The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle
Jules Normington is a legend on the Australian Punk Rock Underground: entrepreneur, manager & above all, catalyst. Steve Gardner, erstwhile editor for seminal Aus zine, Noise For Heroes, interviews him extensively here for the edification of the trakMARX cognoscenti:
Steve Gardner can be contacted at:
The Jules Normington Story:
In any music scene the bulk of the credit rightly goes to the bands, since without them there’d be nothing. But there are almost always figures behind the curtain who have a huge impact on the direction that the scene takes. Jules Normington is such an individual – he was part of the Radio Birdman camp in their day, including a stint as their manager. He then ran Phantom, Sydney’s most important record shop in the period from just after Radio Birdman until about 1987. Phantom promoted and sold thousands of records by obscure and terrific underground bands, many of them to people who were subsequently inspired to start some of the bands that made the Australian music scene of the 80s what it was.
In addition, Phantom launched one of Sydney’s four or five best indie labels (along with Citadel, Waterfront, and Aberrant), and certainly THE best Sydney label in its heyday from 1979 until 1983 or so. Phantom Records released outstanding first vinyl by the Hoodoo Gurus, Sunnyboys, Visitors, and Hummingbirds others that were ultimately far more commercially successful than these.
The Phantom shop down on Pitt Street was one of those record stores that was packed to the gills…used, new, imports, local, indie, underground, 60s garage, punk, Detroit metal – there was a bin for everything and every bin was stuffed full. Fanzines lay in stacks and posters and gig flyers were stapled everywhere. It was one of those shops where a music fan felt comfortably at home. Many musicians from well known Sydney bands worked at Phantom at various times, and the employee roster also included key figures like the trio of Frank Cotterell, Steve Stavrakis and Chris Dunn, who left to form Waterfront Records in 1985.
The Phantom label began some time after the shop with a single by the Passengers in early 1980. Taking their name from an Iggy Pop song, the band was fronted by Angie Pepper, and also included former Survivor and future New Christ Jim Dickson on bass with Jeff Sullivan on guitar and Steve Harris on keyboards. Pepper’s vocals and the sixties girl-group nature of the lyrics made an instant comparison to Blondie inevitable, but Harris’ electric piano sound was substantially different from Blondie’s farfisa approach. The A side of the single, "A Face With No Name", is a terrific song, but the B side is a little too coy.
The Passengers had already split when their single hit the shops, but Harris and Sullivan quickly teamed up with another female singer in Julie Mostyn to form the Flaming Hands and with this band they recorded three singles for Phantom before going on to a superior record deal (and inferior record releases) with Big Time. Mostyn’s vocal style was more English sounding than Pepper’s, with more than a touch of melodrama, especially in a tearjerker like "It’s Just That I Miss You", Phantom’s fourteenth single.
The second and ninth Phantom releases were by the Surfside Six, a band that could be dismissed as fairly lightweight surf pop if it wasn’t for one song – the A side of their second single. "Can’t You See The Sign" sounds like something that could have been done by Radio Birdman, the Visitors or the early Hitmen – an ominous and intense song. It fit well with the fourth Phantom release, a four track 12" ep by the Visitors that included "Brother John", "Life Spill", "Journey By Sledge" and "Hell Yes". These same versions later showed up on the Visitors’ Citadel lp but with different mixes. To my ears the Phantom mixes are tougher and hotter, with an especially powerful bass sound. Steve Harris pops up again in the Visitors lineup, this time playing bass – placing him in 3 different bands within that first year of the label.
A solid single from the Shy Impostors pairing the strong "At The Barrier" with "Seeing Double" gave Phantom a trio of female fronted rock bands in their first six releases, this time with Penny Ward at the mike. As so often happens, the Shy Impostors dissolved shortly after their recording sessions were completed in early 1980. Guitarist Richard Burgman and bassist Peter Oxley then teamed with drummer Bil Bilson and Oxley’s talented kid brother Jeremy on guitar and vocals to form the Sunnyboys.
Jules tells the story of how he first saw the Sunnyboys in the interview below – suffice to say, Phantom would release their debut four song 7" ep in late 1980 and sell the full 1000 copy pressing in two weeks. And the record deserved it, too – a superb and unique brand of pop/rock with first rate songs and tough playing. A few months later when the Sunnyboys signed to Mushroom Records and appeared on their way to becoming an Australian sensation, Phantom reissued the four tracks in a re-mixed 12" ep (the need for this only came about thanks only to some clandestine happenings up at EMI’s tape storage which saw the original EP master and pressing mothers go missing - according to Jules: "I think you run that by Gudinski and you’d get a swift denial that’d send a polygraph needle scattering all over the page").
The second dozen Phantom releases show more variety and less strength than the first fistful. Debut singles by the Hoodoo Gurus (a version of "Leilani" that’s different from the one on their first album), the Kelpies, the Deadly Hume, the Vanilla Chainsaws and the Hummingbirds were all terrific, but the electro-pop of Machinations, the jump music of the Cockroaches, and the rave party sound of the Rockmelons seemed directed at an audience that might not have liked previous Phantom releases.
At the start of the Phantom label, pickings were pretty slim for any inner city Sydney band trying to release a record. Jules could sit in his shop and bands would come in with finished tapes that they’d paid for themselves out of their own pockets. If it was good, Phantom would release it, and their costs would be primarily just the pressing and printing expenses. But by 1986, music from Sydney was becoming known internationally and labels like Waterfront and Citadel were paying recording costs to bands in the knowledge that they could often recoup the money from export sales. This effect possibly drained off a lot of the bands that used to come to Phantom by default, and the strongest Sydney bands were now appearing on other labels more often than not. From the late 80s on, Phantom’s catalogue lacked the overall consistency of the best Sydney labels, although there were still many fine releases sprinkled throughout the rest.
Phantom was primarily a singles label up until this time. There had been one excellent compilation album in 1983 called Paths Of Pain To Jewels Of Glory that featured many songs that had been on Phantom singles and a few previously unreleased tracks by some of the same bands – Shy Imposters and the Flaming Hands, to name two. But in the late eighties Phantom began to release 12" records, starting with a Deadly Hume lp called Me, Grandma, Iliko and Hilarian. The Deadly Hume played a brand of mutant blues that seemed to match the atmosphere of Melbourne bands like the Moodists or some of the Scientists mid period material. The lp was followed by a Hume mini-lp, and then the Vanilla Chainsaws Wine Dark Sea mini-lp. Phantom had previously released two spectacular Chainsaws singles in "TS (Was It Really Me)" and "Like You", both high tension, gripping rockers whose flip sides were nearly equal to their A side. This was followed by another compilation called Assorted Desecrations and Magnificent Mutations wherein Phantom bands covered songs by other Phantom bands - a concept that Jules mentions was followed in exact detail by Atlantic Records in the U.S. for their 40th anniversary some months later.
In addition to the two Chainsaws singles were three fine singles from the Hummingbirds and a tough record from Adelaide’s Mark Of Cain. Other more mainstream pop efforts by groups like One Million Pieces, the Whole World, and Fear Of Falling, and the Whitlams may have done better financially than they did artistically.
When CDs began to penetrate the indie market around 1989-1991, Phantom released a first rate Vanilla Chainsaws compilation called Red Lights, and followed that up with a nice Lighthouse Keepers retrospective. There was also a Sunnyboys disc called Shakin’ (recorded live when the original 4-piece reformed for a short tour in 1990) and a couple different CDs from ex-Birdman guitarist Chris Masuak’s band The Juke Savages.
One late period Phantom group that deserves special mention is the Purple Avengers. Their Emma Peel Sessions debut CD was a terrific brand of swirling psychedelic rock that reminds me of the first record by Adelaide’s (and Hobart’s) Philisteins. The Purple Avengers had two more very good CD releases for Phantom, but the debut is certainly the best.
In the interview below, Jules doesn’t talk a lot about Phantom’s activities from the late eighties on. It’s clear that this wasn’t a pleasant time for him as he found himself working with partners whose purposes and direction were different from his. He mentions a little of the story of how Sebastian Chase came to be his partner. Much more about Chase can be read in Craig Mathieson’s book The Sell In, which describes how the Australian indie scene was finally recognized by Australia’s commercial music industry and ultimately largely wrecked by it. Chase was a founding member of the label rooArt, which debuted with much fanfare (and substantially less quality) near the end of the eighties. When he approached Phantom in 1991, Chase had left rooArt in a bitter split with partner Chris Murphy. Jules knew of him because the Hummingbirds had moved from Phantom to rooArt a couple years earlier. But ultimately Chase’s goals for the Phantom label were quite different from Jules’ ideals, and the resulting mismatch took the joy out of Phantom for Jules.
I was in Sydney in late May of 2002 to see Radio Birdman on a reunion tour, and while there I’d arranged to meet with Jules for an interview the day after I arrived in Australia. I hopped the bus for Bondi Beach on Oxford Street and got off down by the famous waterfront around mid-day. As I walked the five or six blocks up the hill to the house where Jules lives, huge thunderheads reared up from the south. I’d just made it up to the porch when the downpour came in a rush. Jules wasn’t in, but he’d said he might be a couple minutes late, so I sat and waited. Very soon a cab splashed up to the curb and out jumped Jules, bag of groceries in one hand. By the time he made the steps, he was drenched.
We shook hands and entered the house, a comfortable two-story place. Jules invited me into the kitchen and began making lunch for both of us while we got to know each other a little. We’d exchanged e-mails on several occasions and had actually met briefly once many years before at the Phantom shop. In one discussion on an e-mail list about music, we’d somehow managed to find that we both started our record collections by buying a single by The Royal Guardsmen, and I’d sent him a compilation CD of theirs as a result.
Jules began by telling me how much he had to do that afternoon and how his time was going to be limited, but in the end we talked for well over two hours and blew most of his day. Jules talks like it rains – a complete torrent of words - with hardly a pause for breath. Although he’s in his late forties and mostly grey haired, his enthusiasm for music exceeds that of any dozen twenty year olds combined.
We sat down to eat, and naturally enough began talking about Radio Birdman, who had played their first two reunion gigs in Sydney a few nights before my plane arrived.
Jules: “You haven’t seen them yet, have you?”
Steve: “No, but I heard that it was great.”
Jules: “I saw Deniz this morning. I had tickets for the second night, but I didn’t go because I was so hungover. I don’t drink much anymore because I’m too busy – a little bit here and there. But I got plastered. I must have been, but I didn’t feel it. But I had this shocking hangover the next day and I couldn’t operate very well. I took a lot of Advil.
So I couldn’t go to the gig, and I said to Deniz, so how was the gig last night? And he said "tons better than the first night". And the first night was in the top five or ten gigs I’d ever seen them do. The great thing is – what band has ever maintained the same sort of intensity for that period of time?
It was just amazing to me how well they fired together. And Ron was just driving the thing. It was like he had the whole thing in his hands and was driving the thing, like the engine driver in the back. He’s not always done that. He’s always been Ron – a very good drummer. He’s always absolutely crucial, but this was like, he was in control. It was amazing.”
Steve: “Yeah, that’s what Russell Hopkinson was saying, that he was right on it.”
Jules: “Well, he was. That’s right, it’s really true. He was as powerful as I’ve ever seen him get, for sure. And how old is he now? He must be 53 or 54 or something?”
Steve: “Yeah, and those songs take some work to play, too.”
Jules: “As a drummer you would know, yeah?”
Steve: “Well, these days I mostly just play along to records at home, but I play a fair amount of Radio Birdman, and if you want to play it well, you’ve got to work at it.”
(Jules serves tea and lunch and the conversation revolves around what goes into that for a while).
Steve: “I want to get the history of Phantom and how you got involved in rock and roll in the first place. So I thought that going back to the beginning – I remember you told me that one of the first singles you liked was that "Snoopy’s Christmas" single by the Royal Guardsmen. . .”
Jules: “(nearly chokes on his sandwich laughing) Ah, that’s right, you sent me that CD! So you REALLY want to go back to the beginning – to stuff that no one has ever heard before! I dunno, I was a bit of a rebel as a kid. I had Christian parents and we always had to go church. I hated it. You always had to wear neat clothes and long socks and bloody shorts and that kind of shit, and I just hated it completely. I hated all that stuff with a passion. And the one escape for me when I was at home was listening to the radio. My Dad used to make radios in his spare time.
(At this point there’s a huge crash of thunder from outside…)
Woah! That’s big thunder! Will that come out?”
Steve: “I’m not sure. We don’t get much of this stuff in San Diego. Thunder’s really rare for us.”
Jules: “That’s a big one! It was pretty quick after the lightning. That’s probably about two miles away. Um, so yeah, so my dad built a radio for my brother and me, and we used to sit there and listen to the radio in the 60s. And I used to have this little book and I’d write down every song that I liked, and I’d grade it. I’d jot down the artist and the title. If I wrote it down at all, it meant I liked it. If I put one line under the artist, it meant I liked it a fair bit. And then there was a line under the artist and a line under the song, and then if there was three lines under each it meant it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. I’ve still got the book here somewhere. If you want some fun I’ll give you a look at it.
I remember that in 1960 Dad bought an old phonograph from a garage sale for my brother Michael and I, with about fifty 78s, and most were classical and opera, but there were two Elvis 78s amongst them…so we used to play that old thing all the time. And then Dad came home one day and said "I’ve bought you a subscription to "Eagle" magazine and you just go into the news agency every Tuesday and pick up the latest issue on the way home from school". I was utterly amazed as we’d NEVER been allowed to read comics, and half this mag was comic strips and the rest was err…youth culture. And it was a UK mag so it had a pop page, so I learnt about Cliff and the Shadows, and Adam Faith, and Billy Fury. So I finally knew what all these guys looked like that I heard on the radio – and then this new band called the Beatles were on the pop page - I just got so into the Beatles – I even had a Beatle haircut as early as late 1963. But I never bought any records back then as I only used to get one penny a week pocket money. We used to have some Seekers records at home - they were clean looking folk. I was brought up listening to classical music and the Seekers basically, until I listened to the radio. And then later on I heard "Snoopy’s Christmas", and I thought that was great. And my mom was so proud to take me into this record shop to buy my first record, because all the other kids were still listening to ‘horrible rock records’ - bands with ‘the long hair’. But Jules wanted to get "Snoopy’s Christmas" and my Mum was so proud of me.
But then I started buying other stuff. I don’t know what I bought after that. My second single I think was Love Sculpture, "Seagull" - Dave Edmunds. I think that was the second single I bought. That was early ‘69. Because we didn’t have pocket money. Like I said, I used to get a penny a week. And then we got to three pence by the mid 60s. Which was not exactly nothing – but you couldn’t buy anything with any substance with it…you could buy a few lollies.
So I just listened to the radio a real lot and wrote my list of all my favorite records. So I was already doing things like writing lists of my favorite records when I was thirteen. And my brother, who was a year and a half older than me, when he was 14 he decided to become a Christian so he got baptised when he was 14 through choice, you know? So he was no influence on me. In fact, he probably influenced me by driving me away from it. Like "you’re kidding, you choose to do that?"
I suppose my nature was that I didn’t want to hang around with all the good guys at school. I was hanging around with the guys that were smoking cigarettes and stuff when I was 15 and 16 in the back of the school. And we’d talk about blues records and stuff and they’d play these John Mayall records – Bluesbreakers and stuff like that. And Cream records. And people started writing "Hendrix is God" on their schoolbooks and carving it into the desks. Well, who the fuck’s Hendrix? I didn’t know, right at the very beginning. So I just got into music like that through some of these guys.
There was one particular guy named Chris White – he played guitar, though he wasn’t in any band. And I went to his house one day, and he had like the first Steamhammer lp, which is still one of my favorite ever albums – real gutsy bluesy stuff with wild harmonica playing before they went all progressive. And I was so impressed.
And the guy next door played me the first Black Sabbath LP and the first Uriah Heep LP. He was actually the boyfriend of the girl next door. I went down there and he played me these two records, and I just thought, woah, there’s something different happening. I couldn’t believe it. So I went out and bought both those albums. Then I noticed that they were both on Vertigo Records, because they came out on Vertigo in New Zealand. So I bought every record on Vertigo after that.
And I started reading music magazines then. I just got enthused. I started buying records and I joined a record club. The first album I’d ever bought was a New Zealand-only compilation album of UK progressive bands, believe it or not. There were 16 of them on there or something like that. Admittedly it had David Bowie "Space Oddity", but all the other bands were ones who these days are well regarded. In retrospect I’m quite proud of that, although at the time I just bought it because it had a couple songs that I liked on it.
And then I bought Abbey Road, and then I bought the Human Instinct’s "Stoned Guitar". Do you know them? They were a phenomenal Jimi Hendrix styled progressive band from New Zealand. I bought it because it was cheap – it was only $3.99 brand new, while the others were all $4.99, so it was a buck cheaper. . . So I bought that, and in retrospect again, I think "How’d I buy that?". I was only 16. There’s a lot of bloody great guitar playing on that LP. I’m not trying to brag about it…the fact that I got in early – it was cheap like I said, and Chris White had told me how great they were – he had their first album.
But I kept reading music magazines, and I met these two long haired guys – we had short hair because we had to go to school – these two guys came to town from Auckland. I come from a small town in New Zealand called Nelson, and these guys came from Auckland, and they had long hair and were cool as all hell, and they just took me under their wing. I met them the first day they arrived in town and I ended up sharing a house with them. I moved out of the home and didn’t even tell my parents. I just packed up my bags one day and my mum said "What are you doing?". And I said "I’m moving out, mum".
We had this place that was nine bed rooms – an ex-guest house. There were fourteen of us living there, and the rent for the whole place was twenty dollars a week. We paid $1.66 a week each. And I was the last person to move in, and there were two giant lounge rooms, so I had one of these two giant lounge rooms. This was a big thing in my musical life, too, because it was a huge lounge room, like four times as big as this room. Massive. And all I owned was a mattress, a couple sheets and a pillow, and my bag of clothes. And that was it. I was in the corner, and I had like 27 albums, and I bought a little record player. And the deal was if I wanted to move in, there was a band that came around and practiced in this room. So this band came down and they used to play MC5 songs. They were just a local band, and they only played one or two gigs ever. They were just a couple of mates from school. So they introduced me to the MC5. They used to play Blodwyn Pig and the MC5 and Tull songs without the flute. They were quite heavy. It was the beginning of 1971. So, in retrospect, it was quite early to be playing MC5 songs. And this was in a little tiny town, with a population 25,000. We’re talking about a very small town.
I’d never heard of the MC5. I remember they brought that Back In The USA album around and they played it, and I just went woah!
Then I came to Australia. I came here by myself. I just left, because I’d met these two guys in Nelson who were from Sydney and they said "you’ve gotta come and stay with us because there’s lots of Bob Hope over there." And I said "What are you talking about?" And they said "Dope, mate, dope!". And that seemed pretty appealing. So that was it – I kept in correspondence with these guys for about six months and then finally I came over here. And I lived in Maroubra. And they were living with their parents – I thought they had a flat. I thought I was going to stay with them when I got over here, and then they worked it out so I could stay with one of them for one week and stay with the other parents for another week. So I stayed with one for one week, and his parents were really lovely and nice and treated me like a family member, and I went to the next guy and his father was a complete drunk who threw me AND his son out the night I moved in. They lived in a huge block of flats along that beach, and that was it. He chucked his son out for having the gall to bring someone home.
And the guy, Mick, said, "But dad, this guy looked after me when I was in New Zealand!". Because I’d let him stay in my room there – I had a crash pad in the corner with three mattresses. "He looked after us". And his dad went "I don’t fucking care, I don’t want any fucking strangers living in my house!" Just ranting. And he kicked his bloody son out, threatening to beat up his son. So we went and slept in this laundry block for a few days.
And then this other family that I didn’t even know just took me in. The other guy’s father let his son back in by then. So this other family took me in and let me stay with them. This was three days before Christmas, you know? It was amazing. People I didn’t even know. ……And they had children – they had a three year old and a six year old, and I was just a bloody stranger. I mean, you’re not likely to find that sort of generosity now. And I had really long hair, and this was a normal bloody working class family where the father worked in a factory. It’s amazing when you think about it.
But I moved out with this guy Mick eventually. I’d arrived in Australia with $170. No job, no return ticket, no nothing. That was it. I couldn’t get a job, and we eventually got a flat together that was like eight bucks each a week. And this guy turned out to be a complete asshole – I said I’ll get a job, and I’ll pay you any money I owe you for food. And he said, you’re not having any food that I fucking buy! So he wouldn’t let me eat any of his food. He knew exactly where everything was in the fridge, and he wouldn’t let me eat any of it. He bought me a giant king sized pack of corn flakes, that ones that restaurants buy. And he said you can have that. I’ll pay for the milk, and that’s it.
One day him and a bunch of mates went for a drive out into the country, and they wouldn’t take me because I couldn’t pay like $4 for petrol. And they went down to a farm and climbed over a fence and shot a sheep. They brought the sheep back, skinned it out in the back of our house and hung it all up inside and put it up in the fridge. Some of them took cutlets home. We had like three or four roasts in the fridge. But I wasn’t allowed to touch it, because it was his.
So then by a fluke I met this girl over the road – one night late this girl’s drunken father knocked Mick’s motorbike over. So I went up to see what was going on, and the daughter came down and was all embarrassed by what her father had done, and I started talking to her and I told her how much I hated living there. And she said, oh, you should move into my boyfriend’s place – he and I are going over to Germany in a couple of days and there’ll be a spare place in his house. So I said I’m interested, where is it? And she said "Darlinghurst". And I’m like, where the fuck’s Darlinghurst? I’d never heard of it.
So I’m 17 years old I just sort of bravely ventured into bloody town and knocked on the door of this house, and it was amazing. My whole bloody life just changed then, from this chance meeting with this girl outside this house because her father knocked over my mate’s motorbike.
They ended up saying that I could move in, and there was these five ultra-hippies. But I was, too, so it was OK. And Rob Younger lived next door. And Ron had just moved out from there – I was just talking to Ron the other day about it. We were going through it all. And so I ended up living there and I just met everyone from that place.
Rob and I became really close friends. We just had this passion for music and we loved the same shit. He’d turn me on to things and I’d turn him onto things. And I got a job eventually – got a job in a chocolate factory. So that’s how I met them.
They had a band called Hard On. Rob played rhythm guitar, and Mick played lead guitar – Mick Lynne from the Rats. And Ron was the drummer. A guy called Bob Dixon, I think he played keyboards, and they had an electric violin player. And there was somebody else in the band, but I can’t remember who the hell it was. Bob Dixon was just this mate we knew, he was a good bloke. Ron just told me he died recently – Ron’s still in touch with that entire household from way back in ’72!
And Frank Cayley played bass – great guy! And they all had fucking long hair. Rob had long hair way below his waist, and a ginger beard.”
Steve: “He had a beard?”
Jules: “Ginger! He’d probably hate it known. There’s probably no photos of him then in existence. The other thing about Rob – I never, ever saw a kid photo of him. There’s never been any in circulation. I don’t know what he looked like as a kid. I’m sure he had red hair and freckles. The one thing I remember about Rob is all the time we were together he never had any photos of himself at an age younger than what he was then! It was odd.
So I just sort of fell into that crew. … The people on the other side of our house – we were in the middle of these three houses – they were really into English progressive stuff, all the stuff on the Harvest and Vertigo labels. This one guy in particular just bought everything. He had a really good job. He was a mad looking hippy, but he bought everything on those labels. Every Harvest record – the most obscure frigging things. So it was just an education. And I was buying the same sort of things. I was going to all of these second hand shops.
Have you been to Martin’s in town? Martin’s second hand shop down on Pitt Street? Well that was there then. Way back then, and that was a great shop. And there were three more shops up the street. Lawson’s is still there. They were one of them. Ashwood’s was another one, but they moved about two years ago. It was great up until then, but now they’re a pile of shit with a new owner and everything. But they’d been there since 1937 or something like that selling second hand records and books and things like that.
They were just meccas. Rob was always going there and I was always going there. You’d go and you’d find all these things you’d never heard of before – totally never heard of. You’d go what the fuck’s this? Well it doesn’t matter, it’s 95 cents. Everything they didn’t know was 95 cents. So I picked up sealed copies of the first two Standells albums Why Pick On Me and Dirty Water sealed for 95 cents. ‘Cos they'd buy import deletions in America and bring them in. The things you’d find to buy, fuck! It was phenomenal!
And there was another shop there called the Pitt, next door to Lawson’s, where Lawson’s is now. And they used to bring in all English deletions. They had American records as well, but they used to bring in a lot of English stuff. It was incredible. They’d have things like the Open Mind lp – an amazing English psychedelic LP, worth a bloody fortune these days. Heaps of money. And I bought all those things there for a dollar fifty or two fifty. It would be expensive if it was two fifty.
It was just an absolute mecca, and I used to go there everyday because it was on the way home for me. Everyday I used to walk home from the chocolate factory and I’d go in there, so nothing would escape me. I bought every record that looked interesting. It was great. And I used to read NME every week when it would come out.
And then this import record shop called Anthem opened in Sydney. I don’t remember what year it opened. 1973, I think. In Town Hall Station. And I used to go there and order – I remember ordering the Kiss album when it came out because I’d seen pictures of them in Creem magazine, these guys with makeup. And I’d heard they were good because Richard Robinson said they were good. Or I’d order things like that – I ordered the first Aerosmith album, and the Dictators album. All within weeks of each other – just because I’d read about them in Creem. Creem was my bible. That was 1973 by now or something like that. 73 or 74.
The Rats were playing by then, and being good mates with Rob, I was just there. They played the kind of music that I loved, so I went to the gigs with them, and I sort of became their roadie and did their sound. I used to go where ever they went – it was good!”
Steve: “Did you ever think about playing yourself?”
Jules: “Oh, I thought about it, but I didn’t have the patience to bloody sit down and learn it, I suppose. I played the piano for six years as a kid, and I got to be relatively good playing classical piano. But I could only read, I wasn’t one of those people who could play by ear. I could play to music really well, and I still can read music from then. I’ve put little effort in since then, but I can still read.
Yeah, I fantasized about it, but I didn’t do anything about it. I was too busy doing other things. And I had all these mates who loved music. Rob and I ended up living together for a while, and I knew a lot of other people who loved music, and few of them really played. So we used to just hang out together and go to gigs and just have fun. And that was enough – it didn’t matter that I didn’t play. So we went to a shitload of early gigs. All those early Australian progressive bands whose lps are worth a ton of money these days, we went to all their gigs. Blackfeather, Cahin, Piranha, Kahvas Jute, Coloured Balls, Carson, Spectrum, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs….saw them all tons of times…
When the Rats – mmm, was it the Rats? – it was about 1974, so it must have been the Rats – they rehearsed in this old abandoned empty sort of warehouse down in Woolloomooloo. I don’t know how they got it actually, but someone leased it out and they got it for bugger all money. I used to go down with them then. And the only other band that was using it was this band – I remember the other guys saying this other band was going to be down there – and it was this other new band, called AC/DC. So they used to rehearse there as well. It’s pretty amazing – in retrospect. It wasn’t amazing then, because it was just a bunch of Joes. But we got to hear them a few times – you’d arrive early and I remember hanging around waiting and listening to them, that was the original lineup, Angus and Malcolm and three other guys. They were amazing, and we actually liked them quite a lot. A few of us went to their first ever gig – I think it was at
Chequers, or Rags it might have been called by then.
Did I answer the first question yet? (much laughter)”
Steve: “Oh, yeah! Now for number two!”
Jules: “Sorry about that!”
Steve: “No, I think it’s always interesting hearing about all these old reminisces.”
Jules: “I could sit around for hours tell you amazing things we did back then. Like there was one gig the Rats did in a place called Portland. It was a cement town out west near Lithgow. And somebody had gotten the gig – I think it was a friend of Rob’s or Warwick’s. I dunno. And Warwick used to have a hearse – a black hearse. It was fucking great. So him and Rob and I went off in this black hearse, and I sat in this little dickie seat in the back – a little seat that folds up next to where the coffin would be. Fuck it was good fun. We drove out there and we didn’t really know what we were heading to. We thought it might be a party thing, and then we thought it might be in a hall or something. So we go there, and it’s just a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, and the party’s gonna be there!
And we go, what, in the lounge room? Because the lounge room is no bigger than my lounge room. So the band set up just against the wall and played, and the wall is like that far away from you (points at his kitchen wall about 8 feet away). So you can get three rows of people in front of you - they played this amazing gig out there. And the accommodation was like, well, yeah, we don't really have any bedrooms, guys. None of them gave a fuck by that time, at 1:00 in the morning when the band finished playing, and these guys whose house it was were pissed, stoned, whatever and they just went off to sleep in their comfy bedrooms.
So we had nowhere to sleep. And it was freezing – it was snowing outside. And we actually ended up sleeping on the fucking floor like curled around the drum kit and all that sort of stuff. I remember it being one of the coldest nights I ever spent in my life. That was one of the few gigs that the Rats played – they played a few gigs at the Oxford Tavern before it was the Funhouse. I can’t remember where else they used to play.
But the Rats days were very good fun. They played no originals, all cover versions, but great fucking cover versions. And they were such a wild band. We’re talking early 1974 when they started.”
Steve: “Did you see TV Jones much?”
Jules: “Oh, yeah, because TV Jones was the one other band like the Rats that we’d heard of. And Rob put me on to them. No Ron, not Rob. Because Ron knew Deniz. And Deniz and Pip were both in this band, TV Jones. I remember the first time I saw them was at a battle of the bands – it was Hoadley’s Battle Of The Bands. Hoadley’s were a chocolate maker, they made these things called Violet Crumble bars. And TV Jones played at this battle of the bands, and the Stevie Wright Band played as well – the guy from the Easybeats. And a few other bands that were putting records out back then – Finch played. Hard rock bands.
I don’t remember where TV Jones placed, but I remember that it was regarded as some form of conspiracy that happened that they didn’t win (laughs). Or something like that. But I remember how good they were – they were amazing. And Deniz was sort of the main dude there. There was Deniz, Chris Jones, Giles Vanderwerth and I think Gerry Jones on drums. And Deniz would put his guitar down and just do this mad jiving all over the stage. It was awesome. He really was just completely and utterly energetic. They did Alice Cooper songs and a few originals. "Monday Morning Gunk" was originally a TV Jones song. A couple of other early Birdman songs were as well.
Yep, so that’s the answer to that question. I’m good at long answers – you OK with that?”
Steve: “That’s good – it makes my job easy. So now let’s talk about the Phantom label and the store and how you got into that. Which one came first?”
Jules: “The store. What happened – I’ll make this relatively brief. In 1974, the time that the Rats was all happening, I worked in a warehouse. So I just loved this shop called Anthem, and I used to go there all the time. And the NME magazine was like the bible. They used to sell that here in the shops, and it would come by ship but it was like three months late. It didn’t really matter because it wasn’t about what was happening here anyway. But Anthem used to get it airmail because they needed the info in order to buy their stock from England. And they’d get one copy that way and they’d read it, and then they’d put it out for people to read.
And I used to ask if I could borrow it, and I used to read every friggin’ word in it so I could keep up to date with what was going on. And at that time my absolute dream in life was to work in an import record shop. I thought it was just the most fucking amazing thing that you could ever do. I just dreamt of it, but I never thought it would happen because there was only one import shop in town, and that was Anthem. And one day I went in and I just couldn’t fucking believe it – there was a sign that said "position vacant". And I went fuck! I’ve gotta have that job. I’ve gotta have that job. What do I have to do? What do I have to do? I’ve gotta have that job.
I couldn’t believe that I walked in on that day and saw it. And the guy at the shop rang up the two bosses and they said ah, yeah, Jules, we know him, he wants to apply for the job? Tell him to come up this afternoon. So they go OK fine. And I went up there – it was a Thursday – and I remember just walking in and these two guys Dave and Alan owned Anthem, and I said "Look, I don’t care if you don’t pay me, I just want this job. I really don’t care if you pay me, somehow I’ll get by. But I just want this job so much." That was the first thing I said.”
Steve: “(laughs) Good bargaining! Great negotiating!”
Jules: “Well, I was 20 by then. I didn’t give a fuck. All I wanted was to do this, and there was no where else in Sydney. There was no other import shop. This was it. It was the one shop. And they said look, what we’re doing is opening up a second shop downtown, near the business district. And they said look, Chris Pepperill’s gonna manage it (the guy who eventually started Red Eye). We’ve got him, and we’re gonna send him down there. And we need an assistant for him. And I went "Look, I promise I can do it. All you know about me is that I’m some guy and I work in a bloody warehouse. But if you know ONE thing about me, you’ve seen that I read the NME and I know everything. There’s nothing I don’t know.
And they said, well there’s all these people we’re going to interview on Friday, we’re going to think about it over the weekend, and we’re gonna call people on Monday. Oh, god, I went home, and I couldn’t sleep that night. The next morning they rang me, first thing in the morning before I went to work, and they said you’ve got the job. And I just couldn’t fucking believe it. They said "When can you start?" And I said I have to give them a week’s notice, and they said, "fine, Monday week".
Awesome! So I was in this record shop, and we had two suppliers, one in England and one in America, and that was it. And what happened was that about four or five months later the two owners ended up arguing. And they didn’t get on too well any more after that. So they split up the two businesses, so one got one shop and one got the other. So this guy Dave got Ripple Records, the one I was working in, and part of the deal they worked out was that Chris, who was a good manager and better than the one they had in the other shop, would go to the old shop, and they got rid of the other manager. So the other owner Dave decided to come in and work with me, and after a few months he was kinda sick of it and he didn’t want to work behind the counter in record shops anymore. And he said "Do you think you can manage it?" And I said, absolutely!
Jules in 1978:
So I just managed this record shop for three and a half years until 1978. And as long as it worked, it didn’t matter what you sold, so I just sold things that – I mean, it was crucial to buy things that were what people were going to buy, bread and butter music – you know, like the new Eagles or Genesis LP, or the new Yes, Tull, Zeppelin LPs – so we’d get them in and they weren’t going to be released here for another 2 or 3 months – this was the way it was back then – there was absolutely NO such thing as a simultaneous release here – so we had that leeway – that period of time to sell these major new releases. But also, I could order all the LPs I loved. So I used to order things like all the original Stooges albums. They were all still available then, all three of them, from America. And I bought them and sold bundles of them. Then I found out it was cheaper in Canada to buy them, so I bought a bunch of Canadian pressings. And MC5 ones as well. We just searched all over the world for the best places to buy things. It was all done by mail. So it just became a great shop…that people gravitated to.
It’s funny enough, when the disco thing happened, we used to sell soul music as well, and obviously it came out of soul music and I used to get in all the disco records because some of them when they first started were like Sly and the Family Stone – funky, but good. But not straight disco. So when this whole disco thing started to happen in 1974 and 1975, we were the only import shop that sold that stuff. So all of a sudden here I was being associated with Radio Birdman, and I had this shop that was the premier disco shop in town….kinda something you’d want to keep quiet!
Apart from the fact that I sold shitloads of Stooges records and the like, it was like two amazing markets. Disco to the max and tons of Blue Oyster Cult and Kiss and all those influential American records. And I liked English progressive music as well, so all the English stuff that was still available. Lots of that came out in 1971/72/73 so it was only a year or two old. So we had a huge mish-mash of stock, but it was all cutting edge stuff. It was even cutting edge disco if there is such a thing. It was at the time, because it was all new and kind of cool. I mean, you look back at it now and you think the mid 70s was shitty, but there was some pretty intense stuff.
I used to love all the DJs. All the DJs in town from all over the suburbs used to come to the shop to buy their stuff. And they relied on me to know what was good. So I got to work out what a good disco record was. So I’d get one copy of everything that came out. And the DJs would come in, and I loved them and they loved me, so it was fantastic. I had a great relationship with all those guys. But it was completely against what I liked. Apart from stuff like Parliament Funkadelic. When that came out it was amazing, because there were all these fuzztone guitar solos. It was incredible. Bootsy’s Rubber Band and stuff like that.
So I ran that shop for three and a half years, and I only left it at that stage when Birdman was in Europe touring England. So I went over there with my girlfriend, and that’s another story.”
Steve: “What was your role with Radio Birdman then? Did you manage them at some point?”
Jules: “Yeah, I did, yeah, but I should clarify that a bit. Because what happened was that when the Rats split up, in about two or three months Rob and Deniz became real good friends – I think they might have moved in with each other. I’m not too sure. In Darlinghurst. And then this sort of new band formed, and Carl from the Rats became the bass player. So it was Carl, Ron, Rob from the Rats and Deniz and Pip from TV Jones.
So I just performed the same role – it was nothing written on paper, nothing paid for. It was just, I loved the gigs, so I might as well be helpful, carry the gear. No one said "Can you carry the gear, mate", it was just like "I’ll help with the gear". So you went along and carried the gear.
So I was effectively their roadie. And I actually learned how to set up the amps and all that sort of shit like I’d done with the Rats. And we had a mixing desk that was only 8 channels. It was really light, so you could carry it in one hand. And I used to do their sound as well at the very beginning. Now I’d never done sound – well, I used to do it for the Rats – but I’d never done it before. I just did it because no one else was doing it. Somebody had to do it. But I learned very little about that, I must admit. A couple nights I was incredibly hurt, because they’d come off and go "the fucking sound was so fucked tonight", and I’d feel like it was totally my responsibility. I just used to suffer inside. I loved the band, and I loved the guys, and I thought "Oh, god, I’ve fucked up", you know? It was horrible.
But I never let on. . . but it did hurt sometimes. But that’s OK, it was no one’s fault. If the sound was bad, the sound was bad. Why wouldn’t you yell about it? Insensitive bastards.
So I did that, and then they had this guy Mike Hurst, who I think was a friend of Deniz. He’s a sports writer for the Telegraph these days, for athletics, he’s their main writer these days. I dunno what he was doing back then. I think he was doing something similar, but he was just a mate of Deniz, and he used to manage the band. He didn’t really do a whole lot, apparently. I just remember one night they played at the Lifesaver when he was the manager, and he either went home early or something or other happened and the money didn’t come. They weren’t forthcoming with the money or something. I don’t think there was any major argument about it. And I remember saying, "Fuck, I’ll go up and get the money!" And I went into the room with the club manager – I’d never done anything like that before in my life – so I went in there and I ended up getting the money. Something like sixty bucks for the gig. No big deal.
And then I don’t know if I suggested myself – like, if you want me to do this sort of stuff for you, I’ll do it. So I ended up sort of – I was called the manager, but if you look at what a manager does these days, it was nothing like that. I didn’t organize gigs for them, I don’t remember really organizing more than a couple ever. Because they used do all that. I don’t remember booking any, actually, now that I think about it.
Because they used to look after all that. And I used to do the money sort of thing. It was all pretty insular. They’d book the gigs, Warwick would do the posters, and ‘managing’ wasn’t the all-encompassing sort of thing. In fact, I went to the guy who was the main writer at Ram magazine and asked him what you had to do to be a manager of a band. I said, mate, I’m supposed to be the manager of this band, and I don’t really know what to do, you know? I’m sort of meant to be the manager, but I’m just doing this and that, which is not very much.
So he said, oh, I’ve got a mate who’s a manager and manages Jon English and Marsha Hines, some big shot manager of these bands who everybody hated. Well, WE all hated them. But he was a manager, so I went and had a meeting with him and I just couldn’t fathom what he was fucking talking about – how to draw up a contract. And I was thinking oh fuck, it’s all too much for me! I was trying take it all in and I was going yeah, yeah, yeah, but I was so embarrassed, and when he left I just went fuck it, I just felt like a complete idiot.
So anyway, I performed this role for what it was worth which was called "the manager" for a period of time, for about ten months throughout 1975 basically. And then I felt that I needed to do more and I wasn’t doing enough, and if I did do more, then I wouldn’t be able to do my job in the shop. So I felt that I had to make a decision, whether or not the band would have been happy to have me do it, I had to make my own decision: did I try to put more into this thing and be like a real manager, or do I go with my very secure job. Which was a hell of a lot of fun, mind you.
So I went with the job. And it was never discussed with the guys. They didn’t know what I was thinking. I just thought someone better should be doing this, so I said, I don’t think I can do this any more. And Mark Sisto took over doing it, but he did about as much as I did. Not very much. In fact, he used to come into my shop to use the telephone to ring everybody up. So people would ring up to get the manager and they’d get a different person, but it was the same friggin phone! But he did other stuff as well.
And that didn’t last very long, and in the end George Kringas appeared on the scene. I think he was a friend of Warwick’s. And he did a pretty good job, basically. There tends to be a fair bit of conjecture about it, but in my impression I think George did a pretty good job. I’m not as close as the band were to it, though.”
Steve: “You were talking about going on the European tour with Radio Birdman…”
Jules: “Yeah, they played their last gig here in December of 1977, and I’d never been to Europe (well, just the UK for month of punk heaven in ’77) and my girlfriend was kind of keen. My first girlfriend I met in 1976 – no 1975. That was Penny Ward, and when I first met her she used to write lovely poems. She was a great poet in my opinion, just wrote incredible poetry. And she wrote a bit more and she was part of the whole Birdman thing, and we used to go to all the gigs together right from the early days. She always had great taste in music, and she got kind of interested in doing something more, and she started learning guitar. Really slowly at first, but she became competent enough to write songs quite quickly. And Warwick came around and gave her lessons at some stage. All the guys knew her and liked her – she was a real likeable person, you know. She got on well with all the guys in the band.
She eventually wrote a few songs that were fantastic songs – the poetry was really as good as Patti Smith’s in my opinion, but even more fluid. Much more romantic than Patti Smith’s, perhaps. This was a girl who was very shy when I met her. But she talked her way into getting up to play just this one gig at the Funhouse, so she used like Charlie Georgees from the Hellcats and Mark Kingsmill played drums, and I think it was just the three of them – she did it though, she got up and played. I was so impressed that she got up and did this gig…not only that she was very bloody good – played her own songs.
Sorry mate, I’m talking about other things. You asked me about when we went to Europe and I went off on a tangent. Fuck! (we both laugh)
So Penny wanted to come to Europe as well – go to where the Birdmen were going to be. It was a great thing to do. I said I’ll leave my job – she didn’t have a real crucial job. When it came time for them after they’d done that recording at Rockfield, they were doing that tour with the Groovies, and we went over for that. We had a great time. We went around on our own steam. We didn’t go in the van or anything. We did what we wanted, and we met up with everybody. And Dare Jennings who runs 100% Mambo, the clothing company, he came over as well. And he hired a car so we drove around with him for a bit. That was pretty good, going to gigs. We’d miss a couple – we’d go to Portsmouth and then we’d miss the next one and then we’d turn up in Bristol or something. Brighton, that was a good one.
The last gig ever, which is pretty well documented, was in Oxford at the university. Which was a monstrously huge gig that was all fucking students. That was the great thing about it. But the next night was meant to be the big last night of the tour in London. But they got taken off the bloody bill, because if memory serves Sire or Phonogram had them pulled so they could put one of their other bands on instead, since Sire had dropped Radio Birdman. I think it was Sham 69 were the band that replaced them. Another Sire act and one of the ones they were keeping. It was real disappointing – a major disappointment for the band.
I wasn’t witness to all the reasons why they split up, because I was travelling around elsewhere. John Needham and I actually hitch hiked around Wales at one stage.”
Steve: “Totally changing course, you told that story on the Divine Rites list about walking on the beach in Adelaide with Debbie Harry when Radio Birdman played there, and I don’t want to make you tell it again, but do you mind if I just replicate that in this article? I thought that was a cool story.”
Jules: “No, yeah, so did I. It was incredible when it happened. A few hours later I was like "what?"
(Here then is the story, which is only slightly edited from the archives of the Divine Rites e-mail group on Yahoo Groups…)
“I was doing the dishes in the kitchen there that day when Patrick wandered in with Debbie (then THEE most beautiful woman in the entire world...right?) and Chris Stein, Clem, Frank the Freak 'n' all. I remember wiping the suds off my arms to shake hands with them, and when I went into the lounge room a few minutes later, everyone was being a bit too nonchalant and just slothing around as if being amongst 'royalty' was an everyday thing. Admittedly it'd been a pretty huge gig the night before...I think it was the Marryatville show. I was embarrassed at the apparent lack of interest and lack of activity (now this house was RIGHT on the beach...the sand dunes came right up to the picket fence out the back) so I asked if anyone wanted to go for a walk on the beach. Debbie and Chris and Johnny Kannis were the only takers, so off we four set.
And as can happen when there's an even number, we just paired off and Johnny happened to walk with Chris and I got to walk with Debbie...for about a mile up the beach and back. If someone had suggested the day before that I'd be spending an hour wandering along a beautiful beach in deep conversation with DEBBIE HARRY (quite rightly the object of every youth's dreams), I'd A) would nay ha' believed it, and B) would have been a bloody quivering wreck at the mere prospect. But somehow it was as natural and easy as could be, and when, as we were walking back and about 50 meters behind the other two, she rested her head on my shoulder (for about ten seconds…count 'em!) when I suggested that the restaurant fare in Adelaide must pale in comparison to New York (cut-off T-shirt thus bare shoulder, guys) that also seemed just a natural response AT THE TIME. But of course it exploded out of all reality and back into complete fantasy as soon as I sat down after they'd left for an interview about twenty minutes later, and re-ran what had just happened. The truth is, it was just a couple of people wandering along a beach having a chat over a very brief period of time...but it was a tale I'd have forever. Yowsa!!...beyond cloud nine I tell you. You become less affected by this sorta stuff as time goes on, but this was HUUUUGE to me at the time. It's stored right up there in 'Unfadeable Memories' for me. OK, there's a smattering of ego above, but a ton more pure youthful disbelief and excitedness.”
Jules: “Did I mention about going to the party afterwards, a couple days later? In Sydney? Well, the postscript to that is that – of course everyone has those girls that they looked up to, and in those days Debbie was the most beautiful girl in the world. So I’d done this walking on the beach thing, and that was great, and then three or four days later we’re all back in Sydney and they’re playing a gig here and there’s a party for them. Someone’s organized a party, and somehow we get invited. So we go to the gig and we go to this party. And I’m in the kitchen with my girlfriend and we’ve got three or four people I knew – not band guys, but just customers and people I knew – friends. And into the party walks Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, and they walk through the kitchen, because the lounge room is past the kitchen. And she goes “Jules! Hi! How are you?”
Imagine what that’s like? I mean, Debbie Harry, THE most beautiful girl in the fucking world, walks in and acknowledges you in front of your girlfriend, in front of your friends. I’d obviously already told my girlfriend about what happened, but I hadn’t told other people. It was like – "You know her? She knows…you?" It was just the biggest ego boost that I’ve ever had in my entire life. I was in seventh heaven. Because she didn’t come and say hi and just keep going. She came in and stood there with Chris a bit and we just sort of chatted. And I introduced her to my girlfriend and blah blah. We had a great time. And then the party mingled on, but I just remember that. That was fucking amazing, as you can imagine. Because she was everyone’s pin-up.”
Steve: “Going back to when Radio Birdman split up - Did you start the Phantom shop when you came back to Australia?”
Jules: “No. I came back about six months later. I travelled around Europe and did all that sort of stuff. I crewed on a yacht in the Mediterranean for about 3 months. And I ended up in Los Angeles for a job (in a record one-stop) that I’d set up when I was in Australia with a guy that I used to buy stock from. And the day I arrived there, with twenty dollars in my pocket and no return airfare – I had twenty bucks! – but I had a place to stay with this guy Duncan, and I got there and he went "the boss asked if you’ve got a green card. You have got one, haven’t you, mate?" And I went "No, no, I thought it was all OK". And he said, "Oh, no, you have to have a green card. You can’t get a job without a green card." And I said, "Oh, I’m sorry, I thought it was all OK". So I couldn’t work.
So I arrive there Friday afternoon, and he comes home from work and goes "Job’s off". So I went "Holy fuck. No money, twenty dollars and no return airfare." Nothing in Australia, no money anywhere.
But the next day Dare rings up! Out of the blue, he’d tracked me down at Duncan’s place, and he says "I’ve started that record shop I was telling you about. Remember when we were on the Birdman tour I was telling you I was going to maybe start a record shop? Well I did it. I’ve bought all the stock, I’ve started a shop, and we need someone to buy sixties punk records and singles for us. Can you do it? If I send you money, will you go around buying sixties punk records and psychedelic records and send them back to me?"
And I was like "Will I what?". So that was my job. I lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco for seven months while every two weeks I’d go down to the bank and pick up eight or nine hundred dollars – that was always what he sent – and stick it in my bloody pocket and wander around and buy second hand records. Box ‘em up and send ‘em back to Australia for this new shop Phantom that Dare Jennings had started.
So he kept ringing me trying to get me to come back, and the offer kept getting better and better, and he actually ended up giving me a third of the shop to convince me to come back. I didn’t buy into it or anything. I was having a good time and I didn’t want to come back. How good is it being paid for…”
Steve: “…being a professional record shopper…”
Jules: “Yeah, a professional record buyer buying your favourite music? It was ridiculous. It was the best job anyone could have. I mean, I could go anywhere that records were ever made. I could go to South America, or all over America. I’d have spent years doing this. It seemed like the absolute perfect job. I’d buy stuff and put a percentage on it, and keep the balance.
So with that offer he talked me into coming back eventually, so I came back in July of 1979, and straight into managing the shop, because he just wasn’t happy with staff. He wanted someone who had managing experience to take the shop to the next level. And so I fulfilled that role, and it worked.
I was good at managing a record shop, because I was good at selling records that I loved. One thing I was good at was being completely honest about what it sounds like. If you like blah blah blah you’ll love that, and that sort of thing. And being spot on. I suppose it’s just a talent that I have – one of the few talents that I have – but it was a good one to base a shop around.
So instead of having disco records and all that stuff that we had in the other shop, it was just like punk, soul, surf, psychedelic, sixties garage, and nothing else. That was it. That’s what we sold.
And you could imagine that people would just gravitate to a shop like that. And I had a really good off-sider, Steve Stavrakis, who eventually started Waterfront. He came in a few months later – the others all left. Steve was brilliant. We just got on like a house on fire. We had so much fucking fun in that place. It was just me and him basically. Dare would come in a couple times a week to see how things were going and have a laugh and a couple beers with us. It was great.
And the shop just took off. I just used to stay out the back a lot, and I used to write to all these magazines. The Bob magazine, and Bucketful of Brains – any magazine that wrote down the address of the singles they reviewed. I used to write to them. I wrote to Hibtone to get the first REM single when it first came out. Because some guy wrote a review…it might have been Fred Mills. So I got one copy of it and I thought, wow this is great, so I got 50 more. You might pick up one in Sydney second hand these days, because there were some around.
Being that I sell rare records these days, I benefit so much from the stock that I brought in back then. Those records – a lot of them have become really collectible. So I get to buy it back. It’s a pretty good thing. I love that.
I used to write to bands all the time. I’d get things that no one ever heard of. Like the Milkshakes, remember the Milkshakes? I got one copy of their very first single and I went fucking hell, this is incredible, it’s REALLY like the Kinks or the Yardbirds – the Kinks more so. I couldn’t believe how good it was, so melodic and tough as all hell. So I wrote to the address on the back and struck up this relationship with Billy Childish. And I sold 150 copies of that single in my shop alone! They only made a thousand, so 150 came to one shop in Australia! And all I did was, I wrote this huge big review of it, like the same size as the record cover, stuck it on a bit of cardboard above the record cover, put it on the box on the counter with like 40 or 50 of them in this box, and highlighted the words like Kinks, Yardbirds, Stones – if you like those, and ranted about it a bit, and they just fucking walked out the door. I didn’t even have to sell them. A few people I had to sell them to, but basically people would just pick it up and say "Is it that good?", and I’d go yep. And they’d go "I’ll take it". So I sold 150 of that goddamn record.
And when their album came out, the very first album, which is quite rare, I sold 150 of that as well. They only made a thousand of that, too. So I was really proud of that. I did lots of that sort of stuff. That’s just an example, though it’s a big example. The quantity was huge. A Lot of times I’d only sell 20 or 30 of something, but still, I put a lot of effort into doing that. And I loved it, because the greatest thing for me having a record shop was turning people on to new music that they just loved, and they’d come back and tell me "Fuck mate, Sussex – Treat Me Kind – what an incredible song. Thanks for making me buy that. I only came in to buy the latest Blue Oyster Cult album and you made me buy this, and fuck, I can’t believe how good it is." I’d get things like that. That sort of stuff happened.
I sold tons of power pop and garage. And I started going back to America on buying trips. This was before too many people were doing that really. They certainly weren’t doing it from Australia. I think people from overseas might have traipsed around America a bit in the seventies. But in 1979 and 1980 I went back to America about three times with a load of money and just bought tons. I found this massive sixties punk collection – a guy had this huge sixties collection in Texas that filled four houses. He was an old guy, about 77 years old. He had four, no five houses. He lived in one of them and the other four were full of records. One was all country and western, one was all lps – it took me about two days to go through that, because there was a lot of country and western stuff in there. And it took me NINE days to go through these two houses of singles. They were completely and utterly alphabetical, and there was no country or anything in there, not even Englebert Humperdink records – that "pop" sort of thing. It was just like "band" sort of records mostly. Two houses of them!
Well, part of one house did have a male vocalist and female vocalist section, and a soul section. But the rest of it was just all bands. One and a half houses full! I’m talking about three bedroom houses with every room including the kitchen having records all around it. Neatly! Really neatly! It was all really tidy, neat shelves, and every record was 100% alphabetical. So the A section would be an entire wall. It was outrageous. And there was a record player there, so I would go through there and I’d pull out all the ones I knew, and I’d pull out all the ones where I sort of thought "Hmmm, the Headstones, never heard of them, sounds good" you know? I’d pull out "Bad Day Blues" and put it on and go "fucking hell!" I’d play the first three millimeters of the record, sort of 8 revolutions, and go "yep, this garage", and then move the needle two thirds of the way through the song where the guitar solo should be for it to be really perfect, if it’s the ideal song, and it would be some roaring fuzz solo, and you’d go "fuck, all right! That goes in the pile I’ll take."
So I’d go back and look at Headstones. He’s got 12 more copies! And they’re all mint! Everything was mint, because he bought deletion stock and he’d been doing it since 1945 – an outrageous number of years. Way back. So I bought this amazing collection.
There was one price guide called Osborne and Hamilton that was out at the time. They stopped doing price guides a while ago. We had the current one at the time – 1979 or something. But anything that was in there, the old guy, John L. Taylor was his name, he’d charge me half of what the listed mint price was. The only thing that was expensive in those guides were Presley rarities and stuff like that. Any sort of obscure thing just wasn’t in there. Or you might find 13th Floor Elevators in there. But anything more obscure than that, anything that WASN’T in the guide at all, like things on one-off labels, was a dollar! Everything! So I’d buy 12 copies of the Headstones single for a dollar each. Or 27 copies of 13th Floor Elevators "Reverberations", which was in there, but it said three dollars mint, so it was a dollar fifty. Half the listed mint price. It was incredible! The stuff I brought back to Australia was just phenomenal.”
Steve: “So that’s kind of the roots of all these Australian bands being into all this garage music.”
Jules: “Well, I wouldn’t say that I was responsible, but I would say that Phantom played a decent part in that we made it easy for them to get it. Now, the ones who really cared a lot would have gone and searched them out anyway. But I’m sure there are a lot of people who ended up in bands later on who came in and didn’t know what they wanted. They’d come in and asked me "What’s good? What do you recommend?" Or you’d just be playing it, and they’d go "What’s that? What are you playing?". And I’d go "That’s the Headstones single." "How much is it?" "$9.99". I’d think "I only bought it for a dollar, and I’m selling it for ten bucks. I feel terrible for doing that." But now it’s selling for three hundred dollars. I’d feel pretty terrible about that sort of margin. But I had to pay for the airfare over so it DID make sense. You know, I’d try to justify it to myself for making such an outrageous profit…on a record that was really worth ten times as much.”
Steve: “When did you start the label and what made you decide to do that?”
Jules: “OK, Dare and I owned the shop, and we both had girlfriends who were in bands. My girlfriend, Penny, was in Shy Impostors, and his girlfriend Julie was in Flaming Hands. And they had both done recordings, and our mates the Visitors had done recordings. And these were things where they hadn’t recorded them because some label was going to put them out – well I suppose in the hope that some label was going to put them out. I don’t think the bands had made that much effort in going around to major labels, because it was just sort of a given that major labels would not be interested under any circumstances in that sort of music. Which they weren’t.
So these were all friends of ours, so Dare said to me "I think we should start a record label and put these things out." And I thought "Hmmm, yeah. That’s a good idea, Dare. We should do that." So someone told him that EMI does pressings, so he rang them up and asked "How do you get a record pressed?" And they said, "Well, you bring the tape up here, we master it up here, and there’s a process you go through." Mastering, what’s that? (laughs)
So we go to the cutting room and we sit there really proudly while they cut the Passengers record. The Passengers was other friends of ours, and they were the first single we put out. So that’s what happened. We didn’t know anything about putting a record out, and here we are "Well excuse me, how do you put a record out?" "Well, you come with me, and we do it for you. We do all this for you, and then we take it in and we do the pressing and it costs this much." And we go "Oh, yeah, it sounds right." If we sell 500 copies we’ll actually break even. Well that’s good. We only want to break even. Because it was just a hobby. We were making good money at the shop.
The main reason the label started was really because we had a love for this music that we used to go and see live, and there was no outlet for it to be released, and there were three or four bands that had recorded some stuff. So we thought, well maybe we can do something here. So we talked to all the bands about it and they said absolutely!
And then some other friends of ours were in this band called the Surfside 6, who were sort of slightly Birdmannish but with kind of a surf edge.”
Steve: “That’s one I found used this week.”
Jules: “The one with the pink cover?”
Steve: “No, "Cool In The Tube".”
Jules: “Ah, that’s a good one. The pink coloured one is the second one and that’s really good, to me.”
Steve: “That one I’ve had for a long time.”
Jules: “Well, it sounds like Birdman. That’s one of the closest records to Radio Birdman I’ve ever heard. But anyway, we put out that Passengers single and the Surfside 6 guys came to us and said "Do you want to put out our record, too?". I was really nervous because I thought "What if I hate it? Imagine if somebody we liked gave us a tape and it was horrible?" But they gave us the tape and we thought "Fuck, it’s fantastic!"
So the first records were bands that were kind of friends. We were just so lucky that we liked them. We liked the people! But there’s always someone you like who’s your mate who’s in a shitty band. But it didn’t happen. It was never awkward - it was fantastic.
In a way, I would never say that we were responsible for Citadel or Waterfront, but Steve worked in Phantom, and JFK and the Cuban Crisis came in and brought their demo tape in, and I liked it, but I didn’t like it enough that I would want to release it. See, our credo was that if this demo tape existed as an actual seven inch single, would I actually go out and buy it because I wanted to keep it and play it a lot. If it didn’t meet the criteria, we wouldn’t do it. And the JFK thing was really good, but it didn’t quite meet that rule, so we ended up saying no. But we played the demo in the shop all the time, and Steve just loved it. And he thought "I might start a record label, you know". And he may have done it anyway, but I remember the moment in the shop where he said he’d been thinking about it and he said if we didn’t want to release this thing that he’d really like to do it. And I said, absolutely! So he did that, and then I remember John Needham coming with the Minuteman single and wanting us to release that, and we liked it pretty well but we had too many things happening just then to do a proper job of it, so we ended up not doing it. So he said, well bugger it, I’m going to go do it myself.”
Steve: “Having an example that shows that these things can be done is always a big plus.”
Jules: “I dunno if we were the first. We were one of the first in Sydney. I think Doublethink’s first record might have come out before our first. I think they came out in early 1979 with that first Thought Criminals ep. But basically no one was making a real go of it.
Steve: “Is it true that you did a Dead Boys single? Is that right?”
Jules: “Yeah, well, Greg Shaw had always been a pretty good mate, and when I used to live in LA, I used to see him a lot. We used to get all his stuff, and the second of the two Bomp Dead Boys singles came out, or we got a preview tape of it. It’s always more appealing when you get a preview tape of something that’s not released – you go oh, fuck, maybe we could release this out here. And then Dare spoke to a guy who was prepared to bring them out here to tour. So we thought, if they’re going to do that, we’ll release the single as well, and we’ll go with that. To this day it’s still the only overseas single put out on Phantom. We certainly considered quite a few other things, but that’s it.
So I spoke to Greg Shaw and we got an artist from out here to do the cover, so it’s a pretty unique cover. You’ve never seen it?”
Steve: “No, you’ve gotta show it to me.”
Jules: “I haven’t got it lying around. Somewhere in my storage place I’ve got a few covers, because I’ve always kept a few mint covers of all of our releases so if I found a second hand one I’ve got a new cover to put on it.
Yeah, we did do that, and there’s a little story around it in that this promoter named Bob who was going to bring him out – he’d promoted a few gigs locally but I don’t think he’d done anything international. It was a big deal for him, and he rang up all these promoters who put on hard rock shows, and they didn’t know who the Dead Boys were. Anyway, we lined up the record, and we talked to Bob a fair bit and we were getting all excited about it, because we figured that people here in Sydney would go mad for them, and I figured there’d be big crowds in Melbourne and Adelaide and Brisbane for sure as well. And there would have been. But he spoke to the wrong people unfortunately and he got poor advice.
So the single comes out on this particular Monday in 1980, sometime there in August. And the tour is due in another two or three weeks – pretty soon it’s coming – and I remember distinctly Bob rings up about 11:00 on that morning and says "I’m sorry to pull out of the tour, but I’ve spoken to all these people and no one seems to be interested. So I’m not going to do the tour anymore." And we go "Oh, thanks, Bob."
But were nice to him because we liked him. I wasn’t pissed off at him because his reasons seemed rational. How can you argue with that? One guy is putting his money up and finds he stands to lose it – you can’t tell him he’s wrong. So an hour later we went to get the records, and we had them later that day. So we never actually had the records at a time that we thought the tour was going to happen. And subsequently it didn’t sell. Because it was available – we’d brought some import ones in and I think we’d satisfied the local market already, really.
So we made 800 of them, and Greg Shaw bought back 500 of them. So I sent 500 by ship, but they never arrived. To this day no one knows what happened them. And I thought maybe Greg might have gotten them and never paid, but something must have happened to the shipment, because they’ve never re-surfaced in America. With five hundred copies, you’d find them second hand. They would have appeared by now. But they just didn’t appear. The ship got sunk or something. There was speculation of that, but I never found out until later – they never arrived. By that time, I didn’t even bother ringing up the shipping company. So there’s only 300 of them in existence, really.
Steve: “Tell me about the Sunnyboys. Were they your first financial success?”
Jules: “Well, you could say that in that we made a little bit of money out of them. But we never checked the money. Everything went into the same cash register. If someone paid us for something, we stuck it in the bank account, you know?
Well, two of the guys in the Sunnyboys were in Shy Impostors, and I got to know them through the Shy Impostors – my girlfriend’s band. We’d split up by then, Penny and I, but this new band was forming with Richard and Peter from the Sunnyboys. And Rob Younger was the lead singer! They were rehearsing a lot – I think it was before Jeremy came down. I’m not sure if Jeremy was in the band as well…
But anyway, they never played live with Rob. They did a few rehearsals, and I don’t know what else they did after that. Because Richard Burgman was a very good friend of mine and I was in contact with him a lot. Unfortunately, I never saw one of their rehearsals. But anyway, Rob dropped out and they continued rehearsing, and all of a sudden they played their first gig, with the Lipstick Killers – I think it was down at Chequers – an amazing gig. I still remember picking out "Alone With You" on first listen live and thinking "Fuck, that’s a good song. That’s gotta be a single one day."
We didn’t chase them or anything, but Jeremy came to us one day with this tape. We didn’t even have a tape player in the shop at that stage, now that I think about it. But we had a hi-fi shop next door, so I used to take all my demos there. People would come by with a tape and I’d duck off next door and go upstairs where you could just sort of lounge around. That had this nice area where you could listen to the stereo and they just let me have the run of it. I’d go there and play my demos – take the band up and listen to it.
But I used to hate listening actually with the bands. I stopped doing it completely after the first couple times. Because they all look at you like "What are you thinking?" And you’re thinking "Fuck, this is horrible!" or "I don’t know yet, and I don’t want to say anything because it might be great, but it’s not apparent yet."
So I remember going up there and playing it, and I wasn’t too sure about it straight up. Originally I thought the lyrics were a bit naff on first listen. And then after a few listens I really liked them. But that was the four songs from the first ep.”
Steve: “They were a band that took a while to grow on me, too. Some bands just hit you right away, and other bands you have to play them six or seven times before you start to really get it.”
Jules: “I definitely played the demo three or four times before I really got into it. But that’s OK, because some of my absolute favourite bands are bands that I didn’t like right away. I thought, this is OK, I’ll play it a little bit more.
And they were definitely one of the greatest live bands ever, the Sunnyboys. You know how good that first album is – it’s one of the greatest, most totally consistent guitar pop albums I’ve ever heard. Ever, of any band anywhere in the world.”
Steve: “How did you come to do a Dagoes record?”
Jules: “Neil Perryman, who was known as Tony Rome, he was a good friend – to this day he’s a very good friend – I met him because he came into the Ripple Records shop in the 70s. He came in and we got talking and he became such a good friend of mine that he and his girlfriend Jude even invited me to their wedding. He wasn’t in a band at the time, but then he formed this band called the Dagoes, and we just continued in contact.
And because there was no independent distribution – there was no one to distribute independent records in Australia. No one had an independent record label, so how’d you get them around? I had the phone numbers of all the shops in Australia that were like Phantom – Augogo and Missing Link in Melbourne and whatever. And Neil started a shop in Adelaide that only lasted for a year or two, called Modern Love Songs. He was a baker by trade – he still is – a fantastic baker in Adelaide. But he suggested that he could distribute our records around Adelaide to two or three shops that might take some. Or maybe that started when we did the Dagoes record, I don’t know.
Because he sent me up this demo, and it had six songs on it which became that double ep – have you seen the double ep of theirs?”
Steve: “Yeah, I just found it down on Pitt Street – been looking for it a while. Only the one I found just has one of the two records in it.”
Jules: “Well, those two songs that we put out are on that. It’s a weird thing that – you know how you might do an Australian pressing of an overseas single? Well we were doing like a Sydney pressing of an Adelaide thing. I mean, it’s weird! But that’s what it felt like at the time. But in Adelaide they’d only done like 300 copies of that ep, so it’s very rare. And we knew that, but we knew that we were a little bit bigger and could maybe run a little bit further, and it would add to our roster. And it fit in perfectly – incredible guitar pop as far as I’m concerned.
That was another one that made me nervous. I remember distinctly driving in Dare’s car, playing this tape – putting it on for the first time – and going, "Fuck, I hope it’s good, ‘cos it’s my mate Neil". And it was fantastic and we loved it, and we picked out those two songs. They said they were going to do something with it anyway, but they weren’t going to do very many. So we did that. But it’s kind of odd, because I don’t know many places who have ever done that – a new record gets picked up by another indie to do a slightly more widespread version. It was only that we could sell to Canberra and Brisbane quite easily.
And then Neil ended up distributing our records in Adelaide. I think it was on the back of the Dagoes one. Because he wanted to take that around to a few shops, so he took all of our stuff. So he became our distributor in Adelaide for as long as we had the vinyl label – 3 or 4 years, or whatever. And I had a guy in Brisbane who did the same thing.”
Steve: “How about the Hoodoo Gurus?”
Jules: “The Hoodoo Gurus was the first one that we put out where we didn’t know the people in the band. We went and saw them a few times because some girls who I knew had a band – a sort of a Shangri-Las type band, and they played their first gig on top of the museum. And on the bill with them was these friends of theirs in this new band called the Hoodoo Gurus. And as far as I know, it was the first gig for both bands.
So we went along to that gig, and they were really good and we liked them – Dare came as well. So we saw them a couple more times at a couple of gigs. And what happened was that when we were doing some cutting – mastering some records at EMI – we overpaid. We paid one bill twice, so we overpaid them by $750. And they didn’t really want to give it back to us…well, it sort of wasn’t admitted, or something. I dunno. Whatever happened was we had this credit where we couldn’t get the cash back for some bloody reason. So we talked to the band and said "Do you want to make a record?" And they said, "Well, we’ve been thinking about making a record, but we haven’t got any money." And we said "Well, we’ve got $750 worth of credit at EMI studios", which was a bloody good studio – Studio 301. David Bowie recorded an album there much later on.
So we said "As long as you use this credit and don’t use any more, we’ll do it. Do you think you can do it for $750?" It couldn’t be any more, because we couldn’t afford taking money out of the shop. So they reckoned they could, but it went over budget and cost about $1200. So we ended up having to pay for it. And we were sort of mildly annoyed, but they did a great single, obviously. It’s just that at a time when you haven’t got much money and you’ve made an agreement that you don’t go over – but from their point of view, I don’t blame them, because they want to put a great record out. So it’s fine. But they didn’t do exactly what we asked them to do. But speaking on the band’s behalf I would say "Fuck you, mate, I’m going to do the best I can to make this record great. So they had these back up singers on "Leilani" – backup vocals – and extra drumming. They brought in a lot of extra people and took up extra time.
And certainly when I went up there was a lot of dope smoking going on. The producer had some hash he’d gotten from the Russian embassy. Afghani hash from the Russian embassy. This was when the whole Russian invasion of Afghanistan was going on. I remember him telling me about it. It’s funny the things you remember.
So there’s no animosity about it. The group put out this great fucking record – this fantastic record. And I’m very proud of that.
But all of our records we did as handshake deals and put them out as one offs. Because we weren’t a record label as such that needed to sign bands for some period of time to recoup all of our money. We paid royalties from the very first record sold. If you sold seven records, you got paid for seven records. We didn’t even know that you could recoup any pressing costs. Didn’t even know it. We thought, you do the right thing, you make your money from your profit. But we never really made any money. The Sunnyboys record we sold about two and a half thousand of, and the Machinations seven inch we sold about two or three thousand of that. So we did make some money, but nowhere near enough to cover all the other releases we put out. Like the Dead Boys, we must have lost shitloads on. Sold three hundred copies, lost 500. Never got paid for them.”
Steve: “Another one I wanted to ask you about was the Kelpies, because that band is very different from other Phantom groups.”
Jules: “Ahh! The Kelpies were a part of the whole new Sydney punk scene, and to this day, apart from Radio Birdman, my absolute favourite live band that I’ve ever seen…never seen a band as good as them live. Just phenomenal! Absolutely stacked with melody and with so much bloody ferocity as well, you know? But not just like hard core thrash – an incredible band. They’ve reformed twice, and I’ll just drop anything to see them. They’re one of the few bands that when they reform are as good as they were in the beginning. Ashley Thompson was their drummer…”
Steve: “Yeah, you must have seen that big interview I did with Ashley on my website.”
Jules: “Did you? I should look at that. Anyway, I used to know all the punks, because we sold a lot of punk records. And a lot of them became good mates, because they were good people and they came in the shop all the time. They were friendly with us. And they’d say "oh, you’ve gotta go see the Kelpies, they’re a great band". And all the Aberrant bands – Bruce Griffiths used our address always, for the entire time they existed, from the word go right to the very end – he used our PO Box.”
Steve: “Didn’t Waterfront do that, too?”
Jules: “They shouldn’t have! (laughs) No, they didn’t.”
Steve: “I remember there being several labels using that same address.”
Jules: “Well, they may have at the very beginning, because Steve… he might have for the first couple of releases, because he certainly worked in Phantom while he had three or four Waterfront releases. I would have let him. He probably did. Is it on one of their records?”
Steve: “I think so…”
Jules: “It probably is. I wouldn’t be surprised. It makes sense. That’s what I would have done.
Kelpies, yeah…so I went to this gig, and first it was this big punk gig at Paddington Town Hall. And I was almost out of my depth, because it was all full on punks. It wasn’t just like Birdman lovers or something like that. It was fucking punks and no one else. Skinheads and all sorts of across the board punkettes. I was like 29 or 30 by then, and they were all like 16 or 18, so I felt quite old even then. But I loved them. And my girlfriend loved them, too. And they played these gigs over at Mosman, and we used to travel anywhere to see the Kelpies. And she loved them as much as I did. It was great.”
Steve: “It’s too bad that there isn’t more better recorded material of their’s around. There’s that lp Aberrant put out from a rehearsal tape, but that’s it.”
Jules: “One of the great travesties…they did virtually all originals apart from "Brand New Cadillac" and maybe one other, but none of those are really available. Well, there’s the Aberrant compilation. "Truro Murders" was a great song. One of them appeared on the Soggy Porridge record – they did a couple of Kelpies songs. "How Can I Tell You", perhaps? That was an incredible song. They didn’t have a bad song. Their entire gigs were just amazing. I absolutely loved that band, and I can’t go on enough about how great that band was live. And, they were great when they did their reformation gigs, 8 years later and again about 12 years later. Just phenomenal.”
Steve: “It seemed like after 1982 or so that Phantom slowed down a little bit…not so many releases. What happened there?”
Jules: “What happened was…well, Phantom had three phases, you know? The first one was when Dare and I were very heavily involved together. But Dare had this Mambo thing – it started as Phantom Textile Printing, but then it became Mambo Graphics. And that started doing quite well. He had this idea of doing these sort of shorts, some board shorts. So he made some and called them "100% Mambo". And as you know it’s now massive – all over the world. But it was just a little thing he started by himself in a little factory. One pair of shorts, a couple of designs. So that started to work, and he came in less. And the shop started becoming really successful. Between 1979 and 1982 the shop went from four or five hundred dollars a day to three or four thousand dollars a day. Which was big back then – a lot of records per day. And so he didn’t have time to do it.
There were still bands around that we liked – we used to go to three or four gigs a week, and Dare would come as well to a lot of them. But we just sort of stopped putting them out. We didn’t make any big decision. But we weren’t given any demos that we loved at the time. There wasn’t anything that we really loved but we thought "oh, we’re too busy to do this". We just weren’t given any more demos that we felt any passion about. So after number 17 or something like that, we just fizzled.
And then Ray from a band called the Rockmelons – he used to work in the shop. The Rockmelons started the earliest warehouse parties ever in Sydney. They used to have these warehouse parties and they played really great funky stuff like some of the electro music that was coming out of America and England in the early 80s. I loved that stuff – really melodic dance music, but it wasn’t disco. There was a funk edge to it. And this new band was playing it, with Ray in it.
So we started up the label again to put this record out, and Festival Records approached us and asked if we’d do a licensing deal, because they loved this one song by the Rockmelons. And also the vibe was massive around them because they put on these amazing events and didn’t play at venues. So that was our second phase, which lasted for one record. Because Festival had the rights for three years, and I showed them everything that came later, and they didn’t want to release anything.
And then, I started up the label again in about 1987, or 1988 was it? And that’s when I did the Hummingbirds and the Sparklers. It all sort of became more my label then because Dare was off doing Mambo. He hadn’t sold his share of the business yet, but it was just me running it, and I decided to carry on and do it. So the whole label that restarted with the Hummingbirds and the Vanilla Chainsaws was just me doing it all – with bands that I liked. And I’d tell Dare about it and give him copies of it, but his input was minimal at the time. He still came, but he was so busy with his business.”
Steve: “Eventually at some point he either gave you his share or sold his share to you – is that what happened?”
Jules: “Uh, huh. Yeah, he came to me, and we talked a few times about it. He was quite prepared to sell out, because he was aware that it should be a partner who was working more time, and he couldn’t do that. Fair enough. He was completely gentlemanly about it and he wanted to make sure that I was happy. And then a few other shops started happening around town, like Waterfront started, and then in satellite towns like Wollongong and Newcastle where there were no import shops, and also out at Parametta. All of a sudden they got shops. And all of a sudden our business started to go down a little, because people didn’t have to come from out of town.
Because in 1979, 80, 81 and 82, every Saturday morning punks descended on our shop. They’d come on the train together from Newcastle with spiked hair and all that. I’ve heard the stories since then. They’d tell me about how they’d hide their leather jacket under a bush and wait until their mom went out shopping, and then spike their hair up and get on the train from Newcastle. So many stories like that I’ve heard.
But they didn’t have to do that any more because now they had shops in their own town. So business started to go down. And I think Dare thought that – on the one hand he was directing a huge business that was succeeding, and on the other hand he was directing a business that didn’t look like it was going too well at the moment. So I think that sort of jogged him into making the decision – "Do I really want to do this? I’d like to spend the next two or three months trying to find someone, and then in six months if I haven’t found someone, then try to sell it anyway." Or something like that. He was incredibly good about it – he didn’t have to do any of that.
But funny enough, on the very day he rang me to say all that, Sebastian Chase rang me up – who I’d had dealings with when I sold the Hummingbirds to him. And he said he’d just come into town, and he’d been in New York for a while. And he was wondering if there was any way he could come in on the record label side of things. Because when Dare told me he was leaving, I went "Fuck, I’m good at running a shop, but I’m not really that good at running a record label." To really keep it going in a big way and to make it succeed I realized you had to do more and know about contracts and that sort of shit. And by then I still hadn’t done anything except by handshakes or I’d written my own contracts that were two pages and with no words longer than about six letters in them. I used to get major contracts and re-write them in lay-speak so that bands could understand them. Because I hated fucking contracts.
When I signed the Deadly Hume, we had a signing photo – you know how in Billboard, they always have people sitting around and signing and the CEO is standing above them with a big smile – we did this special one off photo for that, and we were all sitting on a burnt out car in a back lane where transvestites hang out in Kings Cross. There’s this gorgeous transvestite prostitute leaning against the car, I’m standing on top of the car with a bottle of champagne – no, one of the other guys has champagne, and I’ve got the contract. We tear the contract into little pieces, throw it in the air, and shake the champagne all over it. That was our photo we sent to all the magazines as the signing photo for the Deadly Hume. Just a complete "fuck all those stupid photos we’ve been seeing for the last ten years in Billboard."
Uh, what was the question? (both laugh)”
Steve: “We were talking about how Dare Jennings left Phantom and Sebastian Chase came in…”
Jules: “Oh, yeah! Well, that was it in a nutshell. I was going "fuck, what am I gonna do with the label now that Dare wants to go? Holy shit!" And this was literally on the same day – it was like the whole thing with the bloody Dead Boys record, it happened on the same day. One minute "oh fuck" and the next minute a savior arrives. It was like when I was in Los Angeles with twenty dollars and I had no job and then Dare rings up the next day. One of these things that happens so immediately.
Anyway, so I said to him "Why don’t you come in and talk to me? There may be some opening." So he comes up for a blab and tells me what he’s interested in doing, and I thought, well that’s just what I need is someone to run the record label – someone with experience. And he’d had experience from running RooArt.
So he came in and it went downhill from there…no, no, sorry. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I’m not really very happy with how it went from there. I don’t think he’ll ever read it mind you. Where you going to print this?”
Steve: “It’ll be on the website.”
Jules: “It’s not like he’s a friend of mine. I tried to sue him last year.”
Steve: “Well, sometimes when that sort of stuff is going on, you want to be extra careful.”
Jules: “No, it’s all over, finished.”
Steve: “Well, what can you say?”
Jules: “Well, when he came in it was good – I’d gotten this guy to run the record label. It was a unwritten deal. We had no money in the label. There was no such thing as the label, really. It was just that we put a few records out and that was it. And he was going to make it bigger and better. That was his expertise. So it was really hard…we’d put a few records out and already had a few deals. Like we had a deal with the Chainsaws to do that Red Lights one and a few other things. And we signed DefFX, and that was a big thing because their records sold really quickly and sold a lot. So it got going, but still not enough money was coming in to pay a wage for Sebastian and Kylie, his girlfriend, basically, who was the accountant. So it all got restructured two or three years later, and we actually formed different companies – a collectibles company, a retail company, and a record label. And we brought in a couple of new partners into the shop and the collectibles area, but not the label.
And we didn’t choose well with the partners at all. It was my fault for not standing up, but Seb’s choice of people were just like anyone who had money would be OK, and we ended up getting a couple of arseholes, basically – people who did not add to what we had whatsoever other than that they put a few thousand bucks in which was gone in a flash, and then we had them forever. So that wasn’t a smart move on Seb’s part at all. I mean, I didn’t like a couple of guys, but he really liked them a lot and sort of thought that it would be OK.
I got talked into too much that I would never be talked into now. I compromised massively.
(At this point the tape runs out and Jules searches down another for me. In the mean time, the conversation runs off another direction and when a new tape is finally going I try to steer the conversation back to where we were.)
Steve: “So you were saying that the business split into these three pieces, and it sounds like Sebastian was mostly running the label.”
Jules: “Yeah, but it wasn’t meant to be. Because the only place that was making any money was the retail shop, and the collectibles place was making quite good money.”
Steve: “So when did you stop having the shop? Because when I was here in 1991 you still had it going.”
Jules: “Yeah, it would have been shitty by then. Jesus Christ! What an embarrassment! It was so embarrassing that place, at the end. I just hated it. I washed my hands of it. I just bloody hated that shop. I felt like my hands were tied and I just couldn’t really do what I wanted to do. Seb’s not a retailer but he used to hold a lot of sway with the other partners, who sort of agreed that Seb’s way was going to be the way that would work. And I lost my vision for it. I wasn’t as involved as I had been.
It closed on March 31st, 1998. Seven months short of twenty years. We opened on October 17th, 1978. It was Dare’s birthday.”
Steve: “It sounds like the kind of thing they say about a boat owner – that the best two days of his life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it.”
Jules: ‘Yeah, well, by that stage, yes. Not forgetting that what I went through in that shop was just wonderful in general. And also, it’s pretty nice being recognized around town as a guy who – I mean, at the time, you’d go to gigs and everyone knows you. And I wasn’t really used to that. Everyone knows you and thinks you’re really cool because you run the shop, and it’s a good shop and they like coming there, so they think that you’re a good guy. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s kinda nice, you know? It feels good.
I’d go to these Kelpies gigs, and there’d be all these punks there, and none of them are normal friends that you’d hang out with, but they’d just gravitate to you and they’d talk to you, and go "What about that third single from GBH? I can’t believe how good it is!" And I’d go, yeah, because I liked them, too. And then I’d go, "Well wait til you here the Undertakers single on Riot City!" And they’d go "What’s that?" and I’d go, "Well, if you like GBH, wait til you hear these guys!" And they’d get all excited and come raving into the shop two days later to buy it. It was just great! I fucking loved it so much. It was the best time of my life, probably. One of many best times…”
Steve: “I wanted to ask you about the flexi disc you did by X – "El Salvador".“
Jules: “Well, what I loved doing so much was promotion. Promoting things that we released. In the first days, we just put them out and released them – all that first period stuff up until around 1987 when we started again. Before that we just put the records out and that was it. We didn’t have release sheets or bios or anything. Just put it out. No photos, no nothing. But I loved the idea of really pushing something and doing the best you can to promote it. Because all the major labels did it and they threw huge amounts of money at all these dumb things for all these shitty bands. All these GREAT things, actually, for shitty bands. And I thought, I want to do that for these bands!
So I worked out where you got great leather-craft paper from and I’d print these beautiful posters. I got them printed down in Adelaide, where I knew this guy from Adelaide University and I could get them printed really cheap. He was a good mate of the Dagoes, of Neil. So he became my ally, and he would do these special jobs for me. He was just wonderful. Andrew McHugh. He’d print up these amazing folders. Did you ever see them? I only did like 70 of each. If there was a whole album, I’d do an album sized promo folder – the album would fit in there, a poster would fit in there, and photos and bios and all sorts of shit. Just like major labels would do, but I tried to make it even better, because I tried to make the folders look really nice.
The Vanilla Chainsaws one for Wine Dark Sea has gold embossing on it – really beautiful. I put a lot of effort into it. And he did all the posters for them as well, so I got all these amazing posters done. And I had one guy who was in another band who was really good at designing who would put all the artwork together for a poster. Sometimes I’d design it all myself, and he’d put it all together. So I just put a lot of effort into it.
What was the question…you had me going on something here…ah, X flexi! So I did all these promo things, and I used to send them all around the world. And I thought this is so much fun – I used to send it to people like you. All the magazines – Bucketfull of Brains, Swedish and Finnish and Spanish magazines. Especially like the Vanilla Chainsaws.
And when X were doing their At Home With You album, I was thinking I want to do something in the shop. Can we do some special promotional thing? And I spoke to the guy who owned the label, because I knew him really well. And I said – I wish we had an extra track or something – you know how they put an extra track on a CD these days? Well, it wasn’t heard of back then, it wasn’t really done. So I said – is there something we can do? Have you got any extra tracks? Because I’ll make up a flexi or a single or something. And he said, well, we have got an extra track that we’ve recorded for X for the album.”
Steve: “So those two bands weren’t even on your label when you were putting together these packs.“
Jules: “Yeah. It was just to sell them in that shop as a retail thing. It was something you would do as a promo pack. Because I was doing promo packs already, but I wasn’t selling them, of course. I was giving them away. And I thought, well, people might love these things. I liked promo packs, and I thought, why don’t we give people the opportunity to have one of these things and do something special for them. And people just fucking loved them!
When we did the Hoodoo Gurus one for Blow Your Cool I got a thick plastic cover that just fit the album cover perfectly, and we got some proofs of the album cover and put them in there, and we got another one designed – I wish I could show you, because it’s so good – we designed something that would complement the album. You know how it’s got those big letters – you’ve got the album, right? – and it’s got little pictures of Brad and all them. So what he did was he made it all gold all around them and sort of framed their faces with little dots and stuff. And he framed the lettering as well. So all that came out when you slid the album cover into this cool sleeve was the lettering for the band’s name and their faces would appear. That one was bloody cool. And we gave it a catalog number like "WIGGED-1" or something. It had a poster, and an autographed 7" with it as well.
And we did a Johnnies one, and we did a Celibate Rifles one. We did a hard vinyl single for the Celibate Rifles. And we did Crystal Set. I think those were the only ones we did. Oh, we did a big Sonic Youth one, too. That was great, that Sonic Youth one. A pizza box with all this shit inside of it – all promo stuff from the record company and some that we manufactured ourselves.
I loved doing that. Promo packs – people love that shit. We sold 400 copies of that Sonic Youth one. They all went within a week. I advertised it a week before it came out, and we sold half of them before that.”
Steve: “What are you doing now? Is it mainly the stuff on Ebay with the collectibles and all that? You’re also involved with Laughing Outlaw, right?”
Jules: “Yeah, yeah. Laughing Outlaw – I got so jacked off with the way Phantom Records was going. Because my criteria didn’t change. I told Seb that the criteria was the same as it was before, that it had to be something I would want to buy myself. And he tried to sort of go along with that, but he wanted to be the kind of a record label where whatever sells, I don’t care. And he put out some crap things, and all of a sudden I wasn’t proud of Phantom any more. Before that everything I’d ever put out I loved, and all of a sudden that wasn’t the case anymore. And I fucking hated that so much, because I’d held onto that ideal for 15 years, and it wasn’t around anymore. And I fucking did not like it.
What I did was, I’d been in contact with a couple of bands from Sweden. A band called Plan 9 – have you heard of them? They were kind of like the Hellacopters, but they were just before the Hellacopters, like a year before. Four or five years ago. And I don’t know what’s happened to them, but I had demo tapes of theirs sent over. And I thought, this is what I want. I want to start a record label and put this sort of music out. Because I’d started one already in 1992 called Messiah Complex and put out a bunch of singles. What I’d wanted to put out was melodic punk, basically. And I did put out five or six records on Messiah Complex.
So I wanted to have my own record label again. Just a humble little label and put out a few hundred copies.
And in the meanwhile this friend of mine named John Rooney, who was the lead singer with the Lonely Hearts, he recorded this great album, and a couple of people that I know played on it, and Mitch Easter produced it and some of the Spongetones played on it. And it was amazing, and I was telling him how I wanted to start this new label. And he played me this and I thought "Jesus!", but it took about four years to get from recording to being mixed. It took AGES. We’d go in his car and he’d play me ONE song, purposely, just to give me a sniff of the whole thing. And he wouldn’t play me the rest until he had the whole thing, and it took Mitch years to finish it.
So anyway, he was interested in becoming part of a record label, and we talked about it. But he went overseas, and he said, "How about you get the name of the label sorted while I’m away ands we’ll move ahead with this thing". So I get involved in all manner of day to day things and forget about naming the label. So all of a sudden I get this phone call, and it’s John and he says "Well, I got back yesterday, so what are we gonna call the record label?" So I went "Oh, uh, well" and one of my kids had a cowboy book on the chair sitting next to me, and I felt so guilty for not having done anything, so I went "Well, um, I was thinking about it a fair bit, and I came up with this name…..ummmm….Laughing Outlaw." It just popped out of this page. I flipped this book open, and in a split second saw "…and the laughing outlaw holstered his Colt 45 and rode off into the sunset"…or something like that and in that split second thought "What an awesome name for a record label!" Because it is – it’s cheeky, isn’t it? Laughing Outlaw – this cheeky bandit is laughing at you. Anyway it just all happened in a split second. I went "Laughing Outlaw", and he goes "Hmmm, I like it!" (Laughs) It was just totally flukey. I marvel at how that happened – it could have been anything that came up.
I’ve never been able to find that passage in the book again, either. It’s a really wordy book and I can’t find that page again.
So I wanted to find out more about contracts and publishing and stuff like that. I knew a bit about contracts that I’d taught myself, but just publishing deals and the whole thing, because I wanted to make a label that worked, and John wanted to as well. So I went and talked to Stuart about it, and he was sort of between doing things, and he was quite helpful. After he told me what he was doing – he was doing some writing here and there with some money coming in, but nothing really concrete. Just what he does anyway. That’s the way he chooses to live and it’s good for him. But I thought about it, and he’s a publicist, also he’s keen, and he’s got great taste in records, and I thought "I’m going to talk to Stuart about this and see if he’d like to be involved." And he said, "Yeah, I would."
Stuart knew a lot of people because he loves alternate country, and I wasn’t into that very heavily, but he was saying this is stuff that I’d really like to do, and he played me these demo tapes by all these bands, and some of them were great anyway. So I thought, well, he’s got a passion for that, and I’ve got a passion for power pop, and we can put it all together on this label. And he’s got a passion for power pop as well, and now I’ve got a passion for alt country. So that’s what we’ve done with it.
So he was on board, and then John’s brother had a bit of dosh, so John said "I’d like to get my brother involved, because he’s got money, and I’ve got a bit of money, and you and Stuart have no money. So let’s see what we can do to make some deserving people some money."
So he got his brother involved, and his brother got another guy from Deloitte, who’s Paul Glover – you might know him because he’s on the Divine Rites list…
Steve: “Yeah, I’m supposed to give him a phone call while I’m here.”
Jules: “He’s a good guy. He’s tall, but he’s not as tall as you, though.
And so we just ended up with – I think there’s seven of us. And Darryl Mather from the Someloves and Lime Spiders. So we were set up well as far as money and Stuart and I started running this record label. And I still had this collectible business, Phantom Collectibles, which I’ve always had for the last ten years, and I had that by day and I devoted one and a half days a week – which didn’t always happen – to running the record label with Stuart. I probably spent maybe a day a week on average. Anyway, I’ve pulled back from it now. And Stuart works full time on it, and that’s how it goes. There’s a couple of employees now too.”
Steve: “So you’re doing the New Christs CD?”
Jules: “Yeah, now see Paul is a massive Birdman, Stooges and MC5 fan. That’s what he loves. You go into his office in Deloitte’s where he’s a partner, and everybody else has pictures of fine art on the wall and he’s got pictures of the Stooges and bloody Birdman and MC5 on the wall, you know? Really! He’s great. Or he did last time I was there, anyway.
So Paul has been putting a lot of money into the label and really keeping it going. He’s been doing an amazing job, and without Paul the label wouldn’t exist, full stop. Because I don’t have any money and neither does Stuart. The other partners do all have money, but Paul’s the one who’s driving it like mad. Anyway, like I said, I’m not that much involved in it anymore – I’d like to be, of course, but I have my own thing to run and time with my family is so valuable to me. Besides Paul has a knack for running a record label, and he’s doing a fucking good job of it.
And he’s set up with an office in England now. We’re getting reviewed in the Sunday Times now – a week ago a couple things got reviewed there. I’m on the e-mail loop, so I see this. It’s being really smartly done. Paul and Stuart have been to South by Southwest the last two years.”
(At this point, we’ve been talking for over two hours, Jules has to head into Sydney for an appointment, and I have another interview to do, so we call it quits).
Steve Gardner – tMx 22 – 11/05