Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Supernaut's Risque Foray Into Glam Rock

Hailing from Perth, Supernaut were one of a number of Australian bands to take on the glam rock challenge laid down by the likes of the Sweet. Gary Twinn (vocals) and the Burnham brothers, Chris (guitar) and Joey (drums), had all emigrated from England with their families in the 60s. Aside from their heritage they all found a common interest in contemporary music. The Burnham boys formed a pub band called Moby Dick (presumably after the Led Zeppelin opus) which Twinn joined in 1974. Randall Murphy (bass) rounded out the line-up which soon renamed itself Supernaut, in reference to the Black Sabbath song.

But rather than play Black Sabbath’s brand of heavy metal, Supernaut took the more commercial (at that time) glam rock direction, both musically and more notable image wise. Like so many before and since, Supernaut headed East to seek their big break settling in Melbourne in February ‘76. Having brought a glowing reputation with them, they soon came to the attention of Countdown guru and respected record producer Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum. Meldrum fast tracked Supernaut into the recording studio and the by May the group had released their debut single ‘I Like It Both Ways’. The song was a quality pop-rock number, every bit as good as anything contemporaries Hush were producing, and Supernaut were aided by their Meldrum connection immensely because it gave them and the song national television exposure via Countdown. Countdown was a pioneering forum for the evolving music video medium, and they spared no expense (by ABC standards) in producing a ‘live’ clip to accompany the song. Lyrically ‘I Like It Both Ways’ was provocative to say the least (for its day), with thinly veiled references to cross dressing and ambiguous sexuality. It must have taken all of Molly’s powers of persuasion to get that one past the ABC censors. ‘I Like It Both Ways’ climbed to #16 on the Australian charts (as high as #3 in Melbourne) and established a solid base from which Supernaut could launch an all out assault on the acknowledged ‘rock-Gods’ of the Australian music scene, Sherbet and Skyhooks.

Randall Murphy left the band whilst ‘I Like It Both Ways’ was still climbing the charts. He was replaced, for live playing purposes, by Little Russ Silver for two months before a permanent replacement Phil Foxman joined on bass in August ‘76. The band’s second single ‘Too Hot To Touch’ was released soon after and performed every bit as well as the first, reaching #14 nationally and making Supernaut almost ‘too hot to touch’. Tony Cohen took over the production duties for the band’s eponymous debut album. Released in December, ‘Supernaut’ shot into the national top 20 and peaked at #13, going on to sell over 50,000 copies (damn impressive for the Australian market). In popularity terms Supernaut were at the summit, taking out the prestigious TV Week ‘King Of Pop’ award for ‘Most Popular New Talent’. Three more singles were lifted from the album during 1977, the best performing being ‘Young And Innocent’ (#40), but by the end of that year Supernaut’s star was starting to fade.

Work on a second album became bogged down as the band looked to reinvent themselves both musically and stylistically to accommodate the broader shift from the now dated glam movement to the immerging punk/new wave scene. The first product of Supernaut’s makeover was the 1978 single ‘Unemployed’. The ensuing 12 months saw the group relocate to Sydney, sign a new recording contract, add keyboardist Noel Kennedy, and fully encompass the sound of cutting edge contemporaries like the Stranglers, the Jam and XTC. The final stage of the metamorphosis was changing their name from Supernaut to simple The Nauts, but it would prove unsuccessful. The initially highly anticipated, but now long overdue, second album was released late in 1979. Titled ‘The Nauts’ (album titles weren’t the band’s strong suit), the record was well received by critics but barely registered a blip in an already saturated music market. A fruitless attempt to crack the U.K. market led to the band breaking up just a few months later.

Chris Burnham soon joined the Chris Bailey’s Saints with whom he recorded a couple of albums, later joining his brother Joey in a short lived group called This Is This. Both Twinn and Foxman stayed back in the U.K. for a period playing with already established bands. All four members have remained actively involved in the music/entertainment business in various capacities, and reunited on stage as Supernaut for the Countdown Spectacular 2 series of concerts in 2007.

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