This Is Our City: Carlton Conquers Sydney

Melbourne OWNED Sydney last night. First there was the Sydney launch of the compilation CD, (When the Sun Sets Over) Carlton—Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene of the 70s. A less cuddlesome affair than the Lygon Street love-in that I also attended last month, but under the judicious stewardship (stuartship?) of ex-Roadrunner editor Stuart Coupe, it was perhaps a more erudite conversation.

Second was the demolition of the A-League’s Sydney wannabes, the Central Coast Mariners, by a rampaging Melbourne Victory at the picturesque North Sydney Oval. On a sultry, semi-sodden Sydney summer night, the boys from the south cut the Mariners to pieces with three cracking second half goals to sent the seven thousand fans home with some memories to warm their Xmas stockings.

Mariners versus Victory

Mariners versus Victory

Mariners versus Victory at North Sydney Oval

But back to Red Eye Records in the Sydney CBD where a small but appreciative band of cognoscenti assembled to warm up some memories of their own and celebrate the release of the Carlton compilation so lovingly curated by Dave Laing at Warner Music Australia.

As with the Melbourne launch at Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar, the format was a panel of players and a moderator to prompt their reminiscences. Looking a bit like the Four Yorkshiremen from the Monty Python sketch (‘Who’d’ve thought we’d be sitting here today, drinking Chateau de Chasselas …’) the line up consisted of Greig Pickhaver (an announcer on 3CR and 3RRR at the time); Chris Worrall (journeyman guitarist – ‘Shit I dunno why I changed bands every twelve months’); John Power (bass guitarist with Company Caine and Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons back in the day); and Rick Grossman (bass guitarist with the Bleeding Hearts, Parachute and Man & Machine and later back in Sydney with Matt Finish, the Divinyls and the Hoodoo Gurus). Power and Worrall had also played the Jimmy Watson’s gig and so obviously I was interested to hear from Sydneysider Grossman and my fellow Croweater, Greig Pickhaver.

This wasn’t happening anywhere else in the world, and there was nowhere else in the world I would rather be—Greig Pickhaver

In an inspired opening move, emcee  Stuart Coupe threw to Pickhaver (best-known for his comedic alter-ego H.G. Nelson) for his take on the time. In a tone tinged with reverence, Barossa boy Pickhaver recalled how he’d lobbed up in Melbourne after a rite-of-passage spell in London and in fulfilment of a desire to live in a capital city other than Adelaide. He was drawn to the energetic experimental theatre scene but also quickly scored a slot on community radio station 3CR and then later when 3RMIT turned into 3RRR, he switched to the FM dial.

He recalled seeing Steve Hill out front of  Skyhooks, a brickie in drag, and a band behind him developing into something else and getting the feeling that this wasn’t happening anywhere else in the world, and there was nowhere else in the world he would rather be. ‘Those moments are rare and should be treasured,’ he said.

The three other CDs released in the Melbourne in the 70s series, two by the Sports and one by Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, all feature performances from concerts put on by 3RRR and emceed by Pickhaver. ‘I remember introducing Jo Jo Zep at the time and just getting blown off the stage by the power of that band,’ he said shaking his head wonderingly. ‘Amazing times.’

Rick Grossman and Stuart Coupe

Rick Grossman and Stuart Coupe

Rick Grossman confessed he was fresh out of school, ‘Well, a couple of years ..’, and obsessed with Skyhooks in the summer of 1974-75. ‘They came to Sydney and there was a riot, under the Harbour Bridge,’ he recalls. ‘That just didn’t happen with Australian bands.’

He was trying to get a band together in Sydney, but while he wanted a sound like Iggy Pop & the Stooges and Blue Oyster Cult, everyone else was trying to sound like Bad Company. So he drifted down to Melbourne (‘I think there was a girl involved …’) and was persuaded to go to an audition in Carlton for a bass player. ‘I turned up two hours early,’ he recalled, ‘and Eric Gradman came to the door and told me to go away and come back in two hours. I was so angry. I came back and played and I was still really angry. And I got the gig. That was the Bleeding Hearts.

‘I asked them if they knew Skyhooks. They looked at me and just laughed. The first gig I did with them, at Martini’s, I turn up and there was all of Skyhooks—in the dressing room!’

And so it went: war stories; agency battles (Premier Artists versus Nucleus—’Bleeding Hearts would be booked to play Mildura on a Tuesday night and suddenly Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons would be playing across the road,’ said Rick Grossman. John Power just smiled.); personalities (‘Dealing with Michael Gudinski was like playing chess,’ said Chris Worrall. ‘If you left yourself open, he would take you. But he was always a fan’); venues (‘There’s a Ph.D thesis there about the difference between venues north and south of the Yarra,’ Grieg Pickhaver said); and above all the attitude—this was original, this was Australian, this was good and this was fun.

As I headed down York Street to catch the bus to North Sydney I was reminded of something else Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen said. How did it go again? Oh yes.

THIRD YORKSHIREMAN: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN: Because we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness, son”.

FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN: Aye, ‘e was right.

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN: Aye, ‘e was.

FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN: I was happier then and I had nothin’. We used to live in this tiny old house with great big holes in the roof.

SECOND YORKSHIREMAN: House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, ‘alf the floor was missing, and we were all ‘uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN: And you try and tell the young people of today that ….. they won’t believe you.

ALL: They won’t!

Main photo: Grieg Pickhaver, Chris Worrall, John Power, Rick Grossman and Stuart Coupe at Red Eye Records
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“This Is Our City: Carlton Conquers Sydney”

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