Last week, I sat back to watch a program on the ABC that had been overdue for 20 years – a documentary on the vibrant WA music scene. It was called Something in the Water and was directed by an Aydan O’Brien (or Aidan O’Brien, depending on which spelling is correct).
I thought it was going to be about current day bands, but my ears pricked up when I saw talking heads spouting on about the late 70s in Perth. The time of The Suburbs. But curiosity slowly turned to annoyance and then outright anger as my band, Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs, was completely ignored. Instead I heard tell how punk acts like The Victims and Cheap Nasties brought original music to cover band city.
The fact is, as anybody living in Perth at that time would know, The Suburbs were filling venues all over the city with my original music, WA music, from early 1977. 95% of my material was original, while some of the bands mentioned on the show would have been struggling to crack 50%. Yes the guys in those bands went on to make their own major contributions to the Australian original music scene and they deserve to be recognised for it. But if you want to talk about punk then my band Pus was at the Governor Broome Hotel back in 1974, playing our version of punk before The Saints, or even The Sex Pistols.
Fifty percent of our rep might have come from The Fugs, Velvets or The Who but the set included original material like Hot Crotch, Girls Wank, Campus Days and Suburban Boy. And yes, The Triffids celebrated WA, and I love The Triffids, but if you want to talk about celebrating WA then what about African Summer, Bicton Breezes, Old Stock Road, Living in WA and a heap of other tracks I had written and or recorded well before?
Just because nobody in JJJs collective memory has a clue about what was really going down in Perth in 1977 is no excuse for this sloppiness. Ever heard of research? At the time when The Suburbs began playing there were no original bands able to fill a room. I believe we were the first band to successfully break through that barrier, although Western Flyer was around the same time with a solid following and a lot of original material, albeit a different style.
Along with Loaded Dice we introduced bands being paid a “retainer” fee at hotels plus getting to keep the cover charge. This was fundamental in securing some financial resources for local bands and superior to the Eastern States situation where bands played for a fixed fee, or took the door at their own risk. Let me be clear, I think all the bands featured on that program like The Stems, The Hoodoos and The Scientists are terrific bands and if this was purely a film about the director’s personal tastes, who would care?
But this purported to be a documentary about the nature and originality of WA music, and surely the onus is on the filmmakers to have some accuracy, some sense of scope. My album Mugs Game went gold in 1978 – written and performed by West Australians with material specifically about Australia and WA in particular. This was unheard of. That year I won the Ram magazine songwriter of the year, with material conceived and cooked in suburban Perth.
Before Mushroom picked me up I had my own label, Bicton Records, whose logo was a football in the middle of a laminex table. The Suburbs celebrated art from the mundane long before it became cool. Bob Dylan loved it, Kim Fowley loved it. Fowley even had the Runaways performing “Suburban Girl”. Virgin Records in London loved it so much they ripped off the idea for some of their bands.
So on any number of levels, The Suburbs should have rated a mention on a show about late 70s Perth original music. This is even without the antics of the late Johnny Leopard, one of the most exhilarating stage performers anywhere, ever. The Leopard had bands like The Stranglers bowing at his feet. How can you talk about the vitality of the Perth scene without referencing him?
And for the record let me mention those guys who played in The Suburbs at the time and broke new ground along with Jonny: Haydn Pickersgill, John Dennison, Stuart Davies-Slate, Howie Johnstone, Tony Durant and Paul Noonan. They all committed themselves to a vision of original Perth music as the fundamental cornerstone of the band. To ignore them, and that first brave group of fans who supported the likes of us is not just a large omission, it’s damn wrong. Dave Martin, Terry the Leaper, Anthony, Spence, Bob, Sue, Hans, Al Jones, Rex, Kate, Sandra, Fritze, Gos and the other suburban generals who crammed in Alberts Tavern or the Subi carried the Perth original scene in its cradle. Without them, the baby would never have grown.
Of course, other original bands (like The Dugites and Stockings, who came later) also didn’t seem to rate a mention on this show. Up until now I’ve mostly sat back and accepted the mis-representation of Australian music history which has largely come from eastern states commentators. You don’t expect them to get it right, to understand what was going down in Perth in the mid-seventies and how far ahead of the Sydney scene in particular it was.
If they put a pedestrian band like Radio Birdman into the ARIA Hall of Fame you shrug your shoulders and accept it as typical. If they say The Saints was Australia’s first punk band because they can’t conceive that punk could have existed before the Sex Pistols, you roll with it. But when a documentary is made, specifically about what was the core of my collective body of work, a body of work that still holds up, and when that program does not have one single mention of my music then it’s time to say Enough.
Hate my music, sure. But don’t ignore it. THE MONSTER IS BACK!