Wednesday, July 8, 2009

These Radio Stars Really Were Radio Stars

Back in 1985 I was in year 11 in high school (equivalent of senior high I guess), on the very cusp of adulthood, yet still very prone to the inherent characteristics of being a teenager. It seems, for better or worse, that many of the experiences at that time of life establish a far more resonant cubicle within our memory block. The ‘better’ aspect of that quirk of cognitive recall, for me, often revolves around the music of that era - that seems to be a common theme for most people. So, when I hear a Models song, particularly a song from their 1985 mega-selling album, ‘Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight’, it conjures up memories of a train ride to Sydney with my high school English class to see the David Williamson penned screenplay ‘The Club’. I have very little recall of the play itself (or that performance anyway), but I can recall a train compartment full of high school students belting out the lyrics to the album’s title track ‘Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight’. I also recall just how big Models were on the Australian music scene at that time - they were at the very brink of national, nay international, superstardom. But as with any artist (or most), the journey to that point in rock and roll’s road was, to borrow a popular phrase, a long and winding one, involving several teenage radio stars, a cut lunch, early morning brains, modern girls, and countless other ingredients.

By the mid 80s, Models had ascended to the upper echelon of the Australian music scene, mentioned in the same breath as INXS - and like INXS, the origins of Models can be traced back to a decade earlier. In their case, to a bunch of Melbourne teenagers, inspired by the explosion of the punk rock scene, both overseas and at home, and wide eyed at the seemingly endless opportunities offered by a revitalised live performance circuit. These raw, energetic teen players joined forces under a common banner, and during 1977 took the first tentative, but purposeful steps toward establishing their niche amidst the throng of acts jostling for attention on the burgeoning post-punk/new wave scene.

James Freud (born Colin McGlinchey) and Sean Kelly were school friends, and both shared an interest in the current music scene. Freud and Kelly initially played together in a school band called Sabre (alongside drummer Ian McFarlane). Inspired by the current punk material on the radio (and with a residual love of glam-rock), Freud (lead vocals/guitar), and Kelly (guitar/vocals), formed a fulltime band at the first opportunity upon leaving school (Freud was 17, Kelly was 18) - actually, Kelly had briefly tried his hand at the 9 to 5 grind, but it wasn’t for him. They recruited bassist Graeme Sciavello, and drummer Peter Kidd, and dubbed themselves Spred. After first performing together at a birthday party for James Freud's sister, Spred played their debut professional gig on New Year’s Eve 1977 (seem to recall AC/DC also played their debut gig on New Year’s Eve), alongside fellow punk-rock outfits Babeez, and Boys Next Door (later to become The Birthday Party). The occasion was labelled ‘Punk-Gunk’, and the venue was a prestigious footpath, in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton.

By January ‘78, Spred had been re-dubbed Teenage Radio Stars (well they were still teenagers, and aspiring radio stars), and soon after signed with the Suicide label, who at that time were a gateway into the recording scene for a lot of Australian punk/rock acts - the Suicide label was in fact a small subsidiary of Mushroom Records (with distribution via RCA). Around this time Freud and Kelly recruited a new rhythm section, comprising Pierre Voltaire (born Peter Sutcliffe) on bass, and Dave Osbourne (not of the ‘Super’ variety) on drums. The new line-up contributed two tracks to the Suicide label’s punk themed compilation, ‘Lethal Weapons’ (sans Mel Gibson), released during May of ’78 (OZ#66). The album also featured tracks from the Boys Next Door (later to become The Birthday Party), avant-garde punk outfit JAB, and pioneering new wave band X-Ray-Z. Teenage Radio Stars contributed the songs, ‘Learned One’, and ‘Wanna Be Ya Baby’, both co-written by Freud and Kelly, with the latter title released as a single in April ‘78. Although credited to James Freud and Sean Kelly, ‘Wanna Be Ya Baby’ was a reworking of the song ‘Baby Baby’, originally featured on British punk band The Vibrators’ album, ‘Pure Mania’, released in ’77. The release of ‘Wanna Be Ya Baby’ earned Teenage Radio Stars a slot on the ABC’s ‘Countdown’ - an opportunity much valued by up and coming acts - and alongside label mates the Boys Next Door, Teenage Radio Stars were paving the way for future post-punk/new wave artists to break into the commercial mainstream.

Shortly after their ‘Countdown’ appearance, the dial was retuned once more on Teenage Radio Stars, and when the signal returned the band’s roster had changed to Freud, Kelly, Mick Prague (bass), and Mark Graeme (drums). Previous bassist Pierre Voltaire had elected to hook up with JAB, though it would prove a short lived association, as the band were entering their death throws as a going concern. Meanwhile, previous drummer (super) Dave Osbourne went on to play with popular pub rockers Fastbuck, alongside Richard Grist (vocals), Wayne Sullivan (bass), and Vic Crump (guitar). It was clear at this point that James Freud had assumed a controlling share in the creative direction of Teenage Radio Stars, with his love of glam rockers such as Marc Bolan and David Bowie, and the likes of punk pioneers the Stooges, being strong stylistic influences. By August of ‘78, Sean Kelly and James Freud found themselves on different musical frequencies, and Kelly parted ways with the Teenage Radio Stars. But it wasn’t the closing of the book on Sean Kelly’s music career, but rather would prove to be the genesis of a post-punk pioneer on the Australian music scene - but more about that in the next three posts.

Tony Harvey came on board to replace Sean Kelly, and since none of the band’s members were any longer in their teens, Freud opted to shorten the band’s name to The Radio Stars, followed soon after by James Freud’s Ego (or possibly Id). Neither new moniker evoked any sense of positive direction for the band, and by the end of ‘78, Freud had taken the decision to break-up the band. Guitarist Tony Harvey went on to play with ex-Hush vocalist Keith Lamb’s new band Airport, and later played with The Runners (see previous post).

James Freud then decided to reinvent the wheel, or in this case a horse. A young Melbourne band called Colt had caught Freud’s eye, or at least ear, and he took the chassis of Colt to form a new vehicle called James Freud and the Radio Stars. Alongside Freud were Bryan Thomas (guitar), Murray Doherty (bass), Glen McGrath (not of the ooh-ahh variety - drums), and Roger Mason (keyboards). By mid ‘79, Tony Lugdon (ex-Steeler) had replaced Thomas on guitar, and shortly after Freud and crew got their big break when Mushroom signed them to an album deal. Produced by Freud himself (with Barry Earl), the band set about recording their debut album over the latter half of ‘79, during which time the playing roster evolved to Freud, Mason, Peter Cook (guitar), Mick Prague (bass), and Tommy Hosie (drums).

In May of 1980, the debut single for James Freud and the Radio Stars was released. ‘Modern Girl’ was a fresh, vibrant slice of radio friendly pop-rock, brimming with quirky little mannerisms throughout. By the second half of 1980, ‘Modern Girl’ had peaked at an impressive #12 nationally (#5 in Melbourne), aided no doubt by a memorable appearance on ‘Countdown’. As ‘Modern Girl’ was ascending the charts, James Freud and the Radio Stars played support to British synth-guru Gary Numan, on his much hyped Australian tour. In June of 1980, the band’s debut album ‘Breaking Silence’ was released, though a question mark was raised over who should receive credit on the charts. The album cover credited James Freud, though the actual record label added the Radio Stars to the billing. Per chart records, ‘Breaking Silence’ was credited to James Freud and the Radio Stars, and peaked at #75 nationally. Credits aside, ‘Breaking Silence’ was a showcase for James Freud’s craft as a songwriter and producer, and the music within matched his carefully constructed image/sound for the band - of glam tinged, new wave hipsters.

Gary Numan had been so impressed by Freud (and the Radio Stars), that he invited Freud back to the U.K. to record another album. The results of the recording sessions were shelved (and remained so), for reasons largely unknown, beyond reports that neither Freud nor Numan were happy with the results (many of the songs recorded with Numan had been performed live by Freud and co. when they were supporting Numan on his Australian tour). One of the curiosities of popular music arises when an already established band, with an established name, travels to another country (or releases material) where there just happens to be a local act with the same name. I’m not sure if it’s a legality or just convention, but the overseas band adopts a new moniker, and such was the case when James Freud and the Radio Stars arrived in London to work with Numan. There was a British band called the Radio Stars - actually in this case they were a pretty well established outfit - who had already released a couple of albums. So, Freud renamed his band Berlin (no connection with the U.S. act), and retained the name upon their return to Australia late in 1980. The moniker of James Freud’s Berlin was adopted for the release of the follow up single, ‘Enemy Lines’ (OZ#84), lifted from the ‘Breaking Silence’ album.

In March of ‘81, the single ‘Automatic Crazy’ hit stores, this time credited to James Freud and Berlin, and produced by Gary Numan (whilst he was on tour in Australia). ‘Automatic Crazy’ went precisely nowhere on the charts, and by April James Freud once more took his sledge hammer and broke up the band - figuratively speaking of course - but when I read the words ‘Berlin’ and ‘broken up’, I had visions of a flipping great wall. Broken up band aside, Freud hopped a flight back to London in mid ‘81, and sitting beside him was Berlin keyboardist Roger Mason. The pair intended to form a new band in England, and indeed did just that, calling themselves Orient-R. But Orient-R was a short lived experiment, and evaporated after just one gig. Roger Mason stayed on in the old dart to take up a post with Gary Numan’s touring band. For James Freud, it was a case of taking stock, and returning to Australia in early ‘82. Waiting for him upon his arrival was a place in yet another revamped line-up of Sean Kelly’s band, a band that were promising to surpass the achievements of Freud’s previous endeavours, and one which could no doubt benefit from his talent, experience, and pop savvy approach.

PLEASE NOTE - Some of the photos used in this post were sourced from Debra's 'flickr' account (damselfly58) and have been reproduced here with her kind permission. Thanks Debra.

Thanks to Warwick from 80s Dreamer blogspot (see link in Ultra Cool Retro Links) for helping out with some great source photos and access to a 1986 interview with Sean Kelly. To read the interview in full, and more, check out Warwick's Models' fansite at - http://handonhandle.ning.com/

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Randy Bulpin was also a member of Berlin and he was in Mondo Rock also.

angel wings and hearts said...

hi rhys,

i believe you have used a number of my photographs (taken from my flickr acct.)without seeking permission. would you kindly remove them or credit me.

thanks

debra
(damselfly58)

A. FlockOfSeagulls AKA Rhys said...

Hi Debra,

thanks for bringing that to my notice, I honestly wasn't aware of that. I've noted at the bottom of my post that some of the photos used are yours. I hope that's ok. If you'd like any specific ones removed let me know and I'd be happy to respect your wishes.

Cheers
Rhys