You have to start somewhere
On the evening of Easter Monday 1971 at the Sandgate taxi rank, a ‘ciggie behind the shed’ acquaintance from high school days named Tony Mockeridge approached me and told me he and a friend of his, Danny Lee, were looking for ‘guitarists’ for their new & first band. I was 17 and in my first year of work.
I was passionate about guitars, especially the overdriven sounds produced by the later Beatles, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the Doors. To hell with Dylan and his lyrics – guitars spoke to me. In their late sixties my paternal grand parents were mad Beatle fans and pretty good ‘ear’ musicians so the passion was genetic.
Our first little group was great fun and terribly exciting – remember rock-n-roll was everything then – the main social diversion and still upsetting to parents & teachers. These days it is but one of many avenues of thrills & pre-occupations around.
Tony was too good for us though and he was invited to join the classier Captan Jack with an old class mate of mine, David Cooke (Cookie), on drums. I still hung out with Danny Lee – I loved him to bits as he was very witty & wild and a hell of a drummer. He died too young.
Captain Jack and Roundabout
Soon I too was in Captan Jack and we were a bit of a local splash – none the least for our black uniforms featuring stars & stripes – including shoes of the same design. We had plenty of work and were a mainstay at the Land’s Office Hotel in the City where it was expected you had the ability to back floor show artists – something we could all do after while – some better than others. We had a kind of Rolling Stones image but also had to be able to bullshit our way through a seven page piano chart behind some glitzy Sydney floorshow act.
Eventually Captan Jack became finalists in the Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds – even the old man thought this was cool. As with all finalists in band competitions we quickly fell apart and some of the boys looked at becoming professional musicians – this was done through Ivan Dayman’s Dance Promotions circuit that put show bands in all the major pubs in Australia. Cookie & Tony were first to go and I followed in mid 1975. I left the public service and flew to join their band Roundabout in Darwin although Tony had left by then. I would not have much to do with Tony again until State Secret.
After Roundabout folded, Trans Tasman followed on Ivan’s circuit – Neil Hall was on drums and we are still mates today. I finally had the shits with show bands (not my bag at all) and went back to Brisbane where I got a day job and returned to Mum’s with tail between legs. I kept my hand in music by joining various ‘workshop’ bands trying to emulate our jazz-fusion heroes as disco strangled live music.
In 1979 I was made an offer to go to Bowen NQ to join a professional band formed by drummer Bruce Murray (drummers and I seem to attract). This was a great period and despite many, many line up changes we had a ball and made some good money just playing one night a week and taking the door (no, not the real door – the door takings). I lived in a tropical paradise and worked one night a week for more money than I could get in a full-time day job. Bruce M is still a good mate.
I left this in late 1980 to have a go at ‘making it’. I joined a couple of original bands that made almost no money, relying on the charity of my ever loving & barely patient Mother. Streetwalker was the outfit that dominated this period. It was at this time that I met John Tebbitt (the ‘cub galloptic’ – never you mind) who was a stand in sound guy who was quite a bit younger but could write songs and sing better than anyone in the band. I would wait many years to hear that great voice again.
Streetwalker supported some very big acts (INXS & Men at Work) and you kind of worked out what it really took to ‘make it’ – way more than I had to offer – so after going bust in Perth I headed back to paradise NQ with my best acquisition of this period – Karen my wife.
Bowen from 1982 to 1987 was a really good period for us. The band Tyte-n-Live (yes I know – what a suck of a name) became very popular in the North and we had our own circuits on the islands and the mining towns – thanks to Bruce Murray’s entrepreneurial skills. Keith Megson (State Secret) sat in for us while Bruce’s father was ill and we became good mates – bloody drummers.
But alas – all things must pass. In 1987 Karen & I returned to Brisbane and got jobs – I signed up for night school and later university. The music didn’t stop though and I had some really good times in bands like Cartoon & The Winters. It was good to be independently wealthy (a day job) and not give a shit about whether you would be eating or not that week. The B&S circuit (bachelor & spinsters balls) was a lucrative thing – you could come home with hundreds of $$$ from a B&S weekend and return to the safety of the day gig on Monday. During this time I renewed my friendship with Timmy Vowles (not a drummer) who was a clever entertainer and band leader. He sadly passed away in 1996 and this gutted me as far as wanting to play in bands any more. The magic had gone.
A surprise however had occurred in 1991 when The Grasshoppers asked me to join just as they were to commence the heats in the 1991 QLD Rock Awards. Andrew Heggan (later rock-a-billy legend Red Rivers) was the singer/songwriter. These boys still had aspirations. Andrew was a monster musician – the best I have ever worked with. We got to the finals and I embarrassingly won Most Outstanding Guitar complete with trophy and $2000 dollar instrument. I was 38 years old and despite the personal victory knew what it took to ‘make it’ more than ever and wanted none of it – far greater souls than I had fucked it up and a tiny stub of emerging wisdom had let me know where I stood.
Andrew and his wife Carol (who already had a number 9 dance hit in the USA) took off to Sydney where he became Red Rivers and the darling of Cold Chisel’s Don Walker and other Sydney luminaries. Good on you Andrew – I drag out your Wishbone album when ever I need proof that it was not meant to be for me.
So at 40 I deliberately chucked it all in and didn’t want to play again – not even socially – to me it was now all or nothing. This pissed off my mates who had more moderate and sparing views on most issues but it was how I felt. I spent the spare energy in my latest day job – designing phonetic identity matching algorithms for the high volume data matching needs of a large federal authority and won an Australia Day Medallion for my efforts – so there. I am still doing this and despite the abysmal amount of politics involved I enjoy the work and the income.
My hands are really quite dead now – I know bugger all chops but I can bullshit around on slide in closed tuning. In 2003 Robbie Stewart rang and asked if I wanted to record with some old friends including Tony, Keith & John. My immediate internal response was the usual NO but I agreed to be part of it. The result is the State Secret recording – Life gets Better. I was overjoyed to hear Tony & John sing again and to witness their original creations.
To my ears the roots and influences are very evident. I hear more than just hints of Australian bands of the seventies and eighties and some good back beat feels that take me back to the pubs and dance halls of my past. Added to this are a couple of surprises such as John’s ballad ‘Love is such a Thrill’ and Tony’s blues limousine ‘A Minor Blue in William Street”.
I am honoured to have been part of this and once again it has bolstered my humility and appreciation of the talents of some of my old mates. They have made me realize that music is enduring and that even with a fly shit of ability you should ‘strut your stuff’ as you never know who might enjoy it.
Check out Bruces' personal home page at http://members.ozemail.com.au/~bjhardy/