For Blackie’s Sake

29 May 2012 | 2:06 pm | Michael Smith

“I’ve got to stress, we’re not asking for any handouts." After their guitarist Blackie was bashed while working, the Hard-Ons upcoming shows are to be raise some cash for the Aussie punk legend. Bassist Ray Ahn talks us through it.

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The Hard-Ons may have kicking around since 1981, cut 15 albums and a stack of EPs, toured nationally and internationally and managed to sell over a quarter of a million records over their 30 years together, but, like pretty much every independent act in Australia, they've never had a major league hit and they've never earned enough money to sit back and enjoy just making music. They're still basically working Joes with day jobs to tide them over till the next gig.

In his capacity as a cabbie, on the evening of Thursday 17 May Peter “Blackie” Black – founding member with bass player Ray Ahn and looking forward to launch the first of a five part reissue series of Hard-Ons albums, the remastered and expanded edition of their 1986 mini LP, Smell My Finger – pulled up in Crows Nest to pick up a fare. He was later found on the ground by his cab with injuries to his head and face.

“One kid asked him to take him to Greenwich from Crows Nest for $6,” Ahn relays the story as Blackie had told him. As a self-employed cabbie, he was within his rights to refuse the fare and the kid to close the door. Blackie got out to close the door himself and then found him blocking the driver's side door. “When Blackie asked him to move out of the way, he hit him in the face. At that point, Blackie tried to restrain him and call the cops and after that he blacked out.”

Blackie had been hit in the back of the head with a skateboard. He woke up in hospital with 16 stitches inside his mouth from having been repeatedly kicked him in the face, a skull fracture in the back of his head and, of far more concern to his surgeon, a lump on his forehead from someone's boot, which has caused swelling and bleeding on the brain. At best he'll be out of hospital in two months, but being unable to drive for that period means Blackie is in a very difficult position.

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“He's spent his last cent putting together his [forthcoming] solo album,” Ahn continues. “He's paid for it all off his own bat so he hasn't any money. Luckily, Glenn [Koek] from promotional company Zombie Dog is going to set up a benefit for Blackie so we can cover his expenses while he's not working and suggested we put on the Hard-Ons' Facebook that we're taking donations. So through that we've managed to raise some money already for him.

“And we've got two shows coming up as part of the Smell My Finger launch tour – we've had to cancel eight gigs as well, but we'll play those two shows as the Hard-Ons, but Blackie's place on lead guitar and lead vocals will be taken by our original drummer Keish. He's quite a good guitar player so I'm sure he'll be okay. Peter Kostic, the drummer we had before Murray Ruse, will do a couple of numbers as well. What we're doing is we're going to play as the Hard-Ons and if anyone wants to still come with this different line-up, they can come and all the door-takings that we're going to get, from that we'll pay the support bands, pay everyone that needs to get paid, but our earnings from it, we're going to pay to Blackie to make his life a little easier.”

The original intention for these gigs was the reissue of Smell My Finger and that'll be available at the gigs in a two-disc set featuring the original tracks and around 50 further recordings from the period rediscovered and dusted off for the reissue.

“I think we all used our parents' garages as storage once we moved out, so going through garages and stuff we found recordings in boxes,” Ahn explains. “But mind you, up until about ten years ago, none of us really wanted to know about them and it was only then, when a lot of bands started remastering their back catalogue with bonus tracks and stuff –and people kept on asking us if we were going to reissue our back catalogue – that we started seriously thinking about it.

“We started digitalising a lot of our back catalogue and various desk tapes about seven or eight years ago. I used to have really good equipment back then, which I don't have anymore, so I was able to do a lot of that at home and some of our friends who access to studios and stuff, they did some of it for us in England, so it was a lot of work.

“I still find a lot of [the salvaged party tapes and desk recordings] unlistenable to this day. They just don't sound like something I would like to listen to nonstop, but it's mainly because I was obviously involved in it and I kind of like to move on, but a lot of our friends have heard it and gone, 'This still sounds really good'. But the stuff we uncovered certainly shocked us because… we did an interview recently and they said, 'Look, you do covers of Australian punk bands that were back in the day like that band The Elois and also we did an Atlantics cover but from the period when they had Johnny Rebb in the band, the lead singer. We did stuff like b-sides of Kinks songs and tracks by obscure '60s garage bands that no one had heard of and stuff like that, so that's pretty good going for a bunch of seventeen-year-olds, you know? So we put them all on there.”

Ahn has designed a special T-shirt to commemorate the launch gig and “the really weird line-up”, the profits going to Blackie, while down in Melbourne, members of The Meanies and Regurgitator are holding a benefit concert and in the US, Jello Biafra from Dead Kennedys, through his label Alternative Tentacles' website, has set up a donation site.

“I've got to stress, we're not asking for any handouts but we're getting emails, well wishes and donations from bands and musicians that never even crossed paths with us before. A couple of people from the classical industry and some jazz and avant-garde musicians have sent in donations, just because they feel bad that a fellow musician has been hurt just because he can't make enough money from playing music.”