|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Groups & Solo Artists|
|John Bell (vocals,
Denny Burgess (bass, vocals)
Peter Figures (drums)
Marty Van Wynk (lead guitar)
From obscure origins as a Sydney-based surf-instrumental band, The Throb emerged in 1965 and briefly shot to national prominence. Despite its short tenure, the group left no doubt about its punkish potential and they have been immortalised on record by two superb singles, their snarling "garage-punk" version of "Fortune Teller", which smashed its way to the top of the national charts in early 1966, and their group arrangement of the old English folk song, "Black (Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair)", a slashing, snarling piece of proto-gothic wonderment that pop culture historian Ian D. Marks calls "the most adventurous pop recording made in Australia during 1966".
The Throb began as The Resonettes, comprising drummer Peter Figures, guitarists Marty Van Wyk amd Paul Reay and bassist Geoff MacWalters. They were one of dozens of Shadows-influenced surf bands plying their wares around Sydney at the time. In January 1964 released an instrumental single entitled "Shore Break" on the newly-formed Linda Lee label, but it was not successful. With The Beatles pushing pop into a new vocals-and-guitars style, the Resonettes recruited singer Geoff Doyle and became Geoff Doyle & The Resonettes. In April, the group released a second single entitled "Broken Toy" but it also failed to sell so they were dropped by Linda Lee. They continued to play the Sydney stomp hall circuit and soon scored a record deal with Polydor. However the record company decided that the band’s name was a little passé.
Peter Figures: "...we got a record contract through Philips records and they thought that the Resonettes was a silly name, so they ended up making us change...to the No-Names, which we thought was much sillier.” (1) Peter Figures, Born Loser #3, 1991.
In 1964 they changed their name to the delightfully generic The No-Names, signed to Philips-Polydor, and issued two singles "She is Mine" / "All Because of You" and a cover of the Liber-Stoller song "Charlie Brown". Neither was successful and Polydor soon dropped the group from their roster, although they also backed rising new female vocalist Janice Slater on her two singles for Philips, "Wanting You" / "Summertime" and "I'm Gonna Live" / "He Really Cares".
Geoff MacWalters left the No-Names around this time, and an ad was placed in a Sydney newspaper to find a suitable replacement. After auditioning many bassists the band settled on Denny Burgess ("Denny seemed to fit in with the feel of the band the most" - Peter Figures). A few months later, rhythm guitarist Peter Reays and singer Geoff Doyle also left, but rather than replace them with two new members the remaining three found what they were looking for in English-born John Bell, who proved to be an adept singer, guitarist and harmonica player. The new line-up of the No-Names played at Suzie Wong’s Café, the Beatle Village and University and college dances. It was during one of these gigs that an anonymous punter made a remark that gave the group its new name:
"One night someone said
— and they were really trying to put us down — that
our sound was just a big throb. We thought that sounded
great! We’d been looking for a new name, and there
was … I got a lot of my inspiration from Eric Burdon
& the Animals. They were my favourite band at the
time. I always liked that raunchy sort of stuff. I
was into what the Missing Links were — really raging, jumping
around. Getting the crowd right into it."
- Denny Burgess, interviewed by Dean Mittelhauser, 1984
As the No-Names, the group had earlier approached The Easybeats' manager Mike Vaughan in the hope of persuading him to take over their management. Their first approach was not successful, but with their edgy new name and a tougher R&B-influenced style, the band managed to get Vaughan to let them record a demo session at the 2UW radio theatre. They recorded fifteen tunes, and this time Vaughan was impressed and agreed to manage them. Like The easybeats, this led to a recording deal with Parlophone through independent producer Ted Albert's Albert Productions:
Ted and Tony Geary (Albert’s A&R man) had a long talk
us. They couldn’t decide which track to put
spent about two months trying to make up their minds. We were
just on the verge of packing up and going to Melbourne... We thought
they would end up not releasing anything. Then, out of the
they rang up one day and said, ‘We’ve got this
song, that we’ve got the rights to. The Stones did
it won’t be released here.
- Denny Burgess, Livin’ End #3, 1984.
On stage, the group possessed a wild, leather-clad presence that rivalled The Easys for sheer exuberance, and Peter Figures, John Bell and Denny Burgess were all soon writing original songs. But the choice of their debut single could make or break the band with radio, so Albert selected the pick of The Throb's live repertoire for their first single -- a wild, pounding version of "Fortune Teller", a little-known Rolling Stones EP track written by the legendary Alan Toussaint (under a female pseudonym) and originally recorded by Benny Spellman in 1961.
Just as Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs had taken the Stones' rather tame version of "Poison Ivy" and transformed it into a stompin' classic hit, so The Throb made another Stones throwaway indelibly their own, and it was all that anybody who craved raw, real low-slung rock'n'roll needed. The B-side was an innovative Bell-Figures original called "Believe In Me".
The record and the live shows in its wake were unqualified successes all round. Released in Feb. 1966 "Fortunte Teller" shot to the top of the charts in most cities, reaching #4 in Sydney and #2 in Australia's pop capital, Melbourne -- a rare achievement in those days when the much-touted Sydney-Melbourne rivalry often resulted in singles from the respective capitals becoming chart-topping hits in their home cities while being totally ignored in the rival capital. The Throb rode the crest of this encouraging success with a hectic schedule of gigs:
go down to Melbourne, have a car waiting for us, play a
half hour gig in one place, then we’d be off to play another
spot somewhere else. We could be doing that for a week at a
time — thirty shows in seven days. Then there was
also the TV stuff and radio interviews during the day.”
- Peter Figures, Born Loser #3, 1991.
As Ian D. Marks recounts, fame was not without its pitfalls -- on The Throb’s first TV appearance on Saturday Date, the band got lost on their way to the set, emerging with the opening bars of "Fortune Teller" blaring out, to find that no drum kit had been set up onstage! They also had to contend with the perennial hazards of the road, as Mike O'Nash recounted in Go-Set in 1967:
"The main trouble the boys have had has
been with transport. They have
already written off four vans, one of which blew up in the middle of a
main Sydney street and burst into flames. However, with wet blankets
over their heads the boys heroically braved the blinding smoke and
searing flames to rescue their equipment.This is one experience the
Throb do not wish to repeat."
- Mike O’Nash, Go-Set, 4/5/67.
In May 1966, The Throb featured on the front cover of new music paper Go-Set and they also soon found themselves featured on the back of Kellogg’s Cornflakes boxes, and beaming out from swap cards in packets of Smith’s Crisps. Paul Culnane remembers that time thanks to a breakfast cereal:
"With that certain brand of breakfast food, a full colour pop star picture was printed on the back of the carton, and one could collect a set of all your favourites, cut them out and mount them on your bedroom wall. My memory is breakfast one day with my dad having a choice of two boxes -- two different varieties of this particular cereal for his breakfast. He approved of the photo of poppet Jackie Weaver beaming from one pack, but protested vehemently at the quartet of "long-hairs" on the other packet, who happened to be The Throb. 'What are these disgusting ratbags doing on my breakfast?!' cried Dad. Of course, from that day forward I was hooked as a Throb fan, and the follow-up single clinched it."
In search of a follow-up to "Fortune Teller" the group taped two tracks at Bill Armstrong’s new studios in South Melbourne -- a cover of a Kinks B-side "I Need You" and a John Bell original called "One Thing To Do" -- but both tracks were ultimately shelved, and they did not see the light of day until the 1980s, when Raven Records included them on Volumes 2 and 3 of the original Ugly Things LP series. Albert eventually selected the John Bell power-pop original "Turn My Head" and a radical reworking of the traditional folk tune "Black (is the colour of my true love's hair)".
As a recording "Black" surpassed the brilliance of the debut, although it reputedly proved too shocking for the tender ears of some audiences and radio types in '66, and it didn't perform as well as their debut; however it received an “A” (Outstanding) in Go-Set’s ‘Disc Review’ and it made the Top 40 in both Adelaide and Brisbane, #28 in Sydney, and peaked at #8 in Perth. More TV spots followed, including an appearance on the ABC-TV variety show Be Our Guest.
However, by the time "Black" came out in August '66, van Wynk had tired of the constant grind of touring and defected to Sydney club band The Soul Agents. The Throb soldiered on as a three-piece for a couple of months, performing in Brisbane with P.J. Proby, but in October, Denny Burgess left to join psychedelic band Honeybunch, which included his younger brother Colin Burgess on drums, Joe Travers on lead guitar and ex-Morloch member Bill Verbaan on bass.
Bell and Figures continued on for a short time longer, recruiting Bob Daisley on bass and the late Paul Wylde (later of Blackfeather) on organ to honour some outstanding bookings, but by February 1967 the group had split for good.
After The Throb ...
After The Throb had split, connections between the various members continued for some time. Denny Burgess went on to work with a succession of notable bands. In 1967 he had a short stint with feedback maestros Running Jumping Standing Still (successors to Sydney's legendary Missing Links). He then formed psychedelic band Honeybunch with his drummer brother Colin "Doggy" Burgess and guitarist Joe Travers (both ex-The Untamed). He left Honeybunch for a few months, replaced by Bill Verbaan (ex-The Morloch). Denny then briefly reunited with Peter Figures in The Square Circle. After rejoining Honeybunch, they were renamed The Haze. When they supported the Masters Apprentices late that year at Ashfield Town Hall, Colin was spotted by Jim Keays, who was on the lookout for a new drummer; he was invited to join The Masters in January 1968, bringing The Haze to an end. Denny then spent several months with Brisbane blues band Thursday's Children during mid-1968. His next known credit was a spell in the reformed Whispers, a new version of the backing band for singer Ray Brown. In '72 he got the call from London and headed over to team up with Colin and Doug Ford in the final three-piece lineup of The Masters Apprentices.
- Peter Figures stayed with John Bell, and they recruited two new members to create a New Throb: keyboardist Paul `Dog' Wylde and bassist Bob Daisley. Bob was a former member of Dennis Williams & The Delawares, and The Gino Affair (led by future Executives member Gino Cunnico), and he went on to a very distinguished career with Mecca, Kahvas Jute and leading heavy rock bands in the UK including Black Sabbath. The New Throb lasted only a couple of months, splitting in January 1967. Peter then replaced Daryl McKenzie in The Square Circle, the resident band at Sydney's famous Suzie Wongs' Disco. This group variously included Bell, Figures, Laurie Crooks (vocals), Paul Sine (keyboards) and future Company Caine members Arthur Eisenberg (bass) and Dave Kain (guitar, also ex-Untamed). After The Square Circle, Peter went on to a fruitful collaboration with singer Jeff St John, playing in both Yama (1967-68) and Copperwine (1969-72), followed by stints in Doug Parkinson's Life Organisation (1973), and much other distinguished work in later years.
- Marty Van Wynk moved to The Soul Agents, the backing band
singer Marty Rhone, and then joined The
Cherokees(1967), before forging a career as a pop songwriter
-- "Hide And Seek" for Somebody's
Image is among his many credits. Marty is thought to be
living back in his native Netherlands.
- John Bell left the music scene sometime after The New Throb broke up and moved into the building trade. He has for many years run a successful plastering firm on the NSW central coast, and although he hasn't performed professionally for many years, he still plays a very mean harmonica!
Thanks to Sydney record collector George Crotty, The Throb reunited for a special performance at George's Sixties Rock'n'Roll Reunion Party at Revesby Workers Club on 20 March, 2001. With only Marty van Wynk absent, and with the addition of Joe Travers and Colin Burgess, Denny, John and Peter played together for the first time in 35 years! They recieved a wildly enthusiastic reception, provoding one of the highlights of the evening with Denny's fierce vocal and John's scorching harmonica melting the years away as they treated the crowd to terrific renditions of their classics "Fortune Teller" and "Black".
by Paul Culnane; revised 2007.
"Fortune Teller" and "Black" are available on CD on Volumes 2 and 3 of Raven's Sixties Downunder series. The previously unreleased tracks "I Need You" and "One Thing To Do" were included on Raven's Ugly Things Volume 2 and Volume 3 LPs, respectively.
as The No Names:
"She is mine" / "All because of you" (Polydor NH-59080)
"Charlie Brown" / I Love You" (Polydor NH-59082)
as The Throb
"Fortune Teller" / "Believe In Me" (Parlophone A-8191)
Produced by Ted Albert / Albert Productions
"Black" / "Turn My Head" (Parlophone A-8212)
Produced by Ted Albert / Albert Productions
Australian Rock Archives #5 (Raven RV -05) 33-1/3rpm 7" EP
Shared with the Wild Cherries (limited edition of 1,000)
- three NoNames/Throb tracks: "Fortune Teller", "Black" and "She Is Mine"
Producer: Ted Albert
References / Links
interview in Born Loser #3, 1991
Denny Burgess interview
Livin’ End #3, 1984
Ian D. Marks
Wild About You: The Throb
Glenn A. Baker
liner notes to The Throb EP (Raven Records)
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Zbig Nowara, Paul McHenry
Who's Who of Australian Rock (Five Mile Press, 2002)