Sunday 25 March 2012

Danny Graham LP Sinsemilla SINS-0001/YPRX-1620, 1980

The "short, stocky, slow-witted bald man" from American Pickers may very well be the most objectionable personality on TV right now, and I say that fully aware that we're on the cusp of an American/Australian Celebrity Apprentice season crossover. Perhaps it's a case of Freudian projection, akin to seeing the scumbag collector impulse staring back at us in the form of a Kim Wilde picture sleeve collector, or closer still, self-loathing at the demon of Ruts completism turned outwards. Whatever the psychological drive, every time beardo Picker opens his pie hole about the desirability of a vintage oil can, I roll my eyes, groan audibly, and pray for the fat fuck to be seen off the property at shotgun-point. Tellingly, it is the exact reaction I observe from my wife when I bring records like this into our home.

Exhibit A in my defence: that sleeve. A wasted Danny Graham, looking like he's just woken up after spending the night in a dumpster, trying to pass off a Polaroid self-portrait as the cover of Space Oddity. And then, in case his eyes and the name of his label didn't say it all, Danny emphasises the point by spelling out his name in dope leaves. Clearly, music is not the only kind of DIY at play here; another record in our secret stash. Your honour, the phrase "buy on sight" was invented for records like this. The defence rests.

"That sounds like Play School music", I hear disapprovingly from the next room as the gavel comes down on Put The Blame On Me. It's not an unreasonable verdict. Like an asthmatic David Virgin, Danny Graham's breathy vocals do have a certain child-like quality, the tentative delivery evoking an image of Danny with microphone in hand, bed sheet over his head, trying his best not to wake the neighbours. Given that this LP was recorded at "Bedroom Studios", that may well have been the case. That tone pervades the LP - laidback, predominantly acoustic, bedroom singer-songwriter stuff. The liner notes for the recently-released Left Of The Middle compilation describe it more optimistically as "uniquely mid-'70s acid-folk art rock", adding that "there is no other Australian artist remotely similar to his singular sound". An asthmatic David Virgin notwithstanding, we largely agree. Ordinarily the kind of record that would make us run a mile, Danny Graham's personality shines through on every song, and the LP's low-budget, home-recorded loner charm has turned it into an enduring favourite. Though not without missteps, its many great songs far outweigh the occasional lapses into turgid MOR.

Put The Blame On Me [Download]

Love Start [Download]

Ev'rything Will Grow From Here [Download]

Sister Roulette Eyes [Download]

Hazel, I Don't Know [Download]

Baby, Don't Shoot [Download]

Danny's second LP (Sinsemilla SINS0002/YPRX 1852, 1981) will similarly prove to be a "love it or loathe it" proposition, though it's an entirely different kettle of fish. We're not just talking about the aquatic-themed cover, either. Titled Promotional Copy Only in the grand tradition of our old friends the Guest Stars, the album sees Danny in rock band mode with what could best be termed a new wave approach. Again, that description undersells it somewhat, as the songwriting is unique and decidedly, er, left of the middle. Not only that, Danny emerges from under the covers to deliver some truly staggering vocal performances, the likes of which haven't been heard here since our favourite vocodered Brisbanite, Ross Lovell. Check out Dragon Fire for the best example of his new-found "let it all hang out" yelp. Someone hand the man some Ventolin! Elsewhere, there is much to like in stoned lyrics such as "Does time spiral or repeat on a curve?" and "When our eyes meet it's like the mingling of molten metals", and as on the first LP, the musicianship reveals Danny to be an accomplished and creative guitarist.

This time around, recording took place at "Basement-Bedroom Studios" - literally a more underground offering than the first LP (and fittingly, a tougher one to track down). Interestingly, about half of the songs on Promotional Copy Only use pre-recorded drum tracks sourced from DrumDrops, a series of LPs designed to allow guys like Danny to avoid the obvious displeasures of dealing with a real life drummer. Fans of basement-recorded oddities may recall R Stevie Moore's C90 cassette from 1980 built around the same approach. Here, Danny's use of DrumDrops gives a telling insight into the motivations behind this LP - beats are taken exclusively from the "British side" (as opposed to the "American side") of DrumDrops 5, featuring drum tracks labelled Fast Punk Rock and Straight Ahead New Wave.

Dragon Fire [Download]

Coloured Movies of Ev'ryone's Dreams (Shake) [Download]

Slide Into Slinterland [Download]

Middle Class Romance [Download]

Danny's last release (Sinsemilla SINS0003/13155, 1981) is also the easiest to acquire. Whereas the earlier LPs surface rarely - and are even more scarce without seam splits, sticker scars, water damage, and writing on the labels - this final 45 can typically be found with some digging and a little patience. Featuring two songs from Promotional Copy Only in rerecorded versions, the single should appeal to fans of that earlier record, though for better or worse (one vote here for the latter) it is noticeably slicker in its production.

So what became of Danny Graham after this release? Good question. We'd like to think that this link may provide clues to his whereabouts, and at the very least, evidence of Freudian projection from Danny himself. But unfortunately your worship, the case is largely circumstantial.

Baby's Got The Rhythm [Download]

Middle Class Romance (Infatuation) [Download]

February 2014 update: In July 1981 Roadrunner magazine took a few minutes off from sucking major label arse to pen the following review:

September 2014 update: The first Danny Graham LP has no drum breaks or funky horn lines, so when our friend Mark found a copy he onsold it forthwith. Luckily, he saved scans of the press release tucked away inside:

Sunday 18 March 2012

JFK & The Cuban Crisis - Am I A Pagan? 7" Two Possibilities 13274, 1981

We've spoken before about the relative placement of the powerpop protagonist and the distant object of their desire. John (Francis) Kennedy was unable to lift himself from worshipping the ground upon which his gal walked, thus prompting his question to himself in the song title, which we've always shortened to Am I Pagan?

Kennedy was a bouff-haired (but, unfortunately, not boof-headed) popster who plied a trade in earnest Elvis Costello influenced pop in Brisbane from 1980 to 1982. The vehicle was his first band, JFK and the Cuban Crisis, with school friend James Paterson. Paterson, in a contemporary piece in X-Change fanzine, pitched the band as inhabiting a space in Brisbane between "new wave jukeboxes and arty, underground bands". Talk about missing the point, or at the very least, placing yourself on the wrong side of history.

Their first release was a cassette called Over The Underpass + Under The Overpass... (hear a version of Juliet Jones from that here). Then there was this. All mealy-mouthed piss-taking aside, we're featuring it because the song is good. Tight, clipped rhythms from drummer Steven Pritchard and bassist John E. Xero's typical musical bass playing underpin a good melody. Kennedy's voice is a bit of an acquired taste but again, the song is good enough to look past that. Perhaps somewhat unusually the verse slightly outshines the chorus, musically but also aided by the notion that in the verses he's putting up a fight, before the slightly downer profession of loserdom in the chorus.

Following this the band, or at least Kennedy and Paterson, moved to Sydney. While we can muster a slight endorsement for the Careless Talk Costs Lives 7" on Waterfront (1982) after that you're firmly on your own.

Am I A Pagan? [Download]

Sunday 11 March 2012

Norman Gunston - I Might Be A Punk (But I Love You Baby) 7" Mushroom K-6766, 1977

We've already covered Tommy Leonetti's major contribution to the Australian punk rock canon, but the ex-pat American club entertainer cum late-night chat show host has another claim to fame, this time in Australia's class of '77. Leonetti was the inspiration for Norman Gunston, the gormless, toilet paper-clad alter-ego of comedian Garry McDonald. Gunston first appeared in 1973 as a minor character in The Aunty Jack Show; however, it wasn't until 1975 and the first season of The Norman Gunston Show that the character really took flight. Interspersed among set pieces (co-written by Bill Harding of The Mavis Bramston Show) and genuine musical acts, the show spoofed the variety format with two elements that would become Gunston trademarks: "ambush" interviews, and demolition jobs on popular songs. Examples of the former abound on Youtube - Gunston's interview with Sally Struthers is often cited as a highlight, but we're more partial to this encounter with Karen Black as an example of the Gunston oeuvre. In addition, it would be remiss of us not to direct you to this amazing confrontation with Keith Moon. Equally amazing but not as side-splitting is the footage of Gunston making a nuisance of himself at The Dismissal, but we'll leave you to explore that on your own.

Australian press.
Gunston's musical hatchet-jobs were compiled on a 1976 LP called The Popular Ballad Animal, but as 1977 dawned the savvy McDonald saw punk rock as ripe for parody, and this single was the result. If I Might Be a Punk (But I Love You Baby) comes across as an old fart's impression of what punk rock sounded like, well, it's because that's largely what it is. The song was penned by '60s refugees David Pepperell and Ross Wilson: Pepperell had been in The Union, and later co-founded the legendary Archie and Jughead's import record store which eventually became Missing Link; Wilson, despite promising counter-culture credentials with the Pink Finks and Sons of the Vegetal Mother, is best known for his tenure in Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock. I Might Be a Punk's decidedly Carlton-sounding musicianship and sluggish pace add to the old-school feel, and Gunston's characteristic vocal and harmonica solo hammer home the novelty punk terrain. But despite all that, we're pleased to report that it has aged pretty well. The middle-eight is particularly strong - it almost sounds...convincing!

New Zealand press.
I Might Be a Punk was released in May 1977 (which, incidentally, makes it the first Australian "punk" record to follow in the wake of The Saints and Radio Birdman); it stayed in the local top 100 for 10 weeks, and reached a peak of #57. Mushroom must have been sufficiently buoyed by that success to decide that a New Zealand release was in order. That pressing was issued sans sleeve, and these days is seldom sighted, at least from our vantage point north of Norman Gunston's home town.

I Might Be A Punk (But I Love You Baby) [Download]

A live version of I Might Be A Punk later appeared on the Nylon Degrees LP (Mushroom L36700, 1978). Though musically inferior, it's worth hearing for Norman's attempts at gobbing and his accompanying commentary: "When I first performed that song, I must admit I felt a bit of a prick - y'know, when I put the pin through my nose".

Sunday 4 March 2012

Adrenalin - Ready For The Show 7" Sanitarium SR AD-1, 1983

First, that sleeve. As always in these situations we go to Spinal Tap for help - "What's wrong with bein' sexy?". The sleeve references the single's B-side, She's Got Tattoos, and it's unclear if the tatt is real. Val, the owner of the legs, gets credited for "enduring what I am sure must have been a very embarrassing experience." Said flipside is really awful though, so today we just bring you the A-side.

Funnily enough Adrenalin is not a metal band, rather they appear to have been a suburban pop/rock band, based near Manly on Sydney's North Shore. Probably dipping their toes into all sorts of styles, they wisely chose to leave for posterity one of their punkier numbers. Bringing to mind the "speedy, almost slapstick punk" of the better Thought Criminals tracks, the song flops about before coalescing from time to time into a simple but effective chorus line. The use of violin is also interesting, giving another differentiation point to the UK82 sound prevalent in Sydney at the time.

As far as we can ascertain this was it for Adrenalin. Drummer Neil Rankin still plays around in Beatles tribute band The Beatels (also the current gig for Marcus Phelan of the Works), but the rest have more or less sunk without trace.

Ready For The Show [Download]