Music Review: ‘When Sharpies Ruled’ - A Vicious Selection
The release of this well curated retrospective throws the 'Winnie Blue'* glow of recognition on to one of the funniest, oddest, strangest eras of Aussie Rock. Ah, yes. The Seventies.
The Sharpies and The Mods. Never the twain shall meet. Except they often did.
Blood would flow. Stylish taste in dress sense took a vacation. Tribalism made the headlines, and it all happened with its own rapidly mutating soundtrack.
This seventies surge in local music was post-pop, nearing post-progressive, au courant to glam, and pre-punk. Influenced by U.K. and U.S. trends, but with the proviso, it had to 'cut the mustard' in the pubs.
Whilst the sounds coming out of the piss soaked pub scene had more than one intended market, it was the Sharpies who found a beat they could claim as their own.
They even had their own distinctive war dance : a ridiculous elbow- led, head down primate strut, the sight of which, decades later, can leave the viewer in convulsive laughter on the floor. (Google for minutes of delight - the Myer Music Bowl footage is worth its weight in wedge-toe shoes)
Fashion? Well it was possibly the last era in which a sensible close knit wooly jumper would be considered de rigueur, even if it was by necessity three sizes too small for the wearer. Hair - cropped, mulleted, dyed, tragic. Attitude - anti-social to the wider community, close knit to the tribe.
VICIOUS SLOTH, a primo destination for music lovers, based in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, has long championed the archiving of Australian Rock. With AZTEC MUSIC, they have assisted in restoring some of our greatest and most enduring classic music to the catalogue.
Thus, this collection, released through FESTIVAL RECORDS, comes largely via the excellent curation by Glenn Terry and David Laing from VICIOUS SLOTH. The team have collated a fascinating set of period snaps and Glenn has penned an excellent essay on the era. The insights into the Sharpie culture are salient but I will not try and précis what Glenn offers here. Buy the album, read the notes.
The selection of tracks, 23 in all, spans the years from 1973 - 1979. This is not to suggest an airtight timeframe, but more an overview of what was happening.
My sense, having listened, read and absorbed what is surveyed here, is that the title refers to that period when Sharpies were the most visible subculture of urban Australia. The Mods were fading, and the hardcore hippies had mutated into ferals and gone bush. So the music represented here is not necessarily Sharpie 'claimed' or focused. It is contemporary to their reign.
For example, we hear the rather excellent W.A. band 'FATTY LUMPKIN' ( I know - just read the essay, O.K!) knock out the driving blues-rock of 'MOVIN' knowing this band featured some of the best players of the era.
Melbourne's legendary SKYHOOKS are represented by 'HORROR MOVIE'.
THE KEVEN BORICH EXPRESS offer the straight forward melodic rock of 'I'M GOING SOMEWHERE'. HUSH shimmy through ' BONIE MORONIE'.
These are not, to my mind, Sharpie anthems. They are tracks contemporary to the era.
Perhaps in the track choices, Glenn and David are showing that it was a time when music was less rigidly genre-fied. You could watch 'COUNTDOWN' and see a broad range of artists. You could dig some SLADE, some BOWIE, DEEP PURPLE, but still head for a pub and catch the COLOURED BALLS in action.
Certainly, you can hear the distinctive low-fi grunge of BUSTER BROWN, and early ROSE TATTOO here.
AC/DC for reasons of licensing are missing in action but are acknowledged: It would be hard to argue with the notion that they refined Aussie pub rock and took it to the world. It is fact. It's history.
However, in other tracks, the D.N.A. of foreign trends is evident in all sorts of ways. A little glam here, a bit of glitter there. A whiff of progressive now, a waft of future then.
I was bemused to realise that TED MULRY GANGs drummer appears to have swallowed the SIMON KIRKE (FREE) method totally, making the two tracks on offer a more respectable offering.
It was refreshing to be reminded how slick and accomplished HUSH were in their heyday.
So, final thoughts, if you spun this at a party, you would get the room jumping. But more importantly, it offers a considered point of view for an important time in the development of that distinctive Aussie sound in music.
It is also an opportunity to get hold of some hard to get 'deep cuts', with decent sonics, depending of course on the original production. Let's be frank, BUSTER BROWN were no-ones 'go to' choice for audiophile delights.
COLLECTABILITY - Oz Rock Fan - | Non-Fan-
* 'WINNIE BLUE' - the cigarette choice of sophisticated Sharpies everywhere.
For more information visit Vicious Sloth Collectables.
A walking encyclopedia of music, David’s broad music knowledge is a valued member to the team. Without music, there would be no HiFi. Look out for his words on current, past and future music, as well as album reviews.