Boys Next Door; Melbourne punk; pics

Today’s really big fix:  Boys Next Door vids, plus images from a 1980 gig at the Crystal Ballroom, followed by writings on the Melbourne punk scene that Deb sent me a few weeks back.  (Rowland S. Howard and Evan English extracts included here).  Lots of interesting tidbits in the text parts, notably the role of Jenny Watson, Nick’s art school teacher.  Is she the one who failed him?  Then, a surprise photo at the end.  Let’s begin with two vintage Boys Next Door clips, uploaded by Prick Mayall.  The rest is under the page cut.

These Boots Are Made For Walking – Boys Next Door
Preston Institute of Technology, Melbourne, 1978.04.28

The Voice – Boys Next Door
Tiger Lounge, Melbourne, 1979.10.24

Reminiscences #1 – Evan English/Anne Harding/John Hillcoat

Evan English

My memories of the era are not broad but some are indelibly engraved. The HQ of it all, the Crystal Ballroom, was a wonderful venue, both very grand and deeply seedy. Its red floral carpet (from memory) was stained with beautiful excess and deep human misery. The Ballroom itself had a “sprung floor” which was some kind of desirable adjunct to dancing the cha cha cha in days gone by, but extraordinary (and deeply scary in retrospect) when a full house of one thousand drunken people rose and fell on the sprung floor in unison, as if on a trampoline. One such night was The Birthday Party in their first return from London doing the Junkyard set. Incredible, rivetting, scary, thrilling. I was on stage with a movie camera and it witnessed my ‘security’ in the front row get punched in the face to “She’s Hit”. Their head rotated. I got slammed into the drum kit by the Caveman. Every night would end the same: spilling out onto Fitzroy St and milling en masse under the portico, negotiating our way to ‘the party’. We’d head off into the night, drunk, aroused, dimmed, and in charge of a powerful motor vehicle with eight people stacked in it, all in search of fun, sex, company, enlightenment, in search of…’the place’…Frequently, a cold, dark, silent block of flats. Are you sure this is the right address?

ORIGINAL ARTICLE @Melbourne International Film Festival website.

BALLROOM MAYHEM – by Ashley Crawford

It was the era of punk and POPISM, disco and discourse, AIDS and abandon. The early to mid-’80s found an audience eager for the postmodern guru Jean Baudrillard, the maverick entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren and the graffiti maestro Keith Haring. Art, music, fashion and even architecture crossed boundaries in audacious leaps.

Inauspicious pub venues such as the Crystal Ballroom at the Seaview Hotel in St Kilda, the Tiger Lounge in Richmond and Fitzroy’s Champion Hotel would become the locus for many of the new bands that proliferated in Melbourne in the early 1980s. Art student Nick Cave had become something of a shuffling icon along the then decrepit Chapel Street in Prahran, crossing paths with artist Howard Arkley, both no doubt on a quest for substances somewhat below the radar of the law. Cave’s bands, The Boys Next Door and, slightly later, the Birthday Party were regulars at the Crystal Ballroom alongside Ed Kuepper’s Laughing Clowns, the Go Betweens, The Saints, Whirlywirld, Essendon Airport and Primitive Calculators.

In the dark environs of such dubious venues a small but intense audience included a number of artists who were to become major figures in years to come.

The Ballroom was, when all is said and done, a dump. On nights when a decidedly bedraggled crowd struggled to form, the ceiling would drip an acid rain of coalesced perspiration, the air a miasma of acrid moisture and hovering smoke from botted cigarettes, a would-be Louisiana swamp worsened by the stench of moisture evaporating from cheap op-shop, rain-soaked woolen coats. And they were the good nights.

Jenny Watson had insisted this would be worthwhile. Watson was a struggling artist, pseudo feminist in background, radical avant-gardist in aspiration, rabid pop-tart in reality. Her hair was a matted, rusty red; her dress-sense a macabre punk-pastiche of tatty black velvet and torn fishnet stockings, smeared lipstick and mascara applied with a cement trowel. It wasn’t elegant. But then, it wasn’t meant to be.

To make ends meet, Watson was teaching painting part-time at Caulfield Institute of Technology. She had a student, a tall, gawky lad whose art statement seemed to have more to do with dying his hair jet black and scrawling semi-obscene graffiti in note-books. But Watson was besotted, and the young Nick Cave couldn’t have had a better publicist when it came to spreading the word among art circles. “You have to see this band!” she would shriek. And when Watson shrieked it was hard to escape. Of course we saw the band.

Thus it came to be that on dark winter evenings, when Melbourne sunk into Siberia-like hibernation, a small coterie of artists would be corralled into the stygian environs of St. Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom. The Ballroom was a broken down rock venue struggling for life. Audiences fluctuated. At times half-a-dozen punters constituted a crowd. Entrance was via a gamut of passed out drunks, semi-conscious junkies, syringes piercing skin, a slick swamp of vomit and a littering of Victoria Bitter cans. This was the St. Kilda of the damned, long before polished floorboards and café latte. This was still the St Kilda of Albert Tucker’s visions of Good and Evil, prostitutes loitering in the dim lights of tram stops, a world of the living dead. At the time Tucker still lived around the corner and could often be spied stalking the streets, glowering at all around him.

Watching Cave’s band was like rehearsing for entrée into a Hieronymous Bosch painting, a carnivalesque monstrosity of malicious intent and play-time exhibitionism. The still-life elements of this canvas were supplied by the serious intensity of Mick Harvey, who slid into the shadows to the right, hugging his guitar closely, as though to distance himself from the suicidal activities centre stage. The only one who looked part of a more-or-less traditional rock’n’roll band was Tracy Pew, inevitably resplendent in fishnet singlet and ten-gallon Stetson, wielding a bass guitar like an AK47 and known to occasionally stuff his head into the centre of the bass drum as he flailed at his bass guitar.

Dominating the stage were two figures. One was Cave, a marionette on amphetamines, an Antonin Artaud performance come to life in 1980s Melbourne. What lights there were would flicker on and Cave would appear, screaming “Who Wants To DIE!?” as drummer Phil Calvert bashed out a crude, militaristic staccato beat. Inevitably to Cave’s right, as though indifferent to the chaos around him, was the sepulchral figure of Roland S. Howard. Even before years of heroin ravagement, Howard was a pale, skeletal figure, his dangling cigarette an extension of sensual, down-turned lips, an eldritch apparition doomed to a half-life while injecting an electrified accompaniment to Cave’s deranged monologues and narratives.

The stories told in these darkened environs were almost inevitably those of despair and darkness, although not without ample helpings of knowing self-mockery. Cave’s later biblical prophesizing was yet to find its genesis. Zoo Music Girl, Nick The Stripper, Release the Bats, King Ink; these were tirades of self-abasement.

Cave was not the slick rock star he would evolve into; he was the pre-gestation maggot struggling against a membrane of conservatism; he was ugly, chinless, potentially deranged, leaping without acknowledgment of pain, splintering Howard’s cigarette with an out-flung hand, indifferent to the stink of burnt flesh. “Hideous to the eye,” a “fat little insect,” were the lines of his self-portrait.

The haphazard video finally created for Nick The Stripper was performance art at its best. The torturous and self-important pseudo-mayhem of performance was reduced to a nightmarish party that pre-empted the strange shadowy debauches of Bill Henson’s later photographic work. Artists across the globe were experimenting with piercings, pressure, blood loss and sexual mutilation. In London Genesis P. Orridge, in his Coum Transmissions performances, had barbed wire wound around his face and tightened, the American performance artist Chris Burdon, notoriously, had himself shot in the arm and crucified on the roof of a Volkswagen. The Viennese school of body artists, most notably Herman Nitsch, were awash with gore. One of the ultimate performance artists, Iggy Pop, walked above his audience smeared in blood and peanut butter. In Australia, Mike Parr sewed dead fish onto his thigh and used a branding iron to burn the word ‘artist’ into his flesh. Cave, as art student, had no doubt taken in these events from a distance, but his import of extremes was to have a lasting impact on those in the small, stuffy rooms of Melbourne’s ‘alternative’ venues.

‘Punk’ in Melbourne at this time was a largely tokenistic gesture lifted from the pages of UK periodicals and fanzines. But as art historian Chris McAuliffe has pointed out, “punk demonstrated that an avant-garde culture was still possible.” As a movement it spread across the inner-city like a willful black fungus. Venues sprung up at the Exford Hotel in the inner city, the Champion in Fitzroy, the Tiger Lounge at the Royal Oak Hotel in Richmond and Bananas at Earls court, St. Kilda. The aged, but still vaguely glamorous Seaview Ballroom, built in 1897 as a resort hotel, became the most renowned of the venues, in part for the fact that it was closed in 1987 by the Liquor Licensing Commission under the belief that the hotel sustained a Mafia-based heroin trade. The venue was reopened in 1979 and the upstairs dining room, complete with chandeliers, became The Crystal Ballroom.

Music has long had a role in the solitary artists studio, now it took to the streets. Those ‘in the know’ were consuming the arty endeavours of David Bowie, The Velvet Underground and Roxy Music and, most importantly, The Stooges. Aficionado’s were touting Captain Beefheart and discovering the out of tune marvels of The Swans, Suicide, Pere Ubu and The Fall. When The Fall rather infamously toured in 1981, the young abstract painter Brett Colquhoun, already christened in the flames of The Birthday Party, decided to invite himself on tour, befriending the band’s acerbic front man, Mark E. Smith.

AMONGST THOSE IN the audience were a number of mainstays that would continue to attend without Watson’s prompting. Some were well ahead of Watson, others strangely indebted. A smattering of artists who would become substantial if not major figures in the Melbourne, national and, at times, even international art world made up a good percentage of the audience. John Nixon, then dating Watson, would attempt to outdo Tony Clark in melancholy black. Clark would stand to the rear, arms crossed in regal bearing as though passing judgment over some Grecian legal ritual, a perpetual scowl imprinted on his visage. Howard Arkley, with spotted tie, would sport the only facial hair in the room. The venue would be filled with younger art students, a veritable who’s who of new talent, including Brett Colquhoun, Jon Cattapan, Greg Ades, Stephen Bush, Vivienne Shark LeWitt, Nick Seymour, Maria Kozic, Peter Tyndall, John Mathews, Megan Bannister, Peter Walsh, Stephen Eastaugh and Andrew Browne along with playwright Tobsha Learner, photographer Polly Borland, writer Stephanie Holt and filmmakers to-be Richard Lowenstein and John Hillcoat; it was, in effect, a breeding ground for a new generation.

An early work of this period, Jon Cattapan’s Hot Corgis (1977) happily lifted Jamie Reid’s graphic anti-royalist imagery for the Sex Pistols, adding a somewhat expressionistic touch. This dystopian aesthetic continued in Cattapan’s work as he went on to depict St Kilda either flooded or in flames in cityscapes worthy of a J.G. Ballard novel. A drug-fuelled Howard Arkley grasped the spirit of the times in his 1982 work Primitive, the title grabbed from a song by US punk band The Cramps. Arkley had witnessed the overseas punk movement first-hand after a trip to Europe where trains would be crowded with mohawked youths. Primitive, not unlike the frenetic punk songs he had heard, was executed in a single night, the 120.5 x 403 centimeter sheet of stolen paper eventually crowded with the detritus of abstracted thought. Part of the process, again in a punk-like spirit, was the fact that he had promised Tony Clark a work to be shown at Prahran College, but had simply forgotten about it until the night before.

Watson had dragged the artists she knew to an early performance for not altogether altruistic reasons. Watson had a radar for talent and for ways to be linked to it. She had painted a text-based work titled An original oil painting (Black and white): For Nick Cave, with the words emblazoned on the canvas and given it to Cave as a prop for the song ‘Let’s Talk About Art’ for a 1979 performance at the Ballroom. Consolidating Watson’s hopes, the painting became a briefly utilized prop on stage, flung without regard for its future as a would-be museum piece.

The band, morphing from the moniker The Boys Next Door, later the Birthday Party and later still, The Bad Seeds, became a part of Watson’s own art project. Chris McAuliffe was later to note in an article in Art & Australia that the band were “able to acknowledge their debt to art and art rock both literally and ironically; the song introduces art with none of the subtle pretentiousness of art rock, but as if it were an item on a checklist. The very obviousness of the gesture over-determined, and thus deflated, rock’s flirtation with art. Watson was able to counter art’s high cultural tradition by rendering the painting itself generic and its exhibition momentary; in effect, the work was one that aspired to the status of a three-minute pop song. A telling symbiosis was achieved: the musicians were brought into the artists’ studio, while art appeared on the musicians stage.”

In 1999 I commissioned Roland S. Howard to write on the extremes of rock as performance for World Art magazine. A part of what he wrote was a description of a Birthday Party gig held in London, but the description could just as well have been that of one of the numerous infamous Ballroom gigs the band played. It seems apt to leave on Howard’s reminisce:

“The rider (alcohol provided in accordance with the contract) is sucked down at soundcheck, these people have no idea who they are dealing with. Afterwards, slightly less endorsed substances come into play. When stage time arrives, three fifths of the band, myself included, are wasted men. The memories grow hazy at this point, is it shame or adrenaline?

“Who knows, fewer care.

“I remember Tracy Pew falling flat on his face, his bass exploding in a sub-sonic boom as he and it hit the floor with all the weight of the near unconscious. It takes a good minute – a long time in a song – for Tracy to find his drunken feet and locate the song. We begin the next number, the introduction lasts a lifetime: Nick Cave is too involved battling some maniac in the crowd to be bothered singing. The song does start, but it’s like we’re all in different rooms, not for the first time Mick Harvey and I, extreme left and right, just stop playing and look at each other in disbelief. Nick is trying to scale the PA stack, but keeps falling down. Everything is falling down. I’m finding this hard to believe, we are onstage, nominally playing a song and Nick is beating a maniac over the head with the mike stand. The song dies – the hall is filled with the sound of the microphone, in all its reverberated glory, repeatedly smashing someone’s skull…

“If I stand here, I’m condoning this action, but to walk off would be traitorous, and at a time and a place like this there is no guilt, there are no excuses. It seems to go on forever, I’ve never seen an audience with their heads in the hands before… it is very, very bad.”

Ah, but as Roland well knows, it was in fact, for all the horror involved, very, very good. Those were the days….

– Ashley Crawford

Ashley Crawford’s text ‘Ballroom Mayhem’ was written for the booklet accompanying Jo Scicluna’s up and coming public project, The Funeral Party at the George Hotel. ORIGINAL ARTICLE @Melbourne International Film Festival website.

Janet and Beau (Lazenby), Crystal Ballroom, St. Kilda.

Morgan Note:

Yep, that’s Jethro’s Cave’s mum, Beau Lazenby, back in the day.  Here’s Tony’s recollection:

“Oh yeah, Beau. She was mad. She used to run around in a singlet with ‘I Hate Men’ written in blood on it.” In view of this revelation, Deb and I both agree that Nicky ego would have demanded that he conquer her. (Not to take anything away from Beau’s obvious charms.)

Vell, my pretties, I hope you all enjoyed this multi-part post and the too-good-to-pass-on gossipy ending. Cheers on a stormy Monday here in Connecticut, USA.

Thanks to Deb & Tony!  🙂

*FYI: More links etc on Crystal Ballroom HERE

15 thoughts on “Boys Next Door; Melbourne punk; pics

  1. Dear She’s Hit,
    Hmm, strong words and partially true (although I left Springsteen behind a bit earlier I suspect). But essentially inaccurate. Met Nick a few times and he in fact asked me to look over the early drafts of the Ass Saw the Angel (still have the versions in hand in fact). I was much closer to artists like Peter Walsh and Tony Clark who were friends of his and became friends with Roland S. Howard a bit later. But my point is that I never claimed in that piece to have been particularly close to Nick – but I DID see the band on a number of occasions, firstly in Brisbane in something like 1980. But given you obviously knew me then I can’t help but wonder who this is and why you have it out to get me? I wasn’t (and I’m not) making any claims to connections with Mr Cave – I was asked for my observations about the time and wrote accordingly. Ash

    Ashley Crawford is a dubious person to document Nick Cave. He never left home to take an interest in such things. He was into Bruce Springsteen, the Clash and Hunter S Thompson. He once met Nick Cave but that was strictly by chance and he couldn’t have cared less.
    He is trying to make himself into someone who matters. And he is not that important a person to be using the genius of Nick Cave and hoping it will rub off on him.

    she’s hit :
    Ashley Crawford is a dubious person to document Nick Cave. He never left home to take an interest in such things. He was into Bruce Springsteen, the Clash and Hunter S Thompson. He once met Nick Cave but that was strictly by chance and he couldn’t have cared less.
    He is trying to make himself into someone who matters. And he is not that important a person to be using the genius of Nick Cave and hoping it will rub off on him.

  2. Ashley Crawford is a dubious person to document Nick Cave. He never left home to take an interest in such things. He was into Bruce Springsteen, the Clash and Hunter S Thompson. He once met Nick Cave but that was strictly by chance and he couldn’t have cared less.

    He is trying to make himself into someone who matters. And he is not that important a person to be using the genius of Nick Cave and hoping it will rub off on him.

  3. As I said on the ficcing seeds post of the BND photos, the one with Rowland staring at Nick is just unbelievably adorable. They’re so so young and they may have already been raising hell but they look just so tiny and cute. Appearances can be deceiving!

  4. See? He looks more like Deb. I’m in a shitty mood, but Jethro does NOT look that much like Nick. Plus, I don’t like 10 year olds.

    Ignore that. I don’t think I should post right now. I love the BND stuff. That’s awesome.

    • Andrea, I removed my response to your comment because my getting irritated at you will not solve anything. I realize we cut up so much around here that it’s easy for folks dropping by to mistake us for the corner pub. Perhaps that what happened to you, last evening? Either way, it’s important to tell you that I am baffled by too many of your comments and responses. You often come off as intentionally rude, especially with the trashy language. Elsewhere, however, you seem okay, so what’s the deal? If you have problems with me personally, I invite you to email me and get it off your chest. If it is ‘Nick Fixes’ that you don’t like, you should decide whether it’s worth your time to visit here. So many things I post seem to upset you, after all. Look, if you have any questions, email me at (first remove _at_).

    • face wise, i don’t think jethro looks like nick. genetically however, he has the same “hip line”. the way he walks. a movement or a way of standing perhaps. i have watched nick for 30 yrs plus now – i see things of his dad in him. even similiar behaviours if you consider what young nicholas was doing at the same age.

      • Yeah i think so too 😀 He has definately some similar behaviours and he walks a bit like his daddy. His face is more like his mom`s i think. I never knew how Beau looks like until i saw this photo i must say 😉

        I love looking at parents, grandparents etc. and finding out who looks similar to who. I do that with my family very much 😀

        Jethro also has this arrogant swagger of his dad and he has a babyface sometimes like Nick Cave when he was still very young.

  5. I’ve always had a feeling there is a link between The Birthday Party and G P-Orridge, actionism and all this trangressive current in various arts in late 70s/early 80s. Harmed bodies and self-destructive behavior seemed to be a common thing then, even a desirable one. Not sure but such model of scenic performance was adapted in obscure genres like black metal afterwards?
    (there exist some followers nowadays, methinks, but they’re nothing more than mere pretentious copies)

  6. Very very interesting. Thank you 🙂

    Very strange days 😀 I think i would have watched the gigs at the door – i do not like it when i get punched at concerts and i dont like junkies vomiting in front of me even though you can not always avoid that if you want to see good music. I really unterstand Mick Harvey. I read he was not taking drugs. That must have been really, really bad sometimes, to see all that WITHOUT beeing in a stupor.

    But i am sure there was a great spirit in the air back then on the other hand. Maybe some puke and other ugly substances under my shoes would have been ok for me to have the opportunity be part of something great even though i think i would have kept a safety distance to a lot of the people involved – i am a wary girl 😉

    • Hi Anna, you are most welcome. Thanks for the comments.

      Back in those days, I might have been wild enough to try and get close. I’m sort of red-faced about admitting it but I used to join my brothers in country/western bar fights. It was not uncommon for women to provoke or to join a fight. This was a decade before punk hit. Important to mention that my brothers are musicians and were actually performing in the bars where the fights took place. Sometimes a women would make a pass at one of them and that meant her b/f or hubby would start something. One night, this exact scenario happened. Some woman climbed right up on my brother’s back and started pulling his hair and slapping the daylights out of him. Meanwhile he’s trying to dodge her boyfriend’s fists. I recall thinking, okaaay, now is a probably a good time to join the fray. We still laugh about it now. Possibly our experiences are not that different from what Nick and the boys went through? Hm. I can’t picture Anita Lane punching anyone but I’d love to know about it if she did … punch anyone besides Nick. We already know she’s not afraid of knife play 😉 Oh, what tales for a winter Saturday night, eh? 😀

  7. Hi Deb, thanks again to you and Tony for the personal anecdotes. I had no idea about the floor! As for violence, I agree, it was no place for a lady. Mick Harvey has said that he used to suffer intense anxiety – to the point of feeling physically sick – before going on with Birthday Party, because he never knew what was going to happen. There was no point trying to reason with Nick about it, if there wasn’t trouble already, he instigated it. That’s why he wore so many rings, like decorative brass knuckles, to make sure the first punch did the most damage. Neubauten shows were just as bad in the beginning, hurling molotov cocktails into the crowds. It’s a wonder nobody was killed. Maiming, I guess, was part of the appeal. Like a war wound, a tattoo, a mark of belonging. Strange days, indeed.

  8. wow morgan. reading those texts has put a smile on my face. i remember that floor in the ballroom bouncing up and down especially the night XTC played there. many fond memories for sure, but also some ugly ones of increasing violence and my reasons to drop back from the birthday party. a great post. 🙂

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