During my hiatus from the club band, I spent quality time with the practice kit and the metronome, studiously working on my tempos. Did I rejoin the club band after honing my time-keeping? To be honest, I don’t remember!
But the next thing I do remember is being in a band called The Suspects (perfect 80s style name). Wow! I was now in a ‘real’ rock band! It was 1982/3.
The amazing Samantha Fletcher was on vocals. She was unlike anyone else in Wagga at that time. She was odd (in the best way one could be in a town that was, at the time, dominated by blokes that had ‘normal’ jobs and played either rugby league or union, or VFL, and the ), confident and outspoken (as a great front person should be), completely individual (in dress, attitude and behaviour) and could deliver the covers de jour with great conviction and aplomb. Among those covers were ‘Boys In Town’ by the Divinyls, ‘Roxanne’, and ‘Message in A Bottle’ by The Police, and others which unfortunately escape me at the moment. (Maybe someone can help me here).
On one guitar was Rob Ludwig, who I remember seeing the previous year at another Battle of the Bands (I think his band won that (1982?) one). He walked past me, maybe a year or two older than me, wearing a Hendrix-style headband, his Gibson Firebird lazily hanging from his shoulders, and his piercing black eyes fixing me for what seemed like ages, making me think “wow, he’s the real deal, very cool”. Now I was in a band with him! He and Sam would share the banter at gigs, with Rob offering the cynical, close-to-the-bone, and invariably funny comments, which would sometimes make us wonder if we would get beaten up after the gig. Great guitar player, and cool person to be in a band with.
Now for a slight digression in order to give a little background information for what amounts to a fairly dull anecdote: Wagga has, on one side, the Forest Hill RAAF base, located about 10 kms southeast, and on the other side, about 10 kms southwest, the Kapooka Military base, or Army Recruit Training Centre. Both these institutions served the country’s efforts in WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and continue to be among Australia’s primary producers of military personnel. Indeed, I’m pretty sure my father spent a little time at Kapooka after his time at Puckapunyal during WWII, and I have clear memories of my older brother, Bruce’s passing out parade there during the Vietnam war. Apparently during the 60s and 70s new recruits from these two arms of the military would meet at the bridge on Fitzmaurice Street and beat each other to pulps for some reason.
Back to Rob Ludwig’s potentially dangerous banter (this is the aforementioned dull anecdote): one Sunday evening, The Suspects were playing at the RAAF base to a group of unimpressed ‘wingnuts’ (the RAAF recruits appellation at the time – for some reason the Kapooka recruits were called ‘chocos’), when Rob, frustrated at the profound indifference heaped upon us, told his ‘new joke’.
“How do you get wingnuts to dance?”
“Dunno, Rob” (That was Sam)
“Throw them out of a plane!”
Some nervous chortling from the band, and a distinct and sudden interest in us from the sauced up new recruits at the back of the room. I remember Rob turning around and looking at me with an expression of ‘there, that stirred things up a bit, now they know we’re here’, mixed with ‘whoops!’
We played on, the RAAF guys eventually decided we were slightly entertaining enough not to beat up, and we got paid.
On the other guitar was Steve Littlewood, a signwriter who had his own business with his dad I think, which later became a very successful business I recall. Again he was about one year older than me, and his sister Anne was in my year at high school. Very nice, peaceful, calm atmosphere surrounding both him and Anne, and as both Sam and Rob were apt to become fiery in their passion for what we were doing, this calmness was a great asset.
On bass was Mick Bromham. Now, where do I start with Mick? He was/still is the person you most want, or better, need to have with you in a band. Not only a very fine bass player, with an inherent knowledge of what is not only appropriate, but tasteful and good, but also the best backing vocalist I can think of through all that time playing with the many people I did there. Unassuming, polite, but assertive when he knew he was right about a part, he was not playing for himself, he was playing for the band. And I know he carried these attributes with him in whatever band, duo or group he joined, and no doubt still does. His sense of musicianship was inspiring, even if he had no idea about it, and like everyone else (except me), he loved a beer.
Most of our gigs were at the infamous ‘Bootleg’ where local knuckleheads, mixing with the emerging art students from the local college, meant that anything could happen and generally did. I will sign off here for the moment while I gather as much information about the Bootleg as possible. I will be recruiting the help of some people who were there, as their memories might serve the next chapter better than mine alone.
Stay tuned for Part 4, featuring the Bootleg, The John Macarthur Tavern and more.