Drinking in the dark, stalking through Hyde Park and reminiscing…
In 1990 I was packed off to boarding school in Perth after a few years in Geraldton. A surfer from Geraldton in my boarding house named Justin Proudlove lent me a cassette by a Perth band called Cremator: ‘Evil Brew’. Having listened to nothing but heavy metal since about 1987 it slotted in nicely, although ‘nice’ isn’t the most accurate word to describe the band. They had a real Neanderthal sound and a singer whose style shifted from guttural growling to a thin, sickly and unrelenting falsetto. A sample lyric, from ‘Evil Brew’:
Drink your favourite beer
it’s an evil blend
Drink it every day
The party never EEEEEEEEEEENDS!
The word ‘ends’ was launched utilising the quavering falsetto I mentioned. It was real classic caveman metal and also featured a young Russell Hopkinson on drums. That was my raucous (as opposed to Rawkus) introduction to Perth music.
During our enforced study breaks after dinner I’d listen to the radio, mostly to 6UVS-FM and 3 Hours of Power on JJJ. 6UVS-FM (which eventually morphed into RTR-FM) was fantastic, it really busted my narrow mind wide open thanks to a clutch of very droll DJs, one or two of whom may or may not have winded up in Jed Whitey a few years later.
I don’t recall hearing too many local bands on the radio and wasn’t really aware of a Perth music scene whilst at high school. I used to read the music section in the West Australian (Revue?) and wondered about the bands featured in the ads (Ice Tiger, The Jets, Infa Red (whose ad simply read ‘Hot Hard Rock!’)). I remember flowing perm mullets. You don’t forget a good perm mullet.
Having brought my guitar down from Geraldton (a ‘Torch’ Fender copy made to look like Eddie Van Halen’s, fire engine red with white stripes) I started learning the basics, and discovered that there were a lot of musically minded people in my year at school. A few lads went on to be in local notables Flanders, Burnside and Autopilot.
Moving to Perth really kick-started my understanding of music and helped to broaden my horizons from what had been a mostly metal landscape. I finally got around to listening to all the classic Perth ‘The’ bands – Stems, Scientists, Kryptonics, Neptunes, Triffids.
My parents bought a tavern in Kirup, located in the South-West. It was a nice place to land after finishing high school and working in a shearing team for a year in and around Tambellup, about 80km north of Albany. In 1993, I began a graphic pre-press apprenticeship at a newspaper in Bunbury, just north of Kirup. At this stage I was deluded enough to think I could sing in a band, so after a coarse start with a metal band (I still mostly cringe when I hear a double kick bass drum) I joined a handy three piece called ‘Saturn 5’ featuring Michael Zieba on bass, James McDonald on guitar and Craig (‘Besty’) Best on drums.
I’d seen them play at a Battle of the Bands at the Bunbury Entertainment Centre. I think they played mostly Stooges and Radio Birdman numbers, with maybe a couple of James’ psychedelic originals. They were loud, scrappy, brilliant. All the songs were played at hyper-speed through what they later told me was sheer nervousness. I was watching with a dim grin on my phiz with the guys from the metal band I was still singing with (‘we’re not ready for the battle of the bands’, the lead guitarist had seriously intoned). The rhythm guitarist leant over and bellowed above the din ‘you actually like this shit?’ I had to tell him that I did.
Some weeks later I drunkenly accosted the Saturn 5 lads at Pat’s Snack Bar offering my limited services as a singer, remembering that at the BOTB James didn’t appear comfortable singing whilst playing guitar and skipped a verse in ‘Search and Destroy’. Not long afterwards James called me at my parent’s pub and we waffled at length about grunge and punk. After one boozy jam where we must have played nearly every Stooges song in existence (except ‘We Will Fall’), I was in. I had one final jam with the metal band – the rhythm guitarist sneered ‘you’re joining that garage band, aren’t you?’ Again, I had to tell him ‘yes’.
Long story shorter, after a few gigs (highlights included supporting mighty local heroes The Dweebs in Margaret River and Magic Dirt at Albert’s Nightclub in Bunbury for what was their first WA tour) the lads moved to Perth to start Uni and decided they were getting a new singer seeing that I was Bunbury-bound because of my apprenticeship. In all honesty Michael and I never really got on and I wasn’t enjoying having to sing his lyrics – not that mine were any better. They left it to poor Besty to give me the news, delivered at the Prince of Wales in Bunbury after a lengthier-than-usual booze ‘n’ smoking session no doubt designed to provide an easier platform to communicate the news while also softening the blow of receiving it.
Speaking of The Prince Of Wales, it was my local pub and consequently my live introduction to Perth bands. Cinema Prague, Valvolux and Beaverloop were just a few that spring to my creaky mind. Around that time James and Besty tried to re-induct me back into the band, but Michael was having none of it. They had a meeting in the house they shared a house on Fitzgerald Street in North Perth and Michael said if I was back in then he was out. ‘Fine with me’ said James, who left the room. Besty sat there without saying anything, which led him to say in later years that he was ‘the sole remaining member of Saturn 5’.
1996 was my final year in Bunno and the year Three Orange Whips formed. On bass was Graeme Muller, who Besty met whilst on a ciggie break at a UWA quiz night, or so the story goes. At first I sent them cassettes with songs I’d come up with on the acoustic guitar, driving up to Perth on weekends and practicing in the back room of the Fitzgerald Street house. It was mostly homemade amps, I sang through a 10w practice amp so sounded like Tom Waits’ dog with throat cancer howling into a faulty loudspeaker. It was a swelteringly hot summer in ’96, I vaguely remember lots of home brew and ‘silver briefcases’ (goon) and being utterly thrilled by hearing the boys sweetly destroying the little acoustic ditties I’d clumsily constructed. The fun really began right there in that back room.
By 1997 I’d completed my apprenticeship and so moved to Perth. By that point we’d played a few gigs around Perth in venues like The Rosemount, The Knutsford Arms, The Swanbourne, The Norwood, The Civic and our favourite, the Hyde Park Hotel. When we weren’t playing we were watching bands like O, Mach Pelican, Love Camp 7, Shagpile, Josephine Killen, Prickle, PB, Flashing Tablet. Without getting all gushy and sentimental, 1997 was a fantastic year and it was mostly due to the discovery of all these bands, not to mention being given the opportunity to play gigs with some of them. There was so much diversity and I simply remember looking forward to the weekends with so much more vigour. We felt grateful for every gig and we tried to play everything that was offered to us.
I can still remember driving to the Grosvenor the first time we played there. We’d been dying to play there, but I remember being a bit bemused by the fact that people were sitting down on the floor in front of the stage. ‘If you’re going to sit down, get out’ I’d admonished, haughtily. To be fair, some of them did. The odd supine punter aside, it always felt a little bit special playing that room.
Perth was a place where you could play with Turnstyle one night and The Rats the next. For the most part there was a friendly communal feel about the original band scene which I found sadly lacking once we’d moved to Melbourne, where every band seemed to be its own gang.
Whatever. The late nineties were a fucking blast; a golden slab of my twenties and fondly, if foggily, remembered.
Good, good times.