Dock On! Painters & Dockers Clock 40 Ridiculous Years

25 May 2023 | 1:00 pm | Jeff Jenkins

“The thought of being a normal, mainstream pop star appalled me. With a murdered brother forever lurking on my mind, I couldn’t tolerate normal and relaxed."

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Image of Painters & Dockers (supplied)

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They formed to play just one gig – to pay for a mate’s parking fines. Forty years later, Painters & Dockers are hitting the road to celebrate their anniversary, and frontman Paulie Stewart has recounted many of the riotous tales in his autobiography, All The Rage. It’s a story of aliens, axe-wielding maniacs, lost jocks, lost international stars, nudity, fresh fish, and, er, Bryan Adams.

The first gig

While working as a music journalist for Melbourne’s Sun News-Pictorial (now The Herald Sun), Paulie Stewart joined a band to play a one-off gig to pay the parking fines of their mate Bill Walsh, the Cosmic Psychos drummer. “This was an era when music groups were admired for raising funds for good causes,” Stewart recalls. “I’ll admit that paying off Billy’s parking fines was not exactly battling famine in Africa, but, hey, it seemed like a good excuse for a fun night.”

The gig came to an abrupt end when a guy who lived next door to the Port Melbourne pub stormed in and chopped up the mixing desk with an axe. “In a way, he was just delivering the first of many bad reviews we would receive over the years.”

The legendary Lobby Loyde got the band a record deal, but didn’t discover aliens

ARIA Hall of Famer Lobby Loyde was the Painters & Dockers producer and manager, getting them a record deal with Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Records. The guitar great had grand plans, including a record company called Dock Records and a retail outlet – The Dock Shop. “I swear I actually remember him talking about buying a few old planes and opening Dock Air,” Stewart says.

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Loyde was like a local Richard Branson. Except for one small difference – he didn’t have any money.

Loyde and Gudinski were good friends, but the music mogul didn’t appreciate the negotiations. “At one point, he drove me crazy by having a lengthy dispute with Gudinski over our record deal,” Stewart reveals. “Lobby refused to sign it unless Gudinski agreed that if life were found on other planets, Lobby would have the right to negotiate a separate deal with the aliens … Lobby: great guy, great musician, utterly useless businessman.”

There was a darker side to the Dockers

Paulie Stewart’s life was shaped by the tragic death of his older brother Tony, a member of the Balibo Five, the group of Australian journalists killed while covering the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. Stewart believes his absurd, anarchic antics were a reaction to his brother’s death. The first song he wrote was called Pull Me Off (My Silly Pedestal).

“I liked the anarchy we brought to many a suburban pub, and I liked shit-stirring. The thought of being a normal, mainstream pop star appalled me. With a murdered brother forever lurking on my mind, I couldn’t tolerate normal and relaxed. If life was short, I wanted to make my mark and scream into the night.”

They played with the Prince of Darkness

When Nick Cave ventured backstage to say hello to the Dockers, he sat on one of the band’s stage props – a huge fresh fish. “Hey, what’s with the snapper?” Cave asked, shaking his head.

They got their gear off at a piggery

In 1987, the Dockers scored their biggest hit, reaching #29 with Nude School. Mushroom expected a clip where the band members were surrounded by glamorous models. Instead, Stewart looked up “pigs” in the Yellow Pages and found a pig farm just outside of Melbourne.

Billy Idol dug the Dockers, or close enough

The biggest national tour the Dockers did was supporting Billy Idol. At the end-of-tour party, the spiky-haired rocker told Stewart: “I love you guys, the Painters and Doctors.”

They were signed by Bryan Adams. Yes, Bryan Adams

Strangely, when Canadian rocker Bryan Adams started a record label at the end of the ’80s, he signed the Painters & Dockers. When they arrived in Canada for a tour, they were greeted by the record company who told them to “go ahead, we’re waiting for the band to arrive”.

“They looked horrified when we told them we were, in fact, the band, not the road crew.”

They are ARIA nominated

The Dockers were nominated for Best New Talent at the second ARIA Awards in 1988. The trophy went to Weddings Parties Anything.

An ARIA Hall of Fame nod has eluded the Dockers, but they were inducted into the Music Victoria Hall of Fame in 2009.

This is my city

When it comes to “Great songs about Melbourne”, the lists always contain the usual suspects – Paul Kelly’s From St Kilda To Kings Cross, SkyhooksToorak Cowboy and Balwyn Calling, and Crowded House’s Four Seasons In One Day. And then there’s the Dockers’ The Boy Who Lost His Jocks On Flinders Street Station.

They played with The Pogues

Shane MacGowan walked into the Dockers dressing room with blood pouring from his nose. When he ran through the planned set list, he was met with an awkward silence. “Ah, Shane, we are actually the support band. Your band is in the next room.”

“Well, you can fuck off then,” The Pogues singer said before exiting.

Like AC/DC, the Dockers took to the streets of Melbourne

The Dockers followed Nude School with another Top 50 hit, Die Yuppie Die, shooting the clip outside the Melbourne Stock Exchange in October 1987 – a few days before the stock market collapsed.

Time magazine later joked that the Painters & Dockers had precipitated the crash.

Die Yuppie Die became the Dockers’ only number-one hit – topping 4ZZZ’s chart in Brisbane.

They got a better review than The Rolling Stones

The Dockers did 28 shows in 32 days in Canada, touring at the same time as The Rolling Stones. The Vancouver Sun review was headed: ‘Painters & Dockers Cheaper and More Fun than the Stones’.

They liked a good time on the road

The band’s Canadian tour coincided with the release of their single Safe Sex, so they got a sponsor – King Kong Condoms – and Stewart would throw the product into the crowd. Waiting for them whenever they checked into a hotel would be a box of 500. “You guys like to party then,” noted one wide-eyed receptionist. Ah, yes.

Some people thought the Dockers were also TISM

“One of the best compliments the Painters & Dockers received was the persistent rumour that we were actually TISM in disguise. I think this came about because one of the early reviews of the band said, ‘These guys are shithouse, just like the Painters & Dockers but in masks.’” 

Stewart did actually give the masked marauders a leg up after he was given an early tape by the band. “I was intrigued by the label – ‘Defecate On My Face’ – and when I popped it into a cassette player, the song was a ripper. I passed the tape on to Michael Lynch [who became TISM’s manager].”

They are not Satanists

When the Dockers’ 1985 EP featured a cover of the Sacred Cows’ Kill, Kill, Kill, Stewart was invited onto A Current Affair to debate a Reverend who said the Dockers were Satanists who should be banned. But Stewart pointed out they had discovered the song on Get Smart, a show that Aussie kids loved.

Father Bob was a fan

Father Bob Maguire, the legendary Melbourne priest, was a Dockers fan. When he died recently, Stewart said: “Painters & Dockers have done close to 1500 shows now around the world, but by far the best ones I’ve been involved with were with Father Bob on the MUA picket line during the Patrick’s dispute. He always had our backs. RIP Comrade!”

Stewart giveth good quote

“Apparently, I had an unsavoury reputation … this wasn’t helped by one of my early media interviews about the Dockers, in which I was asked if I had any hobbies. ‘Taking amphetamines’ was not a wise answer.”

They haven’t made much money, but they’ve had a lot of laughs

After signing with Mushroom Records, Michael Gudinski put his arm around Stewart and said, “Paul, you have to understand, we can all make money from this.” In his book, Stewart writes, “Gudinski passed away in 2021, and I’m still waiting to ‘make money from this’.”

Everyone is welcome at a Dockers gig

“I am so proud of the fact that we are still going and that we have always been a people’s band,” Paulie Stewart says. “Anyone can get up and perform with us.”

Paulie Stewart’s book, All The Rage, is out now on Melbourne Books. Painters & Dockers play 40th anniversary shows on May 27 at Memo Music Hall in St Kilda; June 17 at The Zoo in Brisbane; July 29 at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville; and August 12 at the Hobart Uni Bar.