Spy Vs Spy – v.Spy v.Spy
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
Probably the most underated band in Oz music history. A truely exceptional live band who released quality music. I still listen to their albums today.
really luffy. i don’t think so. give us a call some time
I used to go and watch them regularly at the Enfield Boulevard in about 82/83, also with, Drop Bears, Uncanny Xmen. I still have the original 33 of AO Mod TV vers, good album.
Yeah, brilliant band & a great album George. Genuine energy.
Drop bears is a name I’d forgotten about too. Just added them to my list, thanks.
I remember seeing them play at Artarmon Reserve with the Cockroaches, Do Ra Me and another band – pretty sure it was March 15 1985 – I think I still have a poster I ripped from a telegraph pole after seeing them. Also saw them at the old Sydney Cove Tavern a few times. Great band live.
I was also at that gig. I’ve hunted high and low on the net recently to find info about it but never found anything. Got any more info? Love you to send me any info you have – dave (at) microclimate.com.au
Great band, fantastic live show, great albums and songs.
I saw them numerous times, mainly 86-87 at things like big concerts such as ‘the Big Swing’ – the InXS concert at Cronulla Park in about 85. Also sure I saw them at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in a big 24 hour(?) concert for the famine in Ethiopia, obviously with many other bands like Dropbears, Do Re Mi (love to death), Johnny’s (still remember they sang a song about a horse called (that early morning) the Ethiopian Princess), Allnighters, Strange Tenants and many others. Also saw the ‘Spy’s’ in Adelaide in about 1992. I love the Spy’s!
Only played a best of album from ’99 last night. My brother and friends seen them play at Canterbury Court Club (closed) perth WA 1987, Curtin Uni perth WA late 80’s and Scarbough beach (outdoor) late 80’s. I saw then play at a geraldton hotel (???)WA late 94 whilst working there. Plenty of passion and sense of humour..Bernie Perth WA
I saw them that day also , i believe it was the Wintersun Hotel from memory. Great gig drove down from Kalbarri at the time
I mixed the Spy’s for most (if not all) those gigs listed above. The band liked it loud! Other gigs I can think of include Midnight Oil tours as support band – Central Coast Leages, Taree RSL, Noosa Oval (outdoors – with Sani & the Sunsets; In Excess and the Oils); And others -Bridge Hotel Mildura, Tivoli Adelaide, Adelaide Uni supporting the Models (Pat Pickett mixing the Models), Lak & Tina’s; The Trade Union Club (regularly) and many others I cant remember. I Loved mixing the Spy’s – absolutely awsome and absolutely great guys. Brings back a lot of memories. Haven’t seen anyof them for many manyyears now
I definitely saw them play a gig in Adelaide at the Findon Hotel.
That was at some stage in 1987.
After that, I saw them a few times at The Tivoli Hotel, Adelaide
Also in 1987 or 1988.
I moved to Sydney late 1988.
As I lived in Lilyfield, I mainly saw them play many Inner West venues.
I remember seeing the cockroaches at Artarmon reserve aswell. Does anyone know what year this was ? Great gig for back in those days.
The Spys are still rocking the pubs
Check out their Facebook page Long Live The Spys
Yes….But not the same without Craig
There’s only one Spy v Spy, Craig Bloxom, Michael Weiley, Cliff Grigg. End of story.
Cliff’s best replacement was Paul Wheeler by a country mile of any other drummer.
Simon Vidale also played in the band and has been left off the list.
No Blox no spy’s
My best recollection is first seeing them support Midnight Oil for the Red Sails tour, @ the Horden pavalova…. Not long after they released Meet Us Inside. Can anyone else remember – I believe they got an encore! Unheard of for a support band, particularly with Midnight Oil as the headline…. Absolutely brilliant – searing, full throttle Oz music. I have recent CD’s mastered off original tapes (I think) and have re-discovered them!
Did a support with Spy vs Spy at Port Kembla Leagues club New years eve 1986, our support band was Waiting for Bronko. Great gig.
Yep I saw them live at stayers in Avalon Sydney’s northern beaches about 1990 trash the planet tour , what a great gig that was man !
Mere words cannot describe how legendary this band was back in the 80s / early 90s. Remember seeing them at the Old Melbourne Hotel here in Perth in around ’89 or ’90 – still up there with the best gigs I have ever been to. Also caught them at the Entertainment Centre once, strangely supporting Big Pig which everyone thought was a bit wierd. At that point in time the Spies could have easily packed that venue out by themselves!
Never missed a gig whenever they came to Adelaide mid-80s and always bought their albums the day they came out. Cliff inspired me to take up drums and I’m still trying to get that sound. He’s playing with Voodoo Express I think. The original 3-piece was the only Spys!!
Spy v spy most powerful 3 peice band I’ve ever listened to and seen. Saw them every time when they played the Perth pubs.i remember one gig at the Charles hotel . I peeled off a small tour poster a pissing here .they were photographed on a wharf in Sydney. Met them upstairs after gig got my poster signed and stayed for a drink with them. Awesome guys .rip Mike I’m glad I met you.
Saw them in 1988 at Canberra Labor Club (Belconnen, ACT). It was a fantastic show.
‘Sallie-Anne’ is one of my favourite Aussie songs of all time. Great to see this awesome band still playing.
Looooved the Spies. A memorable gig at Surfers Paradise club with all the tv screens. F ing awesome .Sitting here on the back deck and played all the albums having a beer. Go the Spies.
Great band, saw them in Perth on one of their rare visits, “Don’t Tear It Down” is a classic
They also played at the PERTH entertainment centre with Big Pig in the late eighties
Was the loudest concert ever been to had to leave early was distorted and painful
Pity cos were great band
I adored them. My friends and I saw them often in the early days in small places. A punchy 3 piece sound that you could not stand still for. Artarmon cnr Miller and Ernest Streets- cannot remember or find the name of the venue. The Strawberry Hills in Surry Hills. Good old TUC (not so small, but great for late night seconds). The Civic pub? Or is that me muddling and joining up good venue with good bands?
Thanks for the website, so much to remember, maybe even add. I think my wild drugs, sex, r and r youth has led to a less than exacting memory for when, where, and exactly who I saw, who I was with, who I might have met up with and where I might have ended up. I do remember having a LOT of fun. I sure hope others had as much fun.