[MUSIC/Rock – AUS]
Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Sat 18 Jan, 2020.
Skyhooks! What a brilliant game changing, life-altering, behemoth of band they were. When they exploded into our lives in the early 1970s they were unlike any other band out there; colourful, energetic, costumes, great live band, singing about contemporary Australian life, sex, drugs, politics, Melbourne Bohemia and wanking into a Twisties packet. And funny, my God, they were so funny.
For the sake of this review, I’m going to assume that you know that in the mid ‘70s Skyhooks broke every kind of sales records and concert attendance there was to smash. I’ll figure that you already know they had six out of ten songs off their first album banned and they delighted teenage fans and shocked the oldies on an almost daily basis. I’m guessing there is no need to mention the classic line up was Red Symons on guitar, Shirley on vocals, Freddie Kaboodleshnitzer Strauks on drums, songwriter/bass player Greg Macainsh and guitar player extraordinaire Bob Bongo Starkie. And you’ll already know we sadly lost singer Graeme ‘Shirley’ Strachan in 2001.
In another country Skyhooks would likely be revered like the Gods they were – on a pedestal like Led Zeppelin or The Kinks. But in the land where tall poppies are felled like the Tall Timber Hooks themselves sang about, they have been sidelined in our musical history to some degree. I have some theories (for another time to discuss) why that is, but at the end of the day I don’t think they get the respect they deserve.
For the last few years Bob ‘Bongo’ Starkie has been playing these fantastic songs to enthusiastic and growing audiences on the East coast. There are allusions to the other originals the guitar player wears Red, the bass player white with a cowboy hat, the drummer a glittery sleeveless shirt, so if you were at the back or half closed your eyes you could easily convince yourself that it was the real deal.
This is in no small part from Bongo’s distinctive playing (and frill necked lizard outfits) and the lead vocals of Laura Davidson. Getting a female singer, and in particular THIS female singer, is a master stroke, Shirley always sang in a high register and no guy would be able to survive the comparisons. Davidson sings in other Melbourne bands (including the brilliantly named AC/DShe) and her brassy swagger and pitch suits the song perfectly. She possesses much of the sass the made us love Shirl, and she knows this audience is there to celebrate this music and delivers the songs as they were meant to be heard.
The Gov is near capacity and with every new song huge cheers go up. There is much singing along, a bit of sharpie dancing, there is a lot of love in the room. The first set is drawn heavily from their Living In The ‘70s album from 1974 Balwyn Calling, Toorak Cowboy, Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo), You Just Like Me Cos I’m Good In Bed and right there you have a perfect example of why they were so impactful. These are songs about ‘trendies’, dodgy pick-ups, buying your first dope outside the South Yarra Arms, the crazy Carlton lifestyle and about being used as a sex object (from the guys point of view).
There are certain words or phrases that may have had context being sung by a male in 1974 which Laura excuses herself from singing, which is as it should be. The band is perfect, recreating the songs as they are remembered. Saturday Night, Crazy Heart, Mercedes Ladies even the controversial Smut with Bob taking the lead on Symons song. The video screen behind the band shows photos and videos of the glory days often correlating to what is being played. This Is My City and Love Is Not Good Enough round out set one, leaving the audience to a lot enthusiastic discussions, trading recollections of past gigs and Hooks memories.
Second set – costume changes and several fistfuls of further favourites including Party To End All Parties, Blue Jeans, Why Doncha All… (Oh! What a joy to sing with a group of the likeminded). Jukebox In Siberia was a massive comeback hit for them in 1999 and comes from what is now known as ‘The Lost Album’. It was a brand new and outstanding Skyhooks album which was supposed to be released in time for a huge Hooks/Daddy Cool double reunion tour that never ended up happening. The album was delayed then shelved before eventually getting rudely glued to a greatest hits record. It’s worth hunting for if you love the old stuff, songs like Kooyong Dollar and Kickback are the equal of anything Macainsh ever wrote. The end of the set is a breathtaking roller-coaster of back to back hits. Living In The Seventies, Horror Movie, Ego, Million Dollar Riff, brilliant stuff.
They return (more costume changes) for Women In Uniform, B-B-B-Boogie and a happy sing-a-long on All My Friends Are Getting Married. Bob ‘Bongo’ Starkie and his excellent band are keeping the Skyhooks legacy alive and well from Carlton to a Bar In Adelaide.
All images courtesy of Ian Bell