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.


Anonymous said...

Awesome words above this & even better: can't wait for the reish/archival releases hpefully coming soon and into my hands!!


Trevor Block said...

He mentions things happening "at work" a bit- where did they all work?

Anonymous said...

This is another one I knew of but don't recall actually hearing. But it sounds so incredibly obscure I wonder how I heard about it in the first place?

Anonymous said...

woah... the slugfuckers are a good frame of refernce, but it doesn't really prepare you for what comes out of the speakers. wild stuff, really great. and a fascinating story too. ulsers rule! bring on the reissues!

Wallaby Beat said...

Trevor - we've often wondered that ourselves.

Steve - perhaps you heard about the single via The Prof's Australian Punk Discography, where it has been listed since early 2000. If not there, could it have been the small Adelaide discography in Public Eye zine from 1983? That's the only of-the-era mention of the Ulsers that we've been able to find.

kiyote00 said...

This record is so amazing.