Sunday, 27 February 2011

Assassins - Assassination / Suicide 7" Greasy Pop GPR100, 1982

Adelaide, as Danny Decay observed, it's a crazy place. Little did we realise when we planned Malcolm Fraser month that most of the recorded opposition to his nibs originated from South Australia's capital - the city of churches, Australia's serial killer capital, snooze-ville.

The most vociferous of them all is surely this ditty by three members of hometown legends the Dagoes. Although Fraser isn't mentioned by name, there's only one prime minister. Just to nail down the intention here's songwriter Doug Thomas's account of the track from the book Underground In The City Of Churches. Take it away, Doug:
"The lyric that is important is the very last line. 'Australia needs this man dead'. That's all I had to say, that's what the song's about, kill Malcolm Fraser - he's an arsehole. The Dagoes did it once or twice as an instrumental set opener in 1979, called something daft like Party Dress or Party Dance. Something really dumb, certainly not Assassination or Kill The Prime Minister, but it was rejected by the Dagoes, it was knocked back unanimously by Dick, Neil and Beau as a political statement which they didn't want. Dick flatly refused to sing it so it was an instrumental. It didn't unduly worry me until a couple of years later when the prick was still in power, and I still hadn't had my say!"
During one of the Dagoes' many break-ups Thomas got together with two other band members, Otis and The Turk (Geoff Short - brother of Filth's Bob Short), and advertised for a singer. Ian List came through the audition and the band practised under the names Ten Wombats, Electric Soup and Main Feature. Kill The Prime Minister was dusted off (along with another enticingly titled original, Up Yours Cazaly). Eventually the lineup settled as List, Thomas and Short under the name The Assassins.

Thomas, Turk, List, '82, trying not to look like Hüsker Dü
In February 1982 Kill The Prime Minister was recorded, and after some funding difficulties finally released in 1983 on Greasy Pop. It's one of the easier-to-find Australian punk records and as a result is perhaps unfairly ignored. Unfairly because instrumentally and thematically at least it's a little monster. While the guitar is sharp and loud, the vocals are pushed back deliberately - it was List's first go in a studio and Thomas wasn't overly happy with the results. The band never played live as far as we are aware, and anyway soon changed their name again to the Falling Spikes, then the Spikes.

Kill The Prime Minister was also reissued under its original title on a split 12" with Ian List and The UVs in 1990 (GPR 100/152).



The Assassins disenchantment with the PM by 1982 merely echoed that of the electorate. Faced with a recession, high inflation and rising unemployment, the people were ready to go with the ALP. Fraser called a snap election on 3 February 1983, unaware that that morning Labor had replaced their then leader with the popular Bob Hawke. The Liberals well and truly had their daks removed at the March poll.

Which neatly leads into one last Malcolm Fraser incident. Attending an ex-heads of government junket in Memphis, Tenn. in 1986, he was seen wandering around the foyer of the Admiral Benbow Inn in a towel, discombobulated, and wondering aloud as to the whereabouts of his trousers. Trousers (missing) in action, as it were. Amongst allegations of prostitutes and being slipped a Mickey Finn, Fraser has stayed mum all these years, surely taking the Mickey Bliss one more time.

Malcolm "sporting the mohawk look" on the cover of Trousers In Action 1, 1982.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Toxic Shock - Intoxicated 7" EMI Custom 13236, 1981

Diverting briefly from the Adelaide-centric focus of the last two posts (don't worry croweaters, we'll be back), this week we bring you a high-energy post-punk rant from Melbourne. With beginnings as a rehearsal project for bassist Sylvie Leber and guitarist Eve Glenn, the duo quickly expanded to the seven-piece all-female line-up evident on this, their lone single. Lumbering under the uninspiring moniker of the Girl's Garage Band prior the single's release, a new name would present itself after a late-'70s outbreak of illness caused by high-absorbency tampons: Toxic Shock.

Though initial musical inspiration came from the first wave of UK punk (Sylvie Leber: "If Sid Vicious could play with only 3 notes then so could I"), the single showcases influence not so much from the Pistols as subsequent developments of the Rough Trade stripe. Predictable reference points though they may be, we hear the likes of Kleenex and the Slits coming through in varying degrees across the single's three tracks. The standout song, Intoxicated, displays the wiry guitars, vocal tradeoffs, emphasis on non-standard rock instruments (Liliput's whistle is exchanged for a cowbell), and the (thankfully largely unsuccessful) rhythmic funkiness of so much UK post-punk. Furthermore, the recording and pressing costs tabulated on the inside sleeve suggest inspiration from the Desperate Bicycles (by way of Scritti Politti), though absent are the helpful pie-charts provided by the similarly fiscally transparent Slugfuckers.

Toxic Shock in action at La Trobe University, Melbourne.

Intoxicated is a theme song of sorts, detailing as it does the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, as well as engaging in some finger-pointing directed at Johnson & Johnson and, more obliquely, Procter & Gamble (manufacturer of the offending tampon brand, whose logo is alluded to in the lyrical reference to "a man on the moon"). Buried in the third chorus, among the modern day ills itemised as differential diagnoses, is a creative diss which earns the song a mention in Malcolm Fraser month. Some years later, vocalist Fran Kelly would become a respected Australian political journalist, eventually interviewing Fraser for ABC Radio National. Funnily enough, Fraser's resemblance to life-threatening menstrual sepsis didn't come up as a topic of conversation.


The Slugfuckers got a better deal at EMI Custom's "Accidents" Division.

Thanks to Scott Henthorn for his assistance with this entry. Stay tuned for the full Toxic Shock story in an upcoming issue of Stained Sheets fanzine.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Red Peril - Give Frazer The Razor 7" NCP.216, 1976

Australia has a proud tradition of spontaneous, crowd-generated epithets, ranging from the vague (see Blood, Sweat and Beers for consideration of "No way, get fucked, fuck off", including its origins and dissemination), to the highly personal (and hilarious: "Wally/Hadlee's a wanker"). When Malcolm Fraser's Liberal opposition blocked supply, leading to the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975, it not only marked a pivotal event in Australian history, but also popularised our most acerbic political rallying cry: "Give Fraser the razor".

Chanted by demonstrators at protests in Sydney and Melbourne the day after the Dismissal, in the coming years the phrase would also provide fodder for placards, posters, and graffiti (the internet tells us an example may still be extant on a rail underpass in Wagga Wagga). Inevitably, the slogan was set to music, courtesy of Adelaide's Red Peril - a band formed, appropriately enough, by members of the Communist Party.

Give Frazer [sic] The Razor is not our favourite Australian Gloria rip-off of 1976, but what it lacks in musical grunt it more than compensates for with lyrical bile - not all of which is reserved for the Libs (the former Labor government is damned with faint praise). Notably, in between stock standard pinko invective about bosses and multinationals ("Organise, brothers and sisters!"), Red Peril was ahead of the curve in sinking in the boot/blade to Rupert Murdoch (Murdoch's earliest newspaper and television holdings were in Adelaide, and his News Corp was based there until the mid-2000s). Rumour has it that the lyrics were perceived to be so controversial, no Australian plant would press the record, thus its eventual manufacture in Singapore. The story has an air of the apocryphal, but given the unique look of the vinyl and labels relative to other Australian singles of the era, we don't doubt that it was pressed overseas.

Musically, past comparisons with Jefferson Airplane are not entirely off base inasmuch as they relate to the Grace Slick-like vocals, but instrumentally Surrealistic Pillow is ballsier than this (even at its most acoustic) and is far more creative. The b-side? Well, let's just say we're saving it for our compendium of banjo-led anti-Fraser DIY, due here sometime after 2020.

Interestingly, razors-as-metaphor marked not just the start of the Fraser era, but the middle and end as well. "Razor gangs", originally Sydney criminal gangs of the 1920s, became the designation applied to parliamentary committees charged with reducing government expenditure in the early '80s (the term was also appropriated as a moniker by numerous bands around the country, only one of which made it to vinyl). And one can only imagine the chuckles at Adelaide Communist Party HQ when, after the Liberal Party's election defeat in 1983, future PM Paul Keating described a dejected Fraser as "looking like an Easter Island statue with an arse full of razor blades".

Give Frazer The Razor

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Brats - Life On The Dole from 5MMM's Compilation Of Adelaide Bands 1980 LP MMM01, 1980

Q: Is Fraser on the fucking dole?
A: No, I don't think so

In every scene there's a band that seems to have a bristly relationship with other parts of the scene. In the case of Adelaide punks The Brats, that included an impressive list including themselves, promoters, venues, journalists, radio stations and political parties (though not the one you might expect from the above lyric).

Starting in May 1979, the band for the first seven months was Bruce Brat (bs), John Brat (dr), Paul Brat (gtr) and Peter Brat (keyb, voc). Bruce (aka Bored Bruce) got bored and was replaced by Stan Brat, and John also left to be replaced by someone named Sticks. All had histories going back to the late '60s and early '70s. Of particular interest are Stan's sojourn in politically inspired Adelaide band Glass Web, whose 1970 7", In A Year Or So, is an early anti-Australian-presence-in-Vietnam song. Their second 7" from 1971, National Hero, reiterated their opposition, this time with striking graphics of military tombstones. Peter had been in Rashamra, who had two singles out in 1972. Look past the band's name and the flute at the start of Antelope to hear some good tuff riffing.

Unusual in punk circles the band also had female backing vocalists, the B-Side Bitches, the roll call of which included Annalissa Vague (also from Rashamra), Brenda Brat, Carol Brat (later Cazzby Brat) and Gay Brat (later remonikered as Gay Wales, one of the great punk names).

So to the feuds. The band's first gig was at a Cannabis Law Reform Society party. On the back of that the Australian Marijuana Party, for which Gay worked as a volunteer, booked them and the Accountants for a benefit gig in July 1979. The potheads then decided punk bands would harsh their mellow and cancelled the whole thing. Major bummer, dudes. A storm in a teacup really, but enough acrimony was generated to break up the band.

In August they reunited and over September and early October headlined five weekly gigs at the Austral Hotel. Now, the Austral was a hangout of the Iroquois bikie gang, and as a result promoters and venues elsewhere in the city branded The Brats a "bikie band" - hence no bookings, anywhere.

In November they did score bottom of the bill at a Scientists show. Nick Pervert (a friend, and guitarist with Exhibit A) got pissed and threw a bottle which hit Peter Brat. Local newspapers reported the story and The Brats were now seen to "have a violent following". While on the media, Roadrunner magazine was also perceived to have dissed the group. "Punkoid thrashers in the style of the Accountants" is the quote which the band felt misrepresented them. Listen to the interesting, jazzy chords driving Life On The Dole and you might admit they may have had a point.

Since no-one wanted to touch the band, their next gig was a self-organised show in January 1980 in a fully lit basketball stadium at a juvie institution called McNally Training Centre. All went well and the kids loved it.

Over Easter, the band recorded six tracks at Noumenon Studios - Life On The Dole / 1, 2, Truro / Explosions / Nobody (Is Really Where They Wanna Be) / Hoodlums / 2002. The tracks were released as a cassette. Life On The Dole had been noticed as the band's strongest track right from the early gigs, and comes across as a piss-taking reflection on the somewhat realistic potential, in 1979, of a life spent on welfare:

I'm gonna go from from the dole to an old age pension,
I wanna be a government sponsored institution,
And when I die, my last cheque,
Will be cashed, and completely spent.

Life On The Dole

Not quite Supernaut's take on things...

Due to their various reputational difficulties the band was also viewed unfavourably by community radio station 5MMM (one of a string of "public radio" stations, set up as a Whitlam government initiative, which had only started broadcasting in 1979). They wouldn't play the tape. Since this was the band's only realistic chance of local airplay the entire band fronted for a meeting with station management. They managed to nix all the station's objections to the band, most based on rumours and hearsay, and as a result got valuable airplay and gig bookings through the station.

Life On The Dole thus became a local hit, reaching number 2 on the station's charts. 4ZZZ in Brisbane also played the track a lot, as did 2JJJ in Sydney, and in later years the band was told it had also received airplay on Californian college stations. Eventually, it saw vinyl release on 5MMM's imaginatively titled 5MMM's Compilation Of Adelaide Bands 1980.

The gigs came through too, starting with a 5MMM night at the Tivoli in May 1980, where the band finally started to see some live success, with good crowd feedback. The black ban lifted, more gigs followed. This included support for the Ramones, following a push from Roadrunner and 5MMM. The promoter refused to pay the supports, and the band had to join the Muso's Union to get them to fight the case, successfully.

In the end, having challenged rumours and perceptions, and achieved local success, it all suddenly didn't seem worth it. Too poor to move to Melbourne or Sydney, the band broke up, members moving off to Darwin, New York, and their own homes. Apart from a one-off 1985 reunion, that was it for the Brats, though Peter did surface recently to cut a new version of Life On The Dole with the Moulting Vultures.

This month at Wallaby Beat is Malcolm Fraser month, where we feature songs that mention Australia's conservative prime minister for pretty much the period this blog covers. He was named caretaker PM after the Dismissal in November 1975 (then won the followup election in December), and his Liberal Party lost the March 1983 election to Bob Hawke.

Australian bands never really played the name and shame game for our punk-era conservative heads-of-state that the US (Reagan), UK (Thatcher) or the Netherlands (van Agt) did for theirs. But old Malcy-walcy did inspire a few missives - and we'll cover them this month.

At the time this song was written the unemployment rate in Australia was at the mid-range of the historical scale, though it had risen from the postwar average of around 2% (from 1945 to 1974) to around 6% in 1979. Under Fraser and his Treasurer John Howard ("Is Howard on the dole?") it would then rise to 10% by the 1983 election, hence the popularity of the song Australia-wide in the early 80s.
Howard would of course later become Prime Minister, and drag Australia hard to the Right, including work for the dole. In a sense he made the Fraser years look quaint in their conservatism.

Thanks to Harry Butler's DNA fanzine for the photo and for all scurrilous rumour information in this piece.