TELEVISION - The Kelpies (Head Miles)
"Two-dozen tracks of primo gutter punk" probably adequately wraps up "Television", the retrospective compilation of everything the Kelpies put on tape.
If you haven't heard the Kelpies you're in the majority, with their major exposure to date a single on Phantom, ("Take Me Away") a handful of tracks on a compilation of Sydney punk bands and a posthumous "live in the basement" album, culled from rehearsal tapes. The Phantom 7" is long out of print and the latter two were on the very dormant Aberrant label, so all are virtually impossible to find.
The Kelpies were shortlived (1981-82) but made a name very quickly by being banned from a string of venues, thanks to their rabidly violent following. Former Phantom Records chief Jules R.B. Normington has always had a colourful way with words (did you ever read his hand-written descriptions on the little white labels on record sleeves in the shop?) but when he says the Kelpies were the best live band he's seen, save for Radio Birdman, it really does mean they were worth a listen. There was a danger that the band might go down as yet another minor footnote in the history of the vibrant Sydney '80s scene, but thanks to the label operated by their drummer, Ashley "Oz Rock" Thomson, the wider world now has a chance to hear what the fuss was about.
This 24-song disc compiles all that's gone before and adds another tune, the studio version of the post-punk sounding "How Can I Tell You". The first thing that must be said is that the Kelpies were very much a vehicle for the songwriting of Mark Easton, an under-appreciated talent if there ever was one. He has a hand in each tune (except for "Change", which was co-written by singer Jim Atkins and Danny Rumour, then of Sekret Sekret and now with the Cruel Sea). The themes are the obvious punk ones of boredom, alcoholism, serial killers but there's a degree of lyrical sophistication that lifts the songs above the norm. Try the stunning "My Wall", the Easton/Atkins suicide tune, the words of which are preserved on the CD slick.
Plus, guitarists Easton and Brian Connolly didn't confine themselves to two-chord thrash, bringing in counterpoint rhythms and elements of country and rockabilly just to keep it interesting. It's not all breakneck "World of Fear", "Beer Bottle", "Die", the title track and the country-punk "Ride" are top order singalongs that make you wonder where these guys might have gone had they not been such an explosive/dysfunctional/drug-fucked unit. Great to have "Take Me Away" on a little silver disc, too.
The 2003 reunion show to launch this was a good-natured blast and the band isn't ruling out repeat performances. It did show that the songs had aged well. There should be little deterring you from making the click that counts and scoring a copy from Head Miles. One listen should convince that unrealised potential sure sounded great in the hands of 20-somethings, all those years ago.
- The Barman
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