In early January 1976, I put an ad in the Sunday Times ‘Musical’ classifieds seeking a copy of the MC5’s legendary album Back In The USA, which was virtually impossible to get at that time. I repeated the ad for two weeks without a bite, then on the week of the third and, I had decided, final placement I received a phone call from a guy called James. He had it! It was, he enthused in an unusual, slightly Pommified accent, “the greatest rock and roll record ever made.” He had picked up this treasure from the bargain bin at 78 Records (one of only two import record retail outlets in Perth at the time) for a couple of bucks. No, I couldn’t buy it from him at any price, but yes, he could tape it for me. In the conversation that ensued, it emerged that James was also into The Stooges (“Iggy Pop is God”) and The New York Dolls – the first musically like-minded soul I had come across apart from my mate Lloyd, who had introduced me to this unique and enormously exciting strain of high-energy rock in 1974. Our subsequent fervour for music of this ilk, compulsive and all-possessing, appeared confined to the two of us and our misfit mates who could not help but be influenced – I had not come across anyone else in Perth who had even heard of these bands, until now. I made an appointment to meet at James’ place in Kenwick early the coming week.
After due diligence with the map book, Kenwick being a remote outer suburb in those days, my brother and I drove out there on the arranged evening. My first meeting with James left an indelible impression. A shortish guy, he came to the front door and tilted his head back to regard us sullenly, heavy-lidded, from beneath a thick fringe that hung down over his eyes like a faulty blind. His hair was longish, though not hippy length as was the norm for those who identified with the rock scene in the first half of the 70s, and most unusually was retro-cut like an oversized helmet, in 60s mod style a la Brian Jones, or Iggy circa The Stooges debut album, or closer to home, Little Stevie from The Easybeats – you have the idea. Completing his stylistic allusion to the 60s was a pair of black winklepicker shoes – a throwback to Beatlemania days. But it wasn’t only his look that was remarkable.
He led us through his parents’ modest home to his room, where the cherished disc waited ready on the turntable of a small mono record player. Dispensing with social niceties, he solemnly repeated his claim that this was “the greatest rock and roll record ever made”, added an observation about the “amazing energy” and lowered the stylus, turning the volume up to 10. The raucous rendition of Tutti Frutti that leapt out of the inbuilt speakers at the front of the player was so distorted that it was impossible to determine how much of it was intended by the MC5 and how much was symptomatic of the strain under which the abused speakers were labouring. James sat on his bed nodding to the beat, staring at the spinning disc and looking glumly reverent, while my brother and I shifted about uneasily. I was impressed by the revved up tempo of Tutti Frutti, but it was Chuck Berryish rather than on the Stooges wavelength I was mentally tuned to and anticipating, and the earth was not moving for me! I was thrown by my failure to immediately recognise the genius label that legend, James and my youthful idealism had bestowed on this work, and found myself anxiously planning a response when the track ended that would not compromise my standing with James as “the other guy” in Perth who was into Detroit rock and The New York Dolls.
Whatever I said, it must have been acceptable, for after a few more tracks of Back In the USA, we entered an animated discussion encompassing The Stooges, The Dolls and The Velvet Underground. James brought out a scratched copy of an obscure LP by The Frost, which he identified as Lou Reed’s first band (I hadn’t heard of them, but have recently looked them up on the web – seems Lou Reed wasn’t in the band, but guitarist Dick Wagner later joined Reed’s Rock & Roll Animal Band). More momentous by far, though, was the presence in his collection of The Stooges’ fabled live concert recording, Metallic KO, during which cameras, bottles and other objects hurled by a hostile crowd could apparently be heard crashing into the onstage speaker stacks. During the concert, Iggy was said to have been dragged off stage and beaten up by a group of Hells Angels who had taken exception to his taunting. And here it was – the recording! I suppose scoring Back In The USA and Metallic KO on the same night was something akin to the discovery of the Shroud of Turin for me at that time. Two mythical recordings, so rare you wondered whether they really existed, and he had them both! This was profoundly impressive.
When James mentioned that he was a drummer, the smouldering band dream I had been nurturing for years fired up, but only momentarily. Turned out that he was about to quit his clerical job at the ABC and embark on a rock odyssey of duration unknown in search of “a whole lot of little MC5s” that he had heard had erupted in the States. He was, no doubt, referring to the happenings at New York’s developing CBGBs scene to which NME writers like Charles Shaar Murray were making oblique and tantalising references.
James gave me tapes of his precious cache of sizzling rocknroll, shook hands while maintaining his sulky cool and keeping his eyes mostly averted beneath his fringe. I did not expect to see or hear of him again; fortuity is an elusive, mysterious creature, sighted only after it has been and gone and returned for its second visit.
ONCE UPON A TIME, THEN…
Lloyd and I had fantasised about forming a band as far back as 1974, when Iggy and The Stooges had first taken hold of us. He was a compulsive record buyer whom I met on teaching prac in 1973, before I dropped out. Apart from exhibiting antisocial tendencies that ill-befitted a career in the classroom, Lloyd was remarkable in that he would once or twice weekly raid the city record stores buying up to 10 records at a time on spec; I would accompany him, watching on in awe of this extravagance. I would subsequently get to hear all his records, which soon numbered in the hundreds, and purchase the ones I liked most: Love, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Neil Young, Amon Duhl 11, Can, Roxy Music, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Van Der Graaf Generator, Pavlov’s Dog – these are but a few that spring to mind, and demonstrate the eclectic mix that made up my collection at the time. Thus, I was exposed to far more music than would otherwise have been the case, but most significant to this story was The Stooges’ Funhouse. Lloyd had introduced me to Raw Power first, but it was Funhouse that rocked me to the core and set us both on course for the formation of The Geeks 2+ years later.
I had been writing songs since I learned to play basic chords on the guitar at 16, but was a closet songwriter. My songs were, I thought, melodically strong in parts, and a couple worked well all the way through. However, like many budding songwriters, most of my early efforts were love songs strummed on acoustic guitar, usually painful ditties in minor keys too personal for other ears, and very distant from the volcanic territory occupied by The Stooges. Stylistic misgivings notwithstanding, I was too bashful and unsure of myself to give my songs public airing. Lloyd, never backward in extolling his own virtues, had proclaimed himself a genius more than once (possibly ironically, but I took him at his word). Who was I, then, to air my humble creations before him? He was stridently self-opinionated, spoke out his musical preferences with a force of authority that I found impressive and intimidating, and when critical – frequently the case – was fiercely, scathingly so. If we were to form a band, he would be the visionary and main writer and I would be deferring to him – of that I had no doubt and willingly accepted that this was how it should be. And I wasn’t about to volunteer my sensitive angst-ridden acoustic toons of unrequited lurve as an initial offering to kick-start our band fantasy into being.
I bought a second-hand electric guitar, a cheap, neglected Gibson Les Paul copy with rust setting in, and a feeble little Coronet amp, and while that was a decisive step away from my acoustic strummings, I was no Hendrix, my equipment was toy-like and a band remained a far-off dream. That is, until an event in 1976 that ultimately (though not immediately) shook the rock establishment to its very foundations and thrust a battering ram through the door of performance opportunity for a new generation of rock and roll torchbearers the world over. I speak, of course, of the release of the first Ramones album.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
It’s maybe a bit of a challenge for today’s younger generations to imagine musical life before The Ramones and the punk era that followed. The influence of those few years from 1976 to around 1979 was profound and is still actively at work 25 years on, both subtly in myriad ways and in obvious manifestations such as the punk subculture that has been thriving since Nirvana resuscitated it in the early 90s from its mostly comatose state of the dreadful decade before. Indeed, many of today’s punk rock outfits could be transported back to the late 70s and not be readily identified musically as time travellers except for their technically superior recording production values.
So, how was the world of rock and roll in Perth, Western Australia before the Ramones bombshell hit? In a word, dire. Pubs were rock barns then, which was fine, but the crap that was being served up was indigestible, at least to my taste. The “serious” bands were blues orientated, solemnly narcissistic somehow, samey, and bored the shit out of me. If you weren’t into blues, pick a venue, any venue, and you could guarantee a menu that included Dooby Brothers, Eagles, JJ Cale’s Cocaine, Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven and if you were really unlucky, some arsehole local guitar hero playing cleverdick with poofy prettyboy Frampton’s fucking tube thing stuck down his throat. Drum solos were de rigueur and it was obligatory to exhibit your musical sophistication by applauding wildly when you were sure the interminable ordeal was over.
There were a few cover bands that at least departed from the standard mould. Free Emission did some serviceable Pavlov’s Dog, and Vambo, the first tribute band I came across, had a repertoire comprising only Sensational Alex Harvey Band songs. Their terrific guitarist, Dennis James, had SAHB’s Zal Cleminson down pat, and played at deafening volume; I was a big fan of the SAHB, and Vambo were one cover band I did like.
Original bands were virtually non-existent, although the popular punk myth that there were none at all until The Cheap Nasties and Victims rode into town and liberated the hick West from cover band hell is not substantiated by historical fact – not quite. There was Bakery back in the 60s and early 70s, Fatty Lumpkin had a bang at some originals, Gemini scored a Number 1 hit locally with their pleasant pop song Sunshine River, Chalice (erk) threatened to go original for a while, Duck Soup did some writing and sported an original sound in the person of a stunning and highly unusual female vocalist who went by the exotic name of Cat Critch, Sid Rumpo released a local album, and there were no doubt a few others I have neglected to mention.
And of course, just preceding the punk explosion was Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs – far and away the best and most obviously unique of what Perth had to offer to that point (his earlier band, Pus, inspired by The Fugs, was so obscure as to be unknown by any but the band members and a few punters who had happened upon a handful of pub gigs, but as Mark Demetrius observes, might well have had a plausible claim to being Perth’s first punk band – I don’t know enough about them to comment further on this). That was yer lot of Perth’s originals. It was all pretty barren from the 60s to the late 70s, and it should be pointed out that apart from Bakery in its latter days and Warner, the other bands mentioned were not original bands per se – they were cover bands that did some originals.
Nationally, there was more going on than in the backwater that was Perth then, but most of it was horribly bland: Marty Rhone, Sherbet, The Mixtures…need I go on? It wasn’t all as bad as that – Skyhooks, AC/DC, The Dingoes, and from o’er the Tasman early Split Enz, for instance – provided a bit of interest, but paled next to the Stooges and co. It should be noted that Sydney’s Stooges-style rockers Radio Birdman were completely unknown in the West.
Radio had ceased to provide much interest for serious rock music fans since the late 60s, but by the mid-70s, apart from an isolated non-commercial program or two (such as whispering Chris Winter’s esoteric and ever-so-slightly pretentious Room To Move on ABC) things were particularly dismal: Abba’s Fernando was Number 1 for eleven weeks in succession, Pilot’s January for eight. The situation was well summed up by Lou Reed’s lyrics of a decade earlier: Gina turned on the radio and there was nothin’ happening at all… The glam acts that had injected new life into the first half of the 70s had peaked, and although there was still a bit of good international fare around if you looked hard enough, there was a pervading sense of staleness. The lean, hungry rock bands of the 60s were now the filthy rich stadium gods of the 70s, musically if not physically going to flab. Excess was the name of the game: indulgent, tortuous (and torturous) guitar and drum solos were endemic; “virtuosity” was strangling the free spirit of rock and roll.
Then there was disco. This hideous, sequined, falsetto-voiced dandy with a salami down its pants was drawing ever-increasing crowds away from the rock barns, sucking at rock’s jugular, with canned music replacing live bands ferchrissake. Rock was under seige!
HEY! HO! LET’S GO!
Enter The Ramones.
Avid readers of NME, Lloyd and I had been alerted to the developing scene in CBGB’s by a series of short reports issuing from as early as 1975 that suggested that the Stooges/MC5/Dolls thread – or at least, a new and exciting wave of rock – had picked up at a club called CBGB’s in New York city. Television, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and The Ramones quickly assumed mythical status for us, though all we had to go on was a few glowing write-ups. Most fascinating were the references to The Ramones. They belted out short songs at blinding speed and vast volume. Used solely white lighting on stage. The singer was a stick insect six-and-a-half-feet tall. There were rumours of an album that was recorded so loud it kept popping the tweeters in the studio monitors during the mixdown – I ordered it from 78 Records immediately, although the guys were doubtful it existed.
Yes, the myth was building, and we were sucked into its vortex. Every Thursday, when the new edition of NME arrived at the newsagents, we would scan it for updates on the CBGB’s happenings; with restless anticipation we awaited the album releases. Patti Smith was first. Lloyd grabbed the first copy of Horses that came into 78 Records (well, we don’t know it was the first, but it must have been close) and brought it around to my place at earliest opportunity. When he put it on and those opening piano chords filled the room, followed by that VOICE that so dramatically announced the arrival of a new era with the opening line of Gloria – Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…well, my world turned inside out. It was – is – one of the truly magical moments of my life. I cannot claim the same of the first Ramones album, though it ended up being far more significant in its impact.
I was at work when I received the phone call from 78 Records to tell me that The Ramones album was in – it must have been around June or July of 76. That lunchtime I tore along Hay St to 78s, would have flown if I could, handed over $6.96 (the price sticker is still on the record) and there it was: in black and white, that classic cover shot of the band in black leather jackets, torn stovepipe jeans (not flares!) and sneakers lined up against a graffiti-adorned brick wall with RAMONES in stark white capitals across the top. This was it – I knew from the cover. This was IT.
I suffered through the eternity of the work afternoon, sped home dragging furiously on a cigarette. Removed the plastic cover wrapping. Slid out the black vinyl with the Sire label (I remember the smell still – you don’t get that with CDs). Laid the record breathlessly on the turntable. Turned the volume way up…
The needle crackles. Tick tick tick…
I am shocked. There is no other word for it. I had been expecting a latter day Stooges or MC5. What was this? I didn’t know what to think. This was…outrageous. Rock and roll stripped shamelessly, brashly naked: a blitzing assault of buzzsaw guitar, not even a suggestion of a solo, the twin-tracked vocals somehow cutting through the massive onslaught of noise clean as a razor, the poptunery more Beach Boys than Stooges. Iggy, the MC5, the Dolls were in there somewhere, but the reference points could also have been bubblegum, the girl bands of the 50s and 60s even – melodically it was pop, in any case. Yet the beat (the beat) was Rock with a capital R, and talk about blast – they were louder than The Stooges. Louder than?…they were! And the lyrics – beat on the brat with a baseball bat – whaddafuck?
I listened to both sides, then put the record back in its sleeve. All my expectations were confounded. I beheld the cover, staring as if searching for an explanation from the four lounging New York street delinquents who stared right back, blankly. The Ramones look was unforgettable, pure, rock and roll perfect, and defined by Joey. He was the one who really stood out, a great stretched cute shy dumb rock and roll creature hiding behind sunglasses and a sheepdog shock of long black hair – the natural focal point, but he looked like he didn’t know it. In fact, none of them looked like they knew anything except that they were The Ramones and that was all that mattered. I was left with a sense of unease, something verging on disappointment, and a question about my lips – how dare they? So primal, so simple, I could do that.
I “got it” during my second or third listen. It was Saturday afternoon at the house in Calais Road, Scarborough that I was renting with my mate from way back, Stoltzee, and the boys were over. Lloyd, back in Perth from Geraldton, where he had been posted as a first year teacher, entered raving about The Ramones, and I expressed my reservations, which he dismissed incredulously. Naturally, I put the record on for a communal listening. I was catching Lloyd’s excitement as the first tracks of Side 1 exploded in rapid succession…Blitzkreig Bop, Beat On The Brat (there may have been chemical inducements involved, but when the group of us spontaneously joined in with soccer-hooligan gusto on “with a baseball bat” in the second verse, a revision of my initial impression of the band was well underway). During the guitar ‘solo’ in the middle of Judy Is A Punk, Lloyd yelled out “Listen to that – glorious!” and I was sold. It was almost as if I’d needed the permission of my mentor before I could allow myself past the audacious minimalism of the band to access the exuberant, abandoned discharge of pure rock and roll energy on the other side of my initial resistance.
When Joey died in 2001, I was moved to write a eulogy, but submitted it too late to be published. I quote from this now, because as a retrospective summary of my ultimate reception of that first Ramones album, I don’t think I can do better (also, I’m a lazy bastard):
As the guitar blazed and the drums blitzkrieg bopped and Joey sliced through in that strange almost English-tinted accent, an excitement grabbed me. This was blatantly disrespectful of the contemporary rock scene and commercially ingenuous; it cut through all the crap with a defiance, an attitude, a sensibility that alluded to the great stuff of the past, yet it was a daring, radical departure, irrepressibly fresh and exuberant, impossibly stripped back, genuinely, gloriously new. A new era of rock and roll was dawning in that same wild joyous innocent rebel spirit that invoked its pulsating birth, that moved Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Elvis before he got rich and fat, that breathed revolution into the musically charged 60s, that moved through all the stuff I loved, the great, important musical breakthroughs that signalled new direction, rebirth, (r)evolution. And for the first time for me, born too late to be part of the 60s or The Stooges or the onset of glam, the spirit was breathing NOW, through the sonic wall of Johnny’s furious Mosrite, the basic frantic beat of Tommy’s skins, the root chord throb of Dee Dee’s bass and Joey’s unique cut-through vocals, and I felt exquisitely privileged to be an initiate, part of the phenomenal loud, proud statement of reclamation that was, is, The Ramones.
At a time when virtuosity and pretentiousness were threatening rock music with death by boredom, The Ramones spoke directly, undeniably, to the rightful heirs of the rock tradition, and a voice perked up inside us collectively, responding in wonderment: “I can do that…I CAN DO THAT!”
So began the spread of the movement known as punk that delivered rock music a lifesaving shot in the arm and set it back on course for a time, spawning a new generation of out-of-tune guitar thrash rockers the world over…
Which brings me back to the tale you are all waiting so patiently to hear, for the “I CAN DO THAT”, the call to arms of that first Ramones album, led directly to my purchase of a Fender Twin Reverb and Gibson SG, and the formation of the band Lloyd and I had fantasised about and now determined to bring into being RIGHT FUCKN NOW!
THE MEAT CLEAVER MAESTRO
Well, it would have been right fuckn now if Lloyd had not been serving that one year sentence in a classroom in Geraldton. When he had done a year in the Deep North, Lloyd and the Education Department decided they would be better off without each other, and he came back to Perth. This was late 76, and that’s when our punk rock training wheels were set in motion.
My sister knew a drummer, Tom, who agreed to a ‘jam’ – and suddenly we almost had a band! Tom was a beefy bloke, a butcher by trade, and a butcher on the drums, which he had evidently hacked at with such ham-fisted violence that the skin of one of the toms was ruptured, the neighbouring tub also looking – and sounding – dicey. That left a snare, two cracked-edged symbols, and a kick drum – more than enough for Tom to cope with, as it turned out.
I remember with vivid clarity the first song we played together early in the New Year, 1977. It was Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lover’s Hospital, one of the many great songs off their classic debut album (recorded mostly in LA in 1975 and including songs dating back to 1972, this gem slipped in through the gates New York punk opened to the world). There is a slow intro, which I approximated on guitar, then Lloyd came in with the vocals, and a verse later, Tom made a Thor-like entrance…doom doom-da-doom CRASH! I can feel the exhilaration of that moment now, the sweat breaking out, the rush of ecstatic excitement, the hugeness of the beat, the noise! Apologies for the gush, but this was how it was! Hospital was probably never played as badly, but as far as I was concerned I had arrived in the promised land.
It soon became apparent that things were not going to go smoothly with Tom. Lloyd and I were single-minded about the band’s repertoire, which of course was going to comprise all the stuff we loved: Ramones, Stooges, Modern Lovers, the usual suspects. Tom’s musical taste was pedestrian, yet he believed full well in his judgement, which spelled trouble. He started bargaining. He would play our choices as long as we agreed to include his essentials; of these, the only ones I can remember are The Eag’s Hotel California and Angie by The Stones. We had nothing against The Stones, except that they were old-school and every cover band in town played them (ok, we had a lot against them). No comment is necessary regarding the Eags. We tried to explain our thematic vision for the band, but Tom wasn’t convinced. Still, there were two of us and one of him; we bludgeoned him into acceding by weight of numbers and force of will.
Tom knew a bass player, a 17 year old gynaecologist’s son by the name of Dave Cardwell (yes, the inclusion here of his father’s occupation is gratuitous). Dave was promptly invited along to try out, and proved to be musically adequate, though perhaps not so in personal esteem, since he quickly established himself as an inveterate, um, well, embellisher of fact. That was a plus if anything, providing Lloyd and I with hours of base amusement encouraging endless fabrications out of our poor unsuspecting superstar (blind to the truth of our own extreme immaturity – Dave was just a kid, but we had no such excuse). More of a plus by far, though, was that we now had a full lineup!
We thrived on the novelty of the band for a short time, but it soon dawned on us that there were serious musical shortcomings. Lloyd was dissatisfied with his vocals, and both of us had realised that Tom’s drumming was as shabby as his kit. Lloyd took to “coaching” him on his kick drum technique through some problematic passages (pretty funny, since Lloyd was no drummer, rhythm was not one of his strong points, and he was certainly no teacher, despite his Dip Ed…I found his instructional directions unintelligible and Tom fared no better). Tom was fond of demanding the floor to make band announcements, and did so after one of Lloyd’s coaching sessions. The hushed room waited and what followed was approximately this:
“Now, every musician, right, no matter how good they are, right, has a flaw, right? Even Don Henley, even Elton John, right, know what I’m saying? I’m a bloody good drummer, right, but my flaw is I can’t use the kick drum, right?”
Very right. You will doubtless have leapt ahead of me here, dear reader – yes, Tom’s days in Perth’s First Punk Band were numbered. But before I close the chapter on the meat cleaver period, an acknowledgement must be made. Tom, you see, had a special talent that only came alive when he was drunk – he was a genius at spontaneous ribald verse. Too many years, too many brain cells have gone, and I can now recall only one line by way of example: I went down on my baby last night, there was a piece of string hanging out of her delight. OK, you had to be there. You’ll just have to take my word for it that lines of great hilarity tumbled out of him, end on end, and had the rest of us howling with laughter. My reaction may have been enhanced by alcohol and dope, but Lloyd, not noted as a jolly type prone to belly laughs, was not a smoker and rarely drank much, and he also ended up rolling around in mirth with the rest of us when Tom cut loose.
Tom’s consummate poetic ribaldry didn’t save him, but far be it from us to be assertive – it was Lloyd’s decision to quit as singer that led to the demise of Tom as our drummer and to the true birth of The Geeks.
FROM BUTCHER TO BAKER!
I’m not sure why Lloyd decided to impose a standard on himself that did not apply to the rest of the band – none of us were musically adept. Anyway, back I went to the old standby, The Sunday Times ‘Musical’ classifieds. It was March, 1977. I ran an ad for a singer for a couple of weeks without worthwhile response: “Singer wanted for blasting band. Must love punk, Ramones, Iggy. Exp not nec…”
Then came a phone call that changed everything. I recognised the distinctive voice on the other end as that of James Baker! He was back from his overseas sojourn, brimming with first-hand news of CBGBs and the UK scene; he had seen Patti Smith, The Ramones, Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers and the underside of the tables at CBGBs, had met Sid Vicious on a bus on London, had witnessed the Sex Pistols and The Damned in full flight, was a friend of The Vibrators, had auditioned on drums for The Clash! And he wanted to have a go at vocals with us! We set an audition time for the coming Saturday afternoon. A sense of destiny crackled like static in the warm autumn air.
That Saturday, Tom brought along a moustachioed mate, Zak, unannounced. Zak fancied himself as some sort of doyen of rock and roll, citing by way of credentials a stint as a roadie for The Mixtures (for younger generations: they were a dorky, grinning band of lightweight popsters who had scored national hits with a cover of Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime and their self-penned claim to immortality, The Pushbike Song). Zak’s other claim to cred was the fact that he was on personal terms with the bouncers at Beethovens nightclub. We were in the company of a true seer.
It soon became evident that Tom had brought Zak along to assess whether the band was the place for a man of his musical bent and prowess. We were, after all, highly suspect in rejecting his entreaties to include The Eagles and Angie in our repertoire, and where’d we dug this punk stuff up from, anyway? Hence the need for Zak’s all-important evaluation. My lip had gone into an involuntary Elvis curl on discovering Zak’s intended function this fine afternoon, and it is true to say, alas, that there was hostility in the air when James arrived, to which I had contributed not a little. All was forgotten, though, when James took the microphone for a rendition of Blitzkreig Bop. My word. Oh, my word. It was a stunning performance, delivered in earnest abandon, and utterly, piercingly, almost unfathomably tuneless!
Lloyd arrived at about this time. He later likened his impression of James’ vocals to a cat being tortured (he didn’t actually, but he said something to that effect). We tried Beat On The Brat, which James massacred most horribly. It was even worse than Blitzkreig Bop! Tom got off his stool, exchanged meaningful glances with Zak, and they removed themselves to the kitchen for an urgent confab. James then asked if he might have a play on the drums. We cheerfully agreed in Tom’s absence. Lloyd took back the vocals. 1-2-3-4 KA-BLAM!
WOW! FUCKING YES, FUCKING YES, FUCKING YEEEAARRGGGHHHOOO! THIS was The Ramones how we wanted to play ‘em. The songs caught fire, we were rockin’, flying – this was a band, our band: Lloyd, James, Dave and me. Tom poked his head back into the room to inform us coldly that he was going and would be back to collect his drums. Cruelly, I suppose, we serenaded his departure with another blasting Ramones number. We were too excited to care about anything but the sound that had suddenly come together with James on drums – Tom was but a distant memory before he and good ol’ Zak had even made it out the front door.
From that Saturday on, every Saturday afternoon was a band rehearsal. Rehearsal for what? None of us thought ahead at that point. The only point was to play. It was such a joy not to have to explain things to James – he was every bit as fanatical as Lloyd and I, even more so, and during this period our punk rock hearts beat as one. The slower stuff, such as Hospital, was edged out in favour of fast and furious versions of Ramones and Stooges material. James already knew the drum parts of the Stooges’ songs, and we soon built up a good little repertoire.
Loose, off The Stooges’ Funhouse album, became a favourite (a version survives, and is included on The Geeks CD). James’ drumming was basic but perfect for us. He gave it everything when he played, crouched over his kit, head bobbing, attacking his drums as hard as I’ve ever seen, flaying at the cymbals, utterly possessed by beat and an intensity of conviction in the greatness of the material. He had a messianic belief in The Ramones, and again, it showed in his playing. Dave hadn’t known what the hell was going on at first, but he was happy to listen and learn and follow along, and his bass playing, already solid, was getting better by the week. We added The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK to our fast-building repertoire (James bought the single as soon as it was available…Never Mind The Bollocks had not been released), and I made my first departure from buzzsaw guitar, getting Steve Jones’ instrumental section down without too much trauma. We were starting to sound pretty damned good!
We rehearsed in an empty bedroom at the back of the house that soon stank of sweat, and hot, dusty amp valves. Stoltzie would sit in the adjoining loungeroom during our rehearsals, picking up items from the carpet knocked off the mantelpiece by the vibrations thumping through the fibro walls, and on occasions picking up the mantlepiece itself, which habitually bopped its way off its wall supports. He ended up as deaf as we did after a session, but always made sure he was home on Saturday avos nevertheless. Our rehearsals were becoming a weekly crowd-attracting event, often attended by a troupe of mates and a changing parade of blow-in associates. The twin 10-year-old brothers from next door would walk in through the open front door, often wading through clouds of ganja on their way to the rehearsal room (not that the band were generally amongst the afternoon dopers, yours truly possibly excepted – James preferred alcohol, Dave was too green to know what he preferred, and Lloyd abstained altogether).
The twins’ mother was a jolly overweight mama in the Colleen McCulloch mould, curiously supportive of the unholy din that was her lot every Saturday (not to mention the high decibel record playing that was a nightly feature of my time in that house, and my frequent full-volume guitar ‘practices’). “You’re sounding good, boys” she’d say with a broad smile when we bumped into her in the front yard. Hopefully – depending on your perspective – her twins did not end up leading lives of rock and roll debauchery as a result of the fine early example set by their next door neighbours of 77.
The rest of the neighbourhood was not as tolerant. By and by, I received a notification from the Health Department that an unacceptably high dB reading had been recorded at a house halfway along the next block (!) during one of our Saturday afternoon rehearsals. As it happened, Stoltzie’s and my lease on the house was expiring and we received word that it would not be renewed. Naturally, we ignored the Health Department caution and gave the neighbourhood a couple more withering Saturday avo bursts before the Calais Road period drew to a close. (On reflection, I’d have hated to have had me for a neighbour). It was the end of a short but thrilling establishment period for the band. But as exciting as it was, it was nothing to what happened next.
I moved back to my parents’ home, and the band’s weekend thrashouts relocated to the nearby Wembley Boy Scout quarters. It seemed that the relocation signalled a change in direction for the band, for on one of the first rehearsals in Wembley – it may have been the very first – James brought out a crumpled piece of paper during a break and slightly coyly announced that he had a song. It was called I Like Iggy Pop, and consisted of verses comprising lists of things James hated, only two of which I remember: I hate marijuana pendants, I hate disco junkies… (Interestingly, Dave Faulkner was to lift this “disco junkie” terminology of James’ for use in the Hoodoo Guru’s Miss Free Love many years later). The chorus was I Like Iggy Pop repeated x4. As James “sung” them, the verses were chanted monotonally over a single chord a la The Modern Lover’s She Cracked intro, and the 3-chord chorus was a melodically simple and enjoyable poppy resolution of the one-chord tension that preceded it, and obvious enough to decipher from James’ virtually atonal vocal approximation of how it went. We rushed into the hall to play it, I messed around with the verse until the one-chord version of the verse James had voiced had become a 3 chord riff, Lloyd made some melodic embellishments to the chorus, and a couple of hitouts later we had it. Our first original – it was thrilling!
By a fortunate twist of fate, very recently (late May 2005) I was astonished to discover a recording of I Like Iggy Pop in the middle of a compilation of Ramones songs on an old tape I had given to Max Kittler (Orphans drummer), who in turn had passed it on to his mate Hassa. When Max told Hassa about this site, he recalled having an old tape with a live recording of – he thought – an Orphans song – and Max alerted me. Amazingly, it turned out to be The Geeks… we only played the song for a couple of weeks before deciding we had outgrown our first original, and this recording is almost certainly that first band performance of the first punk original any of us had ever played. It is included on the Geeks CD, available exclusively from this website. Interesting, also, is the pre and post song banter (edited out on The Geeks’ Burned album), which gives some hint of the excitement and group energy of The Geeks as a band; we were happy little vegemites indeed, and this upbeat collaborative mood persisted for most of our short but intense life.
From that day on, our focus changed from covering our favourite bands to doing originals. James would come over to my place an hour or so before the arranged rehearsal time and bring out lyrics he had written during the week. I would do my best to interpret his attempts at vocalising the melodies by seeking out a few chords on my Gibson at low volume; the songs would shape themselves according to the chord sequences or riffs I came up with, while adhering more or less to the rhythmic intonations of James’ lyrics as he ‘sang’ them to me (the verses, in particular, were rarely anything more than monotone rhythmic intonations in the form James presented them). Usually, I could ‘hear’ the chorus melody James had in mind (his pitch challenges notwithstanding, we seemed to be on a common wavelength) and would refine this first, subsequently working backwards into the verse until I came up with a riff/chord pattern that fitted the rhythm of the lyrics and James’ melodic representations and led convincingly into the chorus. I would work, more than anything, from the atmosphere I gleaned from James’ vocal presentations and lyrics, and the eventual completed melodies would suggest themselves from my riffs/chords. The songs found their basic melodic form fairly quickly once I had constructed a chord pattern or riff that James affirmed as suitable by yelling out “that’s it!” (Kim Salmon’s descriptions of co-writing with James in the early Scientists days correlates closely with my experience as depicted here, as does Dave Faulkner’s – see Dave Faulkner’s letter on The Dave Faulkner Song Credit Controversy page). By the time Lloyd and Dave arrived for rehearsal, we would have a new song ready for the band to work on – sometimes two. Lloyd would sometimes refine the melodies further to suit his vocals, and Dave would follow the riff/chord patterns on bass, hugging the root chord notes and including simple fills where appropriate.
The method was haphazard, perhaps, but it worked, probably because we were musically like-minded. It was actually something of a creative advantage that James could not hold a tune, allowing more scope for collaborative musical development. I couldn’t have written the songs without James, and he couldn’t have written them without me. We had an original repertoire within a few months that far exceeded anything we had imagined ourselves capable of, comprising in no particular order There Is No Way Out, I’m Flipped Out Over You, I Wanna Be Slick And Pick Up Chicks Like You, I’m A TV Freak, I’m In London, Disco Junkies, I’m Looking For You and High School Girls. All our originals were co-written by James and I as I have described, with Lloyd contributing melodic refinements on occasions, except for a dark, nasty, but rather dull contribution from Dave, I Hate You Girl (not to be too hard on Dave, it should be remembered that he was just a kid happily caught in the slipstream of three obsessed individuals of common musical mind; as a first song, I Hate You Girl was a creditable effort).
Unfortunately, only There Is No Way Out, I Wanna Be Slick And Pick Up Chicks Like You, I’m Looking For You, High School Girls, I Like Iggy Pop and I Hate You Girl survive in recorded form. We did record all our songs, but I apparently failed to make copies of the missing ones in 1978 prior to selling the Teac reel-to-reel on which they were recorded, along with the mastertape that was in situ. I did tape a cassette copy of all our songs off the mastertape for James (for clandestine reasons that proved fatal to the band, as you are about to discover), but unless he some day unearths it gathering dust in some long-forgotten cranny of safekeeping, it must be assumed that the missing recordings are gone for good, and that The Geeks CD available from this site contains all recordings still in existence.
As our songs developed, so did an identifiable sound and band personality. We were a punk band, certainly, but we did not sound (or look) like any other. James’ lyrics were unique, often wistful, his observations witty and quirky, adolescent rather than tough-guy-punk, the musically simple choruses inbuilt with intuitive lyrical hooks. The arrangements of the songs frequently strayed from the Ramones buzzsaw attack that was fast becoming standard in the UK (though rarely as well applied as by the originators), often incorporating a staccato riffing style that was essentially a function of my attempts to add interest and drama to my very basic Johnny Ramone-inspired guitar playing. My best staccato riff was the goosestep-evoking I’m In London (reincarnated as Death Hurts by The Hitler Youth, and done by The Victims and Scientists as Teenage Dreamer, with changed lyrics). Sometimes, as in High School Girls, I’m Looking For You and Disco Junkies, the full fuzz blitz was toned down to a poppier, cleaner sound that better suited the sentiment of the lyrics and accompanying melodies.
Actually, although played with less distortion than our other blasters, Disco Junkies was our loudest and most chaotic song, with a prolonged instrumental section that rose to a fearful climax prior to the last chorus in which James would be savagely and randomly smiting his cymbals while keeping the beat going with the snare, and I would be extracting the most severe sonic toll possible from my guitar, begging feedback from the amp and stopping the strings high on the neck without any regard for chording formations, sometimes cutting my fingers with the ferocity of my blurred plectrum slash attack…the din alluded to Sister Ray, by The Velvet Underground – that was the intention, at least – and on one occasion reached an unbearable pitch of such prolonged intensity that we were thrilled to witness Lloyd the masterblaster clutching at his head, screaming “Stop! Stop!”.
Those creatively fertile months in 1977 which yielded all our original songs were terrifically exciting; they were to be the peak of The Geeks’ short life, which came to an abrupt and premature end in a way that I found shocking and that left me quite disillusioned and embittered.
THE GATHERING OF THE TRIBES
James was always relating tales of meeting this or that person on a bus who was wearing a Sex Pistols badge, or in some way broadcast their punk affiliation or noticed his. Yes, the shockwaves from CBGBs and the UK scene had finally been picked up by a few folk in Perth. We were not entirely alone any longer, although the fact that James saw fit to comment on bumping into possible kindred spirits indicates how few other punk initiates were around, even though it was now mid-77 and the mainstream media had latched on to the sensationalist aspects of The Pistols et al.
One of the earliest members of the Perth punk tribe was Rod Radalj (who was later to carve his name on the bus seat of punk legend, with stints in the very early Scientists, Rockets, Hoodoo Gurus and Johnnies before stamping his own brand of notoriety on Roddy Rayda and The Surfin’ Caesars). Rod’s first appearance was at one of our earliest Wembley rehearsals, he having answered one of my Sunday Times vocalist ads. I think Lloyd had, in the meantime, dismissed any real notions of stepping down as our vocalist, but we got Rod along anyway, just in case, and also because he said he played sax. The Stooges used sax to tremendous effect on Funhouse, so…
He was just a kid, more so than Dave even – no older than 17, looked younger. His vocals were not what we were after, and his sax playing was dodgy at best – it didn’t take us long to conclude that there was no place for sax in the band. Failed audition aside, Rod was into the music from the outset and although never a member of the band, became a weekly fixture at rehearsals thereafter, also sitting in on some of James’ and my songwriting sessions in my bedroom, if I am not mistaken. He was so shy that he never spoke, and James, Lloyd and I affectionately and somewhat ironically conferred on him the private nickname Rockin’ Rod – so private even he never knew about it. He etched himself in permanent memory by spectacularly breaking his silence for the first and only time during a discussion in which James, Lloyd and I had been debating the relative merits of some of the UK bands, amongst which were The Buzzcocks. Quoth Rockin’ Rod, with emphasis: “I don’t like Buzzcocks”, and again into the stunned silence that greeted this outburst, even more adamantly, “I DON’T LIKE BUZZCOCKS!” We gazed around at each other, gobsmacked by this outburst. Who were we to argue? We didn’t like Buzzcocks, either (with or without the definitive article).
Another notable attendee at some Geeks rehearsals was a friend of James’, Mark Demetrius, who later went on to write for Rolling Stone (his other claims to fame being a brief stint as a vocalist in Rod Radalj’s first band, The Exterminators, literally 15 minutes in the public gaze fronting Sad Sack and the Bags on their debut and only performance at the Leederville Punk Festival in 1978, and even less time on stage as vocalist for The Circumcised Bags, who formed spontaneously one night at Hernando’s Hideaway and played a couple of numbers before ending their career as abruptly as they had started it). Like James, Mark Demetrius had been to CBGBs in 76 and had a longstanding, avid interest in punk and its derivations.
There were more of us around than Lloyd and I had thought – little by little, the tribes were gathering, and it seemed that they were gathering around us, as the only punk band in Perth (that is, the first as far as we or anyone else we knew, were aware). In fact, James was the light attracting these subterraneans from their burrows. Lloyd and I were misfits, would always be misfits, and were contemptuous of the UK punk identikit that was starting to catch on locally, more, we thought, as a fashion statement than a true unfurling of a new ideological flag.
One night, James brought one of his new punk acquaintances to my place to meet Lloyd and I with the view to possibly joining the band. His name was Dave Faulkner, he was a pro musician, a keyboardist in The Beagle Boys (a popular blues outfit that were part of the Perth music establishment and one of my pet hates), and he arrived in the punk identikit we so despised: gelled spiky hair, black leather jacket etc. None of the signs were good, as far as Lloyd and I were concerned – and indeed, how right time proved us to be.
It was evident from the outset that Lloyd and Dave Faulkner were not going to hit it off. Lloyd barely responded when James introduced them. Dave listened to our tape. He may have made some approving noises, but he seemed less than impressed, which left us less than impressed with him. Next, he played us a couple of his songs at low volume on my electric guitar and amp. They were fast but nondescript punk toons. I responded with a polite neutral utterance – “right” or “interesting”, or something like that. Lloyd said nothing, and Dave asked him directly what he thought. Lloyd replied, looking straight ahead, “shit.”
It would have been funny if it wasn’t so rude! I was embarrassed, partly out of concern that Faulkner would be offended, but mostly because he was James’ guest. The meeting ended at the Floreat pub across the road; Lloyd managed some civility when Dave Faulkner made some admiring remarks about The Easybeats, but it was clear that these two were not made to cohabit the same band. Besides, we couldn’t envisage a keyboard fitting into our sound. James later explained to us that he and Faulkner had discussed the possibility of his joining the band not as a keyboardist, but as a guitarist (Dave Faulkner, however, has recently provided another twist to the plot – see his letter on the Dave Faulkner Song Credit Controversy page). Even if we had understood this, there would not have been much point; it was apparent that I was a better buzzsaw guitarist than Dave Faulkner – at that time, at least – and going by the small sample he had played us, his songs were nowhere near as good as ours (conceited though that sounds now, it was certainly my impression at that time, and is supported by the fact that a good part of The Victims’ core repertoire was to comprise Geeks songs).
I forget how the night ended, but I well remember that the next time we saw Dave Faulkner was onstage with a studded dog collar around his neck and gaffa-taped stovepipe jeans fronting The Victims at their debut at The Governor Broome Hotel, belting out the Geeks songs he had seemed so unmoved by only a few weeks earlier.
THE SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION
So, what happened? How did The Geeks manage to implode right at the point at which we were ready to gig, when all indications were that the time was ripe, that the New Wave was finally building to more than a ripple way out West? The preceding months had been excitingly productive. We had just committed to tape the songs James and I had cooked up in our bubbling creative hotpot. I regarded James as a good friend, and it seemed this was mutual. All members of the band got on well, in fact, although there was some friction between Lloyd and James deriving from small differences in their musical tastes (both had immovable convictions in their critical infallibility). So…what?
Collaborations and their workings and not workings are always complex, but essentially there were three factors behind the untimely breakup of the band: perfectionism (mostly mine), the first Cheap Nasties gig and James’ ambition.
When we recorded The Geeks’ full repertoire in rehearsal, it was something of a landmark, an acknowledgement of our identity as an original band. Lloyd and I had gone halves in a good quality Teac reel-to-reel, and we set this up in our Wembley headquarters one Saturday afternoon. We had all agreed that it was necessary to take stock, to listen as objectively as possible to our stuff and work on improving any flaws. Shit, we had become a ‘serious’ band!
Unfortunately, we had only two mikes, both cheap pieces of crap; the one we used to amp up Lloyd’s vocals, feeding it into a spare jack on my Twin Reverb, had a faulty cord connection which would intermittently drop him out in the middle of a song. We prepared for this momentous recording event by debating where I should position my amp and the other mike to attain a reasonable balance of drums, guitar, bass and vocals on the tape, then without pausing to test our sophisticated sound engineering strategy, let rip. We went through the whole repertoire, including covers, then headed back to my bedroom to evaluate the results. Overall, we were pleased, except for Lloyd’s vocals, which we thought sounded flat and a bit lifeless. Lloyd was quite perturbed, depressed even, and the possibility was floated yet again – I think by Lloyd himself – that we should look for a new singer.
No one disagreed. This was a bummer. The lineup that had worked so well to that point was now, suddenly, and purely on account of our first crude recording, incomplete, or at least destabilised. In fact, listening to what remains of that recording today, Lloyd’s vocals were bloody good. If he was flat at times, it was barely noticeable and hardly his fault; we rehearsed at such volume that no one could hear themselves properly, and in the absence of basic foldback, few singers could have stayed unerringly on pitch all the time. This was the first instance of inappropriate – and very un-punk – perfectionism chewing at the foundations of the band.
Another manifestation of this quiet destroyer was our interminable struggle to settle on a name for the band. We tried on many for size, but none were a perfect fit for everyone: The Dresden Whores, The Cancer Victims, The Victims, Hospital, The Hitler Youth, The Geeks…so the list went on. We didn’t understand the power of a name, that without one we lacked identity, hardly even existed in a sense. We could and should have chosen anything from the list, but we didn’t. ‘The Geeks’ came to stick after our demise, simply because James was asked about the band that came before The Victims on various occasions and named us posthumously as a matter of convenience. As he quipped when I bumped into him a couple of years back, “we might as well go with it now!” (Incidentally, the name Beheaded, which James hung on us post-demise for a time, was never in serious contention – I don’t even recall him touting it as a possibility, and if he did, it was quickly dismissed by the rest of us).
But the perfectionism that, in retrospect, fatally undermined the band was traceable directly to me. I received an offer for us to play a gig at the Orient Hotel in Fremantle through an acquaintance, Keato, who had been one of the Saturday afternoon crew at the Scarborough rehearsals. In those days, the Orient was a bloodhouse, and Fremantle was not the hip alternative nightspot it is today. I suspected we would end up playing to a handful of drunken sailors and resident derros and that we would be howled off stage, perhaps wearing a broken glass or two. Further, I thought we needed to get tighter before we were ready to unleash ourselves on the public. James was raring to go and dismissed my concerns. He reminded us of his early bands, Black Sun and The Slick City Boys, one of which had played a school gig or two and had had the plug pulled to stop them repeating Louie Louie over and over. Lloyd had some sympathy for James’ perspective, but did not quite share his reckless abandon and stopped short of supporting his argument without lending weight to mine. Dave, as usual, looked around from one to another without venturing a strong opinion either way. In the end, I got my way.
I cursed myself when, only weeks later, in mid-77, The Cheap Nasties played their first public gig at the Rivervale Hotel. Not only was there another punk band in town – they had beaten us to the punch, and it was my stupid fucking fault! As it turned out, that punch was a knockout blow.
NANA NA NA
We all attended The Nasties’ gig, and it was packed. Many of the attendees were obviously friends of the band and there were parents looking on from the back of the room, but the black leather jackets and spiky gelled hair sported by more than a few onlookers announced the dawning of a new scene. The band had erected a white sheet backdrop onstage, with Nana Mouskouri’s face drawn on it. The Cheap Nasties took the stage replete in black leather jackets, sunnies etc and from the outset it was clear that they were instrumentally our superiors. However, their energy levels were not even close to ours, and their original songs didn’t rate on first listen. Evidently others did not share this view, for they received a rousing reception. Mark Demetrius leaned over to me with the comment “I hate to say it, but they’re not bad.” I whined that they were too slick and had no energy, and played their instruments too well for a bona fide punk band, to which he responded with a valid observation that carried an unfair implication: “Instrumental incompetence is not necessarily an asset.” We were basic, but we were certainly competent, and we would blast these pretenders off stage, and…
At the conclusion of the gig, Kim Salmon took out a knife and led the band in slashing Nana’s face to ribbons. I never really understood what that statement was about. Nana was not even relevant! And it was all so contrived – wasn’t punk all about spontaneity, devoid of pre-orchestrated theatrics and gimmickry, and hadn’t these guys therefore missed the point? Well, no one cared. James, who early in the night had unkindly likened Kim Salmon to “Tony Barber’s son”, was now off socialising, introducing himself to the band and their mates, tapping into the new punk network. Rockin’ Rod, too, and Mark Demetrius. And why not? Only socially maladjusted Lloyd and I remained aloof, he unmercifully contemptuous of the Nasties’ image-conscious, wimpy brand of punk rock and of the clotting of dutifully attired punk communities that was going on all around the pub, I downright jealous and scowling at the success of our usurpers. They had stolen our thunder, taken the title of Perth’s first punk band that I had always assumed as our exclusive property, and were now being befriended by James and the Geeks camp (such as it was). I went home drunkish, something unnamed gnawing at me. The winds of change had sprung up abruptly, caught us off guard, and there was something unsettling in the air – other than the obvious – that made me uneasy.
THE COUP DE GRACE
About a month after the first Nasties gig (actually, I’m not sure of this chronology – in this instance, I confess to having hitched a ride on Lloyd’s memory of events as chronicled in his Perth Punk Memoirs), James asked for a recording of all ‘his’ songs – we referred to them thus. My memory is that I recorded a tape for him from the mastertape of the rehearsal recordings we had done a few weeks earlier. Lloyd’s recall is that we recorded the songs afresh at the next rehearsal in response to James request. Whatever, I duly provided James with a cassette of the entire repertoire.
During the following week, while I was at work, James arrived at my parents’ house and asked my mother if he could collect his drums, which he had been storing in the garage for weeks, this being more convenient than carting them from Kenwick to the Wembley rehearsal room. Of course, she assented. He told her he wanted to “practise”, which she duly passed on to me. I thought nothing more of it until later in the week, when James phoned to tell me he was quitting the band. He was forming a new band with Dave Faulkner – The Victims. They had already had some rehearsals, with Dave Cardwell on bass. So, not only had James deserted us without prior notice – he had taken our bass player with him, ripping the guts from the band. We were dead.
It wasn’t until The Victims played their first gig some weeks later (around August 77) that I understood the extent of James’ conspiring with Dave Faulkner: they were playing all the songs I had co-written with him, that Lloyd had contributed to, that were rightfully our – The Geeks’ – songs.
So, there it was. Dead before we had drawn breath on stage, unnamed, unknown, a fatal knife wound to the back, the world’s forgotten boys watching on from the shadows as another band played our songs as their own to the cheers of the swelling crowds. Boo hoo, a-hoo hoo.
WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER
I don’t blame James for leaving The Geeks when he did. He was ambitious, restless to pursue his destiny on the rock and roll stage, especially after The Cheap Nasties’ opening salvo. There was never any doubt for him that his future that way lay. He rightly assessed Dave Faulkner as a go-getter, an opportunist, driven, someone with the professional orientation and confidence, the mindset, to go places and fast. And he rightly assessed Lloyd and I as lacking those credentials.
I do think, however, that the manner in which James left was regrettable to say the least; he was a friend – at the time a very good one, I thought – and as such, it would have been preferable for him to have simply been upfront about wanting to move on, rather than taking the clandestine route of conspiring with Dave Faulkner and filching Dave Cardwell behind our backs into the bargain (shit, if we’d had any inkling that he was preparing to up stumps because of my perfectionist-based reluctance to accept our first gig opportunity, I would have changed my attitude in an instant – the band was everything to me). Also, his lack of acknowledgement of my intrinsic part, Lloyd’s part, The Geeks’ part, in the creation of the songs he took to The Victims, which could not have existed in their finished form without me – without us – and for which The Victims subsequently received considerable acclaim, was a matter of puzzlement for me, as has been his seeming reluctance through the years to acknowledge The Geeks as anything more than some half-baked rehearsal formation that never really counted for anything. The question might be asked how The Victims would have been appraised without I’m Flipped Out Over You, TV Freak, I’m In London (re-written as Teenage Dreamer, as previously noted), Disco Junkies, There Is No Way Out, I’m Looking For You and High School Girls in their repertoire. To my mind, most of the rest of their songs, with the notable exception of the classic Television Addict – their best song, a Baker/Faulkner collaboration that The Geeks had nothing to do with – were mediocre by comparison.
I never challenged James or Dave Faulkner on the ethics of their playing The Geeks material as their own. The horse had bolted, and there didn’t seem much point. It irked me watching The Victims doing our songs – not as well as we had done them – and bringing the house down. It especially irked me that Faulkner copied my extended Sister Ray high-end guitar freakout in Disco Junkies. No one else but I played like that, and while it was a style born out of not being able to play anything beyond ‘rhythm guitar’, it was an original concept that I felt some ownership of, precious of me though that might have been. (In fact, it is quite possible that Dave Faulkner was only following my example on the Geeks rehearsal tape, and/or James’ and maybe Dave Cardwell’s instructions as to how this part of the song went based on the original Geeks’ version. It should be acknowledged, too, that Dave Faulkner stated in an email communication to me in 2005 that he was not aware that James had co-written the Geeks’ songs with me – see The Dave Faulkner Song Credit Controversy – although James hotly disputes this).
Naive though it might have been, however, I expected that when it came to the crunch The Victims, or James alone, or someone would acknowledge the creators of the songs that came from The Geeks period. I don’t suppose there was much point in announcing me as co-writer at their gigs – who among the crowds would have known who they were talking about, or cared? But if they got to the recording stage, surely they wouldn’t take writing credit (James’ contributions excepted) for the Geeks songs?
When Ray Purvis, a journalist who styled himself as local champion of the New Wave, wrote up The Victims in The Sunday Independent (a now-long-defunct newspaper set up in competition against The Sunday Times) I saw red, my brethren – yes, red I saw. If ever there was an opportunity for due acknowledgement, it was now. But no – not only was The Geeks formation dismissed as “The Hitler Youth, a rehearsal band that never performed“, but Ray Purvis wrote: “Dave and James penned their own two minute punk anthems such as (Perth It Is A) Culture Shock, TV Freak, Elvis, Flipped Out Over You and High School Girls.”
I wrote a stinking letter to Purvis, categorically stating that Dave Faulkner had had nothing to do with TV Freak, Flipped Out Over You and High School Girls, naming the other songs co-written by James and I that The Victims were playing as their own, and describing when, where and how they were written. Purvis, resolute seeker of truth that he was, never replied. He ceased his hitherto frequent and obsequious references to The Victims from that point, though, and must have passed on the contents of my letter to James, because when The Scientists released their Pink album 2 years or so later, they included versions of I’m Looking For You and Teenage Dreamer that, on the record labelling at least, credited me as one of the writers. Or there might have been some other reason for the inclusion of my name in the credits in this instance. The answer lies buried in the shifting sands of time, and is not prize enough to pursue.
Perhaps James had never really thought about who wrote what until my letter to Purvis. Indeed, after talking about the matter with him, I believe this to be the case. James is a decent guy, and certainly not a money man. I am certain that he never had any financial motive for denying me acknowledgement or writing credits for the Geeks material. In fact, it is ridiculous to countenance this as a possibility: I do not for a moment think there were ever any significant royalties from the relatively meagre sales of The Victims’ single or EP, although there surely would have been some from the 1989 Timberyard Records Victims compilation vinyl album, All Loud On The Western Front, and the CD version that was released in 2005. Whatever, I believe James took our songs to The Victims out of perceived necessity, and didn’t pause to consider the ethics of the situation. As he said recently to me, when The Victims first formed, they had no songs at all apart from those he and I had co-written in The Geeks. His only intent was to get The Victims going as quickly as possible; the Geeks songs provided an instant repertoire that might otherwise have taken weeks, or more probably months, to develop. With these as a musical foundation, The Victims hired an old house in East Perth (a cheap, grotty area in those days, though thoroughly yuppified now) that became known as “Victim Manor” and rehearsed obsessively day and night for – I believe – only 3 weeks, before scoring their first gig at the Governor Broome.
So, James, it was all so long ago, I think I understand your motivation, and while your method could have done with some civilising, you remain a good bloke in my eyes. The writing credit issue, however, until recently still rankled. I did not buy The Victims’ original EP, but I do have All Loud On The Western Front. One of the songs that I co-wrote with James – Flipped Out Over You – is credited to him alone. Three other Geeks songs – High School Girls, TV Freak and Disco Junkies – are credited to Baker/Faulkner. To be scrupulously fair, there is minor melodic variation between The Geeks’ and Victims’ versions of High School Girls, although the underlying chord structure is mine and the song is essentially the same as the Geeks’ original version. At a long, painful stretch, and to put a generous spin on it, there may be sufficient variation in the vocal melody to justify Dave Faulkner taking the tiniest sliver of co-writing credit with James in The Victims’ version of this song, but absolutely not for leaving my name off the credits. TV Freak and Disco Junkies, however, as they appear on All Loud On The Western Front, are most certainly cover versions of The Geeks’ originals, and as such, should be credited to Baker/Buncle.
EGAD! A HAPPY ENDING – WELL, ALMOST
At long, long last, in the latter half of 2005, I took up the credits issue directly with those involved. I spoke initially to both James Baker and Dave Cardwell. Both were fully supportive of my claim to acknowledgement as co-writer with James of all the Geeks songs performed and recorded by the Victims, and were similarly bemused as to why Dave Faulkner’s name appears on the credits in my place.
I emailed Dave Faulkner, informed him of this site and its impending publication on the web, and of the coming release of the Geeks’ versions of the songs The Victims played as their own, and outlined my grievances and contentions regarding the writing credits issues. He duly responded with a long email, which is published here in full. He claims that he was unaware that anyone but James had had a hand in the creation of the Geeks songs that The Victims performed, and immediately agreed to contact APRA through his publisher to have his name deleted from the writing credits of all songs in contention. Further, he stated that he would make enquiries as far as possible to ascertain whether any royalties had been paid to him over the years in relation to any of the Geeks songs, and if so, determined to repay such royalties to me.
Nice words, but I never received a cent. He followed up with a brief email advising that his record label, Sony Records, had no record of royalty payments from the Victims recordings (scarcely surprising, since Timberyard, not Sony, released The Victims’ All Loud On The Western Front album). APRA almost certainly would have, but I couldn’t be bothered following this up. My grievances were about being ripped off creatively, not money. Faulkner would have known whether he’d received royalty payments, though. And there would have been some. I know that because I have received regular royalty payments through APRA since Faulkner’s name was removed from the credits and mine added. We’re talkin’ pittances here – but just sayin’.
However, I was appreciative that Faulkner followed up promptly on contacting APRA to have his name removed from the writing credits of the songs in question. I acknowledged him personally for this and do so again, publicly, here. Acknowledgment is due similarly to Kim Salmon, whom I contacted about the credits for the two Geeks songs on The Scientists’ “Pink” album, I’m Looking For You and Teenage Dreamer (which, as previously stated, derives from the Geeks song, I’m In London). Kim graciously and immediately agreed to remove his name from the credits for these songs. The APRA registers now correctly show all the Geeks songs mentioned throughout this site as credited to Baker/Buncle.
Faulkner shoves the blame for his name appearing on those song credits entirely on James Baker in his emailed letter to me (see The Dave Faulkner Song Credit Controversy), and apparently he does so again in the liner notes he wrote to accompany the 2012 Japanese-released vinyl Victims compilation album that he cuttingly titled Sleeping Dogs Lie. So, who are the lying dogs you refer to Dave? Surely not me? I have told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on this site, and every witness to James’ and my songwriting collaboration – including James himself – has backed me up 100%.
As far as I’m concerned, Faulkner’s attempts to lump the blame solely on James Baker are less than credible until he answers the dangling question as to why he EVER added his name to the credits of unaltered covers of Geeks songs he claims he thought James Baker wrote alone, while knowing he did not contribute to their creation himself. Who but Faulkner himself would have registered his name as co-writer of those songs? Why were the songs not simply credited solely to James Baker?
Whatever, the sense of injustice I carried around foolishly, needlessly, all these years is no longer. There is one positive to my harbouring that resentment: the simmering need to set the record straight motivated me to write up this history and create the perthpunk site, and resurrect the existing Geeks recordings to new life in digital form. Going by the feedback I have received from the site’s readership over the years, I believe the effort expended and its results have worth that transcends my personal quest for justice.
A TRIBUTE TO JAMES BAKER
Finally, far from retaining any bitterness towards James Baker for the manner in which he made his “career move” from The Geeks to The Victims all those years ago, it is fitting and appropriate that I now take this opportunity to pay tribute to him and his contribution to Australian rock and roll.
I admire his living his commitment to his rock and roll vision all through his adult life, the intensity of his simple but always hell-drivin’ drumming, and most of all his singular talent as a lyric writer, which has been largely unheralded. There is a unique charm, a naive, wistful and novel take on the world, and a quirky wit about his lyrics that, on a good day, positions him as a punk son of Chuck Berry (and I mean that to be taken as high praise indeed). Further, as is widely acknowledged elsewhere, James was the central figure of the early punk scene in Perth – charismatic, driven, possessed by a seductive and influential vision and attitude that informed the material of his own bands, and others. His tv-trash-aesthetic was elementally important in breathing unique personality into The Victims, and has surfaced in other bands – The Scientists and Hoodoo Gurus, for example – whose roots extend back to James and the early Perth punk scene. I hope I have done my bit towards acknowledging him and his contribution to the formative Perth punk scene and Australian rock in general in telling the story of The Geeks here. I have told the story as fully as my recollections will allow, and I have told it truthfully, warts n all. I trust – I know – that James will accept that as my right, and I hope that this is also the case with all others whom I have mentioned.
THE LAST WORD
My story should be seen as an attempt to faithfully reconstruct a small – though significant – piece of cultural history. As a personal perspective, it seeks to recall the people we were then and the new era we were a part of, as seen through my eyes of half a lifetime ago. Much has changed since, of course. It’s a given, then, that the observations I make throughout The Geeks Story (and this site generally) should be seen in the context of the days in which they are set. So if I’ve offended anyone, I can only say, politely, those were the days, my friend. Those were the days…and if you’re still wearing the same cap, you deserve to be offended.
© Ross Buncle, 2005 (updated 2013)
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