Tales from the Australian Underground
Singles 1976-1989 - Various Artists (Feel)

I have to tell you there are some things very wrong with this compilation. One is that it starts with Radio Birdman, The Saints, The Victims. I love these bands, but sometimes I think everything begins with Radio Birdman and The Saints and - in the holy ghost role - the friggin' Victims. History is not like this. Punk did not start with Radio Birdman and The Saints in Australia or anywhere else. Who came first? It's a redundant concept anyway: Alexander Graham Bell did NOT invent the telephone, you know. And when ´Birdman' and The Saints were around, everyone thought AC/DC were punks. I daresay when AC/DC started everyone thought the Coloured Balls were punks (whether they used that word or not). And face it, they were. But just last night I saw Lambchop's encore. It was great! David Kilgour played guitar, you couldn't hear him, but you could see he was participating in a ripping rendition of ´(I'm) Stranded' - and it was incredible. And everybody was into it. Apparently the night before they'd done another Saints song, too - everyone loves the Kuepper-era Saints, and for good reason. The Bailey-era has its moments too. But punk music in Australia, if it began with anyone, which it didn't, began when Pip Proud recorded ´A Bird in the Engine' in 1968, and will probably end with Pip Proud too.

And furthermore, history really does not work like this. Doesn't now, didn't then. Is this chronological tracklisting supposed to be an artificial 16 years of life for the listener - hearing Radio Birdman before he/she hears La Femme and before she/he hears Sekret Sekret? Well, piss on that. No-one was listening to Radio Birdman in the early 80s, if only because it was impossible to get the records, they were out of print and worse, out of fashion. And that was how it worked! Jam that fact in your chronology.

Yeah, alright, so some of these tracks are the best pop songs you are ever likely to hear anytime anywhere. If you haven't heard Tactics (Australia's answer to The Fall until - oh dear - they became Australia's answer to funky-era Talking Heads), or Sekret Sekret (gods), or Sardine V (Ian Rilen from Australian punkers X and before that, Rose Tattoo, going all new wave), Sunnboys (Australia's 80s version of the 60s Kinks, but without sounding retro), The Moodists (gods), Wet Taxis, Thug etc etc then you need to hear them today or failing that, tomorrow. You just need to have that wonderful, immense music under your belt to go out into the world a free spirit. YOU need it! And if you have never known and loved The Laughing Clowns, you are not even talking my language - words don't mean the same to you as they do to me. I see people who don't know the Clowns as people who do not know light, levity, languor, loutishness, and don't make me get my Maquarie dictionary out for more L words.

sekret sekret

How Tim Pittman - the compiler of this double CD - arrived at his choices I don't know, but bravo to him for getting The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast's ´Tael of a Saeghors' onto CD; bravo for the choice of The Triffids' ´Beautiful Waste' (one of the greatest of the pre-Britain Triffids tracks and that's saying something - can we have a Triffids cassette album compilation soon please?), The Lighthouse Keepers' ´Ocean Liner' (a classic ballad from their only real album and a non-hit single), and Sekret Sekret - a group with an output of unbelievably high quality eccentric flamboyant rock/pop who could have been anybody other than a reasonably obscure Sydney rock band, if they'd wanted to be. Bravo for almost all the selections (I have deliberately avoided mentioning some other great ones so as to avoid singling out ones I think are kind of lame, of which there are about 3 from 45 so that's OK).

Breathless and excitable sleevenotes and a big bunch of pics are obligatory in this kind of scenario as are peaky reviewers who feel they can't help but point out that the first Triffids single was actually not ´Farmers Don't go to Nightclubs' but ´Farmers Never Visit Nightclubs' - dummy! Imagine getting those two diverse concepts confused. Also there's not enough Melbourne bands but that's OK, that's covered elsewhere.

A couple of years ago I was on the radio to publicise a compilation kind of similar to this one (but more eclectic may I point out, it's called Can't Stop It and it's the ´elsewhere' of which I speak) which I'd helped compile. My hosts were so knowledgeable and clever, like me, and we just sat there reminiscing on air about b-sides to second singles of bands who'd lost their famous guitarists, and so on. And it was great. But at the same time I felt obliged to say - and this shocked the hosts who had no idea we were old farts - that any young people listening should not feel that it's just old farts with memories who like these kinds of records; young farts with imagination, in fact, can probably get even more out of these kinds of records. And that's why I recommend stuff like Tales from the Underground more wholeheartedly than you can imagine. It's not for me. I can play these songs to myself in my head, I don't ever need to listen to them again. But you - either because you're not from Australia, or you're young-ish, or just got your hearing back after 40 years with a simple operation - you need to hear this record. You know that song about if they could put it in a bottle and sell it... ? No, it's not on this record, that's not what I mean... I mean, this album is the bottle! Bottled genius! So what if it starts with Radio Birdman and The Saints, and so what if the sleevenotes start with ´Our story begins with Sydney's Radio Birdman and Brisbane's The Saints...' (i.e., ´our story begins with a real diehard cliché about 'creators' and 'innovation' as perpetuated by the secret society of rock hacks')? It is a truly great collection, of truly great music. And I want you to buy, steal, or somehow it right now.

© 2003David Nichols