Although the Sussex Hotel was a massive, dirty pile of bricks, it still seemed to fall towards the old timber wharves at Darling Harbour just across the road. It was a ramshackle,
multi-levelled pub with secret nooks and crannies that fitted perfectly into its history as part of the original Sydney 'Push' and as a trade union hangout. Stella was the wife of the publican Slim but was the real force behind it all, keeping the place oiled on alcohol, Smith's crisps and sweat. I can only imagine that she decided to put music on in the lower bar because their finances were in dire straights but her experiment with the XL Capri's punk-pop on Friday nights drew in a big crowd every week. She seemed ancient and very, very hard when we first met her but she let Voigt/465 play on Wednesday nights when it seemed no one else would touch us. By the end of our six-month stay she would be loving and almost motherly. I can still see her serving schooners of Resches at the darkened, curved bar with a wry smile on her face and earplugs fitted deeply as we plunged into a noisy 10 minute improv based on the sound of the wind rushing past a car on an expressway.
That grimy place seemed to draw the entire inner city crowd and many seemed to be looking for something more exciting than those same three chords and a pack of amphetamine energy. Back at the Grand Hotel near Central, the punks were destroying everything they could lay their hands on as that damned 4/4 beat just kept on coming. We'd go there to listen to Filth play another awful but intriguing set or to hear an occasional pop gem from The Particles. We also made friends there with the members of JMM whose musical roots were similar to our own. Perhaps even more memorably, we'd put Sherbet's appalling "Life Is For Living" on the jukebox and bash the side of the machine to make the a-capella intro repeat until, finally, we were chased away by the management. Across town the "Fun House" had closed down but Oxford Street was still haunted by the sub-Detroit bands, including the wonderful, chaotic Psycho Surgeons, but the sound hadn't moved one iota from 1969 and Birdman themselves were stuck with that ridiculous 'New Race' schtick.
We'd been excited by music in high school - Faust, Can, NEU!, Henry Cow, Syd Barrett, Roxy Music, Bowie, Eno, free jazz and jazz rock, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground - and then guitarist Rod heard Radio Birdman's glorious noise coming from a dingy bar above a busy Darlinghurst intersection. For the next few months, those exquisite Friday nights were galvanic. Packed tightly in the small triangular space with people we'd never seen before, listening to rough, hard, fast, roaring rock songs, sweat dripping from our long hair and with alcohol blurring the edges, we'd found the communal spirit that most rock music aspires to. And we wanted, more than anything we'd known before, to be a real part of it. We spent a year or so learning how to play and write music, how to listen carefully to each other and, ultimately, how to have fun with it all. Eventually we changed our attitudes and the way we played to become rougher and more extreme. Reliance on musically intellectual games became less frequent but we couldn't remove experimentation from our systems entirely. We practised continually and played as much as we could but, until the Sussex, it mainly fell on deaf ears.
So we left our childhood suburban homes in the evening after piling the Econo-line van high with equiptment, more excited and nervous than we'd ever been. Rod drove his usual way through the back streets of southern Sydney on a route that always confused me and suddenly we were there, parked on the Sussex Street footpath and then moving the gear into position. We played in the largest corner of the bar facing the southern doors with a thin area to the left of us heading off to the toilets. It was friends, acquaintances and partners turning up on those first few nights so the crowd would have been small but most definitely larger than we'd had before. My voice probably gave out quickly with too much shouting; the sweat would have flowed generously from my fingers onto the old organ's keyboard; Rae would have a face set in stone, acting out the punk front person to the hilt; Rod would be playing like his life was in danger, "too loud" as always; Lindsay would be bent slightly over his long necked bass, tight lips shifting slightly as his fingers moved up and down; Mark would be opened mouthed one moment then smiling maniacally the next. And the performance would have been partially fantastic and partially awfull with mistakes aplenty but with an energy that none of us ever attained in later bands.
XL Capris - My City of Sydney
Voigt/465 - State
Radio Birdman - Burn My Eye
The Psycho Surgeons - Horizontal Action
Scapa Flow (JMM) - Endless Sleep