Cart 0

Looking back at some Wollongong music history

Jeb Taylor

Last week my friends from Howlin Wolf opened a new food outlet called Glory Days and the fitout is so nostalgically Wollongong, with images of a Wollongong past, Illawarra Steelers jerseys on the staff and the original Oxford Tavern sign (both Howlin Wolf and Glory Days sit close by to the old Oxford Tavern site). It made me think of a few things, firstly my job as a booking agent a long time back at the Oxford Tavern, and secondly the Steel City Sounds exhibition that was ten years ago. The celebration of local music was hosted at Wollongong City Gallery and expertly curated by local music historian Warren Wheeler. For this week’s Counter Culture column I thought I’d highlight some important artists from Wollongong’s musical history and soft launch the Hits From The Gong series which will help document this even further.

1966 seems to be where the first local music releases begin. One of them from this year is from The Marksmen, which includes the amazing track Moonshine that has become a bit of a garage rock cult favourite over the years. Copies of the single never pop up and go for thousands when they do! Another release from the same year is the totally obscure 7” from Wee Liz titled Tiny Little Pebble. There is very little information around about this release but from what I have found the artist is a teenage singer from Wollongong whose real name was Elizabeth Reed. It was produced by Nat Kipner (and most likely recorded at Ossie Byrne’s studio, which at one time was based locally). The 7” was released via the Downunder label, which possibly has a connection to a Wollongong singer/songwriter of the time Derek Lee, there are very few known copies in existence, luckily I managed to find one a few years back. If anyone knows anything further about this release I’d like to know more!

Moving into the seventies and while The Marksmen were short-lived some of the members formed the more jam/prog orientated band Imagination. But there was some fresh energy hitting town, the first band I’m highlighting from the Wollongong seventies era was TV Jones, influenced by the likes of The Stooges and the MC5, the line up featured a young Deniz Tek, who was an American himself out here studying a medical degree, although this band was short lived, he’d a few years later meet Rob Younger and form the now legendary Radio Birdman. Right at the tail end of the seventies a Wollongong band called Suicide Squad released the furious punk single I Hate School. Have a listen to the track below!

The eighties in general was a conflicted decade, filled with both excess and darkness, and it reflected in the music of the time in general, from what I can see in my research of the era locally, it was very similar here. Most of the live music venues were hosting flashy cover bands playing the huge hits of the day, while artists writing their own material were putting on DIY shows in whatever spaces they could find. A great example of this was The Sunday Painters, an experimental art punk band that would self-release their own 7”s. Many years later their music started to get discovered and was eventually reissued by New York based label What’s Your Rupture. Their self-released 7”s are still very sort after and I was luckily gifted one by one of our customers a few years back. Also in the early eighties, Bamboo Bridges put out a great 7" of new wave sounds, but the 7" is extremely illusive! By the end of the decade a guitar rock scene was begining to form with bands such as The Dazy Chains who were taking on a dream pop/power pop angle while the Proton Energy Pills and The Unheard would begin a movement that would go on to shape the Wollongong music sound for many years to come.

At the beginning of the nineties, members of the previously mentioned Proton Energy Pills and The Unheard would form Tumbleweed, who through the decade became the biggest band to have come out of Wollongong. I’m sure most of you know the Tumbleweed story so I wanted to focus on some other important bands of the decade. First up is Evol. Before the internet, Triple J ran their Unearthed competition region by region and Evol were the winners on the Wollongong part of the competition. The four-piece band influenced by Sonic Youth(obviously) but also taking cues from artists such as Bikini Kill, Babes In Toyland and The Pixies were a fresh sound in a scene that was heavily influenced by the success of Tumbleweed. While the band were relatively short lived they have reformed on occasions for one off shows and most of the members are still playing around in bands locally today such as Chimers, Elastic Waste Band and The Escarpment.

Evol photographed by the Illawarra Mercury before a 2017 reunion show.

A mainstay of the local live music scene in the early nineties were the Zambian Goat Herders. Taking influence from the Detroit rock n roll scene of the seventies and Californian punk sound of eighties, they released a fantastic mini album called Endorphin in 1993 on the Redback Records label. They would follow it up with a full length the following year before splitting up. Later on members went on to play in The New Christs and Leadfinger while also being involved with the local music scene in various capacities. 

The other nineties band I wanted to highlight is one that is close to me as they were the first band I ever worked with. Thumlock emerged as a trio in the mid nineties by solidified their line up as a four piece for the release of the 1999 EP Lunar Mounatin Sunrise. The band who played an impressive band of psychedelic rock became a favourite both locally and around the country but also spread their sounds internationally via an emerging stoner rock scene connected by the early days of the internet. The band would end up signing record deals in Europe and receiving rave reviews from respected publications around the world. Unfortunately logistical and financial constraints meant they were never able to tour internationally despite several offers and the band would split up in the early 2000’s, but since they have seen reissues and increasing interest in the band. The Guitarist Raff now plays in Sydney band Robot God

And that brings me around to what started this column, the Oxford Tavern and the 2000’s. In the mid 2000’s, I became a booking agent at the venue, which despite it’s charms and sense of community still had many flaws. With the internet now in full swing local bands were making connections, touring beyond their hometown and recording in their garages. While there were some solid bands that emerged from Wollongong during this decade (Hytest, Babymachine, Buggirl and The Bungalows are just a few that come to mind), it was also a bit of a learning period for the local scene. Bands like Machine Translations and Infusion spent time locally before relocating to find further success, these lessons would set the path for the next decade and see many local artists begin to gain national and international recognition from here in Wollongong while an industry of promoters, managers and labels emerged around them.

In the coming months as we celebrate twenty years since the opening of Music Farmers we’ll be launching Hits From The Gong, a series that focuses on the history of the region’s musical output, we’ll have more information on this soon!

Older Post Newer Post