Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Let's Spend Allnite At Montego Bay

Over the course of popular music history, there have been those bands/artists who have seemingly appeared from nowhere, and immediately been attributed the tag of ‘overnight sensation’. But rarely is their journey to popular recognition the result of an instant recipe for success. Most of those artists who have a song played on the radio, or a video played on television, or who appear in a newspaper article, or the cover of a magazine, have done the hard yards. I’d venture to say that was particularly true of the majority of Australian bands/artists who managed to crack the music charts back in the 70s and 80s. Australia didn’t produce too many ‘manufactured’ acts in those days. I can’t say for certain why. Maybe there just wasn’t the financial clout, or entertainment infrastructure to regularly pre-fabricate acts, but perhaps another factor was that the live music scene in Australia was absolutely thriving during that period. If a record label was looking for the next ‘big thing’, they often didn’t have to look further than which band/singer was consistently packing out venues. One band who had racked up the frequent gigging points during the early 80s, and had built a rock solid reputation as being a kickass live act, were Allniters.

Allniters first started causing a stir during 1980, as one of the resident acts at the Sussex Hotel in downtown Sydney. The Sussex had a reputation for being the hub of Sydney’s mod scene, which meant that all the cutting edge music styles emanating from the U.K. scene in particular, had a presence at the Sussex. During the late 70s ska music had experienced a resurgence in Britain, driven by the rise to prominence of acts like Selector, The Specials, The Beat, Bad Manners, and Madness, who were at the vanguard of the 2 Tone or Bluebeat movements, a sub-genre of ska, which fused elements of straight ska, reggae, rock steady, Calypso-style, punk rock, and pop. The 2 Tone scene came to be classified later as the second wave of ska. It was only reasonable to expect any stylistic ‘wave’ originating in Britain, to eventually wash up on the shores of Australia. Allniters were one of the first high profile band’s on the Australian scene to adopt the ska style as the basis for their music.

At the heart of Allniters was guitarist Martin Fabok, and it was around him that a fluid line-up of musicians swirled during the band’s formative days. Among the earliest Allniter affiliates were Ted Ayers (sax), Mark Taylor (keyboards), Peter Hill-Travis (vocals), Brett Pattinson (vocals), Stuart Crysell (guitar, ex-Bedhogs), Graham Hood (bass), and Dave Betts (drums). Allniters played their first gig at the Sussex during September of 1980, and they were soon regulars on the Hotel’s entertainment roster. The line-up remained a little haphazard, with the numbers and personnel varying from gig to gig, but Fabok, Hill-Travis, and Pattinson were more regular attendees than most. Above all else, Allniters was a vehicle to have fun, with most of the group’s members having other interests and employment commitments during the early days. Though I’m not sure any were of the pugilistic persuasion, that would have been required to have dealt with the fights that regularly broke out between rival factions within the Sussex crowd - skinheads, mods, rude boys, surfers and the like - it’s likely hotel security and the local constabulary had no shortage of work in controlling reigning in the unruly elements.

In August of ‘81, Allniters released their debut single, ‘She Made A Monkey Out Of Me’, via the independent Green label, followed in 1982 by another single, ‘You Shouldn’t Stay Out Late’. Neither single made an impact on the charts, but Allniters continued to enhance their reputation as a live act, including providing support for The Clash on their 1981 tour. During 1982, several Allniters including Martin Fabok, Stuart Crysell, Mark Taylor and Dave Betts, formed a studio based dub-reggae group called The Igniters. The Igniters also featured INXS member Kirk Pengilly on saxophone, and they recorded a self-titled EP on the Green label later in 1982. During the same period, Allniters bassist Graham Hood left to join The Johnnys (see earlier post), replaced by Perry Andronos. When Allniters resumed business as usual, the line-up had altered to feature Fabok, Hill-Travis, Pattinson, Ayers, Taylor, Crysell and Andronos, along with key addition Julie Conway (vocals), Stephan Luke (trombone), and Dave Lennon (drums). I’m guessing there was also an Allniters mini-bus required at that point to move the band between venues.

Allniters then signed to the Powderworks label (home of Midnight Oil), with a distribution link through RCA. In April of ‘83, they released the single ‘Hold On’, the catchy song embodying the very essence of the Allniters’ bouncy 2 Tone sound (it brings to mind something that Cat Empire would do). ‘Hold On’ managed to get a grip on the fringes of the national top forty nationally (#40), though it’s Sydney performance (#15) would be indicative of Allniters’ popularity in their home town. In September ‘83, Allniters released a cover of ‘Montego Bay’, previously a smash hit in 1970 for Bobby Bloom (US#8/UK#3/OZ#9). Allniters imbued the song with their own fun-flavoured style. The back cover of the single even featured a mock post-card from the band’s saxophonist Ted Ayers to his parents. It read in part - “Having a great holiday. We just recorded our single and maxi-album at EMI. Hope you like it”. The post-card was addressed to ‘Mr. & Mrs. A.L. Niter, 23 Bluebeat St., Skasville, Sydney’. The EMI reference is a bit of a mystery, given Allniters were aligned to RCA. ‘Montego Bay’ tapped into the mood of the approaching Australian summer, and sunned itself at #19 nationally late in ‘83. I first scored a copy of the song via its inclusion on the compilation album ‘1983 Summer Breaks’. The performance of ‘Montego Bay’ around various areas of Australia, is a classic illustration of just how regionalised the music scene still was at that time - Sydney (#3), Melbourne (#15), Brisbane (#8), Adelaide (#19), Perth (#24).

As Australians were starting to return from a holiday in ‘Montego Bay’, Allniters released their debut album ‘D-D-D-Dance’ during December of ‘83. The album boasted an alluring fusion of musical styles, encompassing ska, reggae, dub, and straight up melodic pop, and garnered favourable reviews all-round. It was the perfect album to pop on the turntable on a lazy, hazy summer’s day. The third single ‘Love And Affection’, was a breezy, laid-back slice of Calypso style music, and delivered Allniters a #45 hit nationally, with Sydney once more leading the way (#21). The album ‘D-D-D-Dance’, produced by Martin Armiger (worked with Paul Kelly, Stephen Cummings), went on to spend 22 weeks inside the charts, and peaked at #18 early in ‘84.

During 1984, several of the band members oscillated between Allniter duties and the studio-based Igniters’ project. The Igniters, which also had a fluctuating line-up, released another EP during 1984, featuring the single ‘On The Road Again’. But Allniters was still a going concern, and released two more singles during the year, ‘Screaming Dreaming’ (OZ#84) during August, and ‘I Saw You First’ during December. By January of ‘85, Allniters had called it a night, at least temporarily. Several members, including Crysell, Ayers, and Taylor, formed a new band called Castles In Spain, along with Nicholas Conroy, Cameron Giles, and John MacKay. But Allniter’s sabbatical was a short one, and by July of ‘85 the band had reformed, albeit with yet another revamped line-up. Allniters, circa mid ‘85, featured Martin Fabok (guitar), Julie Conway (vocals), Peter Hill-Travis (vocals), Brett Pattinson (vocals/percussion), Stephan Luke (trombone), Peter Bolke (bass), Ralph Franke (saxophone), Mark Fuccilli (saxophone), Dale Pandit (drums), and Mark Tanner (guitar). Over the next year or so, Allniters remained a live act only, and by February ‘86 the revolving door was once more activated. Founding member Martin Fabok had departed, and the new playing roster featured Hill-Travis, Pattinson, Conway, Franke, along with new recruits Michael Allen (keyboards), Troy Duncomb (bass), Mickey Marnie (guitar), and Simon Knapman (drums). The dynamic of Allniters must have changed also during that period, with no regular horn section in tow.

Allniters then signed to Mushroom Records, but recorded just one more single. ‘All That Easy’ was produced by Mental As Anything’s Martin Plaza, but only managed to ease to #76 nationally during August of ‘87. Soon after, Allniters disbanded and would remain on long term hiatus for the next twelve years. Following the warmly received 1997 compilation release, ‘The Very Best Of’, in 1999 Allniters resurfaced with yet another line-up, which featured several 80s era members - Fabok, Andronos, Conway, Hill-Travis and Pattinson - alongside new vocalist Jane Vasilkov (AKA Miss Velvet Vass). Over the course of 99/00 Allniters toured regularly, and recorded a new album, ‘Another Fine Mess’ (on the Sound System label), before splitting once more. During 2004, Allniters once more saw the light of day, albeit briefly, as the support act on UB40’s Australian tour.

They may have only come into fame’s focus for a fleeting moment, before being consigned once more to pop’s periphery, but in that apparent blink of an eye, the Allniters left no-one in doubt as to the genuineness of their musical credentials.

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