The Australian Road Crew Association was inaugurated in 2012, in support of the unsung heroes of the Australian music scene, who were suffering in silence. It was a response to the horrendously high mortality rate of retired Australian roadies, who seemed more likely than not to die in poverty, and often by their own hand. At the time of it its initiation, the Association had a list of "the 97" – 97 former roadies who had worked pre-1982 and were known to have died under appalling and possibly preventable circumstances. The Association was established "to facilitate and encourage social interaction" for its members, and "to provide assistance in accessing health, education and welfare." Caring for roadies of all eras, the ARCA is now aligned with the broader-reaching music industry support organisation, Support Act, who have also initiated a dedicated fund for roadies themselves.
The ARCA is a non-profit organisation that has the support of many musicians and music industry entities, including some of the country's biggest tour promoters. A couple of years ago, it announced an initiative that would not only help them with their excellent work, but also cause wider excitement amongst wider fans of Australian music. The ARCA's Desk Tape Series promised to make commercially available desk tapes – live recordings made directly from the mixing desk, usually by a sound engineer who wanted to be able to listen back to their work (or at least have a souvenir of it), from the "archives" of its members.
The Desk Tape Series kicked off with a Redgum Amsterdam 1985 release in 2017. That was followed up by TISM Live at the Corner Hotel, 1988 and Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band Live at Ormand Hall, 2011. The fourth release, released this month, is Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons' Live at San Remo, NYE 1976.
As is evident by the classic cover photo, this is very early in the Falcons career, when they were the fastest rising and hardest working band on Melbourne's thriving pub rock scene. At this point, the band still featured original primary songwriter Wayne Burt, who had previously played with Falcons' drummer Gary Young and the group's producer Ross Wilson in a late line-up of Daddy Cool. Jo Jo Zep himself – Joe Camilleri – had also played briefly with Daddy Cool at the end, and was an old mate of Wilson's going back to the mid-'60s, when Ross fronted the Pink Finks, and Joe the King Bees. Guitarist, Jeff Burstin and bass player, John Power had both come to the band via a late line-up of Company Caine, contemporaries of Ross Wilson from Daddy Cool days who Wilson had recently produced. Indeed, while Ross Wilson wasn't a member of the band, his hands were all over Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons in the band's early days; he'd effectively formed the group (as Jo Jo Zep and His Little Helpers) to record a Christmas single - a version of Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" – for Mushroom in '75, and he produced the band's first two albums Don't Waste It and Whip It Out, for Oz Records, a label that he'd started with Glenn Wheatley.
Live at San Remo, NYE 1976 is the earliest live Falcons that we've heard, and it captures them in their good-time R&B dance band prime. Along with a few rare covers including Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry" and a John Power-sung version of Muddy Water's "Just To Be With You", there are some classic Wayne Burt tunes, including fine versions of his classic soul ballad "The King of Fools" as well as rockers like "Beating Around The Bush", "We're All In The Same Boat", and the rare "Let It Out".
The ARCA promises another four releases in the series before the year is out; having previously mentioned the possibility of recording by the likes of Paul Kelly, Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl, The Church, Mental As Anything, Midnight Oil, The Models and others, we're looking forward to their future announcements.
In the meantime, you can listen to the Falcons release on Spotify below, and if you'd like to buy it, or any of the other Desk Tape releases – or support the ARCA with a donation or membership, you can check out the Association's website, here.