Fighting Bouncers in 1975

 

We generally regarded bouncers as lowlife thugs. I realise this is unfair, and there are no doubt many bouncers that are just going through it as a waypoint in life and are good people who treat all others with respect and fairness. I have even known one like that. Mostly, however, bouncers were to be feared, avoided if at all possible, and if confrontation was inevitable, it was to be met with maximum force and the element of surprise.

Bouncers were the agents and employees of the clubowners in the venues the band played. They were the enforcers of that authority. That authority was believed to be absolute, except where Radio Birdman was concerned. The situation seems ludicrous now. The owners were always warned by us what to expect. The band would be loud. The band would play aggressive music. The band would not take requests. The band might smash and destroy things ... their own things, mind ... on stage. The followers of the band would dance wildly. All of this was made known in advance, but the clubowners seemed to take it as hype...they, of course, "had seen it all before". They had seen Chain and Dragon and Sherbet and even the great Daddy Cool come and go. They had hosted such “radical coves” as the LaDeDas and Company Caine. They had even had booked hard core road warriors like Lobby Lloyd and the Coloured Balls. Therefore, in their mind, there was nothing they had not seen and nothing they could not handle. All bands, when pressed, would obey. When the time came the band would be "reasonable". Wouldn't they? After all, gig owners held the power. They decided if the band would play, or not. If you wanted to “make it in the music biz” then you would just have to be compliant. Who would challenge their demands, which would be the usual minor requests like turning down the volume, and rules for the dance floor, and rules for the dressing room and the van and to play only light songs in the first set while people in the restaurant next door might be eating dinner and allowing birthday announcements, and playing special requests. Whatever, the demands would only be the same ones that all the other bands complied with. What could be more reasonable? After all, the clubs and bands had to work together. There had to be give and take. The boys wanted to be in show business, didn't they? So they would have to learn and play by the rules. And, of course, the band would want to be assured of playing at the venue again. Wouldn't they?

 

No, they wouldn't.

 

We knew the bouncers were "only following orders". The next level up the chain was the club itself, and its place as a cornerstone in the music establishment of the day... which was the real enemy. We did not look at these gigs as ends in themselves. We knew that we were taking what we saw as a holy fight directly to the enemy camp... this fight not so much for our own narrow art and lifestyle, but more for the liberty to present a new form to the people, a new oeuvre, even if it proved to be shocking and evocative of broader change. And we wanted to stick it right in the heart of the entrenched establishment.

 

There would never be any give and take at a Radio Birdman show. There would be no turning down of volume, no modification of the set to suit diners. The fans would not dance conservatively. There would be no compromise, since the whole purpose was to do what we felt was the best and most intense possible presentation of our music. If we gave an inch, they would take a mile... and then, we would be no better or worse than all the establishment bands that we despised. There would no longer be any point in what we were doing. Martyrdom was infinitely preferable to compromise. Already hating us for our appearance and sound, the bouncers would be only too happy to oblige.

 

This attitude of never giving an inch was confounding and incomprehensible to club owners. They didn't realise that we were not operating under the same paradigm. Their program was to profitably sell product to consumers. Ours was to present our art in an undiluted form and challenge authority... totally selfishly, for us and our friends and small number of fans, and for anyone else who might happen to be there and get into it. We were not out to promote any political agenda. There was no economic motivation either, as what we were doing would never yield a viable living, let alone a profit. Business/ customer issues never entered our equation. There was never a more fertile medium for conflict.

 

It was a hot day in the summer of 74-75. As soon as we arrived at Millers Brighton-Le-Sands, the bouncers started eyeballing us. There were the usual sneered remarks about "poofs" as we sweated through humping the gear from the van, into the building, and onto the stage. Remarks were delivered with an air of faintly amused boredom, as the magnitude of the threat on the horizon was not yet perceived. They were dressed in the fashion of the day, modified into uniforms. Black flares, modest platform boots. White body shirts with exaggerated long pointy collars. Fashionably styled mullet haircuts. They must have known that they were at the height of trendiness... so what would they have thought of us? Ripped pegged jeans... some with more skin showing than denim. Iron crosses. Hair hacked off at any length. Black eye socket grease paint emphasised skeletal physiques, compared to their body builder frames. And the singer... ass length blonde hair, no shirt (wait a minute...that violates house rules!). And one green satin elbow length glove. It was probably that glove that really did it, bringing gender ambiguity and latent homophobia into the picture. We could feel their gaze. It felt like being a diseased, starving dog that wanders into a 5 star hotel lobby by accident and the concierge stares at it for a few moments in stunned silence before taking action. Only this was no 5 star hotel and we were not going to back down for anyone, especially those cartoonish thugs in their mullets. The hatred was freely flowing both ways. Our adrenaline was up. We would play well.

 

 

The band was into its first few songs, and had been told twice to turn down the volume. We were getting warmed up and so was the crowd. There were about 10 of our friends and girlfriends who were dancing. I looked up from my guitar through a shower of sweat to see a close friend being dragged by one arm off the dance floor by one of the mullets. He was twice her size. She couldn't do much to resist, but was putting up a good fight none the less. I stopped the song, and challenged the bouncers. They responded by pulling the power, shutting down the PA. We started yelling at the top of our lungs, unamplified now, telling the people to resist. It was a rant about liberty. People at the back of the room started to shout. While all this was going on, Pip had got long extension cables strung around the side of the room, behind the bar. All the attention was on the stage. He took a risk, but wasn't spotted... and got power back on. The bouncers weren't sure where the new power was coming from, and were confused but incensed when the band blasted into another song ... Kick Out The Jams, with intro. The whole place erupted. The bouncers couldn't handle the influx of people running to the dance floor from the back of the room. The people made a stand. The song finished. It was time to go. Band friends ripped down the equipment. Ron ran for the van and backed it up to the door. Guys guarded the exit with mike stands, threatening to smash skulls. The bouncers stood back, stunned, and held a little conference. If they had time to think it through, they could have demolished us. But we were riding the crest of a wave of energy. A wave brought forth by a combining of the music and the people. It carried us and our friends to safety that day. We would never be allowed to play at a Millers pub again, but we carried the day, and we never backed down.

 

Everything changes. For all the doors that slammed in our faces that year, dozens more would open just a little while later. When news of the punk wave hit the mainstream media, the establishment could assign us a comfortable label. To classify something is to begin to control it, but we never accepted the tag. By the late 70’s scores of new bands appeared, going back to older, more basic rock and roll traditions presented with a new confrontational style. The early Eighties saw an explosion of independent rock music in Australia, which was successfully exported to Europe and to a lesser extent America. The reverberations of that cultural “big bang” still resonate with us today.