Monday, April 12, 2010

Zambian Goat Herders (1990-1995)

Zambian Goat Herders
In 1990, four schoolmates from Kanahooka - high on the sounds of Dinosaur Jr and Husker Du - formed a band that, in time, would be mentioned in the same sentence as Proton Energy Pills and Tumbleweed.

Zambian Goat Herders - named by fellow schoolmate, Ben Varley - first came together to play a band comp at Hurlstone Agricultural College in Sydney. That line-up consisted of Matt Williams (guitar/vocals), Greg Cheyne (guitar), Paul Zanni (bass) and Dillon Hicks (drums)

William’s older brother Brent was impressed enough with the band’s debut performance that he wanted a piece of the action. Zanni left, Matt Williams moved to bass and Brent Williams filled the guitar role.

The band played a few shows around town including a support slot with an early incarnation of Tumbleweed that featured Dave Curley (ex-Proton Energy Pills) on vocals.


When Curley was ousted from Tumbleweed in 1991 however, the Goat Herders saw an opportunity and set-out to headhunt him for their own band. After some initial reluctance Curley attended a rehearsal and decided to take them up on their offer. Thus the classic line-up of Zambian Goat Herders was born.

Dave Curley
With Curley came a high energy, melodic influence along with crucial contacts, enabling the band to play regular shows outside their hometown. Brent Williams and Curley moved into Acton Court at the bottom of Crown St, and started regularly writing songs together. The band soon entered Studio Arts in Woonona with Ed Lee and recorded a demo. Reviewing the demo in On the Street in 1992, Stuart Coupe described the Goat Herders as "aggressive, tough, relentless, with moments of brilliance and a take no prisoners attitude."

Around this time, Redback Records was an oasis in a sea of Wollongong mediocrity and focused heavily on stocking 'alternative' music, before the alternative became mainstream. Store owner John Jenkins saw the band perform at the North Gong in June 1992, and although Curley managed to fall off the stage mid-rock pose, Jenkins loved it and walked away with visions of starting a record label with the Goat Herders as his flagship release.

As Hicks remembers: "There was no contract, it was all very cottage industry kinda stuff. We paid for the recording, John paid for the artwork and pressing. Promo costs were shared although John probably shelled out more money on the latter than the band did."

With the promise of financial assistance the band again entered Studio Arts with Ed Lee in December '92/January '93 and emerged with the mini-album Endorphin. Redback Records had secured distribution with MDS and funded a video for the lead track 'Starshine'. Jenkins had also hired industry veteran and ex-Polydor publicist Fiona Sommerville to do publicity for the band, all culminating in Endorphin being the highest selling release for MDS in 1993.

Recorded live, Endorphin is a moment of youth documented in audio. Lee successfully captured the sound of five naive, but intensely passionate, kids having the time of their lives. Rolling Stone reviewed Endorphin favourably, RRR added 'Starshine' to rotation and invited the band in for their 'Live in Your Loungeroom' series, and ABC's rage played the clip regularly increasing the bands exposure especially to the all-ages audience.

The Goat Herders rise to prominence coincided with the explosion of grunge rock from Seattle, and thus the band became overnight hometown heroes. One night they were supporting You Am I and Tumbleweed at the North Gong to 10 people, and 6 months later they played to 1100 punters at Thirroul Skating Rink.

Outside of Wollongong, the band's sound seemed to resonate with Melbourne audiences first, with audiences in Canberra and Sydney coming around to the highly energised live shows a bit later. These energetic performances landed the band support slots for local heroes Celibate Rifles, Hard-Ons and Front End Loader, as well as international visiting artists Babes in Toyland, Buffalo Tom and Superchunk.

Dillon Hicks
Wanting to keep the momentum rolling, the band re-entered the studio to record a follow-up album. Again Ed Lee sat in the producers' chair, but this time the band altered the recording formula. Capturing the drums and bass first, the guitars and vocals were overdubbed later, resulting in the less-than-urgent follow-up, Awake.

On top of the recording problems, the band were also dealing with inner tensions as Curley announced his intentions to leave the band after the albums release, citing personal reasons. Curley loyally committed to a couple of rounds of touring to promote Awake. Furthermore, Jenkins had informed the band that after the release of Awake, Redback would not be in a position to finance the band any further. This was primarily due to the slow return he was getting for his investment, and a reflection of the distributor as opposed to the Goat Herders.

True to his word, Curley left the band in '95. One of his final gigs though was an all-ages afternoon show at The Metro supporting Tumbleweed. The band were late setting up, and feeling a little unsure what the future held for them. But when the curtain lifted, the quintet were faced with a full-house (footage from this night is included in the ZGH youtube playlist below).

Matt Williams
Following Curley's departure, the remaining four members vowed to keep moving, shifting vocal duties to the Williams' brothers. The band set about writing an all-new set, no longer comfortable playing Curley-era songs. Over the preceding couple of years the Goat Herders had struck up a tight friendship with Bodyjar, and the final Goat Herder recordings show a decidedly more pop-punk sound than the garage-rock they'd become renowned for.

An ill-fated tour to Melbourne followed and the band returned home to play what was to be their final show at an all-ages gig at Wollongong Youth Centre.

Though their existence was brief, the Zambian Goat Herders proved that living in Wollongong was not a barrier to success. And why should it have been? Talking to Ian Gostelow for Tertangala Curley said: "I... get a bit angry about the provincial attitude that some people tend to have towards Wollongong... Wollongong is a nice little scene... it's a lot of fun because you get a lot of support."

Years later Hicks also recalls this camaraderie: "I remember being in Melbourne touring, maybe early 1993, the same weekend that both Whose Muddy Shoes and Tumbleweed were in town on unconnected tours. ZGH were sitting in a hotel room in St Kilda with the radio on and Whose Muddy Shoes were being interviewed. The announcer was trying to paint Wollongong as a blues town, but the band were like: "What would you know?" They started going on that Tumbleweed were in town and they were heavy as fuck, and the Goat Herders were also in town and they all high-energy pop, and Whose Muddy Shoes were in town and "We're fucking blues, man". Those guys sticking it to the announcer really summed up the camaraderie that existed between Wollongong bands of all different genres at the time."

The musical legacy left behind by the Goat Herders is pivotal to our city's rich musical tapestry, without which bands countless other bands may not have even formed.

These days Matt Williams lives in Brisbane and is not currently involved in any musical projects. Brent Williams still lives in Wollongong and is doing a Phd in Music. He also tours regularly with The New Christs and BDSG. Dave Curley has recently returned to the Gong to complete his Dip. Ed and occasionally gets up on stage with Leadfinger. Greg Cheyne lives in Sydney and has no current musical pursuits whilst Dillon Hicks played in Vvovo in the mid-nineties and now lives and works in Sydney as a studio manager in advertising and also plays with Leadfinger & BDSG.


Discography:
1993: Endorphin (download)
1994: Awake (download)

Steel City Sound Exclusives:
1995: Live at Sunami, 1995 (Dave's Last Gig) (download)
1995: The Doghouse Sessions (download)
1995: The 'Damo' Sessions (download)
1995: 2VOX interview (download)

References:
Burke, Tim, 'Zambian Goatherders, Fulltab & Filth'', Tertangala, March 1994
Coupe, Stuart, 'The Zambian Goat Herders', On the Street,  17 June 1992
Gostelow, Ian, 'The Zambian Goat Herders', Tertangala, March 1993
Richards, Connor, 'Zambian Goat Herders', Hot Metal July 1993
Saint, Kylie, 'Wollongong on the Harbour', On the Street, 8 February 1993
'Five Bands Campaign on Poll Eve', Illawarra Mercury 11 March 1993

Extra-special thanks go to both Dillon Hicks and Brent Williams who put in an unprecedented effort into compiling the history and recordings of the band, as well as longtime friend Ben Varley, who found the VOX interviews beneath 15 years worth of coke bottles, Marvel comics, and computer parts.

6 comments:

  1. Awesome! Just found this blog, and i'm clearly not going to get any work done today.

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  2. Wow, can't believe i found this page. I had Endorphin back in the 90's but it was stolen when i took it to a party and i've never been able to find another copy. So stoked to be able to download it... but would gladly buy it again if it were possible.

    Matt from Bulli

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  3. So awesome, this is a phenomenal blog.

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  4. Still have a copy of endorphin i picked up at cash advance in warrawong about 15 years ago. Good stuff

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  5. I swapped my Endorphin CD for Beastie Boys... and here it is, awesome

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  6. I remember watching these guys jam in Ory's parents garage until the neighbours would complain.

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