Radio Birdman: Up From Down Under.

10 March 2003 | 1:00 am | Eden Howard
Originally Appeared In

This Is The Ground.

More Radio Birdman More Radio Birdman

Tales From The Australian Underground is in stores now.

Tales From The Australian Underground is, as the name would suggest a collection of 7” single releases from independent Australian acts between 1976 and 1989. In spite of all the musical revision we’ve seen over the past years - compilations, documentaries and more – it’s an area that’s remained largely overlooked. Perhaps criminally so considering the diversity of their music, and the contribution they’ve made in the shift from independent acts to mainstream force. Not only does the compilation serve as a marker to real growth of Australian’s independent music scene, it also places many of today’s well-recognised names and faces into past context. As well as name checking seminal acts like Radio Birdman and the Saints, you’ll find members of the Hoodoo Gurus crop up in The Victims and The Fun Things, The Cruel Sea and Tex Perkins line up in Thug and Sekret Sekret, The Moodists feature Dave Graney, Kim Salmon lines up with The Scientists and Nick Cave and Mick Harvey make an appearance with The Birthday Party.

“It was a lot of work, but it was pleasurable work,” explains Tim Pittman, the man behind the package. “It exhausted a lot of time. It didn’t really take five years to go, right I’m doing this and get stuck in. But for about five years I’ve had the idea in my head. I love the stuff that’s on here, and I couldn’t get it. I think it’s great stuff and I don’t understand why it’s not documented. We have Triple J’s hottest 100 from 1990 onwards, we’ve got all these 80s retro compiles, the Ugly Things series documenting 60s garage stuff, Long Way To The Top takes you to about 1976. This was a really fertile time in Australian music, and it set up what is pretty much mainstream Australian music these days. It was influential around the world, but we’ve just forgotten about it. All those things, and the fact that no one else did it, I just had to do it myself. But I’m wrapt with the end result.”

The finished double CD takes on 45 tracks without doubling up on acts. The majority of the tracks were sourced from Pittman’s extensive record collection, while others took more work to hunt down.

“There were a couple of things that were really hard to track down. I do have about 90% of it. I wanted to research stuff that I’d heard about but never actually owned, things like Makers OF The Dead Travel Fast, I wanted to hear that record and see why people were so excited about it at that time. I wanted it to be broad, because I wanted to show a progression of sound throw the time. I wanted to show how unique Australian music was over this time. If you look at it, there’s an ebb and flow of what happened, and that’s what I wanted to show. The variety of stuff that happened over this period of time.”

“I owned a lot of it, but there were certain bits and pieces I have never owned and were very hard to find. The Numbers’ Government Boy cost me $115 in a collectable record store in Melbourne. I remember a friend had it when I was 16, and I had it on a tape, which is how I remembered it. I still can’t find a copy of The Riptides’ Sunset Strip. Brad Shepherd (ex-Hoodoo Gurus) had to lend me his copy for final mastering, and he only got a copy fairly recently himself.”

“I buy a lot of records from this little old lady in Sydney, and when I told her what I was doing she said ‘my back room if full of old vinyl that I haven’t touched for years, you can have a look if you want…’ I found so much stuff. I found a Tactics single, and I had a different track listed, but this was so much better, and I didn’t even know about it. I got a bunch of other stuff there, all kinds of weird and wonderful things. She said all the bands would come into her store at the time and give her the records to sell, and half the time they never came back, so these things had just been sitting there.”

After the challenge of locating the material comes of the added problems associated with putting together a master tape free of the ravages of the last 20 years.

“The more obvious things like Birdman, Laughing Clowns had tapes, but by and large it all had to be done from the vinyl. One of the guys that ran Waterfront Records here in Sydney had unplayed copies of a lot of stuff, and I got an obscure phone call from a guy called Robert. I met him in town, and he looked like he was about 50, dandruff al over his jacket. He had all this stuff, ‘I only ever played it once and record it to cassette, and I listen to the cassettes’. Wow, gold mine!”