RADIO BIRDMAN + THE DIRTY SWITCHES
Mean Fiddler, London
September 13, 2003


Okay, I’d be overstating things a bit if I was to say I’d waited 20 years to see RADIO BIRDMAN, but it was in the summer of ’83 that I got my first blast of "Radios Appear", and I was truly hooked… brought all the records (and books) and magazines I could lay my hands on, that would feed my quest for information about this obscure Australian outfit, who nobody I knew seemed to have a clue, or a care about.

In the ensuing years I’ve seen the New Christs and the Hitmen, interviewed Deniz Tek for my ‘zine, walked past the Oxford Tavern, only able to imagine those raucous nights in the Funhouse upstairs, and even trailed about Surry Hills seeking out The Excelsior, and standing outside for a few seconds out of acknowledgement. I’ve stayed as in touch as I can on the Birdmen and their extra-curricular musical activities. And now in 2003 comes the culmination, and at last my chance to catch the band in the flesh.

I gotta say, I was PSYCHED for this gig.

My wife Linda doesn’t get too excited about too many bands these days, but was straight on the case for this gig, and get an early afternoon train up from Brighton, arriving in London on a super sunny and warm Saturday, the last blast of summer. We get filled up at a Thai Buffet in Greek Street, and soak up some rays in Trafalgar Square. We hit a couple of pubs then get to The Mean Fiddler at the ludicrously un-RocknRoll hour of 6.30pm. This is an early gig so the venue can then get in some Disco Clubbing punters afterwards. Schmucks.

We get inside and the place is sparsely populated, a skeletal crowd, shadowy figures huddled in corners. Momentarily, it looks quite depressing. But then I look up and see the BIRDMAN banner, and the music blasting out of the sound system is a damn fine foot tapping Garage Rock mix, and even though cans of Grolsh at the bar are over priced, at least they’re ice cold… and you know what – I was starting to feel a hell of a lot better. I’m going to see RADIO BIRDMAN!!!!

At 7pm, support act The Dirty Switches amble on stage, and with more and more punters drifting in, they at least get to play in front of a semi-respectable sized audience. Which I think may have had an adverse affect, because I guess this is a Big Gig for a band that’ll usually be shacked up in the corner of some sweaty drinking hole, and for the first few numbers there’s a slightly nervous, uptight look and feel to their delivery. They’re a pretty okay band though, steaming through some fiery STOOGES rock-o-rama, and the lead guitarist peels of hot smoking riffs, whilst the singer howls and screams like a good IGGY should. They’ve got a single out on my mate Simon’s label Sweet Nothing, and I’ll be tracking a copy down, if this bit of shameless endorsement doesn’t earn me one, heheh…

By now, the crowd numbers have swelled, and there’s familiar faces arriving all the time. A guy I know from South Wales has even driven over with a mate. And in fact there are accents from all over the UK, as well as The Antipodes, Europe and North America. I love gigs like this, where people have really made the effort, in celebration of the enduring power of Birdman's music.

The final strains of "Are You Experienced?" works the crowd in to a frenzied state. We know what’s happening next. We know who’s coming out. Our Time Has Come. And yeah, I’m ready to testify… So Let’s ROCK!

In a flash the band assembles on stage - Pip stationed left of centre, flanked by Chris Masuak. Jim Dickson operates in a zone ahead of Ron Keeley’s drum podium. And Deniz Tek, he’s dominating on the right, a look of determined intensity on his face, eyes fixed tight on his fret. There’s a mumbled comment from Rob, and then they launch into "Do The Pop", take a shot at "Smith and Wesson Blues"… and we’re off, something like two hours worth of all the hits, so many classics.

I’m not gonna get all sentimental on you, but I was hit by a euphoric wave of emotion, I was on journey back through my life, with certain songs more than others sparking off memories of places and faces from the past, with beer-fuzzed clarity, if you will. My introduction to Birdman was via the New Race "First and the Last" album, and the tracks that made it onto record, notably "Crying Sun" and "Endzone", which really got me going. And those masterpieces from "Radios Appear". What’s to say?… "Maelstrom", "Non-Stop Girls", "Murder City Nights", "Aloha Steve and Danno".

And your favourite. and mine, "Man With Golden Helmet", which was constantly getting requested by punters, and strangely always reminds me of my Dad, not cuz he’s got a Golden Helmet (yikes!!!), or he drinks Water From The Faucet (as far as I know), but for years he was The Top Man in The Language Department at the school he taught at. Maybe one day I should play him the song. I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it!

But of course, the whole shebang gets me going. I sung myself ragged. And I’m not someone who has Gods, or Heroes, but I have respect for certain people, and two of those people were there on stage, right in front of me - Rob Younger and Deniz Tek. Which isn’t to detract from the input of the other Birdmen, and the absent Warwick, but Rob and Deniz have rarely let up making music over the years, have pretty much always had a hand in the fire of some musical outlet or other. I mean, they’ve been playing in bands since the early '70s for chrissakes! Driven. Men of Steel. And to reiterate the point, I respect them.

A frenzied last charge of "New Race" (what else?) closes the main set, and it’s a pile-driving, head-popping fist in the air rendition that gets the crowd going radio-rental. Fantastic. But they ain’t getting away that easy, and we get three covers to close… I can’t even remember what the first was ["Cold Turkey" - ED] as I was on a quick recon to the bar, but I can definitely recall a rocking "Waiting For My Man", before a final blast of the 13th Floor Elevators' "You’re Gonna Miss Me"… without a doubt THE definitive cover version of this epic song.

Gig over, 10pm, which means there’s still time for a beer in the pub around the corner with our mates from Wales, before we all head home. It’s still lovely and warm, so we grab our beers, stand outside chatting amongst a mass of other punters from the show, and the arrival soon afterwards of Chris Masuak, and Ron Keeley gets a big cheer and round of applause. Everyone’s buzzing.

Tonight’s The One We’ve Waited for All Our Lives… well, some of us at least! - Pete Craven

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