STRANGE AND INTERESTING STORIES:
IZZY FOREAL’S 69ERS MEMORIES
It was around 1970 (or maybe 1971) when I joined The Internationally Famous 69ers. They were resident at the Clique Wine Bar in Surry Hills – in fact, that was my first gig with them. At the time I was called Peter Knox – and I was the house bass-player at ‘Chaplin’s’, the joint (bistro, club, disco – none of these; it was a joint) opened in Oxford Street near Whitlam Square (over the road from the Burdekin Hotel) Sydney, by the owners of the notorious ‘Ball Pants’ coffee lounge in Kings Cross.
Some time in 1969 or so, I was ‘auditioned’ for the band Quill at The ‘Ball Pants’. Terry Wilkins, who was leaving Quill to join Flying Circus, casually dropped into the ‘Ball Pants’ one night and played some Quill originals on the guitar. Being the resident bass-player, I fudged along and apparently played the songs okay. Red McKelvie (guitar) and Daryl McKenzie (drums) from Quill were conveniently positioned outside the front door listening to the unsuspecting auditionee (or maybe the band’s manager was involved – all this is based on unreliable memories). The next day I got the invitation to start rehearsals with Quill. When I asked about an audition first, I was informed that I’d already passed it the night before! I played with Quill for maybe a year, and got a leg up into the Sydney music scene. As most of us know, Terry Wilkins went on to tour Canada with Flying Circus, and has been a resident of Canada ever since.
As resident bass-player at the ‘Ball Pants’, I got paid something like $2 a night for the gig, and I got to stay rent-free in a room at the bottom of the lane (in Brougham Street, I think). The terrace house where the room was situated was owned by the ‘Ball Pants’ proprietors, and I had to share with another ‘musician’ – a street performer named Peter Royles, who used to play a 12-string all over town. I remember one time we got a box of food via the Wayside Chapel because we didn’t get to eat regularly on my $2 a night and his busking income. There was a packet of rice in the box, so we boiled the lot up (I guess we were hungry) and we had boiled rice stuffed into every container we could muster. I think we ended up chucking a fair bit of it out (maybe we didn’t have a fridge – hey, the memory isn’t good for things so long ago …).
Forward again to ‘Chaplin’s’: The house band was called Frack The Bunt, and featured an ever-changing lineup of musicians such as I’ve never encountered since. A fellow called Swiss Chris played organ with us for a while, but he had to stop when some heavies came in during an afternoon rehearsal and repossessed his Hammond. My time at ‘Chaplin’s’ is also filled with other strange and interesting stories, including the one about how I drove my girlfriend’s Volkswagen to the gig one time, and when I finished playing at something like 3 in the morning, I simply stepped out into Oxford Street and caught a cab home to Paddington. Luckily, my girlfriend asked me where I’d parked the car, which reminded me that it was still back somewhere near the gig. I had to catch another cab back, and drive it home. They were long nights in those days.
I can’t remember how long I’d played with The 69ers before drummer Keith got the sack, but it sure didn’t seem very long at all. I’d actually already tried to resign after a particularly heavy dressing down by Frank in the middle of a Clique performance, but he somehow convinced me to stay. I have to say now, when I look back, that I learned a lot from Frank Butler. At the time, however, I would have preferred less-severe lessons, and I have no burning desire to play in a band with him again.
Anyway, Keith’s sacking was not a dignified affair. Frank picked me up for a gig, and on the way we stopped at Keith’s house in Auburn and Frank unloaded Keith’s drums onto the front verandah, told Mrs Longman that Keith was no longer in the band, and off we headed to the gig. I was as gobsmacked as she was. I don’t remember anything about the gig we were off to, but I do remember rehearsing with Keith’s replacement, Dave Ovenden, every day for a week, then back to The Clique and business as usual. My diaries are all in storage, so I can’t give exact dates, but this must have been 1971 or 72.
After he was sacked, I think Keith followed Brian into Toby Jugg. Frank Butler sacked Dave and me some months later, and got Brian and Keith back as his rhythm section. Then he sacked them both again and got me and Dave back … I can’t tell you how many times this went on, but by the time we played at Sunbury 73 (possibly the high point of The 69ers existence), Dave and I were the rhythm section again, and Brain Bethell had rejoined on lead guitar!
It was during one particularly long sacking period from The 69ers, for about three months at the end of 1972, that I played bass with the Original Battersea Heroes, who by that time had moved away from their wine bar beginnings and were firmly entrenched in the rock music circuit. The Heroes at that stage featured Tony Burkys and Bob McGowan on guitars, Terry Darmody out front, and Dennis (whose surname will have to be verified elsewhere) on a hybrid drumkit/washboard concoction.
I have a dim memory that suggests at one stage during the series of sackings and un-sackings, Keith and I ended up in the band together again for a brief moment. There was another time when Terry Wilson replaced me after I walked out on Frank and Dave (leaving them in the lurch at The Arts Factory, Taylor’s Square, if I remember rightly). Then, after an altercation in which Mr Butler seemed to have walked into a door, I replaced Terry in turn. (There was a knock on the door of my bed-sit in Paddington, around midnight. At the door was Frank Butler, sporting a fresh black eye – well, red and swollen at that early stage – all sweetness and light as he talked me back into the band, with Dave Ovenden at his side to offer a drummer’s perspective on the recruitment effort).
There was the gig at Caulfield Town Hall in Melbourne (July 21, 1973 – billed as the “indoor Let It Be pop festival”), where I came out in a ballerina outfit singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, because Thorpie had chucked a wobbly and demanded to go on just before The 69ers, instead of at the end, as planned. Peter Knox’s New Improved 69ers had no intention of being blown offstage by mere volume, and so the skullduggery was concocted just before we went on. (Some people might remember ‘Rainbow’ was Thorpie’s solo single – he was not amused, apparently, and dramatically resigned the next day from the management agency shared by both bands). The high point for Peter Knox’s New Improved 69ers may well have been the support spot for Lindisfarne at Apollo Stadium (Adelaide), August 18, 1973. Then there was the tour to Perth.
We were meant to work a ten-night or so residency at the Perth disco Beethoven’s – our return flights had been paid for by the venue, as well as our accommodation at a swank motel at the south end of town. We were billed as a high-ranking band from The East (that’s what Perth calls the rest of Australia), but the venue management was less than amused by our on-stage antics. We were the uncoolest dudes to have ever darkened their stage, and they responded to this fact by sacking us on the first night after our headlining one-hour spot. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) our manager Michael Chugg was in town, so after much negotiation, we were allowed to do another hour spot the next night, provided we cleaned things up a bit. We came onstage the second night and tried to just play the songs, without the patter and bizarre choreography, and with an attempt at redesigning the electric jug band feels to suit a crowd of disco-style dancers. Wrong. We were sacked for a second time – take away the stage act, and you didn’t have The 69ers any more.
More hurried negotiations involving Chuggy and Beethoven’s, and we got a third stab at the residency. This time we were encouraged to pull out all stops and really show them why we were a high-ranking band from The East. With nothing to lose (we thought) we did just that and – you guessed it – got sacked for the final time, after some heavying by the Licensing Squad, who happened to be there to check out the ‘stripping school teacher’ who was our support act. Things turned nasty after that. The venue management decided to impound our PA until we’d paid the bill at the motel, which we couldn’t do because we’d been sacked (and certainly hadn’t budgeted for such high-class accommodation). The other aspect of the Catch 22 was: we couldn’t go out and earn the motel bill, because our PA had been impounded!
Chuggy split town leaving some room service bills to add to our woes. Just when we thought we’d have to take up Perth citizenship until we’d purchased a new PA, a local promoter and supportive punters pulled together a week’s worth of gigs so we could pay our way out of town. Somebody convinced Beethoven’s to release our PA from bondage, and those cobbled together gigs were hugely successful, as this review in the Perth music press shows:
Their last gig in Perth, at Maggies, saw probably one of the biggest crowds the club has ever had. It was real 69ers territory, the audience becoming part of the act with their replies to some of Peter’s remarks. Then at the end when we had all been told to remove ourselves in the politest terms the 69ers know, everyone remained where they were, expecting more. And more is what we got. Peter, parading around the stage, doing a juggling act with 24 speaker boxes, whilst balancing a light bulb on his nose, doing drum solos on his head, giving perceptive renditions of guys picking up chicks in The Cross, and it would have gone on all night had not the management raised the stage lights and Peter made his exit. The 69ers send-ups of things Australian and of things musical, backed by a tight musical combination, give them an assured place in the Australian rock field, rather like the place The Fugs occupy in the States.”
It wasn’t the end of our Perth adventure, however. The manager of the swank motel had taken the return parts of our plane tickets as a bond to make sure we didn’t sneak out without paying the rent, after Beethoven’s had spat the dummy on it. From our cobbled-together earnings, we paid up, and headed off to the airport to escape from this western hell, hopefully forever (pleasant memories of the last week’s gigs notwithstanding). Just out of the motel carpark, we realised we’d forgotten to pick up the plane tickets, so drummer Dave Ovenden went back in to see the manager. When he’d been gone for what seemed like a bloody long time, I went in to see what was keeping him. When I entered the manager’s office, here was Dave sitting in a chair, with the manager pulling his hair, shouting and threatening angrily. I walked in on what looked like a physical assault, and my performance instinct kicked in immediately (mingled with a huge helping of survival instinct). The manager shaped up to me (he was beside himself with rage – and one of him was bad enough), so I decided to play the same game. I started shouting and threatening him, and he eventually flipped into defence mode.
When things had calmed down, he explained the reason for his anger. One of the band members, venting his frustration at all the shit we’d copped, and perceiving that the owners of Beethoven’s and the motel management were somehow sleeping in the same bed, had poured pepper into the telephone handset in his room, and left other subtle hints of our pissed-offedness that probably only he should describe in detail. While we’d been heading off to freedom, the cleaners had discovered the naughtiness, so that by the time poor Dave had innocently arrived to retrieve our tickets, the shit had already well and truly hit the fan. I can’t tell you exactly how I did it, but I managed to convince the motel manager (who looked like he ate people like me for breakfast) to give us back the tickets and let us leave town with all our limbs intact. My mouth, I think, is the best fist I possess.
So, we played on, and the excitement level grew. At one stage drummer Dave Ovenden skulduggerously invited the 30,000-or-so punters to join us on stage for a singalong – the security fence along the front of the stage that had been keeping the crowd at bay immediately made funny creaking noises and collapsed forward, flat onto the ground. Bouncers were running everywhere, tossing people back into the throng, until eventually order was restored and the fence propped up to some semblance of its former glory.
And the adventure still wasn’t over. We finally finished the series of encores, and as I was leaving the stage to tumultuous applause, I passed Lobby Lloyd on the stairs. Guitar in hand, he was intent on continuing the monster jam tradition that had begun the year before. He was muttering obscenities, and stuff like “Fucking clowns from Sydney – punters wouldn’t know good music if they fell over it” (I don’t remember the exact words, but I think you get the spirit of his mood). The monster jam went on, of course, and more-than-likely many of the punters who were still there at the end of it had forgotten the clowns from Sydney, but for me personally that Sunbury experience was somehow a vindication of my decision years earlier to fly in the face of the too-serious Australian music trends.
We had sacked Frank Butler by the end of that year, and the brief blaze that was Peter Knox’s New Improved 69ers blew out within another twelve months (there’s a live recording somewhere of that version of the band – I heard it at a radio station in Melbourne, and it impressed me no end – as well as some tapes of a recording session we did for a single that was never released. What rare treasures they would be). Even after the high drama of Frank’s sacking, our love / hate relationship was such that I returned to later lineups of his 69ers for brief moments up to about 1976 or so. Terry Stacey, who was the next bass-player in line after me (a couple of times), has some marvellous stories to tell about these last years of the 69ers. The magic that had held it all together had moved on, however, and it ground to a halt completely by the end of 1978. Frank Butler began his journey to becoming The Evangelist Frank Butler, preaching the Christian Gospels in the US of A.
At the end of the final version of The 69ers (after I’d left for the last time), I heard Frank Butler had taken his Gibson Les Paul Gold Top to ‘The Gap’ at Watson’s Bay in Sydney, uttered some prayers and denounced his connection with the evils of rock and roll, then chucked the guitar into the ocean below. None of this may be true: I only heard about it. Some time after that, he helped set up the Hillsong Church. I met up with him briefly during that time, and he and his wife wanted to lay hands on me and offered to start talking in tongues – I swear! The next thing I hear he’s gone yankside and started Frank Butler Ministries – find him on the web: there are videos of his sermons. I had some email communication with him, around the time of The 69ers reunion gig at The Bridge Hotel in Rozelle (for Brian Bethell’s 55th birthday, circa 2004) – where I created a life-sized wooden cutout of him so he would be present on stage. What an adventure! From 1976 or so, I bounced on with the band Toons through what was left of the Sydney wine bar scene, and other musical adventures perhaps worthy of mention at another time, before having this strange idea to form another comedy-rock band in 1979.
This is only a brief overview of the history of The 69ers during my years with them, based on my memories – some of them stirred by exchanges with fellow-travellers on facebook, and so all dates and places cannot be taken as gospel. Those details are as close as I can get at this distance. There are many other strange and interesting stories of the band that would easily fill a book. Don’t encourage me, now …
These dates represent the shows performed by Peter Knox’s version of The 69ERS after they sacked Frank Butler. The earlier part of 1973, before this gig diary begins, was even busier for the band, but Frank Butler was in charge of the diary up to that point, and a copy may not have survived. The final diary entry for November 24 was more-than-likely not the last gig this version of the band did, but – as the diary reflects – the routine had certainly fallen into three residencies at Fiddler’s Vine Wine Bar, Red Riley’s Wine Bar and The Graphic Arts Club. It’s possible the band rolled on into the early months of 1974 doing these three residencies, but no records remain.
Peter Knox (aka Izzy Foreal)
|14/04/73||Bondi Junction, NSW||Denison Hotel|
|18/04/73||Newcastle, NSW||Savoy Club|
|19/04/73||Newcastle, NSW||Savoy Club|
|21/04/73||Albury, NSW||City Hall|
|27/04/73||Kings Cross, NSW||Whiskey Au Go Go|
|28/04/73||Bondi Junction, NSW||Denison Hotel|
|28/04/73||Kings Cross, NSW||Whiskey Au Go Go|
|02/05/73||Bondi Junction, NSW||Denison Hotel|
|04/05/73||Fairfield West, NSW||Fairfield West High School|
|10/05/73||Wollongong, NSW||Teachers College|
|11/05/73||Wollongong, NSW||Teachers College|
|11/05/73||Sydney, NSW||Monaghan’s Wine Bar|
|12/05/73||Sydney, NSW||Monaghan’s Wine Bar|
|15/05/73||Footscray, Vic||Technical College|
|16/05/73||Epping, VIC||Memorial Hall|
|16/05/73||Frankston, Vic||Monash Teachers College|
|18/05/73||Moe, Vic||Town Hall|
|19/05/73||Prahran, Vic||Station Hotel|
|19/05/73||Melbourne, Vic||Q Club|
|20/05/73||Elsternwick, Vic||Garrison Nightclub|