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]

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