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The Philisteins
This article originally appeared in NFH #20 in the winter of 1991

Ask the Philisteins to explain the source of their unusual style and the answer comes quickly back: "We're Tasmanians!". The mind conjures images of the whirling, drooling beast in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, and it's an apt one, because the Philisteins are nothing if not a whirling, drooling beast of a band. Their unique blend of 60s psychedelia and 70s punk is shown off on their two Greasy Pop mini albums; 1988's Bloody Convicts and this year's Some Kind Of Philisteins. Convicts also got a US release on Sympathy, while 3 cuts from Some Kind made it out on a Sympathy 7" ep. Ask vocalist / guitar player Guy what his favorite bands are, and there's no hesitation...a torrent of names spill out, ranging from the Yardbirds to 13th Floor Elevators to MC5 to the Jam to the Lizard Train and Space Juniors (!) Right off the top of his head he rattled off 57 names and then said, "Oh, fuck, I could go on forever!" Guy is clearly nothing if not a music freak.

So what's all this about Tasmania? Well, the place DOES exist, after all...it's an island state of Australia off the southeast corner of the country, and features one modest sized city, Hobart, which is where this tale begins in 1985 with three friends jamming at home...Aydn Hibberd on guitar, Scott Harrison on bass and Charlie Shackloth on drums. Things became serious when they were offered a gig at a birthday party, but they needed a singer, so Aydn recruited his school mate, Guy Lucas, who added another guitar and a vast knowledge of 60s and 70s garage and punk bands. They played the party under the name Cheesemongers and were deservedly disliked, as they had some work to do to get their act in gear. By early 1986 the band had shifted line ups and acquired the present name through the grace of a friend named Stewart Tabert, who subsequently would become the drummer.

Stewart explains the name: "I was staying at my mother’s place down in Tasmania, because she lives down there, and it was very late at night and I was listening to the Damned Black Album and she came in and said "Will you shut up, you Philistine!" and I thought "Great, I wonder what that means?", so I looked it up in the dictionary and I thought that's not a bad monniker for the band." Stewart's mom, we might add, was a music teacher. One suspects she may have since changed professions.

A year of typical band activity followed, with gigs around Tasmania resulting in the group getting booted out of a number of clubs for dressing badly or spilling drinks on sound men, or Guy getting his teeth knocked out by a bouncer, or group members arguing over general band philosophy and the usual stuff. Some unusual stuff, too...Aydn getting in a brawl with a jogger and getting thrown in jail for two weeks, Guy and Aydn both cutting their hands badly in various forms of horseplay. All this resulted in much wasted time for the band, but by year’s end they did manage to put out a cassette of their originals and fave covers. Entitled Reverberations, it includes some songs from both of their mini lps, but in embryonic form. The line up for Reverberations consisted of Guy, Aydn, Scott and Konrad Park on drums.

"We recorded Reverberations to make money to leave", says Guy. "I don't like it at all...it sucks, but you've got a copy of it and there were only 200 made. Me and Stewart drank much of the proceeds before we left the state, but it was fun."

"Somewhere along the line Charlie, our first drummer, got the shits on having to practice and told us to get fucked. It probably accelerated our musical development getting Konrad on drums but he was never a part of the band in that, as great a musician as he was, he never hung out with us and liked a lot of jazz and funk and never took the Philisteins too seriously (neither did we), and played simultaneously in several other groups that we had no respect for. So when it came time for us to leave Hobart we knew he wouldn't make the move. As far as gigs were concerned, because of the conspicuous lack of rock action in Hobart anyone who didn't realize what a bunch of delinquent arseholes we were really dug us and we did get a really good reaction from the younger crowd down in Hobart. The elder crowd kind of frowned upon our sudden (and to them alarming) rise in popularity. I'm talking about older musos and fuckwitted scenesters who thought they were hot shit. People could call me paranoid but there was a fair sized smear campaign aimed at us at one stage, although most of the gossip was true! We had to get out 'cos it was closing in fast and self destruction was imminent. Me and Scott were fighting a lot of the time, too. I thought he was an egomaniac and he thought I was a fascist and leaving our seeds of discontent behind once we got to Adelaide the old wounds were soon healed, temporarily."

Konrad didn't follow the other Philisteins to Adelaide, so it was back to the search. This time it was another old friend and fellow Tasmanian named Mark Coombes. The band played their first Adelaide show in June of 1987, and right afterwards Mark quit due to a dispute with Scott over $500 Scott owed him. The band still had one gig lined up to do, and they begged Mark to play, but when the night of the show came, he didn't appear. Desperate, Aydn talked the opening band's drummer into filling in, even though he only knew two of the Philisteins' covers. They liked him so well that they asked him to join up. His name was Nick Bruer.

About this time, the live show began to really come together, and the Philisteins were developing a degree of confidence as a result of finding a good sound man and playing with some of their future Greasy Pop label mates. But they couldn't take prosperity long...Scott was soon in trouble for running up a $1200 debt "of a personal nature" (sniff sniff). A Philisteins gig at the Woodlands Inn was graced with the attendance of the aggrieved party accompanied by some singularly athletic friends wielding baseball bats. The Philisteins convinced them of the financial wisdom of allowing the show to proceed, but eventually the band ran out of encores and Scott was thrashed soundly, his bass and borrowed amp taken, and threats were made with regard to the other members' gear. Guy and Aydn concluded that this was no way to run a band, and reluctantly gave Scott the boot. Thus ended the career of a founding Philistein.

Scott was quickly replaced by Ian Wettenhall, who learned the set in four days in time for his first gig. The departure of Scott made the Philisteins more organized and they began to think of touring beyond Adelaide. To this end, and also with hopes for a record deal, they recorded a demo tape. But after that, Nick decided he wouldn't be able to give up his job to tour, and he volunteered to leave the band so as to not hold the others back. The demo was handed to Doug Thomas at Greasy Pop, since the band had heard that he was collecting tapes for what would become the Oasis II compilation...they'd been trying to get hooked up with Greasy Pop from the day they first moved to Adelaide.

"We really liked the Spikes, Lizard Train, Primevils and Mice so we bullshitted to all of our friends that we were going to Adelaide to record for that label", says Guy. "It still amazes me that it actually happened 'cos initially it was total fabrication!"

"Doug heard about this pack of wankers who'd purportedly moved to Adelaide to be on his label and he bothered to check us out one night at Flinders Uni. We played so shitty that night I swear I'm amazed he bothered to see us again. He came to a later gig at the Century after Ian joined and taped us on a Walkman and later asked for some demos. We recorded "Early Morning Memory", "Could It Be Me", "Cerebral Pause" and "Can't Get Away From Me" on a Tascam 244 Portastudio. Doug chose "Early Morning Memory" for the Oasis 2 compilation but asked that we rerecord it at Bartels St. We did four songs and he liked them enough to request four more...that was Bloody Convicts. Nick was good enough to stay with us until the sessions were complete and I asked Stew to join and met him in Perth with my girlfriend."

Riding a motorcycle on the way to the photo session for the album jacket Aydn and Ian were hit by a car that ran a stop sign. Both suffered substantial injuries including compound leg fractures requiring screws and pins to be inserted in the bones to make them heal. The photos for the record were thus shot much later, and the one used for the back features Stewart instead of Nick. Ian and Aydn are both sitting, and you can see a crutch in the background.

"Bloody Convicts came out musically as we had hoped but we were not pleased with how clean it sounded in parts", says Guy. "We tried to correct that with the Some Kind Of Philisteins record. I thought we compromised some of the guts of our live sound for good production on the first. I think it's OK but it's not as wild as it should have been. "Early Morning Memory", "Cerebral Pause", "Cul-de-Sace" and "Could It Be Me" were recent when we put them on tape. "Peppermint" and "Apeshit" I wrote when I was 16 and they were performed in an earlier band I was in. "Bite The Bullet" was the first song I wrote with the Philisteins in mind; that's from early 1986. We rehearsed our bums off before we went into record so as not to waste any time or money. So it was recorded in two days, although those two days were two months apart since I was in Perth getting Stew in the meantime."

"Stew shit in his pants when he heard the tapes. He didn't think he'd be able to play as fast as Nick, but he got it down soon enough. Stew had only been playing 8 months when I asked him to join. We needed a friend in the drum stool who had no other priorities. I said "You don't have to look like Keith Moon, but if you can drink half as much, you're in!". A pretty fuck witted thing to say, but I wanted Stew to join as the lost missing fourth Philistein and making him less nervous about it helped. Sometimes before we played early shows he'd be shaking like a total wreck. I'm glad to say he's now more confident, because we kind of threw him in the deep end to begin with. In short, Stew cooks! Nick Bruer is still a good friend of ours and we were sorry to lose him, but it was his decision. Nick is also a very accomplished guitarist and a top fellow as well. He helped us out a lot and I can't overemphasize this."

Stew wasn't the only one who felt his bowels moving when he first heard Bloody Convicts; its eight songs show off a totally unique brand of music that falls neatly in between seventies punk and sixties psych. The Philisteins use the twin guitar attack to perfection...as opposed to the rigid rhythm and lead assignments that guitar players normally get, Guy and Aydn play whatever they feel like, so that at times there are two rhythm guitars, at times two leads, and sometimes one of each. The playing is invariably inventive, but it doesn't forget to keep up the energy...Bloody Convicts rages mercilessly.

Says Guy: "If at times it sounds like the instruments are competing with each other that's 'cos sometimes they ARE! Trying to outdo one another, but only sometimes, though. Aydn and I both play lead and rhythm guitar and Ian does whatever he feels like be it basic or complex. Sometimes it works, sometimes it sounds like a piece of shit. We play what gives us a kick or a buzz. Often I get the feeling that a lot of people don't know where we're coming from. We try to sound like a bit of a change from the regular use of guitar, guitar, bass and drums, but I'm hard put to say if we succeed. That's best left to whoever bothers to listen to us!"

Despite the obvious brilliance of Bloody Convicts, the Philisteins still never became crowd favorites in Adelaide. So in June of 1989 they decided to head out on the road and see what they could do for themselves. They played Melbourne with the Celibate Rifles and then went back to Tasmania for some shows in Hobart. "It almost destroyed us", says Guy. "Aydn got pushed onto some broken glass, but he was fucking legless in more ways than one (he'd just come off sticks after a skateboard injury) and nearly cut his left thumb off. We were out of it stuck down there till late November and we actually split up for a month until we realized what we were throwing away. In short it was good to see old friends, but we should have played and left immediately after that. Instead of getting our act together in Sydney we were back in the place we'd striven so hard to leave, through no choice of our own, losing respect for one another as well as our minds."

So the band moved to Sydney, the biggest pond in Australia, to see if they could make any headway there. Not that the Philisteins regret having moved from Tasmania to Adelaide in the first place. "Adelaide was the right choice for the band to move to", says Guy. "We met a lot of great people there and generally I prefer Adelaide bands to say Perth or east coast groups. I get the feeling that Adelaide bands have more integrity in that they play what they really want without the pressure or hype associated with scene bullshit so prevalent in Sydney. I hope that doesn't piss anybody off, but that's what I think. A lot of people who are from Adelaide put it down, but although it can be rather dull at times, financially and psychologically I find it easier to deal with. We left Adelaide because we felt a rut coming on and it was a case of split or split up."

Back in action once again, the Philisteins recorded their second opus, Some Kind Of Philisteins, in late 1989. Three songs from it were released on a Sympathy single here in the US, but the full record is a six track 12" ep on Greasy Pop. The sound is dirtier and more punkish than Bloody Convicts.

"The Sympathy single is three songs off Some Kind Of Philisteins and a demo of "Train To Disaster" that we recorded when we were in Melbourne in June 1989", says Guy. "The sound on the single is slightly flat compared to the Australian mini-lp. I personally prefer our second record mainly because the production is closer to what we were after...a bit dirtier. Also because it was more enjoyable to do those songs in the studio. Some Kind Of Philisteins is about people who withdraw and turn ugly and twisted trying to justify it by blaming external forces rather than their own shortcomings. It's addressed to myself, to be honest, but it applies to more than just me. "Outside" is an old Downliner's Sect song. We just chose it 'cos we liked it and revved it up somewhat compared to the original. "Don't Fool Yourself" speaks for itself. "Dissatisfied" is even more obvious, but it pulls no punches. When things go wrong it's too easy to point the finger. "No simple reason why" is the refrain."

" "Amsterdam" is the first song Aydn and Scott wrote in the band. It was written in 1986 but only recorded in 1989 'cos the arrangement never cut it until quite later. It's sort of an anthem "I'm going in there man, that's the master plan". Some reviewer in Adelaide called it unsophisticated...I dunno what he's talking about. Aydn sings that real well, I figure. "Thoughts Of A Madman" was originally by a Texas band called the Nomads in 1966. We chose it because we could cut loose on it and have some fun. The sentiment of the song is kind of morbid, and speaking personally I was firmly convinced that I was losing it at the time, but it was delusion...I needed a change. As to whether the sound of the band has changed, yes, but I don't know where or how exactly. Possibly more aggressive, more confident, more racket. I dunno...hard to say."

"We've changed since that was recorded, but you'd have to hear us to know whether it's better or worse. I think we're a lot better than before. The next record will tell us whether we should continue in our present mode or not. I hope it will be THE record by us, but who knows? Nothing is certain save our love of playing."

That brings us to the present, with the band currently lodging in Sydney and trying to get gigs. It hasn't been easy. "We sent promos, photos, bios, etc. to various promoters and venue operators but before any are willing to confirm we really need a manager to hassle the bastards", says Guy. "None of us have any desire to deal with the "right people", thus gigs are slow coming - bands we've played with are the Horny Toads, Lazarus (ex-Moffs), Buttheads (Gene and Paul ex-Space Juniors) and Roddy Rayda and the Surfin' Caesar's."

They made the trip to Melbourne again in April and played gigs with the Lime Spiders, Puritans, Dirty Lovers and Cracked Jaffas. The Melbourne gigs seem to come off better than Sydney shows...there are no problems getting shows lined up and they have a comparatively easy time getting some radio airplay to boost interest in their appearances on the shows that support independents, whereas in Sydney only one of the three djs that has any likelihood of playing them actually has.

At present they're saving money for their next recording...they've been set back by the fact that Guy's amp cashed in its chips in Melbourne so they spent $1000 to replace it and now their band fund is dry. But they have recorded a version of "From Home" for the forthcoming Troggs compilation to be released on Dog Meat records by Dave Laing. Guy says that they've attempted to go for an even rowdier, live sound on this cut. As of June the plan was to record another 6 or 7 originals in July or August, but that was strongly dependent on their ability to bring in some money with their live shows.

Overseas interest at the moment seems to far exceed local interest. "There's more mystique about a band from the other side of the planet, I guess", says Guy. "Locally we don't sell too well; we don't fit into any category too simply. To the thrashers we're 60ish, to the 60's heads we're "not authentic enough", to pop fans we don't exist and to a lot of others we're just not quite right. People that like us, thank you! Those that don't even listen, who cares?"

So be looking for their next mini lp, which will probably still be on Greasy Pop under the tentative title Lifestyles of the Wretched and Forgettable, according to Guy. It'll be fun stuff, I'm sure.