Originally formed in the NSW provincial city of Dubbo as Native Sons and then The Brucelanders, The Reels were one of the most original and invigorating pop bands to emerge from the Australian new wave movement of the late 1970s. Initially the band's music was almost entirely rhythm oriented, a mix of simple and contagious pop tunes (with a dark twist at times), capped off by Dave Mason's manic, clipped vocals. The band's influences ranged from English pop (XTC) and ska (Specials, Madness) to US eccentrics Devo. Gradually, the band's music took on a slower, more melancholy demeanour without losing its appeal.
The Reels moved to Sydney in late 1978. Never readily accepted by Sydney audiences more accustomed to the Angels/Cold Chisel/Radio Birdman style of rock, The Reels nevertheless managed to score mainstream chart success. The band's debut single for Mercury/PolyGram, `Love will Find a Way'/`Spot the Ridge' (October 1979), peaked at #39 in January 1980. The band's Mark Opitz-produced debut album The Reels was full of neurotic, nervous energy and bouncy, quirky and snapping rhythms. The album's second single, `Prefab Hearts'/`Misused Abused' (February 1980), made for a bright coupling. Karen Ansel (ex-Romantics) joined the same month on keyboards.
By that stage, the band had dispensed with all guitars in favour of a four-synthesiser (Abrahams played bass synth) and drums line-up. The Reels had also begun to replace the faster, uptempo songs with a slower, more textured sound. The new sound was first heard on the single `After the News'/`Media Themes: Rupert Murdoch, Smokey Dawson, Ohira Tour' (July 1980) and the 12-inch EP Five Great Gift Ideas from The Reels (November). The EP was the band's contribution to Christmas and its most impressive cuts were covers of Jim Reeves' 1961 country song `According to My Heart' and Freda Payne's `Band of Gold'. During late July, 1980 the band had embarked on its ambitious The Reels by Rail tour of the eastern states.
At the end of the year, The Reels recorded their second album. Newham left the band in March 1981, the same month that the soulful single `Shout and Deliver'/`Depression' appeared. Quasimodo's Dream (May 1981; #31 in June) was one of the best albums of the year, and it remains a major work in Australian pop music. Alongside previous singles cuts, `After the News', `According to My Heart' and `Shout and Deliver', the album's highlight was the sparse, evocative title track. `Quasimodo's Dream'/ `Love is Here Today' also came out as a single in May. Kate Ceberano later included a gorgeous rendition of `Quasimodo's Dream' on her celebrated debut solo album Brave (1989).
The album cut `Kitchen Man' lent its name to The Reels' Kitchen Man tour to promote the album, which saw the stage set up like a kitchen with all the attendant trappings. The band's final release on Mercury was the single `No. 3'/`1, 2, 3', `Haunted' (November 1981). In early 1982, The Reels underwent a total line-up change. Abrahams, Bliss and Ansell all left, and Mason and Hooper recruited new drummer Stefan Fidock (ex-Romantics). Abrahams and Bliss joined The Numbers. Ansell issued a solo single on Mushroom, `No Commotion'/`Casa' (April 1983). She later worked in computer animation; she was one of the team of animators on the 1994 Jim Carrey feature film The Mask.
With significant help from the new Fairlight computer synthesiser, The Reels recorded the Beautiful album. Issued in October 1982 on the K-Tel label (through RCA), Beautiful was an entertaining diversion featuring a bevy of easy-listening, non-original love songs. It peaked at #29 on the national chart and within six months it had sold over 40000 copies. The album produced the singles Burt Bacharach/Hal David's `This Guy's (in Love with You)'/`Cry' (#7 in November 1982) and The 5th Dimension's `Last Night (I Didn't Get to Sleep at All)'/`Silence is Golden' (February 1983).
In July 1983, The Reels travelled to Los Angeles and then to London. The five-track, 12-inch EP Pitt Street Farmers came out in September, as did the single `Happiness'/`La Mer'. RCA issued The Reels' compilation album Unreel in October. The band ended 1983 with the release of the single `Quasimodo's Dream 1983'/`Quasimodo's Dream 1980' (December). Illness forced Mason to retire from music, and to all intents and purposes that was the end of The Reels. Hooper joined The Church as an auxiliary member, contributing keyboards to that band's excellent 1984 mini-album Persia. By early 1985 he had joined Neil Finn's new band The Mullanes, but left before Finn adopted the new moniker of Crowded House.
By August 1985, Mason had recovered from his bout of hepatitis, and he and Hooper revived The Reels with original members John Bliss and Polly Newham. RCA ended its Reels account with a final single, `It Must Be Love'/`My Family', in October 1985. The band's first single for new label Regular was a rearranged and radically slowed gospel rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival's `Bad Moon Rising'/`World's End', which reached #11 on the national chart during October 1986. Bliss left again at the end of the year and the band was down to a trio of Mason, Hooper and Newham.
Regular issued a new Reels single, a chirpy cover of Edison Lighthouse's `Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)'/`Media Themes II', in January 1987. That year The Reels instigated their Reels by Request tour with patrons calling out for the songs they wanted the band to play. In October, The Reels took the concept a little further by doing an All Australian Reels by Request tour. That concept further manifested itself with the band's first studio album in six years. Neighbors (November 1988) was a collection of 13 cover versions of Australian pop songs given The Reels treatment. Hence The Reels transposed Jimmy Barnes' macho `Working Class Man' into a waltz with a folksy, accordion-based feel, Dragon's `Are You Old Enough?' into reggae/muzak, Cold Chisel's `Forever Now' into a country jaunt and INXS's `Original Sin' into a soulful ballad. The album produced the singles `Forever Now'/`Borderless' (October 1988) and `Are You Old Enough?'/`What's My Scene?' (February 1989). Steve Prestwich, who penned `Forever Now', played drums on The Reels version.
At the end of 1989, Mason appeared in the Australian feature film Ghosts . . . of the Civil Dead. The film was set in the fictional Central Industrial Prison, and Mason played the prison queen Lilly while co-star Nick Cave appeared as the psychotic inmate Maynard. In September 1991, The Reels issued their first original single in five years, `I Don't Love You Anymore', which also featured a capella and dance mixes. In November 1992, The Reels issued `Bad Moon Rising' (Filthy Lucre Mix) as a CD single. The song had been re-mixed by the same team (Gavin Campbell and Robert Goodge) who turned Yothu Yindi's `Treaty' into an epochal dance hit. The song also appeared on the 15-track `Best of' set Requiem (December 1992), which coincided with the band's dissolution. Dave Mason is the son of one-time leader of the New South Wales Liberal Party John Mason.