Pickin’ Up The Pieces

20 June 2012 | 6:26 am | Steve Bell

Nick Barker & The Reptiles burnt brightly on the Australian scene in the late-‘80s and early-‘90s before fading into obscurity. Frontman Nick Barker talks about their second lease of life.

For a while there Nick Barker & The Reptiles had it all – songs such as (Sure Beats) Goin' To Pieces, Another Me and their cover of Cockney Rebel's Come Up & See Me (Make Me Smile) omnipresent on the radio, the band filling big rooms on the thriving pub circuit – and then they were gone, just like that. They could have stayed a mere footnote in the ever-expanding treatise that is the history of rock'n'roll, except for an aptly-timed intervention with charitable (and football) overtones.

“They had the [charity football event] Community Cup earlier this year and they'd asked us to re-form for that,” Barker recalls. “We'd kind of bumped into one another, because The Wreckery did a reformation and I saw all the boys when they came along to see that – I was in The Wreckery before I started The Reptiles – and we got chatting, and there was a fair bit of love in the room. No-one was throwing any big money at us to do a club show, so we thought, 'Fuck it, we'll do it for charity!' We played and it was really good, so we thought we'd do another couple of shows and here we are.

“It's just been really good fun, and we're arguably better musically than we were back then – we're not as exuberant, and we're not as drunk, but we're certainly better players.”

The feelgood rock'n'roll of The Reptiles was miles removed from the more artistically-inclined The Wreckery, mainly due to Barker's more simple muse. “The Wreckery wasn't really my band – I never wrote anything, I was just the bass player – but on a good night they were a really high-energy, swampy beast,” he continues. “I was always a big fan of rock'n'roll bands like The Stones, and I love The Cult's first couple of albums, so it was weird hanging around with The Wreckery guys – they were highbrow private school kids into Captain Beefheart, and Hugo [Race] had played with Nick Cave – but I was pretty much a rock'n'roll guy, and with The Reptiles I just wanted to do something fucking balls to the wall, like Jason & The Scorchers or Georgia Satellites. Unfortunately the label wanted us to be fucking Guns N' Roses – we should have followed our heart, but we were kids and we didn't know shit really.”

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Things didn't end well first time around, which is why The Reptiles current reformation is a blessing for all involved. “It's funny, because as you get older playing music, everything's forgiven,” Barker laughs. “We sorta had a pretty ugly break-up, The Reptiles, we were all pretty confused. We got signed up and heavily promoted, but we didn't really sell a lot of records – not by the standards of the late-'80s – and I think the record company considered us a bit of a failure, and we just kind of fizzled out. We were still playing over 150 gigs a year but the crowds were just dropping off – it was a pretty inglorious ending.

“It's a story as old as music itself, but in a lot of ways I guess we've gone through a bit of a healing process, because it was a pretty ugly time. It was okay for me because I did that solo album that had Time Bomb on it [1994's Happy Man], and that did really well so I felt that I'd redeemed myself, but the other boys had pretty big chips on their shoulders for a long time, and rightly so. But it's been nice to revisit the songs, and nice to realise that we were a really good rock'n'roll band.”