This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 115 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!
For retro-review #115 I have dipped into the Crate for a real ripper of an Aussie compilation LP.
A Reefer Derci is a double vinyl album released in 1976 on the Mushroom Label number L 45657.
Recorded live at Melbourne’s then notorious but incredibly popular Reefer Cabaret, it features just six artists over the four sides for a total of fourteen tracks.
Set in a fantastic gate-fold cover it is iconic both in terms of the music, the era and the venue, and all three of these elements are visually represented across the four sides of the gate-fold.
Located in the Ormond Hall its official address was 557 St Kilda Road Melbourne, but its entrance was from Moubray street.
Originally part of the Royal Blind Institute of Victoria, it was owned and operated by the Freemasons and was a popular venue for many functions, but non more likely or bizarre, than when it operated as the Reefer Cabaret.
With the raging success of the T.F. Much Ballroom, and then the Much More Ballroom in Fitzroy in the early 1970’s , and on the permanent closure of these fine establishments for a myriad of reasons not the least being the huge quantities of drugs that were smoked there, Melbourne needed a replacement.
Promoted by John Pinder and Mike Roberts the first Reefer Cabaret was held in the Dallas Brooks Hall. Whether this was the reason for it being moved after just one show or not, I don’t know – but the Dallas Brooks Hall just didn’t have the “vibe”.
However, the Ormond Hall did, and the Reefer operated for almost 2 years in 1974 to 1976.
It was the scene of many outrageous dances held on an almost monthly basis. As time went by they became more and more outrageous and were largely based upon some sort of theme, although so “off-the-planet”, even the themes were hard to fathom sometimes.
I do clearly remember one such night when to enter you had to half crawl and have walk in a stooped manner through a long tunnel made out of what may have been aluminium foil, before bursting out into the hall, where music and lights exploded around you, and huge volumes of smoke from certain illicit substances smacked you about the face.
There was no such thing as a costume that was too outrageous and largely the crowds were incredibly well behaved.
But the music was the key thing, and largely populated by “Mushroom” artists. All in all the best and or most outrageous of all groups played at the Reefer at some stage or another.
This album represents one of those nights, in fact it was the very final Reefer Cabaret and how fortunate that it was recorded.
The liner notes tell many tales, some are “long-tales” in terms of validity, but others really are incredibly accurate, and in some ways the inside covers form a pictorial and written history of the Reefer and that monumental night.
2. Intro To Renee Geyer Band
3. Renee Geyer Band: It’s A Man’s Man’s World
4. Intro to Split Enz
5. Split Enz: Amy
6. Split Enz: Lovey Dovey
7. Split Enz: Time For A Change
8. Ayers Rock: Boogie Woogie Waltz
9. Ayers Rock – Gimme Shelter
10. Ariel – I Can’t Say What I Mean
11. Ariel – Rock ‘n’ Roll Scars
12. Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band – Roll That Reefer
13. Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band – The Prefect
14. Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band – Out In The Suburbs
15. Skyhooks – Revolution
16. Skyhooks – Smut
17. Skyhooks – Saturday Night
Now we are talking about the cream of the music cake on this album, and it seems to me that short of producing a “history of music groups in the 1970’s”, anything past a brief comment on the groups various membership is superfluous.
Side 1 track number 1 – It’s a Man’s Man’s World.
This is the sole contribution by one of the premier female artists of the day – Renee Geyer and the Renee Geyer band doing one of her absolutely classic tracks.
The live lineup was quite different to the studio lineup that she used to record the track, with only Barry Sullivan (better and affectionately known as “Big Goose”) in this live group.
It consisted of:
Renee – vocals
“Big Goose” (Barry Sullivan) – bass
Greg Tell – drums
Mal Logan – keyboards
Mick Rogers – guitar
Mind you this was no “slack” lineup with “Big Goose” having played with Chain, LRB, John Farnham and Russell Morris, just to name a few.
Sadly Barry passed away in 2003.
Mick Rogers played with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Aussie groups the Playboys and Procession.
Mal Logan must rate as one of Australia’s best known keyboard players and his credentials list like a who’s who – but include playing with Jimmy Barnes, Australian Crawl, Normie Rowe and LRB, again, just to name a few.
Finally, Greg Tell is an amazing drummer/percussionist who emerged in the Los Angeles CA. nightclub scene where he began playing at the tender age of 11 with jazz greats including Art Pepper and Horace Tapscott Jr. He also supported Elton John, the Average White Band, Jose Feliciano and Lou Reed, to name a few and of course, played with Renee Geyer.
So with a unit like this it was no wonder on the night Renee really kicked arse, and this fine recording sits in testament to that performance.
Renee Geyer band – It’s A Man’s Man’s World
Working in order of appearance on the album we come to Split Enz and track 6 – Lovey Dovey.
At that the time they were one of the top acts around. Although forming in New Zealand as early as 1972 when they were known as Split Ends, after some line up changes and a change of name to Split Enz.
In 1974, they began to form their more theatrical performances. However, it wasn’t until they hit the shores of Australia in 1975 that we really became aware of them.
Interestingly they seemed to divide audiences, and maybe it was because by the time they hit our shores Australia had a few “Glam Rock” bands and some of them were fantastic, groups such as Sherbet, Skyhooks and Hush leading the way.
It was the complexity of their music that attracted many people including myself, and it may have been that same complexity that turned others off. What was undeniable, was their incredible stage presence and most certainly they were a crowd favourite at the “Reefer“!
The lineup for this recording represented the very best lineup of Split Enz.
Tim Finn – vocals and piano
Phil Judd – vocals, guitar & mandolin
Eddie Raynor – piano, Mellatron (one of the first in Oz), synth, organ & clavinet
Jonathon Chunn – bass
Emlyn Crowther – drums
Noel Crombie – percussion
Rob Gillies – saxophone
However the choice of material, given the venue, was a bit strange in my opinion. But then again Split Enz certainly were one very strange band.
Turning Side 1 over, we are presented with just two tracks and both from the legendary Ayers Rock.
Track number 1 runs for over 10 minutes and was a cover of a track by Weather Report. This would come as no surprise given that Ayers Rock were a fusion jazz/rock band, but I have moved to track number two, a track that is probably more familiar to readers – a cover of the Stones Gimmie Shelter.
Fifteen different muso’s were involved with Ayers Rock during their eight year existence from 1973 to 1981.
There were two distinct phases – pre and post 1976. It was 1976 when Mushroom announced the groups breakup due to the departure of various members, but I think a less than successful tour of the US probably assisted in that decision.
They reformed with a varied lineup in 1978.
The lineup on this night was a good one, and in fact in 1976 the group had released an excellent album, and some would say that at this time they were at the top of their game.
The lineup on this night was:
Chris Brown – vocals & guitar
Col Loughnan – saxophone & flute *
James Doyle – guitar *
Duncan McGuire – bass *
Mark Kennedy – drums *
Ayers Rock – Gimmie Shelter
While I’m not suggesting the artists and music on album number 1 are not top class, on album number 2 we are really treated to some of the cream of Australian groups from that time, and they are three completely different groups.
First up on Side 3 is Ariel, a particular favourite group of mine and one that featured some cream of Australian artistry.
This lineup for Ariel is often known as the Mk III version and was:
Mike Rudd – lead vocals & guitar
Glynn Mason – vocals & guitar
Harvey James – lead guitar & vocals
Bill Putt – bass
Nigel McCarra+ – drums & percussion
+ This is a misspelling of his name which was Macara
Every one in this lineup was both an amazingly accomplished musician in their own right, with Rudd and Putt having been the mainstay of Spectrum.
Mason was a member of the NZ group Larry’s Rebels and later Chain. Harvey James was a member of Mississippi, Party Boys and Sherbet.
Harvey left this planet in January 2011.
Finally there was Nigel McCarra who also drummed with Taman Shud.
In a never ending list of great Aussie artists who have passed on, we also add Bill Putt who died recently in August 2011.
However, as history shows these fine musicians continued on in various combinations over subsequent years leaving a fine musical legacy between them.
With only two tracks to choose from I could have gone for I Can’t Say What I Mean which was released on their 1976 single, backed with I’ll take You High.
But I chose Rock and Roll Scars a track from their 1975 album by the same name.
There is some great guitar work on this live version, and the beat and tempo is (not so) strangely reminiscent of Spectrum, and the vocal delivery is classic Mike Rudd.
In my mind, despite the quality of their recordings, I think it is hard to top the live performances of Ariel, and this track supports it with some great drumming, the inevitable lay-back brilliance of the now departed Bill Putt, and great backing vocals from Glyn Mason.
Rock and Roll Scars
The penultimate group on this album was the weird, wacky and thoroughly entertaining Captain Matchbox.
Fronted by the Conway brothers they barnstormed their way around all the biggest gigs available and were also a crowd favourite at the Reefer.
Their popularity was partially their wonderfully wacky stage dress but not the least due to their irreverent and constant references to drugs, as portrayed in the track, Roll That Reefer.
Loosely based on the Bonzo Dog Do Dah band from the UK, they were quite accomplished musicians who constantly sent everything up, including themselves, but always in the name of entertainment.
With: Dave Flett – bass & vocals
Mick Conway – vocals & washboard
Jim Conway – vocals, harmonica & kazoo
Fred Olbrei – violin & vocals
Jim Niven – piano
Manny Paterakis – percussion
Christmas Worral – guitar
Roll That Reefer
Finally we come to the group that was advertised on the second and last night of the Reefer Cabaret, as the “mystery group”.
The liners notes say: ” On the final night, New Year’s Eve, the atmosphere grew tense as midnight crept closer. At midnight a mystery act would appear and it was rumoured that this group was . . . . . . well everybody picked a different group, but few guessed who it really was – Skyhooks.”
It was actually very appropriate the the Hooks to close the Cabaret as their made their first professional debut at the Reefer Cabaret’s opening night, when it had its first and only show at the Dallas Brooks Hall.
The performance proved that they were the most exciting act in Australia (at that time).
“Shirley” Strachan – vocals
“Red” Symons – guitar
Greg Macainsh – bass
Freddie Kaboodleshnitzer – drums & vocals
“Bongo” Starkie – guitar
and they were supported on stage by:
Danny Robinson – backing vocals
Mery Took – percussion & backing vocals
Everything that can be said about Skyhooks has already been written many times and anything I can say is superfluous.
The crowd reaction was fantastic and the group performed a number of tracks of which three made it to vinyl, and I find it hard to go past Revolution.
It was a shame that the final track they played on that night, “Living In The Seventies” didn’t make it to the album, as that would have been the perfect track to have used in the retro-review.
This is because in many ways that final track on the album kind of represents the end of the Reefer Cabaret, and although the Seventies weren’t yet over, in many ways a major part of the Melbourne music scene also finished on that night.
In so many way, the Reefer Cabaret represented so much of the seventies.
In some ways when you listen back to the entire album, the music can sound a bit dated.
Yet in many ways that is OK, as the music, the groups and even the Reefer Cabaret were entwined into the culture of the day, into the “vibe” of the music scene.
Now we are are over forty years past the time of this show and this recording. In some ways if it didn’t sound somewhat dated that might just reflect that we haven’t progressed and moved on since that time.
Change is not a bad thing, for without it there is no revitalisation. But what this album and the music on it does represent, is a most wonderful and splendid snapshot of a time in our music and social culture, forever captured over the two nights of December 30th and 31st 1975.
As the liner notes say: “And so the Reefer came to pass in a spectacular two night farewell featuring the cream of Australia’s rock performers, most of whom appear on this album which commemorates those last two nights.”
The very final word on the liner notes is “Amen“.
That says it all – Almost!
Before finishing up this review, let’s return to the liner notes, and hang in with me, there is a point to all this.
The liner notes are full of stories and anecdotes, pictures of Reefer Cabaret posters and various sketches.
All in all it makes for nostalgic reading, and the tone and style of the writing is very “hip-stoned” writing of that period.
For example the promoters were smart enough to have two compares just in case . . . and, sure enough it turned out to be necessary when compere number 1 fell by the wayside.
Talking about the demise of the first night compere – J. J. McRoach, he was described as a “drug journo” who failed to make it to the second night due the plentiful supplies of dope, champagne and mandrax.
The liner notes tell us that in searching for him to announce the last act, they searched, “only to find him in the gutter beside the hall in a semi (very semi) conscious state and being administered to by some kind angel of the night.“
Fortunately there was compere number 2 – Felix B. Tonto.
Here is what the liner notes say about him and the second night.
“Enter compare No. 2, Felix B. Tonto. Tonto also survived a couple of nights but then went down. On his last night Tonto displayed great difficulty walking up the stairs to the stage and finally he almost fell off. Promoter Fastbuck caught him just before he broke his neck and bundled him home in a taxi….“
And so the whole inside of the gate-fold is covered with such stories, and reads in an entertaining (and some what educational) manner.
Yet the liner notes tell the story somewhat the way we might expect a Hollywood story to end, but it wasn’t like that.
In fact it didn’t end with a big (music) bang with Skyhooks closing the whole show down in what might have been a somewhat neat and organised way.
While preparing this story I was having a wine on my verandah with an ex-member of Ariel, who was there, and he tells a different story.
It appears that on that final the local drug police decided to actually make a raid, and make it big and make it organised.
The way it was told to me was, that as the groups were mostly back stage, a large number of police who had been not only in civvies, but were seen to be smoking suddenly sprang into action as a large contingent of uniformed cops made their way back stage.
The microphone was commandeered and all were told to stay where they were as it was a raid. It seems there were an equal number of uniformed and plainclothes outside spread right around the venue to catch anyone trying to escape.
Every group was told to remove the back of speaker boxes, as they were searched for drugs, as were guitar cases, group members, road crew and anyone else around.
After some serious disruption, the police I am told, became quite agitated and angry because not one musician or road crew were found with anything illicit.
Now whether that was because it had all been consumed or simply that they had nothing, I don’t know. But I was told it was pleasant and sadly, the night did not finish with a good vibe at all.
Yet, in some ways I think this ending to an establishment called the “Reefer Cabaret” is far more fitting and it most certainly adds somewhat to the overall mystique of this, the final night.
The album is long out of production and for whatever reason has never been reissued to my knowledge.
Yet the odd copy is still available if you look hard enough. You can expect to pay between $40.00 and $85.00 depending upon its condition, but what a small price to pay for a priceless piece of Australian music history!
Well of course there are no know video/ film footage of these performances, but Youtube does have clips of live performances by these groups, so here are some for your entertainment or even, education.
Renee Geyer – Born under A Bad Sign (1973)
Split Enz – Time For A Change (1976)
Ayers Rock – Lady Montego
Ariel – Kings Cross Crusader (1977)
Captain Matchbox – Nagasaki (1972)
Skyhooks – Saturday Night (1975)
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:
#108: Paul Simon – Graceland