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The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle

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I remember that in 1960 Dad bought an old phonograph from a garage sale for my brother Michael and I, with about 50 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 13. 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 14 of us living there, and the rent for the whole place was 20 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 cornflakes, 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.”

He had a beard?

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 50 or two 50. It would be expensive if it was two 50.

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!

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One Response to The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle

  1. julian_k July 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Jules Normington. Legend. Gentleman. Living icon of Australian independent music. This deserved to be redistributed!

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