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 50,000 lps.
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 (thankfully) 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 band were 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. Top 10 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 looked 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 new CD.
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 double 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 “Joint 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 Word”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.)