SOUNDS THEN

The legacy of Aus­tralia’s first in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful rock band en­dures, writes Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Arts -

TWIN sis­ters Jes­sica and Lisa Origliasso, bet­ter known as the Veron­i­cas, weren’t even two years old when the Easy­beats’ rocker Good Times made it to No 2 on the Aus­tralian charts in 1986. By that time, the song was al­ready 18 years old. Al­though it was one of the Syd­ney band’s most pop­u­lar 1960s record­ings, it was the later ver­sion, by INXS and Jimmy Barnes, that was huge here and be­came a Top 50 hit in the US.

Now the Veron­i­cas have put their noughties pop twist on the song as part of a trib­ute to the Easy­beats, one of Aus­tralia’s most revered and in­flu­en­tial mu­si­cal ex­ports.

It’s a sur­pris­ingly tough and spir­ited ren­di­tion of the song, too, one of many sur­prises on an al­bum that fea­tures the band’s clas­sics, in­clud­ing Fri­day on My Mind , Sorry and I’ll Make You Happy , all given mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tions by Aus­tralian and Kiwi artists. The twins have joined a broad ros­ter of per­form­ers, in­clud­ing Neil Finn, the Liv­ing End, Grin­spoon and Iva Davies, for the project.

Last Mon­day in Syd­ney, some of the artists came to­gether at the launch of the trib­ute CD, Easy Fever . The evening fea­tured per­for­mances by the Cruel Sea ( Come and See Her ), pop duo Dash and Will ( Some­thin’ Wrong ) and up- and­com­ing rock­ers Sky­bombers ( Sorry ), with many other fa­mous fig­ures from the rock fra­ter­nity also in the room.

What the evening con­jured up most of all was the en­dur­ing legacy of Aus­tralia’s first in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful rock band. Th­ese are songs that have stood the test of time in their orig­i­nal form and in the in­ter­pre­ta­tions by Aus­tralia’s new breed. Nor are the Easy Fever artists the first to cover Easy­beats songs. The Saints, the Divinyls and Suzi Qu­a­tro are just some of those who have gone there be­fore.

On the eve of Easy Fever ’ s release, and just shy of 40 years since the band split up, it’s a con­ve­nient time to as­sess the Easy­beats’ con­tri- bu­tion to Aus­tralia’s rock ’ n’ roll his­tory. The band’s Harry Vanda and Ste­vie Wright, both of whom were present at the launch, are jus­ti­fi­ably pleased about the new al­bum, al­though Wright can’t put his fin­ger on just why the songs have re­mained high on the radar for 40 years.

‘‘ I’m a lit­tle sur­prised that any­one would want to do th­ese songs,’’ he says. ‘‘ Forty years and they’re still play­ing them . . . and that’ll be helped by this al­bum. I’m over­come with ad­mi­ra­tion for them do­ing it, the peo­ple who have done it and who have been in­flu­enced by us. I got all my in­flu­ences from black Amer­i­can singers.’’

Wright’s mu­sic ca­reer was cut short by drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion in the ’ 70s. At the end of Easy Fever is the all- star record­ing ( Bernard Fan­ning, Tim Rogers, Phil Jamieson) from three years ago of Wright’s big­gest solo hit, 1974’ s Evie, parts 1, 2 and 3 .

Th­ese days the singer leads a much qui­eter ex­is­tence away from the spot­light in ru­ral NSW, but his en­thu­si­asm for mu­sic has been rekin­dled by the new al­bum. Through a piece of stu­dio wiz­ardry, he has teamed up with Barnes for a duet on a pre­vi­ously un­re­leased song, Moth­er­fig­ure , penned by Vanda and gui­tarist Ge­orge Young for a Wright solo al­bum in 1975.

‘‘ I couldn’t be­lieve how close we were vo­cally,’’ Wright says. ‘‘ It’s like Nat ‘ King’ Cole and Natalie,’’ he jokes.

‘‘ The first time I ever heard Jimmy Barnes sing, I was re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing at the time and I was sit­ting in the back of a cab and heard the voice. Some new band called Cold Chisel. I said, ‘ I’d bet­ter get back to work.’ I told him that story in the stu­dio too.’’ WRIGHT was only 16 when the Easy­beats first went to the top of the Aus­tralian charts. Al­though not a clas­sic singer, he had the con­fi­dence needed to be a charis­matic front­man. He also had a thirst for the sex, drugs and rock ’ n’ roll life­style that would prove to be his un­do­ing.

The Easy­beats were five Euro­pean mi­grants bound to­gether by Syd­ney’s blos­som­ing rock scene in the mid-’ 60s. Wright and drum­mer Snowy Fleet came from Eng­land, gui­tarist Young ( the older brother of AC/ DC’s An­gus and Malcolm Young) was a Scot, while gui­tarist Vanda and bass player Dick Di­a­monde hailed from The Nether­lands.

In­spired by bands such as the Bea­tles and the Rolling Stones com­ing out of Eng­land, the Easy­beats quickly gar­nered a lo­cal fol­low­ing and signed to Al­bert Pro­duc­tions, the com­pany that went on to steer AC/ DC’s ca­reer and which has also re­leased the new trib­ute CD.

In 1965- 66 the band had many Aus­tralian hits, writ­ten by Young and Wright, in­clud­ing She’s So Fine , Wed­ding Ring , I’ll Make You Happy and Sorry . Buoyed by that suc­cess, they set off for Eng­land, but learned quickly that break­ing into the lu­cra­tive Bri­tish mar­ket would be no easy task. One song changed ev­ery­thing. Fri­day on My Mind was a sig­nif­i­cant land­mark in the Easy­beats’ ca­reer. First, it sig­nalled a shift in the song­writ­ing part­ner­ship within the band. The song was writ­ten by Vanda and Young, a col­lab­o­ra­tion that gave birth to a suc­cess­ful writ­ing and pro­duc­ing part­ner­ship for decades.

Sec­ond, it was a world­wide smash. It topped the charts here and in The Nether­lands, reached No 6 in Bri­tain and No 16 in the US. Its highly orig­i­nal construction melded sim­ple R& B and pop melodies and har­monies with a kind of psy­che­delic un­der­tow. And the sub­ject mat­ter — here comes the week­end — was the very essence of rock ’ n’ roll. ‘‘ It used to be Satur­day night and we just got paid,’’ Vanda says. ‘‘ I thought we could change it to Fri­day night.’’

Few artists have been brave enough to try to put their per­sonal stamp on such an idio­syn­cratic tune, al­though David Bowie made a fair stab at it on his 1973 al­bum Pin Ups . This time around it’s Syd­ney’s Ben Lee who has taken it on and he has done a re­mark­ably good job. That’s Vanda’s view, too.

‘‘ To put a dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion on the song is a good thing,’’ he says. ‘‘ I thought Ben did the smart thing. He even put a beat into the song. The orig­i­nal Fri­day on My Mind . . . you try and dance to that and you fall over your feet. It was lucky that the song was so lis­ten­able and had that sub­ject mat­ter. If you had to rely on some­thing else like a dance beat — which at the time a lot of stuff was — it might not have worked.’’

Vanda looks back on the song’s cre­ation with a sense of won­der, a happy ac­ci­dent as much as a mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion.

‘‘ You don’t think at the time that ‘ this is rather clever’, but when you dis­sect it years later you re­alise it is rather clever. I liked to squeeze a cho­rus in A into an E mi­nor verse. That worked, and the bridge part did too, but I can as­sure you it wasn’t quite as cal­cu­lated as that.’’ YOUNG Syd­ney band Dap­pled Cities has more than a home city in com­mon with its more fa­mous pre­de­ces­sors. Singer Tim Der­ri­court is an English im­mi­grant and the band is a five- piece. Dap­pled Cities has con­trib­uted a ver­sion of For My Woman, one of the Easy­beats’ early hits, to Easy Fever.

‘‘ We are still quite a raw sound­ing band,’’ Der­ri­court says, ex­pand­ing the com­par­i­son. ‘‘ We’re not a clean sound­ing band, so there’s some sim­i­lar­ity there.

‘‘ A band like the Easy­beats is go­ing to come down to ev­ery gen­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians,’’ he goes on. ‘‘ While they may not be the ex­act same style as you, the raw­ness and the garage as­pect of them is go­ing to in­flu­ence any Aus­tralian band.

‘‘ Ev­ery song, in­clud­ing ours, was done quickly, in an im­promptu man­ner. We just went in and did it re­ally fast.’’

Nev­er­the­less, Dap­pled Cities gui­tarist and key­boardist Dave Ren­nick says they went about the task a lit­tle in awe of the ma­te­rial.

‘‘ Just the act of cov­er­ing an Easy­beats song is a ten­ta­tive thing to do for a band like us,’’ he says. ‘‘ We’re so young and still find­ing our own sound, so we’ve tip­toed a lit­tle around do­ing a track by one of the best known bands in the coun­try, and one of the most cred­i­ble.’’

Vanda, who with Young went on to pro­duce AC/ DC and to write fa­mous songs for other artists ( Love is in the Air for John Paul Young, for ex­am­ple), cer­tainly has plenty of cred­i­bil­ity left and isn’t about to rest on his lau­rels. Mel­bourne band Bri­tish In­dia is just one of his most re­cent pro­duc­tion cred­its.

‘‘ The sort of guy I am, I rarely think about the past,’’ he says. ‘‘ I’m more a to­day and to­mor­row kind of per­son.’’

He says main­tain­ing a lengthy ca­reer is all about ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘‘ You build up con­fi­dence and then all of a sud­den be­fore you know it you’re a pro­ducer.’’

He re­sisted the temp­ta­tion, how­ever, to be­come in­volved be­hind the con­trols for this lat­est salute to his early ca­reer.

‘‘ I think that would have de­feated the pur­pose,’’ he says, ‘‘ be­cause you wouldn’t get an hon­est per­for­mance. I think I would have been more of a hin­drance, to tell you the truth, be­cause peo­ple would have been think­ing, ‘ Does he think we’re mur­der­ing the tune?’ If I had to go into a stu­dio to do my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of some­one’s song and he was stand­ing there looking at me . . . I’d feel a bit un­com­fort­able, to say the least.’’

He is comfortable, how­ever, with the per­for­mances the artists on Easy Fever have given of the Easy­beats songs.

‘‘ What I like in mu­sic is hon­esty and what I can hear in the songs is peo­ple go­ing for it . . . and they’re en­joy­ing what they’re do­ing,’’ he says. ‘‘ I don’t think you can ask for any more than that.’’

And just what is it in those songs that has en­deared them to the Aus­tralian pub­lic for so long? ‘‘ Through all the things that we went through . . . I think we stuck in the hearts of many Aus­tralians be­cause we were the blokes who got up off our ar­ses and had a go in the ’ 60s and came back with a world hit. I get the im­pres­sion from a lot of peo­ple, old and young, that they par­tic­u­larly liked that about us.

‘‘ Hav­ing said that, there were a cou­ple of good dit­ties in there along the way.’’

Own ver­sion of Fri­day on My Mind: Ben Lee

Pic­ture: Alan Pryke

Forty years and they’re still play­ing them’: The Easy­beats in their hey­day, op­po­site page from left, Harry Vanda, Ste­vie Wright, Snowy Fleet, Dick Di­a­monde and Ge­orge Young; Syd­ney band Dap­pled Cities, above from left, Tim Der­ri­court, Al­lan Kumpu­li­nen, Dave Ren­nick, Ned Cooke and Alex Moore

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