Posted September 15, 2009

Purple Hearts reunion photo courtesy Robot International


Influences on the early Australian rhythm and blues and beat music scenes don't come much important than the Purple Hearts.

Born in Brisbane and transplanted to then centre of the Antipodean music universe, Melbourne, the Purple Hearts traded in a currency of raw, high volume songs, a la the early Yardbirds - in more ways than one.

For one parallel, they were fronted by an expat Englishman in Mick Hadley who'd been schooled in the white man's blues and R & B music whilke growing up in the UK and whose powerful vocals were as good as any local blues shouters who'd follow.

Like the Yardbirds whose ranks included Clapton, Beck and Page, the Purple Hearts were home to this country's first guitar hero, the late Lobby Loyde.

The Hearts burned briefly and brightly, leaving behind half-a-dozen 45s and an EP, including one of the hardest-hitting singles of their era in "Of Hopes And Dreams And Tombstones". Their reach may have been limited by a lack of original material (a common trait among Aussie bands in the early wave of rock and roll) but a commitment to unabashed toughness in their music set them apart from their peers.

Members went on to a slew of subsequent bands, most notably Lobby Loyde & the Colored Balls (not to be confused with the post Purple Hearts outfit of the same name) and the Easybeats (who recruited drummer Tony Cahill.)

Down the years, the most consistently active ex-Heart was Mick Hadley. He became something of a musical institution in Brisbane with bands like the Shakers in the '80s and '90s (whose ranks included the Survivors engine room of Jim Dickson and Bruce Anton.) Now on the blues circuit, Hadley now fronts Mick Hadley and the Atomic Boogie Band.

Interest in the Purple Hearts has always been strong with collectors eagerly seeking out their records, and re-issues label Raven compiling their singles on a 1979 EP and subsequent LP. Then a handful of reunion shows in 2005 and 2006 (without Cahill who had suffered a debilitating hand injury) coincided with a stunning CD compilation, "Benzedrine Beat" on the Half a Cow label.

"Benzedrine Beat" collected all the recorded output, added some unreleased songs and was rounded off by a live bracket by the post-Hearts, non-Loyde Coloured Balls (led by bassist Bob Dames and fronted by Hadley.)

Now Mick Hadley is poised to play his first Sydney gig since 1967, as main support to the Stems at their last second-last show ever, at Notes in Newtown on October 10. If Hadley's recollections of his last Sydney gig are vague, the passage of time makes that entirely understandable.

"I was thinking about that the other day," says Hadley down the Skype line from his home in Currumbin, outside of Brisbane. "I think it would have been one of (manager) Ivan Dayman's venues, The Bowl in Castlereagh Street.

"We broke up in March '67. Our final show was in Brisbane that year but we stopped en route from Melbourne and did a couple of Sydney shows.

"We started in Brisbane but we were always pretty much based in Melbourne. We were probably in Brisbane for only nine months.

"Brisbane was pretty much a large country town in those days. We had one venue, the Primitif, and worked there sometimes three times a weekend.

"We'd do Saturday morning, Saturday night then a Sunday afternoon. Probably three or four sets a night. We used to work pretty hard back then.

"There were also quite a few dances in church halls and so on. It was pretty vibrant, really. Even though it was a country town there were plenty of people putting on shows."

Named in honour of a nightlife-sustaining amphetamine, the Purple Hearts didn't deliberately set out to take on the establishment - even if it turned out that way.

"We got a fair bit of flak back then. The hair was a big issue and Bob Dames had the longest.

"But we didn't set ourselves up as anti-establishment. They (the authorities) didn't catch onto the name. It was an American war medal to most people and it went over most peoples' heads, really."

Uppers were finding their way to Australia via visiting US servicemen and were one way of making it through the night for bands for whom a healthy work ethic was a pre-requisite for success. If you're lamenting the lack of venues in Australia these days, the schedule against which the Purple Hearts and their peers worked provides pause for thought.

"We worked pretty much every night of the week," Hadley says. "Sometimes we'd do four gigs a night.

"I know that sounds bizarre. In those days though, you didn't have a lot of equipment and it was haphazard in some ways. You'd roll up to a venue, carry up your equipment, plug in and play. You'd do 45 minutes and go on and play somewhere else.

"We'd usually end up at the Thumping Tum (the pre-eminent Melbourne disco) late at night. You'd end up pretty buggered. We were pretty high energy, but were also young and fit."

Hadley admits he doesn't know much about the Stems - "I've moved more in the blues area for the last 20 years so I haven't kept up with the mod/garage sort of scene" - but the prospect of a big show in Sydney was hard to resist. A call from Born Loser 'zine editor Beccy Connell was critical in the gig coming together.

"Beccy rang me because of the Born Loser fan zine she was putting out. She did an interview and mentioned she was putting on this show with the Stems and would my current band be able to come down?

"I spoke to the guys in my band. It didn't work out so I offered to come down on my own. The Booby Traps are going to play for me and they seem pleased with the prospect."

It's poised to be the next best thing to a Hearts reunion - with Lobby Loyde's passing obviously ruling that out. It seems that Sydney couldn't quite muster a backer for those shows, although the band did make it to Melbourne.

"I hadn't really thought about doing a reunion," Hadley reflects. "It's a bit cosmic. Something in me said if I was going to do it, it was now because time was running out.

"Then we got a call from the Woodforde Festival. The girl who was running the blokes tent had been issued a challenge that she couldn't get the Purple Hearts for a reunion. Then she gave me a call.

Lobby Loyde at the Purple Hearts reunion shows in Brisbane. Photo courtesy Robot International

"Lobby was really keen. He wasn't well but didn't know he had lung cancer. He thought he had this nagging flu.

"He drove up with his girlfriend and it was bloody hot. Up there in the 30s. every day.

"We got together in a rehearsal place to play. That was amazing. We hadn't been together for 40 years.

"I got a lot of complaints that people could't get up to Woodforde so we did a couple more shows in Brisbane.

"By then Lobby had been diagnosed and was on steroids. He stayed at my place and was drinking too much coffee. He was bit depressed but played very well.

"It was a great experience and I'm glad I did it."

So what can we expect from a Mick Hadley set list?

"All the hits and the B sides!"

To which the response has to be: "You Can't Sit Down".

The Stems + Mick Hadley & The Others + The Booby Traps + The Snoozefests play Notes at Newtown, Sydney, on October 10. Tickets are selling here.