Perth’s first wave of punk peaked with The Victims, whose residence at Hernando’s Hideaway put punk on the local map (and opened the door to a host of poseurs, who were less interested in the music than in UK-punk fancy dress and being seen to be hip). The Victims’ final gig was at the Leederville Punk Festival in mid-78; The Orphans played their first earlier the same night – and blew The Victims off the stage. Dave Faulkner acknowledged that publicly during the Victims’ set, and I received accolades privately from James Baker and Kim Salmon, among others (see ‘Redemption’, below).
The Orphans took over at Hernando’s, but the glory of their predecessors was not to be theirs. The crowds had died with The Victims. Thus, the first wave subsided, leaving The Orphans beached. Unheralded though they were, their original repertoire was amongst the most substantial of the first Perth punk bands. The Orphans were, in fact, the last significant band of the first wave.
The Orphans were formed in early 1978. Punk rock was well established in Perth by this time, although there were still only two regularly gigging bands: The Manikins and The Victims. If there were any other contenders, they grabbed very little stage time. I went to almost all the punk gigs, and the only other band I can recall around this time were The Invaders – short-lived and frankly, too raw to rate. Kim Salmon joined them and they became The Exterminators, but from the bit I heard, they too were musically forgettable. I think it would be fair to say that The Exterminators’ only claim to a place in Perth punk history is the title of their otherwise unremarkable ode to our fair city, Arsehole Of The Universe, and the fact that they were Salmon’s bridge to The Scientists. (The Scientists, by the way, I am not including amongst the first wave Perth punk bands…more on this below).
The Manikins (known as The Veneers initially) formed from the remnants of The Cheap Nasties, which had disbanded when Kim Salmon left in late 77; core Nasties member Neil Fernandes continued as guitarist and main songwriter, and with vocalist Robbie Porritt coming to the fore, The Manikins took on a new identity. Porritt’s elongated frame, extroversion and confident vocals gave the band a colourful, distinctive image and a new sound, and they developed a musical ‘respectability’ that was to disengage them as the former junior partners of a punk rock double act with The Victims, take them out of the exclusively punk domain and place them before a wider audience at rock venues such as the Shenton Park Hotel. I was indifferent to their songs and they didn’t burn with the sort of energy I wanted from a punk rock band, but they performed with a musical sophistication that their local “new wave” peers did not approach.
The Victims were the darlings of the punk set. Musically cruder than The Nasties or Veneers/Manikins, they played with a raw energy that left their stablemates looking wan, but that often came too close to mere din for my taste. Bass player Dave Cardwell, now known as Rudolph V, wore the regulation gelled spiky hair, leather jacket and chains; Dave Faulkner went under the moniker of Flick, and also came complete with the gelled spiky hair look and other standard Brit-punk paraphernalia: studded dog collar, leather jacket, wraparound sunnies etc. James Baker, admirably, retained the 60s Mod look that had always set him apart and rescued the band from complete visual cliche. In hindsight, The Victims fitted their image to the Perth environment well, clearly branding themselves as “punk” both visually and musically in an environment that needed such spoonfeeding.
The regular punkers attended, but all the boys and girls of Perth who were anxious to be hip and be seen to be hip came too – in their droves. The Victims had scored a double page write-up in The Sunday Independent in late February 1978 courtesy of self-appointed local press punk advocate, Ray Purvis, and anyone who fancied themselves as cool who had not already clambered aboard the punk bandwagon by then went directly to Hernando’s without passing Go. Members of the Perth musical establishment (from bands such as The Elks) popped their heads inside to check out this new phenomenon. Dave Warner made snide references to the punk upstarts who had usurped his territory. There was a claim (nonsense, according to Warner) that he had sicced his suburban army on to a couple of punks who turned up to a Booragoon Hotel gig in their Brit-punk fancy dress. Yep, punk had finally ‘arrived’ way out west.
The plundering of the original Geeks songs by The Victims is already covered in depth in The Geeks Story and Lloyd’s Perth Punk Memoirs. Suffice it to say here that my sense of injustice continued to jab at me from the bar at Hernando’s Hideaway. I watched on as the crowd numbers mounted and applause loudened for The Victims’ versions of songs I had co-written with James Baker in The Geeks. I felt profoundly dissatisfied, ripped off. I had been there from the very start, as had Geeks singer, Lloyd. We had formed one of the first two punk bands in Perth with James and Dave Cardwell, had all shared in the excitement of transforming from a punk cover band to one that played mostly originals co-written by James and I with contributions from Lloyd – the same originals that had subsequently propelled The Victims into the spotlight – and now the recognition, the glory, was theirs alone (along with a bevy of hormonally driven chicks, if Rudolph was to be believed, which of course he probably wasn’t, but that was cold comfort).
After The Geeks, Lloyd and I had founded The Hitler Youth, and although we had worked up a frenzied repertoire of insanely energetic songs that were far more extreme than anything coming out of Perth, or elsewhere as far as we knew, our debut and only gig at the University of WA refectory in 1977 supporting The Cheap Nasties, The Victims and Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs had been a miserable anti-climax (see The Hitler Youth Story and Lloyd’s Perth Punk Memoirs), and for me, quite humiliating. I was better than that, I knew it, and I wanted to prove it. I do not mean to elevate myself above Lloyd with that comment. He had not felt mortified, as I had, by The Hitler Youth’s failure to deliver the incendiary performance in public that we knew ourselves routinely capable of in rehearsal; he cared not at all for the approbation of the local punk clique and did not share my need to prove myself.
Thus, late in the summer of 1978, I set out on a mission of redemption. I had begun writing songs that departed from the manic blasting madness and wantonly puerile, cinder-black humour that distinguished The Hitler Youth, and I suspected that Lloyd would not be whole-heartedly supportive of my change in direction. Besides, I felt the need for creative independence. Lloyd had been a dominant force in The Geeks and The Hitler Youth, and indeed both bands were the better for that, but I had worked up enough original material of my own to build a new band around. I had confidence in my new songs, and knew that now it was time for me to go it alone. With obvious symbolic intent and a nominal decisiveness that had been entirely absent in The Geeks and Hitler Youth, I determined from the outset to call my new band The Orphans.
I phoned Max, the drummer we had recruited for The Hitler Youth, prepared to present him with a compelling argument as to why he should front up for another hiding in the punk playground – he had shown himself to be a damned good drummer in his short stint with The Hitler Youth, 17 years old, punk-uninitiated and inexperienced though he was. To my relief and delight, he expressed immediate interest in my new project. An affable bass player named Colin Dowson answered my Sunday Times ad, had good equipment and a car and sounded keen (a combination not so common amongst the respondents to my past ads trailing all the way back to The Geeks).
Finding a vocalist proved more challenging. A female acid casualty with a promising vocal delivery who claimed to have recently seen the late Jim Morrison in Sydney tried out for a couple of weeks; she was too close to hippyville for comfort, and some of my lyrics were too sexist and/or sexually male-orientated for her to carry off. By and by, I short-listed two vocalists: 1. a reedy David Byrne look-alike whose appearance shouted ‘bohemian’, and 2. a voice I had yet to put a face to, vaguely Chris Baileyish in tone and therefore worthy of investigation. The voice’s owner introduced himself over the phone as Billy, and eagerly informed me that he was just right for a punk band because he had recently been released from Pentridge Prison, having been convicted of armed robbery! I have to admit, I was impressed. I see this reaction now as symptomatic of a shallow and contemptible middle-class sensibility that fearfully avoided any real consideration of a reality I could probably not have survived myself, relegating Billy’s undoubted suffering, and that of his victims, to the level of peepshow titillation or, even worse, some sort of trophyism, a secret street credibility to hang on the band. Still, he had drawn on the fact of his incarceration for this very purpose, and I had responded as he had anticipated…
I recorded a rough tape of some of my new songs and made copies for the prospective band members. I met Billy at a pre-arranged time on a Saturday afternoon at a flat in the Fremantle area he had days earlier moved into with his girlfriend, Claire (they had just arrived in Perth, in fact, seeking a fresh start away from the big bad Eastern States). He answered the door with wet hair, shirtless, Claire moistly pouting in the room behind with a fluffy white towel around her. Billy sheepishly confessed that I had “sprung” them.
I liked him immediately. He was tattooed – a mark of criminals and sailors in those days and something of a concern for a sheltered lad from suburban Perth – but while I was apprehensive and somewhat in awe of his criminal history, he was friendly and jokey, like a kid in his eagerness to please, and had a rough charm, even a charisma, about him. Not that I took all this in immediately – I was too occupied with disguising my perving at his girlfriend while simultaneously maximising clandestine ogling opportunities. Claire was gorgeous, a stunning brunette, very young, maybe 16 or 17. I was already glamorising her as some classy gangster moll’s runaway daughter, and the idea that she was amorously engaged moments before I arrived – well, I do confess, dear reader, to impurity of thought as I made polite small talk that warm autumnal avo, and tried not to look too disconcerted at Billy and Claire’s enthusing over Angry Anderson and Rose Tattoo as the pinnacle of rock’s contribution to our national culture (in truth, I think they may have opted for a less verbose declaration).
Max and I, and I think Colin also, met the two singers at the trusty previous haunt of The Geeks and The Hitler Youth – yes, the fabled Wembley Boy Scout headquarters in Jersey Street, Wembley. I don’t recall whether any of us had played together at that point, but mercifully, everyone had familiarised themselves with the songs on the cassette tapes I had previously provided them. We launched into Oh Baby (You’re Givin’ Me The Shits), a simple little rocker with a hard-driving riff that I never have bettered for self-propelling energy, and it wasn’t half bad for a first try. The David Byrne lookalike theatrically crossed his eyes when he sang and had a thin, slightly hysterical vocal quality. Billy was straight at it and he sounded closer to Iggy or Chris Bailey. The choice was a no-brainer: Billy was our singer.
We had our first rehearsal as a full band the following weekend, and it went exhilaratingly well. No one was up themselves, there were no punk-identikit poseurs, Colin was solid on bass and had a nice tone, Max was as great as ever, everyone liked my songs and each other, and musically we were pumping. Eureka! Out of a surprisingly easy labour, The Orphans were born.
We worked well together, rehearsing intensely in the weekends, and in a matter of weeks we had a good, reasonably tight set-full of songs. We included a Ramones cover, Commando, and The Stooges’ Search and Destroy, but the rest of our repertoire were songs of mine: Oh Baby, Love Your Neighbour, I’m Bored, Fire, Face At The Window, Strange Place of Love (referred to as Little Darlin’ at the time) and Heard It On The Radio (all included on The Orphans CD). I was excited with the way these songs were shaping up, and so was the rest of the band. Oh Baby had been one of my contributions to The Hitler Youth’s repertoire, but the rest of the songs were new – they were Orphans songs! There was far more variety about them than had been the case with The Hitler Youth. I’m Bored was the only breakneck speeder, Fire was a real blaster of a set-closer, Face At The Window was a hard-rocking dark-toned ditty about an early hours rapist prowler, Heard It On The Radio was based around one of my signature staccato verse riffs and took off with a mule-kicking will of its own in the chorus, Love Your Neighbour was a vulgar (and sadly, fabricated) tale of neighbourly adultery with a primal Bo Diddley beat that Max excelled in, and Strange Place of Love was, gulp, a slower tempo LOVE SONG inspired by a recently terminated liaison. Emotionally authentic expression like THAT was a risk, and a development that would have been impossible in my previous bands.
Unlike with The Geeks and The Hitler Youth, the rehearsals were closed shop most of the time. I was driven with a compulsion to get it right this time, to be ready, primed to ignite whenever a gig opportunity arose, and the rest of the band seemed to share in my single-minded resolve. Max, I suspect, was fired by a motivation similar to mine; he, too, had tasted the bitter fruit of public ridicule/indifference at The Hitler Youth gig at UWA, and was fired with a healthy aggression that he channelled into his drumming. For a guy who had had no idea about punk, he was putting out a pretty venomous beat.
Billy was warming to his vocal role, and was eager for exposure to my musical influences. I taped The Stooges and Ramones for him, and he immersed himself in this new musical milieu. Colin worked assiduously on his bass parts (there was a melodic bass run in the verse of Strange Place of Love that was quite challenging, and that I should have allotted to myself on guitar…the problem was, I was still a buzzsaw specialist and not capable of playing it!), and he and Max developed a good rhythmic coordination that powered us along. All in all, we were taking ourselves very seriously as a band, and the results were starting to show.
When James Baker contacted me to offer The Orphans an early supporting spot on the coming Leederville Punk Festival bill at the Leederville Town Hall on Friday, 21 April 78, I accepted immediately. The band greeted the news with tempered excitement, and our rehearsals became more intense than ever. We were ready to ROCK, and although the thought was never spoken aloud, I don’t think I was the only one whose secret agenda was to blow The Victims and the other Leederville Punk Festival bands off the planet – or at least, out the door of the hall and across the road to the other side of Cambridge Street.
The night of the Leederville Punk Festival arrived. The ad in the Daily News was tiny, and mentioned only The Victims and the Invaders (who were virtually unknown – this was their first public gig).
On arrival at the hall, we learned that The Orphans were to appear second on the program – a lowly ranking, given the bands that were programmed above us. First up was a group of young guys no one knew, Blok Music (an early incarnation of The Triffids, sans David McComb). After The Orphans were Sad Sack And The Bags, a once-off conglomerate featuring Mark Demetrius on vocals and a volatile lead guitarist in the blistering style of Raw Power’s James Williamson, Bradley Clark (who later – much later – joined The Manikins during their wilting post-new-wave phase); Clark’s touch notwithstanding, I don’t think anyone would take issue with the proposition that Sad Sack And The Bags were a novelty act thrown together for the night and never intended to be taken seriously. Following The Bags were The Exterminators (the band who’d been advertised as The Invaders) – again, never likely to leave their musical mark on punk posterity. Headlining, of course, were The Victims, who had announced that this was to be their final gig (which ensured that a big crowd would be packing the echoing spaces of the old, plain Leederville Town Hall venue). It can be seen, then, that on this auspicious occasion no one expected much out of The Orphans’ debut.
We arrived early, and immediately had our ire raised when James Baker informed us that Max would have to play his (James’) drum kit. The rationale behind the decision was that there was not enough time to change drum kits for all four bands on the program. This was probably not unreasonable, but we had assigned so much significance to this night that in combination with our lowly second billing on the program it felt like a slap in the face, especially since the same conditions were apparently not going to be imposed on all the bands. Max was ropable and refused to play unless he was able to set up his own kit; his drums were better quality than James’, but his stance was mostly based on his understandable desire to play at his best – like any musician, he was psychologically attached to the instrument he was used to, and anxious at the proposition that he was to be denied the security of its familiarity. I cajoled, argued and pleaded with James, and eventually he relented. Still, we were left feeling miffed – all of us – and as it turned out, James had done us a favour. Colin reminded me in a recent conversation that I had incited Billy prior to the gig such that he was in no mood to be messed with, and this drum incident was gasoline to the fire. We went on stage simmering with aggression, adrenalin coursing through our veins. There was a collective resolve to blast the roof off or go down fighting with middle fingers raised. We didn’t introduce ourselves. I ripped into the riff to Oh Baby facing my amp, arse to the crowd (contemptuously, I hoped), kept it going over and over until the tension was unbearable, then gave the sideways nod to Max and Colin to come in. When they did, Max kicking in with an explosive machine gun snare attack, it was a hell of a rush, like taking off, almost unbearably exciting from where I stood. I remember turning around to face the crowd without looking at them, struck with a sudden conviction that we were going to tear it to shreds and that if they didn’t like it, they were fucked, not us. The hall seemed to have packed right up, probably because the crowd had closed in on us – the front-liners were only feet away. The impression from the band’s perspective was of a full house. I glanced over at Max and Colin as the riff built up a head of steam that felt dangerous, as if something was going to blow; they had their heads down giving it all they had. Billy was looking snarly, waiting to come in with the vocals as we slammed into the riff again and again. With his DIY tatts and sullen demeanour of that night, he looked like a hood and gave us a threatening look I was glad of. Then he dived into the mix with his opening vocal line, Oh baby I like your lips, and we were rockin’ full throttle. The crowd was boppin’ and at the abrupt end of the song the applause was loud and spontaneous. Forgive my indulgence in recounting these opening minutes of our debut gig in such detail, but they are amongst the most sweat-soaked and adrenalin-pumping of my life. (Pathetic, ain’t it?) Cutting the applause short as if it was irrelevant to us, Billy announced, “We’re The Orphans and I’m bored” and we blasted into I’m Bored. It was frantic, almost Hitler Youth pace, and I could see we had the crowd. James Baker came up to adjust my mike stand 3 songs in, and said “You’re doing really well.” Mid-set, the floor in front of us was filled with pogoing punks. The pogoing abated when we played the slower Strange Place Of Love, but the song received one of the best responses of the night.
The rest is a bit of a blur. I can recall my plectrum arm aching with the savagery of my attack, and dripping with sweat, wondering vaguely if I would be able to keep up the pace to the end of the set. I recall the applause, and peripherally noticing Kim Salmon among members of the punk clique leaping about on the floor in front of us. We finished with Fire and I ended up on my knees at the song’s climax, not without a sense of drama, but genuinely spent and struggling to keep up the buzzsaw attack on my hapless, sweat-spattered Gibson SG. Applause is instantly addictive, and buggered though I was, I didn’t want the set to end then. Time warps on stage, as anyone who has tasted public performance will attest; that gig was so intense for me, the seconds took minutes, but so soon, too, it was over – in real time, it wouldn’t have gone beyond 25 minutes. Billy must have fallen prey to the seductive embrace of the applause, also. After Fire, he bawled into the mike “Do ya want some more, or what?” That was faintly embarrassing, because it came uncomfortably close to the sort of cliched rock crowd-teasing wank that punk is supposed to revile, but what the hell – Billy had been great, and there was enough of a response for us to take it as an affirmative. We had exhausted our small repertoire, so we repeated Oh Baby.After the gig, James Baker was the first to acknowledge that the gig had been a triumph: he stated to me that he was “ashamed to go on” (he was referring to going on stage with The Victims later that night, not to his rocknroll career, or his life!). Kim Salmon sought me out and said The Orphans set was the most energetic performance he had ever seen. I appreciated that. It was a gracious action in view of my aloofness and self-alienation from the punk set, and some rather unkind pronouncements about his first band, The Cheap Nasties, that I am sure had gotten back to him. Lloyd, whose opinion on matters musical I valued at that time above anyone else’s, raved about our energy levels. He was clearly stunned by our performance. His recall is otherwise these days. He insists that The Orphans debut was not the “cataclysmic event” I recall it as being, going only so far as stating that it was “tight and professional,” but acknowledges that we played beyond ourselves and blew The Victims off the stage that night. (On that, even Dave Faulkner made a point of seeking me out for some congratulatory comments, and publicly referred to The Orphans as “the best band of the night” during The Victims set).
In fact, I do not see our debut as anything approaching the cataclysmic – that sort of superlative suggests an arrogance and inflated sense of importance that I hope does not afflict me. Lest you feel too relieved at my balance here, however, let it be known that I do believe The Orphans’ first gig was the most energetic and probably the best public performance of any first wave Perth punk band, short and sweet though it was. Certainly, the feedback I received from all quarters that night would suggest that I am not outrageously delusional in that assessment.
Does it matter, anyway, 28 years on? Probably not to anyone but me. This was, after all, a personal mission of redemption, and that night, with Max, Billy and Colin, I accomplished it in full, laying to rest my niggling sense of humiliation and disappointment at the tame non-event that had been the Hitler Youth UWA gig. By contrast, there was nothing tame about The Orphans’ debut. It was an emphatic statement, loud, aggressive and full of heart. The band knew it, and the punters knew it. And although no one knew quite how sweet a triumph it was for me, if you scratched the surface with Max, Colin and Billy, I think you’d find that for them, too, that night was one for the ages – a terrific blast that reached rare heights of energy we were never to touch again.
In the wake of our Leederville debut, we set to work on new songs, full of belief and enthusiasm. As Max has recently reminded me, the latter was not shared by an Indian woman who lived near our Wembley Boy Scout rehearsal quarters; she banged on the door between songs one afternoon and pleaded with us to “turn down the trumpets!” We duly agreed, and, of course, continued on as before – she had said nothing about guitars. To her relief, no doubt, soon after the trumpet complaint (but, I trust, not because of it), we changed rehearsal venues to a small function room on the Swan River near the Sandringham Hotel.
It was a highly productive phase, which was to yield the rest of the songs that made up the Orphans’ repertoire. I wrote the songs at home, producing one or two new ones per week, which I would then bring along to the weekend afternoon and mid-week evening full-band rehearsals. I worked on the songs alone until I had the melody and riff/chord structure down, then I would fit lyrics to the rhythm of the melody, so to speak. I was always more concerned with ensuring the lyrics were phrased to suit the melody, and with the images that came through the lyrics, than with meaning. Sometimes, my lyrics alluded to, or were ‘borrowed’ from other songs: Oh baby I like your lips derived from the opening line of Iggy’s Funtime off The Idiot; the title of our song Sweet Suicide was taken from a line of Patti Smith’s Redondo Beach and the opening line of the same song, Tonight I lay awake in my room, was pretty close to the opening line of The Modern Lovers’ Astral Plane; the title of The Orphans’ Teenage Lust was also a title off the MC5’s Back In The USA, though otherwise the two songs were not remotely similar. As far as I was concerned, I was paying tribute to the artists I considered great, rather than plagiarising, because the references were always, I thought, obvious. I hasten to add, these ‘tributes’ of mine were limited to lyrical fragments. I did not use melodies or riffs from other songs – not consciously, at least (of course, no music exists in a vacuum; there are always allusions, always reference points).Because my songs were complete lyrically and musically by the time I introduced them to the band, it didn’t take us long to get them worked out. I had bass lines and fills ready on the odd occasions they deviated from the root chord and Colin was quick to interpret my suggestions. The drum parts I had a fair idea of, and Max would usually ‘know’ exactly what I had in mind anyway – we were on a wavelength musically. I should acknowledge, also, that he sometimes came up with great drum parts that I couldn’t have dreamed of, as in Sister Claire and Take What’s Owin’ (formerly I’m Gonna Crush Your Head In). Billy picked up my lyric phrasing and melodies fast, though on retrospective listening I doubt he ever really accessed the emotional foundation of the songs. (I was only dimly aware of this at the time, and hardly at all of the extent to which the songs suffered as a result. Come to think about it, maybe most songwriters not singing their own songs feel similarly).
The guys were very supportive – they seemed to believe in my songs and in me and we all believed in the band, which was very motivating as a songwriter. I churned the toons out, and within a couple of months post our Leederville debut gig, we had most of the songs that were to comprise the entire Orphans repertoire.
Lyrically, the songs were built around the good ol’ themes of sex, violence and death (or all three combined). There were Hitler Youthesque amphetamine rushes (Bored and Soul Sister Mary), slower melancholy pieces (Strange Place Of Love, Sweet Suicide), testosterone-fuelled roof-raisers (Fire), tragi-teen melodramas (Heard It On The Radio), a lyrically perverse song about a fallen nun with terrific, original drum treatment by Max (Sister Claire) and a weird, brutally beaty number in 5/4 time with a jungle drum feel (Teenage Lust). I think it true to state that no other first wave punk band in Perth exhibited this variety of material.
Later, came It’s Over, which went as long as 7 minutes – pretty well unheard of in punk circles at that time, although Disco Junkies, one of the Geeks songs I had co-written with James Baker that The Victims played as their own, had extended past 10 minutes on occasions. It’s Over quickly became one of Max’s favourites, but we played it only once publicly – at Hernando’s at what turned out to be our last gig. I recall Kim Salmon singling out the song for comment that night, stating to me that it had a “great melody”. I’m not sure whether he meant to imply that other aspects of the song were less than great, but if so, he was right. That final gig was the only Orphans public performance that was taped, and the version captured on tape of It’s Over is, frankly, tedious. It was not helped by Eddie the stoned mixer forgetting to turn on the guitar mike, which left the guitar out of the mix except for some bleed via the drum and vocal mikes. Further, Billy was not having a good night on vocals and barely knew the song, and we had recently recruited Rudolph (ex-Geeks, Victims) on bass as a temporary measure to fill in for Colin, who had abruptly left the band – it shows. My point here, though, is not to make excuses for the live version of It’s Over (or the rest of that gig, for that matter, which was the worst we ever played). Rather, I think it important to acknowledge that It’s Over and some of the other more complex Orphans songs were not performed or arranged to optimal effect.Perhaps we were too ambitious musically for our own good (and our performance skills as a band). I must take responsibility for this, for it has to be said, I was running the show. There were no other songwriters in the band, I did not put my songs to the band for collaborative treatment until they were complete, and most of the time I already knew what I wanted. The guys were happy with the material and content to work this way. We worked hard together on getting the songs right in rehearsal, did our very best within the confines of our performance limits, and the songs that slotted into the belt-and-bang punk rock genre worked very well, as did some others. However, I often leaned towards the use of minor chords and bridges that journeyed away from 3-chord pop structures, and some of my stuff required a sophistication of treatment and a range of musical colouration that were simply beyond our playing capabilities, mine in particular. I think we discussed the possibility of adding a lead guitarist to the lineup, but that was as far as it went. I suppose, also, that in a local musical milieu in which the standard arrangement was basically Ramones modelled – wall-of-noise guitar, simple root note throbbing bass and RocknRoll School Unit 1 drumming – it took a bit of a leap of imagination to get beyond those basics. I did have the sense that we weren’t doing justice to some of the best songs, but for a combination of reasons that don’t matter this many years later, did not seek to initiate the appropriate musical adjustments or encourage the band to throw ideas around.
But enough. There’s only so much value in writing about music, and I’ve just about exhausted it here. Have a listen to some of the tracks on The Orphans CD. That’ll tell you far more than these carefully chosen words of mine and will demonstrate, I trust, that the quality of the songs – rough recording and performances aside – justifies my claim that The Orphans’ repertoire was substantial in the first wave Perth punk scheme of things.
Soon after our debut gig at the Leederville Town Hall, we scored our first gig at Hernando’s Hideaway. Billy had a “blood connection” (as he put it) with the manager of Hernando’s, Andre, both of them being Italian, and we were slotted into the mid-week punk spot recently vacated by The Victims. Naively, we saw ourselves as the new torchbearers of punk in Perth and anticipated the same packed houses The Victims had enjoyed, but were greeted instead by smaller but initially respectable crowds consisting mostly of the hard core punk set and some newer converts to the cause, with a few folk who had come in on the Victims bandwagon but hadn’t heard that they had broken up and that all hip children of Perth must now look further afield until the Next Big Thing was decreed.
There is not a lot to tell of the Hernando’s gigs. We played our guts out week after week, constantly introducing new songs, and although we had some diehard fans, the crowds were not building – they were diminishing. Part of the problem was certainly that we did not have the hip appeal that had gathered around The Victims; there had been no newspaper write-ups on us, and we – Billy excepted – did not pay any attention to image (also, stupidly, I did not always place an ad in the newspaper notifying the public when and where we were playing). Whereas The Victims had branded themselves with an unmistakable punk identity, we were probably more extreme musically, and threatening in a way The Victims had not been, but did not look like a punk band. That left us betwixt and between. We were too loud, too punk and too basic musically for the average punter, but Colin and I could have passed as bank clerks, and Billy and Max as bogs, and that left the punk audience in a dilemma. Were we really punks? We sounded like it, but I had never made any attempt to be accepted into the punk clique, Max shared my unsociable attitude, Colin seemed indifferent, and Billy was too working class for what was essentially a group of middle-class art-school types kidding themselves that they were oh-so-street. Unlike the rest of us, he did attempt to befriend some of the punk set, but for the most part they snubbed him – ironic, considering his “street” credentials left most of them looking like spoon-fed private school pretenders in fancy dress.I am not saying that our lack of crowds was simply a function of image. As the weeks went by, we became dispirited, and I believe that showed in our performances. One or two of the sets collapsed into chaos, with Max smashing at his kit in reckless but somehow unconvincing abandon while I blasted away on open strings and Billy spasmodically screamed inanely into the mike. I’m not sure what Colin was doing on these occasions. Once I ended up lying on my back on the dance floor with my guitar on top of me, Billy kneeling beside pouring a jug of beer on my head and shoving the mike into my gob with a good-natured grin – and therein lay the problem: the grin! If we’d been genuinely off our nuts, it may have been a valid statement of sorts, but our behaviour was an expression of boredom and frustration with playing to small audiences, a sort of revenge on the crowds who hadn’t turned up, as much as on the largely unresponsive one that had. I recall my mate Stoltzee, who had followed my punk journey since the very first roof-lifting rehearsal pre-Geeks, shaking his head in bewilderment after one such showing, complaining that “that was shithouse” and cautioning that I had worked too hard to throw it all away like this. My other friends echoed these sentiments. Only Lloyd professed to be impressed.
It is ironic that the biggest crowd we played before at Hernando’s was there to see a debuting band that was supposed to be supporting us – The Fakes (well-named). They were fronted by George Blazevic, a journo going through his band phase (actually, that is unfair – he was a journo at the time but has since had extensive involvement in the Perth theatre and arts scene). The Fakes looked like a poor man’s Roxy Music, with fake leopard skin all over the place, and sporting saxes among the usual onstage armoury of guitars. All I can remember of their sound is that it was nothing close to punk rock and I was not impressed. I was probably not partial towards them anyway, because they had done the dirty on us by inserting their own newspaper ad (left, below) billing themselves as the headline act – to which I retaliated with an ad the following week (right):
Our diminishing Hernando’s crowds perplexed and weighed on us. Max knew he was a good drummer and was eager for some real limelight. I started to live in fear of the band breaking up. The members of the small hard core punk set came regularly to our Hernando’s gigs, but maintained an apparent indifference that vexed me, however I might have postured otherwise. I confess I had dreamed of world domination – foolish romantic as I was then – and anything less than local acceptance was jarring indeed. Johnno (John Rushin), whose Pommy heritage and stocky build had earned him the nickname Bovver Boy amongst a select few of my contacts, broke ranks from the rest of the punk set and singled me out for some appreciative comments. I complained that it seemed that for some reason The Orphans were not considered “cool” by his cronies, and he replied “The Orphans are pretty extreme, you know.”Maybe that was partly it. Certainly, the songs covered some dark territory (ludicrously dark, in hindsight!) untouched by other punk bands of the time: early hours rapist prowlers, romantic suicide fantasies, murder-suicide melodramas, schizophrenic terrorist massacres, adulterous boastings, forbidden sexual liaisons with a nun, psychotic vengeful violence…shadowy horrors such as these abounded in our material, and were hardly likely to endear us to those intent on a wholesome night’s entertainment. As Max’s mate Hassa recently observed:
Whether Hassa’s perspective was shared by others or not, I strongly suspect that other elements were behind our marginalisation – our refusal to conform to an identifiable “punk” dress code (apart from Billy, who soon graduated to thin black ties, badges etc), combined with our social aloofness, placed us on the outer with the small but tight-knit punk clique of Perth. Not that it mattered greatly. Their stamp of approval was hardly going to get us through the door of fame and fortune.
Still, we – at least I – had a strong sense of not being given a fair go by our punk-devotee peers. Maybe, as Johnno ventured, we were too extreme for widespread market acceptance. Maybe our lack of clear imagistic identity was symptomatic of a musical identity crisis; as stated, some of our songs were not optimally suited to a Ramones-style treatment and suffered from being forced into a basic punk rock mould. Maybe, as Geeks/Hitler Youth vocalist Lloyd has recently asserted, we were too humourless; as noted above, my lyrics were, for the most part, bleak, and we did take ourselves seriously as a band (although I cannot recall a first-wave Perth punk band that didn’t).
Maybe we were too impatient for success. Undeniable, though, is the fact that we were struggling for oxygen in the vacuum left by The Victims at Hernando’s, and the glory that was theirs at that venue was never ours. Maybe punk’s early moment had passed in Perth, and The Orphans had simply arrived on the scene too late. Maybe all and maybe nothing…
Although we never managed to pull big crowds as The Victims had, a few weeks into our regular Hernando’s gigs some real fans emerged from the pack. There was a guy whose name I could never remember, known among the band as The Disciple, who quickly established himself as our Number One Fan. Other punters sought out various members of the band to express their appreciation of our stuff. And a couple of English sisters, Yvonne and Julie, started coming to our weekend rehearsals at the function centre near the Sandringham Hotel.
The boys were chuffed. A female presence at our rehearsals added some incentive to go harder, or – let’s dispense with euphemism entirely – to show off. It didn’t do our morale any harm to hear the girls raving about our musical virtues, but in our testosterone-fed fantasies we entertained the optimistic notion that they may have had agendas other than the merely musical. Billy soon nipped our fond imaginings in the bud by moving in fast to snap up the spunky item on the menu, Yvonne, as his new ‘girlfriend’. Item on the menu? The crack of the Sisterhood’s lash rings in my ears as I type (or is it old rocker’s tinnitus?)…
Billy had broken up with the lovely Claire in dramatic fashion in the middle of a Hernando’s gig, dashing the mike to the stage in the middle of a song, leaping down on to the dance floor and storming to the back of the room, where she stood talking to some guy. She hastily vacated the premises when Billy made his stage exit and he disappeared out the door in pursuit. I don’t know what happened, and didn’t ask, but Claire and Billy were over from that point.
Yvonne and Billy never became a proper item. She complained that he was always asking “when” – a sure sign, I do believe, that it warn’t nevah gonna happen. Still, ol’ Billy came closer to a groupie score than the rest of us, godammit!
Ah, shit, Yvonne wasn’t a groupie and neither was Julie. They were just a couple of chicks who genuinely dug the band. Yes, the headline is misleading. Yes, we wish. Yes, I’m a pathetic fantasist. I wasn’t alone – we all had the hots for Yvonne. She was pretty and while sort of modest in her dress she swore a bit, which as a combination is a turn-on. Besides which, she had nice… Kerrr-acckk!
Came to pass that we were offered the chance to record at Purvisonic Studios, Myaree, actually a PA hire and staging business which I have only recently learned was owned by local music journo Ray Purvis. (If you have read The Geeks Story, you will recall that I had written Purvis a furious letter correcting his statement in a Sunday newspaper write-up of The Victims that Dave Faulkner and James Baker had co-written the Geeks songs TV Freak, Flipped Out Over You and High School Girls). The studio turned out to be a messy, basically equipped joint, and the sound engineer/producer, a bearded Hendrix-style guitarist named Ian, was utterly unaware of the punk rock movement. I wasn’t in a position to complain, because he was a contact of Max’s and had agreed to give us studio time gratis. Certainly, he had absolutely NO idea of the sound we were after, and I had no idea how to illuminate him. I was vastly unimpressed with the mix of the 7 songs we put down, one after another, live, without thought of overdubs (them were the days). Bemoaning the lack of energy and distant sound (which I now recognise as a result of overkill compression and reverb), I asked him to bring the guitars up. He did. Then I asked him to bring Billy’s vocals more to the fore. He did. Hmm, a bit more bass, please. Uh huh. And about the drums…”In other words, you want everything up?” he prompted wryly.
I ended up settling for whatever was down on the tape. It sounded nothing like The Orphans live, which was what I was after, but everyone was dog tired after all day and half the night in the studio. We were all green, and had no idea that “recording” included endless hours of sitting around listening to each drum being tapped as the engineer made this and that adjustment to this and that knob, and that the same process would follow with all instruments and vocals before we recorded a note of a song. My recording experience had been with a cheap mike and a Teac reel-to-reel 4-track at home, and I had gotten quite good results without any of this effort. It was good of the guy to give his time to us free, but after hours of this tedium and a final tape that, as far as I was concerned, didn’t sound at all like The Orphans, I found it hard to stay grateful.
There was a more disturbing element to that recording session. Billy just couldn’t stay on pitch. This was quite a revelation, and needless to say, not a welcome one; I had never detected any such problems with his vocals. It may have been that he could not adjust to the studio recording process, and as he has since reminded me he had a head cold and sore throat that interfered with his sense of pitch. Whatever, from that night on, fairly or unfairly, I was ill at ease with Billy’s vocals. I associated The Geeks’ demise with our first recording effort (see The Geeks Story), and I couldn’t deny a worrying sense of deja vu.
The sun had long gone when we wrapped up the recording session. It was a Saturday night, we had been in the studio many hours, and were in need of alcohol and release. Billy had a date with Yvonne, I think, and that left the rest of us (“us” comprising Max, Colin and I, as well as Max’s mate Hassa and Lloyd) by our marauding selves. God knows why, but we ended up at Hernando’s. Hernando’s was a schizoid venue. A mid-week punk hangout, on Saturday nights it reverted to its original Italian cabaret format. The band was trad Italian, well-dressed, with a piano accordion in the instrumental lineup, naturally. The crowd comprised mostly middle-aged, good Italian family folk, seated at tables (which were, sensibly, spirited away for the punk nights), out for a night of dancing, wining and conversation. We knew Andre, the manager, quite well from our gig nights, and he bid us a hearty welcome and showed us to a table in a corner. We ordered the first of way too many jugs, and so began a night to remember (if only we could). I can recall much general hilarity, the usually quiet Colin displaying a comic side that Bacchus dressed as genius on the night. We laughed and drank, and laughed and drank. As the night slipped into merry oblivion, it occurred to us that we should treat the good folk to some Orphans originals. We approached the band at a break, and they good-naturedly agreed to our playing a few songs using their instruments. The lead vocalist even introduced us, and the polite applause from the audience that followed was already a few decibels up on our typical mid-week punk crowd. Now that’s tragic, but we were having too much fun to register the irony.
We civic-mindedly steered away from songs likely to offend, which was no mean feat (eg: Baby do you want a drink/Yeah I said, at your cunt I think, from Love Your Neighbour, and any number of other examples), doing the slower, more melodic choices like Strange Place Of Love. At least, that is my recollection. Max recently sent me the following email, which paints a slightly different picture:
It was quite surreal, playing our stuff at Italian folk song volume, done without distortion, before a sympathetic audience of middle-aged Italian mommas and poppas. We probably sounded abysmally bad, but they clapped us warmly off stage, and we wobbled back to our table to put the seal of alcoholic stupor on the night with a few more, most unnecessary jugs. So thorough was our inebriation, that Colin reported at a post mortem analysis of the evening that he had gone to sleep in his car at a stop sign a few hundred metres from his house, rudely awoken by the dawn an indeterminate time later.
The exit of Colin from The Orphans sounded the death knell for the band.
In those days, there were few house PAs, and we were getting sick of paying to play. We had to hire the PA for the Hernando’s gigs, and without big crowds our cut of the door takings never covered this cost. I proposed that we pool resources and buy our own PA. At this point, Colin quit. He has told me in recent times that his decision was not directly connected with the PA proposal, that it was simply a case of his losing his early excitement with the band and a sense that attending rehearsals had turned into a bit of a grind. Obviously, though, given his mindset as described the PA proposal would have been a catalyst prompting his decision to quit.
We carried on for a while, acceding to entreaties from ex-Victims and Geeks bass player, Rudolph, to take Colin’s place. Rudolph was not a choice I would have made in other circumstances, partly because I associated him with the conspiracy that had gutted The Geeks, partly because none of the original Orphans members had come from the Perth punk clique and ideally I wanted to keep it that way. However, Rudolph was keen and I was desperate to keep Max, and sensed that he would not stay around if there was any undue delay in finding a new bass player.
Rudolph’s bass playing was not as tight as Colin’s, he didn’t pick the songs up as fast, made too many mistakes, and had a horrible twangy metallic bass tone (probably attributable to a blown speaker in his bass amp!) – all too evident in hindsight when listening to the recording of the final Orphans gig at Hernando’s, but not, as I recall, something I had noticed at the time. We rehearsed too loud to distinguish one instrument from another. I only knew that Rudolph didn’t sound like Colin, and that something had changed for the worse with The Orphans’ sound from the point at which Colin departed. To be fair, the band was approaching crisis point when Rudolph joined, and although this was not recognised by any of us consciously, the momentum had started to slip away. It was not Rudolph’s fault.However, there was one memorable post-Colin gig at a fund-raising show at Perth Film and Television Institute – now FTI – in Fremantle, which came out of the blue via a last-minute invitation from an old school friend of mine, Martin Visser. Manikins vocalist Robbie Porritt happened to be there, but the gig was not advertised and no other punks knew of it. Ironically, it was one of our best, no doubt partly because we were relaxed and approached our sets with a sense of fun and devil-may-care. The mixer, Eddie, a perpetually stoned fixture behind the desk at Perth band venues, was impressed and expressed interest in being our regular mixer. I’m not sure what this says about The Orphans, but the non-punk audience loved us! So did Robbie Porritt, who had not seen us previously and was evidently unaware that the local punk clique had not stamped us with their mark of cool approval. He saw me after the gig and invited The Orphans to play with The Manikins at some coming gigs. I was glad to accept this opportunity to get out of the Hernando’s rut and away from the punk set that continued to show up at our gigs while remaining resolutely unresponsive.
Alas, an Orphans/Manikins billing was never to be. With the departure of Colin had come a sense of restlessness within the band. Also, Billy was showing an interest in songwriting, which was a development I didn’t exactly embrace. I recall glancing over some of his lyrics, thinking they were banal, saying something politely encouraging but ultimately being somewhat dismissive. Billy claims he never presented me with song lyrics – we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that. Whatever, my response was not very nice. For all I know, given a go, Billy might have come up with some good stuff. However, I wasn’t interested in assisting him in his first songwriting steps. I can see how I might have been perceived as arrogant.
But it wasn’t really merely arrogance. I had new stuff on the boil and felt that regardless of the state of the band, my songs were still developing. It was around this time that I introduced my epic, It’s Over. Max raved about it, and for a short while it seemed we had found a new lease of life. This was the first new song we had worked on without Colin, and I started thinking that perhaps we could find a good new direction as The Orphans after all. Then I came up with Teenage Lust, which had a brutal jungle beat in some weird time signature (5/4 I think). To be honest, I was excited at my progress and didn’t want another songwriter in the band, particularly one that was just learning the ropes. It was controlling of me. I see that now. And I was driven and artistically self-centred, and wanted no obstructions to my progress. It might not have been fair or just, or even the best thing for the band. But that’s just how it was, at least from my perspective.We played one more gig at Hernando’s on Tuesday, August 15, 1978 – probably our worst. Eddie the mixer was too stoned to do his job properly and left the guitar out of the mix for the first set. It was unfortunate that that gig was the only one we taped. Rudolph was all over the place on bass, and Billy was not having a good night. (It wasn’t all bad, though, and as an historical record, it was a better representation of The Orphans sound than the slicker but distant-sounding Purvisonic Studio recording). The best applause of the evening came from the punk clique at the end of the gig, when Billy announced that The Scientists (newly formed) would be playing the following week. This historical little snippet can be heard at the end of Fire on The Orphans CD, Exposed.
At the end of the night Max and I were in despair. He said he didn’t want to go on rehearsing week after week without some sense of reward or recognition, playing our guts out in front of small crowds, notably the wankers from the punk set who for some reason kept turning up but refused to respond to us. I did not try to buck him up. However I tried to tell myself otherwise, I knew in my bones that it really was over for The Orphans. And so it was. We officially fell on our swords at the next rehearsal.
NB: As with all my writings on this site, I have striven to be scrupulously accurate in my recollections, and wherever possible cross-checked the facts with others who were there. Only Billy has challenged any aspect of The Orphans’ history as I have written it here (as indicated above). Years ago, I invited him to write a perspective of his own for inclusion on this site, and have recently re-issued the invitation. To date he has not accepted. The invitation remains open.
Why bother, you may wonder, to tell the tale in such detail of a band that lasted only a few months, copped their full measure of glory in their first gig, and faded out virtually unacknowledged, as we did. Firstly, popularity is not an infallible gauge of the value of creative output; as I have asserted, I believe that The Orphans’ material was substantial and that the band, therefore, is deserving of due attention on a website that seeks to fill in some details of the early Perth punk scene that has hitherto been missing from historical accounts. Secondly, I think our lack of acknowledgement was not reflective of the quality of our product, but had more to do with our image, or lack of it. Finally, my ego is at play here. The Orphans were my band in a way that was more personal than had been the case with The Geeks, and more so still, The Hitler Youth. For me, The Orphans were more real as a band than either of the others.
We didn’t know where we were with The Geeks. It was thrilling as only a first band can be, but we had no idea about our future or who we were as a band. We transformed overnight from a punk cover band to an original outfit producing songs of improbably high quality, and to simply be there and be a part of something that exciting was enough. Significantly, we never played in public, and never settled on a name (‘The Geeks’ attached itself post our demise). In some curious sense, we didn’t exist as an identifiable entity until we had broken up.
The Hitler Youth was an eternally transmogrifying beast plotting a troubled period, born out of the anger, bitterness and confusion of The Geeks’ untimely sudden death, and again without a name or much of an identity for most of its evolution. The Hitler Youth lineups were never stable, and the final one, good as it was, lasted only a couple of weeks. That was just a taste of a band (not to demean the songs, which were crude but unique, and developed over the months leading to the final formation).
The Orphans, on the other hand, existed in name from conception. The songs, varied though they were, came from a common source, which gave them an inherent unity. And they came to public deliverance through the persistent effort of The Orphans as a band – we worked hard, rehearsing more regularly, and with an intensity and collaborative single-mindedness that the other bands had not come close to. We experienced the heights of public triumph and the lows of public disappointment, all in the name of The Orphans. We had a group identity and were proud of our collective selves. On looking back at The Orphans’ repertoire, flawed though the execution of some of the songs surely was, I think we should have been proud. We achieved a lot creatively in the few months we were together, and it’s a time I will always hold dear.
The demise of The Orphans marked the end of the first wave of punk rock in Perth. That may seem an egotistical statement, so I should explain.
First, I should acknowledge that the term “first wave” as applied here to the early Perth punk scene is mine alone. It came about as I searched for a way to tell the story of the earliest punk days in Perth, and of my bands, The Geeks, The Hitler Youth and The Orphans. There is no question that other punk/new wave bands were around at the time The Orphans split and subsequently; however, none managed to pull crowds any bigger than those we had attracted, and as far as I am aware, none of these bands’ original material was as substantial in quality or quantity as The Orphans’ repertoire. At around the time The Orphans broke up, too, Hernando’s Hideaway stopped hosting regular mid-week punk nights, and without a headquarters and a popularly heralded punk band like The Victims to provide a tribal focal point, the scene fragmented.
The term “punk” gave way to “new wave” (although the two terms had become virtually interchangeable), and a host of semi-pro commercially-orientated bands claiming to be new wave – The Dugites, for instance – began showcasing their mostly bland and tame originals at the bigger suburban pubs, before bigger suburban crowds. The edge that punk had introduced to the Perth music scene had been largely blunted. This phenomenon was global, in fact, as the big money moved in to capitalise on the now widely fashionable punk movement, and establishment musicians climbed aboard the gravy train.
Of course, an underground punk/new wave movement survived, but only just (Secret Lives, The Marilyns and later The Paper Dolls come to mind – all short-lived, known only to the punk fringe, not remembered for their originals and unrecorded as far as I am aware). The Scientists were by far the most significant of the bands to emerge at the tail end of the first wave, but acclaimed though they later were, they were not scene-builders in the beginning as The Victims had been, struggling for gigs and crowds in late 78 and beyond to the point that they decided to abandon Perth for the east in search of an audience and recognition. Further, they rejected the punk label, and indeed, were right to do so. James Baker was adamant when inviting me to a very early Scientists gig at a private home that they were a rock and roll band in the style of The New York Dolls, and NOT a punk band (history and legend has had other ideas in the meantime). Hence, my decision not to include them among the first-wave Perth punk bands.
Post-Hernando’s, the original music scene relocated to horrible venues like Adrians. I only went there a couple of times, once to see The Cure (hated them…they weren’t well received and I recall Robert Smith scolding the disgruntled punters with the declaration, “Look, we’re not a rock and roll band, awright” – and right he was). The other time was to see Billy’s new band, Billy Orphan’s Tears, which had a couple of female vocalists backing him, with Bradley Clark on lead guitar. Some of their stuff was good, actually, although I wouldn’t have classified them as punk. The Rockets were a post-first-wave band that were hard rocking and punky, but more along the lines of the earlier Detroit sound of The Stooges and the MC5 (though in terms of musical worth, not to be compared with either, I suggest). They were too late to be part of the first wave as I define it. And later hardcore punk bands like Enemy Sounds and their next incarnation, Quick And The Dead, were way too late to be considered part of the original punk movement. I saw the latter at the Como Hotel in South Perth in around 1981, and left in disgust. They had a mostly skinhead following, and displayed all the worst qualities of, say, The Victims, with none of the good ones – noisy din-mongers with oi-punk songs devoid of the charm of James Baker’s lyrics, or of any real melodic quality. Their brand of punk revisionism (musically, I mean) left me cold, and the skins just depressed me. It had all gotten so ugly, and the excitement of the early days of punk of only scant years earlier had given way to a macho aggression that stank of armpits and bad breath. Yep, by this time, the first wave was long gone.
So that, kids, is it – the story is complete. I hope it’s provided some insight into those early days of punk in Perth. I hope it’s been entertaining. Whatever, I have now told what has never been told, and I think should have been. Much has already been written about The Victims, Kim Salmon and his bands and The Manikins. In tracing Perth punk rock back to its very earliest roots, this website has, I hope, provided some pieces of the jigsaw that have been missing until now. Not globally important, not even important in the punk scheme of things, but significant enough to those who care, I trust, to have been worth the blood, sweat and tears. Peace.
©Ross Buncle 2005. All rights reserved.