The Glory Days Of RAM Magazine

The Glory Days Of RAM Magazine

Posted 20 Jul 2016

Photo 1: AO’G with Bryan Ferry, taken on the occasion of Bryan guest-editing 6th issue of RAM, May 1975 during Roxy Music's first Australian tour. “Now that was a special issue.” – AO’G

THE GLORY DAYS OF RAM MAGAZINE!
A Q&A with ANTHONY O’GRADY

One of the most influential figures on the Australian rock scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s – and the man who wrote liner notes for the recent The Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock Vol.1 4CD set – was rock journo Anthony O’Grady. In 1975, AO’G was the founding editor of RAM (Rock Australia Magazine), a fantastic fortnightly national rock paper that, more than any other publication (Melbourne’s Juke admittedly covered Melbourne better, but that was its focus), tapped into the zeitgeist of the local and international rock scene of the day, as it was both locally and internationally.

Here's RAM Issue #1, March 8, 1975 - featuring the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger on the cover (take a look at the gallery above for a tonne of RAM covers from back in the day):

Anthony was at RAM until 1981 – he was there for the build-up and that period that then-Cold Chisel manager Rod Willis considered the Golden Age of Australian Pub Rock, from ’79 to ‘83. He was an early champion of key local bands, from Skyhooks to Radio Birdman to the Angels to Cold Chisel, and, if you flip through old issues in chronological order, you can really feel the local scene building then exploding.  

I was 13 going on 14 when I got my first issue of RAM – the double sized 100th issue that came out at the end of ’78 – and for me the magazine became a door way to an exotic and exciting world that I had no other real access to. Sure I could hear some of the music on the radio and see some of the bands on Countdown, but RAM got deeper. And it wasn’t just the band interviews giving me the nitty gritty. It was the writing, which conveyed a conviction that the subject matter – the music – was important and meant something. RAM told the young me that rock music was beyond  mere ‘entertainment’ and I became a believer.

Anthony was good enough to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy!


Okay, let’s go back to the start Anthony. What hooked you into rock’n’roll and what made you want to write about it?

First and foremost I was hooked on writing – from school to university to my first job as an advertising copywriter. Until I got that job I was very much an occasional music consumer. But part of copywriting was writing jingles and I’d go to dances and nightclubs to look for ‘the soundtrack of youth’ - and got hooked on live rock.

Any gigs/experiences/bands stand out?
It was all wonderful and dynamic to me in the early 70s. I remember Jonathan’s nightclub (or discothque, as it was called) because the advertising push hung there. A big name - Jeff St John, Wendy Saddington, Chain – would be the featured act and Sherbet was the house band. They were used for jingles because they covered so many styles – Jackson 5, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Free, Stevie Winwood (Spencer Davis Group). Yet Daryl Braithwaite’s vocals had individuality. I got trampled in the rush for them but I did find a band in the outer Western suburb of Liverpool. The singer John Young later rebadged as John Paul Young/JPY.

How did you start your writing, and what were the outlets at the time?
Study of English literature at high school honours level got me entranced with language. I joined the student newspaper Honi Soit at Sydney University at a time when student radicalism was in the fomenting stage. I went to advertising rather than journalism as many from Honi Soit had done because adverting was then a hotbed of creativity. Peter Carey was copywriting. Bruce Beresford was directing ads. I worked with art directors who’d worked with Brett Whitley.

Your first publication was Ear For Music? How did you get that off the ground, and how did it fare?
Kim Ryrie, a developer of the Fairlight synthesiser and heir to the Modern Magazines empire, approached me to edit an all encompassing, music magazine. Seemed a good idea at the time. The magazine lasted three issues.

RAM started in 1975 as a fortnightly publication. No small undertaking. Can you talk a bit about how you set it up?
Really it was set up by Philip Mason who’d negotiated syndication rights for NME, Melody Maker from England, Creem from Detroit USA and the rock photo agency London Features International (LFI).

How did you assemble writers/staff, distribution etc?
Philip organised publication and distribution. Advertising was Barry Stewart (ex Channel 9 advertising manager). Art directors were Gus Cohen and Patrick Coyle (both from advertising and publishing). And then there was me – looking, looking, looking for writers who could measure up to the New Journalism standards of Tom Wolfe and Nik Cohn and their NME disciples Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray and that reckless outlaw, Creem’s Lester Bangs. The first writer I worked on was me. The standards I set myself and others were; no diminution of intelligence, insight and vitality between locally written and syndicated features and reviews.

Did you sense any changes in the air musically at the time that made it feel like the right time?
Really I was delaying a return to advertising. But then I saw Skyhooks at Sunbury 75.

Assumedly it was successful from the get go – enough that Juke started in Melbourne shortly there after?
Audited circulation of the first three issues was 45,000 and letters to the editor poured in. There was a feeling of involvement from readers.

How did the Sydney V Melbourne rivalry/differences play out?
Ignorance was bliss. My first interview for RAM was with Skyhooks. Years later Red and Greg said it was the first time they’d been regarded as an Australian band rather than a Melbourne band. I had no idea there was this schism between Sydney and Melbourne. Apparently there was. Red said Greg wrote ‘Somewhere In Sydney’ to find favour with Emerald City crowds. Greg says that was a subsidiary motivation.

An early Skyhooks RAM cover:

...and when Skyhooks split:

What was RAM’s original mission statement? It covered more than just music. Local music was obviously important.... were there particular types of music you favoured or didn’t want to cover.
From the first issue’s Editor’s Letter: ‘We know our rock and roll generation is a lifestyle and its expression is more than music.’
And: ‘But basically, and mostly, we want to be a good time. Because music and the people who give it are the most exciting we’ll ever have.’

You had some great writers who seemed very dedicated to the cause – Annie Burton, Jen Brown, Andrew McMillan etc.
Annie was the first arrival. Andrew sent us a letter on seeing Bad Company in Brisbane, which I edited into a concert review and paid for. That hooked him! Jen Brown and Peter Olszewski were from the Melbourne counter culture. Richard Guilliatt, like Andrew, was a schoolkid bursting to express his excitement and discovery. We had interstate stringers; Stuart Coupe was initially our Adelaide correspondent.

Overseas content came from the NME – very nice to have Nick Kent and Lester Bangs’ bi-line in there. And elsewhere? At what point did the local labels start organising phone interviews with overseas artists for you?
NME writers stood out for sure. But quite a few names chose to talk to the more staid Melody Maker. We occasionally lifted from Creem. But not much after Bangs left in 1976. There weren’t many phone interviews, thankfully. Always felt they were, at best, passing conversation between passing strangers.

You developed close relationships with at least a couple of artists (seemingly opposed ones!) early on – Skyhooks and Radio Birdman.  Anyone else? Artists were obviously very responsive to the magazine, as were record companies?
I find that question difficult to answer because many friendships can be emotional illogic. Sometimes there developed a longer conversation than the interval of an interview. RAM went on the road with acts and proximity sometimes promotes compatibility. I got friendly with a few record company PR and A&R guys and gals. Not so much the executives.

I’m surprised by lack of gig ads compared to Juke...
Was there? Maybe because Juke was based in Melbourne - Australia’s largest live scene. Also, Juke was a weekly while we were fortnightly and their deadlines were more classified ad/pub rock friendly.  We were more suited for full-page national tour adverts.

Punk and the early new wave didn’t get huge coverage in the magazine, which I guess reflects its general impact on the Australian music scene at the time. But Iggy got a cover, and you did give a fair amount of coverage to Birdman and The Saints.
That’s not true. We ran numerous and sequential features on Punk in general and The Sex Pistols, Ramones, Stranglers, The Damned, The Clash et al. The majority of features came from Melody Maker, written by political activist Caroline Coon. Much of her writing is now online. Check it out.

Fair point, and I have admit that the 100th issue, which was my first, pushed me towards the Ramones and in fairly short order I ended up buying virtually every record covered by Bruce Milne’s overview of local independent singles. In regards to the local stuff though, did you not feel that any of it, aside from Birdman and the Saints, was worthy of deeper coverage? (I’m not suggesting it was, just asking.) Was it all too small and localised?   
My impression was RAM covered the gamut of emerging rock throughout my years as editor. Every act from that time on ‘The Glory Days Of Aussie Pub Rock’ was featured in the magazine. We also covered bands that never made it outside their neighbourhood. Brisbane’s Fuckin’ Leftovers for example. We covered Dave Warner as a local Perth act a year before he played Melbourne. It was never a case of ignoring local heroes but we relied on local contributors to bring them to our attention.

Anthony's liner notes for The Glory Days Of Aussie Pub Rock Vol.1 - we highly recommend you pick up this killer collection to read the rest (and enjoy the 91 pub rock classics! Find out more here)

 

There was definitely a Creem-magazine gonzo-type vibe in some of the writing in the early days, and I love that you were calling AC/DC punk before the word gained wider currency and before what we now call punk was visible. (Although I guess ‘Punk’ magazine was up & running in New York.) Where did you first come across the term?
Nik Cohn used the word ‘punk’ in WopbopalooBopLopBamBoom (published in 1970) as a synonym for ‘untamed’, ‘riotous’ and/or ‘belligerent. Lenny Kaye used ‘punk-rock’ and ‘garage-rock’ interchangeably in the liner notes of his 1972 Nuggets compile. Punk, in the 16th Century meant prostitute. Between the World Wars it came to mean a small time hoodlum. I like that the word when spoken has a sort, sharp explosive sound. Presumably Cohn and Kaye liked that too. ‘Punk rock’ in my opinion confined its use.

As we’ve discussed, 1979, according to Rod Willis, was the first year of the golden era of pub rock. How did that impact the magazine?
We were onto Dragon, Cold Chisel, The Angels and Angry Anderson in 1975, well before they ruled the beer barns and had record contracts.

Did the enormous popularity of some of these local bands – the Angels and Chisel stand out I guess – help the magazine though? Especially since, as you mentioned, you were onto them early?  These weren’t just pop bands and you weren’t just a pop paper.
‘Help the magazine through’ suggests we called in favours from acts. We didn’t, neither did we tear them down when they got hit records and huge crowds. Only a small proportion of crowds from the heyday of pub rock read RAM. We were scarcely relevant to the attractions of booze and pick-ups.

What were some of your favourite features/issues? Other highlights?
The 100th issue was significant; it was our first double issue and a chance to take a longer/wider view back, forward and sideways. Also I achieved a dream by commissioning a Martin Sharp cover.

By the early ‘80s, a lot of people were saying rock was dead. Synthesisers and dance rhythms were making a run. Any coincidence that you handed over the reins to Greg Taylor around this time? Any regrets?
David Bowie told us in 1975 that rock was dead and he was repeating what Nik Cohn said about the disappearance of the first wave of rock in the late 50s.  So I wouldn’t worry about a synth or two. I’d started slip sliding away long time before cutting the cord with RAM at the end of 1981. Regrets - I have a few. I’ll always wonder ‘what if’ the publishing company had reinvested RAM’s profits into ‘growing’ the magazine into investigative journalism and in depth profiling instead of starting up new, invariably unsuccessful publications. It was particularly frustrating that I was a minor shareholder in the publishing company and continually out voted on future directions.

This is primarily about RAM, tying in with the pub era, but a quick overview of what you did after RAM would be great. Of particular interest is the Chisel book, which reflects your closeness to artists. You also started The Music Network, which reflects you got close to record companies and other facets of the industry. Fair comment?
I drifted really. Free-lanced for The Bulletin and big circulation glossy mags. Made radio specials.  Started an in store mag for Brashs Music. Did music coordination for the film ‘Street Hero’ (won the AFI for Best Soundtrack). Started The Music Network with John Woodruff (Dirty Pool/Angels). Felt uncomfortable with the tacit swap of advertorial for advertising. Exited Sydney. Heeded the call to write again when Chisel reunited in 1998.

Looking back, which artists in your time at RAM (and before) do you feel never really got their due?
Is anyone in the entertainment and arts industries ever ‘due’ anything?

Not sure really. But any that you thought would have made it that didn’t?
Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan – supposedly an Old Russian proverb that JFK used to explain the 1961 Bay Of Pigs fiasco. Of course there were songs and acts that could have been but never were. That was the whole point of the gatekeeper system - a thousand orphans for every fathered success. And that ratio has exploded exponentially since the advent of the Internet and MP3’s.


Some more great RAM clippings...

A letter from England to Anthony O’Grady:

An early Midnight Oil newspiece (Peter Garrett in flippers!):

A RAM t-shirt ad (the model is Joe Walsh of the Eagles):

 

For more from RAM, visit the Facebook page

- DL

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