In A Pub Near You 30 Years Ago: Part Two

In A Pub Near You 30 Years Ago: Part Two

joe camilleri, the black sorrows
Joe Camilleri of The Black Sorrows, 1990. Photo by David Redfern/Redferns.

Following on from In A Pub Near You 30 Years Ago: Part One; in Part Two, we look at what was happening in the pubs and on the live music circuit 30 years ago in Australia, as the '80s flowed into the '90s.

Nick Barker & the Reptiles

Nick Barker & The Reptiles played straight-ahead Oz rock with LA metal inflections, which seemed odd at the time because Nick Barker was a guy who first came to prominence on the Melbourne scene as part of a band called The Wreckery, whose Nick Cave/Birthday Party influenced sound was the antithesis of standard pub fare. Even odder, Barker played bass for former Wreckery frontman and his new band True Spirit at the same time as the Reptiles started playing out, in 1988. Regardless of all that, Nick & The Reptiles were quickly signed to Mushroom's White Label and started working their arses off. Their debut album Goin' to Pieces, came out late in '89 and produced the band's first minor hit, a faithful cover of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel's "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)". The album barely cracked the Top 40 and was followed up in 1991 with a second album that fared only marginally better. The Reptiles disbanded in 1993, and Nick formed a new outfit called Barker and maintained the slog.

The Black Sorrows

One of Australia's most enduring groups, The Black Sorrows were riding a peak as the '80s moved into '90s. Their 1988 album Hold On To Me had only just dropped out of the Top 50 after a 46-week run that peaked at #7, and thoughts were turning to their next album, which would be called Harley & Rose and come out in August 1990. Of course, Joe Camilleri had done it all before, with Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons. Still, with the Back Sorrows, he upped the ante musically, creating a sound and repertoire of material that by rights should have on the turntables of anybody anywhere who was buying Springsteen or Mellencamp records. Scandinavia got it – the band charted highly in Norway and Sweden – but the US was unfortunately beyond their reach. The Black Sorrows would win Best Group at the 1990 ARIA Awards and Harley & Rose would be their biggest album, peaking at No. 3 and remaining in the Top 50 for 51 weeks.

Boom Cash Opera

Melbourne's Boom Crash Opera, along with Noiseworks, were at the vanguard of a new breed of Australian pub rock bands in the late '80s – bands that took influences from contemporary pop/rock (British in Boom Crash Opera's case – the likes of Simple Minds and U2) rather than classic blues rock but who still built a sound that worked live. Indeed the band had its beginnings in early '80s Melbourne new wave poppers Serious Young Insects. Boom Crash Opera started with a bang in 1989 – their first single "Great Wall" was a top 5 hit, and their first album went gold. They recorded their second album These Here Are Crazy Times in late '89, having secured the services one of the world's most influential producers, Jimmy Iovine, of Springsteen, Petty and Stevie Nicks fame. The album went Double Platinum here at home and "Onion Skin" was the first of its four singles.

Weddings Parties Anything 

In many ways an antithesis of Boom Crash Opera, the Weddo's had their roots in early Australiana, British folk, and the early pub rock sounds; 1990 saw them release an EP of Sports and Jo Jo Zep covers. They also loved the English pub rock of the '70s, and covered a Nick Lowe tune on the B-side of their 1989 single "The Wind And Rain". That single was taken from the album The Big Don't Argue, which added Americana to the mix; the album was recorded in Memphis with legendary musician/producer Jim Dickinson, who is probably best known these days for his work with Big Star and the Replacements. The band's role in the Aussie pub rock continuum was bolstered with the addition of former Sunnyboys guitarist Richard Burgman for the album and ensuing tour, and the album track "Ticket in Tatts" prompted one of the great pub traditions; Weddo's fans would shower the stage with 10 cent pieces come the first line in the chorus – "But now I'm ten cents short of a dollar". Indeed, the band also begat another great pub rock tradition, the annual Christmas show.

The Hard-Ons

One of the most brilliantly offensive punk bands of all time, The Hard-Ons were breaking out of the inner city by the end of the '80s. Having had much success with their 1989 album Love Is A Battlefield Of Wounded Hearts, they ended up with a deal with Festival for their 1990 album Yummy!, which produced the fabulous single "Where Did She Come From?". Influenced early on by the Ramones and early Australian punk, the band had become harder and faster while at the same time able to come up with brilliant pop songs. In 1991,  they teamed up with American hardcore punk idol Henry Rollins to cover AC/DC's hit, "Let There Be Rock". The Hard-ons pre-empted the rise of pop-punk in the '90s and the massive success of bands like the Offspring and Green Day. Old fans should check out their brand new album So I Could Have Them Destroyed.


Another Sydney indie band on the rise in the new decade, Ratcat shared many punky pop influences with the Hard-Ons but tempered their approach; they were a pop band. 1991 would see them top the charts, but in 1990 they were selling loads of their debut album This Nightmare and latest single "Saying Goodbye". The band's ultimate success, while relatively shortlived, was significant. Australian Musician Magazine included their success in a list of Top 50 Most Significant Moments in Australian Pop/Rock History, noting that the band was the first alternative band to go mainstream. Depending on your definition of "alternative" the point was debatable, but their success did seem to mark a shift in the behaviour of the big record companies, who, rather than ignoring a lot of new music, finally realised they could simply look at what was happening independently and start cherry-picking. In that way, Ratcat certainly opened the door for the likes of Spiderbait and The Living End

The Cruel Sea

In Part One, we looked at The Beasts of Bourbon, who helped set Tex Perkins up as some kind of sex god on the alternative rock scene. 1989 also saw Perkins join a small-time instrumental combo called The Cruel Sea, who had formed in 1987 and featured former members of earlier indie luminaries including Sekret Sekret and The Widdershins. Initially inspired by the likes of surf instrumentalists The Ventures – "The Cruel Sea" was the name of a Ventures tune – the band changed tack with Perkins, although they remained brooding and twangy. They were signed more or less straight away by Red Eye, who had the Beasts and several other Tex side-projects, The band would release its debut album Down Below in December 1989,  and the rest, as they say, is history...

Listen to The Glory Days Of Aussie Pub Rock playlist on Spotify:

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