Friday, September 12, 2008

An Australian Rock Music Institution - The Latter Years

John Swan made his live debut with The Party Boys at a Jamison Street disco gig in Sydney in 1987, which happened to be a launch party for a South Australian brewery company called West End. The reason I mention that is Paul Christie hit West End up for $10,000 to finance the Party Boys recording of the single ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’. Australian rock historian and music guru Glenn A. Baker had suggested the old John Kongos hit (1971-US#70/UK#4/OZ#6) as being a great choice for Swan’s vocals. Fellow Party Boys Alan Lancaster and John Brewster handled production duties, and in June 1987 ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ debuted on the Australian charts. Just a few weeks later Australia’s most popular live act was sitting at #1 on the single’s charts, a position they held for two weeks. It’s worth noting that another Australian group Chantoozies also released a version of the song around the same time, but their version only reached #36.

As if they weren’t already a huge draw card as a live act, The Party Boys suddenly had to consider playing bigger venues, just to cater for the demand. The pressure was on from the record label CBS to record a follow up single. After much deliberation in the studio, The Party Boys chose ‘Hold Your Head Up’ as the next single. The song had been a global hit in 1972 for Argent (US#5/UK#5/OZ#32), and The Party Boys bettered Argent’s effort, well at least in Australia, with their version peaking at #21 late in ‘87. In amongst a hectic touring schedule, The Party Boys found time to lay down enough tracks for a full studio album. Their self titled effort was released in late ‘87, and marked somewhat of a departure for the band, featuring six original compositions in addition to their regular cover efforts. ‘The Party Boys’ album reached #18 nationally, also yielding the great single ‘Is This The Way To Say Goodbye’ in December ‘87, and a riotous rendition of the old Them hit ‘Gloria’ in early ‘88 (the promo video for ‘Gloria’ was shot during one of The Party Boys support gigs for AC/DC).

Paul Christie and Alan Lancaster had taken a trip to the U.K. during this period as ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ was receiving a promising amount of airplay. But sadly nothing came of it, and perhaps just as well given The Party Boys uniquely Australian identity. John Swan departed the band in late ‘87 to pursue a film project (which never eventuated), and Christie invited rock vocalist Graham Bonnet (see a couple of posts previous) to join the line-up. Bonnet’s tenure lasted only five gigs though, before John Swan was welcomed back with open arms for the band’s AC/DC support tour. At the end of a frenetic twelve months The Party Boys were exhausted in every sense of the word, and the emotional toll led the band to split during 1988.

After a well earned break Paul Christie decided to revive the party, and of course Joe Walsh couldn’t resist a great party. Joining Christie and Walsh in the new line-up were Kevin Borich and new boys Calvin Welch (bass), with brothers Hamish, Angus and Fergus Richardson on backing vocals. Walsh also contributed to The Party Boys next single, the Kevin Borich penned ‘Follow Your Heart’. The song went to #17 in Newcastle, but only managed to peak at #94 nationally during May 1989. Walsh’s second stint with The Party Boys was signed off with a stirring rendition of ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ at a show at Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

Former Animals’ front man Eric Burdon took over the vocal reigns later in ‘89, fronting The Party Boys for yet another sold out national tour, though some would content The Party Boys played as backing band for Burdon. In addition to mainstay Christie and Burdon, the modified line-up featured guitarist Malcolm Eastwick (ex-Stars), keyboardist Mal Logan (ex-Renee Geyer Band) and drummer Warren McLean (ex-Machinations, see earlier post), though no live recordings were issued.

In late 1989 Christie assembled yet another Party Boys line-up for a studio session. The guest list this time around including vocalist Ross Wilson (ex-Daddy Cool/Mondo Rock), Stuart Fraser (ex-Feather/Swanee/Noiseworks), Rick Mellick (keyboards), Dorian West (bass), Adrian Cannon (drums), with Kevin Bennett and Alex Smith (ex-Moving Pictures, see previous post) contributing backing vocals. They recorded the old Manfred Mann hit ‘Doo Wah Diddy Diddy’, but due to contractual issues the original version featuring Ross Wilson wasn’t issued as a single. Christie recruited unknown Adelaide vocalist Vince Contarino to re-record the lead vocal. The song was released in mid 1990 and peaked at #73 on the Australian charts. The single’s B-side was the freshly recorded Paul Christie composition ‘Where’s The Party?….Boys!’, featuring the return of John Swan on lead vocals. Contarino stayed on for a period to tour with The Party Boys in support of the single, but the band’s profile was starting to wane.

Christie gathered together one final studio roster for what would prove to be The Party Boys swan song. The 1992 single ‘That’s The Way God Planned It’ had originally been a U.K. hit for Billy Preston in 1969 (#11), but despite John Swan delivering a memorable vocal track, the song went unnoticed when it was released in September ‘92. Christie knew the time had come and finally declared the party over. Soon after the compilation album ‘Greatest Hits, Misses, Rarities and B-Sides’ was released.

As Paul Christie wrote in the liner notes to The Party Boys ‘Best Of’ CD, “the essence of The Party Boys had always been to rip it up on stage and make sure the audience had more fun than the band” - there’s no denying that essence shone bright throughout The Party Boys’ career. With a constantly evolving line-up of Australian and overseas talent from all manner of backgrounds, The Party Boys always managed to retain that often elusive musical chemistry that defined them as one of the classiest rock group’s in Australian popular music history.

The heart and soul of The Party Boys Paul Christie, wrote the acclaimed book ‘The Rock Music Self Management Manual‘, and went on to manage up and coming music artists.

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