Dumb-World - Negatives, Reals and Judas Iscariot & The Traitors = 1974-1978 (Loaded Skull Discs/Shock)
These are quite remarkable recordings. Yes, you've heard rehearsal tapes and demo recordings by garage bands before, but these are different. It's all about the timeframe, the intensity and the fact that they're Australian and were recorded in relative cultural isolation.
“Dumb-World” is a serious collection of raw demos and rehearsal tapes from future Sacred Cowboys leader Garry Gray and his early bands between 1974-1978, featuring Judas and the Traitors, The Reals and The Negatives.
To place this in a historic context, the Australian musical landscape was fairly frigid. The local artists’ soundtrack was blaring from commercial AM radio, but it that was drab even though the live scene was flourishing and there were so many gigs for local musicians to play.
(Aussie guitar trailblazer Lobby Lloyd once told me that in in the early ‘70s he was playing eight times a week and making a damn fine living. Saturday night was three shows: A blue light disco first, then he would charge into town at one venue, finish at midnight, and then play another club across town after being on stage at 2am.)
The Sunbury festival was our Woodstock and in many ways proved we were years behind what was happening overseas. In fact, 1972 was our “Summer of love” and with the exception of a handful of musicians, Australian was well behind the pack.
By 1975, Gough Whitlam was in power and he was taking Australia forward. It was the year Countdown began, “Number 96” was shocking TV watchers after 8.30pm and primetime was occupied by the cheesy quiz show, "Sale of The Century". It was the year of colour TV. It was a world of puberty blues, Sandman panel vans and rights of passage - like driving home pissed from the pub, cheap and nasty Summer Wine and the ritual of underage sex. The country was white bread but politically incorrect. The first McDonalds were opening but the local milkbar with pinnies was still the local hang-out after school.
Against this unlikely suburban background and in the unassuming Melboune borough of Mount Waverly, the bands you’ll hear on this compilation sprang.
Garry Gray and Chris Walsh started Judas Iscariot and the Traitors in 1974. Ian “Ollie” Olsen and Peter Cave joined to form Reals a year later and were one of Melbourne's few original "punk" bands. Olsen left and the band recruited Michael Holmes on guitar to become The Negatives in 1977. They signed to the Suicide label for the “Lethal Weapons” compilation of 1977 and contributed “Planet on the Prowl”.
This CD is broken down into sections. The first is 1975 and the band is Reals. There are 10 songs, recorded in a a rehearsal space, with a cassette deck (in stereo.) “Minority Group” starts with jarring guitar and the brutality of an express train. Sneering vocals and barre chords fuzzed out. It’s music that’s living for no-one and belted out with a ‘Fuck you’ from a bunch of teenagers.
The cover of Iggy and the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” blows Radio Birdman’s out of water. Some of you will say ‘What the fuck’ but this version is closer to the brutal primal energy of the original. It actually reminds me of the way feedtime would take this song to an even more primitive cliff edge, 20 years later.
The songs that follow hit like a bulldozer. The riff in “Stepping Stone”, for example. The recording is so LOUD and you can see the needles in the red, distorted and peaking. The guitar cuts and slices, razor-like. This is intense and the guitars are so primitive that you could be excused for thinking somebody had owned a scale book for all of five days.
There are actually four Stooges covers in this session; “I Want To Be Your Dog”, “Loose” and “TV Eye”, recorded before Birdman entered the studio to tape their version. In comparison, theirs’ is much more sophisticated. The Reals rhythm section actually pumps throughout and is relentless. “Dumb-World” closes the section and is pure punk rock with classic lyrics of alienation.
Six Negatives tracks from 1977 find Gray and co moving away from their Stooges obsession and seemingly nodding to what had been happening in England. “Hard Sell” is punchier, and the guitars lines more refined, than the earlier stuff. The music is snottier and any one of these songs would be a classic single from this period. The bass playing is developing with lines rolling along with the drummer.
The session ends with “Planet of Prowl”, a slower song and the strongest. It features a great arpeggio and is a damned fine TUNE with a natural sense of drama.
Gray’s vocals are at times, stunning. He’s certainly been one of the better rock vocalists floating around the underground music scene. Yes, I hear pure garage Iggy, yet there’s also a lot of Strummer’s raw attack. That said, I am sure he wasn’t aware of The Clash when most of these songs were recorded.
Anyone expecting high recording quality will be disappointed. It’s all lo fi with dropouts, and the tape speeds and slows. No matter. The music is what matters and it tells us that Gray was part of a wave of like-mindedness around the world. Think Ramones and The Electric Eels in the USA, Brian James and Glen Matlock in the UK. In Australia, it was Kuepper and Bailey and Tek and Younger.
On the subject of the Saints, what about that title of “the most primitive band in the world”? Maybe we can now look at the Victorians as contenders for the crown, just as the real explosion was about to come.