Bizarre, unusual, and amusing tales from the rock ‘n’ roll world!
In the early weeks of the Covid lockdown people started to get bored and took to social media proposing challenges of various kinds to pass the time. I participated in a couple of the music ones. For example, I could easily name a band I’d seen live for every letter of the alphabet. Well, almost every letter. I actually got stuck at Q. I had not seen Queen, Queens of the Stone Age, not even Queensryche!
That lengthy series of posts eventually led to someone asking just how many bands people had seen in their lifetimes. Now that’s a serious question! You have either a fantastic memory, or you’ve been to so few shows you are able to remember them all. Or perhaps you’re the obsessive type and have a system for documenting everything. I decided to give the count a go, opened up a spreadsheet and started punching in names. I do have a very good memory for these sorts of things. Plus, there is a vast amount of information on the Internet now about past shows and concert tours, and even a website that documents set lists from concerts.
So, after trawling the dark recesses of my memory, and doing a bit of research on concerts and festivals I have been to, I ended up with a total of 266 bands. I figured that this was probably a conservative estimate. From around 1986 to about 1992-93, I saw many dozens of bands play live in Melbourne. There were many smaller, unknown bands that I saw play in pubs whose names just came and went. A guesstimate puts the figure at somewhere between 300 and 350 bands.
Soon after this exercise was complete (ish), somebody asked me about the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a show. That led to a whole stack of memories flooding back! I documented a few things and set aside some stories to write up at a later time.
I reckon it’s safe to say that veterans of the live music scene will have witnessed plenty of wild and crazy things happen both on stage and off. And I’m sure some of those experiences have been downright bizarre! Performing naked? Sure, it’s been done plenty of times. Too drunk to play? Yep, I’m sure we’ve all seen that too! How about somebody spraying mace in the crowd? Unfortunately, I’ve experienced that. I have witnessed a few weird and wild things, and the time has now come to document some of those strange rock ‘n’ roll experiences!
Oh, and one more thing, some of the names have been changed. To protect the guilty!
Here’s a tale they won’t believe
I was a big fan of the Melbourne band Weddings Parties Anything, affectionately known as the Weddos. The band was the brainchild of Mick Thomas (singer/songwriter/guitarist), combining traditional folk music and a knack for storytelling with roots, punk and the pub rock sound. Acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums, with mandolin, violin and Wally’s squeezebox! They were often compared to The Pogues, with whom they toured. I saw them live many times and they always put on a good performance.
This particular Weddos gig was held on a Tuesday afternoon as part of a series of ‘Rock Against Work’ gigs hosted by the Punters Club Hotel in inner suburban Fitzroy, in Melbourne.
A popular song of the band’s is called ‘Ticket In Tatts’, with Tatts (short for Tattersall’s) being the national lotteries. The chorus features the line “I’m ten cents short of a dollar, but I feel like a man with a ticket in Tatts”. Now, somewhere in the deep past, a tradition started where fans in the crowd, at the singing of the chorus, would throw torn up Tatts tickets and ten cent pieces up onto the stage. Soon enough, the coins ended up being thrown at the band members. Often, I watched Mick shield his face so he could stay at the microphone and sing. However, too much damage was done to the band members and their instruments, so they stopped playing the song in their live sets. In an interview from a couple of years ago, Mick stated that he had only recently been able to play the song again, in his post-Weddos ensembles, without fear of being pelted!
So, the Punter’s Club is full of, well, punters, on a Tuesday afternoon to see Weddos rip through an hour and a half of classic songs. As expected, the coins flew when ‘Ticket in Tatts’ was played.
In the middle of the set they played the song ‘Summons In The Morning’, a song about a guy being arrested for pasting a gig poster to a brick wall. Below, for context, is part of the lyrics:
“Son, it’s too late and I don’t want a debate
There is no way you can get off with a warning
Son, don’t be dense! You know it’s an offence
And you must expect a summons in the morning.”
I said, “Are you mad? Perhaps you’re just unwell
Could it be your quota’s looking meagre?”
He said, “Just you watch your tongue or we’ll have you in the cell.”
The junior constable she looked so eager
I said, “Why don’t you go find some axe murderer?
Someone you can chase and apprehend?
Anyone can see that we are meaning little harm
Anyone can see that what we do does not offend.”
Now, at the precise moment the words “Just you watch your tongue … ” were sung by Mick, an object flew through the air and landed on the stage. A couple of the band members didn’t see it, but bass player Pete Lawler saw it, he peered down at it, then called for the band to stop the song! Laughing madly, Pete picked up the object to show the others. It was a cow’s tongue!!! More than a foot long, pink-grey, and raw. There was much laughter and shaking of heads from the band, and the crowd roared! It sure was something different than those damn ten cent pieces! Pete draped the tongue over his amp, Mick counted them in and they finished the song.
The tongue got a lot of attention and eventually the culprit came forward and admitted that she’d thrown it. The guys thought it was hysterical. What I found even funnier was the thought of a young woman going to a gig at two in the afternoon, with a cow’s tongue in her hand bag! What if they didn’t play ‘Summons In The Morning’??
Given the broad range of subject matter in Mick Thomas’ lyrics, I reckon he is truly thankful that nothing worse has ever been thrown on his stage.
We all know stupid stuff gets thrown on stages around the world (think Tom Jones and underwear, Green Day in a mud fight, Justin Bieber getting egged). And for some reason, idiots throw cans and bottles, often full, at the acts they have paid good money to see. There is even a Wikipedia page listing “bottling” incidents.
I wonder how many other bands have had weird, song-related things thrown up on to the stage. If you can think of an example, please let me know!
End of innocence
I got into a bit of hardcore punk in the late 1980s. There was a band we saw often called Permanent Damage. They were pretty restrained as punks go, more your straight-edge Minor Threat types, rather than the snarling, vomiting, spit-in-your-face types. They were in it for the music and had that independent, DIY ethos.
Permanent Damage shows were pretty intense though. They played hard and fast, and the punkers love it. At one particular gig, during a load-out-load-in break, I headed over to the toilets. I walked through the second door and saw my friend Ian just finishing washing his hands at the sink. But he had a look on his face that said bewildered/perplexed/confused/puzzled, topped off with the WTF? raised eyebrow. I quickly looked in the direction that Ian was looking. There standing on the step of the urinal with his back to us was Manny, the Permanent Damage singer, head down and apparently talking to his penis. We departed promptly, and began to analyse what we’d just seen. What the hell was he doing?? Ian said “Manny was talking to his knob! I only caught a few words, but it sounded like he was giving himself a pep talk”. Indeed, they were just about to play their set. We had no idea how his penis was going to help. Oh well, whatever gets you through, I guess! Shortly after, the guys came onstage and played a brutal 50 minute set to wrap up the night.
After a few shows, I decided to buy a t-shirt from the band, however they’d run out of stock. Manny invited me over to his house to pick up a shirt, as they screen printed the shirts themselves. I turned up to an average looking house in suburban Oakleigh and Manny greeted me at the door. He invited me in and I sat down on the couch, opposite Peter, the band’s guitarist and Manny’s house mate. We chatted for a bit, and Manny brought out the almost dry, hand printed shirt. Then Manny introduced me to his American Pit Bull Terrier! Now, I’ve had dogs pretty much all of my life, and often think that dogs are the best people, but I didn’t like this dog. He just looked mean, just one of those dogs that you cannot trust. I’d not heard one good thing about pit bulls, and they have obviously had a lot of negative press in the past. But Manny swore that he was a gentle dog. To get him enough exercise Manny ran the dog on a treadmill which was in the corner of the living room. You know how the routine goes, “it won’t bite you unless you annoy it”, then they don’t tell you what annoys the bastard. Smiling nervously really bloody annoys it! After about half an hour, a glass of water, and some genuinely interesting conversation, the shirt was dry enough to take away. I thanked them and left. Lovely guys, but I don’t ever want to see another pit bull again.
Another hardcore punk tale. Ian’s girlfriend invited a few of us to a party being held at her friend’s house. That friend’s name was Ben, and he was in the hardcore punk band Depression. The band and their friends lived in a house in an inner eastern suburb of Melbourne. The house was appropriately, and affectionately, called ‘Hardcore House’. I knew of the band and the house because I owned a couple of albums recorded there. Smeer played guitar in Depression and his girlfriend Liz was the band’s manager. Liz played guitar in the band Gash and Smeer played the drums.
I was understandably a bit nervous heading into the party. I was going to a house that was the focal point of hardcore punk in Melbourne! We went through the front door into a rather dimly lit living room. Now, you may remember scenes in old western movies where a stranger walks through the saloon doors, everyone goes silent, the piano stops playing, and all eyes are on the stranger. That is exactly what it was like for us walking into this house. Everyone paused their conversations to turn and look at us. Then Ben came into the room, approached us, and welcomed us warmly. That was all the threat assessment and abatement required. The figurative piano player started up again, everyone went back to what they were doing, conversations restarted, and beer bottles and glasses clinked. We were in, and we were part of the family.
From what I can recall, most of the rooms in the house were dimly lit. The only light in the living room emanated from a couple of candelabras on the walls. The music selection was impressive and hysterical at the same time. The stereo played just two records for the couple of hours we were there, Motorhead’s Ace of Spades and Devo’s Freedom of Choice. When a side finished playing, someone came in and flipped the record over, or swapped it for the other. The house was full of punks, metalheads and ordinary nerd slobs like me. We met a bunch of great people.
We were shown into the back room which was the band room/recording studio. The entire room was completely lined with egg cartons for sound diffusion. The most unusual thing I saw was a very old man who looked like he’d been living on the streets for quite some time (reminded me of the cover of the album Aqualung!). Maybe his physical state, including his shabby clothes, put an extra 10-20 years on him. He had an old, army surplus, canvas bag slung over his shoulder. I figured the bag probably held everything he owned. I wondered who he knew here at the house. So many questions! He walked over to the instruments, picked up a guitar, flicked on the amp, and with his eyes shut the entire time, played Led Zeppelin’s ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ absolutely perfectly. It was totally surreal. That was the last thing of the night that I can recall.
Wild thing, you make my heart sing
On a cold May weekend, a large group of our friends journeyed into the hills north-east of the city for a weekend of fun. We stayed at Camp Cook which was owned by Elgar City High School and used for excursions, camps and retreats. It was a great facility consisting of multiple dormitories and huge common areas, and the whole complex was surrounded by forest. Fortunately, through a certain chain of contacts, it was available for rent by some former students including our friend Shane.
We had all been working hard at uni, and were very much in need of a weekend away to eat, drink and party. Shane’s friend, Joey, had a pretty cool band going around the city pub scene so we got them along to play a couple of sets for us on the Saturday evening.
As you could possibly imagine, given the combination of about 50 uni students and a truckload of booze, hilarity ensued! There were a few tired and emotional types, and some who had checked out for the evening by 9.00 pm. There were the generous souls who prepared some awesome snacking food, and a handful of those whose mission was to smoke as much dope as possible!
There were a couple of interesting characters worth noting. Jimmy claimed a spot on the brown couch in the common room near the fire, and pulled out one of those bamboo style bongs that are about 50cm tall. He sat with the bong resting on the couch inside his crossed legs, and smoked enough dope to kill a horse. He promptly passed out, leaning slightly forward, with his chin in the bong. Sid was Al’s dog and he went everywhere Al went, even to classes at uni. He was a part of the gang. Sid won an award for being the first ‘person’ to vomit for the weekend. He won an additional award for eating it!
Moving right along to the musical performance. Raven Song were getting a bit of notice around town for their fun, light-hearted shows filled with power pop, punk, and a few heavier numbers. They came along to Camp Cook, set up their gear in the hall, and got stuck in. They were a lot of fun, and very talented players.
During the band’s second set, Joey invited someone to come up and sing ‘Wild Thing’ with them. My great friend, Stuart, looks at me, through admittedly bleary eyes, and says “I’m gonna do it!” He shoots his hand in the air, and Joey asks him to come on up. As he is about to head for the front of the hall, he says to me “I’m gonna do this in two styles, first as Lou Reed, then as Iggy Pop!”. Then he was on his way. All I could think was “uh oh, what the hell is gonna happen”.
After a brief discussion with the band they ripped into ‘Wild Thing’. Stuart was handed a lyric sheet, but he tossed it aside, I mean who doesn’t know the lyrics to ‘Wild Thing’!! The band plays and Stuart sings, as he promised, in a deadpan monotone, just like Lou Reed. He absolutely looked and sounded the part. Everyone watching wondered what he was doing. As they tore into the second chorus, Stuart changed persona and began leaping about and screaming like Iggy Pop in his wildest days. He managed to make it through the line “Wild thing, you make my heart sing” before flinging himself to the floor. Then there was no more singing. He’d hit his head on the fold back speaker and knocked himself out cold.
How much more punk can you get?! The band stopped, while a few of our friends picked up Stuart and carted him away, out of the hall. I quickly followed. A woman that I didn’t know took charge and checked him over. Turns out she was a nurse. He regained consciousness quickly but he was very groggy. He was laid out on a dorm bed, and the nurse checked on him every ten minutes. After an hour or so he managed to drag his sorry carcass out of the dorm. We cheered, and everyone laughed. I could hear people say things like “how rock n roll was that!”, “you mad bastard”, and “that was so punk!” We probably should’ve taken him to get checked out. He said he was fine!
Thanks for reading this far! I really appreciate it, and I hope you found something amusing in this collection. I’m thoroughly enjoying writing. More shall be coming soon.
[Main image: Copyright Stuart Harris; ‘MY DISCO’, used with kind permission.]