Friday, October 17, 2008

Wendy Plays The Game With Her Rocketts

By the time the rock group Wendy & The Rocketts launched operations on the Melbourne pub circuit during August 1980, lead singer Wendy Stapleton had already established herself as a vocalist of rare quality on the Australian music scene. Stapleton had fronted a number of popular live acts during the second half of the 70s, including Incession, Souled Out, Southern Transit and the Bill Livingstone Trio. She had also performed in a number of stage musicals, including 1975’s ‘The Magic Show’ (which also featured Samantha Sang - see future post). This led her into regular studio session work (working with the likes of Jon English and Joe Camilleri), which in turn led to Festival Records offering her a solo recording deal. Wendy Stapleton’s debut solo single was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Heart Of Stone’, released in September 1979. The single didn’t do great business, but Stapleton soon set her sights on forming a fulltime backing band - The Rocketts.

After quickly establishing themselves as one of the biggest drawcards on the Melbourne live music scene, Wendy & The Rocketts were signed to the high profile Mushroom Records label in early 1981. The crew at that time comprised, Wendy Stapleton (lead vocals), Mark Chew (guitar/keyboards, ex-Southern Transit), along with three former members of the rock band Fastbuck - Victor Crump (guitar), Wayne Sullivan (bass), and Steve Donald (drums). The band’s first single release was ‘Reputation’ in July 1981. The song peaked at #40 during August of that year, but the follow up ‘Tonite’ didn’t fare so well.

In early 1982 Wendy Stapleton unveiled a new model Rocketts line-up, retaining drummer Steve Donald, and adding lead guitarist Joey Amenta (ex-Russell Morris Band), rhythm guitarist Adrian Dessent (Ex-Vixen and ex-Scandal) and bassist Noel Beare (ex-Misfits). Wendy & The Rocketts targeted the charts with a new single ‘Your Place Or Mine’, released in March 1982. The track had hit a mark at #35 on the Australian charts by mid year. But what the band lacked in record sales, they made up for in terms of building a huge live following. Stapleton and her Rocketts had cultivated a reputation as being one of the most high energy rock bands on the scene. That high energy stage performance was captured in the six track ‘Live’ EP, released in September 1982. The EP was a combination of tracks recorded during live shows at The Lower Plenty Hotel and Dorset Gardens Hotel during June ‘82, and was produced by Ross Cockle and Jim Barton (producer for Renee Geyer). ‘Live’ peaked at #46 on the Australian album charts in the latter part of ‘82.

In early 1983 Wendy & The Rocketts went intercontinental when they travelled to the U.K. to record their debut full length album at London’s Mayfair Studios. Produced by Paul Muggletong and John Hudson, ‘Dazed For Days’ (OZ#37) hit the stores in July 1983, and benefited from backing vocals on a number of tracks from Judie Tzuke (see future post). The advance single was ‘Play The Game’ which proved their first, and only, single to explode inside the Australian top 30 (#29). The follow up singles ‘Have You Been Telling Me Lies’ (OZ#75) and ‘Security’ couldn’t maintain the flight path toward the big time. The A&M label saw enough potential in the ‘Dazed Days’ album to release it in the U.K. and parts of Europe, and in September ‘83 the band embarked on an extensive tour of those territories, supporting the likes of Bryan Adams and ZZ Top along the way.

In late 1984 lead guitarist Joey Amenta left to join Moving Pictures (see early Sep post), and bassist Noel Beare also departed the scene. They were replaced by John Ballimore (ex-Jon English band) and Brian Hamilton respectively. The band continued to play a packed schedule into early 1985, but no more studio recordings surfaced. By March 1985 Wendy Stapleton made the decision to ground the Rocketts permanently, and returned to session work.

In 1989 Stapleton scored a minor hit on the Australian charts with the football themed song ‘C’mon Demons!’ (with Bob Valentine - OZ#78). The same year she starred in the stage production of ‘Bad Boy Johnny and the Prophets of Doom’, alongside former Uncanny X-Men vocalist Brian Mannix (see future post), contributing to a cast recording album in 1990 (OZ#65). During 1990 Stapleton also joined her partner Paul Norton (see previous Runners’ post) as part of the backing band touring in support of his album ‘Under A Southern Sky’. In 1995 Stapleton returned to musical theatre, playing the lead in the Dusty Springfield tribute ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, a role she would reprise a number of times. She also starred with former LRB front man Glenn Shorrock in the stage show ‘Two Up!’ during 1996. The show was a comedy built around the biggest male/female hit duets over the history of popular music.

Over the last decade Wendy Stapleton has continued to appear in a number of popular stage productions, including ‘Girls Girls Girls!!!’ with Debra Byrne and Nikki Nicholls. Her talents have also extended into television work. Among her credits was the role of the mother to Delta Goodrem’s character in the soap drama ‘Neighbours’ - kind of a before and after thing there. In 1998 Wendy Stapleton fronted a revamped Rocketts’ line-up to perform the band’s biggest hit ‘Play The Game’ at the ‘Mushroom 25 Live’ concert, and in 2006 performed on the Australian ‘Countdown Spectacular’ concert tour.


NuWave said...

I love this track by Wendy & The Rockets, do you know if a 12" was ever released?

Cheers, NuWave

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

G'day NuWave,
you'll find a modified 12" version of 'Play The Game' for download here:

Haven't been able to track a commercially available version though.