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The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle

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What was your role with Radio Birdman then? Did you manage them at some point?

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 60 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 10 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.

You were talking about going on the European tour with Radio Birdman …

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.

(continues overleaf)

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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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