Monday 19 October 2015

The Screaming Abdabs - We Don't Wanna: The Paris Theatre Tape 1978

Out now on Wallaby Beat Records - CLICK HERE to order:

The Screaming Abdabs / City Ram Waddy LP (WBRX-2603)
Recently unearthed, previously unreleased 1978 recording by Sydney punks The Screaming Abdabs on side 1, and two raw/rare/remarkable 1979 solo records by Abdabs drummer Richard "City Ram" Waddy on side 2. The Screaming Abdabs shone brightly but briefly in the early Sydney punk scene, absorbing references from The Glitter Band, John Waters films, late night TV, Australian ‘60s punk and of course the Sex Pistols to create something loud, charismatic and uniquely Australian. Pressing of 500 copies, with 100 on pink vinyl. Includes a Spurt fanzine insert that folds out to a massive poster with detailed interviews, photos and press clippings.

Carmel on the back cover of
In The Gutter
The Screaming Abdabs were assembled in early 1978 as a vehicle for vocalist Carmel Strelein. A true iconoclast, Carmel cultivated a wild sense of personal style that made her instantly recognisable in the formative Sydney punk scene: shaved head, exaggerated eye make-up extending across her scalp, tattoos, piercings and outlandish custom altered clothes (notably, a knitted jumper with three arms, the extra limb stuffed to accentuate its strangeness). Her extreme aesthetic - informed by John Waters, Salvador Dali, Lindsay Kemp, and greaser movies on late night TV - unsurprisingly attracted attention. British photographer Norman Parkinson, known for his portraits of the royal family, travelled to Sydney in 1977 specifically to photograph Carmel, and the resulting shots were published over two pages in his 1978 book, Sisters Under The Skin. Other subjects included Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Queen Elizabeth and Miss Piggy(!). One particularly arresting photo of Carmel was reused later that year as the back cover for Val Hennesy’s In The Gutter, a UK punk exploitation book masquerading as sociology text.

There were less desirable kinds of attention too - from the cops, and from her peers. Here, Carmel and Simon McDowell (aka Simon Diamond) are interviewed in issue 1 of Spurt fanzine (1977) by editor Ian Hartley:

Hartley saw untapped potential in Carmel’s extreme persona, and by the time the second issue of Spurt went to press in late 1977, the pair had placed a notice on the back cover (supplemented by a poster in the foyer of the Paris Theatre) advertising for members for a new punk band, with Carmel as frontperson. Conceptually, Hartley and Spurt collaborator Dave Apps proposed two guiding themes. Firstly, the band should be uniquely Australian - in musical style, lyrical content, and in visual presentation. Secondly, after being floored by The Glitter Band's rhythm section on Gary Glitter's November 1973 Australian tour, Hartley and Apps decided to replicate that rhythm-heavy rumble on a punk budget - the drummer would use two bass drums and no cymbals.

From the back cover of Spurt #2

Guitarist Bruce Tindale, immersed in the Funhouse scene established by Radio Birdman, answered the ad in Spurt. Drummer Richard Waddy, an acolyte of X in the early, Ian Krahe line-up, answered the ad at The Paris. Nobody can quite remember how bass player Nick entered the fold. Nobody can quite remember his surname, either. Hazy memories recollect only that he was more "straight" than his bandmates, and also more musicianly. (Nick, if you're out there our email address is in the sidebar to the right). Following auditions at the Paris Theatre, which was then hosting regular punk gigs in addition to underground films and theatre performances, rehearsals began in earnest both at The Paris and at Hartley’s Spurt office on Oxford Street, Paddington. There, the band worked up a set of originals and a few, mostly Australian covers (AC/DC, Johnny O'Keefe, and It's You by Terry Dean, also covered later by Brisbane's The Credits). Carmel also set about shaping the band's look, with Bruce's shoulder-length hair being the first priority.

L-R: Bruce, Nick, Carmel and Richard at the Spurt office, Paddington, early 1978. Walls adorned with a Sex Pistols poster and the infamous Rose Tattoo Spurt front cover.
Carmel enforces the doctrine of short-haired rock and roll, and Bruce plays along. Ian Hartley in the background. (Photos: Stephen Best)

Before even deciding on a name, the new band debuted at a hurriedly-organised, low-key gig on March 6, 1978 at Blondies in Bondi Junction. The show was documented in Autopsy fanzine: "Carmel, who as usual was dressed to kill, all black body suit, stilettos & false eye lashes, delivered the vocals in a screeching style matched by her posturing... The band was loose but promising". More shows were booked at The Paris and at Blondies (the latter with an early, three-piece line-up of Rocks), and a name was locked in: The Screaming Abdabs.

The Screaming Abdabs at Blondies, 1978 (photo: Stephen Best)

The Screaming Abdabs' Paris Theatre show on April 12, 1978 was a scorching triple-bill - The Press, Johnny Dole & the Scabs, and The Abdabs as headliners. The Paris was packed, and the bands were greeted enthusiastically with a barrage of money, food and shoes thrown on stage. Radio station Double J's mobile recording truck had been camped at The Paris, recording performances from the likes of X, News, Survivors, Rocks, and the Boys Next Door for broadcast on Wednesday evenings. The Screaming Abdabs' set was recorded that night, but was never aired - Carmel reportedly badmouthed Double J between songs. Attempts to retrieve the tape at the time were unsuccessful, and it no longer exists in the ABC archives. The only extant cassette of the performance, from the collection of Bruce Tindale, is unlikely to be the Double J recording. It's more probable that the source was Ian Hartley, who habitually set up a reel-to-reel recorder through the Paris PA, and who gave the tape to Bruce shortly after the gig (Hartley also used one song - We Don't Wanna - on a cassette that came with issue 5/6 of Spurt, along with a version with the tape spooled backwards in homage to The Missing Links). That tape, expertly mastered by Mikey Young, comprises their side of the LP on Wallaby Beat.

The musical drive that Nick's bass playing brought to The Screaming Abdabs turned out also to be the band's undoing. Recalls Bruce: "He might have just felt this wasn't what he'd been thinking about as a nice band... He could play, whereas I could hardly play. He was very tolerant, for a while!". With the loss of their bass player, the band fell apart before the end of 1978. An attempt to revive a Carmel-led Abdabs, with the recruitment of a female bass player and an advertisement yet again placed in Spurt for a new guitarist and drummer, amounted to nothing. Bruce went on to play with The Professors, Room 101, Coupe de Ville, and Decline of the Reptiles. Richard adopted the name City Ram Waddy, and his incredible records from 1979 are compiled on side 2 of the Abdabs' Wallaby Beat LP.

Carmel moved from Sydney to San Francisco, where she attended punk gigs and formed the band Pillar Of Salt, whose song Surfin' In The Sewer was a minor hit on local radio. She also engaged with the drag queen community, as she had done extensively in Sydney, and established a successful hair salon called the Pink Tarantula. Tragically, in 1997 she was murdered as she worked at the salon, a contract killing instigated by her ex-husband. Carmel's early life, her fascinating San Francisco years, and the terrible circumstances surrounding her death are detailed in this truly excellent noir-style article by Jack Boulware from the SF Weekly.

The Screaming Abdabs - We Don't Wanna

Carmel and Bruce, Blondies 1978 (photo: Stephen Best)

Carmel Strelein at the Pink Tarantula Hair Salon in San Francisco,
October 22 1989 (photo: Dan Nicoletta)

Monday 3 August 2015

City Ram Waddy - Revelations: EMI Custom Records 1979

Out now on Wallaby Beat Records - CLICK HERE to order:

The Screaming Abdabs / City Ram Waddy LP (WBRX-2603)
Recently unearthed, previously unreleased 1978 recording by Sydney punks The Screaming Abdabs on side 1, and two raw/rare/remarkable 1979 solo records by Abdabs drummer Richard "City Ram" Waddy on side 2. The City Ram Waddy 7" sets a benchmark for primitivism in Australian DIY, while the City Ram And Ja Mystics 12" achieves propulsive Suicide-like repetition. Astonishing. Pressing of 500 copies, with 100 on pink vinyl. Includes a Spurt fanzine insert that folds out to a massive poster with detailed interviews, photos and press clippings.

The case of City Ram Waddy is among the most vexing of the Australian punk era. Who was this guy? What on earth was he on about? How does he fit into the grand scheme of Australian DIY? Why can't I find copies of these damn records?

The full Richard "City Ram" Waddy story can be found in a lengthy interview that will accompany our next release, an LP collecting Waddy's two exceedingly rare records from 1979, plus eight previously unreleased tracks by his former punk band, The Screaming Abdabs (the Abdabs' amazing story follows in its own post). In short, Waddy heard the Sex Pistols, ditched his high school blues band, and landed behind the kit with The Screaming Abdabs in early 1978. The Abdabs were done by the end of the year, prompting Waddy to pick up a guitar and launch an improbable campaign at solo punk stardom. The result: two almost non-existent records (EMI Custom pressings of 100), each containing drastic reinterpretations of the classic rock canon rendered unrecognisable by an overloaded cassette recorder mic (the City Ram Waddy 7") and clean, pro-studio minimalism (the City Ram And Ja Mystics 12"). The 7" sets a benchmark for primitivism in Australian punk, its shit-fi murk rivalling that of any DIY home-recording of the era. So reviled was this record that it was deemed unsellable by the only Sydney shop to take consignment copies; those records - up to half of the pressing - were unceremoniously dumped in the bin by a helpful employee (a young Roger Grierson from the Thought Criminals). The follow-up 12", recorded at EMI with Waddy on bass, achieves preconscious moments of sparse, propulsive Suicide-via-Jah-Wobble aggro. A few copies were sold on the streets of Sydney and London, but most were given away to industry contacts who, by and large, filed them in the same place as the aforementioned Sydney record shop.

Both records have homemade, photocopied insert sleeves with odd typewritten rants and then-topical local references (we are especially fond of the design credit to Brian Westlake on the 7"). Both records also make bizarre allusions to "conservation of sexual energy" that recall Jack D Ripper from Dr Strangelove, though as you'll read below, the true inspiration was even more astonishing. And both records are amazing, left-field oddness from a genuine iconoclast, the kind of noise from nowhere that makes us foam at the mouth.

What follows is an edited transcript of an interview we conducted with Richard Waddy in early 2015, the full version of which will appear as a fanzine/poster insert in the upcoming LP. Our gratitude to Richard for his enthusiasm and for being the best of sports.

Richard Waddy with The Screaming Abdabs, early 1978 (photo: Stephen Best)

Your solo stuff, the City Ram material, were you doing that at the same time as The Screaming Abdabs?

No, no I wasn't. I wanted just to be a drummer. I joined another couple of heavy punk bands in the inner city after the Abdabs, one was called The Proles, I remember. Like "proletariat", it was very politically oriented, like a very communist sort of band. Political science students. And then I got sacked from that band, they wouldn't even have me! So I really wanted to get some product, but I realised I couldn't work with people due to my attitudes. And I thought, y'know, "Stuff it, I'll become a solo act". And I tried to gig around, but I didn't even own a motor car. I tried to gig around Paddington in Sydney, Oxford Street before Oxford Street was really gay. It was pre-gay, it was more punk, I thought. Anyway, it was too hard, I was making no money. But I got all my money together and went down to EMI and said, "I want to make a single like the other punks". I wanted to stay punk. And they said, "Well, you need a couple of tracks". I think I recorded that original one on like a cassette recorder or something. I can't remember, but it was something like that.

So you basically recorded the first City Ram Waddy single at home?

Um...I think I did. I'm not sure, but I think I did, and that's why with the second record I said, "That was so terrible", so I paid for studio time either at EMI or another almost-as-good studio. But the whole punk thing was DIY for us amateurs, art school students and junk. So what I probably did was recorded on a cassette recorder and brought it in and said, "Can I have a record made please? How much is it?". They said, "A gazillion dollars!". So I gave them the cassette and they said, "Give us your money, kid", print print print, thank you EMI, thank you City Ram!


There were only a hundred copies of that first record, right?

Absolutely right. That's because I had no money. I didn't know what to do. I had no manager - my managers were all weird, right? There was Ian [Hartley, manager of The Screaming Abdabs] of course, who was one of the straightest shooters of the lot, but I had guys who were managing City Ram who were straight out of the political wing of Long Bay gaol! So it was desperate times, it was desperate to get this political statement out there.

What was the political statement you were making?

Well, I don't know! At the time I think we were in some sort of psychosis as young communists or something! I don't know, anyway the manager, it was all his thing. Well, it wasn't all his thing, but it was like, "Make money out of this, man". And I’m going, "Yeah, okay man", all I can do is, I'm a drummer who's trying to play guitar and sing a song and get some kind of...It was, "Okay okay, we'll make it what we can with what we've got", which wasn't much. Punk!

You did the City Ram And Ja Mystics 12" after that.

Oh yeah. It was sensational, it was a real sensation because it was a media saturation promotion. It went through the magazines internationally, and it went through the pop magazines. It didn't make a hit, but as promotion...lathered upon these kind of promotion and advertising agencies, they were keen to hear more of this weird crap! But not overly keen. Conservatively keen.



And how many copies did you press?

Okay, probably about a hundred again. Possibly, yeah. Because I took them to England, and I distributed them again, not trying to sell them this time, but just using them as promotional material.

Wow, you weren't actually selling them?

No, because there was no money in it. I didn't have the sales team, or the advertising, or the distribution to make a go of it. I needed some more money. I wanted to go to India, and I wanted to go to Europe, and I needed some bread to buy a share in a commune or something. I'd grown up a little bit.


One thing I've always wondered about is the spiel on the cover of the 12" that says, "City Ram the mystic rocker from Adelaide...". What was that about?

I was born in Adelaide. It was kind of like a little salute to where I was born, 'cause they weren't getting much product out there in the punk world, and I thought, as my mind must have worked in those days, "Oh, instead of being another Sydney band, if they don't like me I'll see if Adelaide does". Well, they didn't like me either! But you can see the marketing ideas. Trying to get some spin-off, and some kudos in lieu of cash, and getting record contracts and all that normal straight sort of mainstream ambition of every guitar kook in the world.

So your aim with the City Ram records really was just to get a record deal?

Exactly. I was trying to get a hit record just like Johnny Rotten. But I knew I didn't want to be like Johnny Rotten, I wanted to be a competitor to the Sex Pistols or any of them, and make money!

City Ram Waddy, late 1978
(photo: Bruce Tindale)
What was the reason that you recorded covers, rather than your own compositions?

Well, really I'm not much of a poet. I studied short story writing later to try to get the gift of the pen, but I had no talent. And these cats had written these okay songs, fairly easy to play, and I thought, "They're okay tracks, quite catchy", and I put my own little City Punk spin on them.

You certainly made those songs your own.

Yeah, and that's the best I could do as a product, really.

But you do have your own little lyrical turns in there, like the poems about celibacy on the first single, and the allusions to "conservation of sexual energy" on Double Adaptor [a reworking of Dropout Boogie by Captain Beefheart]. What's that all about?

That was sort of like trying to market the yoga experience through a punk format. Like, that basic essence of yoga 101 through a punk marketing format. And that's how I was going to be a millionaire.


After the City Ram 12", you headed overseas again.

Yeah, that's right. I took samples to the UK to try and crack it there. It's a hard market to crack, the UK. I had some limited smiles, but mostly rejections, as usual. Virgin Records were rather sweet, one or two others, but no real interest. You're the only people to ever show a deeper interest!


How long did you stay in the UK?

A year in the UK, a very, very, very hard year in the UK. I couldn't get a gig, I couldn't get an amplifier, I couldn't crack it at all. I got one night as a guest DJ at the Electric Ballroom with The Beat, I think, when they were just starting out. They were great, ska. Everyone was a skinhead at that time down there. The skinheads took over and they virtually adopted me, put me on a direction, a more professional, conservative direction. But still groovy, man. So I continued in the vein of music, but not so much bizarreness, more Anglo. More European, more straight rock or something.

Did you do any recording while you were there?

Nah, by then I was broke. I had to be liberated by Mum and Dad, back to Australia.

And did you continue the City Ram thing back in Sydney?

No, I went into rehab for like three years. I couldn't do anything, I didn't want to know about music. I had the classic rock and roll breakdown. And it took about ten years to come back. And I couldn't crack the scene because by then I had a reputation as a flake, or worse. I was really sick and I needed some money, so I actually became a gardener for about eight years, and then I went up north and lived in a hippie commune in about 1991. I also played football, rugby, and I wanted to play first grade but I only played fourth grade. So you see, I was on a health kick. No punk, no music!


One last obvious question. The name City Ram – where does it come from and what does it mean?

Well, there was a chant, one of those yoga chants, and the two words sounded like "City Ram". They weren't, it was "Sita Ram", about this god and his wife getting it on. I didn't want to get on the wrong foot with the Hindus, so I changed the words a little bit and made them more aggressive, which was probably in retrospect a very negative movement. But I'm tarred and feathered with it at the moment, and I'll probably be stuck with it for my working life.

It's a great name.

Yeah, yeah. I think it's right up there with Megadeth!

[hysterical laughter]

Walking The Dog / Poem
(from City Ram Waddy 7" Revelation/EMI Custom PRS-2610 1979)

Double Adaptor
(from City Ram And Ja Mystics - Project X 12" Revelation/EMI Custom PRS-2674 1979)

Some copies have the words "PRISONERS", "LONG BAY RIOTS" and "DRUG SMUGGLERS" redacted by hand

Friday 8 May 2015

There's Life In The Old Wallaby Yet

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Wallaby Beat is not dead. Shortly we’ll have some exciting news to share on the label front, and there'll be new posts to follow after that. In the meantime, like us on Facebook for more regular updates and additional bits and pieces that haven’t appeared on the blog.

Now, here's a cool Ulsers flyer.