Jeff Sullivan and Julie Mostyn. Steve Teece photo
The dictionary defines serendipity as “a pleasant surprise” and it's a term that scientists working in medical research are fond of using. It’s also at the heart of how the looming reformation of beloved Sydney band the Flaming Hands came about.
Singer Julie Mostyn is on the phone from the Coffs Harbour home she shares with husband Warwick Gilbert, onetime bassist and graphic artist for Radio Birdman. She clearly remembers serendipity’s intervention on that very same landline, late in 2016.
“It was one of those life-changing phone calls…one that shocks you out of something you’ve been trying to get out of for a while,” she recalls.
“It was a call from Peter Oxley of the Sunnyboys, and he said: ‘Would you consider reforming the Flaming Hands?’ And I thought for half a second and said: ‘Yeah, that’d be good’.”
Talk about timing. It was as good as any excuse for Julie to ditch her day job in a local bank and embark on what's not so much a career revival as a chance to revisit great times, renew old partnerships and - maybe - push the musical boat out just a little further.
More on that last point later. More immediately, it means Flaming Hands supporting the Sunnyboys at the Sydney show of their February Australian tour, with similarly reformed friends, Shy Impostors, opening the gig.
Flaming Hands were Sydney’s best soul and psych pop band, a potent and popular outfit based around Julie Mostyn’s passionate voice and guitarist Jeff Sullivan’s emotion-baring songs.
Leadfinger in full flight at Bulli's Heritage Hotel with Carrie Phillis assiting on backing vocals.
They've been around for a decade but I've gotten into Leadfinger a bit late in the piece. I had heard word that they were one of the best bands in Sydney, and I knew their leader, Stewart Cunningham, from previous outfits like Proton Energy Pills and Asteroid B612, with whom I’d shared stages. So we went all the way back to 1989.
The penny finally dropped at the Tim Hemensley Memorial at the Tote in Melbourne about three years ago. Bombarded by the hard Geelong-Melbourne garage rock sound, it was Leadfinger (along with HITS) who were the highlights for me.
Leadfinger played upstairs. I watched a band that was thoughtful, with a great collection of songs and a broad variety of influences. The guitars chimed and lashed out, there were great vocal hooks, and the tunes were memorable. I decided that I liked them a lot.
Meet Keith Streng, Ken Fox, Peter Zaremba and Bill Milhizer. Jacopo Benessi photo.
Here’s another plea for justice and a call for long overdue respect. Add another name to the list of bands whose “failure” (such a harsh word when applied without context) to break into the mainstream is not just unfathomable but criminal. Ladies and gentlemen, I speak of The Fleshtones, stars of stage and screen and bearers of a vibrant new record, “The Band Drinks For Free”, on Yep Roc.
The Official Biography lists it as Album Number 21 (including live releases) and says the band is in its 40th year, but let’s dispense with the figures and deal only in facts. The first one is: If you’re not listening to The Fleshtones, you’re a loser. The second is: It’s never too late to shed your loser status.
The Fleshtones emerged from a basement in New York City’s Queens borough and onto a stage at CBGB in 1976. Largely written out of histories of the Lower East Side scene despite being fixtures at places like CBs, Max’s Kansas City, The Pyramid, Danceteria and Club 57, they went through a trailer-load of trials and tribulations (labels going broke, line-ups in flux, drugs and drink) to “almost make it” in spectacular style.