Sunday 29 April 2012

The Slugs - Catch My Breath / My Provocative Neighbour 7" Subterranean SR 345, 1979

We're in Melbourne again, trying to pin down a record so undocumented we have to divine what we can from the sleeve. Clue one is the photo: three norms (Melbourne, '79 style), and a bloke channelling Lou Reed's arsehole phase with his all black getup and mirror shades. Clue two is the dedication to Kim Fowley on the rear sleeve and label. Now we don't know if the Slugs got on their knees before the animal god of the streets when he visited Melbourne but the August 1979 recording date is about right so we like to think they may have. We also imagine him screaming "get these old fucks out of here and bring me some malleable teenagers!".

Putting those clues together we imagine a band taking bits from Rock'n'Roll Animal, Fowley's mid to late '70s LPs, and perhaps those mirror shaded greats, the Blue Oyster Cult. But the reality is probably a bit more mundane, and comes from clues three and four: the thanks to Tinsley Waterhouse, Melbourne blues legend; and the production by David Pepperell (and the thanks to "mystery guitarist Keith" (Glass?)). Effectively, our boys are rubbing shoulders with Melbourne's rhythm and blues royalty.

The tough, sinewy riff to the A side, Catch My Breath is certainly placing us in rock'n'roll territory, but the flipside is effectively an electric blues song. The guitar sound is filthy, but, you know, it's still just the blues...

All up we have a record that sits just on this side of the good/bad line, just on this side of the rock/blues line, and just on that side of the getting laid/not getting laid line. We'll let you listen to the lyrics for that last bit. Let's just say Makeshift sound like they have more pull with the ladies than this crowd.

Catch My Breath [Download]

My Provocative Neighbour [Download]

Sunday 22 April 2012

Traitors - Noiseless Workers 7" Afterwork/Missing Link MLC-101, 1979

For a blog with a professed distaste for all things Carlton, Wallaby Beat sure has spent a lot of time there over the last few months. It's a lesson that if you follow your nose, you may not always like where it leads you. Today, we sniff out another Carlton/punk crossover, and as with similar cross-pollination by the likes of Henry Vyhnal and Fred Cass, the bridge between scenes is the Babeez/News.

For the full Traitors story, we'll direct you to issue 3.1 of the sadly defunct Stained Sheets zine for a sprawling, five-page interview with Traitors main-man and self-proclaimed anarchist, David Langsam. Langsam's background was in "performance poetry" ("I started doing that in 1972 because I couldn't play an instrument"), activism, fringe art and theatre - the interview references Afterwork, an arts magazine Langsam had co-produced with the Bleeding Hearts' Eric Gradman, and the Pram Factory theatre (the latter is a story for another time, but for now, interested readers can scan the back cover of the Matchbox LP for clues). After attending mid-'70s shows by Carlton stalwarts the Bleeding Hearts, Stiletto, The Sports and Jo Jo Zep, Langsam became passionate about the local rock scene, leading to eventual writing gigs for Juke and Roadrunner:
"I hated the NME/Julie Burchill school of rock journalism that sneered at bands, because I knew how hard they worked to put a dozen songs together and then organise a poorly-paying gig and play their hearts out, only to be sneered at and decried by some toffee-nose on some minor point...So I thought if I'm going to review bands, I need to put together a band and record my songs and see what it's like from the inside".
Langsam professed a love for punk - The Saints, Clash, Jam, and Sex Pistols in particular - but his approach to putting together a band reveals a decidedly pre-punk mindset. Unlike journo non-musician contemporaries who dived in head-first, Langsam hand-picked some pro muso Carlton mates to perform on his behalf. Said mates included Rick Grossman (bass; Bleeding Hearts, Parachute), Eddie van Roosendael (drums; Stiletto, Mondo Rock), Randy Bullpin (guitar; High Rise Bombers, Mondo Rock), Nick Rischbieth (guitar), and Geoff Spooner (guitar). Gavin Quinn of Babeez/News was also tapped on the shoulder to sing Langsam's lyrics:
"It was all done in one day with me giving a run through of how I played [the songs] on guitar and sang them and then I left it to Rick and Eddie to lay down the rhythm section - which would have to be, by definition, loud powerful and innovative - and then Nick and Geoff played a professional variation of my guitar part. A friend taught me to sing three notes - E, F# and A - and I sang Workers, with Gavin doing a backing vocal. Randy was only there for an hour or so and put down that amazing guitar solo on the first take. Gavin sang Paul and Eddie sang Cops with Geoff playing lead guitar. While I wrote, produced and arranged the EP, my only part was singing Workers". 
Langsam had frequented Missing Link's precursor Archie and Judhead's since the early-'70s, and had come to know proprietors Keith Glass and David Pepperell. Once the Traitors' EP was recorded, Glass agreed to release it on Missing Link; the Afterwork logo was also revived for the occasion. Seven hundred copies were pressed in 1979.

Musically, the aroma of Carlton is present throughout, but luckily all three songs are good and none outstays its welcome. On Paul, only the very faintest of whiffs is detectable, and as the shortest and punkiest track it's our recommended starting point. Cops - a song inspired by a 3AM confrontation over souvlaki with a member of the Carlton constabulary - is another strong track, while the odour threatens to overpower Noiseless Workers before it settles into something leaner and meaner.

Noiseless Workers [Download]

Paul [Download]

Cops [Download]

Sunday 15 April 2012

Globes - The Girl With The Smiling Hair 7" Cordial Factory 13073, 1981

Accidents will happen. The powerpop/Oz rock crossovers we've featured before, Inserts and The Word, were almost certainly aware of classic punk-pop. That is, they've come from the punk/powerpop side of the equation and added Oz rock: the Inserts via an appreciation for hard rock (particularly Judas Priest); The Word probably via semi-major label production.

Today we head to Newcastle for another entry in this stylistic cross over genre. The Globes lasted for an eventful two years from 1980 to 1982 and recorded just this one 7". While a pretty damn good powerpop song, this record feels like it's more firmly rooted in Oz rock. A cursory look at the band's history sees them simply thrilled to have been associated with Oz rock royalty, and nary a mention of anything punk, punk-pop or powerpop. Hence the neat melodicism of the A side of their single, very distantly reminiscent of Noise Annoys by the Buzzcocks, has to be deemed an accident.

Having said that there's a bunch of tricks from the powerpop songwriters' handbook on show: a nice riff, soaring backing vocals, propulsive rhythm section, a textbook truck driver's gear change at the end and the aforementioned melody. So, we're prepared to be told we're wrong but if forced to take the stand we'll present the video below as first piece of evidence - more classic Oz rock signifiers than you can poke a stick at, football jerseys and chicken head neck movements foremost among them.

The Girl With The Smiling Hair [Download]

Sunday 8 April 2012

Spare Change/Young Modern/Parachute - The Big Beat

Band forms; songs are written; band members part company; songs migrate to new band, usually - but not always - via the songwriter. It can be an interesting test of a song's mettle, not to mention the songwriter's. Will a drive to out-do former bandmates take things to a new level? Will lightning refuse to strike twice? Will it be the same, but different? Will it be different, but the same? Will the situation turn grown men into giant titty-babies? This week we turn our attention to an interesting dead-end of Australian powerpop, a hand-me-down by the name of The Big Beat which had remarkable longevity, bouncing between Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in the latter half of the '70s. Before going on, we note that much of the detail below comes from Dave Laing's excellent liner notes for the reissued Young Modern LP (buy it here), and his accompanying interview with John Dowler at the I-94 Bar. We've referred readers to the latter at least once before for context on Melbourne pub rock; consider this another nudge if you didn't take the hint the first time around.

Spare Change allegedly formed, at least in concept, among Adelaide ex-pats in Amsterdam. Back in Adelaide, the band coalesced in 1973 as a pre-punk powerpop unit, as much in thrall to the MC5 and the Flamin' Groovies as the art rock of Sparks, songs by all of which featured in the band's early repertoire. The initial line-up included John Dowler (vocals), Chris Langman (guitar), Bob Kretschmer (guitar), Tony Murray (keyboards), and John Wilkenson (drums). Wilkenson was soon replaced by Graeme Perry, and this would remain the definitive Spare Change line-up. After a solid couple of years playing Adelaide pubs, Spare Change relocated to Melbourne in early 1975, becoming a fixture of the Carlton scene. There, the band recorded The Big Beat, penned by Murray, which was issued as a single at the tail end of 1976 (b/w Classified Ad, Champagne CHS 601). Aided and abetted by Henry Vyhnal, the band continued recording until March 1977 with the intention of an LP release, but broke up before that eventuated. The posthumous Lonely Suits LP (Cleopatra CLP 202) was eventually released in late 1979, and included both sides of the earlier 45.

In its first incarnation, The Big Beat presents as infectious, melody-laden pre-punk powerpop, but compared with Spare Change's influences it sure does sound like it has a stick up its arse. Dave Laing described the overall effect as "pretentious and stilted"; we hear a catchy and relatively simple song cluttered by compositional tricks, highlighted by the series of brazen truck driver's gear changes which bookend each chorus. Purists may say that semitone modulation around the chorus isn't a true gearstick workout, but they probably haven't heard The Big Beat's gears crunch as its key pivots from A to B-flat and back again. Add to the equation some very literal drumming which only picks up when the chorus kicks in ("The Big Beat comes on loud and strong..."), and someone is guilty of over-thinking things a touch. Usually that someone is us, but here the evidence points closer to home.

Spare Change - The Big Beat [Download]

After Spare Change called it quits, Dowler returned to Adelaide determined to pursue "a more straight forward guitar-based pop style" indebted to Big Star and the Flamin' Groovies. In November 1977, Young Modern - featuring Dowler (vocals), Mark Kohler (drums), Andrew Richards (bass), Michael Jones (guitar), and Vic Yates (guitar) - debuted as support for Radio Birdman at Adelaide's Unley Town Hall. In May 1978, among newly-penned originals, the band demoed an updated version of The Big Beat - an unusual case where the vector between bands is not the songwriter. Like Spare Change before them, Young Modern moved to Melbourne and recorded their first single (She's Got The Money/Automatic, Top Gear MA-7216, 1978), before relocating again to Sydney where the band folded in June 1979. Again, echoing Spare Change's discography, the posthumous Play Faster LP (Local LOCAL 5, 1980) was cobbled together from Young Modern's lone single and the '78 demos.

The second time around, The Big Beat benefits from a more direct approach. "Ultimately, Young Modern played like punk never happened", says Laing in the Play Faster reissue liners, but comparing the pre- and-post '77 arrangements is instructive. Gone are the unwieldy key changes, and in comes more propulsive 4/4 drumming; punk it's not, but it's hard not to hear punk's influence, if only by osmosis of the prevailing mood. In addition, the less polished recording and performance are likely to make it the preferred take for listeners with a punkier ear.

Young Modern - The Big Beat [Download]

The final chapter is one about which we know relatively little. After Dowler's return to Adelaide in 1977, it appears that the remaining members of Spare Change recruited Carlton stalwart Rick Grossman (bass, ex-Bleeding Hearts), and continued under the name Parachute. True to form, Parachute recorded two songs in 1978, neither of which saw the light of day until compiled on Missing Link's Round and Round the Melbourne Club LP (ING 003), a 1981 compendium of otherwise unreleased Carlton bands. Both songs were old Spare Change numbers, The Big Beat of course being one of them. As another updated take, it's interesting to note the similarities between Parachute's and Young Modern's versions; no key changes, and a new-found rhythmic directness. After years of gravitating towards Young Modern's reworking, we've recently come around to this version as a perfect compromise, retaining melodic elements from the original but played with renewed verve (though still noticeably rooted in the Carlton milieu). It also has the speediest tempo of all the three, and most importantly, is the only one to weigh in at the three minute mark. "We can really only imagine what Tony Murray's The Big Beat...would sound like with the full-blooded recording [it] deserve[s]", says Mr Laing. Well, imagine no more.

Parachute - The Big Beat [Download]

Sunday 1 April 2012

It Never Ends: Sputniks - Our Boys 7" no label 324, 1979

The Slunks (slunk is a cow's afterbirth, or an aborted calf covered in such) were a Mt Gambier party band in 1978, formed entirely so the members could learn to play. David Munroe (a.k.a. Dave Graney), an Aussie Rules playing timber worker, had travelled up the East coast of Australia, witnessing the nascent Sydney punk scene, and Rose Tattoo (and the Mangrove Boogie Kings). You can read about his impressions in his most entertaining memoir, 1001 Australian Nights. Having got a taste for the life he returned home and put together a vehicle in which to escape. The other players were Martin Wells on drums, Liz Dealey on bass and Steve St Stevens (a.k.a. Steve Miller) on guitar.

The Sputniks formed in Adelaide around April 1979 - Graney, Miller and Dealey having moved there and met up with Clare Millionaire (a.k.a. Clare Moore) on drums and Philip Marks (ex-Foreskins) on guitar. Over the next year, before a move to Melbourne, they proved themselves extremely hardworking and put together an impressive list of achievements.

Starting with a first gig in June they toured South (to Mt Gambier and Naracoorte), plus a Spencer Gulf tour with the Accountants, playing Whyalla, Port Augusta, and Port Pirie. Funded by proceedings from these tours, and live work in Adelaide, they recorded a single at Noumenon Studios in October. Our Boys / Second Glance was released in December.

Early 1980 saw the band getting a residency at the Union Hotel, where they endeavoured to get other bands to play, reportedly with mixed success. Live they played mostly originals, mixed in with Doors, Bowie (Queen Bitch), Buzzcocks (What Do I Get?), and 13th Floor Elevators (You're Gonna Miss Me) covers. Moore took front of stage for a version of In The Midnight Hour which was always popular. Admirably they had at least one new original every time they played.

March 29, 1980 saw their last Adelaide show, and in early April they moved to Melbourne. Gigs aplenty followed, amongst them The Bottom Line, The Exford, Paradise Lounge, Hearts and the Duke of York. Despite the year of hard work the foundations of the band proved shaky and by October Marks and Dealey had returned to Adelaide and the rest began to become the Moodists; starting with this ad in Juke magazine:

A fantastic Sputniks band photo can be seen here and the top few photos on this page are also our boys and girls. Graney and Moore's long list of musical collaborations is well documented elsewhere but you should also cock an ear to Dealey's later work, starting with the Acid Drops' brilliant Surfin' Prostitute Beat 7", through the stellar The Wailing House 7" with the Twenty Second Sect, who also put out several LPs.

But back to the Sputniks record. Played loose and sloppy, and with an endearing high energy, the rudimentary musical and songwriting skills don't stop this from being a great record. Of course, those deficiencies effectively add to its charm. In particular, Dealey's bass playing on Second Glance is a thing of joy; but the whole song is infectiously great from go to whoa.

The record was never issued in a sleeve but 100 copies were sold with badges attached to the diecut. We don't know how many different designs there were but feel obliged to show you this standout version:

The real it-never-ends action on this one revolves around the purple vinyl copies. In case we didn't mention it before, here at Wallaby Beat coloured vinyl rarely evinces much more than a shrugged shoulder; we just don't care. On the very odd occasion though it can cause us to break a mild sweat. The story went, and still goes, that a small batch of between 7 and 12 copies was made and circulated to the band's members and friends. Here 'tis:

And here are the two tracks. As always we thank Harry Butler's DNA fanzine for its excellent contemporaneous coverage of the early Adelaide scene - many of today's details come from Issues 4-16, and the Juke ad from issue 48.

Our Boys [Download]

Second Glance [Download]

More from the Sputniks marketing arm