‘What’s the concert tonight?’ one of them asks the bar-tender.
‘Slyhooks,’ says the barman.
‘What did he say?’ says the blonde.
‘Skyhooks,’ says the Brunette, not picking up on the altered letter.
‘Can’t be,’ says the blonde. ‘They’re all dead!’
By the time the first bars of ‘Living in the Seventies’ thumped out from the Helensvale Bowls Club stage, the two forty-somethings were nicely primed courtesy of what looked like a very fine bottle of Chardonnay and, through the haze of stage-fog and the flashing lights, they appeared momentarily stunned at the sight of ‘Shirl’, seemingly reincarnated.
Of course the real Shirl – Graeme Strachan – died in a helicopter accident in 2001 but Scott Dean almost brings him back to life with his curly wig, boyishly bare chest and satin pants, and – most importantly – a voice that is uncannily ‘Shirl’.
It’s anyone’s guess what the remaining – very much alive – members of the real seventies band would make of Slyhooks, but there is no doubt this tribute band has captured the essence of the archetypes. The guys have the official endorsement of Skyhooks bass guitarist and song-writing maestro Greg Macainsh.
Listening to Slyhooks was, for me, like stepping into a time machine. I didn’t even need to close my eyes to be transported back to Melbourne’s Festival Hall in 1975. Or the Myer music bowl. Or Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide. I told you; big fan.
I must declare an interest on more than one level. Slyhooks guitarist – Bob (Bongo) Champion is my brother (and let me just say the sight of him in lipstick was rather confronting). But any bias that this relationship could bring is counteracted by my status as a die-hard Skyhooks fan who almost fainted at the thought of a tribute band. This is someone who didn’t speak to her best friend for a year after falling out over who was the better band – Skyhooks or Sherbet (those saccharin clean-cut boys that some girls swooned over through the seventies). Why anyone would even consider comparing the gooey lyrics of songs like Sherbet’s ‘Summer Love’ to the raw sexuality of ‘Balwyn Calling’ or the Carlton drug deals in ‘Lygon Street Limbo’ defies logic.
The rest of the line-up in this glam-rock reincarnation – apart from Dean as Shirl and Champion as Bongo – consists of Tom Matthews as Greg in his white suit and blue eye-shadow, Pete (Freddy) Leighton on drums – who got a huge cheer after his solo (those drummers always were the baddest of the bad boys) – and Doug Savage on lead guitar looking so much like Red Symons, its eerie. All the guys come from diverse and lengthy musical backgrounds. Dean is a veteran of revival shows, with Credence and Led Zeppelin under his belt, while Leighton – the original drummer for Buffalo – has worked with Oz-rock luminaries like Jeff St John and Doug Parkinson.
The audience at Helensvale was an eclectic mix: old hippie Skyhooks fans like me, who remember nights of heavy passion sound-tracked by ‘You just like me ‘cos I’m good in Bed’ (which, incidentally, was the song chosen by triple-jays frontrunner 2JJ to kick-off their station transmission in 1975), to club regulars who came for a meal and stayed on. Arms waved and a cacophony of voices sang along to ‘All my friends are getting married’ and a couple of boot-scooters busted some moves to ‘Blue Jeans’.
The energetic hype calmed a little toward the end of the second half – the multiple key changes make some of the original Skyhooks numbers hard to dance to – but, after a short intermission and some more well-known classics, the crowd grooved and stomped and whistled and cheered till the end. Dean Scott, as Shirl, interacted with the fans: leading a conga line, giving necklaces away to some ‘Mercedes Ladies’, and convincing a few people to have a go at the limbo. Most found it impossible to keep their seats when the band belted out ‘Women in Uniform’ and there were younger rebels who joined in exuberantly to the finale; ‘Why don’t you all get …’. It was Skyhooks’ unrefined suburbia to a tee.
What happened to the blonde and the brunette? No idea. I saw them dancing and belting out the lyrics to ‘Ego is not a Dirty Word’ but I didn’t look for them at the end of the show. I was far too busy being introduced by my brother to his fellow band members.
I always did want to say ‘I’m with the band’.