Sunday 24 June 2012

It Never Ends: The Last Words - Animal World

Last Words' Animal World mask from the Wizard Records press kit
If you want something done properly, do it yourself. Living in the West of Sydney in 1977, Scottish emigree Malcolm Baxter and Irish transplant Andy Groome took such sage advice to heart. Having arrived in Australia in 1968 and 1969 respectively, they met at the Cabramatta Hostel at which their families first lived. They started playing music together in 1972 and went through a few school bands before some pivotal musical exposures focused their attention. 

The Two Malcolms, 1980.
Malcolm Baxter: "We first saw what was going on in the NME and Melody Maker. We got them every time they came out, so we first saw the punk stuff there. Then Andy went to see Radio Birdman and came back saying to me, 'You've got to come and see this band!'. So I did, at Sydney Uni. That night we met the Saints and started hanging out with them in North Sydney. We had seen the five second clip of the Sex Pistols and we were buying The Ramones records and Clash records and just eating this all up. But we had started writing songs that had that flavour anyway!"

The first Last Words lineup included ex-Brisbanite, Saints acolyte Jeff Wegener on drums and Mike Smith on bass. As recorded in Pulp fanzine (and reproduced in Inner City Sound), "the band were getting desperate. They've been considering all sorts of attention getting stunts, like: advertising themselves in Ram magazine; beating up journalists, a la Sid Vicious; playing illegally on the Sydney streets; moving to Melbourne; recording a single (even though they can't afford it); or, at worst, breaking up". A single it was to be though, and a novel funding arrangement was brokered. Before the recording Wegener left to Melbourne and the Young Charlatans, and Smith was jettisoned.

Malcolm Baxter: "We wrote Animal World in Andy's bedroom in Miller [a suburb in Liverpool, Western Sydney]. Then a few months later my father went guarantor and we got a loan out to record and press the records. We thought no one would ever put this out, so we will. The Last Words then was myself and Andy - I played the drums and sang, Andy played the guitar and bass. It was recorded on an 8 track at Axent Studios in Kogarah in the winter of 1977".

The record was released on the band's own Remand label in October 1977, with flip side Wondering Why. A few copies sported a stamped die-cut sleeve:

The loan the band took out also extended to a few roneographed posters which were included in copies sent to record shops. Not many of these have survived (well, one that we know of).

The record was well received by those in the know, and why not? It's a truly great record. But was it enough to get our boys out of the Western suburbs?

L-R: Malcolm Baxter and Andy Groome
outside Axent Studios, 1977.
Malcolm Baxter: "Being in Liverpool was like being at an AC/DC gig every day of your life. It was a backwater and people did not get punk, we needed to come into the city for that sort of stuff. But we did not know where this was happening, we just got on with writing and making the single and then we went around to a few inner city record shops and asked them to sell it. Then we sent a copy to Wizard in November 1977, and a few weeks later they got in contact with us and said they would like to do something. But nothing happened until February 1978 as the whole country shut up shop for Christmas in those days, so we started to explore the music more and moved into Berrie St North Sydney after the Saints went to the UK, and we played a few gigs there and hung out in the scene that was starting up. We started doing gigs at a place called Blondie's in Bondi, and the Boys Next Door supported us there - it was all a bit strange in those days. Then me and Andy moved to South Dowling Street in Darlinghurst and we started playing at the Grand Hotel and recorded Animal World again for Wizard".

Wizard paid for the June, 1978 recording of six songs with a name producer, Les Karsky, who had worked with Midnight Oil and Boys Next Door. For this phase Baxter and Groome were joined again by Wegener on drums. Rounding out the band was bassist Rique Lee Kendall. Kendall was born in Melbourne in 1958 but had lived in Canada for six years where he had played in legendary Vancouver punk band the Skulls. On his return to Australia he'd played bass as Matt Black on the Thought Criminals' Hilton Bomber EP.

The Wizard issue (ZS-196) was released on 6 November 1978, this time with Every School Boys Dream on the B-side. All copies are on blue vinyl and the period appropriate company sleeve is the Phonogram one above - Wizard switched distribution to RCA sometime around 1979 (around the ZS-300 series of 7"s). We've put the complete press kit put together by Wizard on a separate page, it's well worth a visit. There was a fucking great video too, which if you haven't seen yet, well, do yourself a favour:

L-R: Baxter and Kendall
at the Grand Hotel.
Malcolm Baxter: "When we did Animal World [for Wizard] we recorded 6 songs but the master tape has never been found. We have the songs we recorded on a live tape from our last gig at the Grand Hotel in 1979, but that [Wizard] recording of the songs looks like it has gone forever.

"We went to the UK because this was not the music history that Australia wanted. Molly Meldrum banned the Last Words from Count Down and he had never even seen us. The only reason we got to release Animal World on Rough Trade was a friend of ours from Virgin records nicked the 1/4 inch tape of four of the songs from Wizard and brought them to London for us. And with Rough Trade, we got to London and we started work, but Andy and me thought 'We did not come here for this', so we got up one morning and took the blue vinyl Animal World to the BBC and gave it to the John Peel show. Then we went to Rough Trade and gave them a copy. By the time we got home, Rough Trade wanted to sign us and John Peel was playing Animal World and asking who was this band called the Last Words! When the record came out it sold something like 5,000 copies in the first few days and we went to number 8 in the NME alternative charts. The first pressing did not have Wizard on the labels, it was only after Wizard forced Rough Trade to put it on that they did and that was the second pressing".

The third release of Animal World uses the Wizard recording and came out in the UK in 1979 on Rough Trade (RT 022). As detailed by Malcolm, there were two pressings; and despite internet wisdom, Malcolm has set us straight on which came first:

The London era band was Baxter, Groome, Kendall (now Leigh Kendall) and a local, John Gunn (born Hammersmith London, 9 April 1962) on drums. A Rough Trade hype sheet of the time details goings on: "They were quick to pick up followings in places as Chelmsford and Coventry. Derby made them No 8 in the alternative charts. They also have a strong following in Germany and hope to follow it up by playing there in March [1980]". The band played on for a few more years releasing two more 7"s and an LP - selected highlights can be heard on the Retro CD. But, what about those Germans?

Malcolm Baxter: "We were playing with a band called the Swell Maps in London in 1979 and a bunch of Germans turn up and Eric [Hysteric] was one of them. They were fans of the Last Words and we got talking after the gig, and they would come to the gigs and hang out with us. Andy, Leigh and John had more to do with them. When my father died I came back to Australia and they did some recording with Eric".

The recordings with Eric we'll cover another time, but it segues into today's piece of teeth-gnashery - the fabled, legendary, almost completely unknown German sleeve. At some stage Hysteric got a bunch of copies of the first Remand pressing sent to Germany and constructed a crude photocopy sleeve to help sell them. The back of the sleeve has a postcard of Sydney at night and an indication that it may date from 1984. The German address for Wasted Vinyl listed on the back, and the general thrown together style of the sleeve, fits with Hysteric's releases from WASTE 6 on. The earlier records on the label have an English address and more professionally constructed sleeves. All up, a 1984 date is not an unreasonable guess.

Animal World (Remand) [Download]

Wondering Why [Download]

Animal World (Wizard/Rough Trade) [Download]

Every School Boys Dream [Download]

No Music In The World Today [Download]

Sunday 17 June 2012

Eleven Eleven - Devastate Me 7" MAC Records J031/S, 1983

Here's a surprise. An Ed Ball-esque mod-pop 7" hailing from Brisbane in 1983. I knew the band and the 7" existed but never picked it up. It took borntobepunched's recent virgin trip to the Sunshine State, and his unjaundiced ear, to open my eyes to this one.  I lived through the Brisbane equivalent to the Paisley Underground  and while it had its moments, it seemed the kicks were harder to find compared to the punk stuff the city is rightly famous for. I was wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong, and it wasn't the only local record I misjudged badly, as we'll find out later in the year.

The hit is the B-side, (Machismo For) What We Need. Sure, the song title is as clumsy as they come, but the tune is great! Starting with guitar stabs, it launches into a critique of materialism over a really good piece of Anglo-pop. That's not to deny the A-side: a plaintive, disaffected love song with gurgling bass lines and clunky solo. We'd prefer power pop to have straight ahead punk guitars but, when it's done well, we'll take this dainty, priggish, tight-laced substitute any day.

So who was Eleven Eleven? We were intrigued too, so we visited the musty Paisley wing of the archives and found a manila folder with some gig flyers and a photo (see below). Turns out there's an Ipswich connection! A while ago, when discussing the Toy Watches, we mentioned The Colours, whose song Blue Shirt is etched in the memories of those who were there. It turns out one of them continued to write great songs in his next band. Stand up Mitchell Kunde, on guitar and vocals. Andrew Palmer on rhythm was also in The Colours. Dale Jones on bass and Scott Austin on drums rounded out the lineup. Eleven Eleven played from 1983 to 1985 before half the band rebranded as The Nasties.

(Machismo For) What We Need [Download]

Devastate Me [Download]

Debut performance: midnight shift at the New Exchange
"What we need is a new hairdresser..."

Sunday 10 June 2012

Microfilm - Centrefold 7" Unforgettable/Missing Link MLC-4/UMS 2, 1980

This spry, otherworldly piece of punky Melbourne DIY packs more gibberish-per-minute than even our pal Plastic EP, but unlike Mr EP and his Miscalculations, Microfilm vocalist Lisa Gerrard turned the baby-babble into a career, leading Dead Can Dance through an extensive discography throughout the '80s and '90s. Even more impressively, if we're to believe Gerrard's Wikipedia page, all of this lyrical nonsense actually means something. Perhaps we should ask Plas to translate.

Gerrard's collaboration with Microfilm/Dead Can Dance co-founder Brendan Perry arose from the fertile Little Bands scene, spotlighted in recent years by Chapter Music's Primitive Calculators reissues. Fittingly, Centrefold from Microfilm's lone single can be found on Chapter's Can't Stop It 2 CD. The 7" was released by Unforgettable, a label founded by Melbourne post-punk iconoclast Ron Rude (careful not to confuse yer Rudes, trendsetters); it was issued individually as well as packaged in the Carboard Box set along with the two other 7"s in Unforgettable's catalogue, Ron Rude's Piano Piano and the Fabulous Marquises. Two Ron Rude LPs (with the Unforgettables and Piano Piano, respectively) round out the Unforgettable label discography. Summer House, another good Microfilm track, was included on From Belgrave With Love (Cleopatra CLP 204, 1981), a compilation LP based around Rude's home studio recordings.



Summer House

Sunday 3 June 2012

Geeza - Sydney City Ladies 7" Laser LS-102878, 1977

If there's one question we've fielded more than any other over the last two years, it's "What is grillfat?". A while back, we bit the bullet and uploaded grillfat's year zero, an article by Johan Kugelberg from Ugly Things #24, to deal with that specific inquiry - check it out via the sidebar. More recently, we've read some incredulous comments about our preference for grillfat over long-established and, ostensibly, perfectly good genre descriptors like Oz Rock (as used by Murray Engleheart in his grillfat guidebook Blood, Sweat and Beers). "Why bother trying to reinvent the wheel?", we hear the naysayers naysay.

In Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction To It's Own Past, Simon Reynolds dedicates some time to discussing "invented genres", i.e. "retroactively creat[ed] genres that never actually existed as recognised entities during the period in question", primarily driven by record collectors reclaiming, reinterpreting, and recategorising the detritus of pop culture. Examples cited include relatively recent developents like minimal synth and junkshop glam, though Reynolds argues for garage punk and Northern Soul as the first instances of "genre-as-retroactive-fiction". In fact, the history of invented genres probably extends back further still. In her book In Search of the Blues, Marybeth Hamilton argues that the Delta blues wouldn't exist if it were not for the personal taste of James McKune, a record collector whose wants list of obscure 78s curated the genre's defining artists, thereby establishing a roadmap for subsequent collectors and reissue compilers - a sort of pre-war NWW list.

Reynolds ascribes an economic imperative to the development of invented genres - the creation of markets upon which to foist rare records and compilations of such. Variations of that theory have done the rounds for a while (recounted here and, if you can bear it, here), but a quick search of eBay for the keyword "grillfat" suggests that there's more to it than that. We're happy to report that grillfat suffers from a dearth of genuinely rare records - good news for dollar bin hounds, not so good for potential compilers of Killed By Grillfat. Instead, the main advantage of grillfat has been to allow us to talk about Australian hard rock minus the cultural baggage that we associate with the term Oz Rock - a pejorative catch-all for leaden, lifeless, commercial beer-barn rock. Grillfat is shorthand to differentiate Geeza from Australian Crawl.

Extreme grilling. More at Geeza's Facebook page.

Which brings us to Geeza's Sydney City Ladies, one of the genre's OGs (that's Original Grillers). Described by The Kuge as one of the greasiest records in his collection ("The kind of track that would leave an oil skid on your turntable"), this mildly brain-damaged hard rock reinterpretation of California Girls is archetypal grillfat. The version in question is the flipside to Geeza's second 45 (Run 'n' Hide), a rougher take than that featured on Streetlife, the band's lone LP (Laser VXL1-4046, 1977). Apart from a slicker recording, the LP version also takes on a more expansive arrangement, extending the song by a full two minutes. We prefer the medium-rare cut, but the well-done version is presented below for those situations when three minutes of grillfat isn't enough.

Sydney City Ladies (7" version) [Download]

Sydney City Ladies (LP version) [Download]