Brisbane band The Riptides was one of the classic Australian new wave groups. The band's blend of diamond-hard power pop, snappy surf melodies and whomping backbeat was irresistible and eminently danceable. After becoming one of the biggest drawcards on the Australian pub circuit during the early 1980s, The Riptides called it a day in 1983. The Riptides never achieved mainstream chart success, but have proven their perennial appeal by re-forming for a number of well-received tours and albums.
The Riptides formed in 1977 as The Grudge. The band emerged from the Architecture Department of the University of Queensland. In 1978, The Grudge changed names to, firstly, The Neon Steal and then The Numbers. The Numbers were part of the burgeoning Brisbane punk/new wave scene which also gave rise to The Leftovers, The Apartments, The Go-Betweens, The Survivors, Razar, The Humans and The X-Men. In September 1978, The Numbers issued the rare `Sunset Strip' EP (500 copies) on The Go-Betweens' Able label. The tracks `Sunset Strip', `Magic Castle' and `Rules of Love' were punchy and energetic and featured a brilliant, English-flavoured 1960s-inspired pop sound.
In early 1979, Robert Vickers left The Numbers. He travelled to New York where he joined The Colors; in 1983, he joined The Go-Betweens. Mark Callaghan switched to bass, and The Numbers became The Riptides (in order to avoid confusion with a Sydney band also called The Numbers). The band remixed the `Sunset Strip' EP and reissued it in July 1979, credited to The Riptides (in a pressing of 2000 copies). Andrew Leitch replaced Alan Reilly on guitar and keyboards and the band recorded a new single, `Tomorrow's Tears'/`Some Other Guy'. `Tomorrow's Tears' was a fabulous slice of 1960s-styled R&B pop, and the band issued the single on the Flat label on Valentine's Day, 14 February 1980. The band appeared on Countdown to promote the single. The Riptides made the move to Sydney during the winter of 1980 and swiftly established themselves as one of the best live draws in town (alongside the likes of INXS, Mental as Anything, Sunnyboys and Midnight Oil).
In March 1981, Michael Hiron (ex-Leftovers, Flaming Hands) joined on bass, which allowed Callaghan to switch to rhythm guitar. Scott Matheson had also left by that stage. The new four-piece line-up entered the studio with producer Graham `Buzz' Bidstrup (ex-Angels) in mid-1981 to record the six-track mini-album Swept Away which appeared in November. `Only Time' was lifted from the mini-album as a single (also November), backed by the non-album tracks `The Riptide (Existential Stomp)' and `Shake It'. The mini-album also included one of the band's most enduring songs, the exuberant `Holiday Time'. With the release of Swept Away, Dennis Cantwell and Andrew Leitch both left the band. Callaghan and Hiron laid low for a time before re-emerging in early 1982 with a new line-up comprising Russell Parkhouse (keyboards), Howard Shawcross (bass; ex-Last Chance Café, Elks) and Graeme `Hutch' Hutchinson (drums; ex-Humans). Hiron moved to lead guitar.
Hutchinson's previous band, The Humans, had comprised Tim Collett (vocals, guitar), Paul Avenell (guitar) and Mark Purchess (bass). The Humans issued one single, `Teen Idol'/`Gotta Run Loose' (December 1979), before Hutchinson and Purchess joined. Don Pagwell (bass) and Peter Acton (drums) were The Humans' original rhythm section. The Humans broke up in late 1981 without having made progress beyond the Brisbane live circuit. The Riptides issued a new single, `Hearts and Flowers'/ `Sandarama' (September 1982), and supported UK visitors Simple Minds on their October Australian tour. By January 1983, The Riptides had slogged around the Australian touring circuit long enough and decided to call it a day. In July, Regular issued the Callaghan-assembled anthology album Riptides (aka The Last Wave). He and Andrew Leitch had recorded a new song, `The Wedding Song', to bring the track total up to 11.
Callaghan and Bidstrup began recording demos before being joined by Chris Bailey (bass; ex-Red Angel Panic, Headband, Angels) and Geoffrey -Staple- ton (guitar, keyboards; ex-Aliens) as GANGgajang. The band enjoyed several hit singles and enormous success on the live circuit. Leitch and Hiron formed Catchcry with Ross Harley (guitar, vocals), Felix Davies (bass) and Tim Seckold (drums). The band recorded two independent singles, `Blueprint #9'/`Sometimes the Night', `Catch 22' (1983) and `Congratulations'/ `Climatisation' (1985). By the time Catchcry recorded the mini-album Isle of Tears in 1988, it was essentially a studio band based around Leitch and Hiron. John Willsteed (guitar; ex-Zero), Felix Davies (bass), Geoff Stapleton (harmonica), J.J. Harris (tambourine) and Robert James (backing vocals) all contributed to Isle of Tears. Willsteed joined The Go-Betweens in 1988. Hutchinson joined Frontier Scouts with Andrew Wilson (ex-Four Gods) and Brad Allen-Waters (bass, trombone). Frontier Scouts issued the single `When Daddy Blows His Top'/ `Out of Your Shell' and the 12-inch EP Museum Collection on the Au-go-go label before breaking up in 1984.
In early 1987, Callaghan revived The Riptides for a reunion tour to help celebrate ten years of Brisbane pop culture. The line-up comprised Mark Callaghan, Andrew Leitch, Michael Hiron and Buzz Bidstrup. The reunion tour produced the double live album Resurface which came out in December 1987. The Riptides toured again in February 1988 with Callaghan, Leitch, Hiron and J.J. Harris (drums; ex-Divinyls).
Callaghan launched his solo career under the name of Cal with the acclaimed album Sailors and Mermaids (October 1988). The album produced three singles, `Do It Rite'/`Golden Years' (September), `I will Be with You'/`Changing Times' (March 1989) and `Golden Years'/`Spooky' (July). Helping out on the album sessions were members of The Riptides and GANGgajang, plus Sean Kelly (ex-Models), Peter `Maz' Maslen (drums; from Boom Crash Opera), Charlie McMahon (didgeridoo; from Gondwanaland) and English slide guitarist Chris Spedding. Callaghan toured with his solo band, which comprised Robbie James (guitar; from GANGgajang), The Riptides' Michael Hiron (bass) and Paul Wheeler (drums; from Icehouse). The singer later contributed `Do It Rite' to the Various Artists album Building Bridges on CBS (1989).
In the meantime, Hiron joined inner-Sydney band The Plug Uglies. Callaghan and Hiron revived The Riptides again for successful summer tours during 1989 and 1990. In early 1991, the pair entered the studio with new guitarist Tony Adams, session drummer John James (J.J.) Hackett (ex-Mondo Rock) and South-African-born producer/ drummer Ricky Fataar (ex-Beach Boys) to record the first full-length Riptides studio album. Wave Rock appeared in August 1991 and produced the singles `Stop (Don't Start)' (May) and `Here Comes the Sun' (August). Neil Chadwick joined as a permanent drummer and The Riptides toured once again.