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Encyclopedia entry for 'v. Spy v. Spy' LETTER:

Formed in 1980
StyleRock, ska
 Original line-up: Mike Weiley (guitar, vocals), Craig Bloxom (bass, vocals), Cliff Grigg (drums)
 v. Spy v. Spy albums: Meet Us Inside (mini-album, Powderworks, 1984), Harry's Reasons (Powderworks, 1986), A.O. Mod. T.V. Ver. (WEA, 1986), Xenophobia (Why?) (WEA, 1988), Trash the Planet (WEA, 1989), The Best of v. Spy v. Spy: The Spy File (East West/ Warner, 1992), Fossil (Sony, 1993), The Honey Island Project (Festival, 1998), Mugshot: The Best of… (Festival, 1999); Shock Poets album: Bait (Roadshow/Warner, 1995).

Formed in 1981 amidst the squats and slums of inner-city Sydney (Glebe), tenacious three-piece v. Spy v. Spy forged an identity as one of Australia's most outspoken bands. The issues of racism and the plight of the homeless were recurrent themes in the band's strongly politicised lyrics. With fire in their bellies, anger in their hearts and a commitment to change in their heads, the members of v. Spy v. Spy made a considerable impact on the Australian scene.

Englishman Mike Weiley, American Craig Bloxom and Australian Cliff Grigg formed the band originally under the name Spy v. Spy. The band was later forced to modify its name to v. Spy v. Spy in order to avoid legal action from the publishers of Mad magazine which featured the comic strip Spy vs Spy. The band's earliest records, the single `Do What You Say'/`Table Tea and Mix' (April 1982) and the EP Four Fresh Lemons (August) on the GREEN label bore the Spy v. Spy moniker. Those early records displayed a strong ska inflection which found the band instant favour amongst the rude boys who packed into Sydney pubs like the Sussex Hotel. The band gradually replaced its ska leanings with a more effective, primal, no-nonsense pub rock sound.

Having made a minor impact throughout 1982, the members of v. Spy v. Spy went their separate ways in early 1983. Bloxom joined The Numbers in March, remaining with that band until July. At that point, v. Spy v. Spy reconvened with second guitar player Marcus Phelan (also ex-Numbers). 1983 was not a good year for the band. First Weiley took ill and was confined to a hospital bed for an extended period. Second, the band's gear was stolen and finally Phelan left. Undaunted, v. Spy v. Spy acquired a manager in the shape of Gary Morris (Midnight Oil) and entered 1984 with renewed vigour. Nevertheless, the mini-album Meet Us Inside (October 1984) and its single, `One of a Kind'/ `Where are We Going?' (November), were tentative and somewhat stilted.

The band's debut, full-length album, Harry's Reasons (March 1986), was much stronger with a clear socio-political focus. The title track was inspired by a friend's misuse of heroin (`Harry' being a euphemism for the drug); `Give Us Something' was directed at the media; and `Injustice' was dedicated to the Aboriginal Arts Council. Those three songs appeared as the singles `Injustice'/`The Wait' (August 1985), `Give Us Something'/`Dangerman' (February 1986) and `Harry's Reasons'/`All Over the World' (May). The band later contributed `Injustice' to the Various Artists album Burning Bridges on CBS (1989).

The band signed a new deal with WEA and followed up Harry's Reasons with the album A.O. Mod. T.V. Ver. in November 1986. Once again, the album produced three singles, `Don't Tear It Down'/`Go to Work' (November), `Sallie-Anne'/ `Use Your Head' (March) and `Credit Cards'/`The Wait' (July). The strident `Don't Tear It Down' was written in protest at the demolition of Sydney's historic buildings. It became the band's biggest, and most memorable, hit when it peaked at #11 on the national chart. A.O. Mod T.V. Ver. also reached #11 in February 1987 and went on to attain platinum status (70000 copies sold).

Issued during Australia's Bicentennial Year of 1988, Xenophobia (Why?) (March) was a timely release, a reminder to all that change was needed before celebration. The album included three singles, `Forget About the Working Week'/`Flares' (December 1987), `Clarity of Mind'/`Mingle'n'Mix' (May 1988) and `Waiting'/`Back on the Track' (August). Xenophobia (Why?) peaked at #14 in Australia, and was strong enough for WEA to issue it in 14 countries. In early 1989, v. Spy v. Spy travelled to the UK in order to record its fifth album at The Manor Studio with Craig Leon (The Ramones, Blondie, The Bangles). Trash the Planet (November 1989) was the band's most refined and cohesive release. The singles `Hardtimes'/`A New Start' (November), `Clear Skies'/`Asleep at the Wheel' (February 1990), `Our House'/`Hooligans' (May) and `Oceania' (August 1990) still displayed the inspirational power that the band continued to muster on stage.

Cliff Grigg left the band at the end of 1991 to be replaced by Mark Cuffe (ex-Ludwigs). Grigg joined Mixed Relations as guest percussionist. Following a year's absence from the live scene, v. Spy v. Spy set out on tour in support of the June 1992 `Best of' collection, The Spy File. The band signed a new deal with Sony for the album Fossil (May 1993), which produced the CD singles `Comes a Time' (March) and `One Way Street' (June).

With the break-up of v. Spy v. Spy in 1994, Bloxom and Cuffe began experimenting with new approaches. Cuffe stepped out from behind his drums to take up guitar and vocals. The pair recruited Paul Wheeler (drums; ex-Icehouse) to form Shock Poets. The band travelled to the USA to play gigs in New York, which resulted in a meeting with producer Jim Nickel. Nickel subsequently produced the band's debut album, Bait, in his Pachyderm Studios in Minneapolis (where Soul Asylum recorded its debut record). Bait and its CD single `Never Should Have Bothered You' appeared in November 1995, and the band returned to Australia to tour.

The members of v. Spy v. Spy reformed in 1996. The band toured Brazil and discovered they were immensely popular, deciding to live there and only returning to Australia in 1997. The band’s new album, The Honey Island Project (April 1998), was largely overlooked but the band continued to tour. Festival Records issued the 19-track compilation CD, Mugshot: The Best of… in November 1999. As well as classic tracks like ‘Trash the Planet’, ‘Injustice’ and ‘(Don’t) Tear it Down’, the album included five previously unreleased cuts.

Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop / Ian McFarlane 1999
under licence from Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd


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