Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Little Heroes Greet The Charts With Bon Voyage

Throughout popular music history there have been those high profile acts that always seem to be in the headlines, whether for their music or otherwise. During the early 80s the Australian music press was dominated by the likes of INXS, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl and the like - I guess the equivalent of Hollywood’s ‘A-list’. But there were just as many artists producing quality music consistently, who perhaps didn’t attract the attention or receive the plaudits they deserved. Melbourne band The Little Heroes were one such act.

During 1978/79 there was a popular band called Secret Police who were a regular on the Melbourne pub rock circuit, particularly around the Carlton district. Secret Police comprised vocalist/guitarist Roger Hart (AKA Roger Wells), bassist John Taylor, drummer Bruce Pumpa, guitarist Andrew Callender, and saxophonist Peter Linley. They didn’t release any records under their own name, but did feature on a various artists compilation titled ‘The Melbourne Club’, released in 1981, albeit after Secret Police had been disbanded.

In 1980 Hart, Taylor and Pumpa rose from the ashes of Secret Police to join keyboardist David Crosbie (of non-Stills, Nash & Young association) to kick start a new venture called The Little Heroes. The new line-up competed in the Victorian State heat of the 1980 Battle of the Sounds, finishing a creditable second. The result was enough to advance The Little Heroes to the national final, which they duly took out, earning a cool $5000 for their trouble ($5000 to a struggling pub rock band in 1980 was big bikkies).

Flush with their success The Little Heroes entered the recording studio and self released their debut single ‘She Says’ in November 1980. It impressed enough for the Giant/CBS label to sign them up to record an album. Prior to commencing work on their eponymous debut set, The Little Heroes recruited new drummer Huk Trelour (ex-Bleeding Hearts) in place of Bruce Pumpa. ‘The Little Heroes’ album was issued in August 1981 and attracted enough business to push it to #81 on the Australian album chart, though the three singles featured - ‘For A Bleeding Heart’, ‘Last Number One’ and ‘India Was Calling Me’ - failed to break The Little Heroes on the singles chart. Soon after the band had their third drummer within a year when Alan ‘Clutch’ Robertson joined the line-up.

The Little Heroes bunkered down in the studio during the first half of 1982 to record their sophomore album ‘Play By Numbers’ (now on EMI). The advance single release in April was the pensive ballad ‘One Perfect Day’. The song reminded me of something English singer/songwriter Ralph McTell might come up with. It became by far and away The Little Heroes biggest commercial hit, peaking at #12 on the Australian charts in mid ‘82 (climbing as high as #6 in Melbourne). The follow up singles ‘Young Hearts’ (#42) and ‘Saturday (Afternoon) Inside’ didn’t match the perfection of ‘Perfect Day’, but did assist in maintaining interest in the ‘Play The Numbers’ album which peaked at #37 later in 1982.

1982 also marked a relatively turbulent period in the band’s roster, with original members David Crosbie (keyboards) and John Taylor (bass) both replaced by Martin Fisher (ex-Breakers) and Peter Leslie respectively. Before the end of 1982 both Fisher and Leslie had split to join Dear Enemy (see earlier post). They in turn were supplanted by Paul Brickhill (see earlier MEO-245 post) on keyboards, and following a very brief tenure from Rick Loroit, by Anthony Tavasz (ex-Modesty) on bass. The Little Heroes line-up was also expanded to include new guitarist Paul Bell, giving Roger Hart a greater freedom to focus on his vocal duties.

In amongst all the turbulence of line-up changes, The Little Heroes said bon voyage to Australia for a period during mid 1983, during which they recorded their third album ‘Watch The World’ at Farmyard Studios in the U.K., under the production supervision of Rupert Hine (see earlier post). The album surfaced in September ‘83, and went on to crack the top 50 in Australia. The title track single only rose to #73, but its follow up ‘Bon Voyage’ performed better (#51), though not to the level on the charts that would do justice to such a great song.

It was perhaps the commercial disappointment of ‘Watching The World’ that contributed to The Little Heroes calling it a day in June 1984. It’s a pity really because The Little Heroes seemed to be a band that were just hitting stride, as exemplified on ‘Bon Voyage’ and another great song from ‘Watching The World’ called ‘Modern Times’. Whatever the reasons for The Little Heroes not reaching their absolute potential, they nonetheless left us with a fine body of work to savour. Vocalist Roger Hart went on to become a writer, and published a book on meditation in 1997. As mentioned in an earlier post on MEO-245, Paul Brickhill went on to head up the Australian Ballet School.

EMI released both ‘Play The Numbers’ and ‘Watching The World’ albums on a CD twin pack in the 90s but it’s been a while since they’ve been available to buy new.

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