what I do best.”

“The sound I developed came with the Gibson SG guitar and the Australian made Strauss Hurricane amplifier that I used; nothing else in between except occasional wah wah. It was a 200 watt RMS valve amp with two quad boxes. I used to love that amp! I’ve used Marshalls, Lennards, AC30s, all sorts of other amps and they never matched up to that Strauss amp. That amp’s gone now, I had to sell it. I also sold the SG quite a while ago. I was happy with my playing on the albums, there are little things I look back on now and think ‘it’s a pity that’s there’ or ‘I could have done a bit better there’. I think I did a pretty good job. From Volcanic Rock onwards, that four year period I was at my peak. Volcanic Rock and Only Want You for Your Body are the most representative albums when it comes to my guitar playing style.”

Wells indeed shares that opinion: “I think the best album is Volcanic Rock; we just seemed to capture a certain sound. It just seems to have survived the best. Generally speaking, just the style of playing and approach seems to make sense to me. I can’t remember that much about recording it; I’ve done a lot of recording since then so it’s very hard to remember specific recording sessions. ‘Shylock’ was always one of our gun numbers for sure. It always seemed to work when we played it live and people always liked it. If there’s any song from that era that people always focus on, that’s the one.”

Buffalo-1973-LoRes.jpg

Instrumentally the members of Buffalo were indeed at the top of their game on Volcanic Rock with Baxter’s savage guitar work and Wells’ throbbing, woody bass lines being real highlights, while Tice’s vocals never sounded so demented. Likewise, when drummer Economou really got wound up, there was basically no way of stopping him short of a sharp blow to the head. The album came with a fold-out illustrated lyric sheet, as well as featuring a garish and controversial gatefold cover illustration by J. Phillip Thomas: a graphic yet hilarious depiction of the female form as a menstruating volcano! To top it off, a fiery denizen of the volcano holds aloft a glowing, phallic shaped molten rock. Wonder what the feminists of the day had to say about that little lot!

“The Volcanic Rock cover, we thought it was pretty cool!” Tice laughs now. “I am surprised we got away with it at the time. From memory, there were two or three different designs put forward and the artwork that got used was the last one that the record company wanted to use (laughs). Only Want You for Your Body was the same too. The record company were shitting themselves what people might think. Ross Barlow was head of Phonogram at the time, and he was overseas when the Volcanic Rock artwork was getting put together and he sent a telex from New York or somewhere saying ‘watch what you guys put on the front cover’, y’know, and when he got back that’s what he was confronted with (laughs).”

“Our idea was to be controversial. Now those things aren’t considered controversial anymore although Volcanic Rock still has a certain amount of shock value especially to our feminist cousins. They still find it offensive and that’s good I reckon, because that’s what we were trying to do. You know, we wanted people to say ‘what the fuck is this; we’d better have a listen’. It’s the visual experience that can entice you; often you’d listen to an album because you saw something that appealed to you graphically on the cover. That’s always been very important. I continue to tell people ‘it’s no good making a great record and then sticking it in a package that no-one’s gonna take any notice of’, y’know? You might as well just hide it away. If you wanted people to take notice of you then you’d better damn well stand out!”

Baxter laughs too, but for a slightly different reason. “Volcanic Rock… That cover was a bit embarrassing to me. That demon on the volcano should have been holding a guitar above his head, I reckon, not what he was holding. I thought that was ridiculous (laughs). He should have been holding a flaming guitar. I would be much happier with that now. At the time we just thought it looked good. It did stand out; it was outlandish and caught people’s attention. That was the tactic we had to employ. No airplay, so we had to get people to listen to our music somehow. The record company was good; they didn’t push us too much. We had a very supportive and enthusiastic producer in Dermot Hoy. He saw our potential in the first place and he made the way clear for us to record our albums. With the covers, the company came up with the ideas and Ian Brown from the art department would say ‘okay, we’ll get the artwork done and we’ll okay it with you’. Usually we liked the artwork; I think the concepts were accepted straight away.”

"Some day sunrise coming my way..."

The album version of ‘Sunrise (Come My Way)’ was noteworthy, in that it’s a full minute longer than the single edit wherein the lead break mid-song had been excised for the sake of expected radio airplay. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that anyone held out much hope for a Buffalo hit single! What’s more, the single version was in mono and noticeable for the fact that it lacked the dual lead guitar lines in the intro. Interestingly, most of the singles released by Phonogram on the blue and silver Philips label of the day were mono mixes. The mono single version of ‘Sunrise (Come My Way)’ appeared again as part of the rare Buffalo EP (Vertigo 6237 001) in 1974, alongside ‘Suzie Sunshine’, ‘Dead Forever’ and ‘Barbershop Rock’. We’ve included both the album and mono single versions here for comparison. As a reference point it’s worth noting that a tremendous live rendition of the song, recorded in October 1974 at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion, was broadcast on the ABC-TV’s rock show GTK (Get To Know).

The 1973/74 period proved to be a busy and exciting time for Buffalo. They were on a roll, and following the release of Volcanic Rock they recorded their next album and continued to tour; however, the wind of change was howling and ructions towards the end of 1974 were set to destroy the band’s resolve and spirit.

By way of concluding this portion of the Buffalo story, Tice says “I still love those Buffalo albums. For a long time I didn’t listen to them. I couldn’t listen to them, I’d moved on. As you progress through your musical career there’s a time where you look back with disdain at what you did previously. You hope that you’re progressing, getting better at what you do. What I tended to hear when I did listen to the albums was the things I wasn’t happy with, the things that I thought were mistakes. I’d think, ‘I could have done that a bit better’ or ‘I didn’t hit the note quite right there’, y’know? You need a bit more distance to have perspective on these things. I’ve got a lot more perspective on it now; I can enjoy them again now. I can see them for what they were; I don’t need to justify them now. Also, you become more at ease with these kinds of things with the weight of other people’s opinions, you know what I’m saying?”

“I listen to the albums now and say ‘okay, we were young guys but the noises we made then are still being appreciated today’. And that continues to amaze me but I can see why now. Once upon a time I couldn’t see that. You’re too close to it, but you can’t divorce yourself completely from something that is really an expression of your personality at the time. If you have reason to want to put that behind you, it becomes a bit of an embarrassment. That might be a bit of a harsh word, but you know what I’m saying. You might think, ‘how could I have been so naïve?’ It’s got nothing to do with your technical ability as a singer or musician, but your perception of the world and how you relate to it does change drastically over time. I can look back and say ‘well it still stands up, I don’t have to be embarrassed by it, I think it’s fucking good work’, y’know? I hear myself singing and I think, ‘fuck Dave, you’re really not a bad singer at all’. There are some good songs there and thankfully I can see it within the context of which it was done.”

Wells is likewise down to earth when he states, “I’m not sure why the music still stands up. It’s a range of different things. I always ask people about that, younger people who have only been into the music for the last decade or so. I ask them, ‘well, why do you like the music’ and they say that it reminds them of a bunch of newer bands that have that same style. They just like it. Personally, I’ve got no idea why people still like the music. It’s a bit of a mystery to me really. There’s just a certain quality about the sound that appeals. It’s usually fans of that style of music and they’ve got all sorts of collectable records, they’re very enthusiastic about the music and they just go out of their way to collect it. They’re very keen on the music across the board.”

“I’ll be interested to see the reaction to these new CDs,” Wells concedes. “I don’t know if people will buy them. Will the old guys like them, will the young kids like them? I’m just interested to see who will buy them and who will relate to them. It’s all a bit of a mystery to me. Dave still works all the time, so do I, but the other guys who were in the band don’t play much now, so it’ll be interesting to see what everyone makes of the albums. There are the real record enthusiasts who will like the CDs, but the general record buying public couldn’t care less I’m sure.”

To be continued...

Volcanic Rock originally issued as Vertigo 6357 101 (August 1973)

1. SUNRISE (COME MY WAY) (Album version) (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
2. FREEDOM (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
3. TILL MY DEATH (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
4. THE PROPHET (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
5. INTRO: POUND OF FLESH (John Baxter/Peter Wells)
6. SHYLOCK (Dave Tice/John Baxter)

Play this album even louder!

DAVE TICE: Vocals
JOHN BAXTER: Guitar
PETER WELLS: Bass guitar
JIMMY ECONOMOU: Drums

 

 

Buffalo - 1972 & Dead Forever...

Buffalo - 1972 & Dead Forever...

BUFFALO - 1972 & Dead forever...

Buffalo-Dead Forever LP.jpg

Here are my original liner notes for the 2006 CD reissue on Aztec of Buffalo's seminal 1972 album Dead forever...

Thanks to Dave Tice, Pete Wells (R.I.P.), John Baxter.

Dead forever…

By Ian McFarlane © 2006

Do you remember the first time you saw the cover of this album? It’s such a striking image that it has the tendency to leave an indelible impression: a mournful, blood soaked face peers out through the eye socket of a skull (classic heavy metal imagery). My first sighting of the album was back in early 1974. I remember it well; I was 14 years old and had started getting seriously into music. The face and the attention-grabbing semi-psychedelic colouration effects around the skull matched the album title perfectly: Dead forever… BUFFALO.

Opening the gatefold sleeve revealed the photo of a heavy bunch of dudes playing their instruments in a cemetery, with amps towering behind them and gravestones rising ominously in front. Something was going on here! The record label logo on the cover was the famous Vertigo ‘swirl’. Holy shit! – Black Sabbath was on Vertigo; Uriah Heep was on Vertigo; Status Quo was on Vertigo – there really was something going on here. I flipped the jacket over: “Play this album LOUD!”. It was the kind of command you couldn’t ignore. What’s more, acting on that command was a rite of passage, sure to rile the parents or the neighbours; preferably both. This Buffalo was worthy of further investigation and it soon became apparent that they already had two more albums, each boasting even more tasteless front covers: Volcanic Rock and Only Want You for Your Body.

Musically, Dead forever… was all lurching riffs, rasping vocals, throbbing bass lines and a weird echoed sound to the drums; a generally heavy psych quality but with a few softer touches as well. There was a trace of that late ‘60s/early ‘70s hippie/dope vibe going on with the stoned guitar textures, but at a pinch the music wasn’t that far removed from the sounds of the British heavies my friends and I were into at the time: Sabbath, Purple, Zeppelin, Heep, Quo, Budgie, Free etc. Somewhat more rudimentary in many ways, but listening to the dark world of the title track ‘Dead Forever’ it really did feel like we’d found our own Black Sabbath. Within a year we even saw Buffalo playing live when they appeared at our local high school dance. They were a hard working and touring band no doubt, but we couldn’t believe our luck! Besides, when was Black Sabbath ever likely to play at your school dance?

Loud ‘N’ Heavy

Okay, that’s a typical tale of adolescent musical discovery. It’s only one aspect of my musical education and the things I was into during those pre-punk days of the mid-70s. Yet there remains something real and tangible about such a discovery. Certainly there had been other Australian bands charting a similar loud and heavy musical course at the time – Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Blackfeather, Coloured Balls, the La De Das, Band of Light, Bakery, Chain, Kahvas Jute, Carson among them – yet in retrospect none seems to have captured the arrogant disposition of the period in such a bold and thunderous fashion. One got the impression these guys were the real deal. Their record covers were outrageous, they played hard and heavy, they looked mean and surly: in short, lewd and lascivious Aussie yob rockers of the highest order!

Yet there was always a real streak of larrikin humour at play, almost an element of buffoonery to the band’s profile. Lead singer Dave Tice always had a glint in the eye and a wicked grin plastered across his face. Bass player Pete Wells appeared entirely po-faced, yet surely something wilier lurked beneath that air of nonchalant cool. It was as if they were in on some preposterous joke and were bursting to let the audience in on it all, but they never let on: you had to make the connection yourself. Just the fact they got away with their record covers at the time says a lot about their approach and demeanour. On the surface the covers appeared confrontational, but their true essence was borne of genuine wit and a playful sense of the absurd.

There was a time, however, during the late 1970s through the early 1980s when the name Buffalo was a forgotten one, relegated to the back blocks as punk and new wave swept all before them. It was that general downturn of interest in anything pre-1976, especially something deemed to be heavy metal or, heaven forbid, progressive rock! You could find copies of Buffalo albums in second-hand shops for next to nix. Gradually, the legend began to grow, assuming mythical proportions as their records became increasingly rare and started to fetch high prices on the collector market. The revival of interest extended overseas, in particular to British and European collectors who became hooked on the band’s sound and no-compromise delivery, to say nothing of their connection to the collectable Vertigo label.

I began writing about Buffalo in the early-1980s, after which I contributed liner notes to Raven’s LP collection Skirt Lifters (Highlights & Oversights 1972-1976) and the first major retrospective article on the band to collectors magazine From the Vault in 1989. I followed that with sections devoted to their records as part of my retro-zine Freedom Train Issue #3: The Australian Progressive, Hard Rock and Blues Record Guide (1996). Since then there have been many dissertations on the band’s history, in addition to the numerous and dubious reissues of their albums on inferior quality bootleg CDs. And that interest continues to this day with the band more popular throughout the world than ever conceived possible during their existence as a recording and touring unit. The debut album Dead forever… is the third in the current series of officially reissued Buffalo CDs on Aztec Music, so it’s time once again to unearth the legend and dust it off ready for examination.

Early Development

The beginnings of Buffalo can be traced back to teenage R&B band The Strange Brew which expatriate Englishman Tice and his mate Wells joined in 1967. They then put in time with the dubiously titled Capitol Showband before forming Head in 1968. Head emerged from the same blues scene that had produced the likes of The Purple Hearts, Thursday’s Children, Bay City Union, Black Cat Circle and Mick Hadley’s Coloured Balls. Neil Jensen (guitar) and Steve Jones (drums; also ex-Strange Brew) completed the line-up. Head moved to Sydney during mid-1970, and by 1971 had come to the attention of Dermot Hoy, A&R manager at Phonogram Records. John Baxter (ex-Mandala) then replaced Jensen on guitar and the band recorded a single featuring the first Tice/Baxter composition ‘Hobo’ b/w the Baxter-penned ‘Sad Song, Then’ (Philips 6037 004). Issued in May, the single sold poorly and remains the rarest Buffalo-related artifact. There was another line-up change when Peter Leighton (ex-Aftermath) replaced Jones on drums, and then with Paul Balbi (ex-Bootleg) replacing Leighton and the arrival of co-vocalist Alan Milano (ex-Mandala) in August 1971, Buffalo was born.

Dave Tice recalled when I interviewed him, “John Baxter was a very important part of the band, his playing defined what we sounded like. When Pete and I first came down to Sydney and Head was looking for gigs and trying to make a name for ourselves, at that point we were still very much a blues band. We were playing what is still the basic repertoire of every blues band to this day. We had changes in the band with Pete, John and I forming the core of what became Buffalo. With John it was a matter of doing what he wanted to do. His style was blues-based but he never considered himself to be a blues player. In fact, the idea of the 12-bar progression was anathema to him; he’d never stick to that format. When we recorded things like ‘No Particular Place to Go’ and ‘Just a Little Rock and Roll’, it wasn’t easy; we had to force him to concentrate on that style.

“But democracy was the name of the game in Buffalo. There were times when we would jam on those kinds of blues things because they’re easy to jam on but John’s natural tendency was to cross through the blues format. It was almost like stream of consciousness, and that’s the way John played. It was very obvious to Pete and I that what was going on between basically a blues rhythm section and this guitar player was rather interesting. We didn’t think what it was all about but it was interesting. Pete was obviously the one who had to find a way to make his bass playing work within that. He was already at a stage in his career and ability that he could jump on the changes that John might throw at him fast enough to make it work. Pete was able to make sense out of that and that’s what came out.”

Pete Wells had a similar recollection: “John’s guitar playing was very significant back then. He didn’t follow any trends; there weren’t many people capable of playing like that. It was a very unique style of playing. There were lots of guitar players he liked at the time, but he never sounded like anyone else to me. He stuck to his style and it’s stood the test of time. It wasn’t gimmicky; he just played his SG. The sound wasn’t processed, it wasn’t manipulated; it was just a basic rock guitar sound. A lot of what he came up with was based around improvisation. A lot of it was very simple rock, a couple of chords and a riff and we used to jam on that and come up with songs. It wasn’t complicated chord wise and as a bass player my job was to play with the dynamics and stick to the general feel of things.”

Tice goes on to explain: “The name Buffalo had nothing to do with the style of music we were playing. We chose a new name because when we started going around to the Sydney agencies as Head, we were treated with enormous indifference. Dal Myles at DM Enterprises was interested in the band, but he hated the name. He suggested we change the name because of certain drug connotations. He said we should have a name beginning with B, ‘cause the biggest bands in the world at the time were the Beatles and the Beach Boys. We also wanted something with an Australian flavour. So we got a map of Australia that also showed distribution of flora and fauna. This is a true story: someone got a pin, closed his eyes, shuffled the map around and stuck the pin in. It landed in the Northern Territory and the nearest name beginning with B was Buffalo. In retrospect, the music does fit the name, but that wasn’t by design.”

The Sydney ‘head’ scene of the day was dominated by the likes of Blackfeather, Jeff St John’s Copperwine, Tamam Shud, Tully and Kahvas Jute, all bands of phenomenal musical proficiency. In order to make up for a perceived lack of musical expertise, the members of Buffalo simply adopted a brash, no-nonsense macho attitude and got loud and heavy. They vied with Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs as the loudest and heaviest bunch on the scene. The first example of the band’s boisterous attitude came with the single ‘Suzie Sunshine’/‘No Particular Place to Go’ (Philips 6037 0110), released in May 1972, and Dead forever... (Vertigo 6357 007), issued in June.

Vertigo Connection

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The Vertigo connection is one of the most intriguing aspects of the whole Buffalo story. On the UK music scene circa 1968/69, the major record companies of the day responded to the growing emergence of underground music by setting up in-house subsidiary labels as an outlet for many new progressive signings: EMI established Harvest, Decca launched Deram Nova, RCA started Neon, Pye set up Dawn and Philips/Phonogram formed the well-respected Vertigo imprint. The Vertigo label established an immediate identity with (highly collectable) album releases by Colosseum, Juicy Lucy, Manfred Mann Chapter III, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Cressida, Fairfield Parlour, Gracious, Affinity, May Blitz, Clear Blue Sky, Warhorse, Legend, Patto, Gentle Giant and later on, many other heavy names like Status Quo, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard and Metallica.

By 1972, the Sydney office of Phonogram was on the case, promoting the label with local releases of many Vertigo titles and a desire to establish an Australian identity. Dermot Hoy obviously liked the band’s attitude, so Buffalo was the natural choice as the first local signing to the Vertigo stable; henceforth the link to the iconic Vertigo ‘swirl’ has ensured their collectable status to this day. Vertigo issued Dead forever… in Germany, Holland and (possibly) France, sans the gatefold sleeve. Company executives at the Dutch head office of Philips Records reportedly sent a letter to the band saying that Dead forever… was “better in quality, production and music than Black Sabbath’s Volume 4”!

Primal Sounds

‘Suzie Sunshine’ was catchy and commercial, but while nobody really held out much hope for a hit single, the album fared well and eventually sold over 15,000 copies. Original copies of the album were issued on the famous ‘swirl’ label, with later pressings appearing on the space-ship design. There was nothing subtle about Buffalo’s primal, heavyweight sound, but it was delivered with a great deal of verve and conviction. While the album referenced the likes of Black Sabbath, Free and the blues/boogie overtones of US psychedelic band Quicksilver Messenger Service, Tice and Wells were also fans of vintage American R&B. Hence the single B-side cover of Chuck Berry’s 1950s rocker ‘No Particular Place to Go’ was further evidence of the band’s diverse musical approach.

“At the time John was listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Free, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grand Funk Railroad,” Tice reasons. “Generally it was music that followed on from what Pete and I had been listening to. I don’t really know what he did before we worked together, but it wasn’t really important. We were all very idealistic in those days and we thought that you’d get three or four people together and something would happen. Interestingly enough, in many ways that’s what did happen! I really miss that now, quite frankly. I’ve done a lot of touring and recording since then but I’ve never had that same connection. In those days, we didn’t sit down and say we’ve got to write a song in this style or that style. I guess organic is as good a word as any to describe what we did.”

“With Buffalo we’d go into rehearsals for two or three hours and we’d start with no idea of what anyone wanted to do until somebody started making some noise. Quite a number of tracks on those early albums were done in the studio like that. We’d just get in there and John would say ‘I’ve got this little idea’ and bang, away we’d go. The first album was a little bit more thought out, organised, but not much more. When we recorded Dead forever… it included material that we’d developed while we were playing live. With the subsequent albums, in most cases we were writing as we were recording. That’s not to say that Dead forever… was totally formalised. It featured riffs and songs we’d been playing in front of audiences before recording.”

John Baxter remembers starting with his first band when he was about 16 years old. “At that time I was right into all the British bands of the 1960s. I loved The Animals; they’re still one of my favourite bands of all time. I liked The Yardbirds, The Beatles, the Stones, The Who, Them, Manfred Mann, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Some of it was poppy, Top 40 stuff, but to me at the time it was just great rock. Also The Easybeats were a great influence. Then later on when I was in Buffalo I listened to Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath; all the English heavy bands. Also, American guys like Joe Walsh, Grand Funk Railroad. Grand Funk! I remember some very stoned nights watching this 16mm film of Grand Funk that a friend of the band’s had (laughs).”

Heavy Psychedelic

As a program of music in itself, Dead forever… remains one of the first truly sinister albums from an Aussie band of the day. Highlights of this collection of heavy psychedelic blues included covers of Free’s ‘I’m a Mover’ and the Blues Images’ ‘Pay My Dues’, plus the band-penned tracks ‘Leader’, ‘Suzie Sunshine’, ‘Bean Stew’ and the melancholy, atmospheric ballad ‘Forest Rain’ replete with eerie sound effects (thunder, rain, wind, seagulls etc). Baxter stamps his identity throughout the album as an emergent guitar player of tremendous scope. He dominates with memorable riffs, stinging lead breaks and other interesting guitar parts: the free form feedback intro to ‘Pay My Dues’; the solo in ‘Suzie Sunshine’; the lengthy guitar freak-out in ‘I’m a Mover’; the brooding, eerie acoustic guitar refrain that opens ‘Leader’; the wah wah guitar bridge in ‘Forest Rain’; the slide guitar break in ‘The Ballad of Irving Fink’ (“That was done using a screwdriver!” is Baxter’s recollection).

The album’s centrepiece and Baxter’s piece de resistance is surely the awe-inspiring title track itself, ‘Dead Forever’. Very much in the Tony Iommi style of dense, heavy riffing with multi-tracked solos jostling for attention amid the boogie overtones, the whole thing creates a fat, solid framework of tremendously dark power.

“You know, I never went out of my way to copy anyone,” Baxter explains. “I’m not a copyist, never have been. I’ve never agreed with that mentality. You might use something as a reference point. I’ve been influenced by different players; you can’t help being influenced by people. I loved Tony Iommi’s playing, but by not trying to play like Tony Iommi you don’t actually sound like him. Some people used to say ‘oh you sound like Black Sabbath’, but I don’t think we did. I think we had touches of Black Sabbath in there, sure, but we also had touches of Led Zeppelin in there, we had touches of Deep Purple in there, y’know? And the rest of it was us.”

“How our sound came together was I wrote the music and Dave always wrote the lyrics,” Baxter continues. “He left me to do my job and I left him to his job and it worked out well. I’m quite pleased with his lyrics; he didn’t sink to the morass of some of the heavy metal lyric writers. He kept his lyrics for my liking fairly good. I probably only knew what he was singing in the choruses back then but what he was singing in the verses, I probably wouldn’t have had a clue (laughs). But looking back at them, I think they’re very interesting. I’ve listened to them and I’ve read then since and I’m glad he wrote what he wrote most of the time. Some of Dave’s lyric topics are surprising. He touched on Biblical topics in things like ‘The Prophet’ (from Volcanic Rock) and at the time I wasn’t aware of it.”

“The song ‘Dead Forever’, I quite like it,” is Wells’ pithy summation. “It’s actually a pretty good song. There’s this young band around Sydney at the moment called Dead Forever. They probably called themselves after the album. But I don’t know what that song means to me now; it was such a long, long time ago now.”

Twisted Effect

To play up the supernatural horror show connection of the title track even further, the tongue-in-cheek photo on the inner gatefold – taken at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery – and the otherworldly cover design round out the concept perfectly. In a kind of bizarre manufacturing mishap, a number of covers in the initial pressing came with the inner gatefold panel glued in upside down, adding a strangely ‘twisted’ effect to the package!

“With the cover design for the album it was completely down to what it’s called: Dead forever…,” Tice confirms. “The title actually came from a séance we had in Surfer’s Paradise. We were playing a two week residency at the Chevron Hotel up there; the promoter had put us up in this house and the story was that the owner had died in his bed. So we got stoned one night after a gig and being young and foolish, we decided to have a séance. We supposedly established contact and the glass started moving. Now, I don’t know to this day if it was somebody in the group moving it. I have an inkling that it was Pete Wells, ‘cause he would do things like that but he would never tell you. But we were quite impressed by the whole thing and John asked the question ‘What does it feel like where you are?’ and this ‘spirit’ spelled out D-E-A-D F-O-R-E-V-E-R.”

Dave continues: “So I wrote the lyrics from that and it also became the album title. When you’ve got a title like Dead forever… you have to use it and the artwork came afterwards. So the cover spoke for itself. It was put together by Nick van der Lay who saw a way to make some sense of it all visually and photographically. What you see on the cover of Dead forever… was just a way of portraying what the album was about; it stood out immediately in a record rack with the skull and the face with all the blood. That’s not me by the way; it was Nick’s assistant who looked somewhat like me. Nick also took the photo of us in Rookwood Cemetery and used that on the inner gatefold. He was very clever; he had a big input into the first three album covers. Unfortunately he died in a motorbike accident, which is why the album covers changed after the third one.”

“My recollection of how the title Dead forever… came about differs slightly from Dave’s,” Baxter says. “The title did come from the séance we had in Queensland. This house we were staying in was pretty creepy in some ways, lights would go on and doors would slam shut. So we decided one day, and I think it was my stupid idea because I don’t believe in séances now, in fact I think they’re dangerous, satanic actually. So it was like this ouija board with the letters and we put our fingers on this glass and asked all these questions: ‘Are you a good spirit?’ Naturally it’s always gonna answer ‘yes’ for that one. So the glass was moving around, it was really flying around the table and everyone swears that they weren’t pushing it; I’m not sure you can push a glass around like that without knocking it over. Anyway I asked the question ‘Is there a God?’ and it spelled out D-E-A-D F-O-R-E-V-E-R. We all looked at each other and thought ‘that’s a weird answer’. So I thought I’ll try this again – ‘Is there a God?’ – and it spelled out D-E-A-D F-O-R-E-V-E-R again and the glass flew off the table! This ‘spirit’ got really nasty when I asked it about God.”

Buffalo’s next single was the rollicking ‘Just a Little Rock and Roll (A Shot of Rhythm and Blues)’ b/w ‘Barbershop Rock’ (Philips 6037 020), a stop-gap measure before they returned to the studio for the next album. It was another example of their interest in a good old rockin’ 12-bar, with the Terry Thompson-penned A-side matched with Baxter’s own take on the form. The records launched the album/tour, album/tour merry-go-round that occupied Buffalo for the next five years. Something had to give, and by the end of 1972 co-vocalist Milano had left; he later formed Southern Cross. Balbi also left to be replaced by Jimmy Economou (another ex-Mandala alumnus); Balbi later travelled to England where he joined the ranks of pub-rockers the Count Bishops.

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To be continued…

Dead forever... originally released as Vertigo 6357 007 in June 1972

1. LEADER (D. Tice/J. Baxter/P. Wells)
2. SUZIE SUNSHINE (Brett/Baxter)
3. PAY MY DUES (Blues Image)
4. I’M A MOVER (Rodgers/Fraser)
5. BALLAD OF IRVING FINK (Alan Milano/John Baxter)
6. BEAN STEW (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
7. FOREST RAIN (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
8. DEAD FOREVER (Dave Tice/John Baxter)

Play this album LOUD!

BUFFALO is
DAVE TICE: Vocals
ALAN MILANO: Vocals
PAUL BALBI: Drums
PETER WELLS: Bass
JOHN BAXTER: Guitar

 

 

 

Jeff St John & The Id - Big Time Operators (1967)

Jeff St John & The Id - Big Time Operators (1967)

JEFF ST JOHN & THE ID

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Here are my liner notes for the 2015 CD reissue on Aztec Records of the 1967 album Big Time Operators

Dedicated In Memoriam to Jeffrey St John (22 April 1946-6 March 2018)

The Pleasure Principle - The Story of Jeff St John and The Id

By Ian McFarlane

Rock writer David ‘Dr Pepper’ Pepperell praised Jeffrey St. John’s voice for its limitless power, its precise and meaningful phrasing and its sweetness “like honey dripping from the hive”. Glenn A. Baker made no secret in his praise for St. John’s “roaring, finely controlled voice”. Indeed, throughout the 1960s and 1970s Jeff St. John was Australia’s finest rock vocalist.

His long and distinguished career involves many great recordings. His first album with The Id, Big Time Operators now gets the remastered CD reissue treatment. It’s a unique album, with no other Australian group of the time sounding so bold and brassy, so downright funky. This expanded CD edition adds ten non-LP, mono singles to the music programme for extra clout.

“Gotta find somebody to love...”

Born Jeffrey Leo Newton (22 April 1946), the singer began entering talent quests as a teenager and had appeared on TV shows such as the Don Lane Tonight Show. He began his professional singing career in 1965 when he was invited to join Sydney band The Syndicate, replacing original singer/harp player Shane Duckman. Peter Anson (guitar; ex-Missing Links), David Bentley (organ; ex-Riverside Jazz Band), John Helman (bass; ex-Riverside Jazz Band) and Don McCormack (drums; ex-Riverside Jazz Band) completed the line-up. The Syndicate became The Wild Oats and then The Id. The singer also changed his name to Jeff St John and his stage persona was complete.

When interviewed in 2015, St John explained how he came to join the band: “Shane Duckman was the original front man for The Syndicate and he was, shall we say, notorious. They were playing in a little place called the York Club and one night two big, burly policemen walked in, physically lifted Shane off the stage and took him away. Now they didn’t have a singer. I happened to be walking back from the city down Pitt Street, with my then wife-to-be Pamela, and John Helman pulled up in a car. He looked at me and said ‘hey, you’re a really good singer, I’ve heard a bit about you’. I don’t know how he’d managed that, I wasn’t well known although I’d done a bit of TV work.

“So he said ‘come and have a blow with the band’ and I asked ‘where’ and he told me the York Club and I said ‘where’s that?’. ’Cause I was as green as grass, I knew virtually nothing about the music industry at the time. So that’s how it started; I went down for the blow and got the gig.

“The name change to The Id occurred when we got the gig at Rhubarbs, in Neutral Bay. There’s some contention about this but to the best of my knowledge Rhubarbs was the very first dedicated, true discotheque in Australia. It used to be a folk club called the Last Straw, run by Jim Carter. He made his fortune on the folk scene but he also saw the writing on the wall and he involved two guys from Channel 7, Rod Kirk and Tony Culliton and they turned the Last Straw into Rhubarbs. They built a DJ’s box, they put up a proper stage. Probably the most innovative thing they did was chopping out a large section of the upstairs floor so that it became a four-sided balcony. If you didn’t want to stay on the sweaty dance floor with the rest of us, then you’d go upstairs but you were still part of the action.

“It was Jim, Rod and Tony who called us The Id. Here’s a myth that needs to be busted – most people have assumed that we were named after the cartoon character the Wizard of Id. That’s totally wrong. We were named The Id after the Freudian term, because Sigmund Freud claimed that the id was the primary motivating force of human nature and that’s how these guys saw us. Then they said to me, ‘we’d like you to change your name to Jeff St John’ and that fulfilled every childhood fantasy that I had and that’s who I became from that point on.”

Having opened Rhubarbs in late 1965 The Id issued their debut single, a cover of Ray Sharpe’s ‘Lindy Lou’ b/w ‘Somebody to Love’ (February 1966), on Nat Kipner’s Spin label. It wasn’t a success. Sharpe’s original 1959 single had been titled ‘Linda Lu’ and St John enunciates the name as “Linda Lu”, so how it came out re-titled ‘Lindy Lou’ is anybody’s guess.

St John was credited as writer of the flip side which starts out at a laid-back pace with a catchy guitar lick, cool organ sounds and the singer in mellow voice. As the song progresses, you can hear St John’s passion begin to rise – he really needs somebody! – until he declares with a feverish howl “gotta find a pretty baby gonna do my cookin’/gotta find somebody, yeah somebody to love, yeah awright!”. The band members respond in kind with a more forceful delivery including doubling the beat at the end of each chorus turnaround.

For the next single, ‘The Jerk’ b/w ‘Take this Hurt Off Me’ (March), the group was billed on the label as Geoff St John and The Id. The song was by US soul singer Don Julian who had apparently been inspired to write ‘The Jerk’ after watching young kids doing their thing at a dance. In a typical exploitation move of 1964, it was supposed that this could spark off a new dance craze (in the manner of ‘The Twist’, ‘Do the Watusi’, ‘Mashed Potato Time’, ‘C’mon and Swim’ etc). He recorded the song and issued it under the name of The Larks, becoming an R&B Top 10 hit.

The Id’s version wasn’t a hit but in their hands it’s all slinky and soulful, like an Aussie Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. ‘Take this Hurt Off Me’ was another cover, originally issued by Don Covay in 1964; The Id’s rendition prefigures the Spencer Davis Group’s version which appeared on the album Autumn ’66 later in the year.

By the time the single came out, the group comprised St John, Anson, Helman, McCormack and Ian Walsh (organ). Bentley had left to form Python Lee Jackson. Around this time, both bands got involved with Sydney experimental / underground film makers co-operative Ubu Films, contributing the shared soundtrack to Albie Thoms’ 21 minute, 16mm spy parody Blunderball or From Dr Nofinger with Hate.

“In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t shine...”

For their next single, the group was billed as Jeff St John and The Id and it’d be a safe bet to say that even they probably didn’t realise what they had on their hands. On first listen it might seem to be ordinary but this record is deep. And sonorous and soulful and perplexing and exciting; It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to nominate ‘Black Girl’ b/w ‘Eastern Dream’ (September 1966) as one of the most audacious and fearless Aussie singles of the day (i.e. non-commercial), but comparable with any other top-flight Aussie single of the 1960s you care to name.

Variously known as ‘Black Girl’, ‘In the Pines’ and ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’, this haunting lament is a traditional American folk song that dates back to the 1870s. Although the original song writer is unknown, it’s most readily associated with blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, who recorded it in the 1940s. It has since been recorded by numerous artists, from Pete Seeger and Gene Clark to Grateful Dead and Nirvana.

Here in Australia, the Master’s Apprentices also recorded a great version at their August 1966 demo sessions. Yet it’s The Id’s version which really sends chills up and down the spine; the group takes it at a funereal pace with a simple arrangement of plucked electric guitar, bass and drums and St John’s masterful vocal phrasing whereby he holds the notes at the end of each line for maximum effect and presence. The song never seems to move out of second gear but that’s exactly why it’s so mesmerising.

“That blues and R&B influence was the guys in The Id spoon-feeding this talented, naive kid,” says St John. “When the band first got together, they formulated a philosophy that unlike pretty much all the other bands in Australia at the time, they weren’t going to jump onto the English beat music wagon. The English bands were copying and drawing their influences from the American source so rather than copy the copyists, we went directly to the source as well. We were putting our own interpretation on the original works.

“The guys in The Id had access to all this incredible stuff. Don, John and Peter, in particular, had record collections that spanned the whole Mississippi delta blues period, so we were listening to people like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jimmy Reed, Leadbelly. We knew that Leadbelly’s real name was Huddie Ledbetter, nobody else knew that shit at the time.

“But there’s no false modesty here; I had the vocal ability to sing these songs. Technically I’m a baritone but I had access to in excess of four octaves. With black music they used a lot of falsetto and I was able to go from full voice into that upper register. So yes it was God’s gift this instrument I had, I make no bones about that but I was in the right place at the right time. And the guys in The Id helped me to nurture and train that instrument to the point where I was able to pick up the ball and run with it on my own.

“The family legend has it that I was singing along with the radio from the age of 18 months. All my childhood was spent singing musical comedy and light operetta with my parents. My father was a wonderful baritone and my mother was a beautiful contralto, so I just had music around me all my life. When the boys started feeding me this stuff, I was this dry sponge and I just soaked it up.

“When it came to singing something like ‘Black Girl’, my mother had taught me how to read a lyric, she taught me how to express a lyric and so that’s obviously the way the lyric in that song impressed me. It’s probably been 50 years since I heard ‘Black Girl’.”

With regard to ‘Eastern Dream’, written by bassist John Helman, this song can lay claim to being one of the first local psychedelic recordings. Writing in Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966-1970, Ian D. Marks was spot on when he explained:

“A dinky Egyptian sounding organ line played by Ian Walsh begins the song, before the awesome cavernous voice of Jeff St John comes in to rap about a dream he had that ‘Wasn’t happy and it wasn’t sad’. The slithery slide guitar of original Missing Link member Peter Anson balances the organ perfectly and provides even more of a Moorish atmosphere to proceedings. You can almost smell the incense and spices wafting through the desert on this one.”

It some ways, ‘Eastern Dream’ puts one in mind of the sounds that Eric Burdon and The Animals began to explore on songs such as ‘Good Times’ and their album Winds of Change. And herein lies the rub: Jeff St John and The Id released their record in September 1966 while ‘Good Times’ didn’t appear until August 1967 and Winds of Change that November!

“We were never shy of being adventurous,” St John declares, “but ‘Eastern Dream’... that’s a terrible song! I’ve become a reasonably proficient songwriter over the years and when I hear ‘Eastern Dream’ now I cringe a bit. But you know what? So many people love that song. It got picked up for the Packer special (the 2012 TV mini-series Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War), so what do I know? If I knew more, I’d be filthy rich with a string of hits behind me.”

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“I’m gonna be a big time operator...”

The Id now added a horn section of Bruce Johnson (tenor sax, flute) and King Fisher (trumpet; ex-Riverside Jazz Band) who was soon replaced by Dieter Vogt (trumpet).

“What people might find interesting,” St John explains, “is the fact that the band adopted a brass section because I had to go into hospital for some treatments. The guys felt that they couldn’t replace my voice and so instead they took on a brass section. So then when I came out of hospital we decided to keep the brass section.”

Next came a one-off single on the EMI Custom label as an advertising gimmick for Sunoroid sunglasses, ‘Sunoroid ’67’ (vocal) b/w ‘Sunoroid ’67’ (instrumental), credited to The Id Featuring Jeff St John (they’d finally settled on an apposite group name!).

The Sunoroid campaign involved each person who bought a pair of sunglasses being given a free copy of the single. By all accounts it was a huge success, with some sources quoting over 25,000 copies sold. ‘Sunoroid ’67’ is a groovy mod-soul toe-tapper with St John improvising around the benefits of wearing your Sunoroids (“they fit so well baby, they just stay on your head when you’re swingin’ and you’re groovin’ and you’re dancin’ and whatever you’re doin’, baby!”) over a brisk 2/4 beat, stabbing organ chords and jazzy Rahsaan Roland Kirk styled flute soloing. Whereas local radio stations had been reluctant to play The Id singles previously, the ‘Sunoroid ’67’ single cracked the airplay impasse which led to the group’s first major success.

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With The Id already established as Sydney’s premier soul/R&B combo on the discotheque circuit, their version of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band’s ‘Big Time Operator’ b/w ‘Sister’s Got a Boyfriend’ thrust them into the ‘Australian Top Band’ bracket. The single reached #6 in Sydney and #12 in Melbourne during January 1967. Spin also issued the ‘Big Time Operator’ EP (the ‘Big Time Operator’ and ‘Black Girl’ singles combined) in February. ‘Big Time Operator’ was definitely a winner of a song and The Id played it pretty straight as their rendition matched the Zoot Money version right down to the horn arrangement.

With a full work sheet the band was never idle: a three month residency at Sydney’s Here Disco, the support slot to the Roy Orbison/Walker Brothers/Yardbirds Australian tour (January 1967) and an extended season at Melbourne’s Thumpin’ Tum, plus appearances on TV pop shows Kommotion, The Go!! Show and Dig We Must – all of which served to cement The Id’s redoubtable reputation.

“Once we hit Here and ‘Big Time Operator’ had became a hit, it was an extraordinary experience,” St John recalls. “We became the flavour of the month for the advertising set and so we’d have all the groovers and the smokers and the dopers over in one corner and then we had all the yuppie ad-men and their entourage over in the other corner. And we were never, ever a kids’ band. At one point they opened the disco on a Saturday or the Sunday afternoon and let the kids in but essentially we were a band for grown-ups.”

On the record front, The Id issued the Big Time Operators album (March 1967), one more single ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ b/w ‘Watch Out’ (April) plus the rare ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ EP (May). The EP combined both sides of the ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ single with two tracks from the album, ‘How Much Pressure’ and ‘Devil Got My Woman’. While McCormack had played drums on the hit single, by the time the group came to record the album he had been replaced by Derek Brooks.

Produced by Pat Aulton, the album came in stereo (SEL-932257) and mono (EL-32257) editions, although the version of ‘Big Time Operator’ on both issues was the mono single cut. The band would have recorded the album (bar ‘Big Time Operator’) in stereo, but for the mono pressing the sound was folded down in the mastering process. The sound of the original stereo vinyl is robust and diverse but it should also be noted that the mono pressing does have a hefty punch to it.

Although predominantly comprising covers, musically Big Time Operators has everything you’d want from a brassy, funky soul record. ‘Big Time Operator’, ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’, ‘In the Midnight Hour’, ‘Sister’s Got a Boyfriend’, ‘Feel Awright’, ‘How Much Pressure (Do You Think I Can Stand?)’ and a second, longer, horn-drenched version of ‘The Jerk’ are all excellent. Topping them, however, are ‘You Got Me Hummin’’, ‘If I Had a Ticket’, ‘Parchman Farm’, ‘Devil Got My Woman’ and the one group original ‘Watch Out’.

At a little over two minutes, the Hayes Porter song ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ is a fine start to the record and it must have been a real dance floor filler at the discotheque. It leaps out of the gate at a dazzling pace, bass and drums popping like firecrackers on Guy Fawkes Night, with the brass, the handclaps and St John’s Little Richard-like exhortations of “you got me hummin’ a-woo-ooo” all adding to the party atmosphere.

“Hmm, what’s interesting with ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ is that Pat Aulton, the producer, got us to play it too fast,” St John reasons. “Peter Anson’s view was that Pat misconstrued tempo for excitement. Look, Pat did a brilliant job with that album, I have to say. I think that between us we created a milestone in Australian recording history. I personally believe it was the first album to come out of Australia that could have been recorded anywhere in the world. It didn’t have that tin-pot Australian sound about it, the production values were as good as anywhere else in the world, the band was as hot as can be imaged and I was smokin’ too! So that was it – time, place, ability, circumstance, all of those things. And songs. But I still think that ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ was too fast.”

The Id also deliver the traditional blues song ‘If I Had a Ticket’ at a frantic pace but it works better, with the drums and organ really swinging, the horn players fit to topple the walls of Jericho and blueswailin’ vocals riding over the top. Ironically, it was Peter Anson who sang the lead vocals on this one! Sydney R&B band Phil Jones and The Unknown Blues issued their version as a single around the same time (March 1967); it was a Top 20 hit in Sydney but doesn’t hold a candle to The Id’s ferocious rendition. English R&B act Kenneth Washington with Chris Barber & The T-Bones had issued a version as a single in October 1966.

“Here I am on Parchman Farm...”

‘Parchman Farm’ was a blues song popularised by jazz pianist Mose Allison in the late 1950s. Originally written by Delta blues musician Bukka White as ‘Parchman Farm Blues’, it tells the tale of his incarceration at the Mississippi State prison, known as Parchman Farm. The singer claims “I ain’t never done no man no harm” but goes on to admit “all I did was shoot my wife”. As with ‘Black Girl’, this is a rather unusual subject for a young, white Australian soul singer to be recounting yet The Id do the song justice with a jazzy swing to the rhythm while they take the adroit key change after each verse with an easy stride. It’s likely that the group first heard the song on Georgie Fame’s 1964 album Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo.

Written by American bluesman Skip James, ‘Devil Got My Woman’ is one creepy song. “I’d rather be the devil than be my woman’s man/’cause nothin’ but the devil knows my baby’s mind”. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to nominate this track as one of the finest blues songs ever recorded by an Australian band. St John’s vocals are absolutely spellbinding and Helman’s bass figure is relentless in its simplicity, while Anson’s staccato, Morse code styled guitar licks slice through the chilling atmosphere like hot knifes through butter.

“Yep, I take pride in that one,” St John declares. “When we came to record it, Pat and the boys were saying ‘how do you want to approach this song?’. I said ‘I’m gonna go back to my musical comedy roots’ and so that’s why you get that particular tonal quality in my voice, that particular note projection style because if you think about it, it’s almost crooner cum Nelson Eddy in the approach to the song. Then there’s that black falsetto thing because Skip James used to sing in a high, wailing voice. It was too long ago to remember when I first heard the song but the boys just said ‘have a listen to this, you can do this’. I put my own interpretation on it.”

The band-penned ‘Watch Out’ opens with a snarling R&B guitar line from Anson and the whole song is brimming with punk attitude. The singer’s warning a rival upstart to stay away from his girl and he’s spoiling for a confrontation: “Watch out when you’re walking my baby, yeah/watch out when you’re walking my girl/she’s the sweetest thing is this whole world/watch out when I come lookin’ for you, alright/watch out when I’m drivin’ ’round town/I’ll be in my Cadillac and I’m gonna run you down/now cool it!”. Phew! Them’s fightin’ words!!

“Oh yeah, I can remember that one because I wrote it!” St John proclaims with a laugh. “It was my lyric, it was my melody but it was basically just a thing we all hashed up in the studio because we needed a B-side for ‘You Got Me Hummin’’. So we just threw it together in the studio. And it worked.”

As we’ve established, St John and The Id were heavily influenced by African-American blues, R&B and soul music of the 1940s through to the early 1960s. For a number of reasons, during the 1970s/1980s, there was a viewpoint among certain music writers that there had been little or no such influence on the local music scene of the 1960s, which is far from the case.

In 1975, St John explained to Christie Eliezer (writing in Loose Licks):

“I don’t know whether The Id actually introduced soul music to Australia, as is often claimed, but we were the first to make it a commercial success. We were not only the first soul band – a seven-piece was a large outfit to have around at the time – but we were also the first brass soul band. Other people were experimenting with it but approaching it from a slightly different angle. The Purple Hearts were pretty much into R&B/soul music, they’re the only ones who were our contemporaries at the time.”

Other soulful R&B bands of the day included the likes of Max Merritt and The Meteors, Ray Hoff and The Off Beats, The Groove, Ram Jam Big Band and Levi Smith’s Clefs while even singer Normie Rowe nominated Otis Redding as one of his greatest influences.

Despite the group’s innovations, by mid-1967 The Id was on shaky ground. Bob Bertles (sax; ex-Alan Dale and The House Rockers, Johnny O’Keefe and The Dee Jays) had replaced Johnson by the time the album came out but soon moved on to Max Merritt and The Meteors. The rhythm section then pushed to dispense with the brass section. St John was not happy with that decision and left the group in protest during July.

“If the boys hadn’t decided to drop the brass section, who knows how long the association might have lasted,” says St John, still clearly disappointed with the turn of events. “We were having difficulty finding a brass section, keeping a brass section but the boys wanted to devolve back into a more bluesy orientated band. I didn’t want to go that way, I wanted to continue progressing. And of course, they were much more mature than I was; I mean I was 20 when we recorded ‘Big Time Operator’. I was still a kid.

“You’re talking about a kid who’d spent large chunks of his life in the cloistered confines of hospital. Even though I’d had a pretty normal teenage life, there were large chunks of social skills that were missing, there were large chunks of experiential activities missing, so that was a large part of what the guys in The Id helped me to realise and helped me to move into. But yeah, I wasn’t prepared to go down that direction, I wanted to keep progressing.”

In one of those odd little threads that make up the vast tapestry of rock music, the brief story of The Id sans St John is fascinating in itself. The Id continued as a four piece with Walsh, Anson switching to bass and bringing in Mick Liber (ex-Python Lee Jackson) on guitar and Don McCormack back on drums. In August, members of the group were busted for possession of marijuana and the Ubu Films people came to their aid by organising a benefit gig (to raise funds for their legal defence) during which the band played while images from various Ubu films were projected on the walls and over the musicians.

With a move into more experimental sounds, The Id appeared at a number of Ubu’s Underground Dances – or to use the vernacular of the day ‘happenings’ – around Sydney. They shared stages with the likes of Tamam Shud, Nutwood Rug, Tully and Starving Wild Dogs. These improvised situations involved live music, liquid lightshows plus films and slides multi-projected simultaneously over the bands, the walls and the audience. By reconfiguring these elements into an expanded space, it provided the participants with a utopian environment whereby all could be within, not apart from, the total experience. These happenings echoed such overseas events as the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at London’s Alexandra Palace and the psychedelic San Francisco Ballrooms of the day – the Matrix, the Avalon, the Fillmore etc.

Various line-ups of The Id continued to play until the end of 1969 with little success. In 1968 Liber had moved on to join Gulliver Smith in The Noyes, while Walsh and Helman both played in Levi Smith’s Clefs during that year. Anson went on to join The Foreday Riders.

“Fanciful flights of mind, am I only dreaming...”

In the meantime, the singer had formed Jeff St John and The Yama (a Hindi word for ‘the first mortals’) which comprised Ross East (lead guitar, vocals), Lloyd Hardy (aka Virgil East, bass; ex-Python Lee Jackson), Wayne ‘Groove’ Myers (organ), Murray Hill (sax, flute), Keith Jenkins (trumpet) and Peter Figures (drums; ex-Throb). Allan English (sax) had replaced Hill by the time the band commenced touring. The Yama only lasted ten months and produced one interesting single ‘Nothing Comes Easy’ b/w ‘Everybody’s Gone (Rode Away on Horses)’ (October 1967) before splitting.

“The Yama was another big band, a seven-piece band with brass but Sydney couldn’t support us, that was the problem,” St John recalls. “So we lost players and all the work was in Melbourne. But the single was great, I co-wrote that with Peter Figures. There’s a curious back story to that. After we wrote it he left my flat and I sat up all night and re-arranged it and wrote the brass intro, did all that. I wrote it to be an extension of ‘Big Time Operator’ but the general consensus at the time was that it was too different, so of course they (radio) didn’t pick it up.

“That perspective was even held by our manager at the time, and yet for me personally I still think that it’s quite a natural progression from ‘Big Time Operator’. It was bold, it’s brassy, all that. The only real departure from The Id style concept was the heavy use of harmonies. Apart from that, the rest of it was just a natural musical progression of The Id’s brass sound.”

Jeff St John & Yama-Wild Side gig advert-1968-LoRes.jpg

The single had certainly shown a great deal of promise, being very experimental for the time. For the soulful and brassy ‘Nothing Comes Easy’, the group employed innovative vocal arrangements and Virgil East used a bowed electric bass which gave the instrument a funky double bass sound. They ended the song by singing a major ninth chord which no-one else in Australia had done before. Furthermore, the opening lyric couplet goes: “You don’t get nothin’ for nothin’/It costs you blood, sweat and tears, yeah”. This prefigures the appearance in the US of one of the great jazz-rock/horn bands of the late 1960s, Blood, Sweat & Tears, a group which didn’t starting performing until November 1967.

And the innovation continued on the B-side ballad which opened with a harpsichord-like piano figure reminiscent of the Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity version of Bob Dylan’s ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ – but that single didn’t come out until April 1968! ‘Everybody’s Gone (Rode Away on Horses)’ continued with the baroque feel – piano, gentle psych guitar, a rolling rhythm, Bee Gees-styled three-part vocal harmonies and East employing that bowed electric bass effect again.

In mid 1968, St John entered hospital for several months. He had been afflicted with congenital Spina Bifida since birth and while there is no cure for the condition, periodically he had to undertake preventative measures.

In the following exclusive excerpt from his soon-to-be-published auto-biography The Inside Outsider, he clarifies the situation (and dispels previously printed myths):

“We (Yama) were always talking and dreaming about becoming recording artists again but that bastard Murphy, who has been lurking in the wings of my stage my entire life, decided it was time for another spanner in the works.

“Throughout this entire period Pamela was tending to a severe pressure problem just under my right buttock caused by the top of the calliper I was using to compensate for the progressing dysfunction of my left (good) leg. It had to be dressed twice a day and it was never going to heal while I kept on working. One day, as she stripped down the dressing, she gasped and said, ‘My God Jeffrey, as I took out the packing the wound exhaled a grey mist’. There and then, the musical adventure known as Yama came to an abrupt end.”

It was to address this problem that St John went back to Sydney and for no other reason.

By October he was working on putting a new band together in Perth, with guitarist John Green (ex-Marty Rhone and The Soul Agents). Jeff St John’s Copperwine comprised St John, Peter Figures, John Green, replaced by Phil Wooding (ex-In-Sect) who was then replaced by Ross East (ex-Yama), Barry Kelly (piano, organ, vocals; ex-Marty Rhone and The Soul Agents) and Alan Ingham (bass, vocals). Copperwine swiftly developed into an uncompromising rock outfit, and once back in Sydney began to rule over the burgeoning ‘head music’/concert circuit alongside the likes of Tully and Tamam Shud.

Jeff St John’s Copperwine played a starring role in Australia’s first rock festival, Ourimbah, Pilgrimage For Pop in January 1970. Two months later Copperwine issued the imaginative Joint Effort album, one of the finest Australian albums of the early 1970s. The album’s progressive soul single ‘Days to Come’ b/w ‘Cloud Nine’ missed the charts, although the next single, a cover of Rotary Connection’s surging ‘Teach Me How to Fly’ (November 1970), scored an impressive #16 placing on the national chart (#3 in Sydney and #12 in Melbourne).

By that stage Wendy Saddington had joined as co-lead vocalist (although she did not appear on the single). Saddington was Australia’s premier blues singer of the day, and her stay of ten months (May 1970 to February 1971) motivated many changes in Copperwine’s musical direction. Much of the band’s soul/jazz flavour was abandoned in preference for a more purist blues orientation on stage, as displayed on the album Wendy Saddington and The Copperwine Live (recorded sans St John at the Wallacia Festival in January 1971).

Jeff St John and The Copperwine were placed third behind Fraternity and Sherbet in the 1971 Hoadley’s National Battle of the Sounds competition. The band issued a new single, a cover of Leon Russell’s ‘Hummingbird’ (August 1971), after which St. John fell out with the rest of the members over his song writing role and the band’s overall direction.

The singer left Copperwine in January 1972, formed the Jeff St John Band and started touring solo. Since that time he has led a long and distinguished career, with the chart high point being the Top 10 hit ‘A Fool in Love’ in 1977. His albums included The Best Of Jeff St. John (1972), Jeff St John Live (1974), the compilation Survivor 1965-1975 (1977) and So Far So Good (1978).

We’ll leave the story of Jeffrey St John at this point, (hopefully) to be continued with the reissue of the Copperwine album Joint Effort. You’ll be able to read his full life story when his auto-biography The Inside Outsider is published this year.

While St John continued to tour relentlessly until 1983, his only album in recent years has been an independent CD which comprised old standards such as ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, entitled Will the real Jeff St. John PLEASE stand up? (2001) recorded with The Embers. It’s a crying shame that he hasn’t been afforded a far greater degree of acclaim and, indeed, the opportunity to record more in recent years. Jeffrey St John remains one of Australia’s truly original and most gifted singers.

In conclusion, when asked about his emotional response to the fact that Big Time Operators is now coming out on CD, St John reflects:

“It works like this: my philosophy is that if anybody achieves some level of work that survives 50 years and is still popular then you can’t help but be proud of the work. And that’s exactly what we have here. This was stuff that I did when I was a kid and if people still think that it’s good enough to be reissued 50 years later, then I’m happy about it.”

The Id Featuring Jeff St John – Big Time Operators
Originally issued as Spin SEL-932257 (March 1967)

1. You Got Me Hummin’ (Hayes/Porter)
2. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (James Brown)
3. If I Had a Ticket (Trad. Arr. Peterson)
4. In the Midnight Hour (Pickett/Cropper)
5. Big Time Operator (Colton/Smith)
6. Watch Out (St John/Anson/Walsh/Helman)
7. Tag
8. Sister’s Got a Boyfriend (Porter/Hayes/Jones)
9. Devil Got My Woman (Nehemiah ‘Skip’ James)
10. Feel Awright (Delong/Kirkland)
11. How Much Pressure (Do You Think I Can Stand?)
12. Parchman Farm (Mose Allison)
13. The Jerk (Don Julian)
Bonus Tracks – Mono Singles 1966/67
14. Lindy Lou (Ray Sharpe)
15. Somebody To Love (Jeff St John)
16. The Jerk (Don Julian)
17. Take This Hurt Off Me (Don Covay)
18. Black Girl (Huddie Ledbetter)
19. Eastern Dream (John Helman)
20. Sunoroid ’67 Vocal
21. Sunoroid ’67 Instrumental

Jeff St John Story cover.jpg

The Jeff St John Story: The Inside Outsider - Told by Jeffrey St John (Starman Books, 2015)

Leo De Castro & Friends

Leo De Castro & Friends

LEO DE CASTRO & FRIENDS

Leo De Castro & Friends CD.jpg

Here are my liner notes for the 2017 Double CD compilation on Aztec Records - Leo De Castro & Friends

Leo De Castro & Friends – The Master’s Voice

By Ian McFarlane

For most of the 1970s and 1980s New Zealand-born Leo De Castro was one of the best singers working in Australia. Leo was a permanent fixture on the pub/concert/festival circuit and was praised for his astonishingly soulful vocal abilities. The redoubtable singer was always able to surround himself with musicians of quality and distinction. Unfortunately he was under-recorded and this collection is the first legitimate attempt to anthologise the work of this great performer.

The breadth and depth of the material that he did record proves categorically he was a contender for extensive commercial success. The reasons for a lack of widespread success are many and varied – it’s not our purposes here to debate or investigate the reasons fully – suffice to say that at least we can be grateful for the fact that he was such a force of nature as a performer. Particularly gratifying is being able to hear the live material (much of it previously unreleased) delivered by Friends circa 1972 and 1973.

Let’s explore the history of this most magnificent singer.

Leo was born Kiwi Kino in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1949. He adopted his stage name Leo De Castro early in the piece. By 1967 he was performing guest vocal spots around the Auckland club scene, at such venues as The Galaxie (run by Zodiac Records proprietor/promoter Eldred Stebbing), The Platter Rack and Mojo’s. He’d already found his vocal stride, delivering covers of classic Motown/Stax/Atlantic soul songs such as ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ (Otis Redding), ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’ (Four Tops) and ‘Do Right Woman - Do Right Man’ (Aretha Franklin).

In early 1968 Leo joined pop band The Dallas Four. They’d issued five singles between 1964 and 1967 although by then they were considered passé. Writing in Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock n’ Roll (1988) author John Dix described Leo at the time as, “A fiery performer, his arrival was well-timed to coincide with the growing interest in soul music”. By 1969 Leo had set his sights on Australia where he joined The Browns, comprising Les Stacpool (guitar; ex-Merv Benton and the Tamlas, Levi Smith’s Clefs), Ronnie Peel (bass; ex-Missing Links, Pleazers, Rockwell T. James) and Ray Arnott (drums; ex-Chelsea Set). The Browns also worked with singer Bernadette O’Neill, and were variously referred to as Leo and the Browns or Bernadette and the Browns, depending on who was fronting the band on any given night.

By the end of the year Leo was gaining confidence on the local scene, forming Leo and Friends with John Capek (piano, vocals), Malcolm McGee (vocals, guitar; ex-Wild Cherries, Python Lee Jackson, Virgil Brothers, Rush), Rob Mackenzie (guitar; ex-Trips), Duncan McGuire (bass; ex-Questions, Doug Parkinson In Focus, Rush), Jeremy Noone (sax) and Kevin Murphy (drums; ex-Wild Cherries, Rush).

Leo and Friends appeared on the bill of Australia’s first rock festival, Pilgrimage for Pop, held at a farm near Ourimbah, NSW over the Australia Day weekend, January 1970. Ourimbah drew an audience of about 6,300 fans and featured the cream of local rock talent of the day: Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Jeff St. John and Copperwine, Chain, Wendy Saddington (backed by Chain), Tully, Doug Parkinson In Focus, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Levi Smith’s Clefs and the festival organizers, ex-Los Angeles acid rock band Nutwood Rug.

Leo and Friends broke up around August 1970, so Leo and Rob Mackenzie formed a new band, King Harvest, which comprised McGuire, Steve Yates (keyboards; ex-Rush, Expression) and Mark Kennedy (drums; ex-Spectrum). Mackenzie left within a week or two without having played a gig with the band, his place taken by Jimmy Doyle (ex-Aesop’s Fables, Moonstone) initially for a couple of weeks before he was replaced by Billy Green (ex-Questions, Doug Parkinson In Focus). Ray Oliver (ex-Light) joined as second guitarist but Green had likewise departed by early 1971.

In a Go-Set magazine feature article, entitled Music Makers ’70 Part 2 - The Heavies (24 October 1970), King Harvest was examined alongside other new bands Fraternity, Bulldog, Bootleg, Company Caine, Blackfeather and Carson County Band.

The writing is somewhat wishy-washy, but it reads:

“It had come to this. King Harvest are the heavy ‘entertainers’. They have rearranged a few of the standard disco numbers and given them the full treatment. The fact that they play more of other people’s numbers than original material is what makes them entertainers. But they are not pure entertainers. They are a mixture. They play a song and it’s loud and heavy – in the proper sense. You’re digging it because you know the song and it sounds emotional and the whole thing makes you feel good.”

Another Go-Set report (2 January 1971) by Stephen MacLean is closer to the mark:

“Leo De Castro burst back onto the Melbourne scene late in ’70 with his new rock group King Harvest and the impact was equal to that of a sledge-hammer. Leo says his aims in life are ‘getting work, making bread, having a good time and hoping the audience is too’. It’d be hard not to have a good time watching King Harvest, what with Leo hurling his bulk around and the whole group knocking out the best rock sounds around.”

The band had made its live debut on 22 October 1970 at Berties discotheque, in Melbourne. In November King Harvest recorded a studio session for the ABC-TV rock show GTK (Get To Know), laying down versions of Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’ and Donovan’s ‘Season of the Witch’.

Almost immediately King Harvest was matching it with all the other big draw names of the day (Aztecs, Chain, Spectrum, Daddy Cool etc) and their gigging schedule was full for the next year. They played all the usual discos (Sebastians, Catcher), hotels and Town Hall dances of the day, with some of their highest profile concert appearances being at: Melbourne Town Hall Concert 1 (12 January 1971); The Odyssey Music Festival, Wallacia (22-24 January); the T.F. Much Ballroom Rock and Roll Circus, Burnley Oval, Richmond (6 February); the Aftermath concert, Altona (19 April); and The Big Show, Melbourne Town Hall (14 May).

King Harvest poster-1971-Full.jpg

“I am a lineman for the county...”

Before his departure Green had played on the band’s two classic recordings, ‘Wichita Lineman (Introducing “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”)’ b/w ‘Summer In The City’ (January 1971) and ‘Jumping Jack Flash (Part 1)’ b/w ‘Jumping Jack Flash (Part 2)’ (April 1971), both produced by Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum.

From the outset King Harvest had concentrated on rearranging well-known songs of the day, at the expense of writing original material. The band excelled instrumentally and while the two singles were perhaps safe selections, they were passionately performed. The version of Jim Webb’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ is the band’s crowning achievement. ‘Wichita Lineman’ is one of the most beautifully elegiac and timeless ballads ever written. King Harvest’s sparse, yet enthralling arrangement of this oft-covered Webb standard is highlighted by Leo’s soulful vocals and Green’s haunting wah wah guitar lines. The single reached #35 on the national chart in April.

This was a time when the local charts were buzzing with hit singles by the likes of Spectrum (‘I’ll Be Gone’), Chain (‘Black and Blue’), Blackfeather (‘Seasons of Change’), The Mixtures (‘Pushbike Song’), Zoot (‘Eleanor Rigby’), Axiom (‘My Baby’s Gone’), Masters Apprentices (‘Because I Love You’), Lotus (‘Lotus One I’ll Be Gone’), Daddy Cool (‘Eagle Rock’) and Healing Force (‘Golden Miles’) – so ‘Wichita Lineman’ was in fine company.

In total contrast to the delicate ‘Wichita Lineman’, King Harvest’s version of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ – with its mock live intro – is a potent, six minute rave-up fired by blazing guitars, Leo’s near-orgasmic vocal screams and crashing drums. The second part is a prime example of stoned jamming whereby the group simply abandoned the song structure and melody for the sake of heavy psych fireworks. It is a glorious ride for sure, sort of like the already spooky ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ turned into an even more deranged acid nightmare – “I was spiked outta my head” Leo whispers at one point. Not surprisingly, the single failed to chart.

Things shifted quickly within the band. In March, Kennedy and McGuire left unexpectedly to join with Doug Parkinson and Billy Green in a revived version of Doug Parkinson In Focus. Gary Clarke (bass) and Kevin Murphy (by then ex-Aztecs) became the new King Harvest rhythm section. Ray Oliver also left around April to be replaced by New Zealander John Williams (ex-Rebels).

By August the King Harvest line-up comprised Leo, Williams, John Capek (piano; by then ex-Carson), Jeremy Noone (piano, sax; by then ex-Company Caine), Tim Partridge (bass; Clockwork Oringe) and Barry ‘Little Goose’ Harvey (drums; ex-Chain). By late September the line-up had run out of steam, with Leo, Capek and Harvey forming Flite with Vince Melouney (guitar; ex-Aztecs, Bee Gees, Fanny Adams, Cleves) and Barry ‘Big Goose’ Sullivan (bass; ex-Chain). There was an air of great expectation surrounding this new venture but it proved to be a short-lived affair. By early December Leo had formed Friends with fellow Kiwi Charlie Tumahai (vocals, percussion, guitar; ex-Healing Force, Chain).

The noble Charlie Tumahai was a musical giant of a man in his own right; or as John Dix wrote “Charlie Tumahai! Yes, Charlie Tumahai, one of Kiwi Rock’s greatest exports”. As well as playing bass he was also a consummate vocalist. He’d come over to Australia around the same time as Leo, joining and leaving Multiple Balloon, Aesop’s Fables and Nova Express in quick succession. He found the stability he craved with the exceptional Healing Force.

In a career spanning a mere 12 months, Healing Force cut just one extraordinary single, ‘Golden Miles’ b/w ‘The Gully’ (June 1971). Written by guitarist Lindsay Wells the rhapsodic ‘Golden Miles’ captures the sense of loneliness and sadness of a life spent on the road. Its crisp, rhythmic organ-based sound envelops a flowing melody line and dramatic chorus. To top it off, Charlie’s majestic vocal delivery pack an incredible punch. ‘Golden Miles’ remains one of the best Australian singles of the 1970s.

Formed in October 1970, the original line-up comprised Wells (ex-Bakery), New Zealander Mal Logan (keyboards; ex-Rebels, Bakery), John Pugh (bass, vocals; ex-Cam-Pact, News, James Taylor Move) and Laurie Pryor (drums; ex-Twilights, Genesis). Pugh left before the band played live which is when Charlie took up his position.

Following the release of ‘Golden Miles’ Pugh rejoined on guitar but then Tumahai, Wells and Pryor all quit one by one to join Chain. Tumahai left in July, Wells in August and Pryor in September. Logan and Pugh continued on with new members Ray Findlay (bass; ex-Lost Souls, Nineteen87) and Eric Cairns (drums; ex-Somebody’s Image, Company Caine). While all these changes were going on, ‘Golden Miles’ reached #8 in Melbourne and Top 30 nationally (#22). By the end of November 1971 the band had collapsed and Logan joined Carson.

“I hear you singing in the wire...”

As co-vocalists and the driving forces behind Friends, Leo and Charlie proved to be a formidable duo. The rest of the original line-up comprised Duncan McGuire, Mark Kennedy and Tim Martin (sax, flute; ex-Stoned Ostrich), with the band’s roadie Michael Cox occasionally playing congas. Initially they had trouble snaring the right guitar player, with Phil Manning (in between versions of Chain) and then Rob Mackenzie (on loan from MacKenzie Theory) filling in until Billy Green and Ray Oliver returned to the fold in March 1972 to provide an accomplished, dual guitar attack.

As with King Harvest, Friends had no difficulty finding gigs on the thriving local scene. The band made its live debut on 10 December 1971 on the opening night bill of the Regent Theatre, South Yarra, as a rock venue. The rest of the bill comprised the Aztecs, Tamam Shud, Wild Cherries, performance troupe Tribe and folk duo Carrl and Janie Myriad. Friends got the audience jumping with dynamic versions of songs by Spencer Davis Group/Traffic (‘Gimme Some Lovin’’), Neil Young (‘Down by the River’), Osibisa (‘Ayiko Bia’), Little Richard (‘Tutti Frutti’), Robert Johnson (‘32-20 Blues’) and Healing Force (‘Golden Miles’).

Pat O’Donahue reported for Go-Set magazine in an article headed Friends Arrive (18 December):

“... ‘The aim we had in forming Friends was really to have a good time,’ said Charlie. ‘We want to enjoy ourselves, and we want the audience to have a good time and to enjoy themselves.’

“That’s what Friends is really all about, if you want a definition. Good-time music, lots of percussion, stuff you can dance to, good old jumping-up-and-down music, music to get the floor shaking, and you shaking, and everything shaking.”

O’Donahue goes on to describe Leo thus:

“The singer is not very tall, and he sings with his hands in his pockets and has sleepy eyes. Leo played in King Harvest and Flite. Leo of course didn’t have much to say during the interview - in fact nothing... Talking to Leo is not easy at the best of times. He either giggles or sits stoney-faced and doesn’t say much. Either way the words don’t really come. This time he was giggling. So you say... ‘What sort of material will Friends do, Leo?’ And Leo just giggles and says, ‘Oh man...’ and lights up another.”

Although it gives no real deeper indication of Leo’s personality, it’s probably the closest any writer got at the time to uncovering what lies at the heart of the man’s creative energy. A couple of years later, fellow NZ-born musician Mike Rudd penned a song called ‘(I am The) Laughing Man (For Leo)’, which he recorded with Ariel in 1974.

“I am the laughing man, I find my laughs where I can / It’s not the first time I forgot the punch-line / Punch-lines bore me that’s why clouds ignore me”.

Rudd explained, “I think it was a perception I had of Leo that he was on the surface your archetypal happy-go-lucky Maori fellow but the feeling I got strongly from him was that various things disturbed him a lot and he was an unhappy person under that exterior. I don’t know whether he was particularly pleased about it or not. I actually played it to him and he kind of looked at me like I was really weird and laughed, and that was it. It’s quite a sad, moody riff.”

In early January 1972 Friends played the Q Club (Kew Civic Centre), with Bob Hill reporting in Planet (19 January):

“Top of the bill were Leo De Castro and Friends. Leo was in immaculate form, with friend Phil Manning standing right behind him, blazed with his usual confidence. I think I counted about ten or eleven Friends on the night but they sounded like twenty. Mark Kennedy’s drumming combined with Charlie Tumahai’s conga playing must have left the walls slightly weaker at the end of the night. I think I said wow, shook my head and moved another ten feet back from the stage when they started duelling in the middle of one of Friends’ big up-tempo numbers. Leo and his Friends didn’t seem to be on stage for very long but like most things good, you can’t seem to get enough of it at the time.”

Over the Australia Day Weekend, January 1972, Friends appeared on the bill of the inaugural Sunbury Festival. Run by Odessa Promotions and also featuring Max Merritt and the Meteors, Aztecs, Spectrum/Indelible Murtceps, Greg Quill and Country Radio, Tamam Shud, Friends, La De Das, Chain, Wild Cherries, SCRA, Company Caine and more, Sunbury was a defining moment in the history of Australian rock. It was the first time that people realised it was not necessary to book overseas acts in order to pull 35,000 fans to a three-day outdoors event.

Meadows Technicolour Fair (Adelaide) was a lesser known summer festival the band also appeared at, although the promoters of that event hedged their bets by featuring the international acts Edison Lighthouse, Mary Hopkin and Tom Paxton.

On Sunday 19 March 1972 Friends appeared at a monumental event, the 3XY Moomba Rock Concert at Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Headlined by the Aztecs and also featuring the La De Das and Gerry and the Joy Band, the concert draw a capacity crowd of 200,000 fans.

An over-awed Lee Dillow just about tripped over his own words when he described the event in Planet (27 March):

“Last Sunday night, here in Melbourne, the biggest rock concert ever held in Australia happened. The place was the Myer Music Bowl. The concert was the brainchild of the lads at 3XY here in Melbourne. The scene there just had to be seen to be believed... 200,000 people. The crowd was so huge. 200,000 people just getting it on. 200,000 people sending a vibe at the stage the like of which this country has never seen. No trouble what so ever... just thousands of kids enjoying themselves... what a scene.

“... Leo De Castro and Friends. Leo and the whole band laughing, having the time of their lives. The crowd really warming up. The guys really rising to the occasion. Mark Kennedy playing one of the best drum solos imaginable. Before he’d finished the crowd were roaring. What a response. At the finish of it the crowd let go a roar that almost put us on Mars. The noise on the stage was unbelievable. The guys are going to Sydney for about four weeks pretty soon. Melbourne’s loss is most definitely Sydney’s gain. A great band.”

Despite the huge wrap for Friends, the fans were there to see Thorpie and the Aztecs.

“They came onto the stage... to the loudest imaginable crowd roar... The Aztecs. What a scene. Aztec energy combined with a 200,000 strong crowd – people energy just had to be heard to be believed.”

“I need a small vacation...”

Over the Easter weekend (1-3 April) Friends traveled to Mulwala, on the banks of the Murray River inland from Albury, to play at the Rock Isle Festival. Although the festival is generally remembered as a let-down, with rain hampering events and the standard of facilities leaving a lot to be desired, the crowds were treated to performances by international visitors Canned Heat and Stephen Stills and Manassas, plus the usual local stars such as Aztecs, Company Caine, Greg Quill and Country Radio, Coloured Balls, Pirana, Gerry and the Joy Band, Chain, Carson, La De Das, Pirana, Tamam Shud, SCRA, Frieze and Russell Morris and Cycle.

Amazingly, Friends’ set was recorded for posterity and six tracks are presented here for the first time. The band played at 1am, Sunday morning, and while the time slot could have conspired against them, they rallied and gave a brilliant performance as these songs so adequately display.

Next Friends recorded their first studio session for GTK, featuring the group-penned ‘B. B. Boogie’, Charlie’s ‘Freedom Train’, Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’ and Chicago’s ‘Colour My World’. At the end of April the band was in Sydney for a week’s residency at Chequers nightclub, supported by Nitro and Lizard. Next they hit the stage at the Hordern Pavilion as one of the supports – alongside Frieze, Carson and the La De Das – for the Aztecs. They ended their Sydney stay with a Sunday night slot at the Whisky supporting Company Caine.

While in Sydney, Friends loaded into Festival Studios and recorded the exceptional hard rock single ‘B. B. Boogie’ b/w ‘Freedom Train’, for release on the ATA label in August. Both tracks build up a decent head of steam, with the jazz-tinged ‘Freedom Train’ being an essential example of jubilant Aussie progressive rock, a master class in elation with Leo beseeching the listener to “climb aboard the Freedom Train”. ‘B. B. Boogie’ is another powerful performance, with a multitude of buzzing guitar solos flying around the propulsive rhythm.

Friends-Soul to Soul gig advert-23 July 1972-LoRes.jpg

Possibly the group’s most unusual gig was appearing at the Capitol cinema (23 July), Swanston Street, Melbourne, playing before the screening of the rock documentary Soul to Soul (featuring Wilson Pickett, Santana, Ike & Tina Turner, The Staple Singers and The Voices of East Harlem).

Go-Set reported (28 October) that the band had recorded a (live) version of ‘Lucille’ for a new single, with the B-side to be written by Duncan McGuire (although that didn’t happen). The single appeared on the fledgling Mushroom Records in February 1973, with ‘Lucille’ proving to be a raucous bar-band rendition, backed by a stomping interpretation of Willie McTell’s ‘Statesboro Blues’, as done by The Allman Brothers Band.

In the meantime, more changes were afoot. Just as Friends were gearing up for an appearance at Sunbury 1973, Charlie made his exit in order to rejoin his old band, the re-formed Healing Force. This must have been a blow to the solidarity of Friends but they forged on, appearing at Sunbury as a six-piece comprising Leo, McGuire, Kennedy, Green, Oliver and Martin. The live cuts (Leonard Cohen’s) ‘Bird on the Wire’ and ‘La La Song’ appeared on Mushroom’s triple album set The Great Australian Rock Festival Sunbury 1973 (April). Leo was also heard on the Coloured Balls/Billy Thorpe late night jam session ‘Help Me’/‘Rock Me Baby’, which appeared on the Summer Jam album; however, it’s evident that Leo wasn’t so good at improvisation and his voice only comes in intermittently.

Just prior to Charlie’s departure they’d recorded a second studio session for GTK, with versions of McGuire’s ‘Talkin’ ’Bout You’, ‘Going Home’ and ‘Lady Montego’, Leo’s ‘La La Song’ plus covers of ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Lucille’.

Soon after Sunbury, Green, Oliver and Martin left Friends. Singer/song writer Ray Burton (vocals, guitar; ex-Executives) had recently returned from the USA and he came in as replacement in April, making it a four-piece line-up. Burton brought his song writing talents into the band and McGuire had started to write songs as well, such as the three mentioned above, all of which augured well for the future. This version of Friends recorded ‘Freedom Train’ and ‘Lady Montego’ for GTK.

Having signed to the Mushroom label – alongside MacKenzie Theory, Madder Lake, Matt Taylor and Chain – as well as coming under the auspices of Gudinski and Evans’ booking agency, the Australian Entertainment Exchange (AEE) – later to be known as Mushroom Artist Co-Ordination (MAC) – Friends were on hand for the last days of the Garrison disco (31 May to 10 June).

Garrison (166 High Street, Prahran) had been the home of the swinging jet-set during the 1960s and the new look Garrison was launched as a more progressive “muso’s venue” on 23 August 1972. It was a well-attended hang-out for local musicians. The new management team was Michael Gudinski and promoter/band booker Adrian Barker. It’s likely that the final plans for the long-heralded Mushroom label had been laid here on the long nights of mind-blowing music.

By April 1973 Prahran council, for a variety of reasons, had determined that the venue wasn’t suitable for the local area and was set to shut it down. Despite much lobbying by the promoters the end eventually arrived in early June.

Go Set reported (2 June):

“The Last Days. Garrison rocks for the last time on Sunday 10th June (the council are kicking us out). But all is not lost, because Mushroom Records are recording the last two weekends, starting on Thursday May 31st. So come along and dance, clap, shout and scream to some mighty music and be part of the Garrison double album.”
May Thursday 31st - MacKenzie Theory, Alta Mira
June Friday 1st - Langford Lever, Madder Lake
Saturday 2nd - Ray Brown’s One Ton Gypsy, Dutch Tilders, Friends
Sunday 3rd - Sid Rumpo, The Dingoes
Thursday 7th - Chain, Matt Taylor
Friday 8th - Chain (recording live LP)
Saturday 9th - Sid Rumpo, The Dingoes
Sunday 10th - Friends, Madder Lake
Plus special Brown Eye Lites both weekends!

Selected highlights from the fortnight’s entertainment were issued on two budget albums, Garrison The Final Blow Unit I and Garrison The Final Blow Unit II, on Mushroom’s anti-rip-Off label. The De Castro, McGuire, Kennedy and Burton line-up of Friends appeared on Unit I with impressive versions of ‘Lady Montego’ and ‘Freedom Train’. Leo introduces the highly charged ‘Freedom Train’ by announcing “this is a song written by Charlie – the bewildering Charlie Tumahai”. Interestingly enough, Charlie had appeared with his new band, Alta Mira, on the opening night.

Not long after the songs had been recorded, Burton, Kennedy and McGuire left Leo to form an eponymous trio which had evolved into Ayers Rock by the end of the year. Having been left high and dry Leo forged on with a new, short-lived, version of King Harvest with Tui Richards (guitar), Lindsay Wells (guitar; ex-Healing Force, Blackfeather), Ben Kaika (bass; ex-McPhee, Tramp) and Steve Webb (drums; ex-Blackfeather, Duck, Tramp). By the end of the year the singer had formed a new band called De Castro.

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Johnny Rocco Band - Rocco LP (1976) US pressing front cover

“And I need you more than want you...”

Moving away from the progressive rock of Friends, De Castro the band played a mix of funk, soul, rock and blues. It was a style Leo would pursue for the rest of his career. The De Castro line-up was completed by Steve Webb, Rob Grey (keyboards), Ian ‘Willy’ Winter (guitar; ex-Carson, Daddy Cool) and John Young (bass). Later in the year Leo moved to Sydney where he joined funk outfit the Johnny Rocco Band.

The original Johnny Rocco Band line-up, formed in February 1974, comprised Mark Punch (guitar, vocals; ex-Mother Earth), Tony Buchanan (sax; ex-Daly-Wilson Big Band), Tim Partridge (bass; ex-King Harvest, Mighty Kong) and Russell Dunlop (drums; ex-Levi Smith’s Clefs, SCRA, Mother Earth). They were one of the first Australian bands to incorporate funk and soul into the pub rock forum. Leo and Mick Kenny (keyboards; ex-Levi Smith’s Clefs) joined in late 1974. The band recorded the first version of ‘Heading in the Right Direction’, co-written by Mark Punch and Garry Paige. Singer Renée Geyer later made the song famous via her definitive reading.

The single ‘Heading in the Right Direction’ b/w ‘Funky Max’ came out in August 1975. Harris Campbell had replaced Punch who went on to join the Renée Geyer Band. Johnny Rocco Band issued the album Rocco (May 1976) which yielded a second single, ‘Gonna Have a Good Time’ b/w ‘Who’s this Guy’ (April). Amazingly, this was Leo’ first appearance on a full band album. Leo’s gorgeous vocals lead the way on ‘Heading in the Right Direction’, ‘Gonna Have a Good Time’ and ‘She’s Knocking on My Door’. The band’s playing throughout is incredibly tight, with Dunlop’s fatback drum patterns driving the music onwards. The likes of ‘Funky Max’ and ‘Rocco’ are now highly rated examples of the funk rock genre (although Leo’s vocals are but a minor part of these particular tracks).

The album got issued in the US of the 20th Century label and prospects looked good. Success failed to come the band’s way and they parted in late 1976.

Leo formed the all Kiwi band Cahoots with Tui Richards (by then ex-Powerhouse), Billy Rylands (guitar; ex-Freshwater, Stevie Wright Band), Phil Pritchard (guitar; ex-Highway, Miss Universe), George Limbidis (bass; ex-Highway, Miss Universe) and Doug McDonald (drums; ex-Powerhouse). In May 1977 the band was billed as Leo De Castro and Rocco with Mark Punch back in the line-up. By the end of the year it was the Leo De Castro Band. Then came Heavy Division in 1978 with Richards, Russell Smith (guitar; ex-Company Caine, Mighty Kong, Billy T), Tim Partridge (bass; by then ex-Kevin Borich Express) and John Watson (drums).

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By December 1978 it was Leo De Castro’s Babylon with Richards, Rylands, Thomas Reid (bass) and John McInerney (drums; ex-Company Caine, Foreday Riders). Babylon recorded one single for Warner Bros in 1979, a cool reggae-styled cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ b/w ‘Hindley Street’. Somehow the single got issued in the Netherlands (with a picture sleeve) but once again success was not forthcoming. In the early 1980s Leo moved to Hobart, Tasmania where he formed a succession bands, including Toots and the Legmen, Leo and Friends and The Early Kookas.

Leo continued to perform solo around Tasmania until October 1987 when he assembled a group of musicians under the Friends banner for a series of shows at the Basement in Sydney. The line-up comprised Jimmy Doyle (guitar), Mark Punch (guitar), Dave MacRae (piano), Dave Green (bass), Mark Kennedy (drums), Andy Thompson (sax), Jason Brewer (sax), Jason McDermid (trumpet) and Sally King (guest vocals). The shows produced the cassette-only album Live at The Basement.

The band was on mighty form with Leo delivering stellar versions of Otis Redding’s ‘Mr. Pitiful’ and ‘Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)’, Wilson Pickett’s ‘Mustang Sally’, James Brown’s ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’, Ben E. King’s ‘Spanish Harlem’, Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together’ and Elvin Bishop’s ‘Fooled Around and Fell in Love’. (The concert has been issued on CD).

In 1995 Leo returned to New Zealand with the purpose of reuniting with his former Friends comrade Charlie Tumahai. Charlie had been playing bass with The Herbs for the previous ten years. Sadly Tumahai died in December 1995 from a heart attack. Leo returned to Hobart where he continued to play gigs. Some of his work included country soul band Leo De Castro and the Cuban Heels (he loved George Jones as much as Otis Redding) and The Warriors which featured fellow Kiwi guitarist Joe Pirere.

In 2008 Leo’s health started to decline, due to a heart condition, so he decided to return to Auckland. He played a rapturous farewell gig with The Warriors at Hobart’s Republic Hotel (5 September 2008) and then went home.

One of the great mysteries in the annals of Australian rock music history is why the legendary Leo De Castro remains but a footnote. His genuinely passionate, soulful voice was a joy to hear and the music contained herein is testament to a fine legacy.

I had the great honour of chatting briefly with the wondrous Leo De Castro, over the phone from his Auckland home (10 January 2017).

Hello Leo, it’s great to talk with you. How are you?

Leo: “I’m not able to sing much anymore, I haven’t done that for a long time. I pretty much dropped out of singing when I finished with The Warriors, that was a band I had in Hobart. I came back to Auckland in 2008. That was a great band. I got sick and I decided to come home. I’d spent about 15 years in Hobart. Pretty much that was the last work I’d done. I have to go and see my cardio specialist, I’ve got a heart condition now. Some health issues that need looking at.”

Did you have a lot of fun working with Charlie?

Leo: “Oh yeah, Charlie was an incredible musician, he was just a natural, he could play anything, sing anything. It was just good to work with him. When he came back to NZ he joined The Herbs. I was still in Hobart when Charlie and the boys were getting on with doing things together. It was sad when he died.”

Did you have a favourite song from King Harvest or Friends?

Leo: “No not really, I thought most of them were okay, you know. You tried to do the songs as best as you could. I think the live things with Friends are great. Then there were just compilation tracks on Mushroom. If anything, the best stuff I did was at the Basement. In all the time I spent in Melbourne and of course Sydney, you know, I went to Tassie in about 1992, I just wanted to play. I just wanted to sing. It wasn’t like I was looking for lost glory or anything, I just wanted to play with a good band, and hopefully to take it around Australia but it never really happened for me, you know. The Warriors were a great band, we played just about every night, they could hold their own with anybody. Most of the players were going to the Conservatory of Music, they were part of the orchestra there, they were all still studying how to play, they could all read music.”

You always played with some fabulous musicians such as Billy Green, what a great guitar player.

Leo: “Oh yeah, Billy Green, Ray Oliver, Phil Manning, Rob Mackenzie, they were all such good players. It was just such a pleasure to know all those guys and to have played with them. Yes Ian, whatever you can put together with the liner notes mate, put it down. I can’t really talk too much about those times, I’ve practically forgotten everything from those days. I have no recollection of half of those things I did at the time.”

I loved the Johnny Rocco Band album. Did you like that album?

Leo: “Oh yeah, that album was another good effort, unfortunately it went nowhere, if you know what I mean. It didn’t reach its full potential. But that’s life... I played with so many good bands but they never went on to greater things. There was so much chopping and changing all the time, it just got too much for me. In the end it just drove me up the wall. I just wanted to come home, if you know what I mean. I just decided to come home. I think The Warriors came closest to what I wanted to do, having that good back-up, until I got sick.”

Who was in The Warriors?

Leo: “Joe Pirere was the lead guitar player, a great player. He’s just passed away too (24 January 2016). Another guy called Thomas Reid, he’s now playing with a band down there called Sixth Street, with the bass player who used to play with a band called The Young Hearts, Doug Williams. In the early 1970s they used to play at the Whisky A-go-go, they were three American guys, they were incredible, a bass guitarist, a lead guitarist, a drummer and they used to just back singers. Doug was also a great singer.”

It’s been a great honour to talk with you Leo, because I’ve loved a lot of the stuff you’ve done over the years.

Leo: “It’s a great pleasure to speak with you Ian, I mean that. Now days I can’t really talk for too long, I start to stumble, I forget things. I used to have a good memory, but nowadays, you know...”

Leo, thank you so much for your time.

Leo: “You do what you have to do with the liner notes, mate. You tell Gil to do a good job with the mastering. Gil’s gonna keep in touch, he’ll send me some copies of the CD. It’s great to talk to you. I heard about Johnny Dick passing away too (7 January 2017), Gil told me about that. That’s sad, Johnny was a great player, an exceptional drummer. I have to go now, it was good to talk to you. You say hello to everyone that I know, okay mate, bye.”

Leo De Castro & Friends (Aztec Records)
Disc 1
King Harvest (1971)
1. Wichita Lineman (Introducing “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”) (Jim Webb) Single A-side
2. Summer in the City (Sebastian/Sebastian/Boone) Single B-side
3. Jumping Jack Flash (Part 1) (Jagger/Richards) Single A-side
4. Jumping Jack Flash (Part 2) (Jagger/Richards) Single B-side
Friends (1972-73) - vocals by Leo De Castro and Charlie Tumahai
5. B. B. Boogie (Friends De Castro/Kennedy/McGuire/Tumahai) Single A-side
6. Freedom Train (Charlie Tumahai) Single B-side
7. Lucille (Penniman/Collins) Single A-side
8. Statesboro Blues (Willie McTell) Single B-side
The Johnny Rocco Band (1975-76) from Rocco LP
9. Heading in the Right Direction (Mark Punch/Garry Paige) Single A-side
10. We’re Gonna Have a Good Time (Olson/Riviera/Monette/Bridges/Guzman/Baird) Single A-side
11. She’s Knocking On My Door (Russell Dunlop)
Leo De Castro’s Babylon (1979)
12. Suspicious Minds (Mark James) Single A-side
Healing Force (1971) - Vocals by Charlie Tumahai
13. Golden Miles (Lindsay J. Wells) Single A-side
14. The Gully (Lindsay J. Wells) Single B-side

Disc 2
Friends Live
At Mulwala, Rock Isle Festival (April 1972) - Previously unreleased
1. Introduction by Gerry Humphrys
2. Lucille (Penniman/Collins)
3. Freedom Train (Charlie Tumahai)
4. B. B. Boogie (See My Baby Walkin’) (Friends De Castro/Kennedy/McGuire/Tumahai)
5. Golden Miles (Lindsay J. Wells)
6. Ayiko Bia (T. Osei/R. Kabaka)
7. Down by the River (Neil Young)
At the 3XY Moomba Concert, Sidney Myer Music Bowl (March 1972) - Previously unreleased
8. Gimme Some Lovin’ (Davis/Winwood/Winwood)
9. Down by the River (Neil Young)
At Sunbury Festival (January 1973) from The Great Australian Rock Festival, Sunbury 1973 3-LP
10. Bird on a Wire (Leonard Cohen)
11. La La Song (Leo De Castro)
At Garrison (June 1973) from Garrison–The Final Blow, Unit 1
12. Lady Montego (Duncan McGuire)
13. Freedom Train (Charlie Tumahai)

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band - Wangaratta Wahine (1974)

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band - Wangaratta Wahine (1974)

CAPTAIN MATCHBOX WHOOPEE BAND - Wangaratta Wahine (1974)

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Here are my liner notes for the 2013 CD reissue on Aztec Records of Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band's Wangaratta Wahine (1974).

“My Wahine in Wang...”

By Ian McFarlane

As one of the most unusual aggregations ever assembled in Australia, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band played jug band blues, jazz and folk enlivened with sideshow entertainment and vaudeville lunacy. Even in the 1970s it was music of a by-gone era (1930s) yet in the hands of lead singer / washboard player Mic Conway and his eccentric crew it was vibrant and highly entertaining.

Mic and his brother Jim Conway formed the band in 1968 while still at high school. Their early inspiration came from the likes of Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton and other 1930s jazz exponents, in addition to jug band acts such as the Memphis Jug Band and Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Captain Matchbox’s theatrical style found much favour on Melbourne’s underground scene, and the band became a regular at the Much More Ballroom supporting major rock bands of the day such as Spectrum, Daddy Cool, MacKenzie Theory etc.

The group’s irreverent style was almost unclassifiable in some ways because they traversed the folk, jazz and rock scenes without having to be loyal to any particular one. They could appear at rock venues, outdoor festivals, jazz clubs, folk gatherings and the audience response was generally positive. Their flippant approach could work against them sometimes, in particular if certain audience expectations were not met. Having started out acoustically, the group eventually introduced electric instruments in an effort to be heard above rowdy fans calling for their favourite pop stars during Captain Matchbox’s support slots.

Nevertheless, between 1972 and 1980 they were incredibly prolific issuing six albums (one being a compilation), eight singles and one EP (Matchbox Madness). Wangaratta Wahine was their second album, issued on the Image label (ILP-744) in November 1974. Sales were slow to begin with but once local radio stations began playing the five and ½ minute title track as if it were a single (followed by an appearance on ABC-TV’s pop show Countdown), by May 1975 the album had reached #4 on the national chart. It eventually sold a respectable 30,000 copies, qualifying for Double Gold status.

The album retains a quirky, appealing freshness to this day, full of yodelling vocals, rattling percussion, gypsy violin, honky tonk piano, bluesy harmonica, kazoo solos and a large dash of ocker humour – all up just a barrelful of kooky fun. There are also numerous drug references which only added to the counter-cultural aspects inherent in the group’s overall identity. Rhythmically the band played everything from a jazzy swing and a quick foxtrot to a slow bluesy waltz and a gypsy tango. To round out the programme we’ve added six bonus tracks from various stages of the band’s career.

“Who walks in...”

When interviewed in 2013, front man Mic Conway explained the group’s origins.

“In the late sixties my brother Jim and I were at Camberwell High School and we started the band as a bit of a joke. My sister Janie’s boyfriend was Carrl Myriad, who was also a ‘70s performer, and he lent me a tape of old blues and jug bands and I just fell in love with this stuff. I heard Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers. They had this talent contest at school and there were guys in bands playing Rolling Stones kind of things and we just thought we’d do this little jug band to take the piss out of rock ‘n’ roll.

“It was just a joke on our part. It was just us and a bunch of friends and we’d already done this piss-take of a theatre show at school that no-one got the joke and thought it was serious and complimented us on our high art (laughs). So we thought we’d do something else like that which was this jug band, we called it the Jelly Bean Jug Band. I was just besotted with this sound and the fact that you could play music with instruments that weren’t real instruments. So we won this talent quest and it turned into a career. We really didn’t expect it.

“My grandparents on my father’s side were old vaudevillians and the sense of humour and the sense of taking the mickey was very strong in my family. And then we had opera singers on my mother’s side of the family which was bizarre because I’ve never been an opera singer, but I guess it’s why I’m a singer basically. So it was a combination of those two influences from my family.

“Also as a kid I used to collect old 78 records, jazz records from the ‘30s and ‘40s; that was my obsession. That’s how come we ended up doing things like ‘My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes’ and songs like that, I’d heard people like Fats Waller doing songs like that. I just loved songs with stupid titles. I’d find these old 78s at school fetes and opp-shops and places like that.”

The original line-up circa 1969 comprised Mic (vocals, washboard and ukulele), Jim (harmonica, kazoo, vocals), Dave Hubbard (guitar, vocals), Peter Inglis (guitar, vocals), Peter Scott (tea chest bass), Mick Fleming (banjo, mandolin, guitar, vocals) and Jim Niven (piano, pedal organ). Inge De Koster joined on violin soon after but she left before the band started recording. They had no trouble scoring gigs on the folk and jazz scenes and eventually moved into the rock scene.

“After winning this talent quest at school we started playing the folk scene. My sister was in the folk scene with Carrl, they were already playing concerts. So then because the music was jazz-related we started getting gigs in the jazz scene, that scene was quite strong in Melbourne at that time as well. Then somehow we came to the attention of John Pinder and Peter Andrew, they’d formed the Let It Be booking agency and had started the T. F. Much Ballroom. So they asked us to play on the floor between the ‘real bands’, hah, you know I say that in inverted comas, meaning the rock bands.

“We were acoustic, so they said ‘oh come and play on the floor’ which was when the curtain was drawn across the stage and they were setting up amps and drums for the next rock band to play. So the audiences used to go berserk over us and then after that Pinder put us up on the main stage, as a ‘legitimate rock act’. We never looked back after that but we weren’t rock at all. We were sort of folk-jazz, I suppose... Look it’s hard to tell what we were, we were just having fun.

“It was really like some perverse joke, but audiences went with us. We just couldn’t believe that we were playing on the rock scene. Look, we just really enjoyed it; we were art students having a great time.”

The T. F. Much Ballroom was located at Cathedral Hall, 20 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, a major bastion of Melbourne’s burgeoning progressive rock scene. Captain Matchbox appeared on the bill of the opening night (8th August 1970), alongside the main attractions – Spectrum, Geof Crozier’s Indian Magik Show, Lipp Arthur, Adderley Smith Blues Band, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Gerry Humphreys & the Joy Band, Margret RoadKnight and the Tribe Theatre. The T. F. Much Ballroom concerts only lasted until early 1971, but Pinder and Andrew relaunched the venue as the Much More Ballroom in December 1971.

Opening night (4th December 1971) featured Chain, Gerry & the Joy Band, Carson, Lipp & the Double Decker Brothers, MacKenzie Theory, Indelible Murtceps and Captain Matchbox. The Much More Ballroom concerts lasted for a year with the final night (9th December 1972) featuring Spectrum / Murtceps, Captain Matchbox and Miss Universe.

Once the group had made it onto the Ballroom main stage, they also picked up gigs at popular inner-city venues such as the Station Hotel, Prahran. They also made it to the Myer Music Bowl as part of the Buoyancy Benefit (31st July 1971 – Daddy Cool, Spectrum, Company Caine, Langford Lever, Captain Matchbox, compere Gerry Humphreys with The Wizard) and the Operation Earth Concert (2nd November 1971 – Aztecs, Chain, Bakery, Carson, Captain Matchbox, Matt Taylor, Friends, Gerry & the Joy Band, Blackfeather, Healing Force and Indelible Murtceps). Another major concert was at the Regent Theatre, South Yarra, (24th December 1971 – Daddy Cool, La De Das, Tribe Theatre, Lipp & The Double Decker Bros, Captain Matchbox and Rock Granite & the Profiles).

There are numerous references on-line now to Captain Matchbox being a vaudeville / cabaret act; certainly there are elements of that vaudeville lunacy and there’s that theatricality to the presentation, but cabaret?

“Yeah, it depends on people’s definition of cabaret. I mean we certainly played cabaret venues. Cabaret suggests a closer audience, a more immediate connection. I guess we fitted into that description early on because we mixed comedy in with close-up entertainment. But musically we didn’t have any torch singers singing those big, dramatic songs. The definition of cabaret is so varied that I don’t really know where we fit in. Each person has a different understanding of the meaning. We’re not really cabaret but we have worked the cabaret scene as we worked just about everything.

“You couldn’t really pigeon-hole us into any genre really, it was hard. It did work against us sometimes, because we weren’t rock ‘n’ roll but we worked the rock scene, we weren’t jazz but we worked the jazz scene, we weren’t really folk even though we were acoustic. Later on we went electric. We were certainly vaudeville in the way we mixed up the comedy and the magic, and the juggling and the tap dancing and all those kinds of skills. Later on we were founder members of Circus Oz; a lot of people may not know that. That was kind of a vaudeville show in itself.”

An overseas equivalent might be a group such as the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, perhaps.

“Funnily, the big joke about the Bonzos was that we’d never heard of them until about 1974. We went to Perth and somebody played us one of their records. The Bonzos had already been and gone by the late ‘60s, they finished in 1969 or something. So the parallels between them and us were far apart. I mean we did some of the same material because they’d heard the stuff from the same source as us. Like me, I guess the Bonzos had gotten hold of old records by dance bands from the ‘20s and ‘30s and had redone the songs in their own way, they weren’t a tribute act, as we weren’t. We were getting these songs and doing them in our own way.”

The group’s first mainstream exposure came with an appearance in Tim Burstall’s 1971 film Stork starring Bruce Spence and Jackie Weaver. They appeared in the party scene performing three songs, Jimmie Rodgers’ ‘In the Jailhouse Now’ (much later to feature in the successful movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?), ‘Who Walks in When I Walk Out’ and ‘Ukulele Lady’ as well as backing folk-pop singer Hans Poulsen on ‘There’s a Light Across the Valley’.

Another cinematic experience for the band was an appearance in director Peter Weir’s 1972 10-minute short 3 Directions in Australian Pop-Music, which had been filmed in 1971 at the Much More Ballroom as part of the Commonwealth Film Unit’s Australian Colour Diary series (#43). Captain Matchbox performed a breakneck rendition of ‘Who Walks in When I Walk Out’, much to the audience’s delight. Interestingly, Mic is playing his bespoke Captain Matchbox washboard which became an integral part of his stage persona. (Other acts featured were renowned blues singer Wendy Saddington and Indelible Murtceps.)

“Since making whoopee became all the rage...”

By mid-1972, Image Records had signed the band and issued the singles ‘My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes’ b/w ‘Nagasaki’ (a Top 40 hit in November 1972) followed in 1973 by ‘I Can’t Dance (Got Ants in My Pants)’ b/w ‘Jungle Love’ (April) and Smoke Dreams (June). The album was comprised entirely of 1930s and 1940s jazz, blues and jug band standards. The Fred Kohler-penned ‘My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes’ had been popularised by singer Al Bowlly in the 1930s; alongside Fats Waller and Memphis Minnie, Bowlly was one of Mic’s favourite singers. Image licensed the album to the ESP-Disk label (home to Tom Rapp’s Pearls Before Swine) for release in the USA.

Even before the album had been issued, however, guitarists Hubbard, Inglis and Scott had all left the band. They’d just been worn down by the constant grind for little monetary reward. Inglis immediately scored a gig with a new band put together by bass player / song writer Greg Macainsh – Skyhooks. Even though Inglis and second guitarist Peter Starkie only stayed with Skyhooks for about six months, it was just another one of those essential cross-pollinations of classic Melbourne bands.

Mic explains, “The band line-up kept changing because we never made any money. People came and went and came back again. We were really just art students having fun and when there was no money in it, y’know, people eventually got the shits and moved on. I mean, the Smoke Dreams band, the guys couldn’t believe how awful the music scene was, they eventually got disheartened. Dave, Peter Inglis and Peter Scott, all of whom I’m still very good friends with, they just couldn’t hack the constant grind. We were getting a pittance for gigs, or we’d turn up for a gig in Sydney and it wasn’t on, after we’d driven all the way there from Melbourne. They just cracked the shits in the long run and they quit which left us to promote Smoke Dreams without a band.

“We ended up going to Nimbin for the Aquarius Arts Festival (May 1973) and we met Geoff Hales there, he was playing in a band called White Company, so he joined in with us. He wasn’t actually a drummer; he played percussion and the washboard and was a tap dancer. So I was already the washboard player but to get a drummer who couldn’t really play drums to join the band was just the kind of thing we did back then. It made sense in the world of Captain Matchbox.”

By November 1973, Fred Olbrei (violin, vocals) and Dave Flett (electric bass, slide dobro, backing vocals, ukulele; ex-Lipp and the Double Decker Brothers) had joined the Conway brothers, Niven, Fleming and Hales. Jon Snyder (guitar) joined at the beginning of 1974, and the band issued ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ b/w ‘Wait for Me Juanita’ (February) and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ b/w ‘Down Undergroundsville’ (July). ‘Wait for Me Juanita’ was one of the band’s first original compositions (written by Mic and Dave) to see release on record. Previously Mic’s ‘Jungle Love’ had appeared as a B-side.

“In going electric we kept the same flavour of the music. What we actually wanted was a double bass, Dave must have played double bass about twice but he just wanted to play electric bass. We were working so many rock venues and sometimes we were literally drowned out by the audiences. We’d be drowned out by fan clubs of bands like Hush and all that, people just couldn’t take us seriously. We wanted to up the level of the music because once you have bass and drums it brings everything up a level in terms of volume and just the overall sound.

“So that was a deliberate effort to make us more accessible to rock audiences because by then that’s where we were predominantly working. There was no money in the folk or jazz scenes, not that there was much money in the rock scene either. We didn’t make a lot. It wasn’t about the money really, anyway. But we wanted to be able to go on rock shows, rock concerts and festivals and not be swamped by rowdy audiences.

“Before we appeared on Countdown, what broke us on television was GTK (Get to Know). That was about the youth culture rather than the glam and the glitter which was what Countdown was about. GTK was an incredible show, they didn’t just talk to the pop musicians; they looked at the rock scene and the theatre scene. It was broadcast in black & white, before colour TV, most people don’t remember it. That was what broke us in Australia. We went over to Perth to play, for absolute chicken feed because we were told that no-one knew us over there but when we got there every gig was chock-a-block with people queuing around the corner for us. And that was because of GTK.”

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Matchbox Madness EP (1974) front cover

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Matchbox Madness EP (1974) back cover

“Truck on down to the candy store...”

Because Smoke Dream had sold well enough, Image gave the green light for the band to complete a second album. Another Conway-Flett song ‘Wangaratta Wahine’ became the title track to the band’s breakthrough album which came out at the end of 1974. One of the album’s distinguishing features was the Michael Leunig cartoon on the album jacket.

“Actually, that Leunig cover was planned for the first album but Leunig didn’t make the deadline and John McDonald from Image was hot on deadlines so he got Phil Lukies to do the first cover. So Michael waited around to do the second cover. He wasn’t such a big name in those days, he was just starting out, and he approached doing the cover in such a different way. He’d never done a record cover before so he thought they all had a formula to them so he wanted to break the formula. He actually won ‘Cover of the Year’ with that album. That was great for him.

“He was known for his work with the Nation Review, which wasn’t that widely read, but it certainly broadened his audience. A lot of people really loved that cover; it was such a great cover. It really tied in well with the music. With the wanted poster on the bridge, one thing that we did to promote the album was to re-create that poster which we got Leunig to print for us and we stuck all these posters on bridges all over Melbourne. So I went out with this guy John Koning who was working with me and we slapped up these posters all around. That actually helped; at first people didn’t know what this thing was about, y’know, ‘wanted for unnatural activities’ and all that (haha). So Michael did a screen print of that. I’ve still got some of those posters.

“We assembled the songs that we wanted to record. Ernie Rose had engineered the first album and then he became the producer for the second album. We had a lot of fun recording that album. ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ was a tribute; I’d read a book about Le Grande Pétomane who was a French musical hall artist from the 1880s / 1890s. I’ve always loved the oddities and this guy performed at Moulin Rouge and he could do things with his bottom, he’d fart on demand, make it sound like a trumpet.

“Actually ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ had nothing to do with that but we just stuck the two ideas together. The song was a tango from The Pyjama Game and it had these honking sounds in the middle as a tribute to Spike Jones. We used to do this thing on stage where we’d do this pretend farting thing where one of the guys would disappear off stage with a microphone and do these farting noises, and Dave would have this phonograph horn stuck up his bottom, y’know, we loved doing things like that. It was a modern vaudeville show; we just had a lot of fun with it all.

“So the second album had Fats Waller songs on it, because I was obsessed with him. ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ and ‘That’s What the Bird Said to Me’ which was really an environmental song from the 1920s. ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ was one of my favourite songs of all time; it’s such a funny song. I used to do a tap dance on it and we used to do this whole big number around it.”

The album opens gently with a rustle of guitar and violin strings and Mic’s crooning vocals, the tempo picks up and the band’s underway with the gypsy-jazz swing piece ‘Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me’, a jug band standard from the 1920s. There are brief snatches of calliope music and symphonic exclamation marks amidst the breakneck rhythm and it certainly sets out the band’s stall in one defining piece. The vaudeville lunacy continues with the bluegrass styled ‘Lovesick Blues’, Mic in fine country yodel mode and there’s great interplay between violin, percussion, piano and kazoo. ‘Half a Moon (Is Better than No Moon)’ features banjo, piano, violin and guitar over a quick two-step rhythm.

‘Jug Band Music’ by the Memphis Jug Band is a classic of the genre and the group carries if off with great aplomb: “Jug band music sounds so sweet to me”. The Conway-Flett-penned ‘Wait for Me Juanita’ is a slow bluesy waltz with lashings of ocker humour and references to Chiko rolls, a Bonox with milk and sugar, pianolas / bananas / drinking granitas, eating guavas in Guam, meat pies in the sky and “see ya later sweetheart, you bang like a dunny door in the wind”.

Irving Berlin’s ‘Top Hat’ is another brisk foxtrot, originally from the Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers 1935 dance musical Top Hat. The full song title is actually ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’ but no matter because it’s just a fun ride.

‘If You’se a Viper’ is a classic jazz hop tune from the 1930s. Originally written by Stuff Smith and recorded by Stuff Smith & His Onyx Club Boys in 1936, it was popularised in 1938 when recorded by Rosetta Howard and the Harlem Hamfats as ‘If You’re a Viper’. Either way, it’s one of the great dope smokers’ songs for the ages. Of course, jazz and marijuana were closely linked in the early part of the 20th century, with “jazz cigarette” being a well know euphemism for a joint or a reefer. The opening line of the song goes “Dreaming of a reefer five foot long...”, while saying someone was a “viper” meant they smoked dope. The intake of breath when inhaling from a joint was likened to the hissing of the viper, hence “If you’se a viper”. Furthermore, there’s the line “truck on down to the candy store” which is a direct reference to a dope smoker getting the munchies.

Just how Captain Matchbox managed to get this past the authority figures of the day is probably down to the fact that the band takes the tune at such a cracking pace that Mic’s garbled lyrics get lost in the rush. Then the band chimes in with a message to “light up a Viper” (a la the “light up a Viscount” cigarette ad) to the tune of ‘There’s a Hole in My Bucket’ and a public announcement of “Medical authorities warn that smoking is a health hazard”. As the tune ends Mic announces “Ah, that’s a killer” in a husky, stoned voice and Mr. Plod intones “Awright, I’d like you to accompany me down to the station”. It’s like Monty Python meets Cheech & Chong – ah, it’s all just roaring good fun!

Next is a more relaxed ‘That’s What the Bird Said to Me’ by Fats Waller. Then we’re into the main event with the album’s prime cut ‘Wangaratta Wahine’. Witty, playful and utterly unforgettable, there’s nothing else quite like it in the whole history of Aussie rock music. Skyhooks had sung about Carlton, Balwyn and Toorak; The Dingoes had sung ‘Way Out West’; and then here was Captain Matchbox singing about getting stoned in a Victorian rural township along the Hume Highway.

For their appearance on Countdown, the group took their theatrical bent to extremes: Jim is resplendent in an orange and yellow kangaroo suit with huge fluffy feet; Mic is relatively straight in Hawaiian shirt and severely parted and slicked back hair but he does the parping trumpet sounds with his lips and remains completely poker faced the whole time; Jim Niven gurns outrageously in lipstick and eye make-up beneath his glasses; Flett hams it up to the max with a shit-eating grin and his interjections of “What do you want?” and “You’re a great galoot”. It’s a very funny clip and highly entertaining.

Mic says, “Wangaratta Wahine’ – I’d written songs before that but we didn’t record them, which was a mistake. The first song we wrote was called ‘Pollution Drag’ which we performed all over the place, we played that at the moratorium marches and things like that, but we never recorded it. We did write some others things that we recorded such as ‘Jungle Love’. So ‘Wangaratta Wahine’ came out of an idea based around the ukulele.

“As a young man I loved the ukulele. From the First World War onwards across Australia, and indeed the rest of the world there was this interest in the ukulele. In Australia there was this magazine called the Australian Hawaiian Magazine or Club, I think it was called. In one of the mags I saw this picture of two blonde girls in hula skirts and underneath this caption said ‘Wangaratta Wahine’ and I thought that’s fantastic!

“I had friends from Wangaratta who never referred to it as Wangaratta, it was always Wang. I just wrote this song about being stoned off my face, as everybody was back then, and just landing in this roadhouse in Wang. It’s just mythical, it didn’t happen but it was just a bit of fun to write this song. I collaborated with Dave and then my brother said he hated the song and didn’t want to play it (haha) but then eventually he made the song very musical, his input on the harmonica really gave it the hook that it needed. So in the long run he ended up liking the song but his initial reaction was ‘you do this and I’m leaving the band’.”

‘Flaming May’ was another brisk foxtrot followed by ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ which Fats Waller had made famous in 1939. Originally written by Fred Fisher / Ada Benson, Waller added his own lyrics “Your pedal extremities are colossal, to me you look just like a fossil” which Mic chews up with great relish. Mic explained to Juke magazine at the time that “Fats Waller, as far as I’m concerned, was the greatest singer because he was both brilliant and funny with it. He was a brilliant musician and vocalist. He’s probably been the greatest influence on anything I’ve ever done.”

The album ends with ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, a tango written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross in 1954 for the Broadway musical The Pajama Game. Captain Matchbox have great fun with it, throwing every kind of percussive sound and vocalese (raspberries, gargles, coughs and farting trumpet noises) into the mix.

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“Roll that reefer...”

Even as the album was slowly taking off, the line-up had changed again; Fleming, Snyder and Hales had left by the end of 1974 to be replaced by Chris Worrall (guitar; ex-Pelaco Brothers) and Manny Paterakis (drums). This was the most rock-oriented version of the band to date. Captain Matchbox made an appearance at Sunbury 1975, with some unexpected guests climbing on stage.

“When we appeared at Sunbury some of the guys from Osibisa came up on stage and played percussion with us. They were touring Australia at the time, they weren’t actually booked for Sunbury, they just showed up and decided to play with us.”

Now entrenched in the Melbourne rock scene as a major attraction, Captain Matchbox signed to the Premier Artists booking agency (alongside the likes of Skyhooks, AC/DC, Ariel, Ayers Rock, Billy Thorpe, Buster Brown, Dingoes, Jeff Duff, Jim Keays, LRB, Madder Lake, Lobby Loyde, Phil Manning Band, Renée Geyer Band, Split Enz, Wendy Saddington and Richard Clapton). They were playing all the usual rock venues around town (Hard Rock Café, Matthew Flinders Hotel, Dallas Brooks Hall etc). They also ventured up to Sydney to play at the Paddington Town Hall with Jeff St John.

The connection with Premier Artists led to a new record deal with Mushroom Records. Mushroom issued ‘Australia’ b/w ‘Christopher Columbus’ (October 1975) and the album Australia (November). Once again it was an entertaining mix of originals and covers like ‘Cocaine Habit’, ‘Sweeny Todd the Barber’ and Noel Coward’s ‘20th Century Blues’. In keeping with the band’s sense of humour, the album credits listed Mic as Microphone Conway while Chris Worrall was Christmas Worrall.

Throughout December 1975, Captain Matchbox was one of the supports for Skyhooks’ In the Heat of the Night national tour (other supports being Ol’ 55, Phil Manning Band, Matt Taylor and UK bluesman Duster Bennett). Then on New Year’s Eve they appeared on the bill of the A-Reefer-Derci concert (with Ayers Rock, Renée Geyer Band, Split Enz, Ariel and Skyhooks), held at the Ormond Hall, Moubray Street, South Yarra.

The Reefer Cabaret was an infamous concert event which had been launched by promoter Mike “Fastbuck” Roberts at the Dallas Brooks Hall during August 1974. Patrons had been encouraged to smoke joints openly and naturally this tended to attract the attention of various authority groups. The Reefer Cabaret was then moved to Ormond Hall and concerts continued until December 1975. Among the many attractions was the screening of Reefer Madness, the notorious 1936 propaganda film about the wicked weed made by the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Many local rock acts played at the Reefer Cabaret, including Captain Matchbox who had first appeared there on Christmas Eve, 24th December 1974 with The Dingoes and Pantha.

Captain Matchbox continued to tour with various line-ups. By 1978 the band was known as Matchbox with a line-up of Mic, Jim, Rick Ludbrook (guitar, sax), Peter Mühleisen (bass), Gordo McLean (drums), Tony Burkys (guitar) and Colin Stevens (mandolin) who was then replaced by Louis McManus (ex-Bushwackers).

Then in 1979 a horrific truck smash claimed the life of their roadie Ivan Stegert and brought the band to its knees. As well as losing Ivan, their truck and much of their equipment, the band was heavily in debt, their spirit finally broken. For a while Mic was unsure about continuing; however, Matchbox regrouped with a new line-up which toured constantly for the next six months in order to pay off their debts.

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The line-up comprised Mic, Jim, McManus and Mühleisen augmented by Robert Ross (drums), Eric McCusker (guitar) and Chris Coyne (sax, flute). They recorded a final single, ‘Juggling Time’ b/w ‘Dirty Money’, which they issued independently in 1980 – as by The Matchbox Band. Co-written by Mic and Eric, ‘Juggling Time’ was one of the group’s very best songs, a marvellous tune about dealing with the pressures of modern living, featuring a sprightly reggae lilt over a steady 4/4 rock beat. It should be noted that McCusker went on to major song writing success with Mondo Rock.

With over a decade of highs and lows behind them, Mic and Jim quietly laid the Captain Matchbox name to rest. The brothers embarked on a series of new ventures, including The Hotsie Totsie Band in 1981, then Carnival in 1983 and The Conway Brothers Hiccups Orchestra in 1984. Mic also worked as Mic Conway’s Whoopee Band in 1989. When Avenue/CBS reissued Wangaratta Wahine in 1983, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band reformed for a one-off national tour. The line-up featured Mic, Jim, Flett, McManus, Hales, Niven and Jim Pennell (guitar).

In the late 1980s, Jim was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Despite being wheelchair bound he has continued to play, most notably in R&B bands The Backsliders and Big Wheel. In recent years Jim has had to slow down as it has become increasingly difficult for him to tour. Mic, however, has not slowed down, working regularly with his National Junk Band and taking on such roles as writing with The Wiggles and being the voice of Wags the Dog.

Finally, in 2010, Mic and Jim were persuaded to revive the Captain Matchbox name for a series of Festival appearances (Woodford, Blue Mountains, Bluesfest etc). The concerts were a real eye-opener for the guys, with young kids, teenagers and people in their early 20s (and of course not forgetting their parents) singing along to the delights of ‘Wangaratta Wahine’ and ‘If You’se a Viper’.

Long may the name of the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band be praised to the high hills!

Wangaratta Wahine – Originally issued as Image ILP-744 (November 1974)
1. Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me (Swanstone/McCarron/Morgan)
2. Lovesick Blues (Cliff Friend/Irving Mills)
3. Half A Moon (Is Better Than No Moon) (Reynolds/Dowling/Hanley)
4. Jug Band Music (Memphis Jug Band)
5. Wait for Me Juanita (Mic Conway/Dave Flett)
6. Top Hat (Irving Berlin)
7. If You’se a Viper (Stuff Smith)
8. That’s What the Bird Said to Me (Fats Waller)
9. Wangaratta Wahine (Mic Conway/Dave Flett)
10. Flaming May (Rose/Whiteman)
11. Your Feet’s Too Big (Fred Fisher/Ada Benson)
12. Hernando’s Hideaway (Richard Adler/Jerry Ross)
Bonus Tracks
13. Down Undergroundsville (Mic Conway/Dave Flett)
14. Out in the Suburbs (Mic Conway/Fred Olbrei)
15. Malcolm the Prefect (Mic Conway/Dave Flett)
16. Roll that Reefer (Mic Conway/Dave Flett)
17. Juggling Time (Eric McCusker/Mic Conway)
18. Dirty Money (Conway/McCusker/Mühleisen)

The Liner Notes (From the original album cover)

This is why the boys have clambered (sic) to the top of Mount Wangaratta with their hands full of glistening sixpences, and you would say, “How come?” Since their last recorded noise Edison cylinder ascended (went up) the charts nearly to the top in 1821 and the Wangaratta Founding Fathers were whistling the strains of My Canary etc, the onset of this Great Technological Age has left the words on everybody’s lips: “Yes, but – (1). Can they still dish up that kind of kerosene music? And (2). Will the cats still bop to it?”

They (the boys) said, “Fight fire with fire!” and worked far in to the night translating old kerosene into new electric. It was time for the wheels of change to turn, and with raw guts and fists they hewed through rock with electricity and cut a flat record. And when it was finished they wiped their collective sweaty brow and said, “There!”

Here now is something thoroughly modern for all to regard. For instance, the howling wah-wah tea-chest bass and the jangling strains of the electric jug bear testimony to how these little devils move with the times. For it is in this album that the very stuff from which time is made has been altered. Atoms have been twisted from their time-honoured trajectories and the resultant neo-mutant forms have changed the fundamental mode of perception for the human brain.

It is a new dawning for the new race. Go forth and inherit the Earth, Your Earth, for You made it. Good luck and good fun!

 

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Company Caine - Doctor Chop (1976)

Company Caine - Doctor Chop (1976)

Company Caine - Doctor Chop (1976)

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Here are my liner notes for the upcoming remastered CD reissue on Aztec Records of the 1976 Company Caine LP Doctor Chop

Thanks to Russell Smith, David 'Dr. Pepper' Pepperell, Keith Glass, Brecon Walsh and Gerald McNamara

Company Caine and the strange tale of Doctor Chop

(The Company Caine Story Part 2)

By Ian McFarlane

Doctor Chop is on the loose again! He’s the wild-haired gent who ran amuck in Regent, lately he’s been overheard in Carlton. Better stay away from him, he’ll chop your heart out Jim (with obvious acknowledgements to Warren Zevon).

Just take a look at that front cover photo of Gulliver Smith wielding a meat cleaver! The late Gulliver really knew how to take on a role for the desired effect. Graeme Webber’s iconic photo is the ideal image for what was essentially the last gasp of the celebrated Company Caine. The original idea had been to feature the whole band in butcher’s smocks but Gulliver by himself was clearly the best option. And what about graphic artist Ian McCausland’s “bloody nice lettering” announcing Dr Chop in big blobs of red across the top. Perfect!

“Dr. Chop... medicine shop”

Originally released in May 1976, the nine-track Doctor Chop LP now gets the remastered, expanded CD treatment, with bonus tracks aplenty. With the addition of eight, previously unreleased live tracks – expanding on the four tracks, recorded at Dallas Brooks Hall, September 3rd 1975, that made up the original second side of the LP – it offers an effective insight into the live prowess of this once magnificent band. And for maximum impact there’s a surprise extra track, a genuine Company Caine rarity of great historical significance.

For the full story of Company Caine’s early years you can check out my liner notes in the 2015 Aztec CD reissue of the band’s classic debut album, A Product of a Broken Reality. Very briefly then, the original line-up of Gulliver Smith (vocals), Russell Smith (guitar, vocals), Jeremy Noone (real name Jeremy Kellock; saxophone, keyboards), Clifton Edwards (bass) and Ray Arnott (drums) came together in Melbourne during March 1970.

A Product of a Broken Reality came out in November 1971 and following several line-up changes the band folded in October 1972. Gulliver issued his solo album The Band’s Alright but the Singer is... (June 1973) – which was basically a Company Caine album in everything but name as it featured all the other band members plus various guest musicians. It’s a very under-rated album, full of quality songs. Gulliver formed The Dead End Kids to help promote the record, the band morphing into Bad Companions by the end of the year.

Russell Smith joined Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford in their new band Mighty Kong, playing on their album All I Wanna Do is Rock (December 1973; Aztec CD reissue 2008). Noone had joined Daddy Cool when he left Company Caine in late 1971, after which he travelled to the United States to pursue his interest in jazz music. Drummer John ‘Ernie’ McInerny, who had replaced Arnott, put in stints with the Bobby Gebert Trio and Francis Butler’s Original ’69ers.

Around early 1975, Gulliver and Russell formed a new band called Metropolis. The rest of the line-up comprised Andrew Bell (guitar), Marney Sheehan (bass) and because Russell can’t remember who the drummer was I’m going to suggest that it might have been Eddie Van Roosendael (the three going on to join Toads and Stiletto). Russell’s recollection is that it was a very short-lived venture; the band rehearsed for a month or so and then played a bare handful of gigs around the university circuit before breaking up. Gulliver, Russell and his spouse Shirley (vocals) may also have worked briefly as The Smith Family at that point.

Among all the various band comings and goings, and machinations of the local Melbourne counter-cultural scene, David ‘Dr. Pepper’ Pepperell and Keith Glass – proprietors of Melbourne’s most famous import record shop Archie ’n’ Jugheads – had purchased at auction the original mixed master tapes for A Product of a Broken Reality. They set about reissuing the album on their Real Records label under the banner of Rock Masterworks Volume One. This is now where Doctor Chop comes into the equation because with Glass and Pepperell’s encouragement, and buoyed by the knowledge that A Product... was due to be reissued, Gulliver and Russell decided to reform Company Caine.

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“Sew you up... and the pain stops”

David Pepperell remembers the circumstances of the album reissue and the reformation of Company Caine.

“Keith had seen that the original master tapes for A Product of a Broken Reality and the original long versions of the single, ‘Now I’m Together’ and ‘Dear Carolyn’, were up for auction. I was amazed. We put in a bid; I think we paid about $100, or even less. I don’t really know who had them to sell, maybe it was Gus McNeil who produced the album and had released it on the Generation label.

“We had our own record label Real Records, which was distributed through our Electric Records arm, and we decided to reissue the album. I got Ian McCausland, who had done the original cover, to work on the artwork. He’d built the little diorama featuring the face with the musical note coming out of its huge, open mouth, but he wanted to redo the cover with a different shot from the session. He never liked the original photo because it was out of focus, a bit fuzzy so he did a completely new cover, with the black border. We probably did two runs of 500 copies of that album. It sold really well through the shop. People were excited that it had been made available again. Interestingly, nowadays both editions go for the same money. Ours is better, it sounds better, it looks better. $300 is about the cost for each, both are rare.

“I only saw the original Company Caine a couple of times live. I first saw them when I was living in Carlton. They were an underground band, they were never a teeny band. They didn’t care so much about the presentation, they were a music band although they were very entertaining, a super band.

“They were one of the best live playing bands we’ve ever had. I don’t think anyone else played as well as they did. Jeremy playing sax was genius; Russell was an amazing guitar player, Gully was a wonderful singer, his lyrics were brilliant. So having a sax player with the guitar / keyboards combination, there wasn’t any other band like them. Spectrum approached them. They were just a bit too good for their time. You could call them a prog band. They reminded me of UK bands like Family, Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson; Company Caine could play like that.

Russell Smith was close to the action and recalled the era when interviewed recently.

“Gulliver and I continued to work and write together after the original band broke up. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Gully, it was always a learning experience for me. I used to love writing songs with him because we’d get together and nine times out of 10 we’d come up with something. Very rewarding. He was a fantastic lyricist. He could come up with a heart-breaking song like ‘Dear Caroline’, or a crazy song like ‘Now I’m Together’ where he says ‘I used to be a skinhead’ and then he’s ‘punching up pussy cats and choking white hens’. He took that all from his own experiences of just observing people. I love that line at the end of ‘Now I’m Together’, ‘I went to see the shrink to get my head fixed / He didn’t charge me a cent so I got it fixed for nix’. He came up with stuff like that all the time. He wanted to write a song called ‘I Was Stoked’; he liked Australianisms.

“Gully would go through these phases. ‘Now I’m Together’ was kind of his Jean Paul Sartre phase, with the metamorphosis thing in the middle. He’d take it out to the extreme to make the most of it. He wrote lots of poetry, he was a bit like Dylan in some ways. He’d just write things down. You’d be sitting in a restaurant and he’d write something down on a serviette. He’d just let this stuff flow, that’s how he did it. He was a great observer of the human condition.

“We’d done his solo album, we had a couple of songs included on the Mighty Kong album, we worked briefly as Metropolis. Once David and Keith contacted us about reissuing the first album, I just thought it was a good idea to reform Company Caine. We were living in a house in St. Kilda and I set up a room for us to rehearse in. My wife at the time, Shirley, joined and then Ernie was living nearby so we got him back in. John Power came in on bass.

“I’d met Jeff Burstin through Pat Wilson. I’d filled in on bass in her band Rock Granite and the Profiles, they just needed somebody to play the bass for a while. I was a reasonably good bass player, I could follow it anyway. That’s how I got to know Jeff, he became a friend and used to come by to visit. I thought it would be nice to have that two guitar thing, because it’s very flexible. Jeremy was overseas so we couldn’t get him. In those days there weren’t many good keyboard players, there wasn’t the technology to kind of fake it like you can now, so you had to get something that worked and Jeff was a very knowledgeable musician, it seemed to work.

“I’d already been involved with the two guitar thing with Ross Hannaford in Mighty Kong. It was always great playing with Hanna. We had a great rapport, we could always pull it off doing two guitars at the same time, nobody was the lead and nobody was the rhythm, we just played guitar and sang. We worked together later on in Billy T. When I listened to Doctor Chop again recently I could really hear the influence of Mighty Kong. ‘Buzzin’ With My Cousin’ has Ross Wilson’s influence all over it, it’s a very Mighty Kong sounding song in a lot of ways. That was when we first started getting interested in reggae. So the new songs we wrote for Doctor Chop were very much in that Mighty Kong mode, with the two guitar thing.

“When you’re in a band with both Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford singing was obligatory, you had to sing harmonies because that’s what they did and it was great. I could sing alright and I’d do it with Company Caine. I really enjoyed doing harmonies. That’s something that I really miss, people don’t do that anymore. It’s really hard these days to get a band that’s got three really good singers in it, which is what we had in Company Caine the second time around.”

“Young nurse... says Dr’s curse”

Things moved quickly for Company Caine. David Pepperell took on the role of band manager and set about being involved with the re-launch of the Company Caine brand. In addition to that, in his role as a music journalist Pepperell had conceived his enigmatic ‘Dr Pepper’ persona (“They seek him here, the seek him there”) and was writing a regular column in newly published Melbourne rock music paper Juke.

In his columns he’d throw out tantalising tidbits of information such as:

“Other big news of the week is the reforming of Co.Caine by Russell Smith and Gulliver. There are plans afoot to re-release their classic album ‘Product of a Broken Reality’, for a new single and a concert to launch the group on its way. An interview with the ubiquitous Gulliver coming up soon.” (Issue #5, 11 June 1975)

The planned concert referred to in the 11 June snippet had been booked at the Dallas Brooks Hall for the 3rd of September. The whole idea for the major concert event, as Pepperell recalled, was to re-launch the new, multi-faceted Company Caine in a blaze of glory as if they’d emerged from nowhere as a band to be reckoned with. The concert kind of went well, with the first half featuring acts from former TF Much Ballroom promoter John Pinder’s new venue the Flying Trapeze (the Busby Berkeleys, Captain Rock, Avril Bell, Razzle Dazzle Revue and Sam Angelico’s Magic Show). Then Company Caine went on and played exceedingly well (the show was recorded). The venue was only half full, however, because by that stage, due to the usual financial pressures, the band had already begun playing around town throughout July and August.

Company Caine-Gig advert 1975-Dallas Brooks Hall-LoRes.jpg

These included gigs at the Kingston Hotel in Richmond and the Station Hotel in Prahran as well as a long-running Saturday residency at the Polaris Inn in North Carlton. Company Caine slotted perfectly into that Melbourne mid-’70s, counter-cultural, inner-city scene. This was the era of The Dingoes, The Pelaco Bros, Toads, Sharks, Pantha; and of course more commercially minded bands the calibre of Skyhooks, Ayers Rock, Ariel, AC/DC, Kush, Renee Geyer & Sanctuary, Madder Lake, Buster Brown and (the reformed) Daddy Cool. Things always moved quickly and by 1976, the Melbourne scene saw the emergence of newer bands such as Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons, The Bleeding Hearts, Mondo Rock, Stiletto, Millionaires and The Sports.

Company Caine eventually got swamped in the rising tide... but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here so more on that later...

Another snippet from Dr. Pepper’s column (Juke, Issue #14, 13 August 1975) reported that Gulliver had decided to change the spelling of the band’s name to Company Kane. The band had inevitably been listed in gig guides as Co.Caine, which was a constant source of annoyance to the singer. He lamented, “You’ve no idea the hassles that can happen to a band with a name like that...”, claiming the drug connotations were never intended and the name was supposed to suggest bushrangers.

“That’s right, Gulliver wanted to change it to Kane but I never agreed with him on that,” David says. “I couldn’t believe it when Ian had done the poster for the concert and he’d written Kane. I said ‘what’s this?’. He said ‘oh they said they’d gotten in to trouble over the original name’. I said ‘you can’t do this, people won’t recognise the band, people would think it wasn’t the real band’, or something.

“So I changed that for the album cover, made sure it was Caine. It was always Company Caine anyway but yes people would abbreviate it to Co.Caine. That was the gag right from the start but then they did get into trouble over the name and the drug connotations. A reporter for one of the Sydney broadsheets wrote a whole editorial about the name and how it was disgusting and that they should be banned. Gulliver wrote some lyrics, ‘David D. MacNicholl tried to put us in a pickle / He said if we changed our name we’d still be the same’ (‘Simple Song of Spring’). He’d written this scathing editorial, so, yes Gulliver was always a bit funny about that.”

Russell has a similar recollection:

“Yeah, we did make it Kane with a K but then pretty quickly we went back to Caine with a C. It was really always Company Caine. I do remember painting a K on my guitar, so there was a period there where it was Kane. I imagine it was to get away from the drug thing, because it was always getting shortened to Co.Caine. The Mighty Kong album had a song about drugs (‘Hard Drugs [Are Bad for You]’). Wilson had had a bit of trouble there and at the time it was part of the deal to try and distance ourselves from any drug connotations. I’d be happy to mention that, people have probably forgotten that. I imagine that was the general idea at the time. See, Gulliver was terribly riven by things like that. To me it doesn’t make any difference, it’s in the past, the way past.”

“Is a fat purse... could get worse”

With regard to the Dallas Brooks Hall recordings contained on the album, they reveal a band with the strength of its convictions. The vocals are at the forefront throughout with the clean guitars also prominent in the mix. ‘Humanoids’ showcases Russell’s lead vocals, in addition to the thrilling harmony voices of Gulliver and Shirley. ‘I Kept Askin’ is a slow, lovelorn blues, Gulliver in particularly fine voice with serious shades of Stevie Winwood. He really was a tremendous singer and his rave in the song’s coda is totally inspired – “I kept asking, where has my baby gone, where’s that woman, where’s that sweet woman, can you tell me where has she gone? Fitzroy!”.

‘Heard The Word’ is an absolute ripper of a song, with the heavy guitar riffs accentuating this cautionary tale of a “rock ’n’ roll bandit” out to rip off the band. Gulliver is simply scathing in his attack on the questionable morals of certain elements of the music industry but he’s also reduced to a complete mess with the pressure. “Gonna break me down / shake me down / keep my royalty cheques / I’m a rock ’n’ roll wreck / I’m a physical wreck / just a rock ’n’ roll wreck / they’re out - out to get me / wow - woe is me”. I’d like to think there’s a glimmer of hope that he’ll overcome such adversity.

Gulliver announces the song as “We’re gonna do this as a single in a couple of months, next month, pretty soon, so we hope you like it”. Sadly the band never did lay this track down in the studio. Nevertheless, this is the archetypal example of the band’s dual guitar attack, with Russell and Jeff’s interlocking playing alternating between solid rhythm and searing lead, as well as snapping tightly around the central riff. It’s on a par with the earlier line-up’s legendary ‘The Day Superman Got Busted’ in the heavy stakes, and highlights what Russell has said about the influence of the heavier side of Mighty Kong’s music. The sprightly ‘Simple Song Of Spring’ ends the session on a high note.

Dr Pepper continued to report on the various band ventures:

“Company Caine have filmed a live-in-the-studio performance at the ABC studios for GTK. Songs were ‘The Golden Boogie’, ‘Woman With Reason’ (sung by Russell and his wife Shirley), ‘Heard The Word’, ‘The Stumble’ (Russell and Jeff playing their double lead guitar tour de force) and ‘Humanoids’. (Juke, issue #21, 1 October 1975).

At the end of October, Company Caine set off to Sydney for a three-date residency at the infamous Bondi Lifesaver. Because the original Company Caine had lived and worked in Sydney circa 1971-72, they were considered a de-facto Sydney band and were treated as returning heroes.

“We broke the Friday night bar record at the Bondi Lifesaver!” David says of the Sydney tour. “That’s what we would have done in Melbourne if they’d just started with the big concert at the Dallas Brooks Hall, but the band did have to work. In Sydney it was ‘wow, Company Caine are back and they’re on at the Bondi Lifesaver’. We just packed the place out, it was a huge success, people loved them. I remember walking out on the first night with about $1,000 in cash in my pocket. I was thinking somebody’s gonna mug me. So we all made money on the tour to Sydney which was very rare in those days.”

Russell has another side of the story to tell, being the typical tale in the life of a touring musician.

“I do remember going up to Sydney for gigs. I think Shirley went in the ute with Jeff and I went in the van with all the band gear. The roadie was driving and then somewhere along the Hume Highway the accelerator ceased to work and we drove to Sydney using the throttle. Finally we ran out of petrol and pulled over in the breakdown lane and then got run into the rear by a big semi-trailer which promptly drove off!

“We’d tried to get some sleep and we woke up with this big bang! The van was an old Home Pride bread truck, the walls had been insulated with this polystyrene stuff to keep the bread warm. It was those polystyrene bubbles you have in bean bags and this stuff went flying everywhere, it was a nightmare. I looked out the window and it was like snow falling and there were microphone stands and other bits of gear spread all around. The mixing desk got smashed, it was unbelievable. Fortunately I hadn’t taken my Goldtop Les Paul with me, I had another guitar with me on that trip.

“So we finally limped into Sydney and played at the Bondi Lifesaver. I remember vomiting at the Bondi, probably from shock or something. We did the first gig, that’s all I can remember, I don’t remember any other gigs and I don’t remember much more about that tour.”

Later that November they entered TCS Studios (where they’d recorded A Product... in 1971) and laid down three tracks with producer Ross Wilson and engineer John French.

‘Doctor Chop’, ‘Buzzin’ With My Cousin’ and ‘The Golden Boogie’ were earmarked for a prospective single but because they’d spent so much money on securing Wilson’s services – his stock as a in-demand producer had risen following his work on the first two, incredibly successful, Skyhooks albums – Electric Records were unable to lock in a single release. Fortunately, the tracks were held over for the eventual album release on Lamington Records in 1976.

The music of ‘Doctor Chop’ is undeniably poppy with its slippery guitar riff, the “whoo whoo ooo-eee-ooo” harmony vocals, percussion elements and sunny Caribbean feel yet it’s definitely one of the band’s oddest tracks. What do the lyrics mean?

“Yeah, ‘Doctor Chop’... that’s a strange song,” Russell says. “I mean lyrically, I don’t know what Gulliver was thinking there. It’s a good song musically but it is strange. But that’s what we did. I can remember sitting there trying to work out other songs like that. We liked those songs they had in the ’60s, you know, like the boyfriend rides off on his motorbike and he dies on the railroad tracks. We wrote a song like that one time. I don’t think we ever played it but we had the whole scenario, the storyline, it was just fun. I can’t remember the name of the song.”

‘Buzzin’ With My Cousin’ is one of the album’s best tracks, with its hint of nostalgia and shout out to good friends in the lyrics. It may also give a lie to the avoidance of any drug connotations with its opening lines: “Buzzin’ with my cousin back in 1969 / Took a toke for a joke and he was feeling fine”. All the same there’s lots to like about this uplifting song – Gulliver’s bright vocals and the underlying harmonies for example but the key element here is the song’s distinctive rhythm.

“When we recorded ‘Buzzin’ With My Cousin’ we didn’t really know what to do with it,” Russell explains. “Wilson suggested we try it with the reggae feel and it worked. He was already very interested in reggae because rhythm was a big part of what we did. If you listen to the Mighty Kong record there’s a lot of jungle rhythms going on there, that’s part of what Ross Wilson was into. So it wasn’t so much Gully and me but we took that on. Some of the songs remind me of Mighty Kong, they could have been written for Mighty Kong, the heavier ones. And we wrote another song which Mighty Kong did, ‘Beelzebub Boogie’. We didn’t record that in either Mighty Kong or Company Caine although both bands did that song live.

‘The Golden Boogie’ is another effervescent song which harks back to the early days of 20th century music. It’s essentially a love song to one of Gulliver’s favoured music forms. In his rave towards the end of the song he references American composer and musician W.C. Handy (known as “the Father of the Blues”) and ends the song with “Rock ’n’ roll has just been revived but the boogie never took a dive / Rhythm and blues that’s its kin but the boogie is where it all begins”. Gulliver and Ross Wilson clearly had an affinity for such matters, as Ross also loved the boogie. Daddy Cool’s ‘Daddy Rocks Off’, for example, is John Lee Hooker meets Aussie blues; the result “boogie, boogie, boogie...”

“Can you help me... with this desire”

By December the band was still getting small local gigs, such as at Martinis (Imperial Club Hotel) in Carlton, in addition to doing well on the university circuit. The most significant thing that eventually hampered the band’s development was that they couldn’t break into the larger Melbourne suburban pub circuit. They’d been marginalised by Premier Artists, the city’s major booking agency which was effectively the live touring arm of Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Records.

At the time Premier booked big name bands such as Skyhooks, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, AC/DC, Renee Geyer and Sanctuary, Ayers Rock, Captain Matchbox, Ariel, Redhouse, Madder Lake, Richard Clapton, Split Enz, Buster Brown and Matt Taylor, plus interstate bands Finch, Sebastian Hardie and the Ted Mulry Gang. The other big agency name in 1975, Spirit Management booking agency, handled Kush, The Dingoes, Little River Band, Phil Manning Band, Silversun, Greg Quill and Freeway.

Company Caine just couldn’t get the figurative foot in the door. Besides, times were changing in the music industry: Countdown was sweeping all before it as the arbiter of pop tastes while punk and new wave were on the horizon. The band’s days were numbered, and in early 1976 Dr Pepper forlornly reported the band had broken up again.

Russell is philosophical about the outcome of all their efforts:

“I think basically we weren’t getting any gigs, there wasn’t any interest in us. I don’t remember that there was any particular event that pushed us over the edge. We didn’t have any big falling out or anything like that. I think we just ended up running out of options. It was very difficult to get work, we didn’t have that booking agency backing. It might have gone back to the original band because one of the main reasons we went to Sydney was the booking agencies didn’t really like what we did... you’ve gotta be able to get work in Melbourne otherwise you can’t survive.

“You couldn’t survive by just doing the inner-city, counter-cultural gigs, which didn’t require an agent, but you really needed to get out there into the regular circuit of work. Which is what Premier Artists provided. We weren’t a part of any of that, so we were really pushing it to get any work of any regular nature. Then Joe Camilleri came along, he was such a great showman, and he was forming a new band with Wayne Burt who’d been in Rock Granite with Jeff. I remember the guys raving about Joe, ‘oh, you should see Joe, man he’s fantastic’.

“I can remember Joe from back in the ’60s, his band The King Bees. They were great. He sounded just like Mick Jagger. That band also included Peter Starkie, who was Bongo’s big brother. They were a tight band, they played R&B and Joe could really play the harp, and this was well before he started playing saxophone. He’d been around a long time.

“So Joe probably got to the point where he wanted more profile and he probably made Jeff and John a good offer (laughs). I think he realised where his strengths were and he wanted to do Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons with Wayne, Jeff and John and they got Gary Young in on drums. Then later on they got signed to Mushroom. I didn’t have a problem with any of that. The Dingoes were with Mushroom, we were friends with them. In fact I went to high school with the bass player John Bois. Being on Mushroom and working all the time gave The Dingoes the big chance of going to America.”

David confirms the state of affairs.

“The band tried really hard. I loved working with them. I got as many gigs for them as I could, at the alternative venues like the Station or Polaris. I was also able to book them into the university circuit, RMIT, Melbourne, Monash, La Trobe, Caulfield, they did get a lot of work there. The main problem was that we couldn’t get them booked through Premier which was a blow. That agency embargo really broke them in the end. I think it was just business, Premier couldn’t see any commercial value in the band.

“When they did play everyone loved them, they went over like a house on fire. I saw most of the gigs they played and they were always great. It just didn’t work out in the end. Company Caine didn’t really click with the times. Changes were coming in, punk was just around the corner in 1976, the scene was starting to change.”

By June 1976, Gulliver had formed a new band, Gulliver’s Travels, which concentrated on playing his favoured musical gumbo of New Orleans R&B, in the manner of Fats Domino, Professor Longhair or Dr. John. Also Billy T had formed and were gigging by May, which is when the Doctor Chop album finally appeared. The album probably only sold 500 copies, so it remains a genuine rarity of the era.

Gulliver departed for the UK in 1977 where he worked for many years with his Gulliver Smith Band. He returned to Australia in the late 1980s but put his music career on hold. He died on 12 November 2014.

Russell Smith kept active on the music scene. After Billy T broke up in April 1978, he joined Leo De Castro’s Heavy Division before travelling to Perth in 1979 where he and Shirley joined a band called Zeroes. He teamed up again with Hannaford in a version of Goanna around 1983. He’s played with numerous bands since, most prominently as a member of Jeff St John and the Embers.

“It feels like my heart... is on fire”

We now come to the bonus material portion of this remastered CD edition. The band’s full 45 minute set at the Dallas Brooks Hall was recorded and while only four tracks were selected for the original vinyl album, we’ve added three additional tracks from the concert.

Jesse Stone’s ‘Don’t Let Go’ (which had been a hit for Roy Hamilton) and Chuck Berry’s ‘Carol’ deliver the band’s love of vintage rock ’n’ roll.

“Gully loved to do things like that,” Russell confirms. “We didn’t do that many covers but when we did we’d do something that we really liked. He was always up for that kind of thing. And of course anything you’d choose he’d go ‘oh, that’s by so-and-so’, and he’d quote you the original song. He was a few years older than the rest of us, he’d had a lot more experience. He loved rock ’n’ roll, he loved blues, he loved New Orleans R&B. His favourite singers were Jackie Wilson, Larry Williams and Little Richard. Although that is me singing the first part of ‘Carol’.”

Gulliver also steps aside to allow Shirley to shine on the soul classic ‘Until You Came Into My Life’, which was an Ann Peebles song from her 1974 album I Can’t Stand The Rain. Russell sings sweetly on the backing vocals.

Following the release of the single ‘Dear Carolyn’ b/w ‘Now Iʼm Together’, in March 1972, Company Caine had travelled to Mulwala over the April Easter weekend, for the Rock Isle Festival. The band had already played at the inaugural Sunbury Festival, so they were well versed in performing on the large stage.

Although the festival site was situated along a beautiful section of the Murray River (near Albury) it’s generally remembered as a let-down, with rain hampering events on the Monday and the standard of facilities leaving a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, the crowds were treated to performances by international visitors Canned Heat and Stephen Stills and Manassas while local stars such as Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Friends, Greg Quill and Country Radio, Coloured Balls, Pirana, Gerry and the Joy Band, Chain, Carson, La De Das, Pirana, Tamam Shud, SCRA, Frieze and Russell Morris and Cycle made a good showing as well.

Amazingly, one of Company Caine’s sets was recorded for posterity and five tracks are presented here for the first time. The line-up at the time was Gulliver, Russell, Ernie, Arthur Eizenberg (bass) plus newest member Mal Capewell (Tenor sax, flute; ex-Phil Jones and The Unknown Blues, Dr. Kandy’s Third Eye, Dada, Graham Bond and Magick, Carson).

The jazzy, minor-key ‘Hey George’ presents a magnificent guitar solo from Russell. The song later appeared as the final track on Gulliver’s album The Band’s Alright but the Singer is... This particular version of ‘Carol’ features Gulliver on lead vocals for the first half, with Russell taking over the vocals following the instrumental breaks.

At the start of ‘Now I’m Together’ Gulliver encourages the audience to buy the new single, “If you haven’t spent all your bread at the festival, maybe you could buy it next week. It only costs a dollar and 10 cents”. ‘Mostly Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine’ is the Bob Dylan song delivered in fine style. Compere Gerry Humphrys calls for one more song from the band and they launch into a spirited version of Little Richards’ ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’ for good measure.

The final extra track is a genuine Company Caine rarity. In 1975 they’d appeared as the anonymous backing band on a single credited to The Record Bandits, ‘They’re Closing Down the Import Shops’. The Record Bandits were the brainchild of Keith Glass and David Pepperell whose import record shop Archie ’n’ Jugheads had been one of many targeted by overzealous record companies for supplying local music fanatics with the very best albums brought in from overseas.

“Oh yeah, we loved doing The Record Bandits thing,” Russell says. “That was probably our first recording. And John Power had been partner in a record shop in Sydney, so they knew of each other’s involvement in imports. The import shops were the only places where you could get your good stuff. It’d be great if you could include that song as a bonus track on the CD.”

Keith takes up the story:

“The single was recorded as a protest against record company attacks on (by then) an Australia wide motley collection of indie record shops. We released it on the Columbo label because at the time we had to obliterate the Columbia trademark from all imported records by felt pen... or be taken to court on copyright charges. So ‘They’re Closing Down the Import Shops’ was a sort of poke in the eye to the majors (as if they were paying attention). I largely wrote one side, ‘Hands Off’, and sang it in a Dylan take off vocal style and Pepperell largely wrote ‘They’re Closing Down...’. The song was credited to Raphael Urso which was one of David’s non de plumes. Funnily enough, he wasn’t at the actual session.

“I’d enlisted the reformed Company Caine, plus Graham Lowndes to help out. As to the vocals on ‘They’re Closing Down...’, John Power sings the first verse, then Graham sings the high chorus with Gully on the backing vocals. I sing a verse. Then Gully sings ‘they’re closing down the import shops they’re trying to make us fake it / they’re closing down the import shops but we ain’t gonna take it’ with Graham. Finally we all pitched in on the chorus, Gully, Russell, Shirley, Graham, John and me.

“We’d arranged with similar shops to ours in most states to take some copies and listed the shops on the back of the sleeve... many were apathetic, some probably never paid. The cover says ‘This record is a Limited Edition of 1000 copies’ but it could have been a 500 press. There was no airplay, no reviews or mentions at the time anywhere I can remember. We probably didn’t sell all the copies and it never really achieved our stated aims. Still, I have always loved gimmick songs and records, I’ve done my share of ’em over the years... many shall remain nameless!!”

David concludes the story:

“Keith and I wrote ‘They’re Closing Down The Import Shops’. Well, I sang it to Keith and he worked out the chords, so he got a co-write. It’s a great song. I wrote the lyrics while I was sitting in a cafe! I based it on The Who’s Tommy, it’s got that call and response sort of sound. ‘I’m sad to say that it seems to me that right here now in the land of the free I can’t even buy an import LP’.

“I always thought that was a great song, it always cracked me up. I was supposed to sing the first verse, but I got pissed and didn’t turn up to the session! John ended up singing that. I was out on the town somewhere and completely forgot about the session, terrible! I was so disappointed when I found out, Keith said ‘where were you!’. I went ‘shit, did I miss the session!’. I wasn’t very reliable in those days.

“Keith did a great job with the recording, it was exactly as I saw it, he completely got it. It was about our freedom being eroded away, that was our protest song! It’s Bob Dylan meets Tommy.”

COMPANY CAINE – Doctor Chop

(Original LP release May 1976, CD reissue November 2017)

1. Doctor Chop
2. Buzzin’ With My Cousin
3. Now I’m Together
4. Dear Carolyn
5. The Golden Boogie
6. Humanoids *
7. I Kept Askin’ *
8. Heard The Word *
9. Simple Song Of Spring *
* Recorded live at Dallas Brooks Hall, September 3rd 1975

Bonus Tracks
More Live (Previously unreleased)
Dallas Brooks Hall (September 1975)

10. Don’t Let Go
11. Until You Came Into My Life
12. Carol
Rock Isle Festival, Mulwala (April 1972)
13. Hey George
14. Carol
15. Now I’m Together
16. Mostly Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine
17. Hey, Hey, Hey

Original album liner notes by Dr. Pepper

I only saw the original Company Caine once – someone had organised a rock “spectacular” at the Carlton Football ground with about ten groups – as is usual with these extravaganzas, only a couple of hundred people showed, but it was a sunny day anyway and the vibes seemed clear if not completely up. I spotted Jeremy Noone first, prancing around in an undertakers top hat and tails – Gulliver was just to the side of him clad similarly and in seemingly high spirits (no pun intended). The group that day were stupendous – Russell Smith’s exemplary guitar work fired the band with electric sparks, Jeremy on piano on sax was just wonderful, Artie Eizenberg filled in the universal black holes with solid bass lines and Ernie McInerny flailed away in Elvin Jones limbo land, bringing up the rear. Right out in front was Gulliver, posturing, storming, stalking and raging – it was one of the finest bands I have ever seen – this is the group featured on tracks 3 and 4 on side one. Luise was there too.

The group went through all kinds of traumas and eventually everyone went their separate ways until mid 1975 when Electric Records re-issued their monumental first LP “Product of a Broken Reality” as a deservedly-so “Rock Masterworks Vol 1”.

The new reformed Company Caine retained original members Gulliver, Russell and Ernie and added Jeff Burstin on guitar, John Power on bass and Shirley Smith backing vocals. The new group was immediately obviously musically superior to the old and at their concert in September 1975 they proved themselves to be one of the top groups around – the twin guitar explosion of Burstin and Smith cut swathes through the ether and this combined with the bedrock of John and Ernie provided a dynamite backing for Gulliver’s phantasmagorical vocals – a new band, a new star in the east. Side 2 of this album is a faithful recording of that night.

Ross Wilson offered to produce some tracks for the band these sides represent tracks 1, 2 and 5 on side on. Listening to theses gives a real impression of the potential and power of Company Caine.

The band played regularly around the dance circuit, appeared on GTK and travelled widely interstate. Most unfortunately, like all good things it has come to an end – those whom the gods love die young. Due to several musical problems within the group exacerbated by the usual hassles involved in playing in a band in Australia, the group broke up in early 1976. I think however that this album forms a fitting epitaph to one of the country’s legendary bands. R.I.P. Company Caine.

Dr. Pepper

“Turn it down I can’t hear myself drink.” - Bob Gray

DOCTOR CHOP

Dr. Chop medicine shop
Sew you up and the pain stops
Young nurse says Dr’s curse
Is a fat purse could get worse

Can you help me with this desire
It feels like my heart is on fire
Can you help me if ya dare
I want tender loving care
I want tender loving care

Sister Stake with the heart ache
Make a mistake she got the shakes
You get no wrists with slipped discs
Or specimens what about lovin’?

Dr. Chop medicine shop
I been waitin’ since 4
She don’t love me no more

 

 

 

Company Caine - A Product of a Broken Reality (1971)

Company Caine - A Product of a Broken Reality (1971)

Company Caine - A Product of a Broken Reality (1971)

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Here are my liner notes for the 2015 remastered CD edition on Aztec Records of Company Caine's 1971 LP A Product of a Broken Reality.

Thanks to Russell Smith, David 'Dr. Pepper' Pepperell, Ian McCausland and Lindsay Farr

"Here's a song with a message... if the message gets through"

The Story of Company Caine (Part 1)

By Ian McFarlane

With the recent death (12 November 2014) of delightfully eccentric singer / songwriter Kevin Gullifer Smith, the story of one of the last unheralded Australian bands of the progressive rock age comes into sharp focus. While Gulliver (as he was more commonly known) had not been visible on the music scene for many years, it was in his role as lead singer with the magnificent Company Caine that he will be forever remembered.

We should never underestimate Gulliver’s contribution to the development of the local music scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Even from the earliest days of his performing career Gulliver exhibited a strikingly original and idiosyncratic approach, drawing on blues, vintage rock’n’roll, Professor Longhair-styled New Orleans R&B, psychedelia and soul for inspiration. He was known for his compelling stage act which incorporated an inventive free-form approach and much evangelist-styled ad-libbing. Later he added a satirical Zappaesque / be-bop poetry component to his on-stage banter with Company Caine.

Furthermore, when you consider that the band earned a reputation on Melbourne’s burgeoning progressive rock scene as one of the most adventurous, avant-garde outfits of the day then you understand that his contribution was indeed significant. With the help of nimble-fingered guitarist Russell Smith, master saxophone / keyboard player Jeremy Kellock (aka Jeremy Noone) and numerous other musicians who passed through the ranks, the band created a legacy of fine music.

As one chapter of a story closes, so another unfolds... Which brings us to this digitally remastered CD reissue of the band’s album A Product Of A Broken Reality. Originally issued on the Generation label (GELP 004) in November 1971 and then reissued on the Real label (R 319) in 1975 under the banner of Rock Masterworks Volume One, the album is one of the very last from that time to see official release in the digital age.

It’s a glorious album of varied moods and adventurous styles; in short it remains an underground milestone of the early ’70s progressive psych genre.

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The 1975 reissue bears the caption REMIX July ’75, which suggests it was a different mix from the original pressing. Latter-day band manager / rock writer David ‘Dr. Pepper’ Pepperell, however, has confirmed that was not actually the case. As they didn’t have access to the original 2-inch multi-track masters but only the 1/4-inch mixed masters, the sound was most likely re-EQ’ed and the reissue vinyl does feature a slightly louder, punchier cut – however, it is not a different mix.

Before we get to the heart of the album’s music, we’ll investigate the band’s history. Between 1970 and 1975 there were at least a dozen separate line-ups with 19 different musicians who can claim membership.

In summary: the original line-up of Gulliver Smith (vocals; ex-Little Gulliver and The Children, Dr. Kandy’s Third Eye, Noyes, Time and The Forest Flower, A Love Supreme), Russell Smith (lead guitar; ex-Nineteen87, Cam-Pact), Jeremy Noone (tenor saxophone, keyboards; ex-Leo and Friends), Clifton Edwards (bass; ex-Chelsea Set, Cam-Pact) and Ray Arnott (drums; ex-Chelsea Set, Browns, Cam-Pact) came together in Melbourne during March 1970.

In May Ray left to be replaced by Tom Watts for a month. Next Eric Cairns (ex-Somebody’s Image, Heart ’n’ Soul) took over on drums and then Tim Partridge (ex-Clockwork Oringe) replaced Clif on bass in October. Next John ‘Ernie’ McInerny (ex-Foreday Riders) took over from Eric. In January 1971 the band relocated to Sydney but Tim departed and Arthur Eizenberg (ex-Square Circle, Big Apple Union, Dr. Kandy’s Third Eye) was welcomed as the new bass player.

In June 1971, Jeremy decided to leave and was replaced by Ian Mawson (piano, organ). Even though Jeremy had officially left the band, he participated in the recording sessions for the album which took place in July. After that Mitch Byrne (alto saxophone, flute; ex-Gus and The House) joined. Jeremy was still on the scene and he’d often get up on stage for a blow at venues such as the T.F. Much Ballroom.

Mitch and Ian stayed around until about October. Then amid a brief period of confusion, Gulliver announced that he was leaving to join two ex-members of Tully – singer Terry Wilson and drummer Robert Taylor – in their new band Space. Gulliver explained to Go-Set magazine at the time that he hadn’t been writing any new songs and he felt his creativity was drying up and that the change of band would do him good. In a quick reversal he decided to return to Company Caine but in order to recharge his batteries took a couple of weeks holiday.

As 1971 drew to a close, Arthur left and Ray Findlay (ex-Lost Souls, Gallery, Healing Force) came in on bass but he only lasted a month. Trevor Wilson (bass, vocals; ex-La De Das) filled the gap and also introduced a couple of his songs to the band’s repertoire. But that line-up wasn’t destined to last either and within a month Arthur had returned. Around March Mal Capewell (tenor sax, flute; ex-Phil Jones and The Unknown Blues, Dr. Kandy’s Third Eye, Dada, Graham Bond and Magick) joined and then Dave Kain (ex-Bitter Lemons, Five Just Men, Square Circle, Dr. Kandy’s Third Eye, Big Apple Union, Time and The Forest Flower, Space) came in on rhythm guitar.

Dave described himself to me recently – with tongue firmly planted in cheek – as the “Syd Barrett-type member of the group”. This final line-up of Gulliver, Russell, Ernie, Arthur, Mal and Dave never recorded but remained stable until officially disbanding in October 1972.

The band members scattered to their varied, individual projects for a number of years. Gulliver recorded his solo album The Band’s Alright But The Singer Is... (essentially the second Company Caine album). At the beginning of 1975 Gulliver and Russell assembled a fresh line-up comprising Russell’s spouse Shirley Smith (vocals; ex-Nine Stage Horizon, Lizard), Ernie back on drums, Jeff Burstin (guitar; ex-Gutbucket, Rock Granite and The Profiles) and John Power (bass; ex-Foreday Riders). This version remained stable for a year and their adventures will be the subject of the second part of these liner notes for the CD reissue of second album Doctor Chop.

“I’ll sing about the truth... and I’ll sing about you”

To understand the genesis of Company Caine we also need to examine Gulliver’s early singing career. He started out as occasional singer with The Thunderbirds and The Strangers around the Melbourne dance circuit. In 1965, as Little Gulliver, he issued three solo singles: Larry Williams’ ‘Short Fat Fannie’ (September 1965); ‘A Brand New Beat’ (December); and Chuck Berry’s ‘No Money Down’ (March 1966). To promote his singles, Little Gulliver appeared on all the television pop shows of the day such as The Go!! Show and Kommotion.

He formed Little Gulliver and The Children with guitarist Ian McCausland, issuing the rare Little Gulliver and The Children EP in September 1966 but they broke up at the end of the year. Gulliver relocated to Sydney where he became involved in the burgeoning underground psychedelic scene.

This brought forth psychedelic soul/R&B band Dr Kandy’s Third Eye which included the likes of Dave Kain (guitar), Mal Capewell (sax), Zane Hudson (sax) and Arthur Eizenberg (bass). The band played the Sydney discotheque circuit alongside the likes of Jeff St John and The Id and Nutwood Rug Band but never recorded.

A young Alison McCallum also sang with the band but the arrangement didn’t suit and in early 1968 Gulliver was fired to be replaced by Wally Mudd. The band folded soon after although several members continued as Big Apple Union. Gulliver formed jazz-blues band The Noyes with guitarist Mick Liber and jazz pianist Bobby Gebert. Liber left to travel overseas, so Gulliver formed free-form / soul band Time and The Forest Flower with Kain. By early 1969, with the addition of a horn section, the band had transformed into A Love Supreme. Their radical fusion of jazz, rock and blues never really gelled and by the end of 1969 Gulliver was at a loose end.

In February 1970 he met up with the remnants of Cam-Pact, on tour in Sydney, and they asked him to join a new band they wanted to form in Melbourne.

The story of this last line-up of Cam-Pact – comprising Russell, Clif and Ray – is one of those odd little threads that makes up a broader tapestry of intriguing music. Cam-Pact circa early 1970 was essentially a blues band and bore no relation to the original line-up which Keith Glass and Chris Stockley had formed as a Stax/Tamla Motown-styled soul band in early 1967. Both Glass and Stockley had left by mid-1969 and when the subsequent line-up fell apart leaving organist / vocalist Bill Blisset with the name, in came the three new players.

Promoter David Flint, who also owned Melbourne discotheque the Thumpin’ Tum managed Cam-Pact and it was through his connections that he was able to keep the band together.

Russell takes up the story:

“Bill left just before we were due to go to Sydney for two weeks, so it was panic stations. We were all completely stunned, like ‘what are we gonna do?!’, so we left it to David. He was a great wheeler ’n’ dealer and organiser, so after a couple of days he said he’d got Matt Taylor, who was coming down to join Genesis, to fill in. We didn’t have any time to rehearse so we just played blues songs which is something we had in common with Matt. I was aware of what he’d done in the Bay City Union.

“Then while we were in Sydney, we were looking for someone new to sing with us and Matt said ‘you should try Gulliver Smith, he might be the guy you’re looking for’. I said I hadn’t heard that name before. And Matt said ‘do you remember Little Gulliver’ and I remembered seeing him on The Go!! Show. I auditioned Gulliver at the Plaza Hotel in Kings Cross, playing my Gibson Goldtop unplugged and I thought, ‘wow, this guy is a real blues singer’. Like Matt, he was one of the very few around at the time who had those old blues chops, he was a serious blues guy and I said ‘yeah, this could be good’.

“Gully wasn’t that keen about leaving Sydney because he really loved living there but he said ‘yeah, okay, I’ll come back to Melbourne’ and he lived at his parents place in Carlton and we got started on organising the band. In the meantime I’d been talking to various other players and Jeremy said he’d join the band. The basic premise was that me, Gulliver and Jeremy all wanted to do original stuff.

“We started writing original material, we just plunged straight into it. I had a tape recorder and I’d already written the first verse of ‘Woman With Reason’, just to show Gulliver what we could do and that was the first one we worked on together. Well, it was either that or ‘1967 (The 13th Mother)’, I can’t remember exactly which.

“Gulliver also had songs that he’d done in Sydney with Dr Kandy’s Third Eye, one of those being ‘The Day Superman Got Busted’. He could only remember the riff and Jeremy kept on at him and picked him clean until we thought we’d got everything we could out of him. Then we basically wrote the rest of the song, the chords and stuff around the riff and arranged that to what you hear on the album. And that was it from the word go.”

“I like to scream like an animal... on the verge of a love affair”

Melbourne at the time was certainly a lively hotbed of musical activity. The teen dance scene was still prolific but for the serious musician the prospects were exciting. New, more far-sighted bands such as Spectrum, Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, Chain, Carson, Sons of The Vegetal Mother, Daddy Cool, Healing Force, King Harvest and Lipp Arthur were starting to force a change to a different type of entertainment.

These bands had discarded old modes and were engendered with a powerful sense of how far they could take their music. The head scene was burgeoning and Company Caine stepped into the arena with their inventive, original progressive psych sound. They were fairly typical of a lot of bands on the scene: living hand-to-mouth from gig-to-gig, dealing with equipment falling apart, vans breaking down and the like. They did, however, get lots of work.

Through their connection with Flint, the band immediately got gigs at the Thumpin’ Tum; they also played all the other venues around Melbourne, from Berties to the T.F. Much Ballroom and beyond. Clif remembers that one of the most unusual gigs they did was in a cinema before the premier of Michelangelo Antonioni’s existentialist drama Zabriskie Point.

Company Caine appeared at a couple of Vietnam moratorium concerts (May and September, 1970), organised by John Pinder from the Let It Be agency. Pinder was also the promoter behind the T. F. Much Ballroom concerts. At one of the moratorium concerts, Russell and Jeremy featured in the stage band backing soul / blues singer Wendy Saddington.

There’s footage of Wendy singing the slow blues ‘Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out)’ in the Gordon Mutch film Once Around The Sun, purportedly filmed at the Pilgrimage for Pop Festival, Ourimbah (January 1970). The caption reads “Wendy Saddington & Company Caine” and while Wendy did perform at Ourimbah the caption is incorrect for two reasons.

Firstly, Company Caine hadn’t even been formed at that point so could not have played at Ourimbah. Secondly, while Russell and Jeremy can be seen clearly playing on stage behind Wendy, it wasn’t actually Company Caine the band.

“It was a very exciting time,” says Russell. “We basically worked a lot at the Thumpin’ Tum and because of our connection with David, he could do contra deals with club owners in the other cities. We used to play for Alex Innocenti, in Adelaide, he put on the big shows there. I’ve got a poster from one of his gigs, called the Heavy Holiday Blues Spectacular. It’s got Spectrum, Company Caine, W.G. Berg and Red Angel Panic.

“Also, there was a lot of interaction with the other bands. I was intimately involved in watching Spectrum form. I’d been playing in Nineteen87 with Lee Neale, the organ player who joined Spectrum; I wanted to be in that band, you know. I loved what they did. The first Spectrum, with Mark Kennedy on drums, was an extraordinary band.

“Ross Wilson wanted to join our band. He played us all these new songs he’d written, ‘Eagle Rock’, ‘Come Back Again’, great songs. We thought, ‘well, if he comes into the band what’s Gulliver gonna do?’ Gulliver wasn’t a great harmony singer and he didn’t play an instrument so we said ‘look, you should do your own thing’, so he went off and formed Daddy Cool. When I saw them I thought, ‘well, that’s exactly what he should have done’, he was so clear in his mind what he wanted to do. Ross has always been a great supporter of me and Gulliver.”

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The name Company Caine was often shortened to Co. Caine, which was clearly a pertinent drug reference at the time. But what was the actual correct band name?

“I think that was some kind of clever little publicity thing,” surmises Russell. “A lot of gig posters showed us as Co. Caine. Then people just started referring to us as Co. Caine. We probably never called ourselves that as such. Originally David wanted to call it Caine Company. We weren’t overly impressed with that and someone fiddled around with it and we realised that it did have the potential to become Co. Caine. But really the band’s name was Company Caine.”

“I’ll sing about politics... and sing about peace too”

As 1971 emerged, the guys decided to move to Sydney because as Russell says:

“Basically we got the ‘you will never work in this town again’ from some of the booking agencies, they didn’t really like what we did, we were a bit too out there I think. We’d done a lot of great things in Melbourne, but Sydney was a whole different ball game for us. We worked a lot in Sydney; we played at the Arts Factory fairly often, a hippie gig. Like in Melbourne, there was a lot of hippie stuff happening at the time, alternative type of gigs that we did. We used to work the Whisky a Go Go, Chequers and venues like that.

“We lived in Chippendale, right near Central Station, and it used to be a real slum. We worked at a club just near there, Jonathon’s; they used to call it the Alfoil Inn. Sherbet played there, Fraternity. Also, we did a lot of the festivals: Myponga (South Australia) in January 1971; the Aquarius Festival in Canberra, with Daddy Cool and Spectrum; Sunbury in January 1972; then Mulwala Rock Isle festival during Easter 1972. We used to do the whole circuit of universities along the eastern states, so that was good. And did some of the Much More Ballroom concerts in Melbourne.”

The band was in Melbourne during July for gigs, including the massive Buoyancy Benefit concert at the Myer Music Bowl, alongside Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Langford Lever, Spectrum and Daddy Cool. The main order of business earlier in the month, however, was recording at T.C.S. with engineer John French and producer Gus McNeil, who was also their song publisher (Cellar Music) and record label manager (Generation). As well as the usual band instrumentation, they made use of a 12-string acoustic guitar and a Celeste as well as hiring session players John Lee (bass clarinet), singer Danny Robinson and Steve Dunstan who concocted the computer music and voice that opens ‘Symptoms’ and ends ‘The Last Scene’.

The basic musical concept of the album, as outlined by the computerised voice at the start of ‘Symptoms’, was centred on a possible dystopian future (in the year 3201) whereby the only way to access music was by pressing the red time button and you’d hear rock ’n’ roll from the year 1971. As the elegiac ‘The Last Scene’ (which is in 7/8 time) fades, the voice announces “So much for folk music, we may be able to revive it in the next aeon” followed by maniacal laughter. The concept had a recognisable futuristic / sci-fi element to the whole thing. A good deal of the inspiration came from the fertile mind of Gulliver.

“I think Gulliver came up with the concept for the album, he titled it A Product Of A Broken Reality,” explains Russell. “He’d worked out the cover concept with Ian McCausland, and the boxes you had to tick. Gulliver was a real wordsmith, he’d write lots of stuff. I still pick up things among my belonging and it’d be something that Gulliver had jotted down on a piece of paper. He was just one of those people, words were his business. So he conceptualised a lot of the album. Mostly what I did was in the recording process, we basically put down the backing tracks first, it was an 8-track recording studio, and we overdubbed the rest of the instruments.”

It was a varied and layered sound, the songs perfectly measured throughout, from the spacey-into-driving Krautrock-esque ‘Symptoms’, the bouncy up tempo ‘Trixie Stonewall’s Wayward Home For Young Women’ and ‘Simple Song Of Spring’ on to the gonzo, way-out ‘The Day Superman Got Busted’ which exists in an unhinged vacuum of its own design. There are the jazzy moments with ‘The Cell’ and ‘The Last Scene’ and it’s all balanced by the love songs ‘Woman With Reason’, ‘It’s Up To You’ and ‘Go See The Gypsy’. Most expressively, there’s a great deal of depth to Gulliver’s lyrics.

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The band had a lot of scope, as Russell explains.

“Because we’d played and rehearsed so much a lot of the songs on the album were well arranged but for the most part I was an improviser, you know. I was basically an untutored musician, I knew nothing about the technicalities of music, I just did it by ear, I didn’t read music, I just did what I thought fitted. So I was into the free jazz, blowing side of things, basically working by the seat of your pants, that was what excited me. It might not satisfy everybody, but a lot of people were into it. That was the basic product.

“But you see, Jeremy was different. He’d been the youngest composer to have a contemporary work played by a symphony orchestra in Victoria at that stage. He was a very accomplished musician, he’d studied composition, he could play Bach on the little clavinet. So his input was just as important. But all the improvised guitar solos that you hear, that’s me just doing it on the spot, it’s not written out or anything.

“Jeremy decided to leave the band because he didn’t really want to play rock ’n’ roll, he wanted to be able to play John Coltrane, or Pharoah Sanders or Albert Ayler sort of stuff. He was really impressed with the sax player from Syrius, Michie. Syrius had come out from Hungary and lived in Melbourne for a while. They were serious musicians and Michie was incredible; Jeremy saw him and realised that was what he aspired to be. After Jeremy had played in Daddy Cool for a while, he went to the United States to learn jazz from an old be-bop guy called Warne Marsh, I think his name was.

“Look, we were that kind of band, it was a fairly free approach. It was what you’d probably call free jazz, but it was our version of free jazz. When we had Mal Capewell and Dave Kain in the band we were doing things like Frank Zappa’s ‘King Kong’ on stage... for 35 minutes! You have to remember this was the time of Zappa and John McLaughlin, the Miles Davis albums that McLaughlin played on. I mean things were really developing at such a pace in music, it was a fantastic time.

“Even Gulliver, who loved his blues, was well versed in the jazz thing, he loved all that. But he also loved guys like Randy Newman, different sorts of songwriters. He loved the song writing side of things, we did a lot together over about a seven year period. We mucked around with different techniques and methods of writing. We wrote some songs for other people.”

Australian bands and singers who recorded G. Smith / R. Smith compositions included: Mighty Kong (‘Some Other New Address’, ‘With A Smile Like That [How Could We Refuse]’); Jeannie Lewis (‘It’s Up To You’); The Sports (‘Now I’m Together’, ‘Don’t Hold Back That Feeling’); and Steve Kilbey (‘Woman With Reason’). Gulliver co-wrote ‘Flash In My Head’ with Ross Hannaford for Daddy Cool. And of course, not forgetting that Gulliver went on to write the perennial ‘Touch Of Paradise’ with Ross Wilson, which John Farnham included on his mega-platinum selling Whispering Jack album (1986).

“I’d like to die like a butterfly... in a suit of the rainbow”

The single ‘Trixie Stonewallʼs Wayward Home For Young Women’ b/w ‘Itʼs Up To You’ came out in September 1971, followed by the album in November. The ABC-TV pop show GTK (Get To Know) produced a highly amusing B&W film clip for the single which showed the very butch members of the band, plus Roger ‘the Roadie’ Davies, prancing around a park dressed in schoolgirl uniforms! It should be noted that Roger Davies harboured ambitions to go into band management: he went on to guide the successful careers of Sherbet, Tina Turner and P!nk, among others.

On the album credits, three songs – ‘The Cell’, ‘Theme For Vishdungarius’ and ‘The Last Scene’ – were nominated as being from the rock opera What the F**k is Happening on Planet Earth?. This was a project that Gulliver and Jeremy had been developing for a number of months; however, it was never completed as such.

Gulliver described What the F**k is Happening on Planet Earth? to Greg Quill in Go-Set magazine as “the first science fiction rock opera”. Essentially, the story line was based around the prostitute Poison Cyanide Gas Mafalda who is hung up on Earth life until she meets an inter-galactic visitor, the spaceman Vishdungarius who falls in love with her. Eventually he has to return to his own planet, Slatsilvania, and Mafalda contemplates suicide although it’s never revealed if she does so or not. Gulliver commented that he had been influenced by (the classic sci-fi novel) Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.

It sounds like it could have been a satire in the vein of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1978) but not so. Can you imagine what a wonderful piece of work this could have been had it been completed? Interestingly enough, a number of other local musicians went on to produce sci-fi based rock operas: Jim Keays (The Boy From The Stars, 1974); Mandu (To The Shores Of His Heaven, 1974); Mike Rudd (The Jellabad Mutant, 1974); and Lobby Loyde (Beyond Morgia, 1976). Gulliver was well ahead of the creative curve if truth be told.

The group presented another of Gulliver’s all new mini operas, A Stone Of Class Distinction, at the Much More Ballroom, Cathedral Hall, Fitzroy (5 February 1972). Also on the bill was Lipp and The Double Decker Bros with The Lippettes doing their “new pseudo-religious hoax” Godburst. Russell nominates this as one of his favourite Melbourne gigs. Opening act was one of Melbourne’s newest and most enthralling concert bands, MacKenzie Theory.

The only other recording the band managed at the time was second single, ‘Dear Carolyn’ b/w ‘Now Iʼm Together’, which appeared in March 1972. ‘Dear Carolyn’ was in the form a letter of regret to an old flame, based around an appealing acoustic guitar / piano arrangement with female backing vocals, a lilting flute solo and ending with one of Russell’s spiralling guitar solos. The flip was an entirely different proposition, a boisterous rockin’ ode to an anti-social misfit who finally gets his shit together. Gulliver’s lyrics are hilariously light hearted but culturally perceptive as well, with references to various subcultures and political initiatives.

An educated guess would suggest the line-up on the single was the Gulliver, Russell, Ernie, Arthur, Ian and Mitch version, in particular with the pumping honky-tonk piano and wailing sax going on during ‘Now Iʼm Together’.

In October, 1972, the guys announced the break-up of Company Caine. Their last run of shows in Melbourne included: 14 October at the Much More Ballroom Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with MacKenzie Theory and Battersea Heroes; 19 October at the Ferntree Gully Hotel; 20 October at Garrison with Sayla, Matt Taylor and Band of Talabene; and 21 October at the Station Hotel.

“Basically we’d come to a dead end,” explains Russell. “Roger Davies was our manager by then and he said ‘look, I think the band’s run its course’, he was happy for us to break up. And Gulliver got the offer from Ross Wilson to join his new band, which eventually became Mighty Kong when I joined. Before it became Mighty Kong they’d tried out just everybody in Australia in auditions. Gulliver left to go back to Melbourne for that, but it didn’t work out with Wilson. I played with Ernie and Arthur and my then wife Shirley, and we just got a gig at the Coogee Bay Hotel for a couple of months, till the end of 1972.

“Then at that stage Wilson and Hanna appeared in Sydney after going through all these people and none of them worked out and they asked me would I be interested in joining the band. Before that I’d been asked to join Duck, which was the Jon English / Bobbi Marchini backing band that worked with G. Wayne Thomas. I might have recorded with them very briefly but I didn’t end up touring with them.

“I also got an offer to join Country Radio which I turned down, I’d made up my mind to go with Wilson because that was more like my bag, the rock and R&B sort of thing. Greg Quill was a lovely guy but I wasn’t into the country rock thing.”

We’ll halt the Company Caine story there for now; there are many more adventures to be told which will appear in the second part of these notes for the CD reissue of the Doctor Chop album.

Musician and illustrator Ian McCausland talks about his friend Gulliver Smith

“I first met Gulliver in about 1964 and we became good friends. Gully and I were very in tune with each other. He already had a great record collection of all these black American blues and R&B singers. It was everything from Sleepy John Estes to James Brown. And that’s where Gully got his inspiration from initially.

“Gully was like a white bluesman, even in the mid-’60s. He could do an impromptu blues song with this great rave and it would be completely off the cuff. Whether it made sense or not didn’t really matter. Later on we used to listen to Frank Zappa and The Mothers and that kind of avant-garde / rock / jazz sound was also an influence on him.

“That first time I met Gully was interesting to say the least. I was singing a couple of sets with The Strangers at the Essendon Plaza. They were one of the best bands in Melbourne at the time and they had this regular Friday night gig. On this particular night, the Sharpies were causing trouble, there were fights breaking out everywhere with the mods.

“So this big Sharpie called Charlie, who was the king of the Carlton Sharps said to the promoter, ‘oi, if you don’t let our mate sing, the whole place will go up!’ And so his mate was Gulliver Smith. Gully was originally from Carlton and, reluctantly on his part, he’d been adopted by the local gang and they wanted him to sing. So Gully sang a few songs, like a Larry Williams song or two, and I thought ‘gee, he’s a pretty good singer’. And so I started talking to him and we forged a lifelong friendship out of that crazy night.

“This was around the time that The Beatles and The Stones had started to take off and the whole local music scene was changing. Everyone wanted to sound like them, but Gully already had his own unique sound and style based around his love of the black blues guys. He decided to call himself Little Gulliver because he wanted his name to sound black, like Little Johnny Taylor or Little Richard. He thought it was a cool name.

“Gully might have been ambitious but he wasn’t a driven person, he just loved his music. After Little Gulliver and The Children had split up Gully decided to move up to Sydney. This was in early 1967 and he rang me up and asked me to go up to Sydney to join this new band he’d formed, Dr. Kandy’s Third Eye. I only lasted a few weeks in the rehearsal stage; I had a young family to support and I eventually came back down to Melbourne when I was offered the job as art director for Go-Set.

“Dr. Kandy’s Third Eye turned out to be a really great band. Gully had recruited sax players like Mal Capewell and Zane Hudson, who he called Zane Tootsville. So he had that kind of Frank Zappa / Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band vibe going on there.

“Gully stayed in Sydney for a few years. He was such a great singer, so charismatic. By the time he joined Company Caine, he wasn’t that young kid anymore. He’d matured and changed, drugs had started to come into it. But I thought Company Caine was an important band, a real standout on the Melbourne scene. Musically they were fantastic, really adventurous. It suited Gully to have such a great band to sing with.

“I always liked the art I did for the Product of A Broken Reality album. Instead of my normal mode of illustration, I did something different by constructing a scale model, or a sort of diorama. The inspiration came about because Gully had explored that technological aspect, it was the early computer age, and he liked my idea that Company Caine was an electronic machine pumping out this new age message, a brand new sound. So that was the little model with the big mouth and the musical note coming out. And the audience was the ping-pong balls bouncing around and whether they got the message or not, it didn’t matter.

“When Company Caine got back together in 1975, Keith Glass and David Pepperell re-released the album under the banner Rock Masterworks. I re-did the cover because the photo for the original was slightly out of focus and I was always disappointed about that. For the new cover I used a different shot from the same session and made the image smaller so that it looked sharper and you could take the whole thing in with one glance.”

Musician Lindsay Farr talks about his friend Gulliver Smith

“I first met Gulliver when I was about 14. This was at the Croydon market and his father Jimmy used to have his carpet stall set up. Someone was selling records and I remember picking up this album, which was Ray Charles Live, and this little guy beside me said ‘oh, you should buy that, it’s a great record’. So Gully was very knowledgeable about music and we bonded over that. Our friendship grew from there.

“He expressed his desire to be a singer and he was trying out different stage names. At first he was Otis Gulliver and then he hit upon Little Gulliver. Even at that early stage he was well versed in the blues; he loved the blues. I remember one time he even wrote a letter to Sleepy John Estes and what’s more he actually got a reply!

“At first Gully didn’t really have a good voice, it was fairly thin sounding. You only have to listen to his early singles to hear that. But then he had a wonderful singing teacher who helped him with his projection and how to sing from his diaphragm. After that he worked incredibly hard on his voice, he’d always be practising his vocal scales. So by the time he joined Company Caine his voice was full and rich and mature. There’s no doubt about it, he was an incredible talent.

“In those early days, Gully was friends with all the big name performers such as Merv Benton, Colin Cook, the guys from The Strangers, that whole kind of crowd. But I think he always felt a bit on the outer, like he wasn’t really accepted on their level. I lost contact with him for a while when he moved to Sydney. I’d played in a couple of bands by then and in early 1969 I got a gig touring Sydney with singer Robert J. Taylor who’d been in the James Taylor Move.

“When we got to Sydney, the whole of the music scene there was abuzz with the name Gulliver Smith. Sydney suited him, he’d become a great singer and a band leader; they loved him there. And because I was a friend of his, it was almost like I was one of them because of my association with Gully; I got a lot of kudos by just being his friend. All the great jazz players in Sydney at that time, such as Bernie McCann and Bobby Gebert played with him, he had a great reputation.

“Then I joined Heart ’n’ Soul but a couple of the guys in the band were psyched by Gully. They couldn’t really work him out because he could think differently and do things differently and it’d always land right. So when he joined Company Caine it was the perfect band for him to front.

“In the context of the day, A Product Of A Broken Reality is a fantastic album. It’s got so many great songs, ‘Woman With Reason’, ‘It’s Up To You’, ‘Go See The Gypsy’. Musically that connection with Russell and Jeremy helped enormously; Jeremy’s tenor sax sound is full and rich and is the perfect complement to Gully’s singing and then you have his striking personality over the top of everything. That band was the ideal vehicle for his self expression.

“I think Gully’s gift for poetry was his greatest asset. He was able to reveal some of his inner fears, weaknesses and vulnerabilities and that’s the mark of a truly great poet. And because of that we all became stronger ourselves. He had a tremendous spirit and a heart and soul that touched everyone. I really think the best years of his life were the early 1970s.”

COMPANY CAINE - A Product Of A Broken Reality

(Original LP release November 1971; CD reissue 2015)

1. Symptoms
2. Trixie Stonewallʼs Wayward Home For Young Women
3. The Cell
4. Theme For Vishdungarius
5. Woman With Reason
6. Simple Song Of Spring
7. The Day Superman Got Busted
8. Itʼs Up To You
9. Go See The Gypsy
10. The Last Scene
Bonus Tracks
Single (1972)

11. Dear Carolyn
12. Now Iʼm Together
GTK Sessions (1971)
13. 1967
14. Flip, Flop And Fly
15. The Cell
16. The Day Superman Got Busted

 

Marcus Hook Roll Band

Marcus Hook Roll Band

Marcus Hook Roll Band - Tales of Old Grand-Daddy (1974)

By Ian McFarlane

(Originally posted at Addicted to Noise in October 2013)

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Vale George Young (1946-2017)

Like many dedicated fans of Australian music, I’m fascinated with the whole Harry Vanda and George Young story. This is the musician / song-writing / production team that steered The Easybeats to international success during the 1960s, co-wrote some of the greatest pop and rock singles of all-time, oversaw numerous classic recordings for Stevie Wright, AC/DC, John Paul Young, The Angels, Rose Tattoo (Aussie rock and roll royalty one and all) and even scored hits with their alter-ego, new wave project Flash and the Pan.

Yet for me, the most intriguing aspect of the whole Vanda and Young saga is their recording venture under the banner of the Marcus Hook Roll Band. Marcus Who? What! The name was so mythological that only the most ardent Vanda and Young and AC/DC fanatic had inkling as to the identities behind the name. Young himself has been quoted as saying they thought the whole thing “was a joke”, so what hope does the listener have of taking this thing seriously? Read on!

Firstly, there’s some historical background to cover. As The Easybeats ground to a halt at the end of 1969 following a final, lacklustre Australian tour, singer Wright stayed in Australia while Vanda and Young returned to the UK. In London they set themselves up as freelance song writers / session men / producers, working on as many recordings as they possibly could.

A number of these boozy, good-time sessions with various friends and relatives (Young’s brother Alex, then known as George Alexander, was closely involved) were leased to a variety of labels in the UK and Europe and issued as singles under a range of names:
•    Paintbox – ‘Get Ready for Love’ (Young Blood, 1970)
•    Tramp – ‘Vietnam Rose’ (Young Blood, 1970)
•    Moondance – ‘Lazy River’ (A&M, 1970); later issued in Australia as by Vanda and Young (Albert Productions, 1971)
•    Eddie Avana – ‘Children’ (Young Blood, 1970)
•    Haffy’s Whiskey Sour – ‘Shot in the Head’ (Deram, 1971)
•    Grapefruit – ‘Sha-Sha’ (Deram, 1971)
•    Marcus Hook Roll Band – ‘Natural Man’ and ‘Louisiana Lady’ (EMI / Regal Zonophone, 1972)

There was the further mythical name of Band of Hope with the single ‘Working Class People’ to be issued on Decca (1972) but that never eventuated.

For the MHRB tracks, Vanda and Young had teamed up with EMI in-house producer Wally Allen (aka Wally Waller) who’d been bass player in the Pretty Things so it’s more than likely he was prepared for the general booziness of the recording sessions. ‘Natural Man’ and ‘Louisiana Lady’ bear the stamp of the classic Vanda and Young rock song writing craft: the sprightly, open chord verse and anthemic chorus structure of ‘Natural Man’ (a la The Easybeats ‘Good Times’) and the swampy, sax-driven, staccato riffs of ‘Louisiana Lady’. As well as Vanda (lead guitar, vocals) and Young (rhythm guitar, vocals) the other musicians involved were Alexander (sax), Ian Campbell (bass) and Freddie Smith (drums). Another feature was the all-in-the-gang backing vocals on the choruses.

With the EMI connection, the two MHRB singles were issued in the US on Capitol during 1973. While neither charted, later in the year the suits at Capitol were calling for more. They wanted an album and a band to tour but it seems Vanda and Young were having none of that for the time being as they’d returned to Sydney and had set up home in the Albert Productions recording complex.

By that stage, the Vanda-Young song writing credit had started to appear elsewhere on a regular basis. UK artists who recorded Vanda-Young songs included:
•    Savoy Brown – ‘Shot in the Head’
•    Warhorse – ‘St. Louis’
•    Whichwhat – ‘Vietnam Rose’
•    A completely different band called Paintbox – ‘Come on Round’
•    Peter D. Kelly – ‘Working Class People’, ‘Hard Road’
•    David Bowie – ‘Friday on My Mind’
•    John Miles – ‘One Minute Every Hour’
•    With many more to follow thereafter, including Rod Stewart (‘Hard Road’), Suzi Quatro (‘Evie’) and Gary Moore (‘Friday on My Mind’)

Likewise by 1973 in Australia, due to their connection with Albert Productions, their song writing name as supreme pop craftsmen was getting around:
•    Erl Dalby & Pyramid – ‘Can’t Wait for September’
•    Flake – ‘Life is Getting Better’, ‘Quick Reaction’
•    Ted Mulry – ‘Falling in Love Again’, ‘Ain’t it Nice’
•    Alison McCallum – ‘Superman’
•    Bobbi Marchini – ‘Working My Way Back to You’
•    John Paul Young – ‘Pasadena’
•    Johnny O’Keefe – ‘Working Class People’

Still, there was no escaping the pull of imminent fame for the Marcus Hook Roll Band. Waller flew out to Australia and the crew set about recording the much-demanded album. With Vanda on lead guitar and Young taking up bass as well as his customary rhythm guitar and piano duties, the other musicians were drummer John Proud and the younger Young siblings Malcolm and Angus on guitars. Howie Casey overdubbed his sax playing in the UK on a couple of tracks.

George has been quoted as saying “We went into EMI Sydney for a month and Wally supplied all the booze. We had Harry, me and my kid brothers Malcolm and Angus. We all got rotten, ‘cept for Angus, who was too young, and we spent a month in there boozing it up every night. That was the first thing that Malcolm and Angus did before AC/DC. We didn’t take it very seriously, so we thought we’d include them to give them an idea of what recording was all about.”

EMI Australia issued Tales of Old Grand-Daddy with little fanfare in March, 1974. The cover featured a drawing of an old timer with corn-cob pipe, reclining in his rocking chair. Young would have preferred a bottle of Old Grand-Dad Whiskey, which is what he had in mind given the booziness of the sessions, however that may have brought up the issue of image copyright.

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EMI didn’t bother to issue a single locally, which was uncharacteristic of record company marketing of the day. Maybe because Vanda and Young themselves were unwilling to promote the album, EMI couldn’t be bothered chasing a hit single. EMI UK and BASF Germany (in picture sleeve) issued ‘Can’t Stand the Heat’ as a single, but no album! Even EMI Capitol in the US, the label that wanted the album in the first place, passed on the release. It finally appeared in the US during 1979 as a self-titled album with new cover art (still no whiskey bottle) and a reconfigured running order.

So what do we get musically – as all indications would have it, Tales of Old Grand-Daddy is a booze-soaked, bluesy rock album with a weird kind of heavy funk undercurrent, a touch of glam stomp and a huge dash of larrikin humour (and what might be termed these days as the occasional “un-PC” lyric turn). This is not a pop album. There is the occasional political statement in the lyrics (‘People and the Power’, ‘Red Revolution’) but it takes the form of simplistic sloganeering rather than advocating real action.

In general there’s little emphasis placed on musical grandstanding, being more of an ensemble recording. There’s a good deal of texture to the music, yet it’s hard to distinguish any significant guitar licks from either Malcolm or Angus for example. Malcolm would have played rhythm guitar here and there, but the only lead break that sounds like it could be by Angus can be heard in the ballad ‘Cry for Me’. There’s the occasional slide guitar embellishment (‘Shot in the Head’, ‘Watch Her do it Now’) but that’s most likely to have been played by Harry Vanda. Once again, another key element is the all-in-the-gang chorus vocals.

•    ‘Can’t Stand the Heat’, ‘Goodbye Jane’, ‘Quick Reaction’, ‘Shot in the Head’ and the salacious ‘Watch Her do it Now’ are the real riff-rockers
•    ‘Red Revolution’ and ‘People and the Power’ both boast a stomping, glammy vibe which adds to the overall swampy tang
•    ‘Silver Shoes’ (or to give its later, expanded title ‘Silver Shoes & Strawberry Wine)’ is a slow-burning blues ballad that builds and builds with vocals, lead guitar, piano and sax battling it out in the climax
•    ‘Cry for Me’ is a terrific torch ballad with an arrangement similar to Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’
•    Finally, there’s the madcap ‘Ape Man’ with Vanda going all out simian-like with the vocal grunts mirroring the lurching nature of the rhythm. It’s kinda like a crude blend of Hot Legs’ ‘Neanderthal Man’, The Kinks’ ‘Apeman’ and Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’. Totally goofy but enormous fun!

Although it seems Vanda and Young didn’t give a tinker’s cuss about the album as a whole, they must have liked the songs. Or at least they saw the commercial possibilities because a number of Alberts artists ended up recording songs from the album: John Paul Young (‘Silver Shoes & Strawberry Wine’); Stevie Wright (‘The People and the Power’); Alison McCallum (‘Cry for Me’) although it’s unlikely that any serious artist considered touching ‘Ape Man’!

The original album pressing rarely turns up these days. EMI later issued the Full File album (1981) which included the earlier singles (all four A and B-sides) plus the other non-LP B-side ‘Moonshine Blues’, but even that is difficult to find. There was a CD reissue on Sony in 1994 that added the two A-sides and featured completely new cover art (there is a booze bottle present somewhere in the fuzzy picture) but even that was soon deleted. Parlophone reissued the album on CD in 2014 with totally new cover artwork, more specifically – if a little too overstated – looking like an AC/DC album such as Black Ice (but still no whiskey bottle!).

There are many more Vanda and Young tales to be told, but the Marcus Hook Roll Band name fell by the wayside. The two visionaries simply got on with the real task at hand – writing and producing hits for other artists, Stevie Wright, John Paul Young and Williams Shakespeare among them. And of course, they produced that run of classic albums for AC/DC and Rose Tattoo. The Vanda-Young hits for their artists are too numerous to mention here, but on an international level I’d nominate John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air’ and their own Flash and the Pan’s ‘Waiting for a Train’ as two of the best. Meanwhile, Grace Jones’ rendition of ‘Walking in the Rain’ is a master class in glacial urban funk.

As for Tales of Old Grand-Daddy, should we take this recording seriously? All I can say is – “I’m your Ape Maaaannnnnnnn.....”

MARCUS HOOK ROLL BAND – Tales of Old Grand-Daddy (EMI EMA-2518) 1974
Harry Vanda & George Young as Marcus Hook Roll Band
1. Can’t Stand The Heat (All tracks written by Vanda & Young)
2. Goodbye Jane
3. Quick Reaction
4. Silver Shoes
5. Watch Her Do It Now
6. People And The Power
7. Red Revolution
8. Shot In The Head
9. Ape Man
10. Cry For Me
Produced by Wally Allen

 

Tim Rogers, You Am I & Detours

Tim Rogers, You Am I & Detours

TIM ROGERS, YOU AM I & DETOURS - I’m in Love with that Song

 By Ian McFarlane

I’m searching for the best dressed young man around town. His name is Tim Rogers, lead singer, guitarist and ostensibly the leader of You Am I. He greets me with a warm smile and firm handshake. I take to his mix of stylish dishevelment and rakish charm immediately. In his new memoir Detours, Rogers refers to himself as like “... an oafish Quentin Crisp” and “lost in daydreams like a shaggy Walter Mitty”. I’ve always just liked the way he carries himself.

Detours is a delight, a very enjoyable reading experience. It covers a lot of ground. It’s lively, full of energy and humour, yet will occasionally dip into deep melancholy. It’s a mix of childhood memories, road stories and love notes to The Hurricane, ‘Stardust’, cricket, The Kick and close friendships. Above all, Tim’s wordplay is engaging. I wish I could come up with a simile the way his drip from the page... like honey from the hive (not bad, that’s a start!).

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I’m not here, however, to talk to him about Detours. I’ve got another agenda. Some years ago I compiled a list of 29 songs by other bands that You Am I covered. I’ve long been fascinated by the whys and wherefores of a band such as You Am I recording other people’s songs. For mine, You Am I remains the most significant band that emerged from the early ’90s Australian alternative rock scene. The band is still relevant, still producing great albums (Porridge & Hotsauce is a riotous explosion of guitar grit and song writing swagger), still cutting it live, still going strong after 28 years.

Here’s the thing... as well as being a musician, author and sometime actor, a very versatile artist with a vast breadth of talent on which to draw, Tim Rogers is a song writer. I mean the guy can put a few words together. He has Detours to promote no less.

You Am I has released 10 studio albums, two live sets and numerous singles. Rogers has released five albums as solo projects... he’s probably written and recorded more than 200 of his own songs. So rather than focus on what makes Tim Rogers tick as a song writer, what sparks You Am I into action when they play his songs, here I am asking him what he likes about other song writers. And how is it that You Am I came to record so many songs by other bands early in the piece.

Tim doesn’t baulk at the prospect of me digging into that aspect of his career. So with a Bob Dylan and The Band box set on the shelf, a Kangaroos guernsey on the wall and a Bill Fay album on the stereo, we start. This is one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve been involved with. Thanks Tim.

Ian McFarlane: Thanks for your time Tim. Today I wanted to ask you about the song writers that you’ve admired over the years. I compiled a list of 29 songs by other bands that You Am I have released, either live or in the studio. That’s quite a tally.

Tim Rogers: And we’ve also played other things live, like the Nazz song ‘Open My Eyes’. We liked that song but I don’t think any of us were big Nazz fans until Davey Lane started getting into Todd Rundgren. He bought along a whole lot of Todd records that he played. And also because of the way Davey plays we were able to play different songs that were coverable. We did ‘Heart Of The City’ by Nick Lowe, couple of other Nick Lowe songs. We tried some Dave Edmunds songs. See because Davey is a very adept guitar player we could do these songs. Most of the things we’ve covered have been very rhythm guitar, bass guitar with the drums being featured because Rusty is such an amazing drummer. I’m quite a limited guitarist, no self-deprecation meant at all, it’s just the way it is. But yeah I can lean into it when I’ve got enough anger inside of me. We chose a lot of covers just because we could actually cover them. We do ‘Rumble’ by Link Wray a lot for soundcheck, 1) because it’s possibly the greatest instrumental ever and 2) it’s just three chords and the truth, you know. That’s really the only reason for doing it.

IMcF: That’s one of Jimmy Page’s all-time favourites...

TR: No doubt, there’s that moment where he’s dancing to ‘Rumble’ in It Might Get Loud, it’s beautiful. We’ve done ‘I’m A Man’ by the Spencer Davis Group live. If we thought about it and were a bit more cluey about it earlier on we wouldn’t have done the Who covers or Pretty Things covers because they’re very much ‘oh yeah, they’re obvious’ because it was very much that British R&B movement and what that became. So we didn’t think that much about it, we love that music, and it didn’t seem like there were a lot of bands playing that kind of music at the time. I remember we did a show with Kim Salmon and the Surrealists, well we did a tour with them, and after soundcheck Kim grabbed me and said ‘geez, I thought you were gonna do Nuggets sides 1, 2, 3 and 4 just then’, because we’d just go through the riffs and do the songs, nod at each other.

Is it the riffs or is it the actual song writing that you like? For example the Who’s version of Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’, the way you lean into that and the way you played it was just amazing. The Who version, have you seen their version from the Isle of Wight festival 1970? Just astonishing, isn’t it. But you guys just rip into it.

Oh yeah... Well, I didn’t hear the Mose Allison version until much later, 15 years ago, I’d heard the Who version 6,000 time before that and again with all the physical affectations and all the comparisons that can be made to that band, it may have been wiser not to have done it. Then again, when you’re playing at the Opera House, supporting Crowded House, what are you gonna do? Why would you cover your tracks when you had so much fun making the tracks? So to deny that you do love that music seems... and I probably haven’t listened to a Who record in a long while but they did make such a big impression on me.

Yes, so it was definitely of a period for you, where you had all that stuff buzzing around in your head. Whether it was The Pretty Things or The Kinks?

Yeah, all those records still sound aggressive, and a bit effeminate. It was that mix of aggression and the effeminacy that appealed to me and there are mistakes, and that appealed to us because there are things that go missing in songs when we record them sometimes. I don’t like to labour over them, whereas Andy actually might, he’s a bit more of a perfectionist than I am or Rusty. When Rusty joined the band, whenever it was, 1994, he played in this style and I thought ‘oh wow, we can sound like that now’, because of his playing style, the way he liked to represent his sound in the studio. We could say ‘get us the Shel Talmy sound’ and that was really exciting. The drummers I played with before, Jaimme and Mark, who were wonderful in their own way, they just didn’t have that skipping style and so I played guitar to suit their drums and they played drums to suit my guitar style and then when Rusty joined it was ‘hang on, this is all possible now’.

There’s definitely some of the earlier You Am I songs where these kinds of influences show through, whether it’s a Kinks kind of feel, that staccato thing.

Sure... absolutely. I only knew the Kinks singles as a kid. Then years later, we were living in New York about ’94 and I bought a bunch of mid-to-late ’60s Kinks records. They were great, it was a place for me to hide with, I could sit in a pub or at home and I could just drink beer and listen to those records. I didn’t grow up in England with those records, I wasn’t born in the post World War II period but I could go there with those records. I found something very affectionate in those songs that I wasn’t getting elsewhere. So the songs, and Ray, became huge to me. I wasn’t getting that from anywhere else. And I guess our contemporaries and friends at the time were getting a lot from music from the States, Sonic Youth and Pavement and Sebadoh. That kind of indie rock, for want of a better term, from America. I just didn’t feel as affectionately towards it really. I did like a lot of American music from the mid-’90s later, but things at the time just didn’t have tones that appealed to me, guitar sounds, bass sounds and drum sounds. And I didn’t even really care about any of the lyrics...

There’s a definite sound to those Kinks records, you can almost eat it.

Yeah, and I still drive myself around the country a lot to shows and I can put one of those albums on in the car, and other things from any era, and I still get that rush of joy. So I listen to ’30s, ’40s, ’50s jazz and ’50s, ’60s, early ’70s rock and roll and then come ’76/77, again production qualities just appealed to me from that time. I don’t know why production qualities appeal to people, it’s difficult to explain. Dr Oliver Sacks or the great Alex Ross (the music critic for The New Yorker) might have a musicological reason. You either get it or you don’t.

That’s right, do you need a reason to be able get it?

No, probably not, but being able to explain it isn’t so easy. I talk about it with my partner quite a lot because she had never listened to much rock and roll at all, she’s a little older than me and when I talk to her about how much I love the first five Aerosmith records and she will just nod her head. Those records have such a great sound, it’s just like everything’s under this thick layer of grease, like greasy America takeaway food. It has that great urban grit about it.

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I’m with you there on those Aerosmith albums. When I was growing up a lot of what I was listening to was ’70s English music, whether it was Bowie or Bolan, Roxy Music or the Stones, or that heavy sound of Led Zep, Sabbath, Deep Purple. This was pre-punk. And lots of Aussie bands, so about the only American bands that my friends and I really liked were Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, a bit of Blue Oyster Cult. Those records appealed to me. Then later on I discovered, you know, Iggy and the Stooges, New York Dolls, Lou Reed and the MC5, once again this was before the late ’70s punk thing took off.

Records by Aerosmith and the original Alice Cooper band had bite and snarl to them and that sleaze and grease under it all. Aerosmith songs are great, there’s a complexity there, a very high attention to melody and harmony as well as the heaviness. Yeah, I just love them. The first three songs the band ever covered were ‘All Set To Go’ by The Hard-Ons, ‘Sweet Emotion’ by Aerosmith and a song by American band Gangrene, But our first bass player, Nik, was finding the bass to ‘Sweet Emotion’ a bit difficult; it’s a tough one, getting that groove. Well we might have covered them more often because Davey likes Aerosmith but Andy and Rusty aren’t into them.

This is what I like about the connections, what you like, it doesn’t necessarily show through in your music. I would never have guessed your fondness for Aerosmith, it’s not really there in your sound. So when you recorded covers was it a way of just getting things down quickly?

Yeah, it was just about getting them down quickly.

‘She’s So Fine’ by The Easybeats, ‘Making Time’ by Creation, ‘Search And Destroy’ by Iggy and the Stooges... Probably still my favourite album of all time is Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges, the original ‘Bowie’ mix...

Oh sure, for me it would only be matched by High Time by the MC5. See, there’s a lot that You Am I will listen to and love but we wouldn’t cover because we know when we sound at our best. And when we’re making records we try to challenge and stretch that, but we’re quite impatient, between Rusty and I.

‘I Can Hear the Grass Grow’ by The Move... Roy Wood, what a song writer! Do you like The Move?

Yeah, the big three for Davey and I would be The Move, Creation and The Pretty Things. I remember one time we were playing a support to the Lemonheads in Wolverhampton and before the gig Rusty and I were having a pint and this little bloke came up to us, right up between us and said (affects English midlands accent) ‘I knows where Roy Wood lives’ and then just walked off (laughs). No idea who he was! So while we were working on our own songs they were the things we could just get drunk to and play. Just do it for dancing and for fun. It might be when we’re working on the complexity of song writing and trying to stretch ourselves. So, covers were things to be done quickly and simply. We wouldn’t worry about missing a few chords here and there. I think we even simplified a bunch of Stooges songs just to get them happening.

Ron Asheton and James Williamson, both just incredible guitar players, they know what not to play as much as what to play. Then you’ve got Todd Rundgren, he has such a great attention to detail, some of his songs are very complex. Like ‘Open My Eyes’, it’s only about two and a half minutes long but it’s got several distinct sections, when it goes into that melodic Beach Boys section and then it comes back in with that crunching riff, amazing, just staggering.

Yeah, Davey got to play a support slot to Todd a couple of years ago and at the time Todd was just wanting to play his blues and R&B material... It was very important to me that Davey got to have a good time playing with Todd, he’s such a big fan. Davey got to spend a bit of time together with Todd and he was wonderful but I think Davey was wanting him to stretch out live. Todd wasn’t interested.

I saw Todd play at the Corner Hotel on that tour and he was incredible. He did all the blues stuff but fortunately he finished with versions of ‘Open My Eyes’ and ‘Can We Still Be Friends’. So he did give a nod to the audience with some of his classics, like ‘okay, here’s a couple that you might know’.

Right, he does seem to have lost a bit of the curmudgeonly side of nature that he’s known for... Andy Partridge of XTC might have something to say about that maybe.

But what a brilliant album though, the one XTC album that Todd produced, I love it. So he produced one album by Badfinger, one album by the New York Dolls, one album by Fanny, one album by XTC, everyone hated him because he was so hard to work with, so demanding. He did manage to do two Grand Funk albums. But surprisingly, people don’t realise how big a role he played in Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf. He helped fund it, he produced it, he played guitar. I believe that he didn’t charge for the production work but he worked out a percentage deal of the royalties, so I guess he’s done as well out of the deal as Jim Steinman or Meatloaf.

Yeah, there’s a version around of just Todd’s mix, it’s incredible.

I realise we’re jumping around all over the place... but you’ve done ‘Live With Me’ by the Stones, ‘Looking For A Kiss’ by the New York Dolls, ‘White And Lazy’ by The Replacements... just classic rock and roll songs. What did The Replacements mean to you?

They were the second big important band to me. When I saw a video of theirs in 1984, the song ‘Bastards Of Young’, and I heard them, saw them and I thought I need that record. So I went to the record store the next day and managed to buy two Residents records because I didn’t know the difference. I got them off John Encarnaco, a friend of mine who worked in the record shop, a musician up in Sydney, he’s never let me forget that... I quickly realised this isn’t the band that I wanted. They’re huge to me. Now Davey likes them; Rusty or Andy not so much. So we got asked to contribute something to a Replacements tribute record. Then it seemed legitimate for me to ask the band to do a Replacements cover. If I get the feeling that the other guys aren’t so much into the song as I am I’ll just leave it. Keeping a band together and keeping your friends is sort of more important than insisting ‘I want to do this Grand Funk song’. For people as opinionated as us... we’ll leave those Tangerine Dream covers for someone else.

What about The Clash, were they as important to you as other bands?

Ah, I loved certain aspects of The Clash, I love certain songs and vast swathes of albums but they weren’t as important to me as The Replacements. I know they were to Rusty for a while. During soundcheck we’ve done things like ‘I Fought The Law’ (originally done by the Bobby Fuller Four) and we’ve done a version of ‘London Calling’ live.

The Clash were a great band, it was that era when I latched onto the likes of the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jam, The Clash. London Calling is a classic album.

Yeah, sure. I probably love The Clash more as a visual thing, that look they had. Then their experiments with dub and reggae, I love that aspect of them as much as the power behind the songs. Oh, we did ‘Brand New Cadillac’ with Chris Cheney of The Living End on one of the Big Day Out tours.

I think The Clash had a reverence for early rock and roll as much as anything. I’m sure they loved the sound of that stuff. Joe Strummer in particular.

A band like that didn’t shy away from the things they loved. They might have started out with that punk intent but that quickly went out the window.

So The Replacements was an instant thing for you, it was just bang, that’s the band for me!

Absolutely. I could listen to the Stones music when I was an 11 year old and I liked that but I didn’t have access to anything beyond what was commercial at that time. But getting access to a Stones record at that age did seem like the most sexually charged thing for a young kid. Then by the time I was 15, The Replacements hit me real big.

So where did you hear things like The Move, or The Pretty Things. How did you discover them?

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When we started touring regularly, it was through friends and other bands that I got to hear some other things. And my friend Goose from Box the Jesuit, I got to play with them, and he’d play me different things. And Brad Shepherd from the Gurus and Tex Perkins. Just bands we’d tour with. We’d end up at parties and there’d be records playing. You’d always be looking for booze and searching out any skerrick of powder I could get my hands on but I’d always notice what was being played. And where to begin with The Pretty Things? Parachute is still my favourite album by them and the ‘lost’ single ‘Summertime’ is the fuckin’ gas.

And then I started to hear The Gun Club, Green On Red, Dream Syndicate, all that American underground stuff we came across from touring the States. Before that, when we first started out we tried to play American hardcore, that sound. Jaimme and my best friend Nik, who was the bass player, they loved hardcore and punk rock. But see, I was a different kind of guitar player obsessed by a different era so I could never really play like those hardcore bands. They wanted to go for that totally distorted sound, but I wanted to get into that clean guitar sound, I wanted to hear the clang of a major chord. That was the sound for me.

You’ve done ‘Fox On The Run’ by the Sweet. Also, at first I was thinking you didn’t cover many Australian bands, but you’ve done ‘All I Wanna Do Is Rock’ by Daddy Cool, a couple of Easybeats songs, you’ve done the Hoodoo Gurus’ ‘Tojo’ and AC/DC ‘Dirty Deeds’.

We got asked to do most of those songs, for various projects. There were things like the Idiot Box and Dirty Deeds soundtracks, we were asked to work on those. It is a wonder why we didn’t do a Scientists song or two, for example. I don’t know. We could have done ‘Blood Red River’, ‘We Had Love’, ‘Swampland’ of course... there are probably 20 songs we could have done. The Scientists were important to me as a teenager. We did do ‘Television Addict’ by The Victims.

‘Blood Red River’ is such a eerie song, it sends shivers down my spine every time I hear that. Nothing’s overplayed yet it’s so powerful and there’s that twang that they’ve got on the guitars...

Oh yeah. Maybe I could do that song now because I’ve lived a bit. If I had tried that was I was 21 it wouldn’t have worked. Kim and his voice always seemed so grown up to me. I’d never lived like that. Like I love the Beasts Of Bourbon, and we’ve done a couple of Beasts songs with Tex singing, but I can’t sing like that. We did ‘Drop Out’ for the Idiot Box soundtrack, but we’ve done a bunch of live things with Perko. There’s no finesse to their songs, we don’t want that. So we got asked to do ‘All I Wanna Do Is Rock’ for some soundtrack thing, either a film or a TV show, but it never got used. We had it there so we stuck it on the ‘Berlin Chair’ CD single as a B-side.

‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’ by Bob Dylan...

I was doing a solo tour with Greg Hitchcock, he played with us for a while. Again, it was just something we chose to do during soundcheck, there wasn’t a lot of thought put into recording it. That move from G to A-flat is an unusual one.

Now a couple of unusual ones, you do a snippet of ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ and ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ on the live album ‘...Saturday Night, ’Round Ten’.

Oh yeah, we love the MC5. We’re doing a bunch of songs from High Time just instrumentally now. Rusty has rekindled his love affair with the drumming of Dennis Thompson. We’re doing snippets of ‘Over And Over’ and ‘Looking At You’. We’ve tried to do a version of ‘Skunk (Sonically Speaking)’, once again just soundcheck things. I was doing some songs by the Canadian band Rush, I love a bunch of Rush albums. Our PA guy loves them too. I think I’ve found Australia’s biggest Rush fan and he plays their albums over the PA. I can listen to anything from 2112 or Power Windows, Caress Of Steel. A couple of my best mates in high school loved Rush, so I got into them too. I like things like ‘Working Man’ and ‘Spirit Of Radio’. I love Rush, they’re very interesting musicians. And when you meet other Rush fans, they’re like ‘wow’.

Any Rush influence doesn’t show in your music but I can see why Rusty would like Dennis Thompson’s drumming, he was a phenomenal player. That power drive he got on ‘Looking At You’.

Rusty’s interests are so eclectic and he has a real ear for quality production too. But then again, when we get a few drinks into us that’s the kind of stuff we want to play. All the esoteric stuff gets thrown to back of the room and we just want to play hard and fast. I don’t think we’ll ever do a proper cover of one of their songs, we just love them too much. When we get asked to do covers we just come up with something that we can do quickly. So it’s less by design really than something to do at the end of a session.

So in recent years you’ve done less covers. Was that a conscious decision?

Yeah, it was a conscious thing. We were mining the same well too much and we were consistently getting compared to the bands we loved, so I wanted to write differently and take our music elsewhere. Sometimes really well and sometimes not at all. I wanted to try and grow as a band.

  Porridge & Hotsauce

Porridge & Hotsauce

I think Porridge & Hotsauce is my favourite of your albums.

That’s mine too, I love that album.

One of the things I wanted to mention, Davey’s influence is really starting to shine through.

Oh yeah.

You can tell the stuff that he likes. Some of the songs sound to me like a mix of Mott the Hoople and The Raspberries, Cheap Trick and the Faces, but done in that You Am I style. His songs on the album are excellent.

Sure. See I said to the other guys, ‘c’mon, I want you to write some songs and let’s chuck them all into the pot and see what happens’. They’re probably musically smarter than me in some ways, but because I started writing the songs for the band that’s just how it’s evolved. I think I can write okay for the band but the other guys are very smart musically in ways that I’m not. So why not tap into that, I’m not didactic about everything at all. At a time I was, maybe the mid-’90s but now I’m not. If you’re in a band with Davey why wouldn’t you let him come forward. He’s such a sweet guy that in the past he would just stay in the background.

And he’s such a talented player. I’ve seen him play with his own projects a lot, like when he plays with Ash and Woolfie, he can play like Syd Barrett, or other times he’ll be like Ronnie Wood in the Faces. When he used to play with Jim Keays, he’d play the Masters stuff beautifully. And he loves ELO, he’s such an unheralded player.

He’s very versatile but next year he’ll be playing differently. I think it’s largely to do with his personality. He’s probably my closest mate. When we tour we share rooms a lot and we’ll talk a lot and discuss music. He’s just a very considerate guy. If he was more of a cunt people might actually notice him more, but that’s absolutely not in his nature. It’s not his way of getting through to people. He’s genuinely a very sweet natured person. I get asked a lot, ‘is there something behind that personae?’. And there’s absolutely not.

As a songwriter, do you feel you still have to prove yourself?

Oh yeah (whispers). Completely. It can be complex. If I woke up one day and somebody asked me to write a song, I’d have no idea of where to start. But next day I might wake and think I could write anything. I could write for the Queensland ballet. I could write songs for NRBQ. So it’s a mystery to me, completely, but I know how good it feels to write something of worth and something that moves you. So there’s proving it to myself and then there’s proving it to my band mates. Despite all evidence to the contrary I’m very, very ambitious. I have a lot of peers that are extraordinarily successful. I have ambitions to be known for my song writing. I wish I didn’t. I wish I could just write for the thrill of it, and I do write for the thrill of it, but I also have ambitions for song writing success. To that end I won’t kill myself over a song.

John Prine once said ‘I’d leave a good song for a sandwich’. I’d leave a good song for a picture of a sandwich. But, geez when you’re on to a good thing and the imagery comes together and the word play comes together and the music comes together it’s the greatest joy I’ve known. And I want to keep doing that. I hope there’s still plenty left in the tank, and even when people stop listening I’ll keep writing for pleasure. I decided to write a straight country song the other day, just for the hell of it, and it was like trying to make a chair. That artistic rush of putting a good song together is what excites me. There’s not just one way of writing a song. Whether it’s starting with the lyrics first and then putting the music to the lyrics, or the other way around, it can be different every time. You don’t have to stick to one set way. But then again, trying to write a song with that verse/chorus, verse/chorus, bridge, double chorus and out can be a challenge. It’s getting it right. I might say to myself ‘hey, why don’t you try and discipline yourself and really craft something’, rather than just letting the muse go dancing and see what comes up.

Of some of the bands you’ve covered, are there any song writers that you still consider to be right up there, whether it’s Ray Davies, or Pete Townshend, or Iggy Pop, or Paul Westerberg?

They’re all still huge to me. I might not listen to them much anymore, but at the time they were all hugely important to me. I’ll never forget they’re all still a huge part of my heart. Um, I saw Ray Davies last year in Hampstead, he was just walking along the street. I don’t know him personally, I have met him a couple of times, but I didn’t want to say anything to him. I just wanted to wish him peace and I thought the greatest gift I could give him was to just watch him pass by, rather than rushing up to him to bow down to him. My missus couldn’t believe it, she said ‘there’s Ray Davies, don’t you want to talk to him?’. I said ‘I just want happiness for him’, the cranky old bugger that he is. I did have a wonderful afternoon one time with Ray Davies and photographer Tony Mott, drinking red wine and talking about cricket. That’s what I treasure.

  Photo by: Ian McFarlane

Photo by: Ian McFarlane

Songs by other bands released by You Am I

Compiled by Ian McFarlane

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1. ALL I WANNA DO IS ROCK (Ross Wilson) - Berlin Chair (CD single 1994) Originally recorded by Mighty Kong and Daddy Cool
2. I CAN’T EXPLAIN (Pete Townshend) - Berlin Chair (CD single 1994) Originally recorded by The Who
3. I’M SO TIRED (Lennon/McCartney) - Jaimme’s Got A Gal (CD single 1994) Originally recorded by The Beatles
4. GREEN SILVER (Daisygrinders) - Swapping Spit (shared single 1994) Originally recorded by The Daisygrinders
5. IN THE STREET (Chris Bell/Alex Chilton) - Cathy’s Clown (CD single 1995) Originally recorded by Big Star
6. YOUNG MAN BLUES (Mose Allison) (Live) - Jewels and Bullets (CD single 1995) and Live Electrified 3 (2015) Originally recorded by Mose Allison and The Who
7. MY FRIEND JACK (Smoke) - Mr Milk (CD single 1995) Originally recorded by The Smoke
8. SHE’S SO FINE (Vanda/Young) (Live) - Beat Party! (Live bonus CD with Hourly Daily 1996) Originally recorded by The Easybeats
9. MAKIN’ TIME (Pickett/Phillips) (Live) - Beat Party! (Live bonus CD with Hourly Daily 1996) Originally recorded by Creation
10. SEARCH AND DESTROY (Iggy Pop/James Williamson) (Live) - Beat Party! (Live bonus CD with Hourly Daily 1996) Originally recorded by Iggy & the Stooges
11. I’LL MAKE YOU HAPPY (Vanda/Young) - Good Mornin’ (CD single 1996) Originally recorded by The Easybeats
12. TELEVISION ADDICT (Dave Faulkner) - Idiot Box (soundtrack CD 1997) Originally recorded by The Victims
13. DROP OUT (K. Salmon/J. Baker) - Degenerate Boy (CD single from Idiot Box soundtrack, 1997) Originally recorded by Beasts of Bourbon
14. CIRCLES (P. Townshend) - Tuesday (CD single 1997) Originally recorded by The Who and Fleur De Lys
15. TONIGHT I’LL BE STAYING HERE WITH YOU (Bob Dylan) - Tuesday (CD single 1997) Originally recorded by Bob Dylan
16. I CAN HEAR THE GRASS GROW (Roy Wood) - Trike (CD single, 1997) Originally recorded by The Move
17. (There’s Gonna Be A) SHOWDOWN (K. Gamble/L. Huff) - Trike (CD single, 1997) Originally recorded by Archie Bell & the Drells and New York Dolls

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18. LIVE WITH ME (Jagger/Richards) (Live) - Radio Settee (Live bonus CD with #4 Record, 1998) Originally recorded by The Rolling Stones
19. LOOKING FOR A KISS (Johnny Thunders) (Live) - Radio Settee (Live bonus CD with #4 Record, 1998) Originally recorded by New York Dolls
20. FOX ON THE RUN (B. Connolly/S. Priest/A. Scott) (Live) - Radio Settee (Live bonus CD with #4 Record, 1998) Originally recorded by Sweet
21. MIDNIGHT TO SIX MAN (Taylor/Stirling/May) - Heavy Heart (CD single 1998) Originally recorded by The Pretty Things
22. SHE’S SO FINE (Vanda/Young) (Studio) - Heavy Heart (CD single 1998) Originally recorded by The Easybeats

YouAmI-Heavy Heart.jpg

23. WHITE AND LAZY (Paul Westerberg) - I’m in Love with That Song: An Australian Tribute to The Replacements (CD compilation 1999) and Kick A Hole In The Sky (CD single 2001) Originally recorded by The Replacements
24. I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU (Willie Dixon) (Live excerpt in Trike) - ‘…Saturday Night, ’Round Ten’ (Live CD 1999) Originally recorded by Muddy Waters, Foghat... and others
25. RAMBLIN’ ROSE (Wilkin/Burch) (Live) - ‘…Saturday Night, ’Round Ten’ (Live CD 1999) Originally recorded by MC5
26. DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP (Young/Young/Scott) - Dirty Deeds (film soundtrack 2002) You Am I with Tex Perkins. Originally recorded by AC/DC
27. MADE MY BED, GONNA LIE IN IT (George Young) - Dirty Deeds (film soundtrack 2002) You Am I with Phil Jameson. Originally recorded by The Easybeats
28. TOJO (Dave Faulkner) - Stoneage Cameos (2005) Originally recorded by Hoodoo Gurus
29. HOUNDOG (Don Walker) - Standing on the Outside The Songs of Cold Chisel (2007) Originally recorded by Cold Chisel

Died Pretty - Lost (1988)

Died Pretty - Lost (1988)

Died Pretty - Lost (1988)

By Ian McFarlane

This piece comprises the original liner notes I wrote for the 2013 CD reissue of Lost (on Sandman).

DIED PRETTY – Lost (originally released as Blue Mosque L-36924, June 1988)
1. Lost (Brett Myers)
2. Out of My Hands (Brett Myers)
3. As Must Have (B. Myers/R. Peno)
4. Springenfall (B. Myers/R. Peno/S. Simpson)
5. Winterland (B. Myers/R. Peno)
6. Caesar’s Cold (B. Myers/R. Peno)
7. Crawls-Away (B. Myers/R. Peno)
8. One Day (Brett Myers)
9. Towers of Strength (B. Myers/R. Peno)
10. Free Dirt (Brett Myers)

It was a meeting of the new and the old, the alternative and the mainstream, the upcoming and the established and it resulted in one of the key moments on Died Pretty’s second album, 1988’s Lost.

Sydney indie-rock heroes Died Pretty had been recording the album at Trafalgar Studios with producer Rob Younger and engineer Alan Thorne in early 1987. It’s important to note that Trafalgar, of course, is where the legendary Radio Birdman had fashioned Radios Appear, still one of the greatest Aussie rock albums ever. Younger had been an important part of the process and he represented the benchmark of quality assurance for which the members of Died Pretty were aiming. They were acutely aware of the significance but they weren’t so much emulating Radio Birdman as channelling the same spirit.

They’d just put down a song by guitarist Brett Myers called ‘Free Dirt’ which only featured his acoustic guitar and plaintive vocals plus understated tambourine in the back ground. It was far removed from Died Pretty’s overall squalling sound and expansive repertoire but Myers knew he had something special on his hands. Even the absence of the rest of the full band – lead singer Ronald S. Peno, keyboard player Frank Brunetti, bass player Mark Lock and drummer Chris Welsh – couldn’t detract from the song’s strengths.

It was a superb song, with a simple arrangement, heart-wrenching and melancholic, but it needed something extra. It was worth pursuing to get it right, so they invited singer Astrid Munday to add duet vocals and her pure voice lifted the recording with a lovely after midnight feel but it still wasn’t quite there...

As it happened, song writer and former piano player with one of Australia’s greatest and best loved bands Cold Chisel, Don Walker, had also been recording at Trafalgar and he dropped by to pick up some tapes.

Myers takes up the story:

“The song ‘Free Dirt’ was about a girl I knew. I’d written it when I was feeling a bit sad (laughs); being completely honest, I was broken-hearted. I actually wrote it for the Free Dirt album and we practised it and we even recorded a version which I didn’t like very much. I really liked the song itself and I wanted to give it another go. We got Astrid in to sing; Ron wanted a female backing voice on it and she was right for it. She was in a band with Clinton Walker called the Killer Sheep and then I remember we were driving to Melbourne for some shows and a Paul Kelly song came on the radio, ‘Before Too Long’, and Astrid was singing the backing harmonies and she sounded fantastic. So we got her in and she sang it beautifully and I was really happy with it, it just made it a little bit more haunting, you know?

“So then we got Don Walker to play piano. I think Cold Chisel had recorded their first album at Trafalgar, I could be wrong. Anyway Cold Chisel had split up by that stage and Don was doing some recording there and he dropped in to pick up some tapes or something and because of the configuration of the studio you had to walk through the control room to get to the tape storage room. So he walked through, none of us knew him, I mean we knew who he was and we just said hello and then he was on his way out and he stopped to have a listen and just in a flash I thought ‘I know what this song needs’.

“So, whatever Frank’s strengths he’s not technically the greatest keyboard player in the world (Ed note: Frank admits this himself), so I thought what this song needs is some really beautiful piano and I was thinking ‘Flame Trees’ and I went ‘hmmm’. I don’t know how I thought of that and being really bold I just said to Don ‘hi, look you don’t know me but would you like to play some piano on this before you go?’, so he went ‘umm, ahh’. He had a listen to the song and he was very gracious, he was very nice and he just went ‘yeah, okay’ and he went into the studio and played the piano, did two takes and it was fantastic, just beautiful, I was very happy. It was exactly what I wanted. We said our goodbyes and off he went!”

LOST

At the beginning of 1987, Died Pretty had returned to Australia following an extended overseas tour – their first, taking in close to 70 gigs across Europe and America – with the members in various states of mental and physical fatigue. Even so, they’d been buoyed by their overseas experiences and were in a positive frame of mind. In certain territories (France and Italy, in particular) they’d been treated as rock ‘n’ roll royalty, which was a far cry from the complacency the band sometimes experienced at the hands of hometown audiences.

Died Pretty had been well established on the local independent, inner-city scene since forming in May 1983, yet there was an element of uncertainty about the band’s future. Not as far as the band members themselves were concerned, mind you; it was more a perception on the part of local audiences.

The band’s recorded output to that point encompassed the singles ‘Out of the Unknown’ b/w ‘World Without’ (Citadel CIT 007), ‘Mirror Blues I’ b/w ‘Mirror Blues II’ (CIT 010) and ‘Stoneage Cinderella’ b/w ‘Yesterday’s Letters’ (CIT 020), the 12-inch EP Next To Nothing (CITEP 901) and debut album Free Dirt (CITLP 504). All were brilliant recordings and highly successful on an independent level yet the band’s status had hit a plateau locally, so all eyes had been turned to far shores. The records had sold well in Europe with What Goes On issuing them in the UK and Closer in France; interest there was at a premium. At that point their future overseas was well assured.

As soon as the band had settled back in Sydney, they were ready to record again. Still and all, there were changes on the horizon with Lock announcing his departure.

Myers recalls that there might have been problems but as far as he was concerned the band had plenty more to offer.

“We basically came back and I had a bunch of new songs and we had a bit of trouble in that the bass player Mark had decided to leave. He didn’t leave straight away but he said ‘I hate touring, I never want to tour again, I’m not leaving the band but I’m never going on tour again.’ We had a chat about that and decided that wasn’t a viable option, so we decided to part company and we embarked on the arduous task of finding a new bass player.

“Mark was hard to replace, he was a great musician and he was an intrinsic part of the sound that made Died Pretty unique. He was a hard person to replace, so that went on and on. He was very amicable about it, he was happy to keep playing with us in Sydney and he helped us flesh out the new material. He’d come to rehearsal and play live, so we were trying to get this album together and instead of getting a new bass player he played on the record, it was hard getting motivated to find a new bass player, Mark was happy to play with us, he just didn’t want to leave Sydney! (laughs)

“So even though he was officially out of the band, he rehearsed the new material and recorded the album with us while we were still looking for somebody new. The second album, it wasn’t quite as... The first album is always very exciting and it was all shining. This one I find just as exciting because of all the good songs, but we played it pretty safe, we used the same studios Trafalgar, we used the same producer and engineer, Rob Younger and Alan Thorne, you know, everything was pretty much the same. That has its advantages and disadvantages. Look, it was pretty easy, I’ll say that, we had a lot of confidence as a band, recording and playing the stuff we knew it could work, and the whole production process we were pretty happy with. It was good.”

Brunetti has similar memories:

“We were buggered from that overseas tour; we’d been on the road for a couple of months, something like 70 shows. But at the same time it had been very exciting, very energising, our horizons had expanded. When we got back we were absolutely highly energised, like ‘something’s really happening now, the band is a viable enterprise’, you know? Even though we weren’t making much money out of it we could see that people were taking an interest, not just in Australia but in the States and Europe.

“There was demand from people to make another record, for example and a demand for us to play overseas. That was incredibly exciting and when we came back even though we were buggered physically and mentally, there was only a short time before we were ready to go again, like ‘come on let’s do the next thing, let’s tour again, let’s record a new album’.”

WINTERLAND

The first fruit of the band’s new recordings was the single ‘Winterland’ b/w ‘Wig-Out’ (Acoustic version) (CIT 035) which came out on Citadel in October 1987. This remarkable single went to #1 on the independent chart, going on to be the best-selling indie single for the year. ‘Winterland’ was the perfect taster for the second album, a heady, swirling brew of slashing guitar chords, St. Vitus Dance rhythms, rumbling drums, sliding bass lines and Peno’s unhinged vocals. It was quintessential Died Pretty, reinforcing Myers love for the Velvet Underground – in particular the mesmerising wall of sound on the likes of ‘What Goes On’ – as well as tapping into the same essence that made some of the Doors material so intense at times.

And Peno spitting out an abrasive “ppttuurrgghh!!” – as if he’d just chomped down on a particularly nasty bug that had flown into his mouth and he couldn’t get it out quick enough – is one of the greatest openings of an Aussie rock song ever!

As with a lot of Peno’s lyrics it’s difficult to determine what he’s actually singing about; his vocals always conveyed a mood with broad brush strokes rather than telling a succinct story. He raises questions that you get the feeling he has no intention of answering. The only distinct words come in the song’s coda, at about the four minute mark, when Peno announces “I live in an igloo in the polar zone / And tonight I dream” which harks back to the song ‘Igloo’ he wrote with Mick Medew while in Brisbane band the 31st and later recorded by the Screaming Tribesmen. Of course, ‘Igloo’ also came out as a single on the Citadel label.

Myers laughs when he recalls the recording of ‘Winterland’:

“Look, I’m the world’s biggest Velvets fan and I’ve been really influenced by them but that song honestly wasn’t a rip off of ‘What Goes On’! I was trying to write a sort of backwoods, folksy song that you could play with an out-of-tune fiddle, up in the Appalachians or something, ‘cause Ron was into those kinds of songs. As it progressed the song just sort of grew and grew and it ended up being what it is, but it started out a pretty folksy sort of song. Yeah, it turned out to be that heads-down-go-for-it thing in the end.”

Watching the film clip made for ‘Winterland’ – shot in what looks like a disused, rubble-strewn underground car park which Myers recalls was somewhere in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo – it’s hard not to be enthralled by the band’s performance. With the members dressed predominantly in black or dark blue, the passionate Peno does his idiosyncratic, hyperactive Whirling Dervish dance, the commanding Myers looks set to take on the world, Brunetti is ever brooding over his keyboard, drummer Welsh invokes the spirit of the Velvet’s Mo Tucker as he hunches over his kit and pounds the skins with mallets and newest member Steve Clark plays along to the bass line as originally laid down by the departed Lock.

‘Winterland’ was the band’s last recording, to that point, issued on manager John Needham’s Citadel label. Needham was in negotiations with major Australian label Festival Records to sort out a distribution deal which he felt was necessary to push Died Pretty to greater heights. The deal was eventually done but the negotiations were so drawn out that it effectively delayed the release of Lost for nearly 18 months. Nevertheless, for the next three years all Died Pretty records were on the Festival / Citadel subsidiary label Blue Mosque.

Lost and its second single, ‘Towers of Strength’ b/w ‘From a Buick 6’ (Blue Mosque K-563), eventually appeared in June 1988. Lost was a more expansive and versatile album than Free Dirt in some ways, a refinement of what had gone before. It debuted on the independent albums chart at #1, at the same time as the haunting ‘Towers of Strength’ occupied the same spot on the singles chart. On an interesting collectors’ note, ‘Towers of Strength’ was the only Died Pretty single ever to be pressed on limited edition coloured vinyl (red).

‘Winterland’ and ‘Towers of Strength’ still hold their ground as two of the best Myers / Peno-penned tracks ever. While ‘Winterland’ had already been the best selling indie single for 1987, the two were among the top selling independent singles for 1988 (‘Winterland’ at #4 and ‘Towers of Strength’ at #8). Likewise Lost was placed at #2 – between Ed Kuepper’s Everybody’s Got To and The Church’s Starfish – on the best selling Australian independent albums chart for 1988.

Reviews in the Australian rock media were uniformly positive.

Murray Engleheart writing in Juke magazine said:

“The music of Died Pretty has no allegiance to any time zone of geographic base. It is purely music of and from a free spirit. The essence of Died Pretty therefore is by implication rather than concise definition. For years they have been the uncut jewel amongst the grubby social politics of inner Sydney, though those boundaries are extending rapidly. They offer up beauty instead of teen angst and learned classicism instead of thrash and come out of it all sounding intense, demanding and utterly essential... In 1988 few records leave me breathless and exhilarated. Lost does both.”

Jaffa Bombelli writing in RAM (Rock Australia Magazine) had this to say:

“Whether the result of age or dissipation, Died Pretty’s collective eye has seen through the glass darkly. Filled with signs and portents of a new approach Lost has a balance uncharacteristic of a band who both live and on record have an all or nothing reputation but, that hung up, strung out legacy is on the wane... Points of reference are scattered all over this album. Structure has replaced desperation, passions are now directed. Zealots may mourn the loss of urgency but what price for survival?”

As well as being issued locally on LP (L-38924) and CD (D-38924), Lost came out on vinyl in Europe (French Citadel CIF 03; German Citadel CGAS 801) and CD in the USA (RCA 9805-2-H) and the UK (Beggar’s Banquet BEGA 101 CD).

TRACK BY TRACK

Myers recalls that they spent a great deal of time sequencing the album tracks. He wanted to create a mood and flow in the manner of his favourite classic rock albums, from the Velvet Underground and Television to Neil Young and Bob Dylan, when the two individual sides of a vinyl record had an incredible sense of importance. And surely the album title itself was not an affront to their artistic direction, merely a reference to existential demands.

The album opens with a delightfully droning organ figure from Brunetti – he achieves some amazing atmospherics with the minimum of notes across the album – and then it’s off into the garage-rock roar of the title track, which was an old song from Myers’ first band The End.

‘Out of My Hands’ follows in hot pursuit in the same garage-rock vein yet it’s buoyed by that typical Died Pretty pop format breaking through in the melody. As with ‘Lost’, Myers wrote ‘Out of My Hands’ solo and the uplifting chime of his Television-like guitar figure and the playful bass lines almost belie the grim tale he spins with his vocals; “Two o’clock in the afternoon and I wish that I was dead” is the opening line.

‘As Must Have’ is the first acoustic number, with just Myers on guitar and Peno on vocals. It has the lyrical and melodic feel of Bob Dylan circa 1965/66, and in particular calls to mind ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’. The full band had actually recorded an earlier demo of the song, for the Free Dirt album, but it hadn’t worked as well as the other material so it got relegated.

The shimmering ‘Springenfall’ is the first of two epics and the first of four melancholy numbers on the album. As with ‘Winterland’, it’s got all the archetypal Died Pretty elements in place. A wash of delicate electric guitar chords opens the song and a flourish of chimes heralds the arrival of the bass and quiet rim shots tapped out on the snare drum as Peno solemnly intones a gentle tale of lost love. In a case of emulating classic song writing standards the chorus arrives and the music swells with added organ and full drums and then Peno comes in with the payoff: “I love you in the spring / I will love you in the fall”. The pattern is repeated until Myers’ gloriously soaring guitar takes the song out on a high. It’s absolutely brilliant and even at almost seven minutes long the song never once allows the listener’s attention to drift off.

Interestingly, Myers had told Murray Engleheart at the time, in a feature for Juke, that he had a strong desire to add strings to some tracks on the album. Obviously a limited production budget had put paid to that idea but it’s not such a stretch to imagine ‘Springenfall’ delivered intact with soaring strings.

‘Winterland’ follows and then it’s into the grandiose epic ‘Caesar’s Cold’ which originally opened Side 2 on the LP. Myers’ acoustic guitar again announces the song and sax player Tim Fagan adds just the right touch to the instrumentation. During the instrumental break Myers contributes one of his patented guitar freak-outs (as on the likes of ‘Just Skin’ and ‘Next to Nothing’). Most tellingly, Peno’s lyrics and the song title itself harbour an especially playful pun for such a sombre song: “I’m drowning in seas so cold / I’m caught in the eyes of the world / in seas so cold”

‘Crawls-Away’ is another compelling Died Pretty pop-rock song (in the manner of ‘Blue Sky Day’, ‘Round and Round’ or ‘Stoneage Cinderella’ for example) and it may seem throw-away at first but it adds significantly to the refined balance of the album as a whole.

‘One Day’ features such a ghostly melody and wistful instrumentation that it’s almost not there. The spectral beauty of the bass line in particular is highly compelling and the overall melancholic mood is only broken by a tasteful Myers guitar figure which enters at about the one and ½ minute mark. It only lasts for about 30 seconds but it’s highly evocative of something that English guitarist John McGeoch might have added to some quieter moments on the early Siouxsie and the Banshees albums.

‘Towers of Strength’ is another reflective number which is full of hope for a better future. Peno sings “Towers of strength gather standing waiting for the day” and you know the expectation is so great that he puts in one of his best vocal performances for the album.

Finally, ‘Free Dirt’ strips away the instrumentation and grand gestures, taking the album out on a beautifully pensive note with its hushed vocal tones and striking piano playing.

Myers offers some more personal reflections on individual tracks:

“The first song ‘Lost’ was probably the last song we recorded for the album and it wasn’t really supposed to be on there. It’s an old End song, the band I was in before Died Pretty started; we played that song for years in The End. John Needham had seen us play it and then when Died Pretty started out we played a bunch of End songs, including ‘Just Skin’ and ‘Through My Heart’ and ‘Lost’ and that was just to flesh out the set until we’d written enough new material. Frank and Ron had been fans of The End, so as we got more new original material in Died Pretty we dropped the End material.

“After we’d almost finished the album John came into the studio and said to Rob ‘you should ask them to record this song’. So Rob said ‘what about this song ‘Lost’, do you want to have a run through of that’, and we all thought ‘yeah, okay’. We just thrashed it out and that ended up being the first song on the album, so that’s how that materialised.

“I think with a lot of the stuff on Lost I was trying to give a bit more space, a bit more light and shade to the music, there were a lot of open spaces. A lot of the tracks on Free Dirt were very dense; everyone’s playing flat out all the time. Even on the ballads everyone’s playing all the time. There’s not a lot of light and shade on some of the songs. On Lost I wanted to shift that emphasis and ‘Caesar’s Cold’ is an example of that process. I was trying to make it breathe a bit. It’s a pretty good song.

“The song ‘One Day’, that was about the same girl I’d written ‘Free Dirt’ for. I just really like the bass line and I think that I might have been mucking around on the bass in the studio and again that’s got a bit of light and shade, there isn’t even any guitar for half the song until the mid section. That’s quite a personal song, I wrote the lyrics for that as well.

“I’d forgotten how many of the songs I’d actually written the lyrics for, and I think I wrote four of the songs myself, there are 10 songs on the album and Ron wrote lyrics for six of the songs. It hadn’t occurred to me before but it was probably the least amount of input Ron had in the lyrics on a Died Pretty album. There’s no great significance in that, it just happened.

“Towers of Strength’, that’s another reflective number; I must have been very emotional at the time. If you think of that album you don’t think of it as being the sound of a reckless band. A lot of the songs – things like ‘Springenfall’, ‘One Day’, ‘Towers of Strength’ and ‘Free Dirt’ – they’re quite melancholy songs. For some reason as a whole I don’t think of the album like that, I think of it in terms of ‘Crawls-Away’ and ‘Lost’ and ‘Winterland’. I think those songs help carry the album. It’s quite well balanced; the melancholy side of it doesn’t really overpower the other stuff. In reflection ‘Towers of Strength’ was a pretty odd choice to put out as a single, especially in the late ‘80s, but then again we were never ones to follow tradition.”

Likewise Brunetti has strong memories of the songs:

“I think a song like ‘Caesar’s Cold’ is like the epic side of Died Pretty, the bleak dirges, the more free-form. Previously there were tracks like ‘Desperate Hours’, ‘Just Skin’ which were intense, not really free-form but that kind of pretty long and intense songs. But I think the only one on this album that would fit that mould would be ‘Caesar’s Cold’, the first song on Side 2.

“I’d forgotten there were so many singles from this album, we’d almost become a ‘professional’ band. It sounds horrible when you look at it like that, but I think it was a consolidation of what we’d been doing before. In our initial naivety as far as the recording studio went the early stuff had a certain quality, a sort of naive charm which sort of gets lost a bit. It’s not why we call the album Lost, by the way. Sometimes you want that to happen, to a certain degree, but sometimes in retrospect you see that and think, ‘oh that’s a shame’, you know?

“I think there’s a really high percentage of good songs on this album, it’s very consistent. I love ‘Winterland’, ‘Caesar’s Cold’, I love ‘Towers of Strength’, I love ‘Springenfall’, I really love those songs. So as far as a really good bunch of songs, they’re great.

Myers:

“I should make mention of the cover. The picture was a French girl called Sophie and the photo was taken by Robyn Stacey, John Hoey’s girlfriend, she’s quite a famous photographer in her own right now. We used quite a few of her photographs on our covers. She also did Every Brilliant Eye, Trace and Sold. Lost was the first album she did for us. I basically went to her studio and had a look at a whole bunch of her images and I liked the idea of that one, it was a bit enigmatic.

“Also Sandra Glennon, who we dedicated the album to, she was just a friend of ours. She’d been living up the road from us in Surry Hills and she died as a result of an asthma attack. It was really sad; she was just a young girl, 22. She was really lovely.”

EVERYBODY MOVES

Almost as an afterthought ‘Out of My Hands’ came out as a single backed with a cover of Neil Young’s ‘When You Dance’ (Blue Mosque K-617) in November 1988. It was a great single; it just didn’t get the attention it deserved what with the album having already run its course. ‘When You Dance’ had been a regular feature in the band’s live set for some years, as had a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Wild Child’ (sung by Myers).

In between the time it took for the album to be released, Lock had been replaced by ex-Glass bass player Steve Clark (who joined in October 1987). Clark added a freer, more fluid style to the band’s music. Also around this time, Tim Fagan joined the band for live shows as second keyboardist and sax player for a short while, which allowed the band to try out new approaches to familiar material.

At the same time there were more changes in the wind. The messages etched into the run-out grooves of the original vinyl pressing of Lost (“I’ll be back in five minutes” on Side 1 and “Trust me” on Side 2) were an in-joke reference to the wayward Frank Brunetti who had left the band in April 1988. Before he departed, however, the band had undertaken its second European and US tour (December 1987 to February 1988).

Brunetti did a lot of soul searching at the time:

“After we came back to Australia that second time I left the band, the album hadn’t even come out yet. So then the record came out with ‘I’ll be back in five minutes... trust me’. That was just a private in-joke between me and Brett. It got etched on to the wax. I was renowned for arriving late all the time, you know? And then I’d leave in the middle of rehearsals or turn up really late, whatever. So I’d say ‘I’ll be back in five minutes... trust me’. Apparently, although I didn’t realise it at the time, it became a bit of cliché. So that was Brett’s parting farewell, in a nice way. It’s important to realise that Ron and Brett and I are still really good friends, there was no great falling out.

“To be honest I think the band had progressed and moved along and changed but I think my musical ideas were less important. It was pretty much developing with Ron and Brett in control; they’re strong personalities, both musically and personally. I feel quite clear that my ideas on the earlier stuff were quite important but as time went by my ideas were less important. I don’t say that as if I was shut out or anything like that... I don’t know, the time I was in the band was four or five years but it felt like a lifetime. Things changed, the dynamics, other people were coming in and out of the band. When we started the band, the three of us, we had to beg other people to play with us, you know? Then people wanted to play with us. Certainly I don’t think I can point to anything on the album to say that I contributed this idea or that idea.”

The last recording to feature Brunetti (and the first to feature Clark incidentally) was the single ‘Everybody Moves’ b/w ‘In Love Prison’ (Blue Mosque K-780) which didn’t appear until April 1989.

‘Everybody Moves’ had long been a live favourite and on record it was another haunting, moody piece of organ drone pop. Peno’s restrained, passionate vocals and the gorgeous instrumentation gave the song a subtle beauty and brilliant sheen. It reached #1 on the independent charts and ranks as one of the band’s classic singles.

Myers is rightly proud of ‘Everybody Moves’:

“Everybody Moves’ should have been on Lost for sure. I remember writing that just as we were recording Free Dirt and I thought ‘ah, we don’t really need it, we’ve got enough material, I’ll just hold on to it.’ We ended up playing it live for quite a while even before we recorded Lost. We recorded ‘Everybody Moves’ but it didn’t really gel in the studio; it didn’t sound too bad we just didn’t think the recording of it worked. We knew it was a strong song when we played it live, but we found it wasn’t quite so strong when we recorded it in the studio. So we left it off.

“So in 1988 we were still waiting for the album to come out and we got really bored and went back into the studio to record and we thought ‘what song have we got?’ We wanted to record a song as a single and just stick that out; we thought that was a cute idea. So we recorded ‘Everybody Moves’ and by that stage we’d finally found a new bass player, Steve Clark, so that was the only session that both Frank and Steve played on together. Frank left the band soon after that. So we put that single out later on; it was sort of a confusing time.

Lost is the proper home for ‘Everybody Moves’, we’d always wanted it to go on the album, that’s where it should have gone but we thought ‘oh stuff it, let’s put it out separately’. Actually if we’d done the right thing and put it on the album and then released it as a single from the album it probably would have done a lot better. Look, Lost did sell really well on an independent level. It probably sold about the same amount as Free Dirt.”

Brunetti:

“In some ways I think ‘Everybody Moves’ is the best song we recorded while I was in the band. It’s a beautiful song, it’s perfect in and of itself; I really like it. And I’m glad it’s got that stand-alone identity. We’d been playing it live and we tried to record it for the album, but it wasn’t quite there. We just thought it doesn’t quite cut it. So we put that aside and had the album completed. It was in that time while we were waiting for the album to come out and then we toured overseas again. So we re-recorded ‘Everybody Moves’ and this time it worked and we put it out as a single.”

April 1988 also saw the release of Citadel Record’s exhaustive and essential Take Everything Leave Nothing double LP compilation (CITLP 511). As one of Citadel’s flagship acts, Died Pretty weighed in with three contributions: ‘Out of the Unknown’, ‘Stoneage Cinderella’ and ‘Final Twist’. Later on, ‘Everybody Moves’ appeared on Citadel’s second compilation, Positively Elizabeth Street (CITLP 523) in 1989.

Brunetti’s replacement on keyboards was ex-Thought Criminals / New Christs member John Hoey, who added his distinctive tones and melodic touch to the band’s sound. In September 1988, Died Pretty supported the Jesus and Mary Chain on their Australian tour. Hoey’s first major assignment with the band was to undertake an extensive European and American tour (third for the band as a whole) at the start of 1989. Once the tour was over the band settled into American Recording Studios in Los Angeles with producer Jeff Eyrich (who had worked with the likes of Rank & File, the Gun Club and the Plimsouls) to work on a new album. Every Brilliant Eye came out in April 1990 and was another fine release, but that is another story...

CONCLUSIONS

Brunetti:

“Was there any sense of disengagement for me when the album came out? Well, I don’t think I even heard it at the time it was released. I’ve never sat down and played the album as a whole. I’ve heard many of the songs individually since then but I’ve never taken the time to hear it as a whole. At the time I must have heard it when we finished it and we said ‘okay, here’s how it all fits together’. I don’t feel a sense of ownership with this record in the same way as I do with Free Dirt and Next to Nothing.

“I feel over the years, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel it’s been overlooked a little, okay. And I feel that I’ve overlooked it personally. Because it wasn’t such an in-your-face-statement as the first album it tended to get overlooked at the time, but I think that song-for-song it’s a better album. I love it.”

Myers:

“I kind of know what Frank’s saying. The songs on Lost are perhaps a little bit more realised than Free Dirt. I think Free Dirt is a little bit more unique in its approach. I think Died Pretty had become more like a traditional rock band on Lost. There weren’t any songs like ‘Wig-Out’. There weren’t so many quirky songs. I think we sounded more like a traditional rock band on Lost. It’s very kind of Frank to say that it’s a better album than Free Dirt.

“But, yeah, I’m very happy that ‘Everybody Moves’ is reunited with Lost because that’s where it belongs. When I hear the album now I don’t really hear anything that we would have done differently, that’s how we were and that’s how we wanted to do it at the time. There’s no glaring... there’s not much I would change about it. I remember being very happy with the song ‘Free Dirt’ itself, it was a really nice song. I remember being happy with the piano and Astrid’s vocals, just because it was a little bit different for us. It really encapsulated a mood I had experienced a few times at that stage.

“I think ‘Winterland’ was great, you know? There were a lot of good things about it. And it was funny that an old song from my previous band ended up being the title for the album, it was funny how that happened. I don’t even know why the album was called Lost. I think definitely we wanted the title to be a track from the album; I didn’t want a track that was going to be on our next album to be the title. Like we had an EP called Next to Nothing and the song ‘Next to Nothing’ came out on the album Free Dirt and we had a song called ‘Free Dirt’ and it came out on the album Lost (laughs). I was happy that there was a song called ‘Lost’ and the album was called Lost.”

 

Cherry Bar - Let It Rock!

Cherry Bar - Let It Rock!

For James Young, Max Crawdaddy and the rest of the Cherry Bar crew.

Cherry Bar - Let It Rock!

Ian McFarlane

I completed this article in December 2016, for publication in Sounds of the City (Issue #3) which is due soon. So with the 11th annual Cherry Rock festival just around the corner (Sunday 7 May 2017) I thought it would be a timely move to include the piece here.

As soon as you walk down AC/DC Lane, in the Melbourne CBD, it’s as if you’re transported to another time, another place. The commotion of the city is behind you and there’s the pregnant lure of rock and roll magic. The surrounding brick walls are adorned with all manner of street art and then when you enter an inauspicious doorway you’re enveloped in a charmed world where anything is possible.

Apologies if that reads like one big fat string of clichés, but that is exactly the feeling I get whenever I make my way into Cherry Bar. Despite its basement locale and moderate capacity – or maybe that’s exactly why – Cherry Bar is an almost perfect rock and roll environment and hosts some of the best music in the world. With a small stage against the back wall bands set up and play every night. The sound resonance in the room is remarkably good, and it’s almost an optical illusion with the layout that the place looks noble even with 30 people in it.

I don’t have to continue with the superlatives because I can let the proprietors blow their own trumpet. At the website the introductory material reads like a master class in advertising copy writing:

“Cherry is pretty much the best rock n’ roll bar in the world.

Cherry Bar was founded in late 1999, today it is owned by founding partners Jim Bourke, Lazy Pete and James Young.

Cherry is the only business located in world famous AC/DC Lane Melbourne (off Flinders Lane and between Russell and Exhibition Streets) right in the heart of the Melbourne business district. A jewel in the junk heap or maybe an annoying boil on corporate arse cheeks?

Despite its modest 200 capacity Cherry is an internationally famous late night street rock n’ roll bar. Quality local acts play live (always finishing by 11.30pm), then DJs keep the joint jumping till the wee hours.

Cherry has become the destination for local, interstate and international bands to descend upon and party after they’ve finished playing live themselves. We don’t need to name drop. You never know who you might meet at Cherry.”

As a one-time Triple R presenter and well-known ultra-fan of The Rolling Stones, co-owner and band booker James Young has a passion for rock and roll. He introduced live entertainment to the venue and since then the Bar has settled into a regular weekly routine of such events as Cherry Jam (open mic night) on Mondays, Cherry Soul on Thursdays and Cherry Blues with Max Crawdaddy on Sundays. There’s also Cherry Rock held once a year in the laneway (Sunday 7 May 2017).

  This is the advert for the 11th Annual Cherry Rock festival. Go to www.cherrybar.com.au for the full details

This is the advert for the 11th Annual Cherry Rock festival. Go to www.cherrybar.com.au for the full details

AC/DC Lane was originally known as Corporation Lane. Since the 1890s it has hosted all manner of businesses, from being an arrival point for Cobb & Co coaches to being a part of the fashion and textile industries for East Melbourne. In the 1920s, Corporation Lane housed the YMCA’s military stores. Corporation Lane was re-named AC/DC Lane in October 2004. At the ceremony a pipe band played ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock And Roll)’ and the Lord Mayor, John So, proclaimed “As the song says, there is a highway to hell, but this is a laneway to heaven. Let us rock”.

Over the years Cherry Bar has faced a number of challenges, such as the fire in offices above (June 2008) that effectively shut down the venue for seven months while the roof of the building was replaced. Then there was the development of a residential apartment block right at the back wall that threatened the bar’s very existence. Nevertheless, the proprietors rose to the challenge and some positive changes have eventuated. Read on...

In conversation with James Young.

It was recently the 10 year anniversary of your involvement with Cherry Bar, do you want to take us back to the origins of CB?

James Young: Cherry Bar was started in December 1999 by three partners, the best known member being Billy Walsh, one-time drummer for the Cosmic Psychos. It was a very successful underground bar at that stage. It wasn’t hosting live music, it was just a late night bar that would sometimes play the whole of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album and that was unheard of in those days. That was in Corporation Lane in the city.

Then about 11 years ago I sold my advertising agency and I was 39 and for the first time in my life I’d come into a bit of money and I decided to buy into my favourite bar in the world, just to make sure I could get in (laughs). I’d been responsible, alongside Music Victoria CEO Paddy Donovan, in getting the name of Corporation Lane changed to AC/DC Lane. I’m glad that I saved the smartest advertising and marketing idea of my life for myself. When you’re the only business open in AC/DC Lane and you’re a late night rock and roll bar, that street sign becomes your permanent advertising campaign for locals, those in regional areas and international visitors. I do think it’s important that tourists are taking photos of the street sign but because of Cherry Bar, we’re kind of bringing that street sign to life with live local music 365 nights a year.

It’s definitely the perfect location. Did you instigate the booking of the live bands?

Yes, I did. The bar was only open Wednesday to Saturday originally and we noticed that people often arrived after midnight cause we’re open till 5.00am. So the idea of putting on bands between 8.30 and 11.30pm seemed like a logical thing to experiment with and it was no surprise that it worked immediately. Bands had started to ask if they could play, probably off the back of being involved in the first Cherry Rock music festival, Cherry Rock 007. We held a music festival in the lane and also inside the bar and to this day I’m happy because we had our 10th anniversary of the Cherry Rock festival in May and that continues. I think we latched onto a survival model for music festivals which is having a modest size at an affordable price and putting on great local bands. I suppose I’m lucky because I pick all the music and I pick it for myself and I hope that 1000 other people share my interest.

Take us through some of the challenges you started to face with the live music, the changes in demographics and development in that part of the inner city.

Well the biggest change, and the biggest issue facing music globally, is that established live music venues are being threatened by and indeed closed down by new residential developments. It’s almost impossible now to open a live music venue, unless you’re inside a casino unfortunately, so the live music venues that we’ve got we need to protect them, these are the universities for our live musicians and they contribute enormously to their city, both creatively, socially and economically. So it’s very important to defend our live music venues. Unfortunately, until the recent legislation passed in Victoria, the law was immediately on the side of the developers and live venues were being closed down on the spot which was very unfair

In Cherry’s instance we’d been trading for 15 years and we had a complaint from the 108 Flinders residential development. With 12 floors and 108 apartments we were instantaneously going to be in the wrong because the balconies of the north facing apartments pointing up AC/DC lane were going to be no more than 10 metres from the back stage of Cherry.

We pro-actively and expensively acted on the sound attenuation audit on what was going to be required for our venue to be compliant. We discovered it was going to be a $100,000 operation to double brick the entire back of the building, not just our basement, and then double glaze every window that Cherry had, to create double door entrances and replace all the doors with purposely built sound proofed doors. We recognised that was the money we had to spend. So we turned to the only people you can rely on, the public, to cover some of the costs and we ran a Fringe Music Crowd Funding campaign for the sound proofing of Cherry Bar.

We started a 12-week campaign and in a staggering result, in the space of less than 24 hours we were oversubscribed and had raised $53,000 and had to close down the successful campaign. Which goes to show you two things: 1) how incredibly important the issue is to the public, to defend their favourite live venue; and 2) I think it shows the good will that people had towards the Cherry Bar and its live music stage.

With all that good will we were able to attract that money and also a degree of momentum and attention towards the bar. That led to me being involved, with Paddy Donovan and a whole bunch of other people, in getting the Victorian government not just talking about live music venues but introducing some really important legislation around the concept of Agent of Change. The Agent of Change principle makes sense to any person on earth; for example, if you’re the developer building an apartment block right up to the face of a live music venue, then you’re the person responsible for the change in the environment thus the person responsible for the consequences.

And it had an instantaneously positive effect.

Absolutely, and it was very satisfying to have had that work done and to know that we are 100% compliant. We haven’t had one single complaint since we had the work done and, what’s more, if anyone does complain we can show them the form confirming that we are completely in the right and that we don’t breach which is really important. The only thing I would say is that I do miss those days of standing in AC/DC Lane with the live music blasting out of the windows into the streets because I think it made the city alive. I think that was a beautiful thing and it’s a pity that to be compliant and to survive we had to sacrifice that beautiful element, and now all our live music sound is incubated within some very impressive double glazing. We continue with Cherry Rock in AC/DC Lane, but that’s just one Sunday once a year in May.

There have been a number of international bands come through and play and you’ve had a lot of visitors. Who was the most surprising international visitor to Cherry Bar?

Okay, I’d probably have to go with Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses. His bodyguard told me that he hadn’t stayed at one venue for 5 and a half hours in 12 years. There’s a good side and a bad side to that story. The bad side is – and I still get a laugh out of this – so the juke box was playing ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ and one of his little gofers went and pulled the plug out and I said ‘what are you doing?’ and he said ‘Oh Axl doesn’t do Creedence’. Fuck, who doesn’t do Creedence? It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard but in some strange bizarre way kind of cool as well.

And the good part was that I got to have a chat with Axl. I could have easily talked to him about Guns N’ Roses but I just said ‘ah, how good is Elvis?’. I had one of the best 30 minute conversations I’ve ever had with anyone. We forget that, despite the fact that he’s a strange little man, Axl is one of the great front men of all time but he just wanted to talk about Elvis.

Well of course that begs the question James... I’m only guessing that one of your aspirations is to have Keith Richards walk into Cherry Bar?

Absolutely. That’s something that Brian Wise, Max Crawdaddy and I have been trying to make happen. And we were so honoured to have Chuck Leavell, The Rolling Stones’ keyboard player and music director, do his only side show for the entire On Fire tour of The Rolling Stones. And you know we had hoped, that being a night off for the rest of the band who were only staying around the corner, that we got an appearance from the band. It didn’t quite pan out that way but we got Tim Reith the saxophonist and the show from the great man Chuck Leavell and that was sensational in itself. But one can continue to dream...

 

What is the 'Carlton Sound'?

What is the 'Carlton Sound'?

This article was originally posted at addictedtonoise.com.au (October 2014). This Double CD collection is the perfect summation of a time and place, plus it's a magnificent listening experience - thanks to David Laing

(When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton - Melbourne's Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene of the '70s (Warner Music Australia, 2014)

Ian McFarlane

A SLICE OF MELBOURNE MUSIC HISTORY - WHAT IS THE 'CARLTON SOUND'?

Night-time cold in seeming dark / Midnight savage in Primal Park” – ‘Primal Park’ (Ross Wilson / David Pepperell) by Mondo Rock

The time: the mid 1970s; the scene: inner-city Melbourne... night in the city... Melbourne comes alive after dark... Melbourne is a rock’n’roll town... the Melbourne music scene is pulsating, vibrant, writhing, on edge and seething with activity like a multi-headed serpent on the move.

You don’t have to be a musician to make the scene but you’ve come to watch your idols on stage. In a small, dark pub the air is thick with a pungent smoke haze, the stage lights are hot and bright, the amplifiers are set to overload, guitar riffs slice the hazy air like razors, the thudding bass hits you full in the chest, the singer prowls the stage... he could be dreaming he’s Mick Jagger up there, fulfilling your every desire.

Experiencing rock music in such an environment was a rite of passage for many. From the inner-city clubs, pubs and ballrooms to the vast expanses of numerous suburban beer barns, the Melbourne music scene certainly had plenty to offer.

But let’s focus on the inner-city and specifically Carlton. Inner-city Melbourne is a divided locale: north of the Yarra River you had the pubs and clubs situated in the CDB itself and next to that the pubs and ballrooms of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and most significantly Carlton. South of the Yarra you had Prahran, South Melbourne, Albert Park and St. Kilda each with its own rock’n’roll heartbeat.

It’s long been supposed, when discussing Melbourne music of the 1970s, that the true heart of the inner-city scene was centred on Carlton. Literally situated right next to the CBD, Carlton has always engendered a convergence of influences and artistic pursuits: music, theatre, film making, art, counter-culturalism, multi-culturalism. There were music venues in the area (Martini’s, Hearts), theatre venues (La Mama, the Pram Factory) and the hot-bed of radical thought that emanated from Melbourne University, all contributing to the social and cultural milieu of Carlton town. Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip and Bert Deling’s cult classic film Pure Shit were set on local streets and what’s more significantly both helped capture the voice of a generation.

On a political level, and parallel to such diverse cultural pursuits, it should be noted that this was the era of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government, in office from 1972 to 1975. The seeds of creative resurgence and social and political upheaval sown during the 1960s / early 1970s (anti-Vietnam War sentiment, Moratorium marches etc) had well and truly flowered by the mid 1970s. The Whitlam government instigated sweeping changes (the abolition of conscription for example) that had a tremendous impact on Australian society at the time. Carlton was ideally situated to absorb all such influences.

On a musical level, there has always been the notion of a mythical or idealistic ‘Carlton Scene’ in the history of Melbourne music. But what was the ‘Carlton Scene’? And what is the ‘Carlton Sound’? How do you encapsulate that sound, that ideal? And who are the prime movers who helped develop the scene? No-one’s really attempted to pull all the pieces together into a cohesive, cogent whole... until now.

It all comes together now: David Laing, Creative A&R manager at Warner Music Australia, has compiled (When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton: Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene Of The ’70s, a sprawling, 44-track double CD that offers a convincing case there really was a Carlton Scene if not necessarily a particular Carlton Sound. By pulling together many disparate tracks from such notable Melbourne bands as Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Sports, The Bleeding Hearts, Stiletto, The Pelaco Bros, The Dots and Mondo Rock it paints a whole new picture of what the Carlton ideal was all about.

Not everyone agrees with the basic premise, however; music writer / scenester David ‘Dr. Pepper’ Pepperell (who wrote extensively about Melbourne music of the mid-’70s for Juke magazine) for one doesn’t see the Carlton Scene as being the epicentre of all things Melbourne rock. While he says there was probably a Carlton mentality, he sees Melbourne inner-city music as being more holistic with just as much gigging activity south of the Yarra and other northern locations such as Fitzroy and Richmond.

He does have a point but it’s also interesting to note that Pepperell wrote the lyrics to one of the key songs selected for this compilation: Mondo Rock’s ‘Primal Park’. The lyrics capture that gritty realism and sense of running wild through late night Melbourne, like some Bacchanalian feast for the soul. When asked what the lyrics mean, Pepperell explains that they came from a more deep-seated subjective space rather than attempting to explain the scene on an objective level.

“The lyrics to ‘Primal Park’ were an allegory of my crazy life in the late ’70s,” Pepperell explains. “Primal Park was Melbourne at night and the ‘midnight savage’ was me. I didn’t exactly know what it meant when I wrote it. The lyrics all bubbled up from my subconscious. It all makes sense now.”

In contrast, Ross Wilson – one of the key figures in Melbourne music – sees the Carlton Scene as a good umbrella term to explain the motivational forces in play at the time.

“It was a matter of all these bands gravitating to a central point where the audiences were,” he says. “I’d started out at places like the T.F. Much Ballroom and other venues such as Berties and Sebastians in the city, but then by the mid-’70s I was playing around Carlton with Mondo Rock. I’d also become immersed in the business side of things before then, I’d started a publishing company and was mentoring people who were writing their own songs, instead of just covering other people’s. Guys like Greg Macainsh, Wayne Burt, Peter Lillie. Macainsh and Lillie were sending things up but they quickly found their own stride. I was saying you can write your own songs, and the fact someone had said that to them meant they were able to move forward.

“Skyhooks were making socially relevant music but it was only when Shirley Strachan replaced Steve Hill as lead singer that the band found its focus. I produced those early Skyhooks albums and they were hugely successful. And the most important thing is that on the back of that massive success, Mushroom Records made enough money so that it allowed Michael Gudinski to sign and record all those other groups such as The Sports, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons and the Models. Gudinski has gone on record as saying that I helped change the rules when it came to things like song publishing and record production. I’d signed Greg Macainsh to a 70/30 publishing deal which was unheard of at the time; 70% for the song writer, rather than 50/50.

“I think the Carlton scene did have its own distinct flavour. Of course there were all the other gigs in Fitzroy, Richmond, Prahran, St. Kilda and wherever but Carlton had that mix of music, arts, theatre, politics and everything else that seemed to draw it all together. Also, a lot of people on the scene came from a left-wing / Trade Union / socialist background which had an effect too. Steve Hill was a full-on socialist. Also, guys like Stephen Cummings and Joe Camilleri were influenced by the sounds they heard coming out of the UK and the records released by the Stiff label in particular. And the main thing about the Carlton scene is that most of the musicians were total misfits, they just didn’t fit into any pop star mould. Guys like Peter Lillie; I mean, there was no glamour involved. It was almost accidental that Stephen Cummings was good looking.”

“DO THE LYGON STREET LIMBO – HOW LOW CAN YOU GO-GO?”

  Paul Kelly & The Dots

Paul Kelly & The Dots

Ultimately, it all comes down to the music on offer. Just for the fact there are so many significant bands in the one package, I for one am convinced that there was indeed an identifiable Carlton Scene if not a specific Carlton Sound.

The music ranges all over the place, from riff-based boogie rock and R&B-laced pub rock to commercial pop and reggae-infused pop/rock. Much of the music bears a lightness of touch that flies in the face of the heavier sounds prevailing elsewhere on the Australian musical landscape (for example, bands such as The Aztecs, AC/DC, Coloured Balls, Rose Tattoo, The Angels and Cold Chisel). As is the case with any compilation of this nature, there are numerous tracks that stand head and shoulders above others that, while they might be essential and intriguing to the whole concept, don’t really cut it.

Predominantly the Carlton Scene was situated in a pre-punk environment (featuring bands such as Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Company Caine and The Pelaco Bros) leading into a kind of proto-New Wave aesthetic (as epitomised by the likes of The Bleeding Hearts, The Sports, The Dots and Man & Machine).

The main Carlton venues of the day were Martini’s (Imperial Hotel) and Hearts (Polaris Inn) but other significant venues that featured heavily in the development of Melbourne music included the T.F. Much / Much More Ballroom (Fitzroy), the Reefer Cabaret (Ormond Hall, Prahran), Garrison (Windsor), Hard Rock Café (CBD), Dallas Brooks Hall (East Melbourne), Storey Hall (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, CBD), Bombay Rock (Brunswick), the Tiger Room (Royal Oak Hotel, Richmond), the Kingston Hotel (Richmond), the Station Hotel (Prahran) and many more.

THE KEY BANDS

Daddy Cool
Led by valiant singer, astute songwriter, indefatigable band leader and canny arbiter of the machinations of the music industry Ross Wilson, Daddy Cool can be seen as the progenitors of much of what was to follow on the Carlton Scene. Aided and abetted by Ross Hannaford (guitar), Wayne Duncan (bass) and Gary Young (drums), Wilson and DC captured the hearts of the nation with the sounds of the jubilant Australian dance classic and #1 hit ‘Eagle Rock’ (1971). Their albums, Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! and Sex, Dope, Rock & Roll: Teenage Heaven, are important works that still sound fresh and vibrant today. The band broke up originally in 1972 but reformed in 1974 which is when their presence on the Carlton Scene was in the ascendant.

Company Caine
Contemporaries of the original DC, legendary Melbourne band Company Caine played an eclectic blend of psychedelic-infused blues and avant-jazz that was certainly groundbreaking and out there in many ways. Their 1971 album A Product of a Broken Reality is a milestone of the early ’70s progressive scene. Led by delightfully eccentric singer / be-bop poet Gulliver Smith and guitarist Russell Smith, and much like DC the band originally broke up in 1972 only to reform in 1975 when Keith Glass and David Pepperell reissued their album on the Real label. The new line-up became a notable and influential fixture on the Carlton Scene for another year. They recorded enough new material (half live / half studio) to fill a second album, the excellent Dr. Chop, before calling it quits again.

Skyhooks
The brash, rebellious and charismatic Skyhooks were a pop phenomenon in the truest sense of the label. When they emerged from inner-city Melbourne in 1974, Skyhooks irrevocably altered the guidelines by which the local industry operated. They were the right band at the right time. Their first two albums for Mushroom Records, Living in the 70’s and Ego is Not a Dirty Word sold in unprecedented quantities. Bassist / songwriter Greg Macainsh’s biting, provocative songs made an enormous impact at the time. The band sang about buying dope in the inner-city – ‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’, sex in the suburbs – ‘Balwyn Calling’, the local gay scene – ‘Toorak Cowboy’. And in guitarist Redmond Symons they featured an archetypal Carltonian personality.

The Pelaco Bros
The Pelaco Bros were one of those seminal inner-city bands that never achieved commercial success but were assigned legendary status by virtue of the personnel who passed through their ranks. Formed in 1974 by singer Stephen Cummings and bass player Johnny Topper, the band comprised, at various times, a trio of exemplary guitarists in Peter Lillie, Chris Worrall and Ed Bates, as well as sax player Joe Camilleri. The band sang about truck drivers, roadhouse ladies and endless highways, playing a mix of rockabilly, R&B and Western Swing that forged a new musical aesthetic for the local scene. One of the bands featured on the 1978 Missing Link album The Autodrifters and the Relaxed Mechanics Meet the Fabulous Nudes and the Pelaco Bros.

  The Bleeding Hearts

The Bleeding Hearts

The Bleeding Hearts
One of the cornerstone bands of the Melbourne 1970s inner-city scene, an important breeding ground for musicians capable of helping to sustain the Australian music industry. Led by Martin Armiger (guitar, vocals; ex-Toads) and Eric Gradman (vocals, violin; ex-Sharks, Toads), the band was brimming with enormous potential which remained unfulfilled by the time they broke up in late 1977. Keith Glass described the band as a classic case of “right place, wrong time”, going on to say “the arty, mannered, intellectual but still rocking Bleeding Hearts set a new standard in the thriving inner city venues of mid 1970s Melbourne”. And fortunately, before they broke up, they’d recorded enough demo and live material to make up the classic album What Happened?, which Glass issued on his Missing Link label in 1978

The Sports
The Sports emerged in 1976 from the ashes of cult rockabilly outfit The Pelaco Bros (featuring lead singer Stephen Cummings and guitarist Ed Bates). With the members’ backgrounds in roots music so prevalent, The Sports swiftly earned a reputation as the hottest R&B / soul / rockabilly group on the inner-city circuit. Cummings’ breathy vocal style and nonchalant delivery certainly singled him out as a rare talent. The band issued one classic single after another on the Mushroom label and also caught the attention of Stiff Records in the UK. Another local legend, Martin Armiger (by then ex-Bleeding Hearts, High Rise Bombers) joined in 1978 and alongside Cummings helped push the band into a slicker, more commercial pop direction.

Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons
The original Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons was a funky, energetic R&B band based around guitarist / singer / song writer Wayne Burt (ex-Rock Granite) with Joe Camilleri lending his distinctive vocals and sax work to the band’s sound. The band had formed in late 1975 with members drawn from the breakups of Daddy Cool, Company Caine, Rock Granite and The Pelaco Bros. When Burt left in late 1977, Camilleri (also ex-King Bees, Lipp and the Double Decker Bros, Sharks) took the band on to bigger and better things (he’d named the group after all) and quickly became its leader and focal point. The Falcons’ rootsy blend of R&B, soul, pop and reggae found its greatest success with the brilliant 1979 album Screaming Targets on Mushroom.

Stiletto
Featuring a trio of female members – Jane Clifton (vocals; ex-Myriad, Lipp and the Double Decker Bros, Toads), Janie Conway (vocals, guitar; ex-Myriad) and Marnie Sheehan (bass; ex-Toads) – Stiletto earned a reputation as a strong feminist band. Guitarists Andrew Bell (also ex-Toads) and Chris Worrall (ex-Pelaco Bros, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Bleeding Hearts) tied all the pieces together with their inspirational playing. The band only recorded one album, Licence to Rage, and a couple of singles before breaking up in 1979. Worrall and latter-day Stiletto guitarist Chris Dyson (also ex-High Rise Bombers) went on to join Paul Kelly and The Dots.

THE KEY PLAYERS

Ross Wilson
A towering presence on the Carlton Scene, Ross ‘The Boss’ Wilson has made the most significant contribution to the development of the institution of Australian rock music of anyone covered here. Wilson got his start as a teenager in Melbourne garage / R&B band The Pink Finks (1965), moving onto psych-pop bands The Party Machine and Procession and by 1970 was fronting esoteric, special occasion progressive group Sons of the Vegetal Mother. The Sons spawned the rockin’ Daddy Cool; Wilson then formed Mighty Kong and in 1976 Mondo Rock. As well as writing numerous hit singles for his groups, Wilson produced important recordings for Carlton bands Skyhooks, Company Caine, The Sports and Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons. He remains active to this day.

Martin Armiger
Originally from Adelaide, Martin Armiger got involved with the Pram Factory, one of the pivotal Carlton theatrical collectives of the day, writing music for plays. He formed The Toads, with remnants from his Adelaide band Toads Nitely plus various other musicians involved in the Pram Factory and hit the local pub scene. Film maker Bert Deling engaged Armiger to record the soundtrack for Pure Shit (1975), now acknowledged as one of the legendary Aussie cult movies. The raucous boogie track ‘I Love My Car’ ended up in the live repertoire of his next band The Bleeding Hearts. In 1978, Armiger joined The Sports, writing some of their classic pop songs (‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘Strangers on a Train’). Since leaving the band in 1981, Armiger has carved out a career as an acclaimed film and television composer.

Stephen Cummings
As singer for The Pelaco Bros and The Sports, Stephen Cummings was able to pull off the rare feat of bearing the hallmarks of the classic front man (good looks, distinctive voice, charismatic presence) without embracing all the trappings of fame that the role presented. In other words, and despite his public persona, he avoided being famous at all costs. His lyrics for Sports songs such as ‘Reckless’, ‘Who Listens to the Radio’ and ‘Black Stockings (For Chelsea)’ nevertheless, marked him out as a rare talent indeed. He has pursued a solo career of note since the early 1980s. His 1988 album Lovetown was full of subtle, narrative vignettes where the ironic title certainly referred to inner-city Melbourne.

Joe Camilleri
As one of the greatest showmen and most genuinely talented figures in all of Australian music, the magnetic Joe Camilleri (singer / songwriter / sax player / producer) has been involved in a succession of great bands: The King Bees, Lipp and the Double Decker Bros, Sharks, The Pelaco Bros, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Black Sorrows and The Revelators. Camilleri has always exuded his own tenacious persona but is also equal parts Otis Redding, Garland Jeffreys, Van Morrison in his delivery – equally adept at handling a wide range of roots-rock styles, from R&B, soul and reggae to salsa and zydeco, with pop smarts in abundance. His work with Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons (‘So Young’, ‘Hit and Run’, ‘Don’t Wanna Come Down’) in particular presents him as a key contributor to the development of the Carlton Scene.

Paul Kelly
From very early in his career, the multi-talented Paul Kelly was recognised as one of the most significant singer / songwriters in the country, Australian music’s own rock poet laureate. Inspired initially by the likes of Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and Robert Johnson, Kelly’s effortless, narrative song writing style was infused with wry observations, bittersweet emotions and enormous appeal. Kelly got his start on the Carlton Scene with High Rise Bombers and The Dots. He later forged his greatest successes with The Messengers and as a prolific solo artist (he has written over 350 songs) which continues to this day. The recent documentary Stories of Me is a brilliant glimpse into the mind and heart of this most beloved performer.

Eric Gradman
Eric Gradman was an intense and restless singer who played electric violin and broke new musical ground with his band Sharks, reputed to be the most avant-garde group on the Carlton Scene. Gradman went on to front The Bleeding Hearts (alongside Martin Armiger) and, at the end of the decade, formed the highly regarded Man & Machine before heading off overseas. With his attention to soulful dynamics, Gradman was unlike any other singer around. He certainly imbued the likes of ‘Hit Single’ by The Bleeding Hearts and ‘Crime of Passion’ by Man & Machine with a great deal of emotional depth and musical gravitas.

Peter Lillie
Probably the great unsung musical hero mentioned here, in many ways Peter Lillie was the embodiment of the Carlton spirit if far from being its greatest success story. Nevertheless, Lillie’s impact on the scene was felt via his tenacious guitar picking with The Pelaco Bros, Autodrifters, Relaxed Mechanics and The Leisuremasters. He was well versed in numerous styles, from R&B and blues to rockabilly and Western Swing, yet he always injected a uniquely Australian sense of humour into his songs. His best songs celebrated the mundane albeit shot through with a great deal of sprightly wit: ‘Holiday House’, ‘Hangin’ Around the House’, ‘Samurai Star’ and ‘The Birth of the Ute’, an affectionate ode to the humble ‘utility’ pick up. Lillie was also known as the cartoonist behind the satirical After Dinner Moose comic strips in local rock papers.

Greg Macainsh
As band leader, bass player and main song writer for the enormously successful Skyhooks, Greg Macainsh was able to transplant the obsessions and frustrations of modern suburban living into the heady, frantic and intoxicating milieu of the inner-city. While his songs were not the first to address local themes, it was the effect they had on Australian social life that was so earth-shattering at the time. No one had heard the likes of ‘Living in the 70’s’, ‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’, ‘Horror Movie’, ‘You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed’ or ‘This is My City’ before. In some ways it’s difficult now to convey the enormous impact Macainsh’s songs had, suffice to say that as a power-packed and socially aware group Skyhooks were the right band at the right time.

THE KEY SONGS

‘Hard Drugs (Are Bad for You)’ – MIGHTY KONG (1973)
Ross Wilson’s band in between stints with Daddy Cool. ‘Hard Drugs’ was the standout track on the Kong’s only album All I Wanna Do is Rock, a concise and direct anti-drugs song backed by a hard rocking vibe.

‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’ – SKYHOOKS (1974)
Captured the zeitgeist of the times in one neat, riff-packed vignette: “When the sun sets over Carlton and you’re out to make a deal / Check out who you’re talking to and make sure they are real”.

‘I Love My Car’ – MARTIN ARMIGER (1975)
Written by Armiger and featured on the soundtrack to the legendary exploitation / art house movie Pure Shit, ‘I Love My Car’ was a ripping slice of raunchy, hard boogie that matched the likes of Coloured Balls or AC/DC.

‘Hit Single’ – THE BLEEDING HEARTS (1977)
Featuring a combination of proto-punk riffs, a post-Roxy Music influence (minus the glam predilections) and a sense of uncompromising urgency this was music that reeked of inner-city grime and decay.

‘Boys! (What Did The Detective Say?)’ – THE SPORTS (1978) (Note: This one didn’t make the final CD cut)
Speedy, witty and punctuated by Stephen Cummins’ exhortations of “Boys!”, this was another snapshot of inner-city interaction but delivered with humour and minus the paranoia.

‘Lowdown’ – PAUL KELLY AND THE DOTS (1979)
Taken from The Dots’ self-released EP, one of the earliest songs written and recorded by Paul Kelly. Combined everything that was great about his song writing: melody, heart, soul and just a cracker of a tune.

‘Primal Park’ – MONDO ROCK (1979)
The quintessential song about Melbourne nightlife: dark, mysterious and hedonistic lyrics, yet enveloped by one of Ross Wilson’s characteristically vibrant, tuneful and enticing melodies.

‘Only The Lonely Hearted’ – JO JO ZEP AND THE FALCONS (1979)
From The Falcons’ breakthrough album Screaming Targets, this was the first Paul Kelly song recorded by another band. Falcons’ singer Joe Camilleri certainly knew the value of a good song writer.

THE KEY (INNER-CITY) VENUES

At this point we’ll examine some of the landmark inner-city rock venues that helped facilitate the development of the Melbourne music scene during the 1970s. From progressive rock through the Carlton Scene onto the rise of punk / New Wave, this is where it all unfolded. Not all these venues were centred on Carlton (and it’s certainly not possible to name every venue around town during the decade) but it’s worth looking at this from a wider perspective.

  Gig advert for Much More Ballroom, October 1972

Gig advert for Much More Ballroom, October 1972

T.F. Much Ballroom / Much More Ballroom – Cathedral Hall, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
In many ways, the T.F. (‘Too Fucking’) Much Ballroom was the Melbourne equivalent of the great San Francisco venues of the psychedelic era, such as the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium. Presented by promoters John Pinder and Peter Andrew from the Let It Be booking agency, the original T.F. Much ran from August to December 1970 while their subsequent Much More ran from December 1971 to December 1972. A unique feature of the concerts was Hugh McSpedden’s liquid light shows.

The ballroom was spiritual home to legendary Melbourne acts such as Spectrum, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, King Harvest, Lipp and The Double Decker Bros, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Daddy Cool, Company Caine, MacKenzie Theory, Wendy Saddington and the Tribe theatre group. Daddy Cool played their final performance (to that time) at the Much More Ballroom on 13 August 1972, the results of which came out as the live album Daddy Cool Live! The Last Drive-In Movie Show in 1973.

The Reefer Cabaret – Ormond Hall, Moubray Street, Prahran
Audacious promoter Mike ‘Fastbuck’ Roberts launched this infamous concert event in late 1974; patrons were encouraged to smoke joints openly which naturally tended to attract the attention of various authority groups. Among the many attractions was the screening of Reefer Madness, the notorious 1936 propaganda film about the wicked weed made by the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Writer David ‘Dr. Pepper’ Pepperell described the Reefer Cabaret as “The last bastion of the flower children, the obvious successor to the T.F. Much and Much More, it represents a large part of the communal Melbourne Consciousness”.

The art-deco styled Ormond Hall had actually been running as a pop venue since the mid-1960s, but this was the grown-up, subversive, anti-establishment flipside. All the big name Melbourne groups appeared there: Daddy Cool, Renée Geyer and Sanctuary, Ariel, Ayers Rock, Madder Lake, The Dingoes, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Skyhooks, The Pelaco Bros etc. The live album A-Reefer-Derci documented the final Reefer Cabaret concert (December 1975). The venue was briefly revived as Stoned Again in 1976.

Martini’s – Imperial Hotel, Rathdown Street, Carlton
Run by promoter Adrian Barker, Martini’s was the premier Carlton rock venue for many years. The hotel itself had an Italianate past with heavy drape curtains around the venue, so consequently it was always dark inside. All the important Melbourne bands played there – The Dingoes, The Toads, Company Caine, Daddy Cool, The Pelaco Bros, The Bleeding Hearts, The Sports, Stiletto, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, High Rise Bombers – as did many interstate touring acts such as Sid Rumpo, Jeff St John, Kevin Borich Express and Cold Chisel. Martini’s was also one of the first Melbourne venues to add newer, punkier acts to the bill, such as Radio Birdman, Boys Next Door, JAB, Models and Flowers.

The other important Carlton venue was Hearts at the Polaris Inn which is where Company Caine played a long residency in 1975. And although it wasn’t held in a pub venue, how’s this for an archetypal Carlton Scene gig – “Xmas in Carltonia” (December 1976) featuring The Bleeding Hearts, The Sports, Millionaires, Stiletto and Ready Rubbed held in the Horticultural Hall of the old Trades Hall Building, Carlton.

The Tiger Room – Royal Oak Hotel, Bridge Road, Richmond
Billed as a Rock ‘n’ Roll Theatre Restaurant, and run by promoter Laurie Richards, the Tiger Room was launched in October 1976, playing host to the likes of Ross Wilson’s Mondo Rock, Millionaires, The Bleeding Hearts, Gulliver’s Travels (the new band that emerged out of the demise of Company Caine), Spare Change, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, The Angels and Living Legends (aka Keith Glass Band aka KGB). Glass was billing his band’s performances under the banner of ‘Mod Night’, having originally been a member of 1960s psych-pop band Cam-Pact.

Also significantly, the Tiger Room was the site of historic Melbourne performances by The Saints (April 1977, just before they went to the UK) and Radio Birdman (June 1977). The venue was re-named The Tiger Lounge in October 1977 and opened its doors to newer acts such as JAB, Babeez / News and Boys Next Door (later to evolve into the more artfully malevolent Birthday Party). Also gave rise to an infamous Bleeding Hearts bootleg album, Live at the Tiger Lounge.

The Station Hotel – Greville Street, Prahran
Affectionately known as ‘The Snake Pit’. Promoter Mark Barnes opened this venue to live music in 1971 and as such was one of the longest serving inner-city pub venues in Melbourne. During the late 1960s / early 1970s, Greville Street, Prahran, had a similar vibe to such overseas equivalents as Ladbroke Grove in London and Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco.

The venue was essentially just a stage in the front bar opening straight onto the street but as Martin Armiger has commented, “some serious connoisseurs of rock music hung out there”. It was always packed with a diverse range of people – in particular when the likes of The Dingoes, MacKenzie Theory, Skyhooks or Daddy Cool played. AC/DC also honed their stage chops at the Station; it was the site of some of Bon Scott’s earliest gigs with the band after he joined in September 1974. The album Live at the Station documented a series of hot nights recorded during March, 1976 and featured The Dingoes, Myriad, Saltbush and Wild Beaver Band.

Hard Rock Café – Spring Street, CBD
Previously known as the Victoria & Albert (aka ‘Berties’) discotheque during the mid to late 1960s when the likes of psych-pop bands Zoot, The Twilights, The Wild Cherries, Cam-Pact and Doug Parkinson In Focus held court. Berties also played host to the development of the early ’70s progressive scene – Spectrum, Jeff St John and The Copperwine, Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, King Harvest, Daddy Cool, Blackfeather, Syrius, Chain etc.

Promoters Michael Browning and Rod de Gruchy re-opened the venue in 1974 as the Hard Rock Café, whereby Coloured Balls, Split Enz, AC/DC, Buster Brown, The Dingoes, Renée Geyer Band, Ariel, Madder Lake, Ayers Rock, Daddy Cool and The Pelaco Bros could play till all hours, while guitarist Lobby Loyde’s open Jam Nights were a weekend highlight. Browning went on to manage AC/DC.

Bombay Rock – Phoenix Street, Brunswick
Originally opened in the CBD during 1977 as the Bombay Bicycle Club, and relaunched for the 1978 Second Coming, the multi-level Bombay Rock was one of the most popular Melbourne venues for years. Literally every Australian band of note played the main room upstairs, while the downstairs lounge bar was the perfect location for the up-and-coming outfits keen to make an impact on their own terms. It was also an important developmental ground for the burgeoning Melbourne punk scene, with the likes of JAB, Negatives, Boys Next Door, Teenage Radio Stars and X-Ray-Z honing their chops as part of the Bombay Rock New Wave Extravaganza Nites (March-April 1978). Mondo Rock recorded the live portion of their classic album Primal Park here in May 1979.

Crystal Ballroom (aka Seaview Ballroom / The Ballroom) – George Hotel, Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
With its crumbling facade and magnificent marble staircase leading up to the main band room, the George Hotel originally dates back to the 1850s and was a popular destination for holiday makers and also European immigrants following the Second World War. What ended up being the band room with a stage erected at one end had actually been the main dining hall back in the day, although it also had a sprung floor for ballroom dancing. As the brave new world of late 1970s music in Melbourne was unfolding, the venue opened as the Wintergarden Room in August 1978 run by promoter Dolores San Miguel before it was relaunched as the Crystal Ballroom during February 1979 by Laurie Richards. San Miguel returned in March 1980 with the Paradise Lounge in the large downstairs room.

The Ballroom became known as the legendary Melbourne punk / New Wave venue, the place to be seen and the spiritual home to the likes of the Boys Next Door / Birthday Party, Models, Tch Tch Tch, Whirlywirld, International Exiles, Man & Machine, La Femme, The Editions, The Ears, Laughing Clowns, Essendon Airport etc. All the major bands played there as well, from The Angels, Rose Tattoo and Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons to Flowers (later Icehouse), Mental As Anything and Midnight Oil. And of course, performances by international visitors such as XTC, The Members, Wreckless Eric and Iggy Pop went down a treat.

 

John Dowler's Vanity Project - Splendid Isolation (Half a Cow)

John Dowler's Vanity Project - Splendid Isolation (Half a Cow)

John Dowler's Vanity Project - Splendid Isolation (Half a Cow)

Ian McFarlane

I wrote this originally for Sounds of the City (Issue #3) which is yet to be published.

Melbourne singer/songwriter John Dowler is a pop classicist in the mould of an Alex Chilton, a Gene Clark or a Brian Wilson. Obviously not as well known internationally – or even in Australia, for that matter – but his attention to song detail and presentation is such that the comparison stands.

Splendid Isolation is his latest statement and it’s a thing of genuine beauty. With his plaintive, sorrow-laden voice gliding effortlessly over an enticing run of songs he’s crafted an album brimming with jangle pop chime, folk rock melodies and rawer power pop moves.

Dowler may be the front man but it’s a band effort. The ironically named John Dowler’s Vanity Project comprises Dowler, guitarists Justin Bowd and Mark McCartney, bassist Julien Chick and drummer Michael Stranges. Dowler will be remembered for his time with two of the classic Aussie power pop bands, Young Modern and The Zimmermen. The other guys are younger players but they bring a refreshing maturity, strength of purpose and cleanness of playing to the whole deal.

Dowler contributes two songs (‘Off The Coast Of Me’, ‘My Face’) and four co-writes with ex-Zimmermen members, ‘I Blame You’ (with Chris Langman), ‘The Spoken Word’ (with Chris Malherbe) plus ‘Dark Is The Night’ and ‘Something Good’ (with Michael Holmes). Another Zimmermen alumni, the late Peter Tulloch, is present in spirit with ‘Sentimental’. In addition to that, Bowd proves himself with three engaging songs, ‘Unsolved Mystery’, ‘The Untouchable’ and ‘Oakleigh’. Lastly there are versions of Lowell George’s ‘I’ve Been The One’ and Terence Boylan’s ‘Don’t Blame It On Your Wife’.

And the songs are the key attraction here. Each can draw you in with a finely crafted arrangement, an alluring melody, a delicate mesh of guitar lines or a literate turn of phrase. It’s not all grace and tact, however; when the musicians get wound up they can really rock out and there’s the occasional lyric that reveals a darker side or delivers a slashing cut to the heart. It helps define the natural flow of this splendid album.

In conversation with John Dowler

Congratulations on the album John. How did you come up with such a great sounding record?
It was recorded by Roger Bergodez at Tender Trap Studios, Northcote. Mark McCartney knew Roger and he was terrific and gave us lots of time. He had a really good ear himself and knew what he was doing. We recorded it over a period of about two weeks with the band playing live, complete with the occasional mistake. We did a few overdubs, such as the vocals in an afternoon. We spent a couple of days mixing it and it was done. I’m pretty pleased with the result.

You’re a songwriter in your own right, not necessarily a prolific songwriter, but it seems that you’ve been very generous in sharing around the song credits. Did you consciously pick the tracks on that basis?
When we first started, I didn’t really have any new material so I looked back through various songs I’d written over the years. The ones with Mick Holmes are Zimmermen tracks that probably would have ended up on the third album, if we’d stayed together. And the same for the Peter Tulloch track. Unfortunately Peter died about 10 years ago but I’d always loved that song. I thought it was too good to waste so we started playing that live. Actually, all these songs we were playing live and it just seemed natural to include them. In a way for me it was sort of like a clearing house, I had all these various songs lying around that nothing had ever happened to. And Justin gave me a tape of demos he’d made and those three songs I just thought were great, you know.

You’ve included Lowell George’s ‘I’ve Been The One’; what is it about a band such as Little Feat that you like?
That’s from Little Feat’s first album which is my favourite. I just found that album fascinating. I bought it as an import when it first came out, it was a very idiosyncratic record. I’ve been wanting to do that song since... I came across a folder when I was clearing out the garage a while ago and I had a whole lot of these song lyrics typed up, from 1970, and that was one of the songs. So I’ve actually had it in mind to do that song for 45 years.

The cover art displays the track listing as if it were an LP record, divided into the two sides. What was your approach to that; do you still yearn for the LP record configuration in this digital age?
No, I’m not nostalgic for LP records at all. I’m bemused by the fact that they’ve become fetishistic again, that people have become crazy for vinyl again. I’ve never looked back, once I found CDs. Michael the drummer took care of the CD art and then I had a few ideas that I told him about and he designed that configuration and I thought, well that’s fine. And I’d put all the sort of hard rock, guitar solo songs on the second half and that’s just the way it turned out. I like the look of the package, and if you look closely at the front cover you can see all my CDs behind me anyway.

Do you have any particular favourite tracks on the album?
I think ‘Off The Coast Of Me’ came out really well. And that’s a reasonably old song that I updated a little and we jammed on it and I think it turned out really well. It’s a little bit unusual for me, it’s not the usual power pop or straightforward song. We stretched out on that, it’s quite long. I think a couple of Justin’s songs are really good. ‘Oakleigh’ is a great piece of social commentary; people north of the river talking about people south of the river, you know. ‘The Untouchable’ is good; it seems like it’s a stalking song.

 

Billy Green's Stone soundtrack

Billy Green's Stone soundtrack

More from my Rear View Mirror column, originally posted at addictedtonoise.com (December 2013)

Billy Green - Stone (Original Film Soundtrack)

“One of the most unique Australian film soundtracks ever recorded”

Ian McFarlane

I think I might have a bit of a theme going on with this column at the moment: last month I took a look at the original movie soundtrack to Aussie surf movie Band on the Run; this month it’s the soundtrack to the Aussie biker film Stone.

Written and directed by Sandy Harbutt and originally screened in 1974, Stone was savaged by the critics at the time but was whole heartedly embraced by movie fanatics who liked their exploitation movies to be fast paced, edgy, visceral and anti-establishment. Unlike a lot of exploitation movie making as such, Stone didn’t cater to the lowest common denominator; Harbutt actually cared about his subject matter and knew that like-minded individuals would be able to embrace the concept and empathise with the characters. On a commercial level it was left in a kind of no-man’s land, caught between the new art house hits such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and the ocker comedy capers of Alvin Purple and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie.

Over time Stone became a cult classic (dare I say a seminal example of the genre) and by the 1990s was being embraced by a whole new generation of movie fanatics. In 2008 Mark Hartley featured it prominently in his terrific documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! in which Quentin Tarantino gave his seal of approval (“...Oh my God! What a movie!”). All of a sudden Stone was the biker movie to see, not only in Australia but also on an international level. It’s probably not up there with the likes of Easy Rider as a counter-cultural exemplar, but it sure beats the hell out of American B-grade biker potboilers such as The Wild Angels, The Cycle Savages, The Glory Stompers, She-Devils on Wheels, Hell’s Belles, Hells Angels on Wheels, Chrome and Hot Leather or The Hard Ride. (To say nothing of Werewolves on Wheels!)

The plotline, such as it is, focuses on the Grave Diggers Motorcycle Club, the members of which are being knocked off one by one in some bizarre politically motivated vendetta. Somebody wants them dead and somebody needs to find out why! So undercover cop Stone (played by Ken Shorter) gets sent in but sidles up a little too close to the gang members for their comfort. When they find out his real purpose, the drama reaches a climax and they beat him to a bloody pulp. There’s that great line Stone mumbles through smashed teeth at the end of the film, “No cops! No cops, man!”.

The Australian one-sheet film poster is a classic of the genre, and also boasts one of the great taglines of all time: “Take the Trip!” (Much later on, the tagline was modified to become “Before Mad Max there was Stone”; there’s even a supporting character in Stone called Bad Max.) Another prominent feature of the poster and the movie masthead was the futuristic looking, air-brushed title of Stone itself (designed by comic artist Peter Ledger and rendered by Errol Black), depicted as a snaking chrome exhaust-pipe – iconic movie imagery.

So what of the music? American biker movies tended to feature incidental soundtrack scores by the like of Mike Curb or Davie Allen & the Arrows; also Easy Rider was one of the first movies of the day to feature a soundtrack comprised of contemporary songs by prominent rock bands (including Steppenwolf, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Band). Harbutt wanted something different for Stone, engaging journeyman guitarist Billy Green to compose and produce a dedicated movie score that directly referenced the scenes and characters shown in the movie.

Green was one of the most inventive and distinctive players of the day, having given his talents to Doug Parkinson In Focus, King Harvest, Jerry & the Joy Band and Friends. He set up in TCS Studios, Melbourne with engineer John French and assembled a crack session crew including jazz players Peter Jones (electric piano), Graham Morgan (drums) and Col Loughnan (sax) and rock players such as Barry Sullivan (bass) and Andy Cowan (keyboards). Green also scored a bit part in the movie as a Grave Digger, known as 69, seen several times playing his Yamaha acoustic guitar.

Using all his compositional and instrumental skills Green gave the music cues – ‘Septic’, ‘Undertaker’, ‘Race’, ‘Klaud Kool and the Kats’, ‘The Death of Doctor Death’, ‘Pigs’ etc – great gravitas and a direct connection to the unfolding drama. It’s a composer’s device that serves both to announce various characters and to help put the viewer “in the picture” (known in the trade as mise-en-scène).

With several characters assigned their own musical theme, it reminds me of the way Ennio Morricone created signature themes for characters in the Sergio Leone movies (such as Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West or Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly).

‘Undertaker’ is a laconic bluesy shuffle with electric piano runs set beside Green’s delicate wash of wah-wah guitar lines (similar in feel to the Jimi Hendrix tune ‘Belly Button Window’). ‘Toad’ starts out all driving and electric before evolving into a haunting French horn motif struggling to be heard above Green’s piercing lead guitar drone. ‘The Death of Doctor Death’ starts with a tumble of piano notes then makes use of an eerie electric harpsichord, but rather than being played in the traditional method of fingers on the keys it sounds like someone running a rat’s tail file across the strings.

The minor key ‘Amanda’ features stunning viola and violin soloing over a lurching rhythm. ‘Septic’ utilises a jaunty combination of acoustic guitar, banjo and harp, like some weird Appalachian Mountain hoe-down. Likewise ‘Klaud Kool and the Kats’ is a different kind of country hoe-down utilising crazy rockabilly licks and honky tonk piano; it sure sounds like a diabolical recipe but it’s hugely entertaining into the bargain.

‘Race’, ‘Grave Diggers’ and ‘Stone’ develop into aggressive jazz-fusion instrumentals replete with Green’s coruscating, acid-drenched lead guitar (very much in the Al Di Meola vein), wailing saxes and driving break beats. Drummer Graham Morgan was able to handle the demanding 7/4 rhythm of ‘Stone’ for example with considerable aplomb. Elsewhere the soundtrack features electronic sounds, droning didgeridoo lines melded with woozy Moog synthesizer effects (‘Toadstrip’), ethereal strings and swampy funk-rock rhythms. And who can forget the 44-second grunting / percussive mind-fuck that signifies the ‘Pigs’?

The two actual “songs” (sung by Doug Parkinson) are incredibly powerful with lashings of Green’s flashy guitar work well to the fore. ‘Cosmic Flash’ is certainly progressive with an intriguing coda that features beautiful Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar. Harbutt wrote the lyrics to ‘Cosmic Flash’ by taking inspiration from Sly and the Family Stone but Green rendered it with more of a classic rock vibe. Green and Parkinson had previously been performing ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ (lyrics derived from the Dylan Thomas poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night’) with In Focus. Across the soundtrack everything’s impeccably played – all up a cosmic, psychedelic head trip of the highest order and one of the most unique Australian soundtrack albums ever recorded.

The original Australian LP (on the Warner Bros label) is a great artefact in its own right. The front cover features the Stone insignia on a black background while the back cover displays the Grave Diggers embroided logo of a death’s head skull with slouch hat. Open the gatefold sleeve and there’s the full parade of hundreds of bikers astride Kawasaki 900s, which was taken from the funeral scene shot on the north Sydney freeway.

In 1978 the film was released in Japan and Polydor issued the album for the Japanese market with a different cover (the inner gatefold shot). In 2009, UK specialist reissues label Finders Keepers issued the soundtrack on CD, complete with several additional tracks from the film not found on the original vinyl. A fine addition was a previously unheard version of ‘Do Not Go Gentle (Rage)’ with recitation and vocals by Jeannie Lewis that’s absolutely stunning in its intensity.

Stone (Japanese pressing, 1978)

I can only recommend this soundtrack very highly – get hold of the original vinyl LP (if you can find a copy) or the CD reissue and “Get with Stone!”

Original LP release
Stone – Original Film Soundtrack (Warner Bros. 600,002) 1974
Composed and Produced by Billy Green
Side 1

1. Cosmic Flash (Lyrics: Sandy Harbutt / Music: Billy Green)
2. Septic
3. Undertaker
4. Race
5. Amanda
6. Klaud Kool And The Kats
Side 2
1. Toadstrip
2. Grave Diggers
3. The Death Of Doctor Death
4. Toad
5. Pigs
6. Stone
7. Do Not Go Gentle (Poem: Dylan Thomas/Music: Billy Green)
(All tracks written by Billy Green, except where indicated)

A Hedon Production
Recorded at TCS Studios, Melbourne, April/May 1974
Sound Engineer: John French

BILLY GREEN – Guitars
PETER JONES – Pianos
BARRY SULLIVAN – Bass
GRAHAM MORGAN – Drums
ISABEL MORSE – Violas
ROMANO CRIVICI – Violin
GEOFFREY HALES – Percussion
COL LOUGHNAN – Saxes
JOHN MATTHEWS – Didgeridoo
ANDY COWAN – Moog
JIM CONWAY – Harp
ALEX GRIEVE – French horn
CHARLIE GAULD – Banjo
DOUG PARKINSON – Vocals
Strings for ‘Cosmic Flash’ arranged and conducted by Peter Jones

CD reissue – Finders Keepers FKR031CD (2009)

1. Eco Blue * / Toadstrip
2. Race
3. Head Off *
4. Pigs
5. Cosmic Funeral *
6. Amanda
7. Septic
8. Smoke *
9. Stone
10. Undertaker
11. Grave Diggers
12. Swim *
13. Klaud Kool And The Kats
14. Toad
15. The Death Of Doctor Death
Scene from Stone
16. Hips Rap *
The Songs of Stone
17. Cosmic Flash Song Vocals by Doug Parkinson
18. Do Not Go Gentle (Rage) Vocals by Doug Parkinson
19. Do Not Go Gentle (Rage) * Vocals by Jeannie Lewis
20. Stone Is A Trip – Original Stone Theatrical Trailer *
* Exclusive tracks from the film soundtrack – not available on the original 1974 LP

Flying Circus

Flying Circus

More from my Rear View Mirror column, originally posted at addictedtonoise.com (October 2015)

Flying Circus - Gypsy Road (1973)

Ian McFarlane

  Flying Circus -  Gypsy Road  LP (Australian pressing, 1973)

Flying Circus - Gypsy Road LP (Australian pressing, 1973)

I had read recently about the death of singer / song writer Doug Rowe (June 2015) and it occurred to me that he was a very under-appreciated talent in Australia. Between 1968 and 1974 his band Flying Circus issued a series of finely crafted albums that mixed elements of folk rock, country rock and mainstream rock into a very listenable whole. As well as the jangly guitars and country textures, the band’s wonderful harmonies added the extra texture that helped to distinguish the music from the sounds so prevalent here at the time: progressive rock, boogie rock, heavy blues and glam rock. The New Zealand born Rowe always had other musical genres on his mind.

Locally, other groups such as Country Radio, Axiom, The Dingoes, Albatross and Third Union Band explored similar territory. (You could check out Warner Music’s excellent 2014 compilation Silver Roads for more of the same.) Overseas reference points would be The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Bros, The Dillards, Poco, Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons.

Here in Australia, the band’s albums never charted. That seems to be down to the fact the Flying Circus was seen as a hit singles band. ‘Hayride’, ‘La La’ and ‘Run, Run, Run’ were out-and-out bubblegum pop hits. Fellow NZ guitarist Red McKelvie joined for a time in 1970 and his clean picking technique moved the band in a more purist country direction. By the time Flying Circus issued their more musically advanced albums, listeners were simply confused. Consequently, what hope did such brilliant country rock singles as ‘Turn Away’, ‘Finding My Way’ and ‘Old Enough’ have of chart success?

In order to further their career, Flying Circus relocated to Canada (in 1971) where the music was better appreciated and audiences more receptive. With such obvious international influences and intentions, you could say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery... however, it’s important to remember Flying Circus music never lost that inimitable Australian tang which is hard to define but you know it when you hear it.

With the albums having never been reissued on CD and all but forgotten by the general listening public, it’s time to examine their best work, Gypsy Road (1973).

With Flying Circus established in Canada via constant touring, they started to attract record company attention. EMI Capitol signed the group for a reported $1 million dollar / 10 album deal – which may well be one of those music industry myths because it sounds so implausible; it was certainly unheard of at the time for an untried Australian band on the international stage. I’d like to think it was true but whatever the reality, big things were expected. The record company put them into Toronto’s Thunder Sound Studios with producers Paul Hoffert and Bruce Bell and the result, Gypsy Road, delivered everything the past years had promised.

Warner Bros issued the album in Australia with little fanfare, lifting one single ‘Old Enough’ b/w ‘Train Ride’ to test the waters. The group returned to Australia for a brief tour, which included a spot on stage at Sunbury 1973 but the lukewarm reception did little to bolster their regard for local audiences. Back in Canada, it was a different story. The Canadian release of Gypsy Road was greeted positively and it sold well, with ‘Old Enough (To Break My Heart)’ becoming a Top 10 hit. EMI Capitol also issued the album in the US, with the single ‘Maple Lady’ making the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 100.

The Australian pressing came in a flimsy single sleeve, with an illustration displaying the band’s name on the front cover as white, billowing sky-writing letters set against a blue sky. It was such a cheap affair, however, the printing process had cut off the right hand edge of the illustration which featured the just perceptible image of the skywriter plane as it trailed off from the final letter ‘s’ of Circus, so the effect was probably just more confusion on the part of the customer. Furthermore, the back cover was a straight reprint of the US pressing featuring a particular track sequence (with an additional track) which then didn’t match the revised running order of the local pressing.

The US copy of the album had the sky writer plane present on the front cover illustration but it was still only a single sleeve. The Canadian pressing, however, was an entirely different proposition. As befits the quality of the music, the Canadian cover presented a magnificent, textured gatefold in heavy card, with a colour photo of the band members looking moody and mean as they stared out through yellow / orange flames in the foreground.

Flying Circus - Gypsy Road (Canadian pressing, 1973)

The first thing you notice about the record itself is the wonderfully warm and resonant sonic qualities which allows the music to shine like stars. With song writing chores divided almost evenly between Doug Rowe, Greg Grace and Terry Wilkins the songs are, nevertheless, all vibrant and positive with strong melodies and a consistently commercial potential in place. It’s such a shame this album didn’t reach a wider audience.

‘Old Enough’, ‘Green Patch’ and ‘Train Ride’ are all catchy country rock numbers while ‘Maple Lady’ features a more rollicking, bar band feel. ‘Summer Song’ adds pensive reflection to the country rock mode. ‘Another Winter’s Day’ and ‘Me And You’ are pretty acoustic ballads with the added touches of vibes and cello. The standouts are ‘Thousand Years’, a fantastic country-psych song that wouldn’t have been out of place on The Byrds’ The Notorious Byrd Brothers album, and the glorious ‘Gypsy Road’. Here the Flying Circus take everything that’s great about country and folk rock – jangly guitar lines, close harmony vocals, acoustic rhythm, violin and bond them to a captivating melody and up the rock ante with an amazing fuzz guitar solo. And for the record, the additional song on the US pressing was a throwaway cover of the rock ’n’ roll standard ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll’, which was no great loss when it was left off the local pressing.

Flying Circus managed to issue one more album, Last Laugh, but with six years of hard work bringing relatively meagre rewards and glory, they called it a day. A sad but inevitable end with so much potential left unfulfilled. The various members scattered while Rowe stayed in Toronto to concentrate on his song writing while also setting up a recording studio. No doubt he crossed paths with that other great Australian expatriate song writer, Greg Quill of Country Radio fame.

In the late 1970s, Rowe returned to Australia and joined country rockers Grand Junction for a couple of years. He did some session work during the 1980s and while he continued to play around Bathurst, NSW, most recently with Pig Iron Bob, he inevitably flew under the commercial radar. Maybe that was his choice but he certainly wasn’t idle on the recording front, having issued four solo albums and three with The Woodpickers. I’ve no idea where you’d source these albums but it may well be worth the hunt. And while we’re at it, let’s hope that one day the Flying Circus albums will soar again, in particular the evocative and enticing Gypsy Road.

FLYING CIRCUS

Doug Rowe (Vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, kazoo)
Greg Grace (Vocals, electric guitar, tambourine, kazoo)
Terry Wilkins (Vocals, bass, mandolin, harmonica, kazoo)
Colin Walker (Drums)

Gypsy Road (Warner Bros. WS-20010) 1973

1. Thousand Years (Greg Grace)
2. Green Patch (Greg Grace)
3. Maple Lady (Greg Grace/Doug Rowe)
4. Summer Song (Doug Rowe)
5. Old Enough (Doug Rowe)
6. Gypsy Road (Terry Wilkins)
7. Train Ride (Terry Wilkins)
8. Another Winter’s Day (Doug Rowe)
9. Me And You (Greg Grace)