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)


Anonymous said...

Never saw them play, but I remember that three armed jumper!

Tobias Richardson said...

Mighty stuff indeed.

Anonymous said...

That was great ,brought back so many memories , Im still laughing , a great time in Sydney music scene!!!

Anonymous said...

I've got that Spurt with Rose Tattoo on the cover. Why is it "infamous"? (Apart from why are they on the cover of a punk magazine?)

Owen said...

Great stuff. fwiw there is a video tribute to Carmel at It's in French though.

Anonymous said...

Wowee Kowee!! I can't wait to get my hands on this record!! Thank you so much for putting it all together!!


Anonymous said...

Taking a long time......

Anonymous said...

WFMU Radio NY USA is first to play this .