Birdmen enter the New Race - Rock Beat column
by Stuart Coupe - Sun Herald, August 22, 1982
Many people believe that Radio Birdman has been the greatest rock 'n' roll band this country has ever produced. And at least as many say that Radio Birdman has been one of the worst bands to step onto a rock 'n' roll stage. Radio Birdman was a band you either lived or hated. It was virtually impossible to be indifferent to this loud, tough, furious rock 'n' roll band.
The band began in 1974 and reached a peak of popularity during the years 1976-78 before disbanding. They recorded one EP and three albums. Soldiers of Rock and Roll, a documentary album tracing the Radio Birdman history, was released last week with the live New Race album, the First and the Last.
New Race formed for a brief tour in April and May last year.
The band contained three former Radio Birdman members, singer Rob Younger, bassist Warwick Gilbert and guitarist Deniz Tek. Birdman's other guitarist, Chris Masuak, played at some shows. The rest of New Race came from former members of two other bands that had influenced Radio Birdman most - drummer Dennis Thompson (formerly of the MC5) and guitarist Ron Asheton (formerly of the Stooges).
Soldiers of Rock 'n' Roll is a fascinating piece of nostalgia for those who were around to see Radio Birdman give some of the finest rock 'n' roll shows imaginable, and it's a good introduction for those who know them only by legend and reputation.
Along with music from Radio Birdman, New Race, the Stooges, MC5 and others, Soldiers of Rock 'n' Roll contains interviews with a number of the band members and others associated with their career. Soldiers of Rock 'n' Roll is narrated by Marc Hunter and was produced by journalist Anthony O'Grady.
Radio Birdman had one of the most fanatical followings with their fans all wearing the band's symbol, travelling enormous distances to see them perform and turning into a frenzied mass of flesh once the band started. Never have I seen an audience respond more intensely to a band than when Radio Birdman was in full flight. "There was definitely no middle ground with Birdman," O'Grady told me last week. "You either loved or hated them. They had a remarkable facility for drawing attention to themselves. The first public announcement ever made was that their greatest ambition was to blow Skyhooks offstage. This was when Skyhooks were outselling Led Zeppelin in Australia.
"Then they came out with a set of uniforms that seemed to everyone suspiciously close to SS gear. They just didn't do anything by the rule book. A lot of it they couldn't do because Deniz Tek was involved as a medical student but they just had this remarkable ability to turn a small crowd into a sweating conglomerate. Some of their shows at the Oxford Funhouse were just searingly memorable."
Two inclusions on Soldiers of Rock 'n' Roll which may surprise some people are The Angels' song Who Rings The Bell and an interview snippet with the band's guitarist John Brewster.
"I know for certain that's the one thing that everyone in Radio Birdman would absolutely hate and despise but I thought it was valid," O'Grady says. "As Brewster says, Radio Birdman did pave the way for a band like The Angels. The fact that The Angels were really together when it came to keeping themselves together and getting gigs and taking their music to the people, in all the senses that Radio Birdman weren't, is probably still a sore point with Birdman. I don't think there's any doubt that if Birdman had followed the same full-on, fulltime philosophy as The Angels they would have been in the charts before that band simply because they were doing it two years before The Angels.
"In 1975 Birdman were the only band in Australia playing anything remotely like that music. Nobody in Australia had ever modelled themselves after the sound of the MC5 and The Stooges and those bands had 10 years of circulating in the underground, so there was certainly a cult basis for Birdman to build on. I guess that the real tragedy is that because of the part-time nature of the band they never seriously threatened top become a fulltime proposition."
Soldiers of Rock 'n' Roll has been issued as a limited edition so it's worth getting now if you're a longtime fan or simply curious about Radio Birdman.
The live New Race album is also an excellent album that captures the fervour and intensity of that band's performances.