Thursday, September 22, 2011

Svegies Vegie's (1983-1989)

Svegies Vegie's at a WINTV Telethon
Ahhh... the much maligned 1980's: a decade where video killed the radio star and  we wanted our money for nothing (and our chicks for free). Greed was good, fluorescent hot-pants were tight, and keyboards were made to look like guitars. In the post-punk and post-disco era MTV had stamped its' mark on the industry, dictating local radio playlists from afar with synth-heavy, sacchrine-loaded pop performed by blokes easily mistaken for chicks.

Despite all it's colour and flamboyance however, the eighties were a relatively miserable time for our region. Starting with the Kemira strike in '82, the region suffered crippling unemployment, having generational impacts that are still being felt today.

Wollongong's counter-culture had its' origins in this period, with the establishment of Wollongong Out of Workers Union, and the appropriation of the Ironworkers Club as a punk venue.

But for every counter-cultural movement there is a group whose prime objective on a Saturday night is to dance. It is in this environment that local party-band Svegies Vegie's was conceived.

Corrimal Surf Club circa 1984
Staving off unemployment, three of the original four members of Svegies Vegie's were employees of  WIN 4 Television and cut their teeth playing covers at office parties. John Firth (vocals, keyboards, guitars), Dave Henderson (drums), and Grant Osborne (bass) brought in the only non-WIN TV staff member Stewart Alexander on lead guitar to fill out the line-up. 

However, it wasn't until two more WIN personalities joined in early-1984 (sports reporter Mark Chester - vocals, and Frank 'Lips' Marcy - horns/percussion) that the band started to  take itself more seriously, albeit only slightly.

Managed by fellow WIN colleague and namesake Igor Svegovic this band of good-timers were described as "innovative cabaret-rock" covering crowd-pleasers from Ramones, Kenny Rogers and Elvis Presley, to the 'Love Boat Theme'.

Taking musical cues from high-profile Australian acts of the time (Mental As Anything, INXS, GANGgajang), Svegies Vegie's began composing their own songs and soon found themselves regularly booked at clubs and pubs across the region (Kiama Leagues, Corrimal Leagues, The Grand). Coniston Hotel (now Gilmore's) became the band's 'local' given its' proximity to WIN studios. "Our first official gig was at Coniston Hotel on March 4 [1984]. Now we get more work than we can handle," Chester was quoted at the time.

Svegies & Friends
"The first actual gig," says Henderson "was in a carport in Keiraville with too many band members to mention. [But] I have a recording of that official gig at the Conno on cassette tape. It's piss-funny."

Chester confirmed the bands' crowd-pleasing approach by stating: "although we play songs we like, when we choose a song it is always aimed at pleasing an audience."

The collective members' networking proved fruitful as their first demo 'Well Adjusted Friends' found it's way onto 2WL courtesy of presenter Paul Cashmere, whilst the band opened Cousins nitespot - a venue owned by Steelers star Michael Bolt.

In October 1985 the band recorded their most mature effort 'Lonely Trail' for release as a single. Despite the band's reputation as a party-band 'Lonely Trail' drew more from the likes of Hunters & Collectors and The Go-Betweens in terms of its' introspective and contemplative mood.

Recorded at Paradise Studios in Woolloomooloo by Roger Greirson (The Johnnys manager) the single was backed by 'Just Tell Me Lies' - a bouncy track more in keeping with their image.

'Lonely Trail' was again picked up by local radio, whilst the video scored national airplay on Sounds and was later featured on the Steel Town Sounds video.

In 1989 musical differences split the band apart with Osborn, Henderson and Marcy going on to form The Length, followed by The Hodads, whilst Alexander and Firth formed The Impossibles.

Throughout their career though, the band picked up some great support slots alongside Sandy and the Sunsetz, Hunters and Collectors and Flotsam and Jestam.

Putting their musical differences behind them though, the band reformed for one night only in 2006 at Beaches, Thirroul - an event captured on video in the documentary All Over the Shop Again.

1984: 'Well Adjusted Friends' & 'Summer Fun' demo's (download)
1985: 'Lonely Trail' b/w 'Just Tell Me Lies' (download)

'Party gig blossoms for Vegies' (Illawarra Mercury)
'Svegies shape up for launch' (Illawarra Mercury)
'The transformation of Mark Chester' (Illawarra Mercury)

*Thanks goes out to Frank 'Lips' Marcy and Dave Henderson for their help and input.

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