No Night Sweats N o  N i g h t  S w e a t s No Night Sweats
Sydney's Post-Punk Bands
I Like Music
Slapp Happy are Terrific
A List of CDs

Text is What I Write

Crime Fiction is Silly
[ Sydney Post-Punk Memoirs ]

Gordon Renouf

Some Recollections 1977-1980


Sometime in 1975 Bob Hudson promised a Led Zeppelin free shift on his 2JJ afternoon slot. At 15 I misheard and thought it was to be ALL Led Zeppelin. My father was delighted to puncture my enthusiasm. But only a year or so later everything changed. Steely Dan and David Bowie were also left behind in favour of The Pistols, Clash, and Jam, of course, but also "Live at CBGBs", Elvis Costello, Blondie, and later, The Residents, the Pop Group, This Heat, Wire and so on. Craig and I drove from distant suburbia in 1977 to see Radio Birdman's last Sydney gig. My ears wear ringing for days. 

He and I formed The Ideals (as in Barbie and the Ideals) with Helen Dickenson, Donny (?) plus a woman from New Zealand on guitar and played the Grand in Broadway. We were the only people not wearing black - I remember a dark green shiny shirt was as close as I could get. By then David Virgin's first band was popular: no shirt with a tiny cross tattooed on the centre of his hairless chest; died blonde hair something in the style later adopted by the ambiguous Billy Idol. Soon after he started Sekret Sekret with Danny Rumour, later of the Cruel Sea. After a gig there with another band he played drums for, Donny bought most of the crowd to our house in Annandale and it was duly trashed. Someone kicked in the glass of the front window; bits of it fell on Daniel (later of the Craven Fops) out of it on the lounge room floor.

In 1978 Voigt/ 465 played at the Sussex every Wednesday for a dollar; this went on for months and once I'd been the first time I went back nearly every week. The bar dominated the main room at the Sussex - it took up most of the floor space. The band and watchers were pushed against the walls and the numerous (locked) doors to the street. Stella and her silent husband worked the bar, and appeared to have done so for 40 years. They were tough and ancient from our under 20 perspective.

The band's original name, Voigt/465 Radiators, was carved into the desk on the highest level of the creaking lecture theatre backing on to the Sydney University Quadrangle. The ideological war that was philosophy at Sydney University included first year core lectures jointly presented by staff of the Department of 'Traditional and Modern' Philosophy and those of 'General' Philosophy - Trad and Mod were said to be seeking to win converts from some of the 80% of students that had enrolled in General. In this seething questioning was some resonance with the varied responses to punk rock and its antecedents that mattered more than philosophy to many of the students and no doubt all of the Voigt audience.

Voigt types had a deliberate but understated weirdness of dress. Rae in particular went for big spots, asymmetric hair and odd make up. Some in the audience were still strongly influenced by punk or mod fashion styles but many were just looking for a non-phlegmatic sense of difference.

At a Voigt gig, and elsewhere at this time, there was a sense in which the music mattered in some profound way, which in hindsight seems quasi religious. But it was also fun and often witty; you could dance if you tried hard enough, although that wasn't the point. It wasn't thrash and it wasn't pop and it wasn't technically flashy. There was no rejection of melodic line for the sake of energy, as in punk, but a too pretty melody would be considered crass; a clever interplay between rhythm and line would be admired. It was a music trying for the shapes of cubism with the colours of Matisse. The guitar lines were spiky and there was a tendency for the mostly tuneful singing to veer towards the declamatory. Rod's all grey guitar and the two synths were paintboxes - ring modulators and pink noise, various fuzz boxes and ancient wah-wah pedals all offered a choice of brittle tone colours. Rae's synth looked like it was built sometime before Moog had made one available to the consumer market.

JMM, later Scapa Flow, played at the Sussex a few summer Saturday afternoons, maybe a year or so later. They now remind me of the Durutti Column in that their pieces - they never really struck me as songs - involved intersecting lines carefully contrived, even though played on drums, guitar and bass and ostensibly 'rocky'. It was dangerous to relax in a groove or you'd miss the tight corner ahead.

There was a second, rarely used, room to the right of the entrance on Goulburn St. Once a 'little' band had set up against the back wall there was room for 20 people standing 4 deep. The rest could peer in through the door from the main bar. Brrr Cold played there once or twice, and perhaps Moral Fibro early on. I never saw a chair, stool or table in that room.

In 1979 I was sharing with Craig and others. After the rapid end of The Ideals we'd been regular guest 'musicians' with the Slugfuckers. The Slugfuckers occasionally shambled into a run down alternative school and used almost broken instruments to make rhythmic noise over which Terri Blake, wearing a dressing gown and bandages, shouted the lyrics to celebrations called Cacophony and Mechanical Boy. At a backyard party over the bridge in North Sydney, during a break, some guys came and asked to use the gear; they were from the Ferris Brothers, then the unknown forebears of INXS, they might have just got a demo on to JJ. 

I saw Terri a few years later in wintry Paris; he was becoming a philosopher. I gave him an awful pair of boots I bought for nothing in Greece. At Sydney University he had been doing honours in (General) philosophy. Presenting a seminar for staff and students he set going something cacophonous on a portable cassette player loud enough to make it difficult to hear his voice giving the talk. One of the lecturers stood up and complained and walked out. One of Terri's constant refrains, joined in by John and Graham - other band members and former co-students - was derision of the Marxist lecturers in their identical uniforms of blue jeans and black turtleneck jumpers.

So Craig and I went to see some of the members of Voigt after is demise and got talking to Phil about a new band. I was to play bass - there already being enough keyboard players and no call for wind instruments in serious post punk bands - unless to wail noisily as on Deaf Disco, the Slugfucker's single.

In the end Craig pulled out and it was a Voigt fan and friend, Peter Nelson, who played guitar, Phil on synth and singing and we rounded up Peter McGregor for the drums. Peter N's guitar style couldn't have been more different to Rod's. He was a big fan of Tom Verlaine's Little Johnny Jewel, but also the lightness of perhaps an Earth Wind and Fire funk riff (we covered their September in among our post punk angularity) - his focus was on melody, albeit often on lines that sounded curiously incomplete.

We, or mostly Phil, had come up with ideas for songs, which we worked out after a fashion, and looked around for somewhere to play - a name for the band was a problem - we went through Grab a Guitar, God: The Movie, and Grab a Garage (*?) before choosing Wild West from a list of about 60 written down preparing for a party in Bourke St one afternoon. It's difficult to believe that the other 59 were worse and/or duller than that.

Rae joined later, more vocals and more synths. We played a fabulous gig at St Peter's hall in Surry Hills and another good one supporting the Birthday Party at the Cell Block theatre (also on the bill: Tsk Tsk Tsk, Slugfuckers and Pierre's World). The black and pink poster is on the wall in a scene from the film "Man of Flowers". Linz, Phil and Dave Weston of Pel Mel all filled in on drums in the last few months after Peter McGregor left. By the end in mid 1980 we'd written about 50 songs recording 11 of them with Peter Mc on drums and 10 or so with Linz, Dave, a drum machine and Phil. We had a fondness for odd time signatures - 5/4 and 6/4 as well as 6/8, lots of 2 beats against 3 and unusual structures: a quasi rondo, lots of codas. When Peter decided it was time to go to Europe indefinitely we called it a day. Phil went on to No Night Sweats and I was in Hope is a New Coat (this time with Rod from Voigt), Moral Fibro and Maestros and Dipsos (with Linz from Voigt). Rae had Brrr Cold and Peter Mc joined the Allnighters, a different kettle of fish really.
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