In 1985 I became friends with John Gorman. He used to come over to my place in Redfern and we’d drink like madmen and listen to records. One day he brought over "Never Understand" by The Jesus And Mary Chain. We played it all afternoon and decided to start a band that sounded like that song. Another night John brought over a friend called Angus Douglas from Tactics. He was going to play guitar with us, but on this occasion just cut his arm open and spread blood all over the kitchen wall.
I knew a bass player called Wayne Baker from Brisbane. A friend of Wayne’s told him about a girl called Tina that practiced drums to Prince records in the flat downstairs. Tina Havelock Stevens arrived at her first rehearsal with six friends and a dog. Her friends sat around the walls of the rehearsal room drinking and laughing while we swayed in the deranged alchemy of sweet noise.
We found a name in a book called Street Gangs Then & Now. It summed up how we felt: Plug Uglies.
Our first booking was at the Music Cafe in Kings Cross. We were pretty excited. On the day, someone gave Wayne two rhohypnols and told him they were uppers. He took them at home and went into a deep sleep. We dragged him to the gig, administered speed and then placed him on stage. The only movement from him for the next 45 minutes – apart from his hands – was a big glob of nose drool that slowly distended down to his knees. It was a great performance.
Tina's parents came along to the next show and caught the surprise act when Angus ran out the door and threw his guitar into the middle of William Street.
Bookers liked us because we drew a large heavy drinking crowd. One of the wonderful things about this world is how one persons jug of woe can be another’s pot of gold... it’s a theme that resounds throughout the music industry.
Our audiences grew. We did a live to air on Radio Skid Row. We screen-printed and we postered all over Sydney. We wrote lots of songs in a disoriented state in what was once a meat freezer in the now demolished Pie Factory in Darlinghurst. We changed lead guitarists often, the one guy John was happy with was Tony Milner. He told us he had to leave because he couldn’t keep up with the drinking. Our bass player Wayne left in 1987 and Mark Lock from Died Pretty joined.
In 1988 John’s brother Michael Hiron organized for us to record six songs. We thought they sounded great, but no one wanted to release the record. It was a strange and depressing year. The bicentenary, gentrification and rent hikes. All the shitty things that happen to you when you’re on the dole that you can’t fix or change. And then John hung himself. That was the worst.
HIPSTERS, FLIPSTERS AND FINGER POPPIN' DADDIES
We released the record "knock me your lobes" ourselves in August 1989 through Waterfront Records distribution and sold about a thousand copies. Johnny’s face graced the cover, his sounds filled the grooves, but we supported the record with a new line-up. Michael Hiron played lead guitar and Clem Lukey (who had played with Michael in The Pineapples from the Dawn of Time) played rhythm. Later that year Mark lost interest and quit. John Willsteed from the Go Betweens stepped in.
We still pulled large crowds, and broke numerous bar records. Plugs shows in inner city Sydney became regular events where people met, drank, danced and went home and fucked. We were happy to supply the soundtrack. We toured to Brisbane and Melbourne and some strange places in between. Live, the Plugs were volatile, beautiful, whimsical and mad. No studio recordings ever captured the sonic mayhem our best shows.
In late 1989 we wanted to record again, but didn’t have much money. We recorded Johnny Panic and Grubby Supper, then argued about the mix for days. After countless joints in the control room we dreamt we came to an agreement.
A record company called Rattlesnake Records said they’d do us a favor and release Johnny Panic as a 12” single, even though they didn’t expect to make any money on it. We received $190 from them based on their poor sales figures. Ironically, no one we knew could purchase the record anywhere because it had sold out. 2JJJ gave it regular airplay, another irony considering their shift at the time from supporting the Sydney music scene to a generic concept of a national youth network.
We continued to play almost every gig on the east coast of Australia. I still hear faint echoes when I travel to those places. Some people get tinnitis in their ears. I get melancholia in suburbia.
In 1991 we decided it was time to do an album, so we recorded a demo on a 4-track with only three tracks working. Some of the best songs were the new ones like Dead Weight Walk and Deep Six. Then we dubbed cassettes and looked for a deal. One guy told us to get the fuck out of his office and threw our tape in the bin. He went on to become a very successful record company executive. Others were not so direct.
We released one more single, Pounding Grace. It was country on one side, bitter on the other. We were all tired. Tina kept saying “poor Plugs.” Michael stopped communicating. Then he left.
Our last gig was March1992 with Mick Meredith from The Moles on bass. No door list, and not enough room to fit all those who came. The publican said we could play our last gig there any time.
For many years I wanted to compile a CD of the Plug Uglies. In 2000, I asked John, Michael and Tina to create a master of the best available songs. We looked forward to it’s release and our reconciliation. Sadly, Michael died in March 2001, before the mastering could be completed. He wanted to write the liner notes. We miss him & Johnny, but are glad they finally exist in some form in the digital realm.