Sunday 26 August 2012

The Tenants - Don't Blame Me / $porting Life 7" Tenants TS-001, 1979

Here's a low-key, understated single by The Tenants, billing themselves as a "Sydney Pop/New Wave/Punk/Rock band." If anything lets this down it's the lack of a decent chorus, but the verses carry it. Every few years a band member lists a copy on the auction machine and we don't have too much to add to his short band history.
The band started in a terrace house in a block known as the Baker's Dozen [the row of former Tilly Devine brothels down near William Street] in Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, in the first half of 1979. Practice was in the upstairs front bedroom facing Palmer Street, across the road from a squat that was the living space and practice rooms for a band known as Tactics.

They started by playing supports at a pub known as the Royal Oak in the Sydney suburb of Chippendale, then played regular gigs on their own at the New Zealand Hotel in William Street, almost opposite the Sydney Museum.

The single (the only recording by the band) was recorded at Now Studios in the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst in August 1979. 500 were pressed.

After making the record, The Tenants played gigs at venues such as Rags (at the site of the old Chequers night club) and the Stagedoor Tavern, playing with acts like Tactics and The Thought Criminals.

Don’t Blame Me [Download]

$porting Life [Download]

Monday 20 August 2012

Kevin McLaughlin and the Murrumbidgee Orchestra - Whole Wide World 7" River Records SMX-46873/4, 1978

Whenever we feel that the occasion requires an '80s movie namedrop, This Is Spinal Tap usually covers the essentials. Today, however, we're reminded of a more unlikely reference - Ivan Reitman's sheissewerk about the lighter side of eugenics, Twins. You plead ignorance? Allow us to give a synopsis. Arnold Schwartzenegger and Danny Devito play - you guessed it - twins; separated at birth, they go on to lead very different lives. A grey-haired plot device informs us that this is because first-born Arnie is a genetically engineered übermensch, whereas Devito was an unexpected side-effect, a by-product of the leftover turd genes. The film ends with Arnie being sent back from the future to infiltrate the Kennedy gene pool; meanwhile his short, fat scumbag twin makes a living as a taxi dispatcher before going on to co-host American Pickers. Uh, or something like that.

In June 1978, employees at the Festival Records plant pressed the Victims' TV Freak 7" (SMX-46871/2) before changing the plates and using the leftover vinyl to press a little-known single by Kevin McLaughlin and the Murrumbidgee Orchestra. As the afterbirth to the monstrous Victims EP, this punk-era curiosity has remained virtually unheard beyond Canberra music aficionados and hardcore Wreckless Eric freaks. Its B-side is a relatively faithful, contemporaneous cover of Eric's Whole Wide World, some additional keyboard being the main point of difference. Hard to go wrong with a song this good, but it's still just a cover, and perhaps less than essential listening for anyone with the original filed away. The A-side needs to be heard by no one, ever.

For us, the single's main interest lies in its backstory, told in full over at the Canberra Musicians website. There you'll find a band enamoured with the Oz Rock tradition accidentally stumbling across the "new music". We've seen before how non-punk "punk" records emerged prior to many genuine Australian punk bands releasing records of their own. Though not as early in the game, the Murrumbidgee Orchestra is yet another example:
"When George [Bennett, vocals] came back from Britain he brought with him some new music called 'punk'. One song stood out, Wreckless Eric's Whole Wide World. George and Willie [Ian Winter, guitar] had another original called Thunder on the Mountain. We recorded them out at Airsound in Fyshwick and had it pressed in about a week. We sat back and waited for our first single to go roaring up the charts, bringing us fame, fortune and home delivered pizza. We are still waiting, but early days".
Whole Wide World [Download]

Sunday 12 August 2012

The Bent Elbows - St. Lucia Road 7" EMI Custom 13152, 1981

Wrong, wrong, wrong. We try to make a habit of not being wrong, but sometimes the mistake was made long ago. This one hurts because I owned this record in the early '80s and purged it almost immediately, deeming the band too suburban, too MMM, too rocky. Ugh, how wrong could I have been.

Fast forward thirty years and a copy of this showed up in an online auction out of all places, Midwest America. Oh no, I thought, another pissweak record being pimped as KBD. But the listing had sound clips and over the next ten or so minutes, well, that's when my walls really started to crumble. Behind rocky vocals is a band coming across like a Brisbane powerpop band, the aesthetic choices being highlighted by short, tight guitar solos, and lyrics about the ups and downs of drinking and enjoying your youth.

Apart from the good time feel what I really like about this record is the stripped back production. Although these guys were aiming to be Oz Rock stars, in the studio their sound was like any other mid-fi inner city sound recording, relying on feel and not modern studio trickery. Given the antiseptic sounds of so many similar bands from the era who "made it", we're left with a what-could-have-been reaction to the whole genre. Bent Elbows, maybe with the aid of the credited "alcoholic adviser", got it right.

So to the songs: St Lucia Road is about the band's home, the road leading from Toowong out to the University Of Queensland at St Lucia, and now renamed Sir Fred Schonell Drive. References are also made to another local landmark, Hawken Drive, Rec week (the first week of the University year), and not dropping out before 4ZZZ's third Joint Effort; Free-way Connection is about joining your friends for a piss-up down the South coast; the plaintive Scoring Sugar is an ambivalent drug song; and the probable highlight - Chip On The Shoulder Boy, the great Queenslander affliction writ small. Here the protagonist is picking fights at the R.E. (Royal Exchange Hotel at Toowong), talking big while on the sauce - one great line "Woodstock is over, throw your beads away".

Band history here.

Knock the top off a cold one, bend your elbow and have a listen.

St Lucia Road [Download]

Free-way Connection [Download]

Scoring Sugar [Download]

Chip On The Shoulder Boy [Download]

Sunday 5 August 2012

Ulsers - Remember Them 7" EMI Custom 13059, 1980

Coming soon on Wallaby Beat Records:

Ulsers - Remember Them 7" EP (WBRS-2601)
Deluxe reissue of this DIY masterpiece. Up there with early records by SPK and the Slugfuckers as one of the most original and creative statements of Australian punk.

Ulsers - Forget Them LP (WBRX-2602)
Ten jaw-dropping, previously unreleased songs from the Ulsers in full-band mode. Same mayhem, bonus drums, shouting and electricity.

Over the years, our obsession with the Ulsers has bordered on the pathological. Their Remember Them EP is such a perfect storm of OCD-inducing elements, we've sometimes felt that they made it just to torment us. A whirlwind of one-finger acoustic guitar, cardboard-boxes-as-drums, harmonica and sax, its four songs are so wilfully, uniquely obnoxious that those who "get" it can't help but be equally awed and amused. Putting it over the top are abstract, profane and hilarious lyrics, all delivered by a truly unhinged vocalist yelling as if the vocal mic was in the next suburb. Who the hell were these lunatics?

Conceptual greatness aside, the other factor that had us repeatedly washing our hands and touching every second fence post was Remember Them's utter obscurity. Adelaide scenesters and seasoned record collectors alike were unaware of it; those who knew of its existence had no clues to the Ulsers' identities. Years of solid detective work amounted to nothing. And then, as is so often the case, a stroke of pure luck brought results. An autographed copy of the record landed in our laps, yielding three legible signatures (and one illegible mess). "A Hitler" and "Dick Ulser" proved to be unwise Google search terms. We'll be forever thankful that principal Ulser Terry Wilson chose to scribble his real name.

That the Ulsers' story turned out to be even better than we could have imagined has only added to our grovelling fandom. Existing solely for the amusement of an isolated inner circle, beyond which their record barely circulated, it is no wonder the Ulsers remained unknown for so long. Pressed in a tiny run to begin with, the Remember Them EP suffered from zero formal distribution, rapidly waning enthusiasm from the band, and - just to rub salt into the wound - a box of unsold records disappearing into the aether. In 2012, locating a copy is tough; locating a copy with a sleeve is brutalising. We're grateful to Terry Wilson for leading us through the full story.

Terry Wilson
What was your musical history prior to the Ulsers?

None of us except maybe Richard on the sax were in any way accomplished on our instruments. I could strum chords on a guitar and wrote a lot of songs across my teen years. In the years leading up to the Ulsers, Richard and I listened to a lot of free form jazz which influenced how he played in the Ulsers. Without any particular musical ability, we experimented with playing avant garde music, which was quite abstract and dry - eliminating melody or rhythm or solos or even recognisable instrumentation. This was just something we did in our front rooms when other people went out. It's probably why they went out. Punk music also had a sort of avant garde feeling to it then, in terms of attitude and lyrics. In time this influenced us. We had plumbed the free form music as far as we were able and it was a relief to do something more structured and recognisable and fun, like songs.

When did the Ulsers start playing together, and how did this come about?

Maybe 1978. The early Ulsers songs were written at work and the group grew out of a work context. So other than Richard who I'd played music with in the past, the Ulsers were friends from work, and even the audience was substantially the larger work group. I basically cobbled together six songs and we got together in my lounge room and played them onto a cassette recorder.

The EP recording comes across as having almost a "one-man band" feeling about it. Was the Ulsers a full band as such?

I was the one who brought most of the material along. I was interested in accidental elements coming out in the music and perhaps had a purist view of what the music should be. So we tended not to work on the details of songs, and we never came to a polished or tight version. Also because we weren't really musicians, the possibility of building a more integrated sound probably wasn't available.

The Ulsers were: David Banbury - drums (actually cardboard boxes for the recording and many of the shows); Tony Lang - harmonica and bass; Richard Lees - sax; Terry Wilson - vocals, guitar. Also, John Packer - roadie.

Music to cut your ears off by.
L-R: David Banbury (note cardboard box), Terry Wilson, Richard Lees, Tony Lang.

I'm curious about what you were listening to at the time - whether there were other bands which informed the Ulsers' sound or approach?

I was enthusiastic at the time about the Sex Pistols. Also liked The Fall, the Clash, PiL, the Smiths, Joy Division - mostly British bands. Liked the Saints. Reggae. Didn't follow the local scene. There was an ethos of do-it-yourself non-musicians that was part of punk, and the instrumentation of the Ulsers was just what people had or did already. There was no decision made - this was the only configuration available. Later I bought an electric guitar, and there were drums (rather than cardboard boxes) and a bass. At the time, it was our impression that it wasn't as together as the original sound because having electric instruments shows up the lack of musicianship more than a more contained acoustic sound. But in hindsight it actually sounds rather good.

Were you involved with the Adelaide punk scene at the time?

No. We weren't a public commodity. Friends or friends of friends set up parties at their houses and we played shows there. Often we had an audience of 40-50 people, though sometimes it was only a few people. We did about 12 shows.

How did the Ulsers' record come about?

We always performed to a cassette recorder - we always wanted to play it back and hear how it came out. This was the case even with the early free form playing prior to the Ulsers. The first two Ulsers practices were taped and passed around work. It was natural that in time we would want to make a record.

Where was the EP recorded?

In the front room of our roadie's house.

How many copies were pressed?

250. I don't know how many record covers we did - it may have only been 10 or 20. Most went out in the blue sleeve from EMI. Even I never had a copy with the cover. A friend of ours, Ross, drew it. In a way, we were a bit of a collective where a number of other people made contributions of their own. So John provided his speakers and bought mics and he was our roadie, Ross was inspired to do a cover for the record, Ross let us do a show at his house, etc. Probably every band is the same, the boundaries to what the band is are more widespread than just the four playing the instruments.

Do you know whether the EP was reviewed in fanzines or street press at the time? Did it receive any airplay on the likes of 5MMM?

It wouldn't have surfaced to the notice of the street press. It was submitted by someone to a mainstream radio station as part of the worst record ever made contest - and won! So it got airplay through that. They wanted us to play at a function in a shopping mall but we said no.

How was the record distributed? Were copies circulated beyond Adelaide?

People bought them at work or at shows. We took some in to Andromeda Records - he put it on, laughed and said not totally negatively, "This is so bad".

The point is there was no distribution method as such - after a while we just gave them away at shows, if we even brought them along. The record sort of lost its interest for us - it was something we did as a bit of slightly expensive fun, the next logical step, and then the band moved to something else. I went overseas, came back, we picked up again at a new point, and did some more rehearsing and shows, and then shows without rehearsing. The record was back there and we'd lost focus on it.

When did the Ulsers disband?

I went overseas in late 1980. That was just after a show where the audience rang the police to stop us playing. We put it out that I had to leave the country for a time. I wrote a whole new batch of songs while in England. We worked on them on my return and the group got a little more "serious", got proper instruments, etc. Then it drifted apart for about 18 months. Later we reformed for one show. We had about 40 people there. We decided to play the earlier material and keep it fast and more punk in style. It was our best show. We hadn't played together for 18 months and there had been no rehearsal. Some songs the group only heard for the first time that night as they played them. That was the last show.

Julius Sumner Miller

I'm An Italian

Sounds like the back cover looks.
Like the Last Words, the Ulsers had a prominent German connection.