Sunday 30 September 2012

Relatives - Uncle Theo Comes To Visit 7" Red Ash RAP 002, 1979

By now, regular readers will be well acquainted with The Relatives' great first single, and in particular its hilarious diss of art dealers and collectors. Written from the perspective of a former art collector, Picasso (Private Collector) reflects on the absurdity of the collecting world. Among its many pointed observations, the sentiment that "auctioneers should be kicked in the face" is one that still has some currency with today's punks. The song's conclusion - in which the cynical ex-collector ends up making counterfeits - may ring bells for some, too.

The theme is continued on Uncle Theo Comes to Visit, The Relatives' second and last single. The Prof has been known to complain that it lacks humour, but we'll put that down to its standout song, The Collector, cutting too close to the bone. It's a cracking song, a cautionary tale about the all-consuming record collecting impulse. Riffs cycle through a progression of truck driver's gear changes, ramping up the tension as the obsession takes hold, and only returning to baseline once the collection has gone up in flames. Most hardcore record collectors have, at one time or another, fantasised about being released from the burden of a collection by destroying it. We ourselves have often contemplated the therapeutic benefits of putting a match to our 50-count box of Hilton Bomber EPs. Hmm, tomorrow's a public holiday - might be a nice day to fire up the barbeque.

We put some questions about Uncle Theo (and Uncle Theo) to Simon Kain, Relatives bassist and all-round nice guy. Not only did he answer them graciously, he also made available an unreleased song from the Uncle Theo sessions. Ultimate Fridge embodies everything that's great about The Relatives - inventive songwriting, unique and funny lyrics, lots of energy - and would've been a highlight had it been included on the record.

There were formative pre-punk versions of The Relatives going back to 1975 or so, but by 1977 your set lists had already incorporated Saints and Sex Pistols tunes. Dave Graney has spoken of seeing a news report about the Pistols as the key event in his introduction to punk - was there a similar pivotal moment that pushed The Relatives in that direction?

Reading Anthony O'Grady's Funhouse editorial in RAM Magazine really gave a sense of momentum of a pre-punk movement especially the Sydney scene. By this time our listening was extending to Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Velvets etc. There were snippets about the Ramones, Blondie and the CBGB scene coming through, and then the UK scene started getting mentioned. The Pistols getting signed and dropped by EMI was making the local papers, and the first plays of the video were on TV, from Countdown to Flashez to the news. I think I missed the LWT report Graney mentions but the release of Anarchy was highly anticipated and I bought it on the day of release. The Saints were also getting name checked after their Sounds review, however I (and we) didn't get to see either them or Birdman as we were still too young to get into the gigs and we missed the Punk Gunk gigs as well.

If there was a seminal moment I guess it would have been in early 1977 when the Boys Next Door played a house party over the road from our house. Their equipment van had broken down so the host, who knew we had a band, dragged them over to our place looking for amps. We had tiny little practice amps at this stage but they gladly borrowed them. Having supplied the gear we were invited to the party which was a rabble of the St Kilda scene absolutely tearing the place up. Chris Walsh of The Negatives was filling in on bass for Tracey and I had a long chat to him about music etc. On the turntable they played Alice Cooper's Killer and Funhouse by The Stooges, both I heard for the first time and really right then my direction was set. The band played a great early set of the Lethal Weapons tracks plus covers of I'm Eighteen and possibly the Ramones. Cave was in torn jeans and a cadet shirt with a (Caulfield Grammar?) school tie and a holey jumper over that. It was a great gig and the fun, pace, mayhem and energy of the night really set us on the trail to play punk classics in first gig as The Velvet Underpants in 1977.

Babeez/News seem to have been influential in giving a hand to younger bands in Melbourne, the Proles in particular. News gave you an early gig at Bernhardt's - how influential were they on The Relatives?

In 1978 I was at Melbourne University with John Murphy, who was a school friend of a guy I knew from Scotch College. John was drumming in News and I often ran into him in Lygon Street outside of Readings, which was then the number one place in Melbourne to get all the new singles coming out of the UK and USA. They used to get the shipment on I think a Wednesday morning and then pin them up on a large cork board. I'd drool trying to work out which ones to get each week and was never disappointed.

Back to John - of course we discussed music and he kindly offered to try to get us a support at News' Bernhardt's residency. Bernhardt's was the still-standing disco better known as the Thumpin' Tum in the '60s. It still had the old decor of black and white striped wallpaper and red light coverings. It was a mad crowd of guys in garbage bin liners and was a lot more "punk" than the scene at the Tiger Lounge in Richmond where the Boys Next Door had a residency on Tuesday nights.

By the time we got the support we'd changed the band's name to The Nooney Rickett IV, which we pinched from a combo in a kitsch '60s teen flick called Winter A-Go-Go. Jason and Rodney were still at school and I think for this gig we had dropped the second drumming, retaining Ashley Thompson. We had a lot of nerves playing our first public gig, especially to a real punk audience. My memory of the gig was a blur of noise, we hadn't used foldback before and we couldn't hear what the other guys were playing. It was a slow death that couldn't end sooner and there was a real sense of disappointment afterwards. Not shared by all the band, but I really felt down after that and we didn't play in a "punk venue" again until 1980.

The Relatives released two singles within the space of 6 months in 1979. A common lyrical thread between them has always intrigued me: collectors and collecting. The lyrics seem to reveal an inside knowledge of The Sickness. What was the inspiration there?

I wrote The Collector for the Theo EP. It was directly inspired by a guy I knew who had the most incredible collection of records, all beautifully arranged in his bedroom. He'd order boxes of releases each month, it really was an obsession. Going as far as getting every different country's release of the same record. I mean really! Spending another $20 on a record you already have just to know you have the Spanish version. Years later he'd sold the lot (bar his fave 45s) and replaced them all with CDs (no doubt still getting each release with different country of origin!). I had my own vinyl Jones going (see Readings above) so it was really a warning that the obsession can overwhelm you in the end, hence the burning of the collection at the end of the song.

Who is Uncle Theo?

The relative you love to visit.

You pressed more copies of Uncle Theo than your first single (500 vs 300). It certainly seems to be easier to find. Tell us about how Uncle Theo was distributed - did copies make it elsewhere in Australia, or even overseas?

The vast majority of Uncle Theo singles (and almost all the badges that went with them) were given away on the night with the extras given to band members, sent to whatever radio stations, press, bookers or industry connections we could find. Only a few were put on sale in shops, I dropped off five I think to Readings (of course) and our local Brighton record shop took 10 copies or so. I was too embarrassed to ask for any money for them - that is, if they ever sold. None were sent to overseas press or labels that I can remember. One copy did end up with Molly [Meldrum]. We were at the taping of Countdown when the Police played and whilst he wasn't looking I flung a copy onto the pile of records he was about to review. Unfortunately the ruse failed and we missed out on our one Countdown moment.

After the two singles, The Relatives went in a more post-punk, Fall/Gang of Four direction. How do you rate the songs from this period compared to the singles? Did this incarnation of the band do any studio recording?

The music changed fast and the amount of influences swirling around were so exciting to soak up. Both the Gang of Four and Fall were big influences as well as the Birthday Party, Wire, Mekons, Pop Group, PiL to name a scant handful. It was a natural progression to keep harnessing the aggression of punk and explore the rhythm and jaggedness of the sounds that were around. We were not going to be a Sham 69. Once Andrew and Ashley left the group (1979) Rob took over all the vocal duties and we drafted Bruce in on drums. He was a sheet metal worker with long hair and a real prog rock drum kit with multiple toms etc. The kit shrunk over time and he became a real beast of a player which drove the beat of the group.

Another change at this time was that Rodney Howard began writing songs prolifically. Songs such as Trade Secret, Philosophy and Golden Rule are some of my fave tracks we ever played. Intricate staccato-like riffs with a propelling beat and great lyrics. It's such a shame these were only recorded to demo stage and not properly released. With Rod writing so many great songs I think it was about six months before Rob, Jason and myself (the Kain brothers often collaborated) began offering new songs. All the recordings of this era are well documented in the tapes that are at Inner City Sound. There are no other recordings from that period that I recall. It being the era of the cassette we did plan to release cassette only versions of some recordings, live and studio (RAP 003 and 004), but didn't get around to doing so.

You seem to have done a great job documenting The Relatives' history. Was it apparent at the time that you were involved in something important, something worth documenting and preserving?

See answer to the Collector! I have always hoarded stuff about bands I enjoyed, from the early days of scrapbooks to Go Set to programmes from live shows. It seemed only logical to extend this to any band(s) I was in and yes I knew it was important, possibly not to anyone else but certainly to the members of the band. As I've probably shown in my rants above, that era was incredibly special. There was a new inspiration with every NME, gig, visit to a record store and every new Relatives rehearsal. It all went by so relatively quickly (say '77 to '82), I'm glad I kept it all.

The Kain brothers both continued to play music after The Relatives broke up. What are you currently up to musically?

Jason is more active than I. After Chad's Tree broke up in 1989 I did a few gigs with Juliet Ward (Lighthouse Keepers) and Jason in a band called Skullduggery, but I gave up playing live altogether. I got into band management and booking and the bug has never bit again.

Emotional Moment [Download]

Summer Holocaust [Download]

The Collector [Download]

Ultimate Fridge (unreleased) [Download]

Sunday 23 September 2012

News - I'm So Confused 7" Missing Link MLS-14, 1980

Back when we only listened to punk rock there were just five Australian powerpop records that would get turntable time around here - the Numbers/Riptides' 77 Sunset Strip, The Scientists' first, The Marching Girls, The Zorros and this puppy. 

News' third single, fourth if you count the Babeez, contains perhaps the purest pop song amongst all of those, I'm So Confused. It's a brilliant track with strawberry melodies, the requisite self-doubt about a girl in the lyrics, and a downtempo bridge lifting to a powerful finish. It's also another example of piano being used to good effect in early Australian punk (see Leftovers, Fun Things, Just Urbain). That Girl is a fast-paced and somewhat demented new wave track, lent a certain uniqueness with an analogue synth solo and count-ups in two languages (to eight, mind you).

In some ways the pop slant was no accident. While political, buzzsaw punk dominated the band's early sound, there was more than a nod to pop as well. As retold at the excellent Babeez/News website, (well worth starting at page one and reading the whole thing), "revved up" bubblegum covers had appeared in News' set quite early on. 
People step on our toes, as the Fraser Government has; but we're not going to take it lying down, we're going to fight back. But, we want to keep it Pop!
The end of the first phase of the band started with John From The Suburbs' departure to drum for Crime and The City Solution. Things started to fall apart with Julie Relentless also leaving and Jarryl Circus following Kim Fowley to L.A. Around the same time they had recruited a second guitarist in Russell Urban (né Irvine). 

Singer Adam Five took Urban and grabbed some new members in Kim Morton on bass and Limp Member (Dorland Brey) on drums. Gigging solidified the band and then Missing Link offered them the chance to record a single at Richmond Recorders with Tony Cohen. Prior to recording they added a keyboard player from the Carlton scene, Graham Lewis. Keith Glass and Ross Wilson provided backing vocals.  The single eventually sold 1500 copies but after an East Coast tour with mixed results the band called it a day.

Five continued to make music but as the quality went down he had the decency to rename the band, slightly, to New 5; unlike Chris Bailey who should have considered the Saint 5, or the Shit Saints, or something equally apt.

I'm So Confused [Download]

That Girl [Download]

More from the Wallaby Beat badge collection

Sunday 16 September 2012

Ginger - Get Back Mama 7" Polydor 2079 053, 1974

Record collecting isn't a competition, except when it is. Immersed in the dusty, mouldy, rancid stacks of 45s at Gould's Book Arcade, I'm suddenly aware of a new presence lurking around the racks - the gent responsible for releasing the D.A.s flexi, who just happens to be Sydney's (other) most ardent grillfat collector. Usually a chance meeting would mean a lengthy discussion about Buffalo rehearsal tapes and the greatness of the Toxic 45, but digging is serious business so pleasantries are foregone for a quick nod of recognition before it's back to the trenches. Time passes - minutes? hours? days? - with nothing for our troubles but blackened hands and the early signs of mesothelioma. For Mr Grillfat, the tedium becomes too much and he throws in the towel. Literally at that very moment, the Ginger single peers out of an unlikely handful of sleeveless oldies 45s. I laugh loudly - it's more of a cackle, really - wave the record over my head and taunt Mr Grillfat with a cry of "Lightweight!" as he walks off into the distance. It's a sense of superiority unique to a man standing knee deep in filthy garbage to kill time while his wife's at the gym. I pay the requisite 95 cents and leave feeling smug and in desperate need of a decontamination shower.

Fast forward a few years and a copy of the Ginger 45 appears on eBay UK as part of a killer glam collection. Condition is listed as VG, which is less than ideal but undoubtedly better than the G (for Gould's) copy filed at Wallaby Beat HQ, so I pull the trigger. And here we are, 35 quid later, yet again wondering why we've seen just two copies of a major label Australian glam record in the last decade.

Suzi Quatro had greater and more prolonged chart success in Australia than just about anywhere else, so covering a track from her debut LP probably seemed like a safe bet in 1974. Get Back Mamma is a fine song in its original incarnation, but when we feel the urge it's Ginger's reworking that's more likely to hit the turntable. With a symbolic dropping of an "m" from the title, Ginger's arrangement is tauter and the attack more basic; not only that, the amateurish take on Suzi Q's bass solo is endearingly sloppy, and the replacement of the original's electric piano with a bleeping, pulsing analogue synth adds to the over-the-top feel.

We suspect that Ginger was initially a studio project in the finest Euro-glam tradition, but a touring version of the band was assembled to promote the single. Among those involved were two-thirds of unrecorded Sydney band Today, Chris Brockbank (a.k.a. Chris Phantom) and a young Michel Brouet (later of The Press). Sadly, the attempt to coattail ride on Suzi Q's popularity was a resounding failure, sealing the single's fate as a low-lying layer of the Gould's crust.

Get Back Mama [Download]

Sunday 9 September 2012

The D.A.s - Death City 7" flexi Really Good Records, 1983

The imperative to rock has always been there, it's just the perceptible shifts in influences that help notate the passing years. The grillfat recordings we've paid tribute to thus far have been mid and late '70s vintage, generally pre-punk, and draw from archetypes like Deep Purple, Slade and AC/DC. Then there's the few hard rock/punk crossovers like Invader. Today we look at one direction things went in for suburban kids who wanted to rock as the new decade yawned. Rather than mersh hard rock (effectively Oz rock updated), or pure Iron Maiden/Judas Priest metal, some kids followed local heroes and filtered the Blue Oyster Cult and MC5 through Radio Birdman and The Hitmen.

One such very short-lived band was Sydney's The D.A.s. Singer John Denison had organised Bon-era AC/DC and Dragon to play at his high school. After passing through the Guests, he brought this band together in March 1983, playing their first gig with The Hoodoo Gurus at the Southern Cross Hotel. More gigs followed where they extended their mostly covers set list (Remains' Don't Look Back, MC5's High School and Looking At You) with some originals. Pretty damn quickly they organised this flexi-disc to be included with issue 7 of Sydney fanzine 48 Crash (May 1983). And, um, that's it. Denison went on to the Howling Commandos, the rest disappeared.

The songs are training wheels level with the Dead Boys cover being somewhat uninspired. The original, Death City, however, has grown on us a bit over the years, and is a good example of The Hitmen's pervasive influence on the kids.

Death City [Download]

Sonic Reducer [Download]

Blurb from 48 Crash Issue 7. Click to read.
Da boys.

Sunday 2 September 2012

The So+So's - Can't Say Love 7" Beta Beat Records ß003/13346, 1982

Like many Festival Records pic sleeves of the era, The So+So's announce their one and only single as a "Limited Edition". Sure, but not as limited as the band's cassette releases, which we've never so much as laid eyes on. If you're holding, drop us a line. We're not exactly sure where to place this one - it's mildly punky in the verses, a bit powerpoppy in the chorus, and kinda mod-ish in the overall aesthetic (Rickenbackers, a Modern Sounds Now motto and a curious backwards endorsement for Pete Townshend). It's also decidedly EP's-like in its disregard for the rules of punctuation. Whatever, we're suckers for a strong, driving and melodic chorus so let's just go with powerpop. Pretty good, though it does suffer from the too clean/too loud drum sound that infects most of Basilisk Studio's post-1980 output. The flipside is downtempo and moody, and altogether undistinguished.

Can't Say Love [Download]