The legendary X was one of the most notorious bands ever to emerge from the Sydney inner-city scene. Following on from the pioneering wake of Radio Birdman, and alongside the likes of The Thought Criminals, The Last Words, Rocks, Psycho-Surgeons, Johnny Dole and the Scabs, Filth and The Hellcats, X was among the leading lights of the original Sydney punk band explosion.
Driven by the ferocious bass lines of the venerable Ian Rilen, the raucous bawling of lead singer Steve Lucas and a melange of screaming guitars, X was long revered as the punk band to experience live. X-music was rock'n'roll stripped down to the bare essentials of noise, raw power and pure energy; in short, the band's music was tough, simplistic and incredibly loud. Writing in Rolling Stone, Clinton Walker once described X as `the eternal outsiders'. X also had one of the most turbulent histories imaginable. Original guitarist Ian Krahe died in his sleep in May 1978; the band was constantly banned from city venues, subjected to regular harassment from the local constabulary, and suffered several line-up changes, but X was persistent enough to eventually release a number of records.
Ian Rilen had been instrumental in getting the original Rose Tattoo off the ground. He left the Tatts in mid-1977 just as they were establishing a formidable reputation as an influential, street-wise hard rock band. Rilen had in mind an even more elemental and cathartic sound for his new band, initially dubbed Evil Rumours. That band comprised Rilen, Lucas, Krahe, Geoff Holmes (guitar) and Eddie Fisher (drums). Evil Rumours never got out of the rehearsal studio and, in September 1977, Rilen unveiled X with Lucas, Krahe and Steve Cafiero. During a period of uncertainty over Cafiero's position in the band, Eddie Fisher and Nino (ex-Filth) both filled in on drums. X staked out such infamous Sydney punk hangouts as the Grand Hotel, the Paris Theatre and the Stagedoor Tavern as their own territory, laying down a sound that was short, sharp and brutally honest. As well as a smattering of cover songs like Del Shannon's `Runaway', The Easybeats' `She's So Fine' and The Rolling Stones' `Paint It Black', the band's early repertoire consisted of original material of the calibre of `Degenerate Boy', `Slash Your Wrists, `You Don't Like Me', `One Last Chance', `Home is Where the Floor Is' and `Hate City' (originally written for Rose Tattoo).
With Krahe's death, X recruited Evil Rumours guitarist Geoff Holmes as his replacement. Although the original X line-up with Krahe did not issue any records, the band recorded three demo tracks, `Home is Where the Floor Is', `Hate City' and `TV Cabaret Roll', which later appeared on the third Aberrant compilation of Sydney punk bands Why March When You Can Riot? (1985). Peter Coutanche (ex-Kamikaze Kidz) replaced Holmes in early 1979. Although the band continued to attract a fanatical following, as Steve Lucas put it, `something in the core of X's being was lacking'. In mid-1979, Lucas took up guitar (to replace Coutanche) and the band continued as a three-piece.
That line-up entered Trafalgar Studios in late 1979 with redoubtable producer Lobby Loyde to record an album. The classic single `I Don't Wanna Go Out'/`Waiting' (December 1979) preceded the album X-Aspirations which appeared in early 1980. Recorded in just five hours, X-Aspirations remains raw and unnerving. There was no light and shade across the record, just stark black and white. The energy levels teetered constantly on the edge, so the overall effect was akin to a sledgehammer applied methodically to the guts. Despite the rough-hewn quality, tracks like `Suck Suck', `Delinquent Cars', `I Don't Wanna Go Out' and `Dipstick' are among the band's best. At the start of 1980, X brought Coutanche back into the fold, and the band held down a residency at the Heritage Hotel for a couple of months. By mid-1980, X had called it a day. Lucas, Coutanche (who switched to bass) and Cafiero played one gig as The Stand before Lucas formed Harold Holt and the Sharks with Michael Orland (bass) and Ken Wylie (drums). In mid-1982, Lucas formed The Feel with Peter Copeland (bass) and Chris Gormly (drums; ex-Local Product). Lucas and Cafiero, plus guest player Stuart Dunlop on bass, played one gig as X in October 1982.
In the meantime, Rilen had switched to guitar and formed Sardine v with his spouse Stephanie Rilen (vocals, keyboards), Phil Hall (bass) and Greg Skehill (drums). That line-up lasted from December 1980 to December 1981. For Sardine v, Rilen adopted a more stylish persona, replete with an impeccably tailored powder-blue suit and slicked- back hair. Likewise, the band's music eschewed the aggressive assault of X for a more refined and melodic yet brooding approach that recalled UK bands like The Cure, Public Image Ltd and Gang of Four. In late 1981, Sardine v issued the single `Sabotage'/`Sudan' on the EMI Custom label. Mushroom's White label reissued the single in March 1982, by which time Johanna Pigott (ex-XL-Capris) had replaced Hall on bass and New Zealander Barton Price (ex-Crocodiles) had taken over from Skehill on drums. Price left in April to join Models, and John Lloyd (ex-Paul Kelly and The Dots, Flowers, Icehouse) took his place. Pigott left in June to be replaced by Craig Rossi (on loan from Box of Fish). In November, Lloyd left, so Rossi switched to drums and Stuart Dunlop came in on bass.
The new line-up recorded the excellent five-track, 12-inch EP `I Hate You'. Tracks like `I Hate You', `Pictures' and `Minutes' displayed a remarkable flair, and were equal to anything produced by The Cure to that point. Not long after the EP appeared on the Phantom label in June 1983, Rilen broke up Sardine v to revive X. The X line-up of Rilen, Lucas and Cafiero lasted until November 1984. That month, X issued its second independent single, a cover of John Lennon's `Mother'/`Half Way 'Round the World'. X relocated to Melbourne where Cathy Green (ex-Cough Cough, Horla) replaced Cafiero.
In early 1985, X recorded its second album, At Home with You. Once again produced by Lobby Loyde, the album (issued during October) displayed a breadth and sense of dynamics only previously hinted at in the band's music. A lot had to do with the freshness and vitality, to say nothing of the rhythmic swing, that Green contributed to the band. The album included reworkings of `Half Way 'Round The World' and `Degenerate Boy'. For the next five years, X built-up a reputation as one of Melbourne's finest bands. Every X gig was an event, with packed houses being the order of the day. Renowned Melbourne bluesman Chris Wilson became a regular guest on sax and harmonica for the band's live shows.
In 1987, X signed to the White label, which issued the single Roy Orbison's `Dream Baby'/ `I Don't Wanna Go Out' (July 1987). The single also appeared in 12-inch format with an additional track, `Without You', added. Fans had to wait another two years before X issued its third Loyde-produced album, And More (July 1989), and fourth single, `And More'/`Getting Wet' (June). Unfortunately, the album failed to live up to the band's illustrious past, and was a disappointing release. The album was dedicated to the memory of the late Steve Cafiero, who had died in December 1988.
Rilen broke up X for a second time, and he and Green formed Hell to Pay with Spencer P. Jones (guitar, vocals; ex-Cuban Heels, Johnnys, Beasts of Bourbon) and Tony Biggs (drums; ex-Black Assassins). Hell to Pay remained together until 1993 and issued the single `Saints and Kings'/`Would You Believe It?', `Starting All Over' (May 1991), the album Steal It (August 1992) and the CD EP `Two Days Off (Five Days On)' (November 1992) on the Red Eye label. In the meantime, Lucas had formed a part-time outfit called The Groody Frenzy with Herbie Mayhem (keyboards), Anthony Ragg (bass; ex-Kings of the Sun) and Doug Falconer (drums; on loan from Hunters & Collectors). Lucas also issued his third solo album, All Too Human (November 1990), and its single, `Count Yourself Lucky', on the Mighty Boy label. During his time with X, Lucas had issued the single `City Song'/`Mr Anfenger's Fish' (October 1987), plus the albums Double Cross (backed by Melbourne band White Cross; April 1987) and Bought and Sold (January 1989). The albums displayed a gentler side to Lucas's talents as a songwriter. Lucas went on to issue another solo album, Bread and Water (1995).
In 1992, Lucas joined another high-powered Melbourne band, Bigger than Jesus, which comprised Hank Oudendyk (guitar; ex-Law), Brett Kingman (guitar; ex-Adventure, Uncanny X-Men, the James Reyne Band, Gas), Kevin McMahon (bass) and Craig Whitelock (drums). Bigger than Jesus was not afraid to court controversy via its bold use of religious iconography. Hence the name (derived from John Lennon's aside about The Beatles being `bigger than Jesus') and a penchant for burning six-foot crosses onstage. Lucas was also known to appear on stage wrapped entirely in bandages from head to foot. Oudendyk's previous band, The Law, issued two independent singles, `Some Girl'/`White Man's Law' (December 1985) and `Hang the Jury'/`Shadow' (September 1987). Bigger than Jesus' debut album, Killervision (April 1993), mixed thrash metal riffs and break-neck tempos with a solid production sound. The 1995 CD EP `Soul Feast' and October 1996 CD single `PC'/`In God We Trust' furthered the cause (although Tony Kopa, ex-Truth, had replaced Lucas as lead singer by that stage).
Such was X's legendary status that US label Amphetamine Reptile re-issued X-Aspirations on CD for the North American market. In June 1993, Rilen and Lucas revived X once more with new drummer Stefan Berg. The band held down a three-month residency at St Kilda's Prince of Wales Hotel, which attracted hordes of dedicated fans. X continued to play on an irregular basis with Cathy Green back in the drum seat. X supported UK outfit The Damned on that band's Australian tour of April 1997. Green then joined a new band, Universe, which comprised former Noiseworks member and Electric Hippy Steve Balbi (guitar, vocals), Big Bird (real name Matt McCormack, guitar; ex-Starworld), Jim Denley (flute) and Cath Synnerdahl (drums; ex-Mother Hubbard). As with Hell to Pay, Green played bass in Universe. The band issued its debut CD EP, Above Water, on the Phantom label during September 1997.
In 1998, Steve Lucas formed a new band, A.R.M. (which either stands for Armageddon Resource Management or Another Rotten Mongrel). The band’s debut CD single, ‘Blind Faith’ came out in May 1998. The material ranged from ballads to flat out rock. The single also contained ‘Hard On’, which was featured on the soundtrack of the Australian feature film The Boys directed by Rowan Woods. The original A.R.M. line-up comprised Lucas, Diane Spence (sax; ex-Wet Taxis), Michael Couvret (bass; ex-Celibate Rifles, Lime Spiders) and Chris Welsh (drums; ex-Died Pretty), but Spence had left before the single came out.
In the meantime, Cathy Green continued to work with her other band, Universe. The debut Universe CD EP, Above Water, had led to a new record deal with Festival. Joining Green, Steve Balbi and Big Bird on the new CD single, ‘Be my Gun’ (October 1998), were new Universe members Ilan Kidron (flute) and Angus Diggs (drums). The single was lifted from the forthcoming debut album, Present.