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