MILESAGO - Features

KEITH GLASS - A Life In Music

PART TWO: Eighteenth Century Quartet, 1966-67

By the end of 1965, it was pretty obvious I needed to cast around further afield than schoolboy chums for band members. The Rising Sons had been a fun introduction to a world of teen mania and broken recording promises ­ hell, I was still only a teenager myself. In that group Iíd basically run everything, sang and played lead guitar, wrote and picked all the songs. I was looking for some solid support or contributions from others to move ahead. Iíd also flunked out of Law at Melbourne Uni but managed to resuscitate my Commonwealth Scholarship enrolling in a new design course at RMIT, thus maintaining a valuable source of income and keeping out of any possible involvement in the draft, should my number come up, which it didnít.

Once again Ian Oshlak played a part by arranging a get together with John Pugh, at that time lead singer with The Roadrunners who I knew reasonably well and Hans Poulson who neither of us knew at all. Ianís plan was to put together a band to play Hansí songs appropriating a name Hans had already used and in fact recorded under, The 18th Century Quartet.

The original members included another prolific songwriter (still around today) Ted Baarda and the enigmatic Steve Dunstan on acoustic bass, plus an unknown (to me) violinist. They had recorded on the local East label a custom record called "The World Goes On" ­ well, that was the title of Hans side with Ted writing and singing lead on the flip "Iím Gonna Treat You Good". There was a rumour this, with a percussive Latin rhythm, had become a hit in South America!

Ianís plan was to launch a new line-up of this band on the world stage as a totally original unit, the like of which had not yet been seen, playing a type of music someone dubbed "Baroque Rock". His mistake really, was to involve John and I in this because we were far too opinionated and square pegs in a round hole anyway. Nevertheless over many nights we got together with Hans and thrashed out a repertoire.

Iíll say right away that at that time Hans was well on the way to becoming one of the finest pop writers in the world, with a list of great, still to this day unheard songs. The man himself however was a walking contradiction of a gentle, sensitive soul with huge phobiaís, fears and depressions. Plus he really didnít differentiate between his classics and crap (the way most writers donít). He was hard to handle with no discipline for playing in a band and the difficult to amplify gut string guitar and bazouki were his main instruments. There were many weird and wonderful nights at Hansí space in the imposing old mansion of Labassa in Caulfield, at that time a decaying splendour and subdivided into studio apartments but since restored to full 19th Century glory by The National Trust.

After some weeks "secret" rehearsals with John, Hans & myself, Ian formalised the managerial relationship in conjunction with his uncle Hyram and together they injected some funds to complete the group line-up with bass player Frank Lyons (who came from Sydney and thatís all I know) and a passing parade of drummers (it was a quartet so they were Ďextraí members) which included future Cam-Pact Bob Lloyd, past Rising Son Dennis "Fredí Forster and present Tamworth legend Randall Wilson; who I never realised was even in the band for a time until he casually mentioned it to me at one of the annual festivals many years later.

We were measured for tailor made double breasted pinstripe suits, a photographer followed our every move, publicity campaigns were set in place, secret gigs arranged but through it all, Frank never found enough money to purchase a top (G) string for his bass, so he played with three, and played bloody great as our four recorded sides will attest. They have recently been re-issued on the Cane-Toad label album "GO!! Going, Gone ­ The GO!! Recordings Vol 3".

We put together around 40 original songs, just about all composed by Hans with a handful from John and myself. John played violin, autoharp and guitar, Hans his bazouki, guitar and other stringed instruments and I just stuck to guitar. We all sang and had rehearsed the material pretty thoroughly. It was uncompromising in itís originality and totally sideways from the rhythm driven adenoidal beat stuff around at the time. The closest equivalent was The Loviní Spoonful or The Modern Folk Quartet (but we hadnít heard the latter). Unfortunately dance and disco promoter had no idea what we were doing. We auditioned for a residency at the Show Go Disco on the Esplanade in St Kilda and got the job. However when we did the gig the promoter suddenly realised that all our songs were totally unfamiliar to anyone and that was a "no go". We were sacked after the first night of a month long engagement.

Ian kept pushing us into places we were unsuitable for which wasnít really his fault as there werenít any for which we were suitable so slowly by necessity we started to add a rock element at least to close the performances on. The teenaged audience needed to scream and after half an hour of Hanís really good songs we had totally lost Ďem. A couple of R&B ravers, which came naturally to John and I at least got us outta there, and paid by the promoter.

Hans was losing control of himself and his own group. To us he also looked and acted so unhip. We kept suggesting he try some kinky wire frame glasses a la John Sebastian and Roger (nee Jim) McGuinn and some funkier clothes (the suits were largely ditched) to no avail ­ of course a few years later he was the "happy" (and hitbound) little hippy.

It was finally decided heíd stay home and write for us and join in studio recording (if it ever came) and weíd go out and do it live. At that point the band did start to work more and we added some covers although Johnís insistence on doing the full version of Dylanís "Desolation Row" was perhaps not a real good commercial move!

We entered Hoadleyís "Battle Of The Sounds" and although we didnít win, Ron Tudor saw the potential in the band and signed us to GO!! which was the hipper imprint of Astor Records. The stipulation was we must record Hanís song "Rachael" which we had done in the competition. By that stage we saw ourselves as having an existence without Hans and agreed, so long as the other tracks recorded could be ours.

The producer was Peter Robinson of The Strangers and it turned out he actually liked our other songs, two written by me and one by John so a date was set at Armstrongís Studio and Hans would join us for "Rachael". With Roger Savage engineering we put down the four tracks in the double-quick time of half a day. They were our first two (and indeed only) releases.
First up, naturally was "Rachael" with the flip Johnís Dylanesque "Distant Relative" which gave Ron some worries with a line about "mainlining" but he let it pass given the free word association nonsensical nature of the song.

"Rachael" was well received at radio and made the Melbourne charts almost immediately. Great we thought, weíll be on the GO!! TV show posthaste. No dice because it was a "rock" show and we were a "folk rock" band. With that exposure denied it died in other states. We did pick up a Kommotion appearance or two but the disc was off the charts by then.
One other recording opportunity came our way when BEA recording studio owner Monty Maisels got us in to do the soundtrack to a half hour film doco on the Melbourne pop scene, directed by Peter Lamb. It was based on the pseudo teen lifestyle investigations of Go-Set writer Doug Panther and in best Dylan influenced style was called "Approximately Panther". It is a true document of itís time with some hysterical and revealing footage of people such as model Jenny Ham, perennial scene stealer Adrian Rawlings, the ravings of an anonymous Melbourne disco ligger, some popstars of the time, shots of The Thumping Tum (Running, Jumping, Standing Still are performing) and the window of Brashís in Elizabeth Street in 1965 with funny looking guitars priced in pre decimal currency even! We did incidental music and I also composed a song for the closing credits loosely based on "Keep On Running" (now I hear it again).

We kept working and waiting for the next disc with my two songs on it, Peter Robinson had raved over the ĎAí side "Am I A Lover" ­ he sang a nice high harmony on it and I had high hopes it would do well, waltz time and all.

We were drifting away from our managerial manufacturers even thought the talk was still of overseas conquests and fame. Really both John and I were itchy to play the blues/R&B music that appealed to us the most and little by little we introduced that to the 18CQ.

Finally single two came out and raised not an iota of interest. There seemed little point in carrying on. We did however and split from Ian and his uncle, changed the groupís name in a last splutter, introduced a new multi-instrumentalist into the line-up in the form of Julius Colman and played everything from folkie stuff to Tamla-Motown!

The jig was up, the last date was in Anglesea on January 21st 1967. Weíd even done "Carols By Candlelight" at the Myer Music Bowl before a huge crowd just a month earlier which provided a bit of closure, the first "pop" band ever on the event.

Time to get back to our roots. John and I decided to stick together and be soul brothers!

NOTE: Steve Dunstan "disappeared" in the mid 1980ís, thought murdered. His body has never been found.