When I was young, we scorned Australian pub rock as everything our music wasn't. The deafening, unwavering four-on-the-floor of the bass guitar and drums, the guitars without finesse or shimmer, the squalling singer, the bogan tone.
While Hello Sailor blended soul, reggae and Reed, and the early Flying Nun bands tried to express what they were hearing in their Velvets, Love and Can records and lead breaks were considered to be in poor taste, Australia sent over The Angels, Rose Tattoo and Cold Chisel.
The music was unsubtle for cultural reasons. Or, more precisely, because it was a response to the environments in which it was performed: huge pubs and clubs full (or not full) of riotous punters, amphetamines and alcohol. It was an environment that chewed up and spat out Toy Love and most other bands who sought success on the other planet that lay across the Tasman.
The pub sound registered in various genres, from the rousing, tuneless protest rock of Midnight Oil to the comic country rock of the Johnnies. Even the Hoodoo Gurus, whose records paid tribute to classic pop, played their songs live as pub rock – you could see the Rickenbacker guitars on stage, but you really couldn't hear them over the drums.
The roots of that sound – and indeed of the identity of Australian popular music – are brilliantly explored in Paul Clarke's new two-part documentary for the ABC, Blood + Thunder: The Sound of Alberts, which tells the story of how Ted Albert, the scion of a straightlaced Sydney music publisher, built an empire around two immigrant kids, George Young and Johannes Hendrikus Jacob van den Berg (aka Harry Vanda).
George and Harry were the nucleus of The Easybeats, who formed in the limbo of a migrant hostel and blasted out a string of Australian hit singles before decamping to London and making the classic 'Friday on My Mind', which was much less raw than their early records, before disintegrating.
As a production duo, and with the encouragement of Ted Albert, they guided George's younger brothers Malcolm and Angus to the AC/DC sound, which has barely changed in more than 40 years and remains the purest and most unshakeable expression of Australian rock.
Then they invented "Australian disco" for John Paul Young. They also moonlighted as Flash and the Pan and recorded a song called 'Walking in the Rain' – yes, the same 'Walking in the Rain' that Grace Jones made a hit. (You might also detect a strong similarity between Drake's 2015 hit 'Hotline Bling' and a later Flash and the Pan song 'Waiting for a Train'.)
Even if you don't have an affinity for some of the music, Clarke's work is fascinating. The archive footage from 1970s pub shows alone is worth the watch.
Like the recent documentary on The Saints and the Brisbane scene, it unfussily encompasses social history. Clarke seems at pains to make the point that the creative energy of the phenomenon came from two migrant waifs. Given that the Villawood Migrant Hostel, where George and Harry met, is now the infamous Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, you'd hope the point was heard.
Let's not go too hard here. While 'Friday on My Mind' tops the list of the Top 30 Australian songs pubished by Apra in 2001, AC/DC's 'It's a Long Way to the Top' is the only other Alberts production in the Top 10 (which also includes 'Don't Dream It's Over'). But Blood + Thunder's thesis that this is uniquely ours resonates.
There might be a similar story to be had here in, say, Stebbing Studios. But it's hard to imagine how such a film could currently be made for and about New Zealand in the absence of a proper public broadcasting service. And that may, in the end, be the point we should ponder.
Happily, both parts of Blood + Thunder are on YouTube already. I recommend them:
It seems appropriate to remind you of what was happening in fringe Brisbane at the same time. If AC/DC set a hard rock template that a million bands took up, in 1976, a bunch of snotty kids helped invent punk rock with this timeless debut single:
Oh, and 'Walking in the Rain' by Vanda and Young as Flash and the Pan? It's actually not bad.
There are a few gigs lined up for Auckland in the week to come. Tomorrow night at The Wine Cellar there's a very good lineup of electronic music from Boycrush, Introverted Dancefloor (aka Bevan Smith) and Will Slugger (aka Ryan McPhun).
A cluster of shows has emerged from the debris of Echo Festival. Jamie Xx plays the St James on Monday night and Kurt Vile and the Violators are in the same room on Tuesday – it's the only show with the full band on Kurt's mini-tour. Disclosure play the Logan Campbell Centre tonight and 2014 Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers squeeze into Casssette Nine on Monday. Mac de Marco plays the King's Arms on both Wednesday and Thursday.
But the one you've got no excuse for missing if you happen to be in the Auckland CBD is The Chills' free show as part of Summer in the Square in Aotea Square at 12.30pm on Monday. Huzzah!
PS: Further out, after going through some outrageous legal bullshit with the Thames Coromandel District Council, the Chronophonium collective has found a friendly local authority and is heading north to Lake Ngatu on February 6 and 7.
RNZ has aired an adventurous, intriguing two-part feature called Aotearoa Futurism, in which Sophie Wilson and Dan Taipua explore whether Afro-futurism, an established frame for understanding the work of artists from Sun Ra to Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton and the Ultra-Magnetic MCs, also resonates in Maori and Pasifika music and art. The background is here and you can listen to (and download) the programmes here:
Part One (featuring Mara TK and Che Fu)
Part Two (featuring Lisa Reihana and Coco Solid)
Tim "Jizmatron" Checkley has produced a cool collaboration between Coco Solid and Disasteradio:
And also posted an instrumental version:
Both of those are free downloads.
Princess Chelsea is also in a giving mood, having posted her spectral cover of 'I can't Help Falling in Love With You' for free download. This is quite lovely:
You want some anthemic groove? You could do no better than this edit of Candi Staton's version of the Doobie Brothers' 'Listen to the Music'. Another freebie by way of Christmas and seriously Ibiza:
Aaaaand ... to bring us back to the opening theme, Digital Visions has just popped out this downloadable edit of 'Love is in the Air'. Get some Aussie disco down ya, cobber.
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