Previously we saw the emergence of punk music proper, in the music of The Ramones in New York City. Most rock historians claim that the emergence of The Ramones was the pivotal moment in punk music, when unskilled and unpracticed musicians were able to express themselves through music. Though New York was a hotbed of punk sensibilities, this was not the only place where punk music was emerging. All over the world, in seeming synchronicity, bands were appearing that not only had the punk sound, but the attitudes of punk too.
In London England, the first stirrings of punk were emerging. Due to a very low employment rate, post World War II, many lower-class British found their voices through music. Most notably, of course, The Sex Pistols blasted onto the scene in 1976, with their raucous anti-state, anti-consumerist rage, shocking the English public on their way. This gave rise to the most notable part of the punk movement, and the most discussed and populised of the stories in punk history.
But earlier than the punk explosion from New York and London, an underground sound was developing elsewhere, in of all places, the sleepy city of Brisbane in Australia.
“Pub rock” was a very typically Australian phenomenon. Previous to the 1960s, music was played in public halls and churches, where bands would play to all-ages groups under adult supervision. All this changed however when liquor laws were softened, allowing pubs to stay open after 6pm, and the pub became music’s new home. This phenomenon, though under threat from current noise laws and complaints from locals, continues to this day.
In the 70s, the state of Queensland was controlled by the government of Joh Bjelke-Peterson, a government that touted ideals of authoritarianism and staunch conservatism. This gave rise to an underground music scene, one of the first of its kind in the world. Emerging from the pub rock scene, in 1974 a group of school friends including Ed Keuper (guitar), Ivor Hay (drums) and Chris Bailey (vocals) came together to form The Saints, a band that created musical history in Australia. Influenced by traditional rock musicians such as Elvis Presley and Little Richard, as well as protopunk bands like The Stooges and MC5, they developed their own unique sound, employing loud and fast guitar and drum rhythms, angry and vicious vocals, typically punk in both appearance and attitude. According to people who were there at the time, their music was even faster live than on recordings, and this lent to their punk credibilty.
In 1976, The Saints released their first single, “I’m Stranded”, becoming the first true punk band to record and release punk music outside of the USA, even before the UK. Some may say that The Saints even preceded The Ramones with their style, and that the title of “first punk band” belongs to them, though this is difficult to ascertain since it seems their sounds developed independently and in tandem. Their first single “Stranded” was released in 1977, a song about estrangement from a love interest, and seemingly harkening to the very Australian ideal of “the tyranny of distance”, the antipodean state of being far from everything else, in this case the USA and Europe.
The Saints are only ever included in the history of punk music retrospectively, as the scene and movement hadn’t even begun in the two punk hotspots of the USA and the UK. In many ways, while the music of Australia in the 70s mirrored that of the rest of the western world, The Saints jumped ahead of the curve, creating a new and exciting sound that continues to the current day. Releasing 13 albums from 1976 to 2006, The Saints, and frontman Chris Bailey, changed the music scene in Australia forever. Though their energy and furiosity waned as the band progressed, there is no doubt that their performances and recordings in the early years have been influential on Australian and world music. But The Saints weren’t the only punk band to emerge from the pub rock scene of the 1970s.
In the same year that saw The Saints form, elsewhere in Australia, another band was forming with much the same sensibilities, drive and impact. In 1974, this time in Sydney, Deniz Tek and Rob Younger formed a =band that is seen as rock royalty in Australia: Radio Birdman.
Radio Birdman adopted their name from a misheard Stooges lyric “radio burnin”, and the influence of protopunk bands such as The Stooges is apparent in both style and attitude. It wasn’t until 1977 that Radio Birdman released their first single, entitled “New Race”, an intentionally anthemic song, featuring the with the crowd-grabbing statement “YEAH HUP”, which repeatedly at the closing of the song conjures images of marching military. This military link was also apparent in the armbands worn by the band, which resembled those of the German SS during the Second World War. The emergence of Nazi and German paraphernalia and trappings is something that emerged repeatedly in the punk movement worldwide, from The Ramones in the USA, and from The Sex Pistols and street punks of the UK.
Radio Birdman were probably most famously known for their homage to the 1970s TV hit, Hawaii Five-O, with their 1978 song “Aloha Steve and Danno”, which has become an Australian classic.
Also in 1974, this time in Melbourne, a group of school friends headed up by the legendary Nick Cave and Mick Harvey formed The Boys Next Door.
Having attended some gigs by both The Saints and Radio Birdman, their sound was influenced heavily, and The Boys Next Door (later The Birthday Party) later released their first album “Door, Door” in 1977.
Made famous in the Melbourne-based post-punk film “Dogs In Space”, starring Michael Hutchence, the song “Shivers” was The Boys Next Door’s most successful single, albiet in the late 80s, many years after it initial release. Atypical to punk, The Boys Next Door and Nick Cave continued along this path of introspective and relatively mellow music, never really featuring in the punk revolution, but evolving outward from the very same roots.
Australian punk was a very vibrant and fertile basis from which a lot of the Australian underground music has emerged. Over the ensuing 40 years since the appearance of The Saints and Radio Birdman, the underground music scene has been alive and healthy, bolstered by the pub rock traditions from the 1960s.
In an interesting parallel, a band formed by Rob Hirst, Andrew James and Jim Moginie, and later joined by singer Peter Garrett in Sydney between 1972 and 1973. Originally a pub rock band, Midnight Oil soon became synonymous with political and social commentary in their music.
While never a punk rock group per se, their sound was raw and aggressive, and could be called punk nonetheless.Interestingly, outside of Australia Midnight Oil was ranked among the likes of The Dead Kennedys as an example of punk. Below is a very early example from 1977 shows a more traditional rock influenced track, “Used and Abused”.
Known for their big guitar riffs, the spasmodic dancing and staccato singing of the towering bald lead singer Garrett, Midnight Oil eventually became chart topping successes. In 1978, Midnight Oil released their first album, the self titled “Midnight Oil”, a seven track EP which reached 50 on the top record charts in Australia, while their later albums “Place Without A Postcard”, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”, “Red Sails In The Sunset”, “Diesel and Dust” and “Blue Sky Mining” all reached positions in the top 10.
While a commercial success, Midnight Oil remained true to their punk sounding roots insomuch that they never stopped fighting against the wrongs of the world, never stopped caring about the rights of others, and leading Australia in protestations about the government and the environment. In fact, Garrett was so politically active that he campaigned for the NDP (Nuclear Disarmament Party) in 1984 in the Australian Federal Election of that year. Later Garrett joined the ranks of the Australian Labor Party, a move which proved disastrous to his public persona, amid cries that he had “sold out”.
While the Australian punk scene of the 1970s was small, each of these examples go down in history as some of the earliest examples of punk music.
In the next article, we tackle the most interesting and publicised part of the punk movement, one where the legendary stories of sex, violence, drugs, Mohawks, ripped jeans and “Anarchy”. This was the world of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. This is where we move into the real beginnings of punk proper, and for that we need to journey to the other side of the world, The United Kingdom.