Melody Maker : 12 May 1984
Some of you may remember SPK. They received a whole load of free publicity
they didn't deserve on account of being part of the spurious metal-bashing
phenomenon last year. The joke was that SPK started out as a decent band
in their early days in Sydney - a rusty little electro/garage band with
a heart of true iron, but by the time they arrived in England their most
interesting member had left, and they'd degenerated into something close
to a garbage disposal truck chewing up a few microphones.
Predictably, elements of the British press fell for the bait (it's
very easy to get away with murder in the avant-garde...). It worked the
required magic at home, though.
Tom Ellard, alien boy genius behind the genuinely brain-wrenching Severed
Heads, describes it like this: "SPK played recently, there were buckets
of people there. A couple of months ago, no-one had heard of SPK.
'SP Who?' The largest crowd they ever had was 200 people.
"Off they go to England, sit around there for ages and then release
their boogie single. And then it's 'Oh, have you heard about SPK? We're
off to see SPK now!' I saw them - I have to be careful - they had nothing
to recommend them to me. I think the majority of the audience would
have agreed with me. Anyway, the mere fact that they'd gone over to England
and come back again instantly assured them of lots more people coming.
"You see that everywhere you go, that's the way to do it, it's easy.
That's why I thought we could go over to England, sit around twiddling
out thumbs for three weeks, se the sights and come back again, say we've
played here and we'd played there. I'm a little bit disappointed
that people hate us so much, but that's only to be expected, I suppose."
Ellard continues with very little promping. It seems he's got a lot
to get off his chest: "The only thing that gets me is that if we're doing
what we're doing in England there'd be no trouble." He stops to consider
that. "Mind you... I get the impression things are so expensive and people
have so little money and it's so competitive that it's accidental if you
"It's smaller here, people like us can get a mention in the national
journals without too much trouble, But then again, you think 'So what?'
I've been in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of times - that's pretty
good, but it's not the same as being in The Times. It's just not the same
thing. So you get a real toytown thing - here I am king, but I'm only King
of the city."
Here Ellard has put his finger squarely on the problem faced by all
local independent groups.. Australia's total population is only 16-17 million.
Denied access to the majors, the bands reach a limited level of popularity
on the IC circuit and find it impossible to go any further. This is the
reason why, starting with the Birthday Party, there's been an exodus of
bands to the UK.
The groups usually arrive virtually penniless, fail in any attempts
to sign on the dole and sit around in squats and cheap flats wondering
why the sun isn't shining. I met a member of a Brisbane group called Tinytown
the other day. He was staying in a block of Thirties slum flats overlooking
a canal in the East End and didn't seem exactly flushed with optimism.
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