previously, Melbourne pub rock (a.k.a. the Carlton scene) has never been our bag. It was well before our time, but firsthand accounts from a punk perspective range from the dismissive ("flawed" and "an outgrowth of hippiedom" - Inner City Sound), to the antagonistic ("We were the exact opposites of the Carlton scene" - Ash Wednesday). But, all cultural prejudices aside, our main gripe has always been the music itself. The Prof summed it up best: "not enough stomp or belligerence". Still, re-evaluation of the Carlton bands has begun, albeit in a minor way, and in that spirit we too have started to dabble. We're not yet at the point of subjecting ourselves to Jo Jo Zep, but as time marches on, some of the scene's major players have begun to make more sense to us. Where Skyhooks once seemed wildly incongruous on the UK pressing of the New Wave LP (tellingly, a second Flamin' Groovies track was subbed in on the local version), they now seem only mildly incongruous; as we have aged to appreciate small doses of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, a fresh listen to the Sports reveals that they may not have been so shitful after all. Even that first Dots single - a record that has perennially teetered on the edge of the "purge" pile - is starting to sound listenable. Come 2015, we may even upgrade it to "not bad".
Still, we cannot claim to speak with any authority on this scene. Indeed, the exact relationship of today's subject to Melbourne pub rock isn't entirely clear to us; however, given Inner City Sound's explicit exclusion of "the Carlton School", and the Armchairs' absence from that book, that's where they have been filed in the Wallaby decimal system. That said, as an example of Melbourne pub rock, the band does seem to represent a tangent with definite inclinations toward the new wave. At the Armchairs' core were Ian Stephen and Johnny Topper, with a revolving door of Melbourne musos fleshing out the band. Stephen will be known to readers of this blog as the vocalist on Marriage Is A Splendid Thing and Family Fun Parlour, the latter being one of the standout songs from the second Fred Cass and the Cassettes 45 (Fred/Lee Cass was also an early Armchair). On that record, Stephen mingles with the who's who of Carlton scenesters comprising Cass's band. Johnny Topper, on the other hand, should be familiar from his recurring role on the Fast Forward cassettes, the jokiness of which is carried through to much of the Armchairs' output. Both Stephen and Topper had previously released singles under their own names which the highly motivated may wish to seek out, but frankly, we'd advise against it.
The Armchairs' "new music" leanings are evident in the venue at which they debuted in 1979 (the Crystal Ballroom), and in the lyrics on their first single which rail against "that turgid crap that you hear on the radio" (the Ski Lo Lo 7", released on Stephen's own Reverse label, can be found here). The single is lightweight and light hearted, and much of the follow-up Party Time LP, originally written for a musical theatre production called The Zig Zag Follies, follows suit. Various internet sources tell us that the version of La Bamba which populates most of its B-side is either 17 or 20 minutes long, but we value 17 or 20 minutes of our lives too highly to settle that discrepancy. Among it all lie two songs of merit: the catchy if overly-long pub rock of Can You Guess? (with vocals by Graham Barker [sic]!); and Into The '80s, which has a certain punky attack in the drumming and guitars, and is our track of choice. It ain't The Now, but then again, not much is.
More detail about Ian Stephen's subsequent work (most notably with the Slaughtermen) can be found at his website. Allegedly, his latest release is a CD entitled This Is Really Gay, on International Art Wankers records. Johnny Topper can be heard each Wednesday as presenter of New & Groovy on Melbourne community radio station RRR.
Into The '80s [Download]