Company Caine - Doctor Chop (1976)

Company Caine - Doctor Chop (1976)

Company Caine - Doctor Chop (1976)

Company Caine-Dr Chop LP-Front cover.jpg

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.

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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)

Company Caine-Product LP-Front cover.jpg

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.”

Company Caine-Gig poster-1971-LoRes.jpg

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)

Marcus Hook Roll Band-LP cover 2.jpg

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.

Marcus Hook Roll Band-Cant Stand the Heat-German Pic Sleeve 1974.jpg

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!).

detours.jpg

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

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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)

The T.F. Much Ballroom/Much More Ballroom 1970-1972

The T.F. Much Ballroom/Much More Ballroom 1970-1972

This article was originally published in Sounds of the City (Spring 2016/Issue No.2)

A Rock'n'Roll Freak Show - The Story of the T.F. Much Ballroom/Much More Ballroom 1970-1972

By Ian McFarlane

With thanks to Mike Rudd, Rob Mackenzie, Mic Conway and Brecon Walsh

Above: Cathedral Hall, 2016. Pic by Ian McFarlane

Above: Inside Cathedral Hall, 2016. Pic by Ian McFarlane

Above: Inside Cathedral Hall, 1971. Pic by David Porter

Melbourne is a rock’n’roll town. The environment of the rock gig is where musicians and audiences connect over a common goal: entertainment. If one were to attempt to add up or investigate the sheer number of gigs available in Melbourne over the years – discotheques, clubs, cafes, pubs, bars, concert halls, outdoor arenas – the result would be staggering indeed.

One of the iconic gigs of the early 1970s was the infamous T.F. Much Ballroom. The concert event was staged at Cathedral Hall, 20 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, a major bastion of inner-city Melbourne’s burgeoning progressive rock scene. It was started by John Pinder, Peter Andrew and Roxie from the Let It Be booking agency, with the involvement of artist Warren Knight, Bani McSpedden and lighting guru Hugh McSpedden.

To put you in the picture, some of the other popular Melbourne venues circa 1970/71 included the inner-city discos Berties, Sebastians and Mother (aka Thumpin’) Tum, the Q Club (Kew Civic Centre), the Regent Theatre (South Yarra) and all the various Town Hall dances (Melbourne, Box Hill, Camberwell, Beaumaris, St. Kilda, Coburg etc). In addition the pub scene had just opened up with suburban beer barns such as the Southside 6 (Moorabbin), Village Green (Mulgrave), Whitehorse (Nunawading) etc putting on bands almost every night.

Cathedral Hall was a beautiful old ballroom built in 1903. It had a generous floor space, large proscenium style stage, heavy draw curtains, substantial domed windows, ornate ceiling and chandeliers and a dress circle on three sides facing the stage. It would have been used for church functions, also maybe ballroom dancing, classical concerts, theatre events etc. before a new, younger clientele claimed it as their own. The event title of T.F. Much was initialisation for ‘Too Fucking’ Much... a vernacular phrase rooted in the late ’60s/early ’70s hippie movement. The hall itself was owned by the Catholic Church, so when the administrators caught on to the outrageous title the promoters had to come up with an alternative, the Much More Ballroom.

Due to the available floor space as many as 1,500 patrons would attend. You could either sit comfortably cross-legged on the floor and let the music waft over you like great clouds of marijuana smoke or dance wildly up the front with little inhibition. The very first T.F. Much Ballroom event took place on Saturday 8 August 1970. The bill featured Spectrum, Jeff Crozier’s Indian Medicine Magik Show, Lipp Arthur, Adderley Smith Blues Band, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Gerry Humphreys and the Joy Band, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Margret RoadKnight, Flash Light Show and the Tribe Theatre. In addition there was a space set aside for a flea market where stall holders sold macrobiotic food and hippie clothing.

Above: Advert for the first T.F. Much Ballroom concert (8 August 1970)

The second concert, in early September, featured Spectrum, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Lotus, Lipp Arthur and Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, followed in late October with Spectrum, Chain, King Harvest, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Lipp Arthur and Ross Wilson’s new band Daddy Cool playing a benefit for Melbourne drug rehabilitation clinic Buoyancy Foundation.

In between was the 1970 Cultural Fair and Freak Show (Show Day, Thursday 24 September) with the all day festivities featuring Spectrum, Lipp Arthur, Carson, Bulldog and Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. The gig flyer also boasted “Magicians! Strong Man! Clowns! Freaks! Brass Band! Sideshows! Stalls! Novelty Acts! Art, Photography Displays! Stunts! Happenings! Everything! Bring the Kids!”.

In other words it was a total environmental happening, bringing together music, art, light shows, circus and vaudeville acts and the like into an immersive setting. Audience members were encouraged to feel a part of the entertainment rather than shunted aside or being treated as apart from the action.

Perhaps inspired by the psychedelic San Francisco Ballrooms of the late 1960s – the Matrix, the Avalon, the Fillmore etc – or even such English events as the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, the T. F. Much Ballroom, along with the Vietnam War moratorium concerts (which Spectrum also played) and the various rock festivals of the day, was a clear statement of the emergent counterculture.

The T.F. Much Ballroom had run its course by December 1970. John Pinder at Let It Be was organising the Launching Place festival, to be held on New Year’s Eve. Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Spectrum, Daddy Cool, Healing Force, Wendy Saddington, King Harvest and Jeff Crozier had been booked to appear but the event was a disaster. Only a couple of thousand people showed up and it rained most of the time. Spectrum’s Mike Rudd remembers spending the night sitting in a car as the rain pelted down. (The same disaster had struck the original Launching Place festival, The Miracle, held over the Easter weekend March 1970.)

As something of a consolation for the New Year’s Eve disaster, Pinder staged a unique concert, on 6 February 1971, under the Big Top at Burnley Oval for the T.F. Much Rock Circus. Spectrum, Daddy Cool, King Harvest, Jeff Crozier and Lipp Arthur played, with Ashton’s Circus clowns and high flying acts appearing between the rock bands. It was possibly the first of its type in the world. T.F. Much Rock Circus #2 followed on 29 May (McCallum Park) with Spectrum, Daddy Cool, Superman and SSARB.

Towards the end of 1971 Pinder and Bani McSpedden revived the Cathedral Hall concerts as the Much More Ballroom. The first concert under the banner of Much More Ballroom (Misère, Thursday 18 November) featured Spectrum launching their double album, Milesago, supported by Indelible Murtceps and Tribe Theatre with Edison Lights.

Pinder then booked the hall for the next year and the Much More Ballroom proper got underway (4 December 1971 – “Only $1.00 to get in!”) with Chain, Gerry and the Joy Band, Carson, Lipp and the Double Decker Brothers, Indelible Murtceps, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and MacKenzie Theory. The last Much More Ballroom (9 December 1972) featured Spectrum, Murtceps, Captain Matchbox, Miss Universe and Gary Young and Hot Dog

Above: Advert for the first Much More Ballroom concert, 4 December 1971

Every Much More Ballroom concert was presented via a theme. For example:
•    5 February 1972 - Company Caine presenting A Stone Of Class Distinction with Lipp and the Double Decker Brothers, MacKenzie Theory
•    11 March - Bizarre Bazaar with Friends, MacKenzie Theory, Captain Matchbox, Sundown, John Graham
•    1 April - April Fool’s Night with Indelible Murtceps, Lipp and the Double Decker Brothers, The First National Jug Orchestra (featuring Mic Conway and the After Dinner Moose aka Peter Lillie), MacKenzie Theory, Captain Matchbox
•    29 April - Rock & Roll Revue with Friends, Gerry and the Joy Band, Country Radio, It Flew Away
•    27 May - 1/2 Birthday Party with Carson, Company Caine, MacKenzie Theory, Captain Matchbox
•    10 June - Folk with Captain Matchbox, Margret RoadKnight, Graham Lowndes, John Graham, Paul Brand, Carrl & Janie Myriad
•    24 June - 23" Box Show with Daddy Cool, MacKenzie Theory, Lipp and the Double Decker Brothers, Country Radio
•    8 July - “Blue Movies Made Me Cry” with Spectrum, Indelible Murtceps
•    22 July - Sydney Live on Stage with Tamam Shud, Friends, Sun, Lizard, Graham Lowndes
•    13 August - The Last Drive-In Movie Show featuring Daddy Cool playing their final concert (recorded for the album Daddy Cool Live! The Last Drive-In Movie Show), MacKenzie Theory, Rock Granite and the Profiles, Graham Lowndes
•    16 September - The Amazing Horse Opera with Indelible Murtceps, Captain Matchbox, Miss Universe, Langford Lever
•    14 October - Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with Company Caine, MacKenzie Theory, Battersea Heroes, John Graham and Blackspur
•    11 November - Bathroom Show with Carson, Madder Lake, Indelible (listed as Insoluble) Murtceps, Pirana
•    25 November - Ballot Box with Country Radio, La De Das, MacKenzie Theory, Battersea Heroes

Writer Jenny Brown reviewed the 24 June gig for Planet magazine, reporting that:

“Even David N. Pepperell had a bonza time at the Much More 23" Box Show last Saturday night. Oh how we danced to Daddy Cool until our legs almost collapsed at the knees. The Planet gang was all there; together we got excited, bored, paranoid, exhilarated, exhausted. We drank the orange juice, made fools of ourselves, ignored the macro food, said hello to all our pals and savoured the music.

“Even David N. Pepperell cottoned on to MacKenzie Theory (which is far out – he only likes about eight bands in the world). They were ultraviolet as usual – the kind of sound you’d hear when listening to the internal organs of the moon – changing rhythms, expanding fluids, living machinery.”

The Much More Ballroom as a concert event was over by December 1972. Further concerts were held at Cathedral Hall into 1973 under different guises – MacKenzie Theory headlined in July, launching the album Out of the Blue, supported by The Dingoes, Burton McGuire Kennedy and Alta Mira – but it was the end of an era.

Among other locations (Carlton for example) the Melbourne counterculture epicentre eventually moved over to Ormond Hall, Prahran, where promoter Mike ‘Fastbuck’ Roberts staged his Reefer Cabaret concerts from late 1974 and throughout 1975. The Reefer Cabaret hosted the next generation of Melbourne bands, Renée Geyer and Sanctuary, Ariel, Madder Lake, The Dingoes, Skyhooks, Ayers Rock, Pantha, The Pelaco Bros and Toads, as well as old troopers Daddy Cool and Captain Matchbox. But that’s another story...

Above: Advert for the last Much More Ballroom concert, 9 December 1972

The band names that loom largest in the story of the T.F. Much/Much More Ballroom are Spectrum, MacKenzie Theory and the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band.

Mic Conway of Captain Matchbox recalls their involvement:

“We played jug band music and had started out on the folk scene. So then because the music was jazz related we started getting gigs in the jazz scene, which 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, 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. We were art students just having a great time.”

Mike Rudd of Spectrum has some strong memories.

“I have a fairly romantic memory of the first T.F. Much Ballroom concert. The Let It Be agency, which booked us, was a melding of a rock and roll agency and artistic agents, or people who represented the artist community. That’s where Warren Knight’s involvement came into it. So they wanted to create this gig that was a mix of music and community things as well as artistic things. For the first concert they set up a plastic, inflatable vulva through the door so you had to be re-birthed on the way in, which I thought was great. Then John Pinder had invited Mr Ball Bearing and some of his cohorts, on their choppers, to ride into the hall and then do moshpit diving before it was even a concept.

“But of course, the rest of the people, the flower children that were in the hall, were terrified by this whole thing and the artistic implications were lost. It did get a bit out of hand and Mr Ball Bearing had to intervene and curtail some his more enthusiastic guys who were jumping off the stage onto broken glass. That was getting a wee bit too grotesque for the flower children cowering in the centre of the room. So the artistic motif was the original spirit of the T.F. Much gigs, but that gave way to the more music-centric gigs of the Much More Ballroom concerts.

“It was a very well run venue. The acoustics in the hall weren’t that great, as I recall, but at the volume we were playing in those days it wasn’t too much of a problem. Spectrum actually put on our own gigs there as well. The Misère concert was ours and I guess we would have been supported by Indelible Murtceps. So that was very thematic, we had big playing cards hanging from the walls to keep up with the Misère theme. We had the comedian Max Gillies reading out a bizarre poem that I’d written, dressed as I required him to be in an evening suit but minus the trousers. So he had spotty underwear with suspenders on and so forth, and he read this poem.

“Hugh McSpedden’s light show, the Giant Edison Screw, was a show in itself. Just setting up took an inordinate amount of time. The Edison Screw was very Edison like, it had projectors and wheels, all sorts of things. There would be light projections on the stage and all around the stage as well, static projections, moving oil projections, liquid lights. You could actually stick your finger on the cells and create patterns. He had it all. It was a big part of the show.

“I’m not sure they were trying to replicate the San Francisco ballrooms but I think it probably had the same result with the light show and the loud music, definitely a very hippie feel about it. And Roxie was American anyway, and John Pinder may have been exploring that side of it, I’m not really sure. But the smell of patchouli oil, I cannot forget that. Patchouli oil drowned out everything. It was all pervasive!”

Above: Rob Mackenzie and Cleis Pearce of MacKenzie Theory, 1972. Pic courtesy of Brecon Walsh

MacKenzie Theory played their debut gig at the Much More Ballroom in December 1971. They went on to be the biggest drawing band, even though they were never the headliners. Bani McSpedden was quoted at the time as saying that “the only time the concerts sold out was when MacKenzie Theory were on the bill”.

Rob Mackenzie of MacKenzie Theory recalls that it was the best run venue in the day.

“We loved playing there, we’d get psyched up backstage before we played. We’d get together and look at the crowd and we’d feel the vibe about what they wanted to hear, not meaning ‘oh they want to hear the latest Archies song, let’s play that’, I don’t mean that, but something on a deeper musical level.

“One of the most important things was that the stage had a curtain and they used it. When a band finished playing they’d close the curtain and it had a little area at the front of the stage which was plenty of room for someone to come out and tell jokes, or a solo artist would come out and sing, or the Leaping McSpeddens could do their crazy, wacky stuff. So between every band the audience never had to watch the roadies change over the stage, it all happened behind the curtains. The curtains closed just in front of the amps so that when they opened you walked out in front and you had the whole stage to yourself, you weren’t way back and it was just beautifully done. It was beautifully stage managed, they really knew how to run a great venue.

“Hugh McSpedden was the best lighting guy in Melbourne, he did the lights for all the Much More shows. He even did the light show for our record, he brought his gear down to T.C.S. and set up when we recorded our one-day album, Out of the Blue.

“I don’t know that they were necessarily trying to copy places like the Fillmore. If they were copying it they probably succeeded very well, and I reckon they probably did a better job. Besides, the Much More Ballroom was a bigger venue, it held twice as many people as the Fillmore which was only 600 or 800 capacity. The Much More Ballroom was a fabulously run venue, the vibe in the place was so good, there were so many cool things happening all the time. The Ballroom was very influential and after it closed other people tried to copy it.”

Photographer Brecon Walsh remembers the camaraderie and sheer bliss of the concert environment.

“I remember one time talking with Rob Mackenzie, Jen Jewel Brown and Renée Geyer. We were standing in the hall and Peter Lillie was over to the left hanging there looking like a hippie aristocrat/early Roxy Music Eno. Renée was there with her first band, Sun, and she would have been 19, if that then. I recall that The Mothers Live at The Fillmore East was playing over the PA with Zappa’s ‘Latex Solar Beef’ or ‘The Mud Shark’ blasting out.”

It seems that the only film footage of the Ballroom was captured by director Peter Weir in his 1972, 10-minute short 3 Directions in Australian Pop-Music. It was filmed at the Much More Ballroom as part of the Commonwealth Film Unit’s Australian Colour Diary series (#43).

Captain Matchbox perform a breakneck rendition of ‘Who Walks in When I Walk Out’, much to the audience’s delight. Interestingly, Mic Conway is playing his bespoke Captain Matchbox washboard which was an integral part of his stage persona. Indelible Murtceps perform ‘Play a Song that I Know’ which was one of their more danceable numbers.

Wendy Saddington performs a gorgeous rendition of cult US folk singer Sixto Rodriguez’s ‘I Think of You’. Her visual appearance is striking, with introspective, theatrical clown make-up, cropped hair and black/white costume. She’s accompanied by performance artist Morris Spinetti (aka Teardrop) and a 3-piece backing band, comprising ex-Copperwine guys Ross East (guitar) and Peter Figures (drums) with Tim Partridge on bass.

3 Directions in Australian Pop-Music was issued on DVD as part of the Peter Weir Short Film Collection in 2005.

 

Some Lonesome Picker - Greg Quill Tribute

Some Lonesome Picker - Greg Quill Tribute

Originally published in Sounds of the City (Spring 2016/Issue No. 2)

Some Lonesome Picker - Greg Quill Tribute

Ian McFarlane

The time I learned that being friends was knowing that a promise ends, when fancy takes to her wings again” (‘Observations’ by Greg Quill)

The elegiac sense of belonging and knowing in that simple lyric line may hold a deeper meaning. The true value of good friendship can be in transcending flights of fancy. Guitarist, songwriter, producer KERRYN TOLHURST knows the value of good friendship and he’s now made his friend and musical companion GREG QUILL the subject of a lovingly assembled tribute album Some Lonesome Picker.

Quill and Tolhurst first worked together in Country Radio back in 1972, scoring hits with ‘Gypsy Queen’ and ‘Wintersong’ two of the most enduring songs of the era. Although they had many musical adventures apart they next recorded together as Quill Tolhurst, issuing the album So Rudely Interrupted in 2003. Over a period of 40 years Tolhurst has pursued his own successful career, after Country Radio with The Dingoes in the 1970s, setting up his Locomo studios in Tucson, Arizona, producing artists such as Jeff Lang, Cyndi Boste and Chris Wilson and now back in Melbourne with his Holy Mackerel Band at the Albert Park Angling Club.

When Greg Quill died suddenly back in May 2013, Tolhurst knew he had to honour his friend. He started with the songs and a wish list of artists.

“After Greg died I went back through his catalogue of songs,” he explained recently. “I chose the songs I thought represented him the best as a package. Then I made a wish list of those people who I thought might like to sing those songs. I matched up the songs with the artist who I figured would be suitable and contacted them and lo and behold they all agreed. (Laughs) I thought that might be the biggest obstacle, fighting over which song they wanted. They were gentlemen about it.”

With singers the calibre of Paul Kelly, Ross Wilson, Shane Howard, Joe Camilleri, Richard Clapton, Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris and Broderick Smith on board the process of recording was underway. Paul Kelly and The Pigram Brothers’ version of ‘Gypsy Queen’ is clearly a touchstone, a much sparser and natural retelling of the original, highly produced Country Radio hit.

“I’d asked Paul to do ‘Gypsy Queen’ which he was very happy about. He’d gone on a trip up to Broome and I got a recording sent to me from Alan Pigram. They’d been sitting around the back porch at Alan’s place and they’d come up with this version and I thought ‘wow, what a great approach, that’s fantastic’. A few months later The Pigram Brothers were down here for the Melbourne Cup, doing a concert, and Paul was here at the same time and so I hooked them up in the studio and we just did it live like they did on the back porch, so that’s what we got. We’d even had strings on the original Country Radio version so it just shows how songs travel over time.”

One of the great skills of being a producer is knowing how to treat the songs and what works best for the performance. For example, Tolhurst embellished ‘Terry’s Tune’ (Shane Howard), ‘Last Time Around’ (Russell Morris) and ‘Observations’ (Kevin Bennett) with fiddle, while on ‘Wintersong’ (Joe Camilleri) and ‘Almost Freedom’ (Richard Clapton) he used pedal steel and on ‘Fleetwood Plain’ (Broderick Smith) it was accordion.

“I like to treat each of the songs individually and give them their own character. I guess that’s where I come from when I produce a record, I don’t like wallpaper production where every song sounds the same, that sounds lazy to me. Because it was different artists as well I wanted something that fitted the character of those artists as well as the songs. And I took a bit of liberty with the arrangement for ‘Observations’. I’d always loved that song and it just occurred to me to do it in an uptempo way rather than the plodding, kind of ponderous ballad that it was. It just seemed to fit together just nicely. And Greg Field, the fiddle player, really made that come alive.”

On the surface Ross Wilson might not seem a natural choice for the lead off track, ‘Just Goodbye’, but he helms this magnificent song in fine style. It sees the backing band in full country rock mode, à la The Byrds or The Band. And once again it just highlights the qualities of a good song.

“Yes, that’s one of Greg’s earliest songs, from his first album. And Country Radio used to do gigs with Daddy Cool back then. I remember a memorable one at Monash University, that was chaos. Anyway, so that song came from the first album and it had 12-string and Greg always loved Roger McGuinn and The Byrds and I wanted to give it that vibe. Ross was into that and he’d also been a Byrds fan as well. We talked about it and came up with that arrangement. Also that song features Ross Hannaford on guitar which was definitely his last recording with Ross Wilson.

“Greg and I had bonded together over songs, I think we came to the same point at the same time. When I met Greg we were both hugely influenced by The Band, The Byrds, and the whole singer songwriter thing coming out of America at the time. John Stewart was one of Greg’s biggest influences. I think Greg was the first to emerge here, from the folk scene, and to start writing songs on that level, on introspection and observation. He was definitely a pioneer in this country. And that’s why I wanted to included guys like Glenn Cardier and Mike McClellan. They were contemporaries of Greg’s from the same scene, so it seemed appropriate to have them on it.”

I wondered if he had considered asking someone like Kasey Chambers?

“Yes, some people have mentioned that there are no women on the album, making it a bit of a boys club, but there were no women around doing that stuff at the time. That didn’t happen until a generation later, when our daughters started doing that, the late 1980s, early 90s. There are lots of them now. And I did ask both Kasey and Renée Geyer – and Renée had been a dear friend of Greg’s at the time – but both felt the music wasn’t part of who they were.”

For this writer, the best song is saved for last, Broderick Smith doing an astonishing version of ‘Fleetwood Plain’. If you didn’t know it was a Greg Quill song you might have said it was a folk song from the 19th century.

“Right, well I picked that because it was the title of his first album, one of the first songs he ever wrote and it certainly has that strange, mythical quality about it that’s timeless.”

 

Jeff Duff

Jeff Duff

Originally published in Sounds of the City (Winter 2016/Issue No. 1)

Jeff Duff - This will explain everything (Melbourne Books, 2016)

Review by Ian McFarlane

It’s 1975 and renowned Melbourne jazz rock combo Kush are performing at a fancy dress ball for students of Ballarat Art College in rural Victoria. In honour of the outrageous decadence that the art ball promises, flamboyant, androgynous front man JEFF DUFF unveils an even more outrageous costume: a one-piece leotard with added rubber bosoms and a sex doll’s face strategically placed over his crotch. Ever the prankster, Duff has also concealed a 10-inch, flesh-coloured rubber hose in the doll’s open mouth which he whips out at the climax of ‘I’m Your Football Kick Me, I’m Your Ice Cream Lick Me’. It was all in the name of theatrical expressiveness, right?

Unfortunately, not everyone got the joke. Several young ladies were so offended by the real or imagined body part that they called the police who promptly hauled the bemused Duff off-stage. Duff was summoned to Ballarat Civic Courthouse in front of Judge Nolan, where he pleaded “but your Honour, it wasn’t my penis...”. Following the rather comical court case replete with Keystone Cops styled testimony, the packed gallery applauding and chanting “Duffo! Duffo!”, the singer yelling “Not guilty!”, the judge pounding the desk with his gavel, “Order, order in the court!”, Jeff Duff was charged with offensive behaviour, fined $60 and ordered to perform a charity concert (sans offending rubber hose, one assumes).

This is just the hysterical opening chapter to Jeff Duff’s wonderful new memoir, This will explain everything. It sets the reader up for a stimulating reading experience. In Duff’s inimitable fashion and words he brings all the highs and lows, the pain and excitement to the story of his extraordinary life.

Following a successful career fronting Kush, Duff relocated to London in 1978 where he developed the waif-like, alter-ego persona Duffo, cladding himself in cling-wrap and attaching large rubber ears to his head. He sang his songs, such as ‘Gimme Me Back Me Brain’ and ‘Tower of Madness’, in a pronounced strine accent which only served to heighten the satirical nature of his presentation. Duffo fitted in with the weirder end of the New Wave scale, a crazy mixture of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band silliness, The Tubes over the top theatricality, Pythonesque humour and Bowie glam rock gone bonkers. Some of the British music public and media got the joke (such as Anne Nightingale, presenter of BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test) but most didn’t. At least the British were willing to embrace Duffo’s eccentricities for what they were – just a unique performer expressing himself in a truly individual manner.

I consider the charismatic and ever stylish Jeff Duff to be one of Australian music’s great treasures. He’s an exhibitionist of the highest order, no doubt about that, but he backs it up with one of the finest voices in the country. A classically trained baritone voice with rich tenor leanings and a natural vibrato, the guy can sing anything and everything. Kush’s 1974 recording of Jimmy Webb’s epic, and vocally challenging ‘MacArthur Park’ is the best rendition ever recorded (check it out) even outstripping Richard Harris’ original 1968 hit. Duff has nominated his favourite singers as David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and, most importantly, the great Scott Walker, so you get an idea of how far the man himself has been willing to push his gift. It’s worth mentioning that Duff has issued 25 albums and numerous singles, either solo or with a range of bands from Kush and the Jeff Duff Orchestra to Jeff Duff and the Prophets and the Alien Sex Gods.

This will explain everything doesn’t just focus on his successes; Duff is willing to describe the downs as well as the ups of his life. Although he is assuredly heterosexual, throughout his life Duff has had to contend with people’s perception of his sexuality – is he or isn’t he? For example, he tells of being threatened at knife-point by a burly wharfie type wanting to have his wicked way with him in a toilet cubical in a gay club in Paris. In the late 1980s, he was severely beaten by a gang of gay-bashing thugs in Kings Cross. He had to have surgery to re-attach his badly dislocated shoulder. There’s a heart wrenching chapter where he describes his despair and attempted suicide following the collapse of the relationship with the love of his life, Tawny.

Duff’s writing style is fast paced, generally well measured and easy to read, making for a page-turner of a book. It’s not all ideal, however, because amid all the light-hearted prose he can tend to get overly profuse and long winded in certain passages which detracts slightly from the value of the story. Likewise, his sense of chronological time is somewhat fluid and in some sections he tends to jump around in an illogical fashion. He probably could have done with a diligent editor who was willing to rein in his occasional excessive delivery. (Apparently, two of the more explicit chapters were excised from the final book and are accessible to read at the publisher’s web site.)

Of course, that’s just nit-picking isn’t it... because overall this a fabulous encounter. And as an artifact in itself, the book is a thing of beauty. The attractive hardback cover is presented in gold foil with pink end-papers, while the pages are of high quality white paper stock. Congratulations to Melbourne Books for willing to go the extra distance with the production costs. And to cite the 1980 Andy Warhol quote displayed on the back cover, “Sinatra, Presley, Jagger, Popeye and now Duffo”.

 

Daevid Allen

Daevid Allen

Originally posted at addictedtonoise.com (March 2015)

Vale Daevid Allen (13 January 1938-13 March 2015)

Ian McFarlane

DAEVID ALLEN – Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977)

DAEVID ALLENAustralia Aquaria / She (1990)

Australian poet, guitarist, singer and composer DAEVID ALLEN (born Christopher David Allen, in Melbourne) has died at the age of 77. As well as having adopted his stage name of Daevid Allen by the early 1960s, he often utilised a range of alias such as Bert Camembert, Dingo Virgin, Divided Alien, Dingbat Alien, Daffyd Allen etc. One might say he was a mischievous musical wizard with a wildly eccentric yet charismatic disposition.

Certainly during the 1960s and 1970s, Allen was one of the most respected rock/avant-garde/jazz musicians working on the UK and European scene. His work with the original Soft Machine and Gong is still highly regarded by aficionados, yet in Australia he remains a relatively unknown cult figure.

Beatnik poet and musician Allen left Australia in 1960 to travel around Europe. You could put him in the same category as the likes of Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer, Martin Sharp, Richard Neville, Clive James, larger than life personalities who ventured into the wider world because Australia was unable to nurture their talents. While in Paris he came into contact with the likes of poets Allen Ginsberg and Robert Graves, plus novelist William S. Burroughs. He provided the music for a theatrical dramatisation of Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded.

By 1963 Allen was living in the UK where he started playing with a group of Canterbury musicians which eventually led to the formation of The Soft Machine in 1966. Being an experimentalist of some note already, Allen brought the influence of Terry Riley (free-form improvisation and tape-loops) into the band. The Soft Machine was named after the Burroughs’ novel (part of The Nova Trilogy) and Allen is credited with contacting the author to obtain permission for its use. The band was at the forefront of the British psychedelic movement alongside Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Tomorrow and Dantalion’s Chariot.

Allen recorded only one single with The Soft Machine, ‘Love Makes Sweet Music’ b/w ‘Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin’’ (February 1967). Demos recorded around this time, for impresario Giorgio Gomelsky, eventually appeared in the 1970s under a ridiculous variety of titles in different territories: Faces and Places Vol. 7, Jet-Propelled Photographs, At The Beginning, Memories, Soft Machine 1967 Demos and simply Soft Machine.

Following the band’s temporary move to France in late 1967, Allen was refused re-entry into England (due to an expired visa and appearance deficiencies apparently!) and Soft Machine continued as a three piece unit. In Paris, Allen set up a community of musicians that included his partner Gilli Smyth and by 1969 had formed Gong and started recording albums for the French label BYG.

Gong’s music mixed space rock and psychedelia with avant-experimentation and hippie philosophy. In England, Gong became popular on the festival circuit (alongside Hawkwind, Pink Fairies, Skin Alley, Mighty Baby, Global Village Trucking Company etc.) and recorded the landmark Radio Gnome Invisible album trilogy for Virgin Records (The Flying Teapot, Angels Egg and You). The trilogy was full of eccentric detail, goofy interludes and sonic space jams, revolving around Allen’s tale of Zero the Hero and The Pot Headed Pixies from the Planet Gong. Very trippy stuff!!

Allen left Gong in 1974 and recorded a series of well-received solo albums. He returned to Australia in 1984 and teamed up with David Tolley (ex-Tolley and Dara) as The Ex. That collaboration resulted in the Don’t Stop mini-album.

While in Australia, Allen also continued his pursuit of esoteric wisdom by working on Drones, training as a ‘Conscious Connected Breath’ therapist and organising Healing Festivals to put his various themes of self-advancement into communal practice. In January 1988 he returned to the UK, re-formed Gong, initially as Gongmaison, touring and recording a series of new albums.

Trying to unravel the details of Allen’s discography post-Soft Machine is a bewildering task. Essentially, the early Gong recorded six studio albums (1970-1974) followed by another four studio albums (1992, then 2003-2014), to say nothing of the multiple live / archival releases and compilation albums. Then there are all the various albums issued by Gong offshoot bands he was involved with: Planet Gong, New York Gong, Gongmaison, Mother Gong and Acid Mothers Gong.

On top of that he issued something in the vicinity of 30 solo or collaborative albums, and again numerous live / archival releases and compilations have appeared. Even the likes of The History And Mystery Of Gong (2000) and The Man From Gong: The Best Of Daevid Allen (2006) really only scratch the surface of his enveloping career.

Likewise, this barely touches the depths of his work but here are two of his solo albums with which I’m most familiar.

Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977)

Following the crazy electric space rock of Gong, Allen went acoustic for his next couple of solo albums. Utilising the services of Majorcan band Euterpe, Good Morning! (1976) was a pleasant mix of contemplation and whimsy. Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life is where this combination works best, with world music, psych folk and ambient elements allied to Allen’s thought provoking, occasionally bitter lyrics. Mostly recorded on TEAC 4-track at Allen’s Bananamoon Observatory, Deià, Majorca, Spain, it all provides an intimate setting.

Allen reprises the story of Zero the Hero here and while his nasally vocals don’t always hit the mark in such a setting, it’s the instrumental backing that holds the key. As well as Allen’s acoustic guitar there’s flamenco guitar (Juan Biblioni and Pepsi Milan from Euterpe), violin (Xavier Riba, Ramón Farran, Vera Violin), tabla (Sam Gopal), mellow synth (Victor Peraino) and stringed harp (Marianne Oberascher de Soller). Of the songs, the highlights include the heartbreaking, minor key ‘Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do?’, the 11-minute soundscape ‘I Am’ – in which Allen’s glissando guitar weaves in and around de Soller’s exquisite harp like a gentle breeze on a summer’s day – and the gloriously uplifting ‘Deya Goddess’.

The angry, spoken word discourse ‘Poet For Sale’ is Allen almost at his wit’s end but fortunately he has the good sense not to dwell on the consequences. Nevertheless, he thought enough of the piece to issue it as the B-side to the 1978 Planet Gong single ‘Opium For The People’. Perhaps the oddest moment is ‘Tally & Orlando Meet The Cockpot Pixie’, in which Allen relates the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy as a fairytale to his two children, Taliesin and Orlando.

Australia Aquaria / She (1990)

Thirteen years on and Australia Aquaria / She was a vastly different proposition. The first thing you notice is that astonishing collage (by Lindsay Buckland) on the front cover: a Cyclopean aboriginal man with an intense stare in that one menacing eye. In contrast, the music on the album is richly melodic, focusing on mood and texture, sometimes ethereal, sometimes vigorous, often majestic. Recorded at Foel Studios, Powys, Wales, August-October 1989, it’s mostly keyboard dominated, as played by producer Harry Williamson, although additional instrumentation is essential to the musical flow. And Allen is in particularly fine voice here.

It’s an album of two halves: the first three tracks – ‘Gaia’, ‘Peaceful Warrior’ and ‘Australia Aquaria’ – are Allen’s ode to his birth country. He sings the lyrics in a pronounced strine accent which adds to the intent of the work. The gentle ‘Gaia’ (“Gaia, Gaia, great Mother of mountain and valley”) is particularly poignant. The final lines are: “Just as earth goes as birth, so like birds we could fly / She will make us immortal by taking us back when we die”.

‘Peaceful Warrior’ is actually more forceful than the title might suggest; Allen breaks out the electric guitar and builds the mood from quiet beginning to rousing finale backed by Rob George’s pounding drums.

The epic ‘Australia Aquaria’ is a significant work, a very tasty dish indeed. “I love Australia, land of our dreams, I see her there / The Dreamtime legends tell how many millions of years ago, when the Planet Earth was forming / Australia was the birthplace of the very first race of men”. Allen goes on to posit that a “brother from another planet” comes down to see this Garden of Eden before we lost our way. Keyboards, acoustic guitar, various percussion (Rob George and Marcus Ozric) and backing vocals (Jacki Dankworth, Jenni Rodger, Julie Wareing) help intensify the flavour while Bart Willoughby (from No Fixed Address) provides another key ingredient in didgeridoo.

‘She’ is a gentle love song, based around acoustic guitar, Graham Clark’s violin and Dankworth’s backing vocals. ‘Slave Queen’ is probably the most unusual track here, with a funky rhythm section – Conrad Henderson on popping bass – and Rob Calvert’s soaring tenor sax. Then it’s back to ambient textures with the 10-minute ‘Voice of OM’. It’s a shame this album was overlooked on its release because it’s Daevid Allen’s most Australian work in tone and content.

DAEVID ALLEN – Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977)
1. Flamenco Zero 1:46
2. Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do? 6:51
3. Tally & Orlando Meet The Cockpot Pixie 3:15
4. See You On The Moontower 5:41
5. Poet For Sale 3:28
6. Crocodile Nonsense Poem (aka Nonsense Rap) 0:59
7. Only Make Love If You Want To (aka Lady Dear Lady) 5:37
8. I Am 11:10
9. Deya Goddess 6:45
All tracks written by Daevid Allen, except Flamenco Zero by Juan Biblioni

DAEVID ALLEN – Australia Aquaria / She (1990)
1. Gaia (D. Allen/H. Williamson) 4:43
2. Peaceful Warrior (D. Allen) 5:34
3. Australia Aquaria (D. Allen/H. Williamson) 14:42
4. She (D. Allen/G. Clarke/H. Williamson) 7:26
5. Slave Queen (D. Allen) 8:06
6. Voice of OM (E. Romain/J. Saraswati) 9:55

 

Tim Gaze Band

Tim Gaze Band

Originally posted at addictedtonoise.com (October 2013)

The Tim Gaze Band - Band on the Run: Music from the Soundtrack of the Film

Ian McFarlane

By the time he was 21 years old, guitarist TIM GAZE had played on four of the most feted of all Australian progressive albums from the early 1970s – Tamam Shud’s Goolutionites and the Real People (1970), Kahvas Jute’s Wide Open (1971), the Morning of the Earth soundtrack (1972) and Ariel’s A Strange Fantastic Dream (1973). A guitar prodigy of exacting technique and energy, he was also a capable songwriter and contributed a number of quality songs to the albums.

Following his departure from Ariel in April 1974, he played on Renee Geyer’s It’s a Man’s Man’s World (1974) and toured with Stevie Wright and the All Stars for six months. He then spent a couple of years trying to get a number of different bands off the ground – Dayride, Tim Gaze Rock Ensemble – finally getting his dream outfit, the Tim Gaze Band, together in 1977. The line-up comprised Gaze, Peter Bolton (keyboards), Harry Curtis (bass) and Robbie France-Shaw (drums), a very proficient and skilled combo capable of playing in a variety of rock styles. Later on he added Suzanne Petersen (vocals, guitars, flute, piano) and Annette Henery (vocals, percussion) to the line-up.

In 1979, film-maker Harry Hodge approached Gaze with the idea of composing the soundtrack to his latest surfing documentary, Band on the Run. The film followed champion surfers Paul Neilsen, Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, Bruce Raymond and Brian Cregan as they went in search of the “perfect wave”. Indeed, the tagline for the film was “The world was their stage, the ocean their playground”. The water photography was by the acclaimed Dick Hoole / Jack McCoy team who had made their own films such as Tubular Swells (1976).

Surfing and rock music made a powerful and enticing combination that had proliferated since the early 1960s, and in Australia we’d already seen the likes of The Hot Generation (1967), Evolution (1969), Sea of Joy (1971), Morning of the Earth (1972), Crystal Voyager (1973), Drouyn (1974) and Highway One (1976) feature tremendous soundtracks of Aussie rock music. Possibly because of his contribution to Morning of the Earth, Gaze seemed like the logical candidate for the job.

The band worked quickly, laying down a dozen demos (known by the band as the “first wave”) in order to get approval for the “real” recording process (the “second wave”). Of the final ten songs recorded, eight were earmarked for the Band on the Run soundtrack album: ‘Give Me Life’, ‘Oceans’, ‘Beautiful Lady’, ‘Lazy Day Fever’, ‘Brothers and Sisters’, ‘Paradise’, ‘Looking for Answers’ and ‘End Theme’.

By 1980, things were well advanced but it was at this point that things also started to get complicated. Apparently, roots rock singer / guitarist J.J. Cale and his producer Audie Ashworth expressed an interest in contributing to the soundtrack album with a tie-in to issue the record in the US on Cale’s label Shelter Records (distributed by Festival in Australia). So three tracks from Cale’s Troubadour album (‘Travelin’ Light’, ‘Cocaine’ and ‘I’m a Gypsy Man’) plus two new songs (‘Nowhere to Run’ and ‘Bringing it Back’) were added.

Inevitably that delayed the project so it wasn’t until 1982 that Festival had prepared the Band on the Run soundtrack album for release on the Infinity label. The covers were printed and the vinyl pressed (most likely in a run of say 3,000-5,000 copies) but at the eleventh hour someone realised that there was a SNAFU with the licensing for the J.J. Cale tracks and the release was cancelled.

The irony was that a shipment of promo-only copies had already been dispatched to the media and sales reps and this is where the rarity factor of this record comes into play. The promotional allocation would probably have been something like 50 copies (or certainly no more than 100) and the very few copies of the album that have ever turned up since feature the large Festival red and white bullet promo sticker on the label. No stock copies have ever appeared so we can only assume that the rest of the vinyl and covers were destroyed.

So in terms of collectability the Band on the Run soundtrack album is one of the great rarities of Aussie rock. Yet beyond that, and the inclusion of the Cale tracks, it’s a great pity it didn’t receive its due because it really is a tremendous recording. The Tim Gaze Band tracks are highly competent and beautifully played, featuring a bright, melodic, harmony rich West Coast sound mixed with elements of reggae and symphonic touches courtesy of the interplay between Gaze’s soaring lead guitar and Bolton’s Hammond organ. Perhaps the only other Aussie performer with a similar style was Richard Clapton.

Gaze takes lead vocals on the tracks he wrote (or co-wrote with Harry Hodge) but Suzanne Petersen’s gorgeous vocals on her own ‘Lazy Day Fever’ are like pure sunshine on a rainy day. Other highlights include ‘Brothers and Sisters’, ‘Looking for Answers’, ‘Give Me Life’ and two dazzling instrumentals in the funky, samba-styled ‘Paradise’ and the Pink Floyd-like ‘End Theme’.

Of course, this music was too good to let languish in obscurity and Tim Gaze eventually transferred the original master tapes to digital and issued a double CD in 2004 as The Tim Gaze Band – Music from the Soundtrack of the Film “Band on the Run”. Gaze simply bypassed any licensing issues by dispensing with the J.J. Cale tracks and just concentrating on the Tim Gaze Band recordings. Disc One (Second Wave) features the original eight songs from the LP, with ‘Paradise’ renamed ‘Mauritius’ and ‘End Theme’ renamed ‘Bermuda’. Also included are the previously unheard ‘This is a Place’ and the rollicking boogie-rock number ‘Goin’ Down’.

Disc Two (First Wave) comprises the original demos which are a real surprise in their own right. Mostly instrumental, with even more towering guitar work from Gaze, they feature an organic feel and a brightness which is probably lacking in the more polished Second Wave tracks. There are only three vocal takes, ‘Lazy Day Fever’, ‘Beautiful Lady’ and ‘Paradise 2’. You may still be able to source the CD (try Tim Gaze’s website) but good luck finding an original vinyl pressing of the LP!

So to wrap up this profile, Gaze has continued to perform tirelessly on the Australian music scene. He has never really attained commercial success but his talent and acceptance as a guitarist’s guitarist has never been in doubt. Following the break-up of the Tim Gaze Band in 1984 he worked with the likes of Rose Tattoo, Brothers of the Bell, Gyan, the Peter Wells Band, the reformed Tamam Shud, the Bushwackers, Blue Sierra, the Blues Doctors and the Hoochie Coochie Men.

Original LP release
Music from the Soundtrack of the Film “Band on the Run” (Promo copies only Festival/Infinity L-37842) 1982
1. J.J. CALE – Travelin' Light (J.J. Cale)
2. TIM GAZE BAND – Give Me Life (Tim Gaze)
3. TIM GAZE BAND – Oceans (Tim Gaze)
4. J.J. CALE – Cocaine (J.J. Cale)
5. J.J. CALE – Gypsy Man (J.J. Cale)
6. TIM GAZE BAND – Beautiful Lady (Tim Gaze/Harry Hodge)
7. J.J. CALE – Nowhere To Run (J.J. Cale)
8. J.J. CALE – Bringing It Back (J.J. Cale)
9. TIM GAZE BAND – Lazy Day Fever (Suzanne Petersen)
10. TIM GAZE BAND – Brothers And Sisters (Tim Gaze)
11. TIM GAZE BAND – Paradise (Tim Gaze)
12. TIM GAZE BAND – Looking For Answers (Tim Gaze)
13. TIM GAZE BAND – End Theme (Tim Gaze)
Tim Gaze Band tracks produced by Tim Gaze and Peter Bolton

CD reissue
THE TIM GAZE BANDMusic from the Soundtrack of the Film “Band on the Run” (Tim Gaze Music) 2004
CD 1 – Second Wave: Songs from the Soundtrack
1. Lazy Day Fever (Suzanne Petersen)
2. Brothers And Sisters (Tim Gaze)
3. Looking For Answers (Tim Gaze/Harry Hodge)
4. Bermuda (Tim Gaze/Peter Bolton)
5. This Is A Place (Tim Gaze)
6. Give Me Life (Tim Gaze)
7. Oceans (Tim Gaze)
8. Beautiful Lady (Tim Gaze/Harry Hodge)
9. Mauritius (Tim Gaze)
10. Goin' Down (Tim Gaze)
CD 2 – First Wave: Demos
1. The End (Tim Gaze)
2. Brazilian Millions (Tim Gaze)
3. Hawaii (Tim Gaze)
4. LA Theme (Tim Gaze)
5. London (Tim Gaze)
6. Paradise (Tim Gaze)
7. Looking For Answers (Tim Gaze/Harry Hodge)
8. This Is A Place (Tim Gaze)
9. Day Tripper (Suzanne Petersen)
10. Lazy Day Fever (Suzanne Petersen)
11. Paradise 2 w/vocals (Tim Gaze)
12. Beautiful Lady (Tim Gaze/Harry Hodge)

THE TIM GAZE BAND
Tim Gaze – Guitars, vocals
Peter Bolton – Keyboards
Harry Curtis – Bass
Robbie France-Shaw – Drums, percussion
Annette Henery – Vocals, percussion
Suzanne Petersen – Vocals, guitars, flute, piano

 

Vale Stevie Wright

Vale Stevie Wright

Vale Stevie Wright

Originally posted at addictedtonoise.com 31 December 2015

VALE STEVIE WRIGHT

Born 20 December, 1947 (Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK)
Died 27 December, 2015 (Moruya, NSW, Australia)

By Ian McFarlane

 

Who was the greatest frontman in the sphere of Australian pop during the 1960s? Billy Thorpe? Normie Rowe? Gerry Humphrys? Jim Keays? Jeff St. John? Russell Morris? Of course, they were all incredible but the honour really belongs to the extraordinary Stevie Wright. The Easybeats wouldn’t have been The Easybeats without his presence.

He had the charisma, he had the passion, he had the drive, he was a dynamic performer and you could tell that he enjoyed his position in the spotlight immensely. And the kids loved him. He was godlike youth personified. It’s amazing, even now, to consider that Wright was only 16-years-old when The Easybeats formed, 17 when their first single came out, 18 when they recorded their greatest moment and still only 21 when they broke up.

The Easybeats story is multi-layered and expansive, a glorious rush of highs and lows, so it’s not our purposes here to restate the legend. A couple of things you need to know: The Easybeats were masters of the killer mod / beat pop single; and Wright co-wrote – with guitarist George Young – all their unforgettable early hits. ‘For My Woman’, ‘She’s So Fine’, ‘Women (Make You Feel Alright)’, ‘Come And See Her’, ‘Sorry’ (as well as its fabulous flip side ‘Funny Feelin’’), ‘Wedding Ring’ and ‘Sad And Lonely And Blue’ were all Wright/Young compositions.

It could be suggested that Stevie Wright’s career trajectory faltered the moment Harry Vanda took over as George Young’s song writing partner. The event in question was the writing and recording of ‘Friday On My Mind’, a classic single and still one of the most magnificent artefacts in all of Australian rock history. From then on, The Easybeats were the Vanda and Young show with Wright relegated to the sidelines. Did it set off his slide into prolonged drug and alcohol abuse? There are so many questions left unanswered but it might have been a contributing factor.

Fast forward to 1973 and Vanda and Young are ensconced as house producers in the Sydney studios of Albert Productions. There’s unfinished business to be resolved and the pair set about reviving the career of their former band mate. Wright is up for the challenge, in fine voice and on his best behaviour. The resultant album, Hard Road, is a punchy rock album bursting with quality songs and powerful studio backing. It reaches #5 on the national chart (#1 in Melbourne) and produces the legendary, 11-minute, #1 hit ‘Evie (Parts 1, 2 & 3)’. Mission accomplished: Wright is a star again.

The singer contributed six songs to the album, ranging from the memorable pop rock of ‘Life Gets Better’ and ‘Commando Line’ to the bluesy, ironic ‘Movin’ On Up’, the funky, horn-driven ‘The Other Side’ and the passable boogie of ‘I Got You Good’.

The real pulse of the album, however, comes with the three Vanda/Young contributions, the title track, ‘Didn’t I Take You Higher’ and ‘Evie’.

‘Hard Road’ exhibits a swaggering self-assurance, a howling monster of rock’n’roll as pure release. Stevie’s got everything he owns on his back (“I carry such a heavy load”), he’s got his dog and his radio (“living on rock’n’roll”) and he’s hit that southbound highway for a better life. It’s not going to be easy – “it’s a hard, hard road that I travel down the line” – but he’s “digging what I’m doing and I’m doing it as fast as I can” and “nobody’s hanging things around my neck, put me in a pigeon hole”. Wright sings with such sheer conviction and gravelly force that it’s a wonder he didn’t burst a lung in the studio. Rod Stewart covered the song on his album Smiler, but somehow his customary vocal firepower seemed lame by comparison.

‘Didn’t I Take You Higher’ is another driving rocker with a glammy vibe, a powerful fuzzed guitar riff, cheesy synthesizer punctuations, a killer vocal hook and a cruising percussion / chicken scratch guitar breakdown. Form over content maybe but pure enjoyment nonetheless.

Of course, the album’s centrepiece is ‘Evie’, a work of emotional grandeur that remains Wright’s commercial highpoint and possibly Vanda and Young’s artistic zenith. Over three distinct sections (‘Let Your Hair Hang Down’, ‘Evie’ and ‘I’m Losing You’) and across 11 exceptional minutes, it explores the ups and downs of a romantic relationship, from lust to family life to tragic heartbreak. When issued as a single, ‘Evie (Part 1)’ sat as the 3:55 A-side while ‘Evie (Part 2)’ and ‘Evie (Part 3)’ made up the 7-minute flipside. Fortunately, radio programmers had the sense to play the song in its entirety and for that we can be eternally grateful. Aside from being nudged by the likes of the 6-and-a-half-minute ‘The Real Thing’, no other Australian hit has attained such a magnitude of both form and content.

By the time he came to record his second Vanda and Young produced album, in late 1974, Wright had slipped back in to serious heroin addiction. While Vanda and Young presided over the recording in their usual fastidious and attentive manner, overall Wright sounds less committed to the vocal task at hand. Black Eyed Bruiser is a mixed bag of hard blues rock, funky soul and country-tinged material which is less supercharged and lacks the cohesiveness of Hard Road.

Still, there’s some decent material here. The title track comes charging out of the gate with an archetypal, kick-ass riff and attitude to burn: “If you see me walking down the street / You better get out my way / I’m a real king hitter / Always have my say”. Rose Tattoo later recorded a version that sticks close to the arrangement here which suggests there was no way of improving it. ‘The Loser’ and ‘You’ bring things down until ‘My Kind Of Music’ and ‘Guitar Band’ come back in with the riff rock.

Alongside ‘Black Eyed Bruiser’, ‘Guitar Band’ is the album’s highpoint. It was a Top 10 hit single but probably didn’t have enough pulling power to help haul the album into the charts. Nevertheless, it features a funky beat and a killer guitar riff and at least Wright sounds like he’s having fun with the lyric. There’s a great film clip (from February 1975) of Wright prowling around the Countdown studios singing ‘Guitar Band’. With a cheeky grin plastered across his face, he’s resplendent in stack-heeled black boots, extravagant black leather belt and red jump suit emblazoned with a lightning flash and a silver ‘S’ symbol across his chest. Stevie as electrified Superhero no less!

Vanda and Young had previously recorded ‘The People And The Power’ as part of their Marcus Hook Roll Band album Tales Of Old Grand-Daddy, and here it gets a laid back, funky treatment. ‘Help, Help’ is bland but at least ‘Twenty Dollar Bill’ is a fun country rocker that is reminiscent of Leo Sayer’s ‘Long Tall Glasses’. Wright ends the album with another strong moment in the self-penned ‘I’ve Got The Power’. It’s his attempt at affirmative action – “I’m getting stronger every day” – but while musically it stands tall one gets the feeling that lyrically it’s hollow grandstanding.

And that was pretty much it for Stevie Wright’s solo career. While he continued to pop up for the occasional moment in the sun – performing ‘Evie’ at the Concert Of The Decade, on the steps of the Opera House in front of 100,000 people, November 1979; the 1986 Easybeats reformation; as part of the 2002 arena rock spectacular Long Way To The Top – his light slowly dimmed. Farewell Stevie.

 

Stevie Wright-Hard Road LP front cover.jpg

Hard Road
(Albert Productions APLP-005) 1974


1. Hard Road (Vanda/Young)
2. Life Gets Better (Stevie Wright)
3. The Other Side (Stevie Wright)
4. I Got You Good (Stevie Wright)
5. Dancing In The Limelight (Stevie Wright)
6. Didn’t I Take You Higher (Vanda/Young)
7. Evie (Vanda/Young) – Part 1 (Let Your Hair Hang Down), Part 2 (Evie), Part 3 (I’m Losing You)
8. Movin’ On Up (Stevie Wright)
9. Commando Line (Stevie Wright)
Produced by Stevie Wright, Harry Vanda and George Young

Stevie Wright-Black Eyed Bruiser LP front cover.jpg

Black Eyed Bruiser
(Albert Productions APLPA-012) 1975


1. Black Eyed Bruiser (Vanda/Young)
2. The Loser (Vanda/Young)
3. You (Vanda/Young)
4. My Kind Of Music (Vanda/Young)
5. Guitar Band (Vanda/Young)
6. The People And The Power (Vanda/Young)
7. Help, Help (Vanda/Young)
8. Twenty Dollar Bill (Stevie Wright)
9. I’ve Got The Power (Stevie Wright)
Produced by Vanda and Young