In the late 80’s, the Sydney music scene was being whipped into a frenzy by a notorious bunch of brats calling themselves The Candy Harlots. This article is focusing only on the period of time, when the band were once tagged ‘Sydney’s biggest live secret’, and in the process cut two burning singles. Forming in mid ’87, the band were led by Mark Easton (ex-Suicide Squad, Kelpies, Soggy Porridge) one of the most charismatic, flamboyant and visually exciting performers to ever grace a stage. Pounding the skins was Mark’s old Soggy Porridge band mate – Tony Cardinal. Rhythm guitarist Ron Barrett joined via The Glam Savages, and the lead guitarist was a young guitar maestro – Marc Lee De Hugar. Solid bass player Leeno Dee (ex-Roxx) completed this explosive line-up, joining in August of 1988. Although The Kardomah Cafe in Kings Cross was their regular haunt, they trekked all over the city, emerging from a haze of dry ice and pyro, decked out in leather, cowboy boots and jewellery, and unleashing their unique style of sleaze rock onto unsuspecting audiences. The girls loved ’em though most of their jealous boyfriends didn’t. The front rows of their audiences were made up of scantily clad, adoring women, who fondled their beloved blonde front man, and were in turn, handed roses and lollipops during the show. They boasted a stage show that complimented their pulsating set, and was relished by the inner city crowds, but a real eye opener for those North and West of the Harbour Bridge ! These bad boys of Australian rock broke a lot of new ground, hurling forth their sexually orientated melodic tones to an ever growing audience. With Easton’s often outrageous stage antics, some venues weren’t too keen to have the Candy’s back in a hurry, and the boys were even hauled off stage one night at the Caringbah Inn by the local constabulary. Love ’em or hate ’em – you couldn’t ignore ’em. Supports were numerous: The Cult, Angels, Cheap Trick, Divinyls, Kings Of The Sun, The Sunnyboys and D.A.D among others. Their debut single (released in April 1989 on Melbourne’s Au Go Go label) ‘Red Hot Rocket’ shot straight to the top of the local chart, and the first pressing sold out in under three hours. This limited edition run of 1000 copies were pressed on red vinyl, and included a sticker and came snugly wrapped in a pair of customised knickers (white, green or pink). A second pressing also sold out within four days later. Once all copies disappeared, a picture sleeve issue then appeared. Engineered by TMG drummer Herm Kovac and produced by Mick Cocks from Rose Tattoo, this Easton penned song is indicative of everything the band stood for. A thumping, humorous effort, that captures Easton’s unique vocal style. This guy could sing, and also possessed a frightening scream that made their live shows all the more memorable (hunt down the 1985 Soggy Porridge single ‘Call My Name / Rip This Soul Apart’ and I’m sure you’ll agree with me). Sections of the video for ‘Red Hot Rocket’ were filmed at the ‘Harlots Ball’ – a gala evening held at the Coogee Bay Hotel on 19 November 1988, although the majority was filmed at Sydney’s St James Tavern. The Candy Harlots appeared as cover stars for On The Street mag, and in early June ’89 with word quickly spreading, headed south to set Melbourne’s stages alight. They played two memorable debut shows, the first at Geelong’s Barwon Club (my memory of some local red necks watching Mark Easton with his performing can of foam is a treasured one !) and then the following night, playing to a packed house at Richmond’s Corner Hotel. With major label interest the future appeared bright, and this particular line-up seemed destined for stardom, and it’s a mystery as to why they never attained it. The continual gigging carried on, and the band released their second single ‘Danger’ in 1990 on the Timberyard label, but by now the buzz around town was beginning to fade. This song was penned by Dee, and his songwriting prowess shines through. An incredibly catchy chorus, mixed with some memorable lead guitar work, coil themselves around Easton’s distinctive vocals, and this song manages to capture some of their raw live power. It’s one of my all time favourite singles. This version is far superior to the Aiz Lynch / Virgin backed effort that was to emerge two years later. Ron Barrett’s ‘Wrap 2 Arms’ was a mainstay in their live set, and this crunching effort loses none of it’s bite on disc either (Lee De Hugar’s blitzing solo deserves mention also). Unfortunately ‘Danger’ lacked the hype and promotion of it’s predecessor and was generally ignored. Tragically on 2 October 1990, Ron Barrett passed away – apparantly choking to death after vomiting during an asthma attack. Ron was only 26 years old, and I found him to be one of the nicest people I’ve met in this industry. His love and enthusiasm for his music was felt by all who knew him, and he is still greatly missed. The Candy Harlots soldiered on, with ex-Rags n Riches guitarist Phil Bowley replacing Lee De Hugar, and ex-Flying Tiger Peter Masi replacing Ron Barrett. More gigging ensued, but on Friday 22 March, 1991 at their old stomping ground – The Kardomah Cafe, Mark Easton, after several years on the Sydney circuit – gave his final performance and left the music scene. This line-up of The Candy Harlots etched forever a permant mark, unleashing their unique brand of hot, heavy, sexual, explosive, and pulsating style of rock n roll. They deserve their place in the annals of Australian rock, and I’m sure many hold fond memories of a time when this exciting band were dubbed ‘Sydney’s biggest live secret’.
by Denis Gray