By Ian McFarlane.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock (4-CD box, Warner Music/Festival)
There’s a school of thought that might have us believe Australian rock music came of age on the international stage in the 1980s and 1990s. As the new 4-CD collection The Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock posits, the reality is that Australian music came of age on the stages of the country’s suburban beer barns during the 1970s and 1980s.
While inner-city venues such as Martini’s in Carlton or the Bondi Lifesaver might have held a couple of hundred patrons, some of the larger rooms in the suburbs held up to 1,500 or more people. Pub venues such as the Village Green and the Matthew Flinders Hotel in Melbourne, the Eureka Hotel in Geelong, the Family Inn and the Parramatta Leagues club in Sydney, the Largs Pier and Tivoli hotels in Adelaide, the National in Brisbane… and a hundred others besides provided the setting and the environment. The bands provided the entertainment.
In the intensely ritualistic milieu of the Aussie pub rock gig, entertainment was the guiding principle and the ultimate reward. While beer-soaked young men crowded the front of the stage and the girls danced madly up the back, Cold Chisel, The Angels, The Radiators, Australian Crawl, Rose Tattoo, Hunters & Collectors etc provided the entertainment with their loud, bruising sound and presentation. Members of the audience wanted to be entertained, they wanted to drink gallons of beer, sweat profusely and stick their heads in the bass bins of massive PA stacks. Putting none too finer point on it then, alcohol was the nexus between environment, entertainment, community and commerce.
There was a whole touring circuit of pubs that allowed bands to criss-cross the country on a regular basis. The life of a touring musicians in Australia was a succession of one-night stands in pubs across the land, sometimes two or three venues in one night. While a tour support slot to an international band might snare them a 45 minute set at Festival Hall or the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, or the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, the rest of the time it was Bombay Rock or the Civic, or the Prospect Hill or the San Miguel that provided their daily bread.
And for that to happen a fundamental infrastructure developed, from the venues owners providing the rooms, through the band booking agencies, band management, the road crews and down to the musicians themselves. On top of that there were regulatory regimes under which it all operated. Yet the success of the pub rock environment is testament to that development.
In the liner notes for this compilation, Cold Chisel’s manager Rod Willis is quoted as saying that “the golden age of pub rock started in mid to late 1979 and lasted till around mid-1983”. In essence you can’t argue with that from the management/band axis point of view, but we can expand upon that by recognising that pub rock really kicked off in about 1971 when changes in the liquor licensing laws allowed bands to play the suburban pubs. So Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Coloured Balls, Carson, Chain, The Dingoes, Ariel etc lead the charge. Soon Skyhooks, AC/DC, The Angels, Cold Chisel, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, The Sports, Rose Tattoo, Kevin Borich Express, Finch, Midnight Oil, Mondo Rock etc stepped into the fray.
The next generation of bands comprising Mental as Anything, Men at Work, Flowers, INXS, Models, Sunnyboys, The Hitmen, Hunters & Collectors, The Reels, Choirboys etc emerged in the wake of punk and New Wave. Many of these bands started off in the small inner-city venues, playing in a wide range of stylistic parameters yet they all fit readily into the framework of pub rock. Rather than being based around a particular sound or genre (boogie rock, hard rock, or what might have been termed Oz Rock), pub rock essentially can be identified as being rooted in the environment of the gig itself.
Andrew Duffield, keyboardist with the Models, knows the life of the touring pub musician only too well.
“Because we rose out of the punk/New Wave thing we did start out in the smaller inner-city venues, places like the Exford, the Tiger Lounge in Richmond, the early Ballroom gigs. Of course we were in awe of all the new British bands that came out in late 1970s, I don’t think we identified with the local bands that had gone before us. I don’t think we felt we’d done the groundwork like those other bands had already done, they always seemed to us like legitimate musicians and we came out of that do-it-yourself ethos, that idea of picking up a guitar with no experience, or indeed synthesizers. They became affordable at that particular point so if you couldn’t complete a band with the standard bass, guitar, drums line-up you’d add a synth player or a drum machine to fill the gaps. So it was a quirky deviation on the regular pub bands. The seriousness of bands like Cold Chisel, The Angels it seemed to us a bit much, it was all terribly intense. I don’t think we felt a part of that at first.
“Later on we started playing the suburban pubs. What allowed us to that was that we had a road crew with a truck and a PA, lights and so on that you used to drag around to these pubs, playing every night. Really the road crew was the machinery that kept us going. The musicians never made any money touring, we were often on the dole as you were able to in those days. It was the machinery of the booking agency and the guys in the road crew that kept pushing the whole thing along.
“We’d gone beyond being just part of the inner-city scene. But a band such as Hunters & Collectors seemed to be very focused and had a plan, whereas the Models seemed to be kind of haphazard, to say the least. So the options for the Nick Caves or the Dave Graneys or the Go-Betweens, who didn’t want to be part of the pub scene, were either to stay in Australia on the margins or go to England. So for the Models we kind of hung around for a good while and we became part of that Australian pub circuit, whereas Nick wanted to distance himself from all of that, whether by choice or he just had to, I don’t know.
“Some of those big heavy bands, AC/DC, The Aztecs, The Angels, a lot of that reflected the whole working-class ethos, the manufacturing industry, the Holdens, the Fords, the Toyotas that were being build on production lines back in the ’70s. The bands of our generation were more likely to have come out of an art school background, a slightly more privileged, post-Gough Whitlam environment, you know. Musicians that were part of the film scene, that whole kind of burgeoning thing with Double J, community radio Triple R, there was a whole backdrop going on there.
“It was a very spoiled generation. It was post-conscription so we didn’t have that fear as young men of what was expected of us when we turned 18, you know. That was an incredible sense of liberation, in some ways there was guilt that we didn’t have to go through that thing of being called up for National Service, I mean, what an incredible relief…
“I guess we fitted into the pub rock scene, but I think that the male stereotype was still set in this very macho tradition, so bands like Models, Jimmy and the Boys, The Reels we all had a different opinion on what we thought men were supposed to be like at that time. The way men dressed, or the colour of our hair, those things were quite challenging to the Australian sense of itself, that was just us responding to our English counterparts to the fashions of the time. Models had situations in the pubs where people frankly hated us. James Freud leapt off stage at a gig in Canberra and got into a fight with somebody in the audience because they’d thrown something at him.”
Not all inner-city bands made the transition to the suburban pub circuit. There’s the legendary story of the Scientists supporting The Angels at the Parramatta Leagues Club in Sydney’s western suburbs. With their safe preconceptions having been shattered by Scientists’ confrontational music, The Angels’ audience responded to the band with a barrage of beer cans and glasses. Singer/guitarist Kim Salmon unleashed the most obnoxious riff he could come up with, just to hammer his point him. Scientists endured the abuse for 20 minutes before leaving the stage, content in the knowledge they’d ruined the entire audience’s night out.
Which is probably why the Scientists aren’t represented here – they just didn’t fit in – whereas you get other former inner-city bands Models, Hunters & Collectors, Sunnyboys, The Reels, Boys Next Door, Jimmy and the Boys, Lime Spiders, X, Painters & Dockers, The Zimmermen, The Screaming Tribesmen etc among the easily digestible Angels, Cold Chisel, Rose Tattoo, Moving Pictures, Baby Animals, Choirboys, Men at Work etc.
The death knell of Aussie pub rock came in the early 1990s with the three-pronged thrust of the installation of pokies in venues, the club scene with DJs spinning discs rather than bands providing the entertainment and the emergence of national touring events such as the Big Day Out. So one phase of the cycle of life moved on to the next…
Not everyone shares a positive view of the glory days of Aussie pub rock. Without going into too much detail about what the book entails, Shane Homan’s The Mayor’s a Square: Live Music and Law and Order in Sydney (2003) is an incredibly insightful book, analysing the development of live music in Sydney, the regulatory constraints involved and the experiences of the working musicians. In his conclusion Homan warns against the romanticisation of the pub rock milieu, of Oz Rock’s “residual power as a unifying discourse in view of the decline of its ‘legendary’ sites of performance”. Rather tellingly, former musician (Thought Criminals), band manager and record label CEO Roger Grierson viewed the glory days of Aussie pub rock in a rather more mundane light
Ever the straight shooter he’s quoted in the book as saying, “People still say, ‘oh, I remember the (Royal) Antler in the good old days’, but it was only ever packed when The Dead Kennedys, Midnight Oil or Cold Chisel played there. The other twenty nine days of the month it was deserted, or with only 100 people there. The golden (pub rock) era was bullshit, it was full of crap bands. If your idea of a good night was being jammed in with 1300 other people to see Dragon, or God forbid, The Radiators at the Bexley North hotel, buying over-priced drinks, being treated like shit, having to hide from the bouncers… I think what people are confusing is the spirit of what was going on, people getting into something new and great.”
Irrespective of all that, it’s the music that’s the only certainty now. It emerged out of the environment of Aussie pub rock. So what’s to be made of the music contained on The Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock… all 4 CDs and 91 tracks of it? First and foremost it’s all pretty darn good. Here’s a baker’s dozen selection of classic tracks that are guaranteed to hit an emotional chord and stir the old memory banks:
- Cold Chisel – ‘Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)’ (1978)
- Midnight Oil – ‘Cold Cold Change’ (1979)
- The Angels – ‘Take a Long Line’ (1978)
- Models – ‘Big on Love’ (1984)
- Matt Finish – ‘Mancini Shuffle’ (Demo version) (1980)
- Sunnyboys – ‘Show Me Some Discipline’ (Single version) (1983)
- The Numbers – ‘The Modern Song’ (1980)
- Skyhooks – ‘Women in Uniform’ (1978)
- Renée Geyer – ‘Hot Minutes’ (1980)
- Boys Next Door – ‘Shivers’ (1978)
- Ray Arnott – ‘On the Run’ (1979)
- Spy v. Spy – ‘Don’t Tear it Down’ (1986)
- The Screaming Tribesmen – ‘Date with a Vampyre’ (1985)
If I were to nominate just one representative track it would be v. Spy v. Spy’s ‘Don’t Tear it Down’. In terms of musicality, arrangement, sound and the message, it’s the archetypal Aussie pub rock track. Everyone will have their own favourites. Bring on Volume 2…
In conversation with David Laing (Compiler)
ATN: Congrats on another great compilation. It’s a very broad brushstroke approach, 91 tracks, a variety of styles, 1972-1991. But what is the essence of Aussie Pub Rock? What does Pub Rock mean to you?
DL: Yes very broad brushstroke approach for a number of reasons. Pub Rock means something different to everybody – there can’t possibly be a single definition. That became more and more apparent as I started talking to people about the project. Someone who was seeing The Dingoes at the Station in mid-’70s may think that there was no such thing as pub rock in the ’80s. (Hello Dr Pepper!) Someone who discovered The Numbers at the Stagedoor Tavern in the early ’80s may not realise that the scene went back to the early ’70s, or that Melbourne R&B bands had anything to do with it.
Someone who got into things via The Screaming Jets or Baby Animals would have a different perspective entirely. I tried to cover all those bases. Some people may just see Pub Rock as a certain style or sound, like The Angels, Rose Tattoo etc – what I guess I’d probably call more Oz Rock – but I think it’s more than that. Pub Rock was stylistically very diverse – from that sort of hard rock stuff, to R&B, to poppier stuff. New Wave was a big influence, because that was an influence in music at the time that the pub scene was peaking as the ’70s became the ’80s. The defining thing for me though was this: Pub Rock was always something of a fairly populist thing. That’s the common thread. It was about entertaining a crowd. That mightn’t have been the sole purpose of any given artist, but it was a big one. It was the mainstream. Which is why none of the more consciously underground bands are on there, like Radio Birdman or the original Saints, or later bands like Laughing Clowns or The Triffids – because they shunned the mainstream. They sought popularity, but outside of the mainstream. I decided I wanted the Boys Next Door’s ‘Shivers’ on there because originally they did play the Melbourne circuit – they were regulars at Bombay Rock, alongside Texas – and I thought it was kind of an amusing juxtaposition to everything else on there. And I thought it would be good for Screaming Jets fans to hear the original version of the song. The Boys Next Door quite quickly got out of the pub scene though. X I thought warranted an inclusion because of the Tatts connection and the fact that they heavily influenced Hunters & Collectors. Lime Spiders and The Screaming Tribesmen are there because it seems to be me they made a deliberate play for the mainstream. Obviously the whole thing was waning by the end of the ’80s/early ’90s, which is when the bands influenced by the earlier, more underground bands, like Ratcat, Spiderbait, You Am I etc, became the new mainstream in Australia. Just like the grunge bands became the new commercial hard rock internationally. I didn’t really feel like those bands fitted because of their roots in the underground, but there were bands like the Baby Animals, Noiseworks, The Screaming Jets who were very much of the earlier populist pub rock mindset and sound. To me they were the last gasp of the pub rock thing. Of course there is still plenty of rock being played in pubs, but it’s a different thing now.
What does pub rock mean to me? Given that I’m aware pub rock means different things to different people, I’m conscious of the various implications of the term. The stuff I like, as you can probably guess, is the more back-to-basics rock stuff. Whether that’s The Sports and Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons or Cold Chisel or The Angels. They were all bands I was into in the late ’70s before the influence of the Ramones and Radio Birdman resulted in my tastes narrowing.
When you were compiling the comp, did you see any parallels with the UK pub rock scene of the 1970s (Brinsley Schwarz, Dr Feelgood, Graham Parker & the Rumour etc), or was that not even in the thought processes?
Nah, it’s a different thing. The Sports, Jo Jo Zep, the Mentals and a few other bands on the collection had similarities – the R&B and ’60s influences that were there in the UK pub rock thing. Which is why those bands were noticed by Stiff Records, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello etc. But other than that it was a different thing… There were of course wider scenes around The Sports, the Mentals etc – pub R&B bands like The Honeydrippers and Soul Twisters in Melbourne and the fabulous Mangrove Boogie Kings and the Hawaiian Housewreckers in Sydney – who had a lot more in common with the UK pub scene.
In many ways bands such as Models and Hunters & Collectors started out as a reaction to Aussie Pub Rock, kicking against the perceived old-school bands such as the Aztecs, Mondo Rock, Rose Tattoo etc… yet they fit in remarkably well. How do you see the connection working in their favour?
I guess those two bands really came along at a time when the mainstream was ready to accept more alternative sounds. Radio played a big part in shaping how the pub scene developed I think. And Countdown. Although it may be anathema to say that now, I think it’s true. Boogie died out in the pubs because music changed. In the early ’80s the mainstream here was dominated by a lot of English music – Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, ABC, Culture Club, Soft Cell etc – and that meant that the pub audience at the time was open to different stuff, and that the bands that wanted to build an audience were able to do things differently to what had been done before. I think the whole kicking against the pricks thing was a bit of a beat up too – earlier sounds were rejected because groups like the two you’ve mentioned were young and wanted to stay up to date.
No doubt Mark Seymour and Sean Kelly were hugely influenced by earlier Australian bands. (Mark Ferrie played in some of them!) They just didn’t want to show it at the time. They may have rejected the industry early on but were quick to embrace it when they realised it wanted them. There was a big divide between mainstream and alternative at the time and a lot of bands seem to quite comfortably cross that. There were also other bands, going back I guess to the likes of Mi-Sex and Jimmy & The Boys, who came with a more mainstream mindset and fit more comfortably into the rock establishment, who saw the writing on the wall as far as new musical influences went and picked up as many new wave affectations as they could. That certainly went on well into the ’80s when you’d see the likes of Mick Pealing looking very uncomfortable in a vaguely new romantic outfit upfront of The Spaniards.
With your comp of the Carlton countercultural scene, (When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton, many of those bands are also readily classifiable as being Pub Rock so what do you see as the fundamental differences between the two approaches?
As with all genres, it’s a non-precise thing and it’s very subjective and any one band can probably be put into more than one genre. The Carlton stuff – and remember a lot of people involved at the time don’t recognise that there was a Carlton scene – for mine was more countercultural and consciously outside of the mainstream. But obviously the likes of Joe Camilleri, Stephen Cummings and Martin Armiger were ambitious enough to be embraced by the mainstream and embrace it in return. The Carlton thing was also very much about connections and shared influences all centred around Melbourne’s inner city in the ’70s. There were bands on that compilation who probably weren’t so countercultural but had the connections – The Falcons were quite a mainstream R&B band really originally, but Joe had been in Lipp and the Double Dekker Bros as well as the Sharks and Pelaco Bros – all very countercultural. So the counterculture, which Carlton was very much the centre of, was the thread there. The fact that Joe was able to do a very mainstream R&B thing and that he had great stage presence meant the broader pub scene went for him in a big way too. Ditto for Steve Cummings.
Always a difficult thing to do… but nominate some of your favourite tracks on the comp…
Hmmm… apart from obvious personal faves Sports, Falcons, Angels, Chisel (I love ‘Astrid’), Stevie Wright, Sunnyboys, Paul Kelly etc there were a few things I really wanted to include because I thought they were overlooked but great. They include Stiletto – also stars of the Carlton comp – and two great Perth bands who were both kind of inadvertently power pop pub rockers, Loaded Dice and The Boys. Also The Aliens, whose ‘Confrontation’ is another great powerful pop tune – I saw them at Collingwood town Hall when I was 13 or 14, on a bill with The Sports and Australian Crawl (who had yet to make a record and who were great too). The Lonely Hearts were a great unsung Sydney band who seemed to open for Cold Chisel, The Hitmen etc all the time in Sydney. Another great power pop-type band, I saw them at the Armadale Hotel in 1980 when I was 15, after reading a piece in RAM that got me excited. Very sad they never made an album, especially given their longevity. I was also happy to be able to include The Zimmermen – John Dowler is a musical hero of mine, and his influence on things, especially a young Paul Kelly, deserves to be highlighted (He still plays the occasional show around Melbourne and has a great new album recorded). It was great to be able to include the never before reissued first Paul Kelly & The Dots single ‘Seeing is Believing’ too – I think Paul’s stuff with the Dots is some of his best stuff, even if the two albums were hit or miss production-wise. Of course I love The Hitmen, The Saints, Johnnys, X, Tribesmen and Lime Spiders as that’s where my head was more at in the ’80s. The Ferrets’ ‘Don’t Fall In Love’ is an all-time classic pop song and Billy Miller is the great lost Australian pop star of the ’70s. Dave Warner is – if not a genius, then his own brilliant creation. The early Matt Finnish stuff stands up really well – a unique band – as does the Flowers stuff. ‘Women in Uniform’ and ‘Cold Cold Change’ are both amazingly high energy ball-tearers… Of course not everything here is to my personal taste but I really do like most of it.
I’m aware of the processes of licensing and I know that you revised/remoulded/rethought the track listing constantly, yet I’d like to nominate two essential bands that didn’t get a guernsey – Coloured Balls and Kings of the Sun… are you already considering a Volume 2 of Aussie Pub Rock and will those two bands lead the team?
Don’t know if they’ll lead the team but they’ll both be there! And yes both were on the provisional track listing for this one almost til the end. Track listings for something like this always get remodelled as you go because certain things get knocked back which throws out the balance. Until you time it all you’re never sure what will fit (I do like to make the most of the available 80 minutes per disc – there’d be an average of about 79.5 minutes of music on each of the 4cds here) and until you listen to it in the context you’ve created it’s hard to know how it sits. And yes there will hopefully be a volume two!
The Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock (Warner Music Australia)
- Cold Chisel – Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye) (1978)
2. Midnight Oil – Cold Cold Change (1979)
3. The Angels – Take a Long Line (1978)
4. Divinyls – Boys in Town (1981)
5. The Radiators – Comin’ Home (1979)
6. Flowers – Walls (1980)
7. Models – Big on Love (1984)
8. Hunters & Collectors – Do You See What I See? (1987)
9. Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons – So Young (Live) (1979)
10. The Sports – Don’t Throw Stones (1979)
11. Mental As Anything – If You Leave Me – Can I Come Too? (1981)
12. Mondo Rock – Cool World (1981)
13. Paul Kelly & The Coloured Girls – Dumb Things
14. Australian Crawl – Beautiful People (1980)
15. Richard Clapton – Out on the Edge Again (1977)
16. Men At Work – Who Can it be Now? (1981)
17. Matt Finish – Mancini Shuffle (Demo) (1980)
18. Sunnyboys – Show Me Some Discipline (1983)
19. Loaded Dice – Mam’selle (1979)
20. Ted Mulry Gang (TMG) – Heart of Stone (1978)
21. Russell Morris & The Rubes – The Roar of the Wild Torpedoes (1981)
22. Wendy & The Rocketts – Tonite (1981)
23. Billy Miller & The Great Blokes – Perpetual Motion (1982)
24. Dragon – Rain (1984)
- Skyhooks – Women in Uniform (1978)
2. The Ferrets – Don’t Fall in Love (1977)
3. The Dingoes – Smooth Sailing (original Mushroom single version) (1974)
4. Stars – Mighty Rock (1977)
5. Renée Geyer – Hot Minutes (1980)
6. Stiletto – Goodbye Johnny (1978)
7. Texas – I Wanna Dance with You (1979)
8. The Elks – Party Girl (1981)
9. The Reels – Prefab Heart (1979)
10. Boys Next Door – Shivers (1978)
11. The Saints – Just Like Fire Would (1989)
12. Split Enz – History Never Repeats (1981)
13. Goanna – Solid Rock (1982)
14. Warumpi Band – Blackfella/Whitefella (1985)
15. Ross Wilson – Living in the Land of Oz (1976)
16. Ian Moss – Telephone Booth (1989)
17. The Badloves – Lost (1993)
18. Noiseworks – Take Me Back (1987)
19. Choirboys – Run to Paradise (1988)
20. Heroes – The Star and the Slaughter (1980)
21. Ray Arnott – On the Run (1979)
22. Marcus Hook Roll Band – Natural Man (1972)
- Mi-Sex – Computer Games (1980)
2. Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs – Suburban Boy (1978)
3. Jimmy & The Boys – Products of Your Mind (1979)
4. The Aliens – Confrontation (1979)
5. The Boys – Hurt Me Babe (1981)
6. The Hitmen – I Don’t Mind (1981)
7. Angry Anderson – Bound for Glory (1990)
8. Uncanny X-Men – Everybody Wants to Work (1985)
9. James Freud & The Radio Stars – Modern Girl (1981)
10. Icehouse – Nothing Too Serious (1988)
10. V. Spy V. Spy – Don’t Tear it Down (1986)
11. XL Capris – World War 3 (1981)
12. The Numbers – The Modern Song (1980)
13. The Church – Too Fast for You (1981)
14. Lime Spiders – Weirdo Libido (1987)
15. The Lonely Hearts – The Spell (1990)
16. The Johnnys – Bleeding Heart (1986)
17. X – Dream Baby (1989)
18. Painters & Dockers – Nude School (1988)
19. Weddings, Parties, Anything – Away Away (1987)
20. The Zimmermen – What Really Hurts (1989)
21. Paul Kelly & The Dots – Seeing is Believing (1980)
22. GANGgajang – Gimme Some Lovin’ (1985)
- Jimmy Barnes – Driving Wheels (1987)
2. Baby Animals – One Word (1992)
3. The Screaming Tribesmen – Date with a Vampyre (1985)
4. Huxton Creepers – I Will Persuade You (1986)
5. Boom Crash Opera – The Best Thing (1989)
6. The Screaming Jets – Better (1991)
7. Heaven – Fantasy (1982)
8. Finch – Short Changed Again (1976)
9. Rose Tattoo – We Can’t Be Beaten (1982)
10. Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs – Movie Queen (1973)
11. Stevie Wright – Hard Road (1974)
12. Jeff St. John – A Fool in Love (1977)
13. The Stockley, See, Mason Band – Endless Love (1979)
14. Swanee – If I were a Carpenter (1982)
15. The Cyril B. Bunter Band – Last Chance (1984)
16. The Cockroaches – She’s the One (1987)
17. Tim Finn – Made My Day (1983)
18. The Black Sorrows – Chained to the Wheel (1988)
19. Moving Pictures – Bustin’ Loose (1981)
20. Broderick Smith’s Big Combo – Faded Roses (1981)
21. Ariel – Yeah Tonight (1974)
22. The Party Boys (featuring Kevin Borich) – Gonna See My Baby Tonight (1992)