Sunday 3 February 2013

It Never Ends: The Aberrant compilations

Looking back over Sydney fanzines from the '80s there was a hell of a lot of punk bands in the harbour city. A hell of a lot of bands who really didn't get around to documenting themselves. If it weren't for Bruce Griffiths' three Aberrant compilations even more of those bands would just be a faded memory.

The run started with Flowers From The Dustbin in November 1983, its title inspired by a line in God Save The Queen. Setting out to capture some of the bands who had been playing around that year it was successful, but as Griffiths later noted "a month after release just two bands remained and one musician was dead." While The Kelpies, Positive Hatred and World War XXIV would have more stuff released by Aberrant, and Box Of Fish went on to put records out on Method, this was it for Velocette, Queen Anne's Revenge (who became CHAOS) and What?!! (who only ever played one gig anyway!). The foldout poster sleeve for this was a real labour of love, with over 160 band photos, posters, lyrics and band histories.

Second was Not So Humdrum which aimed to use leftover Suicide Squad tracks from the first compilation, which had been mooted as a double at one stage, with some 1984 vintage bands. From memory the title was a riposte to Molly Meldrum's Humdrum segment on Countdown. If you were impressed by the sleeve layout on Flowers From The Dustbin then you were surely completely blown away by the sixteen page booklet sleeve for this record. Particularly strong on this record are the two tracks by the 1984 incarnation of Rocks, and special note must be made of Gavin Williams from WKOSA's "I Hate Oz Rock" t-shirt. The booklet also contains Griffiths' first Sydney family trees. Sitting here looking at them again for the first time in a few years I'm astounded by the amount of information on completely forgotten bands contained therein. "The Clits: Late '78. 1 gig in a chicken shed at a party on a farm". Amazing. Note that you need the stamped paper diecut sleeve to have a complete version of this release.

The third Aberrant compilation took a similar tack. Released in 1985, Why March When You Can Riot?, named after a line in the Rejex song Who Wants To March, mixes up '85 era bands like feedtime and Bedspreads, with early Hard-ons recordings, and late '70s tracks by Johnny Dole and the Scabs, XL Capris, X and Local Product. This was the first time that the X and Johnny Dole tracks contained were issued and they are fantastic. In fact this is musically the strongest of the LPs, though that may be our late '70s preferences showing through. Again the booklet (plus extra insert) is exceptional, with more photos, lyrics, interviews and family trees (pretty sure the only mention anywhere of pre-Nervous System band Farfisa and the Fucked Organs) than could fill yet another wet Sydney weekend.

So all up there's three essential records from which to garner more of an understanding of Sydney punk. There's an interview with Bruce by Steve Gardner that goes into details on how the records were put together, along with Griffiths' inspirations and philosophy - read it here. Everything from these records, plus an extra Kelpies track and the first Trousers In Action 7", was compiled on the Go And Do It double CD on Small Axe from 1996, which is still available here. When you've come back from purchasing it we'll get into the French issues.

All three albums were issued in France on the Ripost label: Flowers From The Dustbin in 1986, Not So Humdrum in 1987, and Why March When You Can Riot? in early 1989. The first contains a copy of the Australian sleeve as an "insert", while the second and third have cutdown 4-page inserts based on excerpts from the Australian booklets.

What we find most entertaining about these is the cover artwork, credited to Emmanuel on the first two, but we're pretty sure notre homme was behind them all. Manu burst out of the gates with three punk kangaroos going off. Some of the best punk novelty records and artwork originated from the French speaking world and the tradition is kept strong here with safety pins, mohawks, sunglasses, a chain necklace, and a midriff singlet emblazoned "FUCK". We're kinda partial to the zippered shut pouch, though.

We asked Bruce about these sleeves a few years ago.
Even having you remind me of that midriff top years later is making me cringe (as well as remember how much I cringed at the time) although I'd probably have enjoyed the zippered pouch had the other nonsense not been present. The extent of my memory is they wanted the covers to scream "Australian punk" so ditched the punk photos in favour of cartoon kangaroos with safety pins, which apparently the French would immediately 'get'. One of the covers isn't half bad, once you've adjusted to the whole, er, 'idea', but they're all pretty cheesy really. The backs they kept intact. 
[Wallaby Beat] As I remember you telling me you said "whatever you want" as long as there's no skulls or anarchy symbols and you were a mite horrified when you saw kangaroos with leather jackets and mohawks, and yes you're right - safety pins.
Ah, yes, you are correct. That's exactly what happened - I definitely specified "no skulls", and I strongly suspect I blacklisted the "(A)", and maybe that was it. I've remained partial to safety pins, so wouldn't have ruled them out, and leather jackets are harmless enough, but it never occurred to me they'd do cartoon kangaroos. I can only assume I didn't specify "no mohawks" (never liked them, so something I overlooked rather than consciously didn't do)... I wouldn't rule out zips either (pretty sure those kangaroos have many)... 
Emmanuel hopes the safety pins flying everywhere distract attention from the skull belt buckle and anarchy badge. The emu mic stand is kinda inspired though...
[Bruce] I don't mind the paratrooping one, in terms of the aggression, but if they'd said "We want kangaroos" I'd have done the art myself with a safety pin through a kangaroo's head a la Jamie Reid or somesuch, with infinitely more style and a nod to 'the master'. Ah well. Photo of kangaroo, pin through ear, zippered pouch, done. They sold out the pressings, so perhaps they knew what they were doing? 

As always we leave the real it-never-ends aspect to the very end. At some stage Ripost ran out of sleeves for Not So Humdrum. They recycled sleeves for Flowers From The Dustbin by turning them inside out and printing new Not So Humdrum artwork previously used on the labels of the three Ripost LPs. By now our only surviving kangaroo is looking bruised and battered and all the worse for wear after a night on the tiles. Not a single punk cliche to be seen though!

On the back of the sleeve for this one Emmanuel reveals his model for the kangaroos was rats, and rooting rats at that. I thought the tails on those paratroopers didn't look like roo tails!

Update 9 March 2013: Here is the xerox sleeve for Why March When You Can Riot mentioned in the comments. Used for 33 leftover copies of the record.


Anonymous said...

From what I have read, most of Queen Anne's Revenge were later in Chaos. Maybe it's no coincidence that the sleeve and label of their EP features a 'punk' kangaroo? Oh yeah, and a bloke with a skull belt and mohawk

Anonymous said...

For Why March When you Can Riot there was also a "official bootleg" edition of 33 with photocopied front and back as there 33 discs remaining when the covers ran out.I will see if i can email pictures to you.

Anonymous said...

they started out as Chaos,changed to
Q A R, then went back to Chaos later.

PunkRobbie. said...

Yes they were Chaos, Colin V: guitar, Steve B: Bass ,Dave B: Drums, "CAPT;Kevin T: Vocals and later on another great guy Mark C: also a bit of an artist. They were a Full On Play Loud and Fast Band , they also were great muso's and great friends..Miss those guys , They had The Pirate Cove and we had the Bat Cave. Colin played until his pick ups were covered in blood. Then there was Queen Anne's Revenge. Seeing them at Garibaldi's was a moment you would never forget.