Friday Night at the Oxford
$12 + $9.30 postage
Last Day of School Publishing
In late 2014 the Steel City Sound exhibition turned a long-overdue spotlight on the Wollongong music scene. And if you doubted the worth of that, then you weren’t at the city gallery when the exhibition opened. The place was packed with people, some of whom didn’t get out much any more, what with kids and day jobs. I was one of those.
What that exhibition showed was that the local music scene matters to people. It might not be considered “worthy” or “serious” enough to get a mention in the official histories of the city, but there’s no doubt the Wollongong music scene was – and is – important to the locals.
It’s that feeling that sparked Friday Night at the Oxford, a collection of band interviews I’ve written over the last 20 years – largely for the Illawarra Mercury but also for my own short-lived webzine Dragster. While most of the stories could still be found in the old copies of the Mercury, I doubted anyone would feel the slightest urge to flick through those looking for a few band stories. So I collected them all here.
So, what’s in the book?
- The feature piece that led to local legends Tumbleweed reuniting (and a few other pieces with the still longhaired fivepiece).
- A retrospective of cult act Sunday Painters.
- The glorious moment in late 2014 when the Steel City Sound exhibition paid tribute to the local scene.
- In-depth pieces on the likes of The Merry Widows. Svegies Vegies and Mutated Noddies.
- Overviews of the history of the HOPE festival and HyFest, as well as the High Beam Music label started by Jeb from Music Farmers.
- Interviews with a stack of Wollongong bands over the last 20 years, including Lariat, Rockafella, Fugg, The Dodgy World, Evol, Dropping Honey, Glab, Cikim, Dawn Collective, Phial, The Fists, Machine Translations, How Machines Work, Neveready, Porcelain and heaps more.
So if you remember any of those bands – or if you were in them – Friday Night at the Oxford gives you a chance to take a walk down memory lane. So pick up a copy and then dig out those old CDs and vinyl singles, turn up the volume and let the nostalgia run riot.
Read an excerpt
It was a Friday night that inspired this book. Not a Friday at the Oxford back in the 1990s but one much later, at Wollongong Art Gallery. On Friday November 21, 2014, the Steel City Sound exhibition opened at the gallery. A collection curated by Wollongong music scene’s don’t-call-me-guru Warren Wheeler, it looked back at the last 50 years of the city’s music scene. There are several stories about the exhibition in this book.
On that Friday night in late 2014, I headed down to the gallery, both excited to see the exhibition and to catch up with old friends. In the early 1990s I had been the roadie for The Culprits and we had arranged to meet up at the gallery and go out afterwards for dinner and a few beers.
It turns out we were far from the only ones in a buoyant mood that night. Hundreds of other people had turned up to meet with friends and remember the days when they were younger and could stay up way past midnight. The crowd was bigger than any art gallery opening I’d been to, with people spotting names they remembered from gig posters, seeing band T-shirts they once owned but had since thrown away and hearing old songs for the first time in ages.
Bearing in mind this collection has come out three years after the Steel City Sound gig, it’s not so much the actual exhibition but its underlying message that inspired the book. And that message? This shit’s important. This stuff matters to people. The local bands, the music, the venues, the memories. They all matter. In terms of the history of a city, we always talk of the founders, the early explorers, the politicians, the bigwigs and movers and shakers. But the artistic side of the city, certainly the musical side? Well, that usually gets given the short shrift by historians because it’s not “important”.
But they’re wrong. One look at a packed art gallery on that Friday night in November would tell you that.
This book is largely made up of the local band stories I’ve written for the Illawarra Mercury over the years. The bulk come from a period in the early 2000s when I was the editor of the entertainment section – then called The Beat, though there are also pieces from before and after that time. Thanks should go to the Mercury for allowing me to write so many stories about some of the bands of this city.
I’ve given the stories a very light edit for any typos that may have gotten through but otherwise they remain as they were when they first appeared in print. Which was sometimes hard to do as there are a few pieces here where my choice of words made me cringe a little.
Early on in the book you’ll notice there are a number of stories featuring the same few bands. That’s because I was reporting on other rounds at the Mercury and didn’t get to write many band stories. The only ones I ended up writing were those I pitched, and those were all about bands who were friends of mine. Things changed for a few years around 2003 when I was moved to the job of editing The Beat entertainment section, where I got to write band stories every week.
There are also a selection of stories that appeared on the webzine (that’s what we called them back then) Dragster in 1999-2000. I’d started it because I’d been moved into sub-editing at work and realised how much I missed writing, so I devised Dragster as a product to scratch that itch. As for the name Dragster, well, I stole that from a local band that featured Dave Curley on vocals.
There are some interesting pieces here; even if I do say so myself. There’s a piece about the first time the now iconic HOPE fundraiser was held, as well as another piece which offers a deeper dive into the origins of the event. There is what was meant to be an in-depth retrospective on Tumbleweed, which ended up playing a part in their reformation. And a few pieces covering that wonderful Steel City Sound exhibition.
Reading through some of these pieces reminded me of venues that had opened and closed, magazines and websites covering the local scene that only lasted a few months and long gone record labels. I also realised I have no idea how to spell HyTest’s name. Is it HyTest, Hytest, or Hy-Test? I’d spelt it all three ways at different times, though for the sake of consistency have gone with HyTest throughout this book.
Despite what the title suggests, the bands in the following pages didn’t all play at the Oxford on a Friday night. I chose that name because, for a long time, in the 1990s Friday night at the Oxford was the highlight of my week. Didn’t matter what else was going on in my life, didn’t matter which band was playing, didn’t matter if it was the middle of a stinking hot summer, didn’t matter if it was the depths of a marrow-chilling winter, heading down to the corner of Crown and Corrimal streets on a Friday night made me happy. It was a place where I felt like I belonged, a depth of feeling I’ve not had since. Whether you were gothed up in all black, sported studs, a mohawk and an Exploited back patch or nice pants and your best dress shirt or a Steelers jersey after having watched the team at the showground down the road, you were welcome. Other venues might have been prone to drunken punch-ups but I honestly can’t remember a single instance of that happening at the Occy. There never seemed to be any anger or drama, it was just good vibes – a sign that it wasn’t the pub itself, it was the people.
Which isn’t to say that other generations don’t feel that way about other venues, of course they do. That’s the shit that’s important to them. Friday night at the Occy? Well, that shit’s important to me. And if it’s important to you too, then hopefully you’ll get something out of this book.
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