Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Mutated Noddys (1983-1994)

L-R: Warren 'Noddy' Auld, Nic Nicolaidis, Steve Abrahall
Written by Stew Cunningham

Back in the mid 80's the Cabbage Tree Hotel in Fairy Meadow (along with the Ironworkers Club in Wollongong) was the happening place to go for anyone interested in underground music in the Gong. The back room had a 'leftover from the 70's' coolness about it; naugahyde booths surrounding a well worn timber dance floor in front of a two-foot high stage. "The Patch" was on 'the circuit', so a lot of out of town bands - both big and up and coming, memorable and forgettable - would play there Bands such as The Stems, The Church, The Johnny's, Hoodoo Gurus, James Griffin and the Subterraneans, Ed Kuepper, The Celibate Rifles, The Painters and Dockers are a few that stick in my mind. The Flamin' Groovies and Johnny Thunders also played there in a time when an overseas band touring was a lot less common than it is now. It was rare to see a local band playing at The Patch, though I do clearly remember one local band that did; The Mutated Noddys.

Raw Power circa '83
The mere fact 'The Noddy's' were even able to score a gig there and had the guts to give it a go left a big impression on me. I had seen a few rough, hand-drawn posters around town advertising their gig, they had a trident symbol on the poster and the font was similar to the cover of Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges. As I was heavily into loud, guitar driven rock a la The Stooges, Radio Birdman and Ramones - a style you just didn't see or hear in the suburbs back then... it seemed like this band might be up my alley so I went along, excited to see a local band at the Patch. That simple poster did it's job. The Noddys hit the stage (I don't even remember who the other acts were) and they were ear splittingly loud. Guitarist Steve Abrahall, standing 7 foot tall and wearing a black leather jacket, played a gibson through a full WASP stack. Bassist Warren “Noddy Parp” Auld was on a Rickenbacker and he sang into a ceramic jug suspended near his mic. It was weird and frenetic hi-energy rock. They were into it and it had a real punk attitude. They knew their shit. It was a refreshing and inspirational blast. They did a song called 'Bermuda' that really blew me away. I didn't know it at the time but it was a Roky Erickson song and it was The Noddys’ stirring rendition that set me off on a life long interest and love of Roky and his songs. Later in the night I built up the courage to talk to Steve Abrahall and whilst his size and leather jacket seemed intimidating at first, he turned out to be one of the friendliest guys I had ever met - always happy to see you and a big genuine smile. Not too far down the track me and some mates got our own band going called The Proton Energy Pills and our first ever gig in Sydney was at the Sutherland Royal Hotel with The Mutated Noddys. At the time it was a really big thing for us to play there and it was all thanks to Steve. The Noddys eventually put out records and did heaps of gigs. They were pioneers who showed what could be done from a small town.

Abrahall put his first band together at the insistence of a drummer who wanted to enter a school talent quest. "I'd just bought a $30 Maton with a warped neck", recalls Abrahall from his Newcastle home. "I hadn't learn't to play it, apart from the three riffs the previous owner showed me upon purchase. We strung those together with a back beat and came second to two euphonium players. We were known as the ‘Leadbreakers’ as I trod on the lead and broke it during the contest."

Abrahall was born in Birmingham in 1961, and is the cousin of Colin Abrahall, founding member of punk legends GBH. Abrahall's family migrated to Australia in 1968, first settling in Sydney for a couple of years before calling Coonamble their home in 1971. At the age of 17, Abrahall applied for a job at AIS (BHP) in Port Kembla and before he knew it he had packed his guitar, records, clothes and a reel-to-reel into his prized HR Holden wagon with no brakes, and headed to his new home in Wollongong.

The Noddys 'staff car'.
The first incarnation of The Mutated Noddy's were christened Raw Power, as Abrahall explains. "Raw Power began with the intent of distilling the 'first principle' punk/new-wave influences by trying to cover their songs. The reason for this stems from being in the Radio Birdman Fan Club as a school kid, but never getting to see them.

"I ran an ad in the Mercury, in early '83:  'Musicians wanted to form band', and ended up chatting to everyone who rang. They'd come over and play records and we'd jam at the Corrimal Community Hall as a basic audition (not realising this was an ex-Birdman venue)."

"Warren stayed on and dug the concept. We tried a few drummers including Gary Norwell (TV Jones, King Biscuit, Sun) but reckoned punk was passe', and he was right in 1983. We had three drummers for the 13 Raw Power gigs - Paul Winfield, Chris Tirrus and Ken Holmes - in that order."

Steve Abrahall
"At one stage we were going to be a four piece, as I wasn't confident of learning 'lead', but loved rhythm and really wanted to be a poet/frontman initially. We rehearsed with Lawrence Graham, Dave Hooper (Animal Farm) and then Simon "The Brigadier" Lethbridge, who were all shit-hot at solos and improvising, but decided to go with the harder, simpler sound of a trio prior to playing live for the first time in November '83."

"The name change was around mid-'85, and reflected a more contemporary approach, in that we had more of a focus on originals, and some of our fave '80s bands had the format of adjective then plural noun. For example, Lime Spiders, Psychotic Turnbuckles, Celebate Rifles, Olympic Sideburns, Screaming Tribesmen, etc...Warren's nickname was Noddy, as he'd turn up in his Austin 1800, say nothing, plug in and play the Noddy theme. The Mutated part is from Birdman’s ‘New Race’ lyric “I’m gonna mutate."

The Noddy's started gigging at numerous locals including Balgownie Hotel, North Gong, Thirroul Rex, Dandaloo Hotel, Woonona-Bulli RSL, Wollongong Hotel, and the Grand Hotel. "Those latter three got heavy with us and paid us to leave early. Crowds were half made up of switched-on types and half resident non-music-fan drinkers, so there was applause and heckling in varying amounts."

The band then tried their luck on the Sydney circuit, getting support slots to fund recording sessions. "We ended up doing regular gigs at Sutherland Royal, Palace Darlinghurst and St George Rock-Room, Mortdale. These venues were geared for loud indie rock, which was fine, but there were ugly scenes as late as March ’89 at the Old Windsor Tavern in the Sydney CBD, where the cops had to remove us."

Despite now living away from the area, Abrahall has fond memories of Wollongong and the scene that was happening in the mid-to-late eighties.

"Wollongong was/is an awesome place. After growing up in a tiny country town, in outback NSW, the coast line and industry were gob-smacking. I remember moments such as standing in front of the coke ovens as a teenager, watching the glowing product spewing out or exiting the Stanwell tunnel on the first train trip down for that job interview."

"Musically, and scene-wise, hanging at the Wollongong Hotel in the late ‘70s  presented a complete cross-section of humanity, all existing in harmony with a hard-rock soundtrack. There were surfers, hippies, bikers, rev-heads, homosexuals, headbangers and punks all sitting out the back, drinking, coning, chatting and laughing. Everyone was friendly and courteous, and there was a different band, usually from Sydney, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday."

"Later on, people like Ed Dion were a big influence, along with his brother Tom and mate Grotch, who had actually recorded Birdman at the Bondi Lifesaver, before they had a record out. Ed initially introduced us to all that '60s punk that was becoming available on import, such as The Sonics, The Count Five and more notably, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Being Birdman fanatics, we knew they wrote 'You're Gonna Miss Me', but had never heard them and once Noddy heard Tommy Hall's jug playing, he got a jug and we did 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' at the very next gig."

In 1987 the band recorded their first demos at Soundbarrier with Dave Boyne from Missing Links engineering. With the exception of 'Ride to Desperation' which found its way onto a cassette compilation, the tracks went unreleased.

"Jules Normington of Phantom approached us regarding ‘Ride’ and was looking to release it as a single if we re-recorded it. I re-did the vocals and added an acoustic guitar, but it wasn’t what he was after."

"Warren left and was replaced by Lee Thompson, and we eventually went into Electric Avenue in August ’89 with Rob Younger and re-recorded ‘Ride’ and ‘Shadows of Darkness’ on 24 track."

"We’d worked live with Rob and the New Christs in ’88 and both he and Citadel wanted to release our original Soundbarrier recordings, but didn’t due to financial restraints. Survival signed us on the strength of the Electric Avenue recordings and the sessions we did with Tom Lubin, who had worked on most of the Modern Lovers albums and had got his start with Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. Those tracks, 'Plastic Prophets' and 'Nobody Wants to Know' were re-recorded at Electric Avenue with Rob producing and Gary Uren on bass. Gary stayed in the band for the next four years and around 70 gigs. That EP was released in May ’90."

"After that, we planned the next release as being a full length album and went into Powerhouse Studios with Rob in January ’91 with John Hresc engineering. For the next couple of years, gigs were getting harder to find, so whenever budget allowed we’d work towards completing the album. We did some final mixing, on about half of it, so technically it’s nearly finished. With changing line-ups, it’s a big expectation to take gig money and spend it on a recording that members may not have even played on. The sessions themselves were great, and Rob does a cameo lead guitar solo on 'Dog Eat Anything' – his first guitar recording."

After a decade of hard slogging, the band decided to take a break as Abrahall explains. "Not having a manager, or a booking agent, every gig was the result of several dozen phone calls. As this was before mobiles it meant late nights at home on the blower, or calling past pay phones during the day and dropping multitudes of cassette demos around. All this and a full time job. The drive was there as a passion, or calling, as most musicians would understand. Members came and went, but not that frequently. There was always my (late) wife Cathy who shared the passion and would make up posters, t-shirts and would mix the band live, to spur me on. After 11 years, it was time for a break."

Discography
1987 - 'Ride to Desperation'  (from A Night of Zen, Art & Pop compilation
1990 - The Mutated Noddys EP (Survival) (download)
1990 - Live at the Northgong 29/11/90 (Bootleg)
1990 - 'Shadows of Darkness' on Steel Town Sounds VHS Documentary.
2000 - Abbey Road (Hyperdyne)
Live Tracks Exclusive to Steel City Sound (download)

Links:

7 comments:

  1. great to hear from Steve Abrahall

    but alas no mention of when Pete Komidar of the Stayns was in the band there for a while

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  2. Good point - checked the link to their website and found this:

    By mid
    1986, the band became a four piece with the inclusion of Peter Komidar (Mudrac), founding member of the Staynes, a local psychedelic outfit, which spawned the Unherd.

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  3. Steve 'Logic' AbrahallDecember 20, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Hi Guys,
    Great website Wazza, and nice article, Stew, v.flattering.
    Correct, Peter 'Crack' Komidar is a long-time mate and was a member in '86, before moving to Canberra.
    We still catch up about once a decade, time permitting.

    One small (pedantic) correction on song titles; the last live track on the above downloads (from Nth Gong 29/11/90) is actually titled "Crying for Your Mother", which was a quote from a death-threat note that my boss in PNG got from one of his ex-employees.....

    Cheers and all the best - see yz around.
    Steve

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  4. Hi steve, you have removed any mention of Mark"mortdale" Davidson , who through his friends, Trilobites, Rocks,Happy hate me nots, secured all of your Sydney gigs 86 and 87 and was the drummer during this period,also plays on the recordings from the Patches and Oatley gigsand also how you meet Rob Younger, hope you remember , thanks .Mark

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  5. Steve 'Logic' AbrahallMarch 31, 2014 at 8:47 PM

    Hi Mark,
    Fair Comment - Mark "Mortdale" Davidson was our first Sydney drummer, and being friends with the Trilobytes, got the lend of Martin Martini's 4 Track cassette, which was our VERY FIRST multi-track recordings, in Take 5 Studios, Taren Point. Mark did indeed hook us up with Gary Hughes Charm School and a number of southern suburbs rock identities, such as Peter Patterson (Patto was lead vox for Melting Skyscrapers at that stage, and went on to form Rattlesnake Shake, labelmates of ours in the early '90s).
    Met Rob Younger supporting the Christs in late 1988, at Max's Petersham Inn - Peno was in the Curry Kitchen and a great relaxed night.
    With the format of this interview, there wasn't scope for much detail, so apologies to anyone else who didn't get a mention - Andrew Driscoll, Alan Strom, Tim Fagen (Sax 1994 final line-up) Tony Aidules, Ian Pilgrim, Kirk Makse, Michael Gerard, Simon "The Brigadier" Lethbridge, Laurence Graham, Laurence Condie, Grotch, - check our website, if it's still up....
    Cheers
    Steve

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  6. Hi Mark - half right!
    You got us Oatley Hotel and St George Rock Room (twice) in ''87. Only '86 gig with yourself was Thirroul (which I got), and the remainder of the '87 gigs with you were Palace, Royal, Patchez (all of which I got).
    It was great that your mate Martin Martini (Trilobytes) lent us the 4-track, as that was our FIRST Multi-track recording (Take 5, Taren Point) and your introducing us to Gary Hughes got us a support with them.
    Apologies for the omission, the question format didn't allow everyone to be named, so you're in good company with Tim Fagan, Ian Pilgrim, Kirk Makse, Tony Aidules, Alan Strom, Anfdrew Driscoll etc etc.
    Cheers
    Steve 'Logic' Abrahall

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  7. Thanks Steve, we played some good shows -good time to be in a band, seemed like everyone I new was a musician, met some great people !! Cheers Mark( thanks for the photos)

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