The Marksmen - Wollongong's finest
Wollongong is a large industrial city about 80kms(50 miles) south of Sydney,Australia. Nestled between the sea and the backdrop of the steep escarpments of the NSW Southern Highlands, the air has been for a long time filled and dominated by the sound and the smells of the great BHP steel works. During the post-WW2 period of migration, the steel works and coal mines of the area were a magnet for many newcomers to Australia’s shores. During the 1960's this environment was the setting for a thriving rock music scene. The teenagers of the post war baby boomer generation there were as much affected by the changes in music as elsewhere and their location afforded an independent music scene with its own bunch of popular local bands in which to thrive.
It was in this environmant in early 1961 that three school friends got together, like many boys did in that time, and decided to start a band. All were self taught and none had done any formal lessons. Ian Porter (lead guitar), George Morell (drums and Danny Coutts decided to call their band The saints. As bands did in that era they concentrated on learning and playing instrumentals by artists such as Duane Eddy and The Shadows (particularly the latte, who wre extremely popular in the countries of the Britush Commonwealth. Latter that year they were joined by ian's brother, Neil, who joined on second guitar. They never did have a bassist !) . this band lasted for most of 1961 until it spit up just before New Years Eve ( the drummer wanted to to a party instaed of a gig). Still at the amateur stage, the band had managed to score a regular gig at the weekly rock 'n roll dance at Berkeley Boy Scouts Hall during that year.
Early Days....The Tremors - Corrimal Comunity Hall - New Years Eve 1962
.....look no microphoness ! Ripping into "Apache".........
By February 1962, Neil Porter and danny Coutts had reformed the band as The Tremors, with Danny playing lead guitar, Neil taking over as bassist, David Kirkup joining on drums and adding Lyle Maclean on rythmn guitar. According to Neil the band were much influenced by US instrumental outfit, Johnny & The Hurricanes and did quite a few of their songs as well The Ventures and of course, The Shadows. Instrumentals like The Savage and the title theme from the TV show "Adventures in Paradise". As well Danny had started writtng instrumentals with titles such as "Earthquake" and "The Tremor" (latter from whence they had got thir name). another development was that they began sing. This was before the Merseybeat boom and an era when band played and singers sang and it was almost unthinkable for musicians to sing and play at the same time. So later that year, after an almost fruitless search amongst their friends, none of whom it seemed could hold a tune, they managed to lure one, Brain Davitt, to join them as lead vocalist, thereby giving the band the chance to seriously concentrate on their backing vocals and harmonies. They also scored their first paying gig, travelling 90 miles inland to teh country town of bargo for the princely sum of Ten pounds ($A20). A wider audience beckoned as they beacame popular enough locally the make several TV appearances on Channel WIN-4, the local TV station.
In Jan 1963, the band, dissatisfied with just being recognized locally, changed its name to The Marksmen and lifted its sights further afield. By this time the surfing music craze had hit Australia and the band became admirers and contemporaries of Australia's top surfing instrumental band, The Atlantics, whom they had supported once at Sydney's top surf music venue, Surf City at Kings Cross. They also appeared there alongside Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs (original lineup) but that appearance was actually such a disaster, vocalist Brian Davitt left never to return. By this time the rapid improvement in Lyle Maclean's playing (after only 1 year of playing) led to he and Danny Coutts swapping their roles of lead & rhythm. The band had now gained a respectable local reputation in Wollongong and had a photo and write-up in Teenagers Weekly, which was an insert in the national magazine, Woman's Weekly . The article was the result of the band playing at a legendary “surfie” venue called the Mocambo which started up in mid 1963 and ran for probably less than a year, into 1964. The girl who owned it was only 16 years old. She was interviewed about it by the Australian Women's Weekly and as a result the band had its photograph in a national magazine quite early in the game. They were co-resident there with the Astroneers (later the Knights) commencing in Dec 1963 and running through to about March 1964 when it closed. It’s interesting to note that the 'stomp' was the big dance craze at the time, and the Mocambo was on the top floor above offices. Each Monday morning the office staff would go in to find the plaster from the ceiling all over their desks and floors. Inevitably they got sick of constant repairs and pressured the closure of the venue.
The band by now were developing a full round of gig on the Wollongong scene. Venues such the Charles Hotel, Royal Hotel, Wollongong Leagues Club, Zondraes, Wonderland, The Tornadoes Pioneer Hall dance, Blue Haven Club (run by Doug Joyce who later founded the Pop Beat Blues agency), several surf clubs, University gigs, Wongawilli Hall as well as every little 2-bit hall around (private gigs – weddings, parties, anything!) Although the band had no residencies, at least initially because they were all Uni. & TAFE students. They did, however, have very loyal repeat customers who, after 1 or 2 bookings, seasonally booked them for everything they did. Examples of these included the Legacy Younger Set, the Young Liberals, Young Labor etc. Strangely enough, these 'elite' groups, who were usually studying to be doctors, lawyers etc, had nothing to do with the band members own University lives and the gigs occurred independently. They did all these groups annual balls, presentation nights, celebrations, private parties, etc, from 1964 to 1968 inclusive until the band left Wollongong. They were “legendary events”, according to Neil Porter, and the reputation the band gained playing at these, got it bookings for similar events in the Sydney area, including Sydney and NSW Universities. During this time local contemporaries on Wollongong's thriving scene were, in the early days, The Wanderers, Tornadoes, Chevrons, Astroneers, The Knights, and later on, Rev. Black and the Rocking Vicars, The Cast.The Nightwalkers & Erl Dalby's band, Earls Court. The Marksmen were also required to provide backing for visiting pop-stars such as Mike Furber.
The Marksmen 1965: Lyle McLean, Neil Porter, Tony Markham, Danny Coutts and Bobby Kerr
Not content to stay just covering the hits of the day by now the band had a large repertore of original instrumenats on hand, at least an albums worth. However because the band had the disadvantage of being based in a country town instead of the city, these songs sadly remained unrecorded.
In early 1964, The Beatles and the beat boom arrived, and like most bands then The Marksmen were mightily influenced by this exciting new sound so they started to play and sing the new Mersey sound songs. (Neil Porter states they were the first band in Wollongong to do so!). However, not considering themselves having good enough singing voices, they added vocalist, Bobby Kerr, making themselves a five piece line-up. With this lineup they retained a few instrumentals, but now did nearly 100% vocals, mostly with Bobby Kerr doing the lead vocals, with full harmony backing by the other band members, who did the occasional lead vocal (such as Danny Coutts crowd stopping cover of The Beatles "Long Tall Sally", in the same high key as the original, to wit). The band did anything from the Top 40 that they were capable of, however they continued to retain their own streak of originality by writing their own material. Typical songs in the repertoire at that time then were Do You Wanna Dance (vocals- Bobby), Matchbox (vocal - David), Rollover Beethoven (vocals - Lyle) and Its So Easy with a few instrumentals still mixed in like Man of Mystery and an original called Cosy. It was in 1965 too that they had the opportunity of backing the Bee Gees directly before the three brothers Gibb went over to England in search of fame & fortune.
December 1965 saw a change occur when Tony Markham took over the drum seat from David Kirkup. However a more significant event occurred at the new drummers first gig when they were discovered by a DJ from local radio station 2WL, Wilding Forbes. He immediately sought assistance from Larry Lawrence who was the promotions manager at 2WL. Larry effectively took over as their manager shortly thereafter and began to encourage the band to finance their own 45rpm record.
The band recorded two original songs, "But Why? (written by Neil Porter) " & "Moonshine" (written by Lyle McLean) which were put out in 1966 as a single for the independent Enterprise label. The actual lineup on these tracks were:- Bobby Kerr - Vocals; Drums -Tony Markham, Lead Guitar- Lyle McLean, Rythmn Guitar - Danny Coutts and Bass - Neil Porter. The Enterprise label was owned and operated by Ossie Byrne, who recorded The Bee Gees first major hit, "Spicks and Specks". He ran the St Clair Recording Studio, which was a former butchers shop, situated in Sydney's southern suburb of Hurstville. They had previously recorded with Ossie in early 1964. Like the band, he was originally from Wollongong and had started out with a home studio in his garage in the suburb of Tarrawanna, set up with the mandatory egg boxes on the walls, and a pair of 2-track Revox tape-decks. His place was somewhat of a magnet for many a local young musician. Another Wollongong band to be recorded by him there were The Finks (later to evolve into Rev Black & The Rockin’ Vicars). Two years later, the Marksmen were most disappointed when they drove to Sydney for a “real” session at a “real studio” (St Clair), to find out that it was Ossie - with all the same gear. Of course, his work with the Bee Gees put to flight any criticisms the band may have had about him. (It should be noted at this point that Wollongong's Marksmen were in no way related to the Melbourne instrumental band, The Marksmen who had a number of singles released on the W & G label in the early 1960's).
The release of The Marksmen's single generated a lot of work for them further afield across NSW and in Canberra. It gave the band the opportunity to travel to Melbourne for appearances on Ken Sparkes's, national pop music Channel O TV show, "Kommotion" and at the very "in" mod disco "The Thumping Tum". They also appeared performing the single on local Wollongong TV stations kids show, The Channel Four Club, where they also sang the Beach Boys hit, Barbara Ann, with lyrics substituted with the words of Baa Baa Black Sheep. No doubt enjoyable to the little kids but not much good for the cred !
On the 31 Dec 1966, drummer Tony Markham failed to show at the New Years gig (all the bands three drummers so far had left on or around New year!) . However he sent along his replacement, that crazy guy, Geoff Foster. It transpired Geoff had never played a full drum kit in his life! He had only ever practiced with drumsticks by bashing on his bed. The line-up was then Bobby Kerr (vocals), Neil Porter (bass), Danny Coutts (rhythm guitar), Lyle MacLean (lead guitar) & Geoff Foster (drums). Whilst Bobby Kerr still showed a penchant for singing Cliff Richard song they were also doing the latest hits such as The Monkees, "I'm A Believer" and "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone".
Around this time The Marksmen and other Wollongong bands attracted media attention when it was reported in Go-Set magazine that they had boycottied the Wollongong's Pink Pussy Cat Ball , which was organised to raise money for a local Miss Australia entrant. Claims were made in the local media that the Miss Australia entrant needed protection. It seems that a band called The Minutes had been booked 2 months before for the ball however, since the booking, members of the organising group had been trying to get a band for a lower price. They had sacked the Minutes three days before. So The Marksmen & The Knights and other bands had gone on strike in sympathy. Go Set magazine strongly defended the bands (with a photo of The Marksmen) in an article arguing that bands should be hired and paid just like the other help at the Ball.
In February 1968 a significant change in the lineup occurred when Danny Coutts, who had been with the band for six years, parted company with the band. This gave the band the opportunity to modernize and enhance their sound with the addition of a keyboard (Farfisa organ) player, Stephen Sadler, shortly thereafter. This was a time when many bands added keyboards. The band however continued, with a significant contribution by ex-member Danny Coutts, to write more & more original songs. A large portion of the bands repertoire at this point though, were still covers of Australian artists such as Atlantics, Billy Thorpe, Easybeats, etc
1968 was the year when The Marksmen were to achieve their peak of local popularity and respectability among their peers. Further broader success was to be achieved when the band won the local heats, then the NSW State Country finals of the Hoadleys Battle of the Sounds. At the heats they wowed the judges and crowd by launching straight into Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band and a couple more songs from that album. This win allowed them to represent country NSW, alongside NSW city representatives Doug Parkinson In Focus, in the Grand Finals held in Melbourne. Neil Porter remembers that “the points list made all the acts try and do something stupid. e.g. you might get an extra 20 points or portion thereof if you were 'different' in some way.” So they wore pink a year before the Zoot and their lead singer blew the 'pipe' part of a bagpipes in order to qualify for 'Use of An Unusual Instrument' (for 20 points!). He didn't play it, just blew it anyway! As well they played all originals in their set, a rather adventurous undertaking in itself at the time for an unsigned band. The lineup of The Marksmen at the Grand Finals in mid-1968 was as follows: Drums: Geoff Foster, Lead Vocal: Bobby Kerr, Organ: Stephen Sadler, Lead Guitar: Lyle McLean and Bass: Neil Porter
However notwithstanding their prestigious climb to the national finals, The Marksmen were to remain unsigned by any major record company.
More changes in the band lineup were to come before the end of 1968 when Alex Stefanovic from another local band The Nightwalkers, joined as lead singer, replacing Bobby Kerr. Earlier that year The Nightwalkers had been their closest competitors in the local heats of the Battles of the Sounds, although The Marksmen beat them to first place by 110 points (out of 300). With a new singer to meet a rapidly changing musical style, Stephen Sadler acquired the then latest Hammond organ, enabling the band to cover Vanilla Fudge & Traffic and heavier material, as well as popular Beatles and other commercial songs.
During this time the band had been developing a good following in Sydney through their gigs at Sydney University and other student functions. This led to their "discovery" by top Sydney rock agency, Absolute Sounds head, Phil Smiles. Following this the band resolved to quit the Wollongong music scene, change its name and set themselves up playing five nights a week in Sydney. They became............ Imagination.
"But Why?”/ "Moonshine" - Enterprise 1966
“It’s a Kave-In” - Compilation CD (Kustom65 K6500001) - "But Why?” and "Moonshine" - Australia.
Earthshakers (Wildworld Vol.1) - German compilation - "Moonshine".
Written by Terry Stacey 2001, 2005.
All Photos by courtesy of Geoff Foster except The Marksmen 1965 and Tremors photos which were supplied by Ged Fitzsimmons
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