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 mid-1979 when Dave Light from the Primitive Calculators, formed a band with Lee Smith, from MYL, Mark Ryan and Jules Taylor, who was working at Climax Records and were called the Leapfrogs. They did not play live until September at Climax Records, then October 18th, 1979, at a Primitive Calculators and Little Band night at the Champion Hotel, Fitzroy. 

Other friends of the Primitive Calculators, Marcus Bergner and Marie Hoy, performed as Too Fat to Fit Thru the Door, after Nick Cave dared them to perform live, with Marcus singing whilst blindfolded and Marie playing a drum machine. They played between the support band and the Boys Next Door at a gig at the Crystal Ballroom, St. Kilda in August 1979.

The first Little Band formed in 1979 when friends of the Primitive Calculators Marcus Bergner and Marie Hoy performed as Too Fat to Fit Thru the Door, with Marcus singing whilst blindfolded and Marie playing a drum machine. They played between the support band and the Boys Next Door at a gig at the Crystal Ballroom, St. Kilda.

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 In many cases, once expressed, these ideas would often be superseded by the next time the same people surfaced.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 occasionally, with Little Bands nights being held at the Champion Hotel, Fitzroy, and occasional migrations to North Melbourne and St KildaIn December 1979 a local record shop owner, Max Robenstone of Climax Records in Gertrude Street Fitzroy, along with Alan Bamford, helped to pay for the production 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. Each band member paid $20 for the recording of the EP.

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:

  • 66 Johnstons
  • Bags of Personality
  • BeisselBoyceBoswell
  • Child Molester + 4
  • Clang
  • Club Allusion
  • Considered Town Planning
  • Jim Buck Solo / The Buck Stops Here?
  • Junk Logic
  • Kim and Mark
  • Kim Beissel
  • Lest We Forget
  • Melbourne SS
  • Morpions
  • Nookies
  • Ralf Horrors
  • Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys
  • Rosehip and The Teas
  • Sample Only
  • Shop Soiled
  • Simplex?
  • Skull Brains?
  • Somersaulting Consciences
  • The Alan Bamford Musical Experience (ABME)
  • The Albert Hammond Megastar
  • The Band of Hope and Glory?
  • The Beaumaris Tennis Club Quartet
  • The Clu/Klu
  • The Delicatessens
  • The Devils
  • The Franging Stuttgarters
  • The Go Set
  • The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies
  • 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 Cooperative
  • The Quits
  • The Sandmen
  • The Saxophone Caper
  • The Soporifics
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • The Swinging Hoy Family
  • The Take
  • Thrush and the Cunts
  • Too Fat to Fit Through the Door
  • World of Sport

The Champion Hotel, 1979 - Source: Timothy Hughes

Ad for Climax Records, 1979 - Source: Primitive Calculators
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

Click HERE to see more Little Bands PDFs
Click HERE to listen to some LB Tracks
Jim Buck LB memories 1980.pdf Jim Buck LB memories 1980.pdf
Size : 3606.407 Kb
Type : pdf
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 be 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 Bands early member 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 three members of the Primitive Calculators.

Thrush and the Cunts review, Dogs in Space
Source: Smash Hit's magazine, 1986

The Little Bands - Part 2:

The concept reached its zenith in late 1979 and come 1980 The Primitive Calculators (except for Dave Light) dissolved and left for Europe, and Whirlywirld relocated to London. However, there was a number of individuals and Little Bands who kept the second wave of the Little Bands flame burning including The Oroton Bags, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Gave Up Living to Become Crazy Mixed-Up Zombies, and Use No Hooks, who had a warehouse space in Langridge St Abbotsford (NB: Use No Hooks were not actually a Little Band but were enablers of the Little Bands gigs). These three groups of utterly different musicians drove the Little Bands scene 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. Many of the Little Bands members went on to have productive careers in various fields of creative and artistic expression.

LB Review, TAGG, 1980.pdf LB Review, TAGG, 1980.pdf
Size : 168.942 Kb
Type : pdf
LB Article, Vox Mag, 1981.pdf LB Article, Vox Mag, 1981.pdf
Size : 1641.801 Kb
Type : pdf

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 broke 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
  • Ad for Climax Records, 1979 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • 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: Smash Hit's magazine, 1986
  • Stuart Grant Mcing a Little Bands night at The Campion Hotel, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Alan Bamford, 1980 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Alan Bamford, far right with Lawton Ellery, Lindsay, Lindsay and Ollie Olsen, c. 1979 - Source: Kate Buck
  • The Machine Alan Bamford made the recordings on, c. 1980 - Source: Kate Buck
  • ABME, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Hoy Family Swingers, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Ronnie and the Rhythm Boys, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • The JP Satre Band, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • The Take, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Thrush and the Cunts, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Too Fat to Fit Through the Door, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Little Bands posters, 1979 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • Little Bands review in TAGG Mag, 1980 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • Child Molester +4: Paul ’zippy’ Kinsey, Jim Buck, Terence Shannon, 475 Club, 1980 - Source: Kate Buck
  • Sample Only, 1980 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • The Albert Hammond Megastar: Featuring John Desailly, Paradise Lounge, 1980: Source - Kate Buck
  • 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
  • Strange Creatures Graffiti, Collingwood, 1980 - Source: Kate Buck
  • The Oroton Bags, 1979 - Photo by Janis Lesinskis
  • Pastel Bats, 1980 - Source: Angela Adams
  • The Saxaphone Caper, 1980 - Photo by Paul, Source: Kate Buck
  • Use No Hooks, 1980 - Source: Denise Rosenberg 
  • Jim Buck, Littel Bands memories,1980 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • Little Bands gig list, 1980 - Compiled by Jim Buck
  • The Little Bands Archive, 2004 - Written by Alan Bamford
  • Little Band Review, TAGG Mag, 1980 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • Little Band Article, VOX Muzpaper, 1981 - Source: Primitive Calculators
  • 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