Perfect Sound Forever

Ian Rilen and Lobby Loyde

Like Mad Dogs
by David Nicols
(August 2007)

It would be unfair to throw the lives and work of Lobby Loyde and Ian Rilen into the same general basket merely because they died within a few months of each other (Rilen in October last year of bladder cancer; Loyde in April of lung cancer). It would be just as unfair to their respective legacies to talk about them in the same breath merely because, for instance, they were both bass players for Rose Tattoo at different moments in the '70's. It might be more relevant, however, to discuss them together for the fact that they were both older participants in the world of Australian punk and new wave in the '70's and '80's, and have garnered respect in many quarters since that time for their debonair and cocksure determination to work within the music industry without being 'touched' (that is, corrupted) by it: an impossible aim, but surely a worthy one.

Given the above, what is perhaps more interesting is the contrasts between the two of them. Loyde's '70's records – even in the Coloured Balls, embraced by the pre-glam, pre-punk Sharpie movement (an Australian fashion-music movement) – were paeans to basic riff rock but also showcases for his guitar technique, the one exception perhaps being his buoyant and extraordinary Beyond Morgia of 1976. Rilen, on the other hand, was from the mid-'70's making a virtue of simplicity, to the extent that his last few years of performance were practically live improvisations. Loyde took a practical attitude to his involvement in music; from the late '70's onwards, he began focusing more on production than composition and recording, and added management and similar business interests in the early '80's. Rilen was always a performer, and in many instances, he found it hard to work with others, particularly if they had an interest in professionalism; his aborted career as bass player in the Ian Moss band being a case in point. Both Loyde and Rilen had slight glances at mainstream chart success; the Coloured Balls had some hits when they were on EMI in '72-'73 and Loyde's (boogie) solo single "Liberate Rock" was a chart success. Rilen wrote Rose Tattoo's debut single, "Bad Boy For Love," though he had left the band in the first year of its existence and did not play on the record. Loyde began his career in mid-sixties Brisbane (he had been a boyhood friend, and later professional competitor, to the Bee Gees) in the Purple Hearts; Rilen, in early '70's Sydney with Tully in Space and then the more prominent Band of Light.

What follows is a scattershot overview of career highlights of these two stars. It is very important to note that certain aspects of both men's careers have been the focus of a reissue campaign from the Aztec label – particularly Loyde, who had the pleasure of seeing a lot of old and unreleased material emerge in new editions which are lovingly annotated. At the same time, it is worth appreciating that the elements of the two men's careers less palatable to snobby rock pigs, such as their dabblings in early 80s synth pop, have in general been diminished in the retelling; whether that's a shame depends on your taste, but it's undeniable.

Loyde was champion for Australian rock music in the early '70's. He editorialized in the quality music magazine Daily Planet in 1971 that:

Australian rock is probably the most advanced in the music world… it has a distinction, and original and exciting dimension so totally its own. Even our pop-hype groups are so much better than many so-called 'International-Heavy-Super-Hype' bands, our pop-hypes have to achieve on stage the same sounds English and American bands achieve in a million dollar studio. Put them in good studios with open-minded technicians... and watch out ears.
Loyde was in the midst of his most commercially successful time as a performer; he had played for two years in Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, regarded by many as the premier festival rock band of the late '60's and early '80's (though to read Thorpe's memoirs of the time, his own sexual conquests and various band members' farting abilities were at least as consuming for this well-known former pop singer and tv star).

Loyde had come to Melbourne as a member of the Purple Hearts, an established Brisbane group he had joined and then led. After the Aztecs, Loyde recorded a solo album Lobby Loyde Plays George Guitar with Teddy Toi and Johnny Dick – who had been members of Fanny Adams with former Bee Gee Vince Melouney. The album was largely improvised in the studio by the threesome, and unfortunately – much like Thorpe at this time – the lyrics as sung were of the faux-numbly naοve variety (as per "Dream": 'Sometimes I have a dream. The dream is beautiful and free'). Musically, however, the album was powerful and clever, with the three principle musicians pushing themselves, rather than merely strutting their stuff. Toi, Dick and Loyde formed a final line-up of the Wild Cherries, toured and recorded one single, "I Am the Sea" backed with "Daily Planet." The song 'Daily Planet' is a catalogue of terrible events to a bass-heavy, almost rockabilly stroll, and is probably his best from this period. In the movie of the Sunbury rock festival made at this time, Loyde is playing and singing in front of the Wild Cherries in a Daily Planet T-shirt.

Soon after, the Coloured Balls were formed. Prone – like most of his coterie – to talking up his status in the hazy old days, Loyde recently told Paddy Donovan of the Melbourne Age that the group were 'like mad dogs. It was so momentary. It was most exciting when the edge happened… if the audience get it, then that's great. If they don't, then hopefully it's not your fault.' The group recorded between two and three albums (one early, unreleased attempt was issued last) the best of which is undoubtedly Ball Power, with its scintillating single "Flash." The idea of a 'flash' was a buzzword of the time, seeming to cut through the bullshit; the song was a rallying cry and a love song, and while it was as beefy as... George Guitar, it sounded like an entirely different individual was at the centre of it.

In the early '70's, Rilen, who had grown up in the regional town of Bendigo, was bass player in the excellent Band of Light, led by Phil Key and a vehicle for songs Key wrote with his wife, Pam. Band of Light released one album, Total Union, and had a hit with 'The Destiny Song'. The group was the first management foray for Sebastian Chase, who had a major part to play in Rilen's career. Rilen left Band of Light because Key wouldn't allow him to perform the songs he'd written. In 1981, he told Frank Brunetti:

I screwed around with a few bands for a while. Boogie kings like Flake and Blackfeather. I did all that shit for a couple of years. Then about '76 Dragon came to Australia and fired their guitar player Ray Goodwin and we started writing songs together. We really got into it and then I started writing by myself.
The New Zealand group Dragon were a potent force in Australian music, and Goodwin was one of its formative forces. However, the Goodwin-Rilen team did not lead anywhere other than fuelling Rilen's creative development.
One day Sebastian Chase came around and said 'we're gonna get this band together with you on bass, Peter Wells on lead and slide guitar, and Tony Lake on vocals' and that was the original Rose Tattoo. Then there was just me and Peter Wells and Lee Hamilton for a while and we went though a week of auditions looking for a drummer. Eventually we got this guy Stork. Then Angry [Anderson] and Mick Cocks joined the band, Stork was too out of it so Dallas [Royal] came in on drums and we were away...
Lake had been singer in Flake and Madder Lake; former Buffalo guitarist Peter Wells would take credit for having 'formed the band in his head' before doing so in real life. In an early review of a Melbourne show late in 1977, Rebecca Batties wrote of Rilen that his hands looked 'as though he's used tarred roads in the same way boxers use punching bags. The veins protrude from his darkened skin as he goes through some fast and interesting rhythms.' The decision to eject Stork (Michael Vandersluys) was the reason for Rilen's early departure, soon after the show Battie attended. Rilen's chief contribution to Rose Tattoo was their sound, their style – calculatedly ripped jeans and singlets – and "Bad Boy for Love" which was a top ten hit in late 1977, less than a year from the band's debut. Gary 'Angry' Anderson was to be the only constant and he was to replace the entire band at least once, though Peter Wells was almost as permanent and there was a genuine classic line-up, featuring Anderson, Wells, Robin Riley on guitar and Dallas Royal on drums. Perhaps the most interesting – and essentially unheard – was the version with Lobby Loyde on bass, which recorded an unreleased album in Los Angeles in 1979.

In the mid-'70's, Loyde fell in with Jon Blanchfield, a former TV host now working in management and operating a record label, Rainbird. One of Blanchfield's most prominent artists was a solo performer called Mandu, who released one album which concerned the experiences of an alien on earth. Though excellent, it was not particularly successful, and Mandu later became the vocalist for Lobby Loyde's Southern Electric, presumably via Blanchfield's machinations. Loyde's album, Obsecration, which featured Mandu as vocalist, was released on Rainbird in 1976. It was like much of Loyde's work of the '70's the product of a unique perspective, while it still nodded periodically to trippy psychedelia and heavier – almost punkier – approaches of the '60's. Portions of Obsecration and its follow-up Too Poor to Die, had jazz-rock leanings that put one in mind of the Laughing Clowns (particularly the latter's 'The Fist Falls'). When Richard Branson heard the album – Loyde travelled to Britain in 1976 – he was keen to release it there, but Blanchfield's Rainbird had gone into liquidation, and the original tapes were unavailable. Another Loyde album from this time, Beyond Morgia, was issued thirty years later with Loyde's blessing. A space-rock concept album based on a science fiction novel Loyde had destroyed, it was recorded in two days with Southern Electric (sans Mandu) and engineered by Tony Cohen.

His progressive bent was the kind that makes it not inappropriate that Loyde was present in the UK for the very early days of punk rock, playing shows (as Southern Electric, with some of the performers from Obsecration) and working as a live mixer for the group Doll by Doll. He would return to Australia in mid-1979 to become a highly accomplished producer/ mentor figure for a diverse range of Sydney bands, including The Sunnyboys, Sardine V and the Machinations.

Rilen's career was to build on and supercede Rose Tattoo for innovation, though not commercial success. He quickly assembled another band, X, after Rose Tattoo. The name X was, apart from anything else, easy to make posters for – Rilen could simply paint a large cross on sheets of newspaper. By various connections he plundered another group, Evil Rumours, to create a new band of two Ians and two Steves: Rilen was on bass, with Ian Krahe on guitar, Steve Cafiero on drums, and Steve Lucas on vocals. Having been responsible for the Rose Tattoo 'look' (black t-shirts, broken in via the band jumping on them, then nicked by Rilen with razorblades and the sleeves and collars removed), Rilen already had a vaguely punk ethos about him. Lucas later told Christie Eliezer that Rilen, even in these early days, took on a punky appearance: 'The first time I saw Ian I was totally intimidated... he looked like he bit off children's heads for breakfast...' Former policeman Steve Cafiero, according to Rilen, was a Rose Tattoo fan who had also, reputedly, roadied for The Easybeats. The group's music was 'so extreme it... made people vomit and given them erections.'

Why Rilen, at this early stage of his career, had such a set against the record industry is difficult to gauge; the antisocial nature of X, however, was a core part of its value and worth (of course, the group was named independently of the Los Angeles band of the same name; there were probably many other X's around the world!). Rilen claimed of the group's early days:

It all came together really well, it only took us six weeks to get our repertoire together, play our first gig at the Astra and get banned. We built up a good following really fast. We did it all ourselves.
X refused to 'take any gigs whatsoever from within the industry'. Finally, the notorious Sydney venue the Bondi Lifesaver offered them a large sum of money – $350 – to play on a Saturday night. Rilen recalled:
That was like a triumph for us and it really meant a lot to the band, so we did the gig and totally blew the place apart... Every couple of songs Ian [Krahe] was breaking a string and Steve would be lying down on the stage because he was so fucked, his style of singing was so energetic that it took a real lot out of him... As far as the band was concerned we'd totally succeeded in our aims. We'd upset the management to the point of no return, packed the place out, got our money and run. As it turned out that was the last night that line-up ever played. Ian was a really unhealthy person who got pleurisy and asthma and all that, and that night he got really sick and had an asthma attack and died.
Such tragic and meaningless events contributed to X's legend: Steve Lucas is today the only living member of the original X line-up.

Soon after Krahe's death, another version of the band were to record a sensational punk album, produced by Loyde, with a clever punning title – X-Aspirations – and were to persist, or recur, in a number of incarnations and reformations for close to 25 years. X-Aspirations was murky, fluid and full of the catchiest pop-punk imaginable. Rilen later recalled that the group went to the studio to make a single, but that 'Lobby Loyde, who was the only person game enough to take us into the studio said, "Let's put 'em all down"... So we recorded all the tracks in about 5 hours.'

Like Loyde, Rilen quickly became a hero within the punk movement despite the fact that he had consorted with the prog and boogie enemy in the early '70's, and there was recorded evidence (the Band of Light album and "Bad Boy for Love") to prove it. In fairness to Rilen, he would not have done anything so contrived as align himself with punk for gain, though neither did he resist being swept up in any 'movement' that came along, as his early '80's forays with the brilliant Sardine V show. Throughout their career, X both created their own legend and thwarted their chances. Lucas later mused: 'Seriously, you couldn't look for a bigger bunch of self-destructing idiots. That's what we were. We just happened to play really well together when we weren't being idiots.'

Loyde's production schedule was crowded in the early '80's. As with almost any producer worth his or her salt, it is difficult to tabulate exactly the contribution he made to the records he worked on; it only remains that that the records themselves are, largely, excellent. Melbourne's Models recorded their best single – "On" – with Loyde (though it was not a hit). Sydney's Sunnyboys, a guitar pop group who had some minor hits in the early 1980's, produced two truly excellent albums under Loyde's aegis – their self-titled debut and their second (somewhat maligned) album Individuals. Loyde had a strong interest in the group's success; he had contact with them from the outset, as he ran the rehearsal space where they practiced, and co-managed them in their early years. He had a similar arrangement with Sardine V.

Sardine V was a group Ian Rilen started with his wife Stephanie while X were inactive. She told Frank Brunetti in 1981 that she had no musical experience 'until a couple of months before Sardine began. I just started playing on an organ that Ian and I bought for the children and out of the blue we wrote a few songs.' Bass player Phil Hall, who had previously played with Loyde, was induced to join the group; when he threatened to leave Sydney and return to New Zealand, Rilen wrote four good songs to 'trap' him. The group made a single, "Sudan," and an EP which included the bouncy, bizarre "I Hate You" - it sounds a bit like The Clean - and a plaintive Stephanie and Ian Rilen ballad, "Stuck on You," which would later be recast as an X classic (and a staple of Hunters and Collectors live shows).

Many at the time found Sardine V compelling. When rock writer Jenny Eather attended a show by the group in late 1981, she told readers of Roadrunner that 'a tall, thin bespectacled man leant over my shoulder, "You know, if I ever had to go to war I'd go with Sardine on my walkman. They're abrupt… abrupt, like a big confrontation. In fact, they're catastrophic."' Six months later, in the same magazine, Linda Campbell opined that 'Life's far too short to be wasting on garbage like this. Emotionless untreated sewage. Just bad music, ya know?' Another writer, Craig Pearce, believed that Sardine V's was 'a democratic sound, a sound of intelligence and one that respects its audience's intelligence.' The reason for the demise of Sardine V and the revival of X is obscure, though it seemed to happen sometime in 1983. When Steve Cafeiro quit X just before a planned tour of Melbourne in 1984, and Cathy Green aspired to replace him, there was some charmingly thirtysomething-men-in-the-1980's discussion between Lucas and Rilen over whether Rilen wanted her in the band for her drumming skills (prodigious) or because he wanted to have sex with her.

Rilen told Toby Creswell in late 1985: 'We had this rehearsal with Cathy... Rehearsing X songs is just not on, you know, so I was lying on my floor on my back and Steve was slumped over a chair. I said the first song goes like this… and that was about all the help we gave her.' As it transpired, she was to be a part of X almost all the time thereafter, and at some time in the 1980s Lucas and Rilen relocated to Melbourne, where Green had been located. A third album, And more, was less successful artistically but did not minimize the legacy. All albums were produced by Loyde.

The last time I saw the group, in the late 1990's, they were as fresh and exotic as ever. Their songs sounded like they had written a set in a day; this probably wasn't the case, but it wouldn't have mattered if it was. They were a hoot.

Rilen was happiest with his final band, Ian Rilen and the Love Addicts, though the Love Addicts records thus far (there is a still-unreleased final album, which Rilen apparently believed was his best) don't improve on X or Sardine V. I see no reason to take Rilen's own estimate of his back catalogue on face value; when I talked with him a few years before his death, he claimed to have almost no memory of his past (he also claimed to be 67 when he was in fact ten years younger). There was little rehearsal in the Love Addicts, with Rilen preferring to play with empathic musicians (including Green) who were happy to improvise essentially simple rock tunes.

Loyde dabbled in some musical ventures on a low-key basis in the 1990's but his activities in the past decade are otherwise difficult to divine. Towards the end of his life, diagnosed with lung cancer, he undertook a number of revival tours. One was with a revived Purple Hearts, in support of a compilation album released on Half a Cow, and another was with Billy Thorpe, who supported Loyde generously and campaigned to have him inducted into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame - at the same time as Rose Tattoo. What no-one expected was that Thorpe – who looked like a hardy youngster in Loyde's company and was five years younger – wouldn't outlive him; he died of a heart attack just this past February.

The rock establishment, such as they are (and not just 'such as they are' in Australia) love to claim Loyde and Rilen as their own, and as bronzed masters of an Australian music ethos. What I have written above is, to a degree, further examples of the lionization of the elder greats. What's as important to appreciate is that if you take Rilen on, you have to take on Sardine V, a group who have been all but minimized but which were probably the most complex of his achievements; and if you take on Loyde, you have to keep in mind that the production work he was proudest of is the Machinations' album Esteem, a collection of bouncy, intelligent drum machine-driven pop. Which is merely to say their careers were not based on stoking an unstoppable engine of the same old same old, and even when they dabbled in the same old, they were giving it a twist. It is also time to admit that both men's boogie forays (in particular) produced a disproportionate share of nonsense. However, Rilen and Loyde deserve a bit of celebrating just for powering through and being who they were, relatively fearlessly. You can't say 'it doesn't happen now' because you don't know who'll still be around in thirty years from who's around today, but you can say, they were quite salutable.

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER