The Little Bands - Part 1:

The 'Little Bands' scene was a sub-scene that occurred as a parallel to the more formalised Melbourne punk band scene. The first Little Band formed in 1979 after friends of the Primitive Calculators put together a temporary group to support a gig with The Boys Next Door at a venue called Hearts in Carlton. At the time members of the Calculators were living in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of North Fitzroy next door to fellow synth renegades WhirlyWirld. Both groups latched onto the idea of forming temporary, side-project bands that would play no more than two gigs, for no more than 15 minutes and share each other’s equipment — i.e., 'Little Bands'.

Friends of the Calculators used the bands equipment and practiced in their front room of their house in Nicholson Street, North Fitzroy, for most of the day and late into the night. The Calculators decided to use their friends as support acts, as life was much simpler setting up only one band's equipment during gigs and the Calculators only had a 30-minute setAll of the members of the Primitive Calculators also formed their own little band or played in other little bands. 

The most common manifestation was in the Little Band itself. A spontaneous and usually short- lived but vibrant and fresh agglomeration of people, ideas and borrowed instruments would result in quick, intense and sharply focused performances of some material based on a new idea. In many cases, once expressed, these ideas would often be superseded by the next time the same people surfaced. It was a constantly turbulent melting pot of people, band names and sounds

Soon a raft of Little Bands had started up and began to convene at both the Calculators’ and Whirlywirld’s twin terraces to use their equipment and rehearsal space. These resources were shared among the north of the river extended family and the spaces were in permanent use 24 hours a day as people rolled up to try things out. Over time other small collectives set up their own spaces, but the core group of people in and associated with these two bands were the nucleus of the Little Bands.

Made up of a circle of artists, art enthusiasts, spontaneous musicians, poets, performance artists and filmmakers, mostly of whom were dole recipients with a lot of spare time on their hands, Little Bands proliferated amid a haze of booze, weed and speed. In a milieu where ideas were considered more important than musical prowess, the bands often sounded quite terrible; these kids were sloppy, clangy and discordant. In turn, they could sound equally fantastic: a mixture of epileptic drum machine rhythms, stabbing synth lines and creepy/witty lyrics making for oddly compelling results.

"The little bands thing was just a bunch of like-minded people playing in an endless array of line-ups sort of apart from the Clifton Hill mob of David Chesworth and Philip Brophy. It was in some ways very anti of what they were doing. Philip Brophy was very against emotion in music, while the little bands thing was meant to be wild and chaotic and punk added into doing sort of art, experimental stuff, and not just electronic. A lot of the original participants were actually artists who applied the Dada sort of approach of their painting. It was the attitude and idealism of punk but applied to a post-punk art type thing." (John Murphy - Whirlywirld)

"We just told everybody we know, why don’t you get a band together? It’s really easy; you can knock up a band in five minutes, and then throw it out the window. The idea just seemed to take off." (Stuart Grant - Primitive Calculators)

The Little Bands performed regularly, with monthly Little Band nights at the Champion Hotel, Fitzroy, and occasional migrations to North Melbourne and St KildaIn 1979 a local record shop owner, Max Robenstone of Climax Records in Gertrude st Fitzroy, paid for the recording of the 'Little Bands' EP, featuring The Take, Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys, Morpions and Too Fat to Fit Through the Door, as well as a Primitive Calculators single.

Little Bands member and radio announcer Alan Bamford also recorded many of the Little Bands gigs on a TEAC ¼ track reel to reel tape recorder using a Shure 58 mic on a stand positioned in the air next to the mixing desk. These tapes were then broadcast immediately after gigs on his 12am – 2am Friday night slot on 3RRRFM

"John Murphy had a radio show on 3RRR which I helped out with. When he got tired of doing it, I took over and created a more permanent show. The period I did it intensely was 1980. I didn’t have much money and so I would go into the 3RRR newsroom and act like I was doing something journalistic for them, bulk erase half a dozen spools of tape and walk out, and that’s what I used for the show. I Never told them about it, I mean they were for bulk erase, but I didn’t own them, and I didn’t have permission to use them." (Alan Bamford)

The Little Bands gigs were most often mixed by The Boys Next Door mixer, Groper (real name Steven Colgan). Groper had his own sound system, and he was completely cool with the prospect of 12 to 15 bands a night, all playing different instrument setups for 10 minutes, and managed to sort acceptable sound with no sound check with great ease. These recordings owe an immense debt to his skill.

We started playing in the little bands scene and our name was just plucked out of the air. There were about 14 of us and we were totally tuneless, but there was a rule that if you could play an instrument you couldn’t play in the band.   Although supposedly anyone could play, there was a hierarchy in the little bands, and basically we were down the bottom, but we had enthusiasm." (Roland & Crusader - The Delicatessens)

"... We played our first public appearance; it was all part of the first little band’s night at the Champion Hotel. We had nothing rehearsed and we had to go on second. There were ten bands in all. We had ten to fifteen minutes.  We started with ‘I Suffer for My Art'. Terry got the rhythm wrong, Paul forgot the lyrics and none of us could hear ourselves, so basically we made a racket." (Jim Buck - The Band of Hope and Glory)

Little Bands Included:

  • $2.50
  • 66 Johnstons
  • Bags of Personality
  • BeisselBoyceBoswell
  • Child Molester + 4
  • Clang
  • Club Allusion
  • Company I Keep
  • Considered Town Planning
  • Hey There
  • Invisible Music
  • Jim Buck Solo
  • Jimmy Haemorrhoid and the Piles
  • Junk Logic
  • Kim and Mark
  • Kim Beissel
  • Land of Hope and Glory
  • Lest We Forget
  • Melbourne SS
  • Morpions
  • Nookies
  • Ralf Horrors
  • Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys
  • Rosehip and The Teas
  • Sample Only
  • Seaside Resort
  • Shop Soiled
  • Simplex
  • Somersaulting Consciences
  • Stand by Your Guns
  • Tarax Show
  • The Alan Bamford Musical Experience
  • The Albert Hammond Megastar
  • The Art Circus
  • The Band of Hope and Glory
  • The Beaumaris Tennis Club Quartet
  • The Buck Stops Here
  • The Clu/Klu
  • The Delicatessens
  • The Devils
  • The Eastwood Family
  • The Egg
  • The Franging Stuttgarters
  • The Go Set
  • The Great Mastibini
  • The Go Set
  • The Incredible Metronic Blues Band
  • The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies
  • The Irreplaceables
  • The Ivan Durrants
  • The J P Sartre Band
  • The Leapfrogs
  • The Lunatic Fringe
  • The Nookies
  • The Oroton Bags
  • The Pastel Bats (The Pink Bats)
  • The Persons Brothers
  • The Potato Collective
  • The Quits
  • The Sandmen
  • The Saxophone Caper
  • The Soporifics
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • The Swinging Hoy Family
  • The Take
  • Three Toed Sloths
  • Thrush and the Cunts
  • Too Fat to Fit Through the Door
  • Too Many Daves
  • Use No Hooks
  • World of Sport

The Champion Hotel, 1979 - Source: Timothy Hughes

Alan Bamford & John Murphy, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford

Groper, 1979 -  Source: SKMWT
The one-off North Fitzroy Beat was created in 1980 by Alan Bamford and focused purely on the Little Bands. View it HERE

Melbourne's Little Bands Movement - On The Music Show.mp3

Little Bands EP cover and insert, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford

The Little Band scene was represented, albeit semi-fictionally, in the 1986 cult film Dogs in Space, directed by Richard Lowenstein and starring INXS frontman Michael Hutchence. Primitive Calculators briefly reformed to star in the film, playing a new version of their song 'Pumping Ugly Muscle'. Original little band Thrush and the Cunts also appear with the song 'Diseases', and little band figurehead Marie Hoy performs a cover of 'Shivers' by the Boys Next Door. Coinciding with the film's long-awaited re-release, Lowenstein revisited Dogs in Space, the Little Band scene and Melbourne post-punk in general in the 2009 documentary We're Livin' on Dog Food, featuring rare footage and interviews with various members of the scene.

Thrush and the Cunts review, Dogs in Space - Source: Required

The Little Bands - Part 2:

The concept reached its zenith in late 1979 and come 1980 The Primitive Calculators (except for Dave Light) split up and left for Europe, and Whirlywirld relocated to London. However, there was a second wave of Little Bands who kept the flame burning including The Oroton Bags, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Gave Up Music to Become Crazy Mixed-Up Zombies, and Use No Hooks, who had a warehouse space in Langridge St Abbotsford. These three groups of utterly different musicians drove the Little Bands during 1980 with the phenomena being well supported by Dolores San Miguel who booked bands for venues such as the Seaview Hotel (The Ballroom) and the 475 Club. There were one off gigs as well - notoriously at the Collingwood Town Hall plus innumerable house parties.

By late 1980 the energy was dissipating, and the social fabric of the extended Little Bands family was crumbling due to dislocation, poverty, heroin, alcohol and particularly amphetamine useBy 1981 there were no more Little Bands nights, instead The Incredibly Strange Creatures set up a warehouse performance venue called the Killayoni Club, with Lawton Ellery and his home-made sound system, 'Dresden Sound', and presented some truly psychedelic nights of film, sound and performance in the year that followed. Use No Hooks strutted their stuff as a serious funk band and gigged regularly in 1982 – 1983 before death and other disasters rented them asunder. Many of the Little Bands members went on to have productive careers in various fields of creative and artistic expression.

Paradise Lounge promo with lots of new Little Bands, 1980
Source: Dolores San Miguel

Killayoni Club, 1981 - Source: Kate Buck
The Little bands scene was very healthy and fun.  All of the bands would use the same instruments - A trombone, a WASP (Small electronic keyboard) which became the ‘sound’ of the Little Bands, a drum kit (garbage can or cardboard box) with 2 logs for sticks, un-tuned guitars with broken strings (if somebody just broken a string bad luck, you would still have to play it) and a bass.  We found out later that the sound of the Little Bands was exclusive to Melbourne.” (Kate Buck - The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies)
Click on any image below to view

  • Main Image - The North Fitzroy Beat, 1980 - Source: Alan Bamford
  • Background Image - Little Bands poster, 1979 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • Champion Hotel, Fitzroy 1979 - Source: Timothy Hughes
  • Alan Bamford & John Murphy, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford
  • Groper, 1979, mixing at the Ballroom - Source: St Kilda Music Walking Tours
  • Little Bands EP, front cover and insert, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford
  • The Paradise Lounge flier, 1980 - Source: Dolores San Miguel
  • Killayoni Club, 1981 - Source: Kate Buck
  • Thrush and the Cunts review, Dogs in Space - Source: Required
  • Stuart Grant Mcing a Little Bands night at The Campion Hotel, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford
  • Alan Bamford, 1980 - Source: Alan Bamford
  • ABME, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • Hoy Family Swingers, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • Sample Only, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • The Beaumauris Tennis Club Quartet, 1980 - Source: Angela Adams
  • The Delicatessens, 1980 - Source: Angela Adams 
  • The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, 1980 - Source: Kate Buck
  • The JP Satre Band, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • The Moths, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • The Oroton Bags, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • The Pastel Bats, 1980 - Source: Angela Adams
  • The Persons Brothers, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford   
  • The Take, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford  
  • Too Fat to Fit Through the Door, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford
  • Thrush and the Cunts, 1979 - Source: Alan Bamford 
  • Use No Hooks, 1980 - Source: Denise Rosenberg
  • Little Bands posters, 1979 - Source: Primitive Calculators 
  • Little Bands review in TAGG Mag, 1980 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • Little Bands gig list, 1980 - Compiled by Jim Buck
  • The Little Bands Archive, 2004 - Written by Alan Bamford
  • John Murphy (Whirlywirld) - Source: 'Excerpts of Stranded' by Clinton Walker, p.68
  • Stuart Grant (Primitive Calculators) - Source: 'Excerpts of Stranded' by Clinton Walker, p.68
  • Alan Bamford - Source: Personal interview
  • Roland & Crusader (The Delicatessens) - Source: Personal interview
  • Jim Buck - Source: Personal interview
  • Kate Buck - Source: Personal interview