Radio Birdman

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Radio Birdman
Origin Sydney, Australia
Genres Punk rock, indie rock, garage rock, protopunk, surf rock
Years active 1974–1978, 1996–2008, 2014-present
Labels Sire Records (1976–1978)
Crying Sun Records (1996–present)
Website Official website
Members Rob Younger
Deniz Tek
Jim Dickson
Phillip 'Pip' Hoyle
Past members Chris Masuak
Russell Hopkinson
Warwick Gilbert
Ron Keeley

Radio Birdman were one of the first punk bands in Australia along with The Saints. Deniz Tek and Rob Younger formed the group in Sydney, Australia in 1974. The group influenced the work of many successful, mainstream bands, and is now considered to be one of the most crucial bands to Australia's musical growth, but their main legacy was their towering influence over Australian indie rock in the 1980s.[1]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

Deniz Tek and Rob Younger formed Radio Birdman in mid-1974 in Sydney, having recently left their bands 'TV Jones' and 'The Rats' respectively. The pair sought to begin a band that would have no commercial interest and break the norm at the time, so they recruited classical keyboard player Philip 'Pip' Hoyle, drummer Ron Keeley and bassist Carl Rorke . The band took their name from a misheard lyric from the Stooges' song "1970" (the actual lyric is "radio burnin'").

After being rejected many times from various venues, Radio Birdman found a pub in Taylor Square, Sydney and eventually took over its management, naming it The Oxford Funhouse. Under their management, the Funhouse became a home to any and all groups with musical tastes similar to the band. Not long after the opening of this venue, Carl Rorke left the band and was replaced by long time friend of Rob Younger, Warwick Gilbert (also a former 'Rats' member). Also to temporarily leave the band would be Philip Hoyle, and though his departure was short lived, this was how Radio Birdman came across guitarist Chris Masuak.

Soon, a culture of Radio Birdman was developing in the underground, people started to dress differently, followed the Birdman symbol and the Oxford Funhouse was their home. This was the beginnings of the Sydney punk scene.

Using the Funhouse as a base of operations, Radio Birdman recorded an EP, Burn My Eye. and their first album Radios Appear produced by John L Sayers and Charles Fisher at Trafalgar Studios in Annandale. Trafalgar Studios financed the recordings. Radios Appear was critically acclaimed, getting 5 stars in the Australian Rolling Stone edition. The album owed much of its style to Detroit bands of the late 1960s, such as The MC5 and The Stooges. The title of the album comes from a Blue Öyster Cult song "Dominance and Submission" from their 1974 Secret Treaties album, influences from which can also be seen in Birdman's creative output. Though Radios Appear was totally ignored by commercial radio, it was championed by Sydney station 2JJ (Double Jay). Sales of this album were initially limited because they were recording using a private label Trafalgar Records. Shortly after initial release, Trafalgar Records leased the recordings to WEA who took on the album and gave it a wider release. However, sales remained limited due to a lack of commercial support. Promotion could have been also somewhat inhibited as some fans felt the recordings lacked the ferocity and immediacy of the live shows and did not represent their experience of the band.

The band remained underground, but began to travel far from Sydney to perform their shows, it was at this time that keyboard player Pip Hoyle returned to the band. When Sire Records president Seymour Stein came to Australia to sign up fellow punk band The Saints, he saw Radio Birdman play and immediately invited them to join his label. Under this new label, Radio Birdman released a new version of Radios Appear featuring a mixture of re-mixed, re-recorded and some new material. Comparisons between the two versions of the album are disputed with some feeling that the second version is a more accurate reflection of the band's sound. Most fans however own both versions and simply treat them as two separate and different recordings.

With the commercial release of this new album, the underground punk scene, that Radio Birdman was a part of, began to attract some groups with negative agendas; namely biker gang, Hells Angels. With this new, more violent and rowdy crowd, the Funhouse was at the point of overflowing. The band was blamed for violent incidents occurring at the Funhouse, so in mid-1977, they left Sydney and took a break from music, instead pursuing educational goals.

The band returned half a year later and performed their most famous show to date at Paddington Town Hall alongside The Saints. Two thousand people supposedly packed into the venue (in fact film of the event suggests a few hundred at most) and tracks recorded from the show would later be included on numerous other Radio Birdman recordings. After this show, the band began their European tour, but their overseas success was short lived as Sire Records began having financial difficulties and were forced to drop Radio Birdman from their label. On the other hand, Tek has apparently claimed that Stein offered to support the band if he and Hoyle would defer their medical studies for five years, but that they both refused (see Vivian Johnson's biography of the band).

Breakup[edit]

Without a label, the band struggled to progress musically. In 1978, as one last sendoff, they recorded their second album Living Eyes at Rockfield Studio in Wales, which had a posthumous release in 1981, long after the band's 1978 break-up. Radio Birdman played one last show at Oxford University, after which the band split up. The underground punk scene of Sydney was shocked by this, as the band had only been together for 4 years, but many felt that they had made their mark well enough on Australian musical history.

1978–1996[edit]

All six members went on to other bands. Younger's New Christs was more oriented towards hard-edged, blues-based rock and roll. Tek and Keeley with keyboardist Pip Hoyle formed The Visitors, and guitarist Chris Masuak and bass guitarist Warwick Gilbert's The Hitmen continued the Radio Birdman sound. Tek, Younger and Gilbert played in a one-shot touring band called New Race, with Dennis Thompson of the MC5 and Ron Asheton of the Stooges. They made no studio recordings, but released one official "live" album, The First and Last, and there are two more "bootleg" live albums. A non-musical LP, Soldiers of Rock 'n' Roll, was released in 1982. This strange album, described by the record company as "an audio documentary of Radio Birdman", was released after Deniz had quit music to be a jet pilot, and was assembled by the people at Trafalgar Records, like a soundtrack for a documentary movie which was never made.

Reunion[edit]

Radio Birdman reunited for the Big Day Out tour in 1996 and again in 1997. Since then Radio Birdman have continued to perform sporadically. In 2002 Warwick Gilbert was replaced by Jim Dickson who had previously played with the New Christs, Louis Tillett, The Passengers, The Barracudas and Deniz Tek. Drummer Ron Keely left the band in 2004 after the band's performance at The Azkena Festival in Spain, and was temporarily replaced by Nik Reith, formerly of the Celibate Rifles, Tumbleweed, the New Christs and the Deniz Tek Group. He was replaced after six shows by You Am I drummer Russell Hopkinson.

The year 2006 saw much activity by Radio Birdman, spearheaded by the completion of a new album entitled Zeno Beach, released in Australia on 24 June 2006 via the band's own Crying Sun Records, and in the US via Yep Roc Records on 22 August. Named for the closing track, a surf-rock tune written by Hoyle, Zeno Beach was recorded in Sydney in December 2005, produced by guitarist Deniz Tek and engineer Greg Wales. Carl Rorke, one time Radio Birdman bassist, died the year of the new albums scheduled release, and it was completed in his memory.

Following a February tour of Australian capital cities, dates in support of Zeno Beach for Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US have been announced, commencing 27 July 2006 in Sydney, and ending on 7 October, in Spain. Many Australian dates feature LA soul/punk band The Bellrays and Melbourne band The Specimens as support act. In March 2006, Radio Birdman hosted an Australian rock history exhibition in Sydney, featuring many artworks inspired by Radio Birdman. Many of the bands memorabilia, including guitars, were auctioned on the opening night.

In July 2007 the band were inducted into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame (in an interview, vocalist Rob Younger indicated the band had previously declined an invitation to join the Hall of Fame). [1]

The induction saw all original members plus current members attend the ceremony, except for Pip Hoyle, whose son had died around this time.

Daniel Johns of Silverchair gave the induction speech, which was followed by the band playing a short but energetic set which saw the audience giving them a standing ovation. The three guitarists (Tek, Masuak and Dickson) also participated in what appeared to be an uncharacteristically rehearsed stage move, each holding up their guitars and saluting the drums as the song New Race ascended into auditory chaos. On a side note, Murray Shepherd (ex- The Screaming Tribesmen and current The Hitmen drummer), sat in on drums for this occasion, as then-drummer Russell Hopkinson was touring with You Am I.

In September 2007 the band featured in the Clash of the Titans tour alongside The Stems and Hoodoo Gurus, which launched in Sydney at the Enmore Theatre and included dates in Melbourne and Brisbane. Although there was no official announcement by management, the band called it a day in May 2008 with the resignation of Rob Younger to continue work with the latest line-up of the New Christs.

The band is due to release a definitive box set on the Citadel label in 2014 and a re-union tour is mooted. All current members are expected to be involved with the exception of Chris Masuak due to personal differences with Rob Younger.

Musical style[edit]

Lyrics[edit]

The band's lyrics reference US-born guitarist/main songwriter Deniz Tek's home state of Michigan, with lyrics from tracks such as "Murder City Nights" referring to Woodward Avenue in Detroit: "Cruising down Woodward gotta find me some action/Looking for a lover with a power reaction."

Many of their other songs, such as "Hand of Law" & "Descent Into the Maelstrom" deal in apocalyptic images of war and violence, but these are more than balanced by the lighter popular culture references of tunes such as "Aloha Steve & Danno", an ode to the TV show Hawaii Five-O. "Man With Golden Helmet" (which Tek wrote in high school) is one of their most cryptic efforts: "Man with golden helmet/drinks water from the faucet... plays with tiny children/on his way home from work... he's the top man/in the language department." The Man with Golden Helmet painting by Rembrandt hung above a tap and sink outside the modern languages staffroom of Sydney Boys High School in the 1970s when some members were believed to have attended.

In one song, "I-94", Eskimo pies are a prominent subject of the chorus, possibly due to their relation with Klondike bars or to guitarist Chris Masuak's Canadian origins.

I always heard that the "Eskimo Pies" referred to were the big chunks of ice that come off cars during the winter, driving on I-94 between Detroit and Ann Arbor, where Deniz Tek grew up.[Citation Needed]

Genre[edit]

Radio Birdman's music does not fit specifically with the punk rock genre, nor do the band like this label (as they saw it as degrading to their intelligence) —though their independence and originality has put them in this position. A fitting genre would be alternative punk, or as the band themselves called it, 'Sub-Pop', deeply ironic that 27 years later, the band would release a record on "Sub-Pop" Records. Fans of the band often classed the music as "proto-punk" or the Detroit sound, similar to bands such as MC5 and The Stooges.

Graphics[edit]

The Radio Birdman Logo.

With professional graphic artist Warwick Gilbert as part of the band, Radio Birdman had a unique and artistic feel to their cover art and posters. The band wanted to be unlike any other band in the modern way of presenting their image. The cover of the band's third album, Living Eyes, shows the style of design Radio Birdman often employed.

The band symbol was not an original Gilbert design. Deniz Tek created the logo when trying to develop a symbol for himself by scribbling on some paper when he was with one of his early bands, T.V. Jones. He brought the logo with him when he formed Radio Birdman. Gilbert modified Tek's design, which had more open space and more trailing fangs than the version shown at right.

The symbol was held by some as something to follow, many fans getting the symbol tattooed on their bodies, while others saw it as something extreme - the call sign of a forming cult. Tek has denied this: "Just because we wore a uniform and had a symbol - it's automatically Nazi." One example given by Tek was a crazed woman who tore down one of the band's banners at a concert, screaming about the Jewish people.

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Title Release
Burn My Eye EP Trafalgar Records 1976
Radios Appear LP Trafalgar Records 1977
Living Eyes LP 1981
Alone in the Endzone 45' 1981
Zeno Beach CD 2006

Live albums[edit]

Title Release
More Fun! (EP) 1988
Ready to Burn 1996
Ritualism 1996
Radios On! Ritualism - The Reunion 1996 LP (bootleg) 1997
Murder City Nights CD (bootleg) 1976
Surfin' at 2JJJ EP (bootleg) 1976
Live In Texas 2011

Compilations[edit]

Title Release
Eureka Birdman EP (bootleg) 1977
Rock'n'Roll War 1976-1978 LP (bootleg) 1978
Soldiers of Rock'n'Roll: An Audio Documentary of Radio Birdman CD 1982
Under the Ashes CD/LP 1988
Live in Sydney, 1976 - Double Jay Studio CD (bootleg) 1990
The EPs (CD) 1992
Rock'n'Roll War 1976-1978 LP (bootleg) 1998
The Essential Radio Birdman CD 2001
Living Eyes/More Fun CD 2005

Singles[edit]

Title Release
"New Race/TV Eye" 1977
"Aloha Steve and Danno/Anglo Girl Desire" 1978
"What Gives?/Anglo Girl Desire" 1978
"Alone in the Endzone/Breaks My Heart" 1981
"Hungry Cannibals/Rock Bottom" 2006

References[edit]

External links[edit]