Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Girl Trouble Leads To A Temporary Heartache For Swanee - Episode I

Rising from the ashes of seminal Australian blues rock band Blackfeather, Feather took its maiden flight in late 1976. Long time Blackfeather front man Neale Johns had departed unexpectedly for the U.K., leaving the other members of the band to ponder their future.

By that time Blackfeather’s style had shifted to a more straight pop-rock focus, and the line-up had evolved to feature Ray Vanderby (keyboards), Lee Brossman (bass), Warwick Fraser (drums), and Warwick’s 14 year old brother Stuart on guitar. Vanderby left the nest shortly after Johns’ departure, so the rest of the band recruited ex-Fraternity singer John Swan and ex-Bullett guitarist Wayne Smith, taking on the new moniker Feather.

The band scored its first big break soon after with a support slot for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow on an Australian tour. Feather then settled back to hone their new harder edged guitar driven sound on the mushrooming pub rock scene. CBS had retained an interest in the band, and in May 1977 Feather released their debut single ‘Girl Trouble’. The single received a solid amount of airplay but couldn’t land a spot on the national charts, despite having one of the strongest guitar hooks I’ve heard on an Australian rock track. Reputedly Feather had laid down enough tracks in the studio for an album, tentatively titled ‘Going Through Changes’, but sadly the album never saw the light of day. I was fortunate enough to come across a CD copy of the classic ‘Girl Trouble’ via its inclusion on a 90s CD compilations called ‘Do Yourself A Favour: Best Of The Countdown Years’.

Feather continued to play throughout 1977, and for a few weeks during July John Swan’s brother Jimmy Barnes, on sabbatical from Cold Chisel, shared the lead vocal duties. In November ‘77 Feather underwent a couple of key personnel changes, when bassist Lee Brossman and guitarist Wayne Smith left the group. Bassist Mark Mitchell and ex-Finch guitarist Chris Jones were brought into the flock. In April 1978 Feather were scheduled to tour as the support act for the Ted Mulry Gang on their three month nationwide ‘Disturbing The Peace’ tour, but the band was thrown into chaos when singer John Swan also flew the coup.

Ex-Class vocalist Gary Conlan stepped into the fray for the tour and for Feather’s two track contribution to the various artists album ‘Canned Rock’, a live gig performed at Parramatta Gaol. By 1980 Feather were performing under the moniker of Kid Colt, and by year’s end the Fraser Brothers, along with Mark Mitchell, had left to join singer Karen Smith in a new project called Smith, signalling the end of Feather’s flight.

Smith issued two rock singles ‘Nightlights’ ( April 1981) and ‘Lonely Man’ (June 1981), but neither made an impact, and within a year Smith had split. Drummer Warwick Fraser went on to play with a myriad of acts including The Screaming Tribesmen, Peter Wells Band and Died Pretty. Guitarist whiz-kid Stuart Fraser had no trouble landing a gig either, playing for a time with his brother Warwick in The Change, and playing with ex-Feather vocalist John Swan when Swan had taken on the name Swanee. Stuart Fraser was later a founding member of Australian pop-rock band Noiseworks (see future post), who enjoyed a hugely successful run from the mid 80s through early 90s. Fraser also found time to be a key member of John Farnham’s band. Meanwhile ex-Feather bass player Lee Brossman had kept busy forging out a career as a much sought after session player and touring bassist. He toured with the legendary Jackson Browne on Browne’s ‘Running On Empty’ Australian tour in the late 70s. Brossman also did session work with the likes of Renee Geyer, and worked in the States for several years. He is still active in the music business on a casual basis, in recent years playing with popular Australian covers bands such as the Amigos, and I can testify that he is an above average league ten pin bowler on the side (we’re on the same league team).

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