Pub Rock. The Australian music scene thrives on it. Pick up a copy of any street press mag, especially in our capital cities where you’ll find gigs happening every single night of the week, all year round.
Reading through the history of it, I keep coming across the fantastic Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Blackfeather, and Buffalo as being the pioneers of pub rock here in the early 70’s. What I’d like to do is look at bands that were passed the torch and kept it burning through the 80’s that cemented the Australian pub rock sound.
This is where I need your help, dear reader. This is by no means a definitive list, due to the vast number of pub rock bands Australia has produced, but more a look at those who changed things for the better or made the time memorable.
Yes, they were going hard in the 70’s, but in the 80’s they were pulling massive crowds in pubs across the country. Their straight up and down raucous rock drew people far and wide at a time well before other options came to be. Sure, you could stay home and play your Atari 2600, maybe watch an AO movie on one of the 5 channels on TV (if you count channel 028 which became SBS). Or you could grab ya mates, head to the local pub, and have a ripper night out for not too much coin.
Another legendary band that forged a path in pubs in the 70’s, and continued to do that into 80’s before they imploded in 1984 (for a while). Back then, the vast number of live venues, especially down the east coast of Australia, meant that bands like Cold Chisel could tour extensively and play every night if they chose to. Jimmy Barnes often tells the story of the Largs Pier Hotel in South Australia being a red hot place to play, they wrote a song about the Star Hotel in Newcastle when riots broke out on the night it was shutting down. Cold Chisel ARE pub rock personified and are responsible for Australian pub rock being so great. Check out this gig from the Mona Vale Hotel in 1980.
By 1980, the Oils had a couple of albums under their belt and, like Chisel and The Angels were firmly ensconced in the pub rock circuit of Australia. All three bands could, and did play larger shows, but at this stage of their career, they still loved to play the smaller venues, getting into the suburbs and continuing the tradition of brilliant live entertainment. And what entertainment it was. Hirsty on the skins giving them buggery, and a towering Peter Garrett up front, limbs wildly out of control like one of those wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men out the front of a car dealership. The pace was intense, the shows memorable. Any old school Oils fan will happily brag about what pub they saw them in back in the day. Like the Pier Hotel in Frankston perhaps?
Ok, at this point of the story, you’re getting the idea, we could add in a load more bands that crossed over from the 70’s to the 80’s, but let’s move in to the 80’s proper.
A band that in the first couple of years, this (then considered) hard rock band cut their teeth predominantly in the Kings Cross clubs of Sydney. It certainly no secret as to why they gained popularity early on, with Chrissie Amphlett dressing as a school girl and reprimanding the band and audience members with a neon tube. Sex sells, and they did it well in pubs right across the country. A killer, tight live band, Divinyls commanded huge crowds wherever they went and are an integral part of the pub rock story in Australia in the 80’s.
I’ve always loved the Hoodoo Gurus, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen them live. The Gurus were part of a great early 80’s rock movement, and an integral part of the pub rock scene, touring extensively even before the release of their first album. Once Stoneage Romeos was released, however, things started to go stratospheric, thanks to airplay from Triple J and Countdown. This, in turn, was encouraging to other pub rock bands, aspirational and inspirational. Check out Dave Faulkner’s hair back then... crazy.
Painters and Dockers
This band literally took their name from the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union when they performed a gig early on at a pub in Port Melbourne where a lot of union members drank. Commercial success was limited to a couple of singles that enjoyed airplay, nonetheless, they are stayers, they are fundamentals, they are the Painters and Dockers and they rock.
I would almost… ALMOST go out on a limb and say that the Cosmic Psychos are the ultimate pub rock band of all time. I wasn’t sure that I would come to that conclusion, but the Psychos completely, thoroughly, and without a shred of doubt, encapsulate what pub rock is all about.
For crying out loud they have a song called "Nice Day To Go To The Pub"! Come to think of it, it’s a rare occurrence to see them play anywhere else but in a pub. Psychos are mega fun, mega blokes, mega pub rock.
This is surely opening a can of worms for those that loved getting to the pub to see bands back in the day, so, loyal fans, let us know who was responsible for keeping the pub rock dream alive here in Australia through the 80’s.
I might go to the pub.
For more great songs from the pubs get stuck into our Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock playlist on Spotify...