Brisbane punk rock
|Brisbane punk rock|
|Typical instruments||Electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, vocals|
The Brisbane punk rock scene, which occurred between 1975 and 1984, is generally regarded as producing "some of the most anarchistic bands of the Australian punk rock era". The development of Brisbane's punk rock movement during the late 1970s to early 1980s differed to other Australian cities because of its relative remoteness and distant isolation from the rest of Australia. The Brisbane scene was also considered to have received an excessive amount of scrutiny from the local police. This helped to generate a uniquely antagonistic and individual so-called "snot" driven punk bands.
Whilst these Brisbane bands had the environmental and political factors at play, it also could be seen from hindsight that the movement can be roughly dissected into three phases. First, there was the pioneering chapter, which lasted from 1975 to 1977. These bands were either innovators or part of the first wave of punk bands. Foremost of all Brisbane bands, The Saints are acknowledged as "Aussie punk pioneers". Then the second phase could be placed somewhere between 1978 and 1980 for which Ian McFarlane described the groups as "the second generation". The last period faceted "the third generation" of punk groups that spanned from around 1981 to 1984 and diverged into two categories; the hardcore punk and the post-punk punk or dark punk. Brisbane's dark punk has been identified as closely related to the sub-genres of horror punk and Deathrock from the West Coast USA that happened roughly around the same time.
Kid Gallahad and The Eternals had formed as early as 1973 and created in Brisbane what was to become Brisbane's ill-reputed punk attitude after their debut at an RSL venue in the western suburbs of Brisbane. Chris Bailey, singer for the group, recollected his observations of this first gig's calamity to the fanzine Sniffin' Glue in 1976, "Then after our second drummer walked out and we almost called it 'quits' but we decided to keep playing to the 30 people (from an original 150 patrons) who were still with us. Before the last number the manager of the hall arrived with cops, turned off the power... The cops told us they would confiscate our equipment if we didn't go, so we went". By the end of 1975 the band inducted Kym Bradshaw onto bass and moved Ivor Hay onto drums. Following this the band changed its name to The Saints.
The Saints came to the attention of the English musical press with the "(I'm) Stranded" single. This song arrived with much fanfare, as it fitted neatly into the conventional punk sound and attitude in London. Jon Savage, UK journalist and punk historian, noted that The Saints "had been developing in near isolation for three years, but it took just one review in Sounds magazine to make their career." The Saints arrived in England in 1977 but soon found that their hair and image didn't fit the idealistic, English punk, stylistic dress codes. The English were hoping for spiky hair and brothel creepers, instead finding an appearance similar to street bums with attitude. Ed Kuepper, guitarist for The Saints reflected on their arrival in the UK, "By the time we got here the initial spirit already died out, it was very contrived. There were too many people following slavishly after. We had problems because we didn't look new wave." However, that aside, The Saints reached the UK charts with their song "This Perfect Day", when the Sex Pistols were at their most infamous with their chart topping "God Save the Queen" single. Eventually in 1978 The Saints disbanded but not before releasing two albums, "(I'm) Stranded" and "Eternally Yours" and the classic "Know Your Product" single. It has been said the "[The Saints] created one of the greatest R&B – fuelled rock songs of all time." The "Prehistoric Sounds" LP was released in 1979 after they had disbanded. The Saints reformed in 1980; however, their punk edge was lost without "Ed Kuepper's relentless power chords."
I'm Stranded, the song, has since been awarded Australian Performing Rights Association's Top 30 Australian songs of all time, reaching number 15, in 2001 to celebrate APRA's 75th anniversary.
Around 1976, The Leftovers formed in Sandgate, far north Brisbane, to eventually gain local cult fame due to the stories of the band's existentialist approach to life. "Raw, intoxicated, energetic and antisocial" proclaimed 4ZZZ's Behind the Banana Curtain, a CD compilation of bands that documents 25 years of 4ZZZ broadcasting. The Leftover's history was plagued by many altercations and distractions that included "story of prison, the shocking aftermath of attempted suicide and now-numerous deaths". In 1979, they released their only single, "Cigarettes and Alcohol" which is considered a seminal part of Brisbane's punk history.
Another punk band from the early period was The Survivors. They were included on the "Lethal Weapons" compilation of Australian punk bands that came out in early 1978. Their drummer, Bruce Anthon, a proficient musician, went on to play various instruments for more sophisticated blues and jazz groups. Jim Dickson, their bassist went on to play for profile bands that included The Barracudas, Passengers, The Deniz Tek Group and Radio Birdman.
During this era Brisbane punk rock occasioned mostly halls such as the Hamilton Hall and Toowong RSL hall as venues. Brisbane's newly founded FM radio station in November 1975, 4ZZZ, became Brisbane's most important local music content broadcaster. John Stanwell, original Arts Administrator for 4ZZZ, commented in 2000 that 4ZZZ was "The first (Radio) station in the world to play The Saints" . The era was close-documented by a number of publications, firstly the fanzine SSuicide Alley, which was arguably Australia's first punk fanzine, produced in Brisbane in early 1977 by Andrew McMillan and Clinton Walker. Both went on to become noted (music) writers, and Walker in particular offered detailed coverage of the late 70s Brisbane scene through his contemporary work for UQ paper Semper and the fanzine Pulp, and his later books Inner City Sound (1982) and ''Stranded'' (1996).
The Second Phase
The Brisbane punk movement took off following 1978. A lot more bands formed and were given air time on Community radio station 4ZZZ, with it being said that "4ZZZ FM DJs Michael Finucan, Tony Biggs, Bill Riner, Mark Bracken, Phil Cullen and Andy Nehl were influential in playing the new music." One of the bands that benefited from 4ZZZ airplay was Razar with their song Task Force, the B-side to the Stamp out Disco single. Their music was tight, fast and brash, led by the energetic playing of their guitarist Steve Mee. The song Task Force essentially was about the Queensland Police Task Force special branch. As stated in the Behind the Banana Curtain CD, "Razar's Task Force, released in 1978, referred to Brisbane's notorious undercover police." Razar was like a beacon to the local constabulary, as were most high profile Brisbane punk groups, often receiving intense scrutiny from the local constabulary. Dave Darling, 4ZZZ's and (later) an independent concert promoter, recalled such events, "We encountered problems with police just like everybody else did that tried to run a venue...9 out of 10 of them I don't think ever made the final song...and disguise them from Task Force knowing they were on, but eventually in the course of the night one of them would find out and next thing you know you had all of them there..."
The Fun Things, originally known as The Aliens, were an outfit that characterised the Detroit inspired "Sydney Sound" and did homage to the "spirit of their heroes" Radio Birdman with the song called When the Birdmen Fly released on The Fun Things self-titled EP. However, the song Savage seemed more closely connected with Brisbane's punk identity. Although The Fun Things were not quite as socially rebellious towards Brisbane society in compared to other leading Brisbane punk bands, they nevertheless enjoyed a reputation for tight energetic music. According to Brad Shepherd, singer/guitarist for the group, "The Fun Things were if not gifted plagiarists, at the very least a bunch of excitable Brisbane teenagers with extremely good taste in music." The band members, Brad Shepherd, John Hartley and Murray Shepherd went on to join other bands, most notably in the early to mid-1980s with the Hoodoo Gurus for Brad and The Screaming Tribesmen for Hartley and Murray Shepherd.
Other players from this second phase included The Lounge Lizards, The Humans, The Toy Watches, Gerry Mander and the Boundaries, The fractions, The Upsets, Swell Guys, The Hard Ons (not to be confused with the later Sydney surf thrash band), The Fuji Angels, The Young Identities, Flying Squad, The Alphabet Children, Sabotage, Malicious Joy, Subverts (one gig on Caxton Street) and The Pits. Most of these bands, with the exception of Fuller Banks & the Debentures, who supported The Stranglers at the Queens Hotel, played rather spasmodically, generally around hall gigs. The Stranglers went on to record a single in 1979, called Nuclear Device which was sardonically written about the Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Peterson and his political regime. The song was a minor hit in the UK charts.
Also during 1979 the song Sunset Strip released by The Numbers, later renamed The Riptides, sounded like a punk-like tune, which had regular 4ZZZ airplay, however, it has been regarded as more English-flavoured 1960s-inspired pop sound than punk rock.
Venues that hosted punk gigs, largely booked and promoted by 4ZZZ, during this second phase include The Exchange Hotel, The Queens Hotel, The Curry Shop, The Baroona Hall, The Ahepa Hall, The Silver Dollar Disco, The Brisbane Hotel, Colossus Hall, Cloudland, The Majestic Hotel, Sally's Coffee Lounge, Caxton St. Hall, Darra Hall, Pinnochios, The Cleveland Sands Hotel, The Seven Hills College of Art, Griffith and Queensland Universities and even Pips Nightclub. Other places worth a mention were Rotten Import Records, a shop dedicated to punk music in 1978 and The Elizabeth Street Bar (nicknamed White Chairs) which became an important hang out for those of a Punk/ New Wave/Alternative persuasion during the stretch of 1980 to 1987.
Brisbane's Third Generation
This phase centred on the early to mid-1980s. The dark mood of the bands reflected the changing dynamics of punk. "As the restrictive measures of punk, and all the clichéd fashion statements it entailed, came to a close, post punk groups took up the gauntlet. These exciting new bands used the DIY spirit to launch a more introspective, even gloomy, but still vibrant sound." said Jason C. Reeher in his review of Post Punk. Many of the Brisbane bands absorbed the darker edge due to the post-punk fashion; however, several of these newer groups continued on the same seditious punk path that was distinctive to Brisbane.
Zits, an infamous punk venue in the Fortitude Valley during 1982, was instrumental for putting on the early appearances of last wave punk groups such as Mystery of Sixes (mix of hardcore punk and death rock influenced by The Stranglers and Bauhaus), Vampire Lovers (garage – death rock style of punk) and Public Execution (Black Flag inspired). T. Flew suggested in his paper about the music scene in Brisbane of the time, "Part of the reason live music in The Valley was so prosperous during this time was the abundance of illegal brothel and casinos located in the area which were frequented on a regular basis."
The Mystery of Sixes self-titled song Mystery of Sixes received substantial airplay on 4ZZZ. Jello Biafra, (Dead Kennedys) reviewed their EP's songs as such, "this Brisbane band is a little more on the post-punk side. They definitely live in their own world, especially when the Arabic – style vocals on the title song are taken into account. The lyrics have Satanic overtones." Les 'Bez' Jobson, their vocalist, diversified their sound by adding percussion to some of their songs. It was asserted in 2000 that "the band quickly gained a reputation for courting controversy," by being banned by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and by the acts of violence at various times perpetrated upon them with knives and guns. Behind the Banana Curtain CD notes on the band commented, "In true rock'n'roll form, they rolled their van near Sarina, signed a bad contract and were shot at by a disgruntled punter while at their practice room at Kuraby. The Mystery of Sixes, along with Public Execution. supported the Dead Kennedys in Brisbane in 1983. The Mystery of Sixes broke up in 1985. Bez Jobson later went on to form punk/metal band The Dreamkillers in the early 1990s with other members of mid 1980's bands Pictish Blood, Insane Hombres, as well as 1990's Psychotic Lemmings and FAT.
Meanwhile, the Vampire Lovers were the type of group, according to the Bucket full of Brains magazine, to "embody an enjoyably snotty early eighties zombie-punk-schlock vibe." The Vampire Lovers had a tumultuous kind of spirit that caused some notoriety but "they overcame" their adversities to "succeed in releasing two popular singles" in 1983 and 1984.  Buzzsaw Popstar, their first record, according to the Behind the Banana Curtain compilation CD, "became an Australian 'indie' chart success." The Vampire Lovers featured Axle 'Axe Babe' Conrad whose "uniquely tortured pipes" was complimented by the raw guitar work of Matt Nasty. They disbanded in 1984 only to reform in 1988 after the popularity of the Buzzsaw Popstar 1987 single re-release. They went on to mix their sound with a hybrid of later 1980s hard psyche/ speed metal/ punk thrash styles.
During the same early 1980's period 'hardcore' punk bands also appeared in Brisbane, particularly from 1983 onwards. Most recognisable of the hardcore groups were the La Fetts. In 1985, La Fetts wrote a song SEQEB Scabs, which was about the sacked electricity workers of the time. In the Behind the Banana Curtain CD it was stated that, "Despite the fear of litigation, 4ZZZ still played the song on high rotation for many months."
Of other Punk bands of Brisbane's third generation were New Improved Testament, Public Execution, Black Assassins, Pictish Blood, Dumb Show, Strange Glory, The Differentials and studio band The Parameters – who were known for their punk spirit song Pig City released in September 1984.
Popular venues from this particular time include Amyl's Nitespace, Zits, The Australian National Hotel, The New Exchange Hotel, The Atcherley Hotel, Whispers, Griffith and Queensland Universities, The Factory, The Palomino (later The Outpost), Runcorn Hall and the South Brisbane Blind Hall. The Treasury Hotel downstairs, near the Elizabeth Street Bar (White Chairs) became an important hang out for those of a Hardcore Punk and Oi! persuasion during the stretch of 1983 to 198(?)
From Punk to Alternative Rock
During 1983 a large number of Alternative acts appeared in the local underground music scene. Brisbane's original spirit of punk begun to wane; eventually it was lost in 1985. It was superseded by the Alternative Rock movement. It has been said, "Essentially, "alternative" is a catch-all for post-punk bands that appeared as new wave began to die out in 1983–84, and runs all the way into 1995, when alternative pop/rock is the mainstream."
Although a number of Brisbane bands continued with punk after 1984, they became part of the alternative rock scene. The Brisbane punk groups of the late 1980s were influenced by the strong Sydney music scene. Stylistically or in a Punk fashion sense, the bands and the fans replaced the generic style of outlandish hair (for the period), cheap items of attire, sewn-in tight trousers, leather and PVC for longer hair, casual clothing sometimes incorporating skater shorts and skateboards, which was in line with the skate punk style.
Bands such as The Screaming Tribesmen and Presidents 11 began with aspects derived from punk in the early 1980s, however, they quickly diverged beyond the genre to explore wider alternative tastes. Also since the early 1980s an assortment of Punk fusion bands proliferated the local punk movement to contemporary times, with a mixture of various musical styles that belonged outside punk rock including Country and Western, Ska, Rockabilly and Heavy Metal.
In October 2006, Fat Mans Cleavage, an independent punk rock band from Brisbane, won the Radio Triple J Unearthed Taste of Chaos Competition in Queensland. This enabled them to play on the same bill as US bands Anti Flag and Taking Back Sunday at the Taste of Chaos show in Brisbane at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
Demographics of Brisbane Punk Bands 1976 to 1983
The Brisbane punk scene, during the later 1970s to the early 1980s, consisted of a broad array of punk bands. However, a lot of these bands were either formed or located in a cluster situated within the southern suburbs of Mount Gravatt and Macgregor, Queensland (The Survivors, Razar, Just Urbain, The Young Identities/Kicks, AlphabetChildren/Flying Squad, Vampire Lovers and Strange Glory). Some other south suburb punk bands came from the outer region near Beenleigh (The Hard-Ons, Sabotage/Mystery of Sixes, Die Tanzen). Inner-south Brisbane bands were Malicious Damage/Public Execution. The Pits originated from Brisbane's South East.
However, almost just as many punk bands were formed in the western suburbs. The region ranged from the inner suburbs, which was nearby to the University of Queensland, to the middle-outer areas such as Gailes and Goodna and the far outer suburbs like the satellite city of Ipswich. Many fans of hardcore punk, Oi! punk and the skinhead movement originated from these western suburbs. Westside bands include The Saints, The Numbers, Funthings, The Upsets/Resistance, Toy Watches, The Differentials, The Black Assassins, The Fits/La Fetts and Dumb Show.
Terms like Gap kids (West) from The Gap, Queensland and Macgregor kids (South) were used by punks in the late 1970s and early 1980s to describe the punks from that suburban region or High School in which they belonged to or attended.
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