By Ian McFarlane.
“I guess you had to be there, but you certainly didn’t have to be a Sharpie to enjoy these songs.”
VARIOUS ARTISTS – When Sharpies Ruled A Vicious Selection (Warner Music)
The title of Warner Music’s new Australian compilation, When Sharpies Ruled, suggests an element of constraint and control, exercising authority over your environment and those around you. When it’s all about the music as featured here, you can’t constrain or control that. I guess you had to be there, but you certainly didn’t have to be a Sharpie to enjoy these songs.
That sense of Sharpie identity and camaraderie that provides the framework around which this compilation hangs is important but the fashion doesn’t dictate the music. As compiler Glenn Terry has pointed out, it’s not about dividing and controlling the ranks as about covering the whole era.
In offering a glimpse into the Sharpie sub-culture of the time – very much a Melbourne suburban phenomenon of the 1970s – the packaging is interesting and observational but don’t expect any kind of authoritative sociological examination. You can guess that there was teen angst in abundance, huge amounts of raging testosterone, non-conformity, the need to be in a gang and breaking away from parental expectations, basically dealing with the pressures of being an adolescent… yet we all experienced that as teenagers.
The Melbourne suburbs of the 1970s were boring, a teenage wasteland (to nick a phrase from Pete Townshend). Aside from playing sport or working part-time down at the local McDonalds or Kmart, you had to make your own fun the rest of the time. All you had was your mates, chugging a few illicit beers in the back yard, getting around on the train, going to parties, chasing girls but most importantly there was always music.
With the pubs off-limits, the local youth club and Town Hall dances (Syrius, Zodiac) were important gathering points for teenagers. And then you’d go to Festival Hall, in West Melbourne, for the bigger concerts during the holidays (such as Rocktober). All the big name bands of the day played these venues: Coloured Balls, Aztecs, Hush, La De Das, Buster Brown, Skyhooks, Taste, Ted Mulry Gang, AC/DC. In fact, many bands often played three or more gigs on a Friday or Saturday night. They’d start with an 8 o’clock spot at a suburban dance, hit the Matthew Flinders Hotel or the Village Green for a 10 o’clock support and then end up at the Hard Rock Café in the city at midnight.
Just as importantly, Melbourne Top 40 radio station 3XY and ABC-TV’s pop show Countdown provided the medium to hear the music regularly and see the bands on screen. And because the music made a connection, you’d then go and buy the records at your local record bar. And the music these bands created was unashamedly commercial, it was made for mass consumption with no pretences to high falootin’ ideals. These groups wanted to have hit records!
Presented chronologically, this is a well balanced and effective compilation. The music is melodic yet tough, with loud guitar riffs, up front vocals and hand claps backed by thumping drums. It has a glam rock sensibility with 12-bar in the ascendancy, but predominantly it’s about the dance beat – an instantly recognisable, fast boogie beat that could only have been created by Australian bands for Australian conditions. Check out ‘Time Shapes’ and ‘Love You Babe’ (Coloured Balls), ‘The Place’ (La De Das), ‘Hard Road’ (Stevie Wright), ‘Roll Daddy Roll’ (Fat Daddy), ‘Crazy’ (Ted Mulry Gang), ‘Hey Spunky’ (Finch), ‘I’m Goin’ Somewhere’ (Kevin Borich Express) and even ‘Bony Moronie’ (Hush) as cases in point. They stand up as more than decent examples of the genre.
It’s no surprise that Coloured Balls are well represented as standard bearers with three tracks, all of which still sound phenomenal. ‘Flash’ is like supercharged Rolling Stones on speed… it’s got an immediate presence, slashing guitar riffs and driving beat with those all-in-the-gang vocals the icing on the cake. The collection comes to a close with the barnstorming yet swinging ‘Remedy’ by Rose Tattoo and the hyper-kinetic ‘Chelsea Kids’ by La Femme. It was the end of an era; the punk / new wave movement had kicked off and the likes of Cold Chisel, The Angels and Midnight Oil ruled the suburban beer barns.
The more judicious or questioning observer (with a politically correct modern take on things) might likely say, “it’s all a bit blokey isn’t it, where are the women?”. Aside from Suzi Quatro on an international level, there were no local female musicians who played this style of music at the time. Wendy Saddington was more bluesy, Renee Geyer and Alison McCallum more soulful, Jeannie Lewis more folky… to put it in to context, this was before the likes of Chrissy Amphlett and Adelita Srsen made their mark on Australian music.
When Sharpies Ruled A Vicious Selection (Warner Music)
1. COLOURED BALLS – Time Shapes
2. FINCH – Out Of Control
3. LA DE DAS – The Place
4. COLOURED BALLS – Flash
5. BILLY THORPE & THE AZTECS – Let’s Have A Party
6. STEVIE WRIGHT – Hard Road
7. BUSTER BROWN – Roll Over Beethoven
8. SKYHOOKS – Horror Movie
9. COLOURED BALLS – Love You Babe
10. HUSH – Riff In My Head
11. FAT DADDY – Roll Daddy Roll
12. TED MULRY GANG – Jump In My Car
13. BULLET – Rock My Lady
14. HUSH – Bony Moronie
15. FATTY LUMPKIN – Movin’
16. KEVIN BORICH EXPRESS – I’m Goin’ Somewhere
17. TED MULRY GANG – Crazy
18. FINCH – Hey Spunky
19. TASTE – Tickle Your Fancy
20. RABBIT – Wildfire
21. SUPERNAUT – I Like It Both Ways
22. ROSE TATTOO – Remedy
23. LA FEMME – Chelsea Kids