'Death In The Afternoon': An Exclusive Excerpt From 'Started Out Drinking Beer: The Mental As Anything Story'

30 October 2023 | 12:08 pm | Stuart Lloyd

This is an edited extract from 'Started Out Drinking Beer: The Mental As Anything Story' by Stuart Lloyd. The book hits stores on Wednesday, 1 November.

'Started Out Drinking Beer: The Mental As Anything Story' book cover

'Started Out Drinking Beer: The Mental As Anything Story' book cover (Source: Supplied)

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Chapter 28

Death in the Afternoon 

When Dire Straits toured Australia in 1986 and sold out 54 nights in the largest stadiums and concert theatres around the country, grossing kajillions, it seemed like money for nothing. Worse still, most of that money was going overseas. Local managers Chris Murphy (INXS) and Mark Pope (Jimmy Barnes and Divinyls) got into chats with Mushroom boss and impresario Michael Gudinski: Oz rock could do this kind of big-scale tour too, right?

‘Australian Made’ was coined with a mouth-watering line-up of local acts: Mental as Anything would kick off the show to get punters through the gates early, followed by I’m Talking, The Triffids, The Saints, Divinyls, Models, then a big bang finish with Jimmy Barnes and INXS.

This flying circus (literally, as all the acts shared a chartered plane together) would kick off in Hobart, then on to Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, and climax in Sydney with a show at Endeavour Field (‘Shark Park’) in Cronulla on Australia Day 1987. A documentary would be filmed by award-winning clip maker Richard Lowenstein, with a book to go along with it.

Barnsey and INXS amped the excitement with their collaboration on Good Times, an Easybeats song. It was a symbol of the jingoistic mateship that underpinned this concert series.

‘It was party time,’ confirms party animal, Bird. ‘Fantastic camaraderie. Whatever hotel we were staying in, Barnsey would be holding court in the bar, singing and stuff. He had these American guys from Brian Setzer’s [Stray Cats] band with him on tour. Then he’d say, “Come here, Bird, you get on drums” and the session drummer would get the flick, then Reg and I would be conscripted into the Barnsey Army and have to play Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, or whatever.’ 

The Mentals’ sound had been bolstered by Kiwi Mike Gubb on keyboards. ‘I received a surprise call from Reg asking if I’d like to join the band.’ The idea was to free up Greedy to roam the stage and be more of a showman. They knew Gubb well from the Dynamic Hepnotics, and his first memory of the Mentals was a few years earlier with Greedy prancing around with a lit cigarette in his ear. ‘I was chuffed to join the Mentals, they treated me with great respect. As if I was Billy Preston playing with the Beatles. The feeling of playing to ecstatic full houses was nothing short of thrilling!’

Mike was Conservatorium trained (he could use all fingers on both hands), and Greedy took him through the setlist. He remembers Greedy teaching him the vamp to Romeo & Juliet: ‘No, it’s not like that, it’s like this.’

‘Oh, you mean like this?’ Mike said, playing pretty much the same thing. ‘Yeah, that’s right, excellent.’ He found Greedy to be rather precious and insecure over the 18 months he was part of the touring line-up.

‘We were the soundcheck,’ jokes Bird, happy to have been the first band on each day. ‘INXS were huge and you didn’t wanna go on after Barnsey, God! We used to joke all the time that we go on first so we can go through the other guys’ bags, get all their drugs, and rob them while they’re on stage.’

Even Martin was in his element. ‘People were going nuts, and I was up there standing in front of all these people, just twanging away and singing, which came quite naturally to me, and I was thinking, I was born to do this.’ A pinch-me moment.

By the time the circus rolled into Sydney they were all exhausted by the rigours of the road. Australia Day 1987 was set to be a showcase finale. And the weather turned it on, with 35-degree days blitzing Sydney that week. Sweltering. Good beer-drinking weather for the 25,000 punters, except the venue was alcohol-free. ‘I was in the middle, in front of the stage, in the sea of humanity,’ jokes Tony Crisafulli, a Shire local then in his early 20s.

Bird started that day having breakfast with Peter Trotter, a trombone player temporarily on tour with the high-riding Models, and they rode out to the gig on the bus together. Sue remembers they’d partied together the night before: ‘Peter was laughing and joking and partying — just so friendly and gorgeous.’ But she noticed he was quiet and subdued now.

Behind the scenes, INXS manager Chris Murphy had been going round all the bands’ managers gathering signatures. He approached Jeremy: ‘I need you to sign this contract for the documentary filming.’

Jeremy looked at the contract. ‘But this gives copyright to you. We can do a license agreement properly with lawyers.’

‘No — it’s gotta be signed today or we’re not gonna film you. Everyone else has signed it.’

It was widely believed that they came to physical blows over this. 

‘It turned into a myth that there was some punch up between me and Murphy,’ Jeremy laughs. ‘My credibility around the world went up enormously when the story went out that I’d had a fight with him. But there were no fisticuffs.’ The Mentals took the stage at 1pm in their dazzling Mambo suits. The band had arranged the brass players from other bands to join them onstage for a couple of numbers like Don’t Tell Me Now and He’s Just No Good For You.

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‘And so the brass players all wore Mambo T-shirts, singlets, board shorts and stuff,’ Darby — who, like Jim, was also working that tour for the Models — tells me. Backstage, he got talking to trombonist Peter Trotter, who usually wore a tuxedo.

‘I’d never seen him get changed before. Noting his scars I said, “You’ve had a pleurodesis.” [The same lung operation Darby had.] And he said, “No, I’ve got a pacemaker”.’ Trotter had apparently had this device in since he was around 10 years old. ‘I said, “Aren’t you worried about doing all this shit?” And he said, “Not really — it is what it is. If I die on stage, I’ll be happy.” He gave me a funny look.’

So the horn players filed out for their star turn in the blazing sun. ‘Next thing I look and Peter dropped his trombone onto the floor. Crash!!! And did what people thought was a prat fall. And I thought, There’s no way in the world he’d just drop that trombone.’

‘I saw him go crash down,’ says Sue. ‘I thought, He’s such a classic doing that in the middle of a show!’

‘Darby and I both locked eyes: what the fuck’s going on?’ says Bird.

‘And I rushed straight out there and only Bird and Pete knew what was going on because they could see us,’ says Darby. Partners including Amanda and Sue watched on helplessly. ‘Right in front of me, horrific!’ Amanda recalls.

‘We dragged him behind the drum fill,’ says Darby. ‘And I started giving him CPR. I just kept screaming, “Call an ambulance! Call an ambulance!” He started having a fit. Started frothing at the mouth, just going blue,’ Darby wells up at the recollection. ‘The St John’s blokes turned up and they took him to St George Hospital.’ The oxygen went out of the Mentals’ set.

‘You’ve got thousands of people out front, you’ve gotta do the show,’ says Bird. ‘There’s nothing you can do — you’re in the spotlight.’ There wasn’t much talk between songs. Set finished, they headed backstage. ‘We were all in the dressing room, looking at each other. It was weird … Oh fuck, we killed him.’

The police came and asked questions of Bird. Did you give him anything? ‘No, we had a cup of coffee. He’s a really straight jazz player.’

‘Probably the worst stage experience I’ve ever had,’ said Martin. ‘A real downer.’ 

Reg just wanted to take his kids home and put them to bed.

After that, everything went downhill. Fast. The ambos treated more than 300 gig-goers for heat exhaustion that day. Darby broke down and quit life on the road, joining Channel 7 before a career in robotics.

A few days later, Darby’s phone rang. ‘Reggie rang me to say Peter Trotter’s passed away. I presume his pacemaker failed.’

‘Dave and I wrote a letter to his family just to let them know he’d been so happy on that tour,’ says Sue.

The ambitious and admirable Australian Made exercise ended on a real downer. Not only that, once the promoters had totted up the income and expenses, each of them had lost $30,000.

The end result of the Chris Murphy-Jeremy Fabinyi standoff was that the Mentals were ghosted. They weren’t cut out — the set wasn’t filmed. They didn’t appear on the resulting documentary. It was like they weren’t even on the seven-city tour. ‘Our name’s not even on the credits. So we didn’t exist,’ says Peter.

‘I’m still really angry that we weren’t included in the documentary because it was an important state-of-the-art film at the time,’ Martin said.

Fan boy Tony Crisafulli was also bummed that their set wasn’t filmed, but summed it up in perfect Aussie terms: ‘It was a legendary day, mate.’

This is an edited extract from Started Out Drinking Beer: The Mental As Anything Story by Stuart Lloyd (Puncher & Wattmann $36.95). It will be in bookstores from 1 November. 

To celebrate the release of Started Out Just Drinking Beer, Stuart Lloyd will be in conversation with Dave Warner @ The Vanguard (Wednesday 1 November 6:00pm for a 6:30pm start) and will be joined on stage with Mental as Anything members Reg Mombassa, Peter O'Doherty, and Dave ‘Bird’ Twohill for Q&A and signing.