Magical Mushroom Moments

Recently I’ve been reading Stuart Coupe’s biography of Michael Gudinski. It prompted a memory of Mushroom Record’s 10th anniversary bash, on the 1982 Australia Day long weekend. Mushroom flew me over from Adelaide for the concert and quite frankly, I’d forgotten how good it was. This was my account in the February 1982 edition of Roadrunner.

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Well folks, it was a pretty wild weekend.

The Big M/3XY/Mushroom Evolution Two Day Concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl was an event of truly Awesome Proportions. Lots of bands, lots of music, lots of people, lots of beer, lots of fun (sometimes). As a birthday party for Mushroom Records it certainly worked. The element of celebration appropriate for the gathering was everywhere in abundance.

A jumble of images tumbles from the memory. Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri, arms round each other’s shoulders, singing Billy Baxter and looking for all the world like father and son, or The Punk and The Godfather. Wilbur Wilde hoisting Frankie J. Holden onto his shoulders for a moving duet at the end of the Fives’ set. Bongo Starkie and Red Symons playing the same guitar at the same time at the end of concert jam. Sean Kelly and James Freud dashing from ride to ride at Luna Park. And most vivid of all, Angry Anderson (looking impossibly small next to Wilbur Wilde) belting out a version of Johnny B. Goode in front of 47 lead guitarists, ten drummers, five bass players and a brass section of thousands. Five times Wilbur tried to cue the end of the song but the momentum was too great. King Canute would have appreciated his problem. Magical and marvellous.

Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri, arms round each other’s shoulders, singing Billy Baxter and looking for all the world like father and son, or The Punk and The Godfather.

It was to be expected perhaps, that most of the highlights of the concert would be nostalgia laden. Although the Skyhooks reunion didn’t occur, Chain conjured up visions of the blues-drenched early seventies, particularly with a spirited and convincing rendition of the classic Black and Blue.

Despite the rain, it was still great to hear Mike Rudd’s I’ll Be Gone again (even though, if one wants to get picky, it originally came out on EMI’s Harvest label, before Mushroom was conceived.)

With a few exceptions (Swingers, Models, MEO 245, Sunnyboys) the emphasis over the two days was on the roots of Melbourne music, roots that, because of its overwhelming dominance of the Melbourne music scene in the past ten years, are also the roots of Mushroom Records.

The driving blues-rock characteristic of the early part of the seventies (when Melbourne was without doubt the rock capital of the country) which was swept aside in most other parts of the country by the new wave and new wave derived music of the late seventies, continues to flourish in Melbourne. And one of the reasons has to be that a goodly number of the leading lights of that bygone era are still plying their craft today.

One of the oft-remarked upon characteristics of the Melbourne scene is the frequency with which musicians will jam together. The prerequisites for this, a common musical base, a pool of experienced musicians and a nebulous sense of community, are much stronger in Melbourne than anywhere else. The strong current of traditional rock and familiar faces that ran not only through the Mushroom Evolution concerts, but runs through the whole of Melbourne music (Men At Work being a classic case in point) is a pointed indication of how strong those roots are.

One of the oft-remarked upon characteristics of the Melbourne scene is the frequency with which musicians will jam together. The prerequisites for this, a common musical base, a pool of experienced musicians and a nebulous sense of community, are much stronger in Melbourne than anywhere else.

Of course if all that Mushroom Records and its guiding light, Michael Gudinski, did was dwell on the past it would have gone out of business long ago. Since Skyhooks gave the company the solid financial security it needed, Mushroom has been on top of most of the musical trends that have come along. With Sports and Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons it virtually had the Australian R’n’B pub rock movement under control, with Split Enz, even though it took a long time, the cream of New Zealand (since added to by others, notably the Swingers), with the Boys Next Door (one album) and the Models, the seminal Melbourne post punk outfits and now with Hunters and Collectors, the kingpin of Australian neo-funk.

No other record company in Australia could have put on an event of the scale of the Mushroom Evolution concerts. No other company has that many bands for a start. But also no other company has the back-up of the largest booking agency in the country. From a staging point of view the whole two days was a superb achievement – no long delays between bands and good sound for almost everyone. And if you missed it, there will be a Channel 10 TV Special and live albums in a few months.

No other record company in Australia could have put on an event of the scale of the Mushroom Evolution concerts.

O.K. The bands and their music, Well, I didn’t see them all (nearly eighteen hours of live rock in two days was more than my ears and brain could handle I’m afraid) so if you want to know what Dave and the Derros, Mick Pealing and the Ideals, Russell Morris and the Rubes, Wendy and the Rocketts, the Rock Doctors, Madder Lake and the Sports were like I can’t tell you (although everyone I spoke to said The Sports were excellent).

A crowd of between twenty and thirty thousand was in attendance when I arrived on the Sunday, midway through MEO 245. It was a bit early in the day for serious stuff, and the sound wasn’t all it could have been so the MEO’s were a bit of a blur and the crowd response was pretty ho-hum. Mike Rudd and the Heaters went over much better, despite the Melbourne skies opening three quarters of the way through his set (it was overcast for most of the day.) I’ll Be Gone was a predictable favourite, although some of the younger members of the audience looked a bit puzzled {and let me tell you the crowd was young)

The Swingers, with new singer/keyboard/percussionist Andrew McLennan, late of NZ Pop, only clicked with the crowd on their biggie, Counting The Beat. Although McLennan adds some much-needed visual impact to the Swingers, his voice is very similar to Phil Judd’s and if you close your eyes the difference between the old and the new band is almost non-existent. Most of the Swingers set consisted of a maelstrom of furious noise through which occasionally snatches of melody would surface—an interesting approach in theory which doesn’t quite work in practice. When the melody was emphasised, as in Punch and Judy, Demon Man and Don’t Ever Let Go, the songs worked. When it wasn’t, the Swingers sounded a mess.

The Kevin Borich Express was next on. What I expected to turn into headbanger heaven turned out to be a minor surprise. When Borich married melody to his tough blues base, particularly on So Excited, the results were extremely palatable. Of course there were the obligatory guitar wanks, but not nearly as many or of such duration as I’d dreaded. The pounding beat certainly got feet tapping and heads nodding. It was way too loud, but otherwise not unpleasant at all. It all looked a bit too much for the young Big M girls, who handed out Big M sun visors during the set, but a chap in the row in front played along with a harmonica after demolishing a cigar sized spliff and he seemed very content.

Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons

Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons

Then, the first real triumph of the afternoon—Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons. Joe Camilleri looked very snazzy in a salmon pink shirt, white braces and a grey suit and started off with some very rude reggae in the shape of ‘Lie down girl (let me push it up, push it up)’, an easy, swinging sound. Sherry was lilting and very pleasant and Tighten Up was definitely hot. Joe was prancing around the stage like a spring lamb and the Falcons were looking and sounding like the first real band of the afternoon. After a version of Sweet that Michael Jackson would have been proud of, the first special guest appeared. Looking like an emaciated Jesus, Paul Kelly did two songs, a new slow, very Dylan sounding one and then a rousing version of Billy Baxter that put smiles on a great number of faces, not excluding the band itself.

The Falcons finished with a real bang, playing spirited renditions of the songs that got them ‘second hand Monaros’—Hit and Run and Shape I’m ln and left the stage to tumultuous applause.

Looking like an emaciated Jesus, Paul Kelly did two songs, a new slow, very Dylan sounding one and then a rousing version of Billy Baxter that put smiles on a great number of faces, not excluding the band itself.

The Sunnyboys played at the Sweetwaters Festival in New Zealand the previous night and after a nine hour plane flight it was understandable that they started off a little shakily. But once they warmed up they just kept getting better and better, finishing with storming versions of Alone With You and The Seeker and then returning for Happy Man and a very appropriate version of the Beatles’ Birthday.

By this time it was starting to get dark and the wind chill factor was thinning out the crowd, but those that were left gave a hearty boo to Molly Meldrum as he came on to announce the Models. On they bounced for perhaps their last performance with their present line-up {it seems James Freud is to replace Mark Ferrie on bass in the near future) looking very psychedelic in matching tie-dye T-shirts. They sounded great too, but the cold and the hardness of the seats won out and I left half way through the set, to the sound of Mark Ferrie’s Unhappy.

The word had gone around the media tent in the late afternoon that the last performance of Steve Cummings’ Ring Of Truth was going to have a few special guests at Macy’s that night, so most of the media contingent (gluttons for punishment all) headed down Toorak Road for a look. It was a wise move. The band that hit the stage included Martin Armiger and Rob Glover of the Sports, the irrepressible Wilbur Wilde, a slightly (?) drunk Joe Camilleri, and on second guitar, Peter Laffey. And they were quite wonderfully entertaining. The highpoint was probably Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. The fact that Ring of Truth did a few Sports songs (Perhaps being particularly memorable) and did them full justice, tempered my disappointment at missing them on the Monday. I can only blame Martin Armiger, who after the gig gave me an erroneous starting time.

(Chain) heaved straight into the Ol’ Oz Blues and with Taylor’s harp a’wailing and Manning running off some fluid and fiery guitar it was everything that it should have been.

But never mind. Monday was warm and sunny, and if anything the crowd was even larger than the previous day. The band after Sports was Chain, and Michael Gudinski, in an obvious state of excitement, came on himself to introduce them as ‘the band who gave me my first number one record.’ It was the four piece line-up, Phil Manning looking like a respectable schoolteacher, Matt Taylor, looking fit and fleshy, ‘Big Goose’ (Barry Sullivan) on bass, and Little Goose on drums. They heaved straight into the Ol’ Oz Blues and with Taylor’s harp a’wailing and Manning running off some fluid and fiery guitar it was everything that it should have been. The crowd, which today began more and more to resemble the ghost of Sunburys past, lapped it up and brought Chain back for an encore.

The Fives

The Fives

Then another surprise. The Fives, including Frankie J. Holden, Jimmy Manzie, Wilbur Wilde, ‘Rock Pile’, and Gunther Gorman, came on with a show that was exciting, polished, professional, Iunatic and for sheer good time fun was one of the highlights of the whole affair. They dressed to kill, and that’s exactly what they did. Old chestnuts like On The Prowl, Schoolgirl, Roll Over Beethoven and a truly moving Looking for an Echo were executed with wit, style, flash and panache. They even got Dave Warner on for a version of Suburban Boy, prefaced by a bit of football byplay (the singing of the Carlton song and then the Collingwood song.) The musical stand out was the vocal harmonies, which were nothing short of sublime, but the music too was tighter than a pair of rocker’s drainies. An unqualified triumph, and what’s more l think the band had as much fun as the audience did.

Renee Geyer

Renee Geyer

Renee Geyer and Friends were next up and Australia’s first lady of soul was in superb voice and had a band that matched. Looking quite stunning in a blue and white flamenco styled dress, Renee gave it everything she had, and despite the crowd’s attention being diverted by a couple of young ladies who took their tops off and displayed themselves on the shoulders of willing friends, got a rousing reception.

And so it was down now to the ‘Mushroom Jam’. A battery of lead guitarists (Borich, Manning, Bongo Starkie and Mal Eastick), two drummers, two keyboards, bass (Big Goose again) Wilbur Wilde, back-up singers etc. etc. trooped on and Mick Pealing and Renee did Mighty Rock, which was sorta O.K. Then Broderick Smith in sensible parka did a stirring version of Stand By Me and as a finale, Angry Anderson, with even more musicians arriving by the minute, wrapped the whole thing up with a blistering and aggressive version of Johnny B. Goode—duetting with Matt Taylor. Three million guitar and piano solos later, after Co-ordinator Mr. Wilbur Wilde had almost given up trying to bring things to a stop, it was all over.

But not quite. Mushroom had hired Luna Park in St. Kilda for the night and about a thousand invited guests headed down to drink, take the rides, listen to Sunnyboys and then a Borich/Anderson-fronted jamming band, and generally party the night away. Split Enz were there in the crowd, Tim Finn limping after a rock climbing incident (‘l was showing off,’ he said), Jimmy Niven took over the horse rides, bets were laid and challenges made, and despite the constant activity of the weekend there was a general moan of disappointment when the whole thing was wound up around 2 a.m.

Then it was back to the Travelodge and more carousing till dawn. I distinctly remember myself and Stuart Coupe being interviewed by Stuart Matchett for 2JJJ-FM sometime as the sun was coming up but God knows what he asked or what we replied.

But it doesn’t matter. The whole weekend was a triumph for Mushroom, for Melbourne and for music. And if you missed out this time, make sure you get there for 1992!

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