June 25th 2016
Supported by The Fuckin’ Godoys
No, you haven’t stumbled onto The Daily Mash satire site. You read that headline correctly- legendary Sydney proto-punk group Radio Birdman just played a concert in rarely-celebrated Falkirk, the Scottish town located in the no-man’s land between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
To be honest, even those of us who were there are still pinching ourselves, and wondering if the gig really did happen, or perhaps was some kind of fever-dream hallucination brought on by the calamitous referendum result announced the preceding day.
Radio Birdman have always had terrible/brilliant timing. They formed in Sydney around 1974, exactly the wrong time to be essaying a new brand of Detroit-influenced high energy rock & roll, yet precisely the right time to kick-start Australia’s punk scene, along with Brisbane’s finest, The Saints.
The aptly-named Warehouse is a utilitarian building that normally hosts club nights laden with cheap drinks promotions, perhaps explaining the strict 10.00pm curfew for this gig. As I arrived in the venue’s car park with two members of Glasgow’s veteran garage rock outfit The Primevals, we couldn’t help observing that it looked like the kind of place where Bobby Fuller met his untimely demise.
And yet…who was that skinny figure deep in earnest conversation by the back door of the venue? None other than Rob Younger, frontman not only of Radio Birdman, but also his own rigorously-drilled garage-rock warriors, The New Christs.
The show kicked off just after 7.30pm with the unforgettable support act, The Fuckin’ Godoys. Jack White may have indulged in playful myth-making with the brother-sister conceit of early White Stripes, but there was no mistaking the shared DNA of the Godoy twins, Art and Steve.
Very few audience members would have known about the Godoys’ long history of collaboration with Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek. When the twins opened their set with the Ramones-like ‘Let’s Go’ from the Glass Eye World album that they recorded with Tek under the band name The Golden Breed, most of the audience took an involuntary strep backwards, perhaps wondering if these ebullient maniacs with matching tops, trainers and sleeve tattoos were about to launch an inverse stage invasion.
With a history as pro-skaters and tattoo artists, the Godoys could never be described as shy and retiring, and their bellowed vocals were of the football terrace variety so beloved of Sham 69 and The Skids.
The Dunfermline group were name-checked by the Godoys, along with The Rezillos, the Edinburgh band who were scheduled to share a bill with Radio Birdman on their first, ill-fated trip to these isles, back in the 70s.
The Godoys’ idiosyncratic instrumentation- Steve’s energetic surf-punk drums driving Art’s chorused 12 string Di Pinto electric- is a departure from the blues-rock template of the current glut of guitar & drums duos, and there was no doubting that classic 70s Brit-Punk is their main inspiration.
‘Glass Eye World’ closed the twins’ high-energy set, which would surely go down a storm at the UK’s main punk festival, Rebellion.
Due to the strict 10.00pm curfew, Radio Birdman were on-stage at 8.30pm, opening with the atmospheric ‘Crying Sun’, the song’s Stonesy swagger driven by a hard-grooving rhythm section that characterises the band’s current line-up.
With The New Christs’ Dave Kettley taking up Chris Masuak’s former role as the foil to Deniz’s Ann Arbor-schooled guitar flurries, there was more of an emphasis on the tightly-locked backline. It occurred to me that if the Stooges could have been the American Stones, then perhaps Radio Birdman had the potential to fulfil a similar role in ‘Detroit South’.
‘Smith & Wesson Blues’ followed, Rob Younger moving with the lithe grace of Jagger while making the connection with Jim Morrison vocally. The frontman was in good humour, cheerily chastising the Falkirk crowd for not dancing (“I know there’s a ‘flu going around, but all the same…”) before the six-piece tipped into the molten chaos of ‘Descent Into the Maelstrom’, and the crowd erupted.
Kettley’s playing was confident and disciplined throughout, and the guitarist essayed a fine solo on the apposite ‘We’ve Come So Far’, a ‘Zeno Beach’ selection that grew wings in the live context. Keyboardist Pip Hoyle displayed his sublime piano skills on ‘Man with the Golden Helmet’, despite a less-than-perfect sound mix that provoked Tek to shoot metaphorical daggers at the road crew.
Bassist Jim Dickson is a veteran of the Australian underground, and tonight he pummelled his worn-in ’67 Fender Precision like his life depended on it, a towering presence on the right of the stage, locking in tight with Nik Rieth’s propulsive drumming.
As for Deniz Tek, the wiry Michigan-raised guitarist of Turkish descent was an intense presence throughout, serving up his trademark blend of Detroit rock, surf twang and Stones strut while looking impossibly youthful for a man with six decades on the clock.
We got all the classics- ‘What Gives’, ‘i-94’, ‘Do the Pop’, ‘Hand of Law’, ‘Aloha, Steve and Danno’, ‘More Fun’ and ‘New Race’, plus a surprise cover of Magazine’s ‘Shot by Both Sides’ that went down a storm with the enthusiastic audience. ‘Anglo Girl Desire’ and ‘Alone in the Endzone’ were also highlights, while ‘Hand of Law’ included a snippet of The Chantays’ ‘Pipeline’.
With typical perversity, Radio Birdman had arrived in Scotland in the most challenging of circumstances, playing an unglamorous venue in an unusual location, on a night when thunderstorms were forecast and public transport was non-existent due to a rail dispute.
And then there was the small matter of the country having been plunged into abject despair following a catastrophic referendum result which will almost certainly result in the break-up of the UK. It’s probably fair to say that the portents were not good.
Yet somehow, it all made sense. The Warehouse has put itself on the map by hosting such an influential act, and the plucky souls who made the effort to attend were rewarded with a barn-storming show that none of us will ever forget. The descent into the maelstrom may have just begun, but we emerged from the Warehouse with spirits raised, mercifully out of our minds on a Saturday night.
Main image by Gus Ironside. Hoyle/Kettley/Younger image and Deniz Tek image by Lindsay Hutton, used with kind permission.
All words by Gus Ironside, whose Louder Than War archive can be found here.