Festival Records thankfully continue to reissue/repackage and reinvigorate great Australian rock ‘n’ roll that would otherwise be lost to time. ‘When Sharpies Ruled’ is a 23 track compilation CD with exhaustive liners notes, a superb photo book and a wealth of first hand insight – not just into the music – but the whole Sharpie sub-culture as well. Vicious Sloth Collectables from Melbourne ably assisted in this compilation – with head Sloth Glen Terry providing insightful liner notes. Sharpies, or Sharps, were members of suburban youth gangs in Australia, most significantly from the 1960s and 1970s who were particularly prominent in Melbourne, but were also found in Sydney and Perth to lesser extents. The name comes from their focus on looking and dressing “sharp”. Sharpies would often congregate in large numbers, regularly attending live bands at town hall and high school dances and early discos. They were identified by their distinctive close cropped haircuts and attire of Lee or Levi jeans, cardigans, jumpers, and T-shirts.
The most well-known of all ‘Sharp’ bands— were the Coloured Balls, and they are well represented here with three songs, ‘Time Shapes,’ ‘Flash’ and ‘Love You Babe’. The Coloured Balls had the ‘sharp’ look, right down to the haircuts, and were the most identifiable of all sharp bands – and arguably the sub-cultures musical embodiment. Their hard rocking boogie sound was due to the distinctive guitar of Lobby Loyde, a player who still hasn’t got his dues for pioneering influence on Oz guitar rock. From the Brisbane days of Purple Hearts right though to Rose Tattoo and even latter day material he recorded with Fish Tree Mother – his impact cannot be overstated. And let’s not forget the hand he played as a producer on many of Australia’s punk and post punk bands including X and the Sunnyboys. Dig deep into his musical history – the Coloured Balls is a good place to start, and on this comp you get 3 top notch Balls tunes. Dig the solo on ‘Time Shapes’ and you will get a glimpse of why he is revered by so many – but not enough in my books.
Thorpie is also included here with ‘Let’s Have A Party’, a deep live cut from Sunbury ’74, as are Buster Brown with ‘Roll Over Beethoven. If you have never heard Angry pre-Rose Tattoo, this is a good starting point. As is well known, Buster Brown included future members of AC/DC and Tattoo in their ranks. The inclusion of Skyhooks, another of Melbourne’s early 70’s cutting edge outfits is noteworthy, as Greg Macainsh, as an art student, had put together a film on the Sharps called ‘Sharpies’ in 1974. Macainsh’s liner notes and photo stills from his film add greater authenticity to the CD as a whole. One of, if not the, song writer of his generation.
Finch are remembered most for having hot shot young guitar player Bob Spencer in their ranks, yet one listen to ‘Out Of Control’ or the glam punk hit ‘Hey Spunky’ reminds the listener that charismatic front man Owen Orford had a great set of pipes and were a great band who wrote great hard rock hits with melody aplenty. Yet its Orford’s stout vocal delivery that lifted the Finch material. I still think that ‘Hey Spunky’ sounds like ‘Bad Boy For Love’, at least on the verses. Hey Spunky sounds great given the digital treatment. Finch were killer, as were there reincarnation, Contraband.
Rose Tattoo’s blistering ‘Remedy’ fits with the album’s theme, and sounds superb. The song belongs to Mick Cocks, the man with the fastest right hand. The precision, the guitar tone – it never sounded better than on ‘Remedy’. A song that almost 40 odd years later would still blow most others away for sheer power and intensity.
Timeline is important. Whilst sharps weren’t purely a Melbourne based sub-culture, this is where they were most prominent. In today’s homogenised society, people forget that their once existed a Sydney Melbourne rivalry. The whole Speedwell Malvern Star thing. Melbourne had trams, they played VFL, Sydney was a rugby league town where Tooths or Reschs were the brewers of choice. You remember the scene in ‘They’re A Weird Mob’ where the Sydney cab driver tells Graham Kennedy to get back to Melbourne? Lines were drawn –and this also extended, to a lesser extent, to rock n roll. Whilst bands like Hush, TMG and Newcastle’s Rabbit never sported any crew cuts, musically, they had broad appeal that attracted the sharp crowd – in the same way that a band like Slade did, with their infectious glam boogie stomp. The great blues player Kevin Borich also gets a couple of tunes on the CD, one with the La De Das and also with the KB Express. ‘I’m Goin’ Somewhere’ in particular is a lesser known Oz hard rock/blues classic and reason enough for you to buy this CD. Great tune.
Other prominent Melbourne bands to get a guernsey on the CD are Taste with ‘Tickle Your Fancy’, the title track from their debut album – and also La Femme, with the ’79 punk classic ‘Chelsea Kids’. La Femme may have sounded like they came out of Bromley, but they in fact had Sharp bloodlines, and included ex Sharpie gang members in their ranks. ‘Chelsea Kids’ is a classic. Fact. If you thought the Sharpie influence on music/fashion/culture had died out by the late 70s, you were mistaken. Some may recall Tracy Mann’s character ‘Samantha’ in the 1980 movie ‘Hard Knocks’. I digress.
As a fan of Oz rock, what makes this an essential purchase is the inclusion of three songs by Fat Daddy, Bullet and Fatty Lumpkin. The singles by these three bands are near impossible to find, yet have been dusted off, digitalised and made available to all – and this is where Festival Records excel. No other Australian label has the dedication, devotion nor commitment to long lost Oz rock quite like the good folk at Festival – and they do it very well.
Fat Daddy released a great slice of boogie back in ’76 with their single, ‘Roll Daddy Roll’ on Brian Cadd’s Bootleg label. Its inclusion here is important as Fat Daddy were popular with the sharps. On a side note, Fat Daddy morphed into another great Melbourne hard rock band called Texas. (I interviewed Ken Murdoch of Taste/Texas a couple of years back and we talked about these bands and this time period in Melbourne rock. Listen to that interview free here). Perth’s Fatty Lumpkin released four singles in their four year existence yet never an album. ‘Movin’ from 1976 is great, original hard rock with John Meyer’s distinctive fret work prominent. Meyer later turned up in Perth HM band Saracen and then Rose Tattoo. The inclusion of ‘Movin’ on this CD is gold – a nugget that deserves to be heard.
The inclusion of the glam-edged ‘Rock My Lady’ from long forgotten mid 70’s Sydney hard rockers Bullet is further reason to pick up the album. Bullet only released one single on the Atlantics label, Chicago Records. Man this rocker has groove with a capital G and sounds revitalized given the digital treatment. Festival could also have gone with ‘Mover’ the equally rockin B side, and lost no slack. 23 tracks in total – and no filler in sight. I must also mention the artwork and packaging that accompanies this CD. Festival have really gone to town with this one. Nice slip case and two booklets laden with information, reminiscences, facts, musings and a stack more. One booklet is 28 pages, the other a whopping 60 page photo book stacked with original images provided by sharpies from the period. All in all – a no risk ten out of ten from Cowboy Col. Available where all good CD’s are sold, including here. Thoroughly recommended.