Blood Red River: 1982-1984, Citadel, November 2000
In 1984 The Scientists exchanged a promising future as Australian ?pub rock? icons for relative obscurity in Britain, all on the strength of one glowing review of their Mini LP ?Blood Red River? from NME?s Barney Hoskins.
They had already conquered Sydney?s inner city rock scene and were well and truly Sydney?s premier underground hard rock act. The singles ?Swampland? and ?We Had Love? as well as ?Blood Red River? had all topped the indie charts. Their long hair, their tacky post psychedelic threads, their Jackson Pollock approach to playing rock?n?roll and the fact that live, they were an unstoppable, out of control beast on alcohol, marked them out as different to the rest…
Track Listing: (55:29)
Set It On Fire (K Salmon) (2:51)
Blood Red River (K Salmon/L Fearon) (2:35)
Revhead (K Salmon/B Sujdovic) (4:40)
Burnout (K Salmon) (2:41)
The Spin (K Salmon) (3:38)
When Fate Deals Its Mortal Blow (K Salmon) (2:36)
Swampland (K Salmon/K Williams) (4:10)
This Is My Happy Hour (K Salmon/T Thewlis) (3:35)
We Had Love (K Salmon) (4:49)
Clear Spot (Don Van Vliet) (3:01)
Nitro (K Salmon/B Rixon/T Thewlis) (3:28)
Solid Gold Hell (K Salmon) (3:32)
Murderess In A Purple Dress (K Salmon) (2:39)
Backwards Man (K Salmon) (6:20)
Demolition Derby (K Salmon/B Sujdovic/T Thewlis) (4:54)
Drums – Brett Rixon
Bass – Boris Sujdovic
Guitar – Tony Thewlis
Vocals & Guitar – Kim Salmon
Tracks 1-6: Recorded At Richmond Recorders Melbourne In 1983
Produced By Kim Salmon And Chris Logan
Tracks 7 -8: Recorded At Palm Studio Sydney In 1982
Produced By Chris Logan And Kim Salmon
Tracks 9 -10: Recorded At ABC Studio Sydney In 1983
Produced By Peter Watts And Kim Salmon
Tracks 11 -12: Recorded At Honey Farm Sydney In 1983
Produced By Peter Watts
Tracks 13 -15: Recorded At Soundworks Brussels In 1984
Produced by Paul Delnoy
Of Interest: These are the album’s liner notes written by Kim
BLOOD RED RIVER 1982-1984 (SUB)URBAN MYTHS
So much has passed since the sounds on this CD were first generated that it feels as though they were created by a different set of people. But it is in fact Boris, Tony, Brett and I who are guilty. It was indeed us who travelled some 2000 kilometres across Australia to form a band never having played together before; who decided to grow our hair long to be different from everyone else in the early eighties; who got bottled off stage by a disgruntled crowd of 1000 at the Parramatta Leagues Club after 15 minutes of supporting pub rock stalwarts, The Angels; who, prompted by a good review from Barney Hoskins in the NME, left behind a promising future as Australian ‘pub rock’ icons ourselves to languish in relative obscurity in the UK; who got booked into a whole pile of European festivals by a long haired chap called Willhelm in a Dutch agency called Mojo because he took one look at our photos and thought, “these Scientists [with their long hair] are kindred spirits”; who had fewer rehearsals than the number of songs in our repertoire over our entire history; who did a couple of European tours by rail, getting the clubs to provide backline; who would methodically all walk off in four different directions on arrival at each foreign station to have Leanne, our tour manager, round us up; who hated the idea of playing to an audience that was more inebriated than us; who believed that we were the greatest rock and roll band in the world with absolute conviction and no irony.
It was Tony Thewlis who I spied one night playing some absolutely superb guitar with some absolutely godawful band at Hernando’s Hideaway in East Perth. He thought the Scientists I was offering him a place in was the earlier brash ‘pop’ group he saw on national pop TV show ‘Countdown’. He moved to Sydney to join up but when it dawned on him it was something else entirely, he began extracting all manner of dissonant, jarring, downright rude sounds from his guitar, probably to piss everyone off as much as anything else. Tony found his entry into the maelstrom one day listening to Like Flies On Sherbet by Alex Chilton. After that…..try and get him to not be spontaneous! He would refuse to play anything vaguely approaching a rock solo. He would be twice as inebriated as the rest of the band – he didn’t drink beer so matched our beers glass for glass with cider or wine. He was quite a sight with his Johnny Thunders-style teased hair throwing his guitar at the floor, the ceiling, his amp or even audience members (this stopped when Boris’ girlfriend, Pip, ran out to retrieve it from a thieving punter) all whilst wearing a fur coat on inside out.
Drummer, Brett Rixon, brother of two years running Penthouse Pet of the Year, Cheryl, had on his wrist, a self-inflicted tattoo of a safety pin with two lines representing the bridge of skin the prong passed under. He was described by one Robin Gibson of Sounds magazine as having “the demeanour of an assembly line misfit blankly contemplating murder”. He did have a dark sense of humour. For example, there is a tape in existence of him in a ‘discussion’ with Boris on the relative personality merits of two chaps they knew, one of whom had attempted suicide by hanging. Brett’s argument against the other chap was that, “If you were to find him dangling you’d give his leg a tug”. But Brett had an understanding of the brief. It was with me and a fellow called Kim Williams back in Perth in a band called Louie Louie that we first successfully got onto the ‘primitive’ tangent – Swampland was originally a Louie Louie song and a co-write with Mr Williams.
Boris Sujdovic liked to act dumb to be left alone but was actually a smooth talker when it suited him. Importantly, his laidback disposition made it very easy for him to adapt to the idea of two note bass lines. In fact, he was the one that started all this by persuading me to reform the Scientists in Sydney with him on bass. He was the tallest and meanest looking of us but was actually the one most likely to make a friend at the bar. He was also the member most likely to have a joke at the expense of the others. Band members often acquire nicknames amongst themselves. Boris’ was ‘Ogre’. (My nickname was Wilf. Obviously I didn’t pick it. The protocol with nicknames is that you don’t get to pick them or change them if you dislike them. I acquired mine through a trick of the light giving me a ‘codgerish’ appearance in one photo. I think I said something to the effect of, “Fuck, they’ve made me look like Wilfred Bramble [of Steptoe and Son]”. It was either Brett or Boris who could not resist it and that was the end of it. From then on it was Wilf this or Wilfy that.)
I believed these guys were the perfect raw materials to work with (or just leave alone as the case may be). I thought I had it sussed. All they had to do was go on being themselves and let me point them in the right direction, that is, compose the right kind of material.
First off, we did not want to align ourselves with anyone. We wanted to be left alone to do what we wanted without the encumbrances of so-called ‘artiness’, rock and roll traditionalism, ‘pure perfect pop’ craftsmanship or anything else that might stand in the way of our intentions. These were not to bury rock ‘n’ roll but to strip it back and rebuild it to our specifications (a bit like a ‘hotted up’ car). We loved rock ‘n’ roll’s tradition but despised traditionalism, hated artiness but naively believed what we were doing was art (when it worked). We believed we were on a mission to take rock back to its most basic primal essence. Only then could we add our own flavours which would be spontaneously concocted out of Companion fuzz boxes, beer, various chemicals, anarchy and whatever else was handy at the time. At times it would be beautifully simple, at others quite tricky getting it right. Real rock ‘n’ roll was dumb and sophisticated, serious and funny. A paradox. You couldn’t hide behind a joke. You had to be prepared to go out and be a joke. The path of riotousness was the path of righteousness and only we were on it. We didn’t just believe, we knew that we would be misunderstood first, worshipped and adored later. Clinton Walker, author of Stranded – The Secret History Of Australian Rock And Roll was the perfect example. At first he didn’t get us and thought we were ‘daggy’ but then later went on to sing our praises, over and over, for magazines such as RAM and Rolling Stone. We did not want to change the world. It could sod itself. We wanted only to be left alone… and admired from a distance.
We left Perth behind. It had rejected the Scientists’ first incarnation so the reincarnated Scientists rejected Perth without giving it a second chance.
In 1981 Sydney’s inner most suburbs of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills were home to a rock scene whose mecca was Detroit, home of The Stooges and MC5, even though Surry Hills and Darlinghurst were as far away from blue collar Detroit spiritually as they were geographically. But of course no-one knew that or even cared. Radio Birdman was every Sydney ‘underground’ band’s mentor. This ‘Sydney’ legacy didn’t mean much to westerners like us. We simply didn’t buy it. Inner city Sydney was, however, a tantalisingly wicked place for a bunch of Perth suburban boys who got taken in very quickly and nurtured down an inebriated path from their home in Nickson Street, Surry Hills to the Southern Cross Hotel, to the Sydney Trade Union Club and out into the oblivion of Sydney’s pink bat-ridden night.
Early in 1982 we got a Friday night residency in neighbouring suburb Ultimo’s Vulcan Hotel. We were still working on our sound and image but Tony could always be relied upon to ‘chuck a wobbly’ and Brett and Boris were presenting a very granite-faced deadbeat hair in the eyes demeanour as we thrashed our way through a set that each week had fewer chords and more noise. Although we replaced the mandatory ‘Detroit’ buzzsaw guitar three chords with atonal guitarscapes and two note bass lines our shtick was too ‘dumb’ to be art rock. Thanks to a supposed but actually non-existent allegiance and some wild shows it wasn’t long before the Vulcan was packed with paisley-shirted and mini-skirted regulars singing along to Swampland.
Occasionally we would go down to ‘arty farty’ Melbourne which in the absence of its beloved Birthday Party lapped up a sound as loud and as ugly as ours. For instance, I remember doing a show opening for a bunch of brass playing ‘penguins’ called the Hot Half Hour at the Seaview Ballroom in 1982 before we even had a record out. Greg Perano, fresh out of Hunters and Collectors, had some clown with him who was heckling us and our hair. The jibes quickly changed to cheering once we began making a noise.
Releasing Swampland as a single ensured our reputation spread to Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. Then when a video for Blood Red River seemed to be followed by a demand for us outside the sacred sanctum of Sydney’s inner city we found ourselves playing more and more frequently in the beach suburbs to the “deadset mate” and “filth” brigade. In a complete turnaround, agencies that gave us the bums rush when we first graced them with our presence were trying to get us onto their books. Dirty Pool offered us a tour supporting The Angels which culminated in the infamous Parramatta Leagues Club bottling incident. Sydney’s 2JJ were very supportive and gave us a ‘Live at the Wireless’ slot from which we derived We Had Love, probably our finest recorded moment to that point. We Had Love even charted briefly on AM radio somewhere in Sydney!
It seemed to me at the time that suburban pub rock Australia was indeed promising itself to us. But before it could be had we were in London leaving the way open for The Celibate Rifles, Died Pretty, Painters and Dockers, and a plethora of post-punk rock bands to fill a new demand for ‘underground’ hard rock.
Some images that I have from those Sydney times are: Brad Shepherd biting beer cans in half up against the stage at the Paddington Town Hall; big holes in the low fairy light studded ceiling just above Tony’s spot at a venue called the ‘Talking Tables’, Brett’s winkle picker-clad feet entwined with a pair of stilettoed fish netted feet protruding from under the toilet door at the Strawberry Hills/Southern Cross; Boris and I rabbiting on with amphetamine-fuelled drivel into the night leaving for Sydney in our friend Peter Simpson’s Commercial van after conquering Collingwood’s ‘Tote’ Hotel one more time; James Darroch dancing his arse off and looking very Mickey Dolenz-like up the front at the Vulcan; Ron Peno mocking and admiring us with in a tarty red wig: and last but certainly not least, a floor full of gyrating punters lifting off the ground in unison, each trying to out do his or her neighbour just as the loud bit of We Had Love kicked in.
1984 – UK AND EUROPE
At the time, it seemed as if none of us did anything for the first year in the UK but stand in queues and pay exorbitant VAT- inflated prices when we got to the end of them. In retrospect, and at the risk of boasting, I can only be amazed at how far we got in that small amount of time. Firstly, we had a local release for Blood Red River on Rough Trade. Next we virtually walked into All Trade Booking Agency and got a whole stack of shows at places like Dingwalls, The Electric Ballroom, The Lyceum and The Clarendon Garage. As well, Tony and I rather cheekily wrote Kid Congo a letter telling him we were going to support the Gun Club on their UK tour. There was no talk of this with the agency – we just did it ‘off the bat’ and that seemed to clinch it taking care of exposure over the rest of England for us. The next step was for the Dutch fellow previously mentioned to walk in to All Trade and see our photo and then book us into ‘Futurama’ in Belgium and the ‘Pandora’s Box’ festival in Rotterdam. At ‘Pandora’s Box’ we found ourselves in front of a huge jampacked room which moved back a full metre the moment we launched into our set. After that we got our picture taken a lot and I ended up having to do loads of interviews for foreign mags that I would never be able to read unless they were in the three sentences of Deutsche that I know. As Boris pointed out to me, this gig set us up for Holland and Belgium over the next couple of years. It wasn’t long after these festivals that we made it to Paris and then Hamburg.
Back in the UK, our audience at this stage was comprised partly from the network of Cramps and Gun Club fans who had been alerted to our existence by the tireless efforts of Scotsman and Next Big Thing writer Lindsay Hutton and partly from a curiosity amongst punters as to what kind of act could draw the particular kind of adjective from the ink of the three British trade papers, NME, Sounds and Melody Maker, that we did. I was quite happy at that stage of my life to be referred to as the “lowest form of uncaring anti-social filth” in what amounted to a music tabloid with a circulation of hundreds of thousands so long as they meant we were great. We got quite a bit of coverage and most of it was positive in that kind of way. At Pandora’s Box a Belgian chap called Paul Delnoy asked if he could make a record with us on his label. He did not seem to have enough English to understand ‘no’ (we were tied up contractually) which is why we ended up in Brussels at the end of the year trying to make up another record from scratch that didn’t overlap with the material we were working on for our next proper album.
We were there a week in Paul’s studio and the usual scenario went like this:
Me: “What’ll we play guys? That thing I showed you last week or shall we jam on something new?”
Tony: “I don’t ‘jam.”
Brett: “I’m feeling concave. I need a burger.”
Boris: “Get the guy a burger. I’ll have one too.”
Tony: “Does it have to be a burger? They’ll put onions in mine for sure. They always put onions on when I specifically ask them not to in the English-speaking world so I haven’t got a hope here.”
One hour later, after everyone has eaten:
Brett: “I’m too stuffed to play. Let’s go to a bar.”
For about half an hour of that week the band managed to be in the mood to play something and the tape happened to be running. It was rough as buggery but in my humble opinion there was enough power and feeling committed to tape in that time to make up for the rest of the dicking around. That session became the Demolition Derby 12 inch.
Images I have in my mind from the time are: Peter Weening from the Vera in Groningen with loads of plastic bags full of Indonesian takeaway for us to eat on our first visit, our next visit and the one after that (and hopefully my next visit – it wouldn’t be the Vera otherwise); Boris, in a fit of pique, smashing up his amplifier into pieces so small they could fit into a jar backstage at the ‘Opera Night’ gig in Paris; Tony’s account of an elderly concierge lady bursting into his room with a blow torch to thaw out the pipes; endless riders of Grolsch; endless ratatouille provided by a procession of Dutch and Belgium promoters; standing behind Joe Strummer every week in the Barclays Bank queue watching him deposit thousands of pounds at a time; the rabbit warrens a band had to find its way through to get to the stage at those bigger London venues just like in Spinal Tap; and Boris, Tony and I getting into a fight with some abusive Dutch yobs who persisted in calling us kangaroos outside the Melkweg in Amsterdam. These ‘yobs’ turned out to be the club bouncers and we ended up being turfed out onto the exit bridge in the middle of the snow whilst having the fire hoses turned on us. I still have the burgundy satin shirt with it’s ripped tail from that incident.
This is how I remember some of what happened to me, Boris Sujdovic, Tony Thewlis and Brett Rixon as members of The Scientists from the beginning of 1982 to the close of 1984. What happened after 1984 will be included in the follow up release to this one entitled: The Human Jukebox 1984 – 1986