This was my end of year round up of music in Adelaide, published as part of Roadrunner’s 1981 All State Rock Round Up.
I moved to Sydney in 1982, so in a way it was my farewell to the local music scene that I had been a part of for the previous five years. Fun times.
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The year of 1981 will not go down in the pages of history as one of Adelaide rock’n’roll’s better ones. But fuck history and let’s go to the movies—the 5MMM Rock Off Semi-Finals at the Bridgeway Hotel was a nine hour visual and aural smorgasbord of marvellous musical moments that, despite scotch and cokes at the Toucan Club at four the same morning and a mere three hours shuteye, is one of my most memorable memories of the year.
Nineteen Adelaide non-professional bands had been weeded out of the starting field of 95 demo tapes and each played and performed three songs to the panel of four judges ( Terry Bradford—5MMM’s music co-ordinator; Adelaide’s number one music promoter, Elaine Counihan; top D.J./mixer-tape peddler Suzy Ramone; and myself) and a motley collection of organizers, musicians and friends.
The object of the exercise, which despite being of military magnitude ran incredibly smoothly, was to select six finalists to play in a final, open to the public, the winner of which would receive twenty hours of free recording time.
A tempting carrot to be sure and all the bands seemed to be sufficiently subdued to indicate they took the situation, a contrived one, with a fair degree of seriousness.
Adelaide rock’n’roll exists on the patronage of probably less than a thousand people and the scraps thrown out by promoters of visiting overseas and interstate bands. To break down the economic barriers caused by such a situation a band has to do two things, both connected. One is get a record/tape out, and the other is to generate enough interest interstate to be able to tour there. The three Adelaide bands that have done that this year (Redgum, No Fixed Address and the Bodgies) are not mainstream rock bands and give no real hint of the depth and character of the Adelaide scene.
For on the evidence of Sunday 6th December, music in Adelaide is in a very healthy state indeed.
Firstly, the bands that missed out on a finals place. The Bliss Bombs were a tight, competent, electro-pop band who didn’t put a foot wrong, but didn’t quite manage to be startling. The Acrylic Chewies, a three piece with Vic Yates and Mark Kohler from Young Modern, played pulverising pop that was energetic but lacked a little finesse. Balancing Act had one good song while Egypt, a straight forward heavy metal band, had a good singer. Lounge Lizards play entertaining blues rock, but weren’t anything extraordinary; Joyous Invasion were synthesizer mournful without passion. T. Waves were very young (it showed) and the Jumpers played badly, although their new line-up has possibilities. Perfect Game left no impression while Statue was an updated glitter band. The Spitfires played rockabilly that was tight and entertaining, but lacking in spark. And the Paramours were, on their showing a band that could turn quite a few heads next year if they hang together. Good melodic guitar rock.
The finalists? Well, Chequers had an impressive variety in their music, which drove one minute, hung back tantalisingly the next. They played with spirit and their songs were well arranged and economical. Die Dancing Bears seemed to have muted their extreme Birthday Party influences and delivered a set that had passion and depth. The Pits were the surprise package of the afternoon. A three piece from Mt. Gambier they impressed with three excellent songs and a guitarist possessed of an enviable sense of rhythm. The Spell didn’t spare any horses. Singer Alf Omega put on a performance and the rest of the band played tight, fast and hard behind him. When their three songs were over, Alf said, ‘See you at the final’ and dropped the mike. Everyone knew he was right.
Speedboat was absolutely stunning. Very left of centre, with a three piece brass section, Arnold Strahls’ unique songs and voice, diverse rhythms and captivating stage presence, they covered more bases in three songs than most bands do in a lifetime, and what’s more pulled them all off. Watch out, there’s genius about.
The Screaming Believers’ blend of fast rock pop and wailing sax was enough to see them through while Snakes and Adders, with their Latin-based, nearly jazz, dance music, were irresistible fun.
The problem with Adelaide rock’n’roll is not with the people playing it. It lies more in the economics of a field that relies on youth support. With South Australia possessed of the country’s worst youth unemployment, people just can’t afford to support local live music to the extent they may like to.
It was incredibly refreshing to see upwards of six hundred people turn up to the Bridgeway Hotel a week later to watch the Rock Off Final. It was Adelaide rock coming up from the underground, and although The Spell took the first prize of 20 hours recording time with a blistering set, the real winners were the audience who saw seven of the best bands in the state for an outlay of $5 or less.
Whether the good feeling generated by the Rock Off will continue next year is something I wouldn’t care to predict. Adelaide needs more venues and bigger crowds, because bands, if they are to reach ‘contender’ status, need more work in Adelaide and interstate. Without improved mechanics it’s more than likely Adelaide will fall asleep again in 1982.