I have to extend a huge thank you to Noel Forth who supplied the following information on South Australian band Vertical Hold. This is a mammoth effort and it is very much appreciated.
Mick Michalopoulos & Jim Mountzouris were school friends who started their band in the early 1970’s. The band was originally known as “Gladiator Tortoise” & featured another school friend Kon Karanastasis on lead guitar. The 3 friends had been playing at private parties & live shows from late 1973 onwards, even performing an unreleased song “Red Bird” live on ABC’s “Today At One” after they had sung the song live to air (in mid 1975) for an ABC reporter who met them at the Wings ticket queue. It was at that same queue for Paul McCartney tickets that drummer Noel Forth first met Mick and Jim & soon joined them on stage for the 1st time at the Estonian Hall, North Adelaide in Dec 1975.
Then a name change to simply “Tortoise” (aka “Tortis”) was enacted from 1976, then lead guitarist Kon Karanastasis left the band to be replaced, for a while, by Ulysses Metropolis. Adelaide’s top breakfast team, Bazz & Pilko (Barry Ion & Tony Pilkington) gave the boys their first radio airplay (& only time as “Tortoise”) by playing a demo of their song “Baby Let Me Tell You” in its entirety on 5AD one morning in 1979 after Noel Forth delivered a 12″ acetate LP to them. Times have certainly changed, that would/could never happen today. Ulysses then left the band & in mid 1979 they received their first break, winning a coveted spot on an ABC S.A. Music album featuring local Adelaide artists. After their song “Jimmy The Man” was finished (recorded June 7th 1979 at the ABC Collingswood studios), the “Patchwork” album was then announced in the press.
Once their original name “Tortis” had been in the press releases, the band decided that a new band name was in order & changed to “Vertical Hold”, Their 1st choice “Television” was vetoed as there had been a UK group from 1977-78 with that same name. Mainly forging ahead with songwriting & recording numerous demos of new songs at studios like 202 in Hindley St (formerly “Nationwide”), Street Remley & Slaters Studios (all 16 & 24 track analogue). Vertical Hold also entered numerous SA talent contests including 5AD’s “Bands On The Run”, where song chosen (“Baby You Send Me”) had a cello added in the Street Remley Studios, played by Hilary Frost. Hilary soon joined the band making it a 5 piece, but only for one gig (Broadway Hotel, Glenelg) with lead guitarist Trevor Graham exiting soon after. and in late 1980/early 1981, Vertical Hold won a coveted finals position for a SAFM Adelaide bands competition & subsequently played live on stage at the Festival Theatre as part of the “Summer Search” final on Feb 10th, 1981. It was at this event that they were noticed by major record company reps & soon after, were signed by RCA Records who also arranged for a new band manager, Danny Monaghan.
Two totally different versions of their 1st single’s original A-side choice (“Baby You Send Me”) were recorded over several sessions at Max Peppers studio on North Tce in June/July 1981, but the other song marked for the 45, “My Imagination”, was actually recorded in one take, as it was only meant to be the flip-side. However, on the recommendation & advice of Daddy Cool/Mondo Rock’s Ross Wilson, RCA flipped the single, making “My Imagination” the A-side. It went to No.1 in just 3 weeks, aided by numerous local gigs & TV exposure for their video clip on Channel 7″s Music Express, plus high rotation airplay from 5KA/5AD. Once “My Imagination” hit No.1 (knocking ONJ’s “Physical” from the top spot), a trip to Melbourne was then organized for their very first appearance on ABC/Molly Meldrum’s “Countdown” (on Dec 4th, 1981). “My Imagination” stayed at No.1 for 3 weeks in total in Adelaide (week com 19th Nov & 27th Nov on 5AD’s chart) & the week between it was also No.1 (week com 4th Dec 1981 on the SAFM charts), only replaced by the massive Rolling Stones hit “Start Me Up” on 5AD’s chart (& Men At Work’s “Down Under” on SAFM’s chart). In March 1981, they played in front of their biggest audience ever, over 20,000 people at the annual “Glendi Festival”.
Once they’d achieved chart success, they finally ventured interstate for live shows, playing firstly at Mildura, in country NSW, where they were befriended by Daddy Cool’s Ross Hannaford after the gig & taken to his farm nearby for a jam in front of his commune at about 2-3am. Their follow-up single “Tears Of Emotion” & its flip-side (“In My Life”) were again recorded at Max Pepper’s studio in Jan 1982 (Mick actually sung the lead vocal quite ill with pleurisy) & both songs were heard/seen for the 1st time on Channel 7 during a Telethon (hosted by Steve Curtis). Although intended as an RCA 45 follow-up, WEA’s A&R Manager Gibson Kemp flew down especially from WEA HQ in Sydney to see VH playing live at the Old Lion Hotel, subsequently poaching them away from RCA. Gibson Kemp took over the drums from Ringo in Rory Storm & The Hurricanes in 1962 & was was married to famed Beatles photographer Astrid Kirchherr/Astrid Kemp for 7 years & was managed by Brian Epstein in a band with Klaus Voormann called “Paddy, Klaus & Gibson”.
Having signed Vertical Hold to a world-wide long term contract, WEA then called in the services of regular Robert Palmer collaborator (American) Alan Mansfield to “re-produce” the new single “Tears Of Emotion”, shortening it by nearly a minute & adding his own instrumentation to great effect. This was done during a visit to Adelaide in mid 1982, after Mansfield had finished as the Musical Director on Bette Midler’s “Divine Miss M” tour. Once again a video was made in Adelaide for the new single (also directed by Danny Monaghan) & this was used for all TV music shows including Music Express, Trax and Countdown. “Tears Of Emotion” was also a big hit, featured heavily on radio (Bazz & Pilko took a shine to it & played it at peak times, every morning, probably not knowing that they’d given the group their 1st radio play 3 years previously as “Tortoise”). “Tears Of Emotion” got to No.3 on the SA charts, only stalling behind 2 of the biggest hits of the 1980’s, “Come On Eileen” & “Pass The Dutchie”. Soon, they supported Hot Chocolate for 4 straight gigs at the Pooraka Hotel (at the time Vertical Hold were #3 with “Tears Of Emotion” & Hot Chocolate were #4 with “It Started With A KIss”).
Interestingly, Hot Chocolate’s very first single (a reggae cover of “Give Peace A Chance”) was released on The Beatles’ Apple label (at the insistence of John Lennon without contracts even being signed), & during the stage changeover at the first show, singer Errol Brown told Noel that he had given away all of his free Apple copies & didn’t actually have a copy himself, so after 2 more shows together, Noel gave Errol an original UK Apple 45 for his collection, plus a full page advert for the single which Errol Brown & the band had never even seen. VH headlined regular local SA venues like The Bridgeway Hotel, Shandon Hotel’s Stage Door, Findon Hotel, Arkaba Hotel, Highway Inn, Glenelg Football Club etc plus country trips to Mt.Gambier, Murray Bridge, Whyalla, Pt.Pirie etc. VH also did support gigs in SA, Victoria & NSW for many bands like Mi-Sex, The Models, Mondo Rock, Moving Pictures & the Hoodoo Gurus.
Interest from WEA was high after the repeated chart success of “Tears Of Emotion” so WEA decided to bankroll the sessions (& videos) for a full album. Vertical Hold were given a choice of 3 producers for the album, 1. Alan Mansfield (who produced “Tears of Emotion”, 2. Richard Lush (engineer for The Beatles/Paul McCartney etc & Sherbet’s producer) & 3. Jon Kennet (songwriter of note e.g. “Lady What’s Your Name” & “Temporary Heartache” for Swanee). Although Alan Mansfield was the obvious choice, he had taken up an offer to join Dragon as a fully fledged member after producing their massive “Rain” hit 45, & Richard Lush had just accepted another production job, so Jon Kennet produced the album. The April 1983 sessions at Soundtrack Studios, Kent Town, resulted in too many songs for one LP so numerous songs were cast aside, even the band’s evergreen live opener “F.B.I.” (which was once performed on Channel 7’s “Music Express”).
Both previous hit singles & their flip-sides were very soon ousted from the album’s line-up & even then, the LP still clocked in at over 22 minutes per side. Despite VH believing that “United States Of America” was the obvious first single from the LP, WEA decided to shy away from the anti US political stance of “USA” as that they also felt that a “rockier” first single was needed, so they chose “Shotdown (in love)” instead. The head of Atco Records in the US came to Adelaide, stating that US/Canada wanted the next “Split Enz” & even chose a left-of-field song, “I’d Like To Talk To You” (from the LP), as their prospective first US/Canada Atco 45. All the still photography for the album was done by Paul Clarke, who was dating famed NZ artist Jenny Morris at the time (married in 1986, are still together with 2 children).
A few overdubs were needed on the album in Sydney during mixing but with the band back in Adelaide, they were performed by superb session musicians like Tommy Emmanuel, Mark Kennedy & specifically, the slide guitar on “Shotdown” which was done by Kirk L’Orange. Once the album was finished & mixed, Joe Wissert (The Turtles’ producer & Boz Scaggs’ “Silk Degrees”) expressed a keen interest to re-mix the entire VH album, as he felt it needed more punch, but it was oo late. Radio didn’t much like the move away from catchy tunes (that VH were best known for), so the debut single from the LP did little on the charts, only managing No.28 in Adelaide (No.13 in SA country) & No.85 nationally. The film clip for “Shotdown (In Love)” was shot on 16mm film, not video, & was totally created from scratch (& directed) by Adelaide’s Scott Hicks, who had made 3 clips for INXS the previous year and who went on to make numerous films including “Shine”. The “Shotdown” video was first aired at an Australian promotional event in Los Angeles and also shown on TV in numerous overseas countries as well. In fact, Vertical Hold received royalty income from international sales of their 3rd single from Hong Kong & Switzerland.
After the first single from the album failed be anywhere near as sucessful as their first 2 45’s, WEA decided to release the LP together with their 4th single “This Must Be Love” in February 1984 and in July, their 5th single “United States Of America”. Vertical Hold even played a special US “Independence Day “show on the 4th of July at Paddington in Sydney, to promote the single’s release. Numerous gigs were played throughout 1984, including a few interstate trips which included supports for The Models, Jimmy & The Boys, Hoodoo Gurus (again) and Moving Pictures. But by the end of the year WEA’s option to extend their contract had expired, so everyone thought that it was all over for Vertical Hold, including the band members themselves.
With all 4 VH members still having maintained full time jobs throughout this entire time, live gigs were mostly curtailed, except for some highly paid private functions & the almost annual appearance at Adelaide’s “Glendi Festival”. During this time of relative inactivity, VH drummer Noel Forth heard that SAFM were looking for the “next big Adelaide band”. so Noel sent in a cassette of a solo demo that VH lead singer Mick Michalopoulos had recorded at home by multi-tracking everything on a 4 track TEAC reel-to-reel tape recorder. This song, “Strange Love” was selected as one of the final best 6 entries, with SAFM’s Andrew Peters even describing it as his “favourite”. Under the pseudonym “The Gladiators” (a truncated version of their original 1970’s name “Gladiator Tortoise”), Mick and Noel re-recorded the song for the SAFM “Brewing” album (with Men At Work’s producer Jim Barbour at the helm this time) & featuring Mick’s wife Maria Michalopoulos on backing vocals & Chris Moutzouris on congas.
Their penultimate live public appearance was at the 1985 “Come Out” concert (without Hilary & credited just as “The Gladiators”) with other bands also featured on the “Brewing” LP. Then their final public appearance was at the “Glendi Festival” in late 1988 (as “Vertical Hold”), but again without Hilary Frost who had moved interstate by this time. Their final gig ever, was for a private party in Dec 1995 (Mick, Jim & Noel), at the “Coreega” property in Springfield, SA.
Vertical Hold never reformed.
Very well written and summarised Noel. Great to see you and the band recognised for your obvious talent. Next step has got to be induction into the SA Music Hall Of Fame for both your state and national success.
I bought th single My Imagination when i was 10 yrs old, must had been my 1st. I had forgotten Baby u send me, but remember it now, both great songs. I new VH was from my home state & allways wondered what happened to them. I still have My imagination stuck in my head i played it so many times. Cheers.
I like reading about early aussie bands & trying to get music of the particular band, such as Vertical Hold & Kush etc, I think I’ve still got the Patchwork album but it’s on cassette. Great job of explaining the bands. David