Spy Vs Spy, also known as v. Spy v. Spy, The Drug Grannies and The Spies, are an Australian ska/pub rock band from Sydney formed in 1981. They became known for tackling political issues through their music, including racism, homelessness and contemporary drug culture. They were named after a comic strip, “Spy vs. Spy” in the US Mad magazine.
Aside from Midnight Oil, vSpy vSpy are arguably one of Australia’s most politically- oriented rock bands. While Midnight Oil’s politics were those of conscience, Spy Vs Spy were outspoken representatives of the Street. Primarily they started out as the voice of the homeless squatters of early eighties Sydney, but their songs spoke for everyone who felt under the thumb of The System. They told stories polite Australia didn’t necessarily want told. The original group came from separate corners of the world.
Guitarist Mike Weiley arrived in Sydney from an industrial city in England and almost immediately found a soul-mate at Nelson Bay High School in would-be bassist Craig Bloxom. American Craig had studied in Alaska for a time, and arrived in Sydney in his mid-teens via LA. The group’s token Australian, drummer Cliff Grigg, arrived in Sydney from the Northern Territory, and settled in an inner suburban squat in Glebe that didn’t even have a roof when he first moved in. From the day they met at high school Mike and Craig had talked about music and in around 1980 started talking about forming a band together. Cliff heard about it though mutual friends and Spy V Spy was born. To save on rent and keep from having to find day jobs Mike and Craig moved into Cliff’s squat. They took the name from a regular strip in Mad magazine. Living in a squat had other advantages. They were able to rehearse almost every day. One day they received a call from the Sussex Hotel asking them to fill in for a band who couldn’t make it, and Spy V Spy performed their first gig.
In the beginning their music style was dominated by the ska sound popular in inner Sydney pubs at the time. A year into their life the band recorded its first single. Michael Hutchence of INXS offered to produce, but they turned him down. The single ‘Do What You Say’ was followed by an EP, ‘Four Fresh Lemons’, both recorded for friends on an independent label, Green. The EP’s original pressing was a limited release of 1000 copies. They sold out in 5 days. But the band expected something else to happen, and broke up shortly afterwards.
It took just a few months to realize that Spy V Spy was more fun than the bands they were now playing with, and Spy V Spy reconvened in July 1983 with second guitarist Marcus Phelan. The ska had been dropped for a more straight-ahead rock attack. In 1983 Weiley became sick and confined to a hospital bed for a considerable time. Their equipment was stolen. Phelan left. Things changed with the help of Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett, who’d become a fan and would attend every performance he could.
Now called vSpy vSpy to avoid legal action from Mad magazine, the group acquired Midnight Oil’s manager Gary Morris and released the mini-album ‘Meat Us Inside’ and its single ‘One Of A Kind’.
Their first album ‘Harry’s Reasons’ contained the singles ‘Injustice’ (about the Aboriginal struggle) ‘Something’ (directed at the media) and the title track, dealing with a friend’s misuse of heroin. Harry was a euphemism for the drug. For their next album vSpy vSpy moved from Midnight Oil’s Powderworks label to WEA. This album, ‘A.O. Mod. TV Vers.’ (standing for Adult Oriented Modified TV Version), contained their “hit” record ‘Don’t Tear It Down’, a plea to the developers bulldozing historic Sydney, and a ode to the scourge of the day, ‘Credit Cards’. ‘A.O. Mod. TV Vers.’ earned vSpy vSpy a platinum record. Without warning, the record company demanded a new album, and within six weeks the band wrote and recorded ‘Xenophobia (Why?)’. The title was inspired by the mood around Australia’s Bicentennial year, but the messages in the songs were universal enough to see the album released in 14 other countries. 1989’s ‘Trash The Planet’ was recorded in England at Richard Branson’s Manor House studios.
Branson kept Irish Wolfhounds as pets at the Manor, one of which savagely attacked Craig. Cliff Grigg was desperately unhappy with his drums sound on that album. His departure from the band at the end of 1991 led to a year’s absence from live performances. Mike and Craig took the opportunity to move to Queensland and went through a period of search and trial of new drummers until their support of a best of collection in June 1992 saw the group’s return, with Mark Cuffe on drums. In 1983 the vSpy vSpy signed a new contract with Sony, and released ‘Fossil’, written in the studio, before breaking up (again) in 1994.
In 1995 – back to calling itself Spy V Spy, the band traveled to Brazil to follow-up on a strong fan base established there through the surfing community. Mike stayed behind, while back in Australia, Craig Bloxom and Mark Cuffe teamed up with Icehouse drummer Paul Wheeler to form a new group, the Shock Poets, allowing Cuffe to leave the drums for the microphone. More Brazil tours followed, and the two groups existed concurrently. In 1997 Mark left to dedicate himself to Shock Poets while Craig left that group to dedicate himself to vSpy vSpy. Paul Wheeler was named as vSpy vSpy’s new drummer. The enthusiasm of Brazilian Spyfans means that vSpy vSpy can stay alive, while maintaining a low profile on the Australian music scene.
From the vSpy vSpy website
- Mike Weiley – Guitar
- Craig Bloxom – Bass, Vocals
- Cliff Grigg – Drums
- Marcus Phelan – Guitar
- Mark Cuffe – Drums
- Paul Wheeler – Drums
- Neil Beaver – Bass
- Mick Laws – Drums
- Simon Vidale – Drums
- Harry’s Reasons – March 1986
- A.O. Mod. TV. Vers. – December 1986
- Xenophobia (Why?) – March 1988
- Trash the Planet – November 1989
- Fossil – May 1993
- The Honey Island Project – April 1998
- Demolition – 2004
|27/08/83||Dee Why, NSW||The Venue|
|04/06/86||Sydney, NSW||The Tivoli|
|08/06/86||Swansea, NSW||Swansea Workers Club|
|09/06/86||Brookvale, NSW||Didi’s – Brookvale Hotel|
|18/06/86||Sans Souci||St George Sailing Club|
|21/06/86||Campbelltown, NSW||Campbelltown RSL Club|
|28/06/86||Circular Quay||Sydney Cove Tavern|
|30/08/86||Coogee||Selinas – Coogee Bay Hotel|
|04/10/86||Dee Why, NSW||The Venue|
|01/11/86||Richmond||Hawkesbury Sports Club|
|04/11/86||Epping, NSW||Tracks, Epping Hotel|
|05/11/86||Sans Souci||St George Sailing Club|
|07/11/86||Revesby||Revesby Workers Club|
|08/11/86||Campbelltown, NSW||Campbelltown RSL Club|
|12/11/86||Cabramatta||Sweethearts – Stardust Hotel|
|13/11/86||Sydney, NSW||The Tivoli|
|21/01/87||Cabramatta||Sweethearts – Stardust Hotel|
|13/06/99||Blacktown, NSW||Blacktown RSL Club|
The Boys Are Back In Town show.
Choirboys + Matt Finish + Spy Vs Spy + Dee Minor & The Dischords + Outline + The Radiators + Swanee + Zarsoff Bros + Mandrake + Lie Detectors