by Peter Green, Hook Commander in Chief
In the mid Seventies Skyhooks basically gave the Australian Music Industry
the enema it had been needing. For too long many Australian bands spent hours
copying their UK/USA cousins,Australian content in songs was far and few,and
the biggest local selling album was by Daddy Cool which had sold an unheard of
Skyhooks were cheeky,brash,colourful,wore makeup (many years before Kiss were
conceived),songwriter Greg Macainsh with a grab bag of amazing tunes-many
sprinkled with Melbourne place names and Australian themes,put together the
band that would change the musical history of our country. It lit the fuse that
put Australian bands back on the front covers of newspapers and Australian
music on the shelves of record shops.
Their debut album "Living in the Seventies" went on to sell 300,000 albums
(the equivalent of Twenty Gold awards) lodging itself firmly at the number
one spot on the Australian charts for many months.
They appeared on Australian tv on the first day of colour transmission,shocked
the parents and became pin up heroes for a generation. Their lead singer was
called Shirley because of HIS curly locks,guitarist Red Symons in Red satin
and matching cape,flicking his Tongue at the masses while a giant Phallic
Twistie Mushroom explodes over the crowds during his anthem to masturbation
("Smut"). Guitarist Bob Starkie-graduated from the Keith Richards/Chuck Berry
School of Rock (with honours) his long black curls hanging over his lizard-
necked jumpsuit. Bassist and Songwriter, Greg Macainsh-platinum silver
hair,long drop earrings hanging from BOTH ears,wearing a yellow suit
(matching cowboy hat) biting the thick bass strings on his sexist nude bass.....and who was it that
said that all drummers were the same. Fred Strauks,plugs in his space suit,the
stage lights drop and he flickers on and off during his drum solo. If it
were any other bands the theatrics would overshadow the music. Skyhooks
were not just another band.
Their second album "EGO is not a dirty word" debuted at number one,while their
single of the same name was sitting opposite at #1 on the singles charts. The LP
went on to sell over 200,00 copies and their "EGO" tour sold out completely.
Despite Australia being the equivalent size of the United States the population
is much smaller (the total population of Oz being the same as New York)...the
band needed new challenges and did what few other Aussie groups had done..they
headed to America. The Mercury/Phonogram label signed them and many months of
1976 were spent Stateside trying to crack the American market that just
could not relate. There were some hotspots,in Jacksonville (Florida),the
support for Uriah Heep and received the same hysteria that greeted them at home.
Whilst in America they hit the studios and recorded their third album Straight
in a gay gay World. The album went multi platinum in Australia and one single,
the country sounding "Blue Jeans" was a huge hit across the Tasman in New Zealand.
The band returned home for their Brats are Back Tour,a Melbourne radio station
made mention of the bands arrival time and hundreds of Skyhook fans decended
upon Melbourne airport. The fans forced their way into the press conference,and
you could tell the boys were home,the afternoon front page headlines read "Hooks
Home to a Riot".
"The Brats are back" tour showed a tougher Skyhooks, Shirl wearing
leather pants (very Jim Morrison),songs like "This is my City" having more
of a guitar
edge. Bongo Starkie played exceptionally well,& the fans loyalty never wavered.
But for Red it was time to get off the bus.....his ride (for the time being)
with Skyhooks had ended. A young hot shot guitarist called Bob Spencer joined
the ranks and the band hit the studios in Sydney and Melbourne. The first single
featuring the new lineup- "Party to end all Partys" made the top 20,but it
was the next single- the hard rocking "Women in Uniform" that was the hit.
and it wasn't only Australian ears that heard it's worth. Heavy Metal giants
Iron Maiden gave it the thumbs up and decided to record a version themselves.
Meanwhile back in OZ...the 4th album "Guilty Until Proven Insane" made the
top 10 and sold well. United Artists released it in Europe.The 'Hooks took this
tougher sounding Skyhooks back to their roots, the Australian Pub circuit,while
other seventies bands were playing to half full halls, the Hooks took the low
road and packed out venues like the Bondi Lifesaver and Wollongong Leagues Club
receiving up to 4 encores each night. They finished the tour at Melbourne's
Palais Theatre,for the Nightmoves TV show-broadcast several weeks later. Little
did we know ,that night was lead singer Shirls last harrah. Exhaustion had
set in, he was asked for autographs at every turn, normality wasn't a word in
his life anymore. The simple days of surfing and being a carpenter seemed more
appealing each hour. By Xmas'78 he had hung up his 'Hook.
Skyhooks could of easily disbanded then and their. Greg Macainsh felt there was
life in the band yet and took Shirls departure as a challenge. He wouldn't even
try to fill Shirls shoes,no one could. Several ideas were thrown about,a female
lead singer (remember this IS the man who proudly wore a Suzi Quatro fan
club tshirt).....poaching Peter Garrett fro Midnight Oil....in the end he
towards Melbourne's Dandenong Hills and called up Tony Williams,a friend who
had sang with Reuben Tice-Gregs old band. For Tony it was the ultimate Xmas
present. The first single from the new Skyhook lineup was "Over the Border"
(issued on beautiful neon blue vinyl). It was a song about escapeing from Qld
which was at the time the "police state"...the Qld governemnt was a hot bed
of corruption,and public protests marches were a no-no. It made the top ten
in Qld and faired well nationally. Things looked good. Sadly around the same
time "The Best of Skyhooks" was issued,and the tv adverts featured Shirley
heavily,it was a case of one step forward 2 back. From a fans point of view
this version of Skyhooks was more accessable and the band members made many
life long friends. Skyhook fans are a loyal bunch and if nothing else this
was a "weeding process" and the infamous Melbourne/Sydney Hookscrew came to be.
Convoys of fans going from gig to gig became the norm,and live they were cutting
it. There were 2 problems; 1/ a serious lack of radio airplay 2/ the band were
finding it hard to cross over into the minds of the general public, Shirley was
(and still is) such a huge part of the Skyhook puzzle. Several non charting
singles later and one album ("Hot for the Orient") and Skyhooks played their
last show at Kalgoorlie-June 8th 1980. Strangely enough no official announcement
was made and Australias premier Music Show (Countdown) which had started at the
same time as the band ,had received so many requests to have the band on the
show that they ended up hosting it. Countdown Guru- Molly Meldrum, had canned
the bands album the week before and yielded to pressure from all the mail to
have them host the show. It was a chance for the band to have the last laugh,
Molly had the chance to announce that one of Australias most loved bands was
about to split.....but the band kept tight lipped,all the Hookscrew in the
studio audience new.....but no one told Countdown. Imagine Mollys suprise when
he picked up the following days paper to see front page headlines that Skyhooks
were no more. It should be stressed that prior to "Hot for the Orient" Molly had
nearly always championed the band and was one of their biggest fans.
That could be the end of this tale....but Skyhooks are one of the few bands
who have consistent sales and airplay....the public wern't ready to let them
go just yet. In December of 1982 only 2 1/2 years after the split Mushroom
Records tested the water with a medley of the bands hits titled Hooked on Hooks.
Radio gobbled it up and it made the top 20, top ten in hometown Melbourne. The
Skyhook box set followed....and sold out.
In April 1983 the band assembled for a press conference,announcing it would
play a Festival in Noosa. Midnight Oil were on the bill and acknowledged the
Skyhooks legacy by saying the 'Hooks were the only Australian band they would
let top the bill above them. The band were back in the news,radio was beseiged
with people wanting shows elsewhere....suddenly a full scale reunion tour was
underway. It was a triumph. More and more shows were added,whole shows selling
out in less then an hour.The final show was in Perth on May 7th. Two of the
Melbourne shows were recorded (and partially filmed) and the Live in the
80s album was released. It went gold.The live footage was used on the
"Right there on my TV" Compilation Video.
In October 1984 the band played a one off Melbourne show as part of the tenth
anniversary for "Living in the 70s" and to celebrate Rocktober. 25,000 punters
turned up. A special Gold Vinyl Commemorative issue of "Living in the 70s" was
issued by Mushroom...it too received a gold award.
In 1988 Greg Macainsh was working on some song ideas,two words came into his
head -"Jukebox" and "Siberia". The song became "Jukebox in Siberia",it's a look
at a Russia under the rule of Gorbacev,the era of Glasnost and Perestroika.
"Jukebox in Siberia" was released in October 1st 1990. After several weeks and
limited airplay Skyhooks had the number one single. Their third (Horror
Movie and Ego being the other two). It was the only Australian single to
reach #1 in
1990. Suddenly a whole new audience had discovered the band......and they had
some catching up to do. Mushroom (always happy to help)offered them a new "Best
Of" titled Latest and Greatest. It too went top ten and hit the double platinum
mark. The band geared up for a 3 month tour of the Australian pub and club
circuit. Every show sold out,the tour making 1.5 million profit...they were
there to entertain,it wasn't a history lesson,they kicked butt. The only sad
note was a second single "Tall Timber" which many feel is a stronger song then
"Jukebox"..it only climbed as high as #66. No clip or radio play....but people
were buying the Best Of by the bucketful so many of them had the song on the
Jump forward to Feb 1993,Greg is inducting Ross Wilson (Ex Daddy Cool)into
the Hall of Fame ,they are reminising about days gone by.
Shirl is in the audience and that light globe above his head goes on.Both bands
have similar historys,both were the #1 band at the time, both slogged it out in
America,christ Ross Wilson even signed up Gregs publishing and produced those
first 3 huge Skyhook albums. A single,album and tour with Daddy Cool,a huge,huge
project,but could it be done.
It's now 1994 and Skyhooks are in the studios recording 3 new tracks, one
of them is "Happy Hippy Hut". Daddy Cool record the "Ballad of OZ". It's a
cd single and for 3 weeks it sits at #33 on the national chart,it doesn't drop,
it doesn't rise,it seems to be like a stuck record and we can't nudge it.
Not the fans,not radio airplay (because they ignore it) and not sales. The
Effort" Tour is in jeopardy and the promoters get cold feet and suggest the
pub tour again. Both bands are disillusioned,they've just spent weeks in the
studio laying down 8 songs. One of them "Kooyong Dollar" is a sure fire winner.
Someone pulls the plug....the double joint effort album is off,the tour is blown
out and "Hippy Hut" loses it's grip on the charts.
Two projects come to fruitation in the midst of this mayhem,one was a new
'Hooks book "Ego is not a Dirty Word",the other is the "Ego is not a Dirty
exhibit at Melbourne's Performing Arts Museum. 12,000 people visit the Museum
over a three month period. The history of the band -warts (and other genitalia)
and all is stripped bare for the public to see. From tour posters,to stage -
costumes,the huge neon sign is resurrected,the one remaining finger from the
EGO papermache stage prop,the exploding Skyhook Penis(which busloads of
Japanese tourists seemed to be amazed by),Bongo and Fred volunteer to do
the voice over
on the slide show of snaps from the USA '76 tour. Every day the Museum staff
would be asked the same question,when are they going to tour. As the months
went by,it was obvious,nothing would bring home the bacon this time.
It's now June 1997. Mushroom Records are heading towards their 25th anniversary
and the band that stopped Mushroom from going under "way back then" should some
how be part of it. After the failure of "Joint Effort" the feeling between band
record company and touring company is not one of joy. Thankfully time lets all
of us get over the finger pointing and now is as good a time as any to get on
with our lives. We encourage Mushroom with the idea of reissuing the Latest &
Greatest with the 10 new tracks on a seperate cd. At first the interest was
lukewarm....but as days turned into weeks, the feeling is that yes,now this
could be a possibility. Songs like "Kickback","1976 Guitar","Kooyong Dollar"
and many others could see the light of day,and I'd happily buy another copy of
"Latest and Greatest" just to obtain these on cd. So the Skyhook tale continues.
Many Baby-Boomers reading this,would of grown up with the band,some of you
would of screamed your lungs out in '75,had your first pash. with Skyhooks
thumping out "Good in bed" in the background,giggled at SMUT and covered your
walls in poster portraits from TV Week and Spunky magazines. It's been a fun
journey so far,and we thank you for making the effort to check out the site.
It could be a flashback, it could be rather confusing for some of you. For a
Melbourne bands who's main goal was to have some chart success in Sydney,
they've done well. As we said it's a long way from the Seventies........but
not a lot has changed....here are some of Gregs lyrics,see what we mean.
"Yeah I'm living in the seventies
Eatin' fake food under plastic trees
My face gets dirty just walkin' around
and I need another pill to calm me down"
Living in the 70's (G.Macainsh. Mushroom Music Aust.)