Geeks & Orphans Album Review

Geeks & Orphans Album Review

(Originally published by The Barman at the i94 Bar: see here)

BURNED – The Geeks/The Hitler Youth/The Orphans
EXPOSED: PERTH PUNK 1978 – The Orphans
It’s tempting to think that every stone’s been unturned and the full story of what goes under the indistinct catch-all title of Australian Punk has been told. Then you catch the whiff of a band like The Geeks, whose beginnings are as distant from almost anywhere as their birthplace of Perth, and you realise there’s more to hear.

Guitarist/songwriter Ross Buncle admits he had a bee in his bonnet for a very long time. You can read the full story why in our interview with him here, but if you want the short version, it’s this: Ross was a co-founder of what might have been Perth’s original punk band in The Geeks. They were a band without a name for much of their brief existence and ultimately never left the garage. Their drummer did – and therein lies a tale.

His name was James Baker and he’s now something of a legend in the annals of 1970s and ’80 Australian underground music, going on to the Scientists, the Beasts of Bourbon and the Hoodoo Gurus, among others. He and Geeks bass player Dave Cardwell formed The Victims, a similarly-inclined punk outfit, with future Hoodoo Guru Dave Faulkner (nee Dave Flick). Flick had played with Kim Salmon in the Cheap Nasties, a band that developed in parallel with The Geeks but actually played live, thereby claiming the title of Perth’s First Punk Band (even if their use of the term “punk” may have been pejorative).

That was galling for Buncle and ex-Geeks singer Lloyd, but worse was that Baker had taken the best of his old band’s songs with him to the Victims, and somehow they were being claimed as Baker/Faulkner compositions. A double blow, the full story of which you can read here.

“High School Girls”, “Disco Junkies” and “Flipped Out Over You” were, at worst, Baker/Buncle co-writes when The Victims went on to record them. Years later, the misappropriation has been acknowledged by Dave and James and you’ll find the full story here. If there was any doubt, these Geeks rehearsal tapes put the issue beyond debate.

If the sound quality on “Burned” is underdone, it’s entirely understandable. These nine Geeks tunes were never intended for release and lay hidden and forgotten for 30 years. They’re rough going but it’s fascinating to hear the birth of a band, no matter how much of a footnote in the bigger scheme of things they may have been. Although each was oblivious of the other’s existence, The Geeks could have been a similar live proposition to Sydney’s Hellcats. There’s a mutual love of the Ramones and the Stooges (The Geeks cover “Today Your Love” and “Loose”, and also had a Baker-Buncle-Lloyd co-write called “I Like Iggy Pop”).

He might not have been able to play a chord (and apparently used to hum half-developed melodies to his bandmates at practice) but James Baker’s superb sense of trash aesthetics manages to cut through the lo-fi sound, if only via titles like “I Wanna Be Slick and Pick Up Chicks Like You” and “High School Girls”.

A different bag was The Hitler Youth, a co-venture by Buncle and Lloyd that actually did play live. The bad news is it was a solitary gig and something of a disaster that more or less forced the break-up of the band. If their name was calculated to evoke outrage, song titles like “Epileptic Love” and “Cancer Victim” were similarly pitched, even if the lyrics are now elusive on this disc and the band was about as political as a comic book.

These 11 songs were captured in rehearsals so you need to cut the Hitler Youth some aural slack. But you do need to hear them – if only to experience the feeling of their tunes whirring past your ears at obscenely fast pace. The Hitler Youth clearly had a desire to be the world’s fastest band and wouldn’t have been able to pronounce the word “ballad”, let alone sing one. In comparison, the earliest Ramones recordings sound like Joey and Co had actually been sedated before they’d penned the song by the same name.

The Orphans were the subsequent Buncle project to push air, this time without Lloyd but with Hitler Youth drummer Max Kittler somehow surviving with all his limbs intact. They sound much more measured, if still raw, with a full-throated singer in Billy Orphan. Three 1978 tunes round off the disc, recorded off the desk at Hernando’s Hideaway (the Perth punk pit kicked off by The Victims but by then vacated), and reveal the band to be not unlike the “Stranded” era Saints. The Orphans actually debuted at the Leederville Punk Festival, which was The Victims’ farewell and are said by some to have blown away the more-known headliner.

“Exposed” is a two-disc set. Disc one is a mix of rehearsals and live tracks, while the second is a set of 1992 and 2005 re-recordings of the band’s songs. The quality of the old stuff is variable but shouldn’t deter fans of the Leftovers or Johnny Dole and the Scabs, sitting somewhere in the same ballpark. Billy Orphan indulges in a few vocal gymnastics, and time hasn’t been kind to the ’78 studio demos, but these songs are important relics.

Ross Buncle obviously thought so too and went to great lengths to replicate the sound of his old band when he re-recorded their songs. As dodgy as the thought of that could have been, the spirit of the originals cuts through with Buncle playing all the instruments and doing the vocals. Heard without the tape distortion and muffled vocals of the original recordings, songs like “Oh Baby”, the Real Kids-like “Teenage Lust”, the Ramonesish “Bored” and the dynamic “Heard It on the Radio” are worthy punk tunes with an outsider’s streak. You could forget there’s a drum machine involved. Rather than lessen the almost invisible legacy of The Orphans, these discs bring it alive.

Both sets are obtainable from Ross Buncle’s website, which in itself is a fascinating place to wile away some time and catch up on the beginnings of a far-flung but important Australian musical scene. – The Barman

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