15 May 2008

Rock epic of the month: "One Of A Kind" (vSpy vSpy) 1984

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

Recently, I got in touch with an old high school buddy through Facebook. He posted a link to a video in a message to me, which was of this band which we were all huge fans of. The video in question contained footage from a gig that he was at. I thought that was pretty cool.

I lost touch with him not long after I moved to Melbourne. A bit of a shame, because he was quite a funny guy.

I have fond memories of this band myself, because one of the earliest all-ages gigs that I went to was of vSpy vSpy bringing the house down with an absolute ripsnorter of a gig. It would have been probably 1986 or 87.

I lived in a part of Sydney known as the Northern Beaches, near the suburbs of Manly and Dee Why. There was this youth club in Manly, called the Kangaroo Street Youth Centre, which was in, funnily enough, Kangaroo Street. Every few Fridays, it hosted a night called "Kangaroo Rock" which was a series of great all-ages gigs involving great Australian bands. And one of these was a vSpy vSpy gig.

Oh what I would have given to have been a little bit older in those days. In the eighties, Sydney was the undisputed live music capital of Australia. Almost every inner city pub was a venue. Bondi Lifesavers, the Trade Union Club and the Hopetoun were legendary and the Cammeray Hotel was still known as the San Miguel. Bands played every night of the week. Sydney's live music scene was killed off in the early nineties due to two events: Pubs were allowed to get poker machines, and the ABC radio station Triple J went national and thus could no longer focus upon the Sydney live music scene as closely as it used to. By the time the yuppies and nimbies moved into inner Sydney in the middle of the nineties, the scene was dead.

So after this old mate of mine reminded me of this band, I had to check things out for myself. Somehow, the bassplayer/vocalist in this band has uploaded their entire back catalogue onto Vuze for easy download, which I was thrilled to bits with. And, given that most of their old stuff is well out of pressing, I had no scruples about downloading the entire lot and listening to them from beginning to end.

VSpy vSpy formed during high school in Newcastle, New South Wales, when bassist Craig Bloxom met guitarist Michael Weiley. Later they moved to Sydney where they met drummer Cliff Grigg. They started off as Spy vs Spy, but had to change their name just prior to releasing their first EP, Four Fresh Lemons.

Originally they oscillated between a kind of rocksteady-paced reggae and full tilt Oz rock. This was popular at the time that they formed - there was this whole ska/reggae thing that permeated the Australian music scene at the time, probably due to the influence of Madness and The Specials.

The Spies' music had this potent rhythmic reggae twist initially, no doubt thanks to the lovely skins work of Grigg. It wouldn't be long before some of their signature sounds started to emerge - particularly Grigg's drumming. Eventually their rock side would prevail over the reggae side.

Bloxom eventually became the lead vocalist, singing tales of inner suburban squalor. I recall this tale of Grigg (I think) being busted for squatting illegally, which was probably fairly routine for inner suburban Australian musicians at the time.

Anyway, to the song. "One Of A Kind" was recorded on their Meet Us Inside EP, which came out in 1984. They still hadn't recorded a full length LP at the time, although Meet Us Inside included not one but two bona fide rock epics in this and "Mugshot", which clocked in at 6:28 and 7:20 respectively. Not bad for a five track EP.

I don't recall them ever doing a rock epic again.

"One Of A Kind" was released in truncated form as a single, but as always the EP edit is far superior. The son itself starts with some nice rimshots by Grigg followed by the bass of Bloxom. Eventually the signature riff of Weiley's is sighted - an amazingly simple one.

Bloxom had this rather earnest vocal delivery which worked for a lot of their tunes and had progressed from the more weedy delivery on their earlier work. It would beef up further in years to come.

On this tune, as with some other Spies' tunes, Bloxom's vocals are punctuated by these little spoken rants delivered by Weiley, which scared the poo out of me when I was younger. Presumably, this is a tune about mental illness, but Weiley's vocals don't seem quite so threatening now.

Eventually, Weiley's signature digital delay pedal shows up. Weiley loved that pedal, and with good reason - nothing symbolised the Spies' sound more than that pedal. The Digital Delay was to the Spies what Robert Smith's Chorus pedal was to The Cure.

The Spies went on to record a trilogy of extremely strong albums in Harry's Reasons?, A.O. Mod. T.V. Vers. and Xenophobia [Why?] before returning to their reggae roots a little with Trash The Planet in 1989. Trash The Planet wasn't nearly as strong as the previous three, and the Spies found themselves without a label. Grigg left about this time to be replaced by Mark Cuffe.

Somehow along the way, they'd picked up the tag, "Poor Man's Midnight Oil", no doubt due to both the political content of their lyrics and the fact that they shared a manager with Midnight Oil.

They changed their name back to Spy vs Spy before recording Fossil, and around this time, I have this memory of them discovering religion and becoming committed Christians. I didn't hear much from them after this, although I remember reading something where Cuffe moved out the front of the band to share lead vocals with Bloxom and Weiley and they got another drummer.

Bloxom appears to be a chef in Mexico, now, judging by his profile on Vuze. No idea what Weiley, Cuffe or Grigg are doing.

Anyway, here is the video for "One Of A Kind". It is a single edit, but you might get the idea.

Apparently, they were big in Brazil.


Anonymous said...

hi there
great post on Spy v Spy , especially regarding their best song 'One of a Kind'
The Spy's didn't form at Nelson Bay High as you have written but after they met Cliff in 1980.
Craig + Mike had a band called the Spitfires which recorded some demo's in 1979.Cliff was playing in Sydney in a band called the Products in 1979.
You mention they changed their name prior to 4 Fresh Lemons but it was prior to Meet us Inside.
Cliff was living at 72 Darling Street Glebe and Craig + Mike were told about 'this' drummer living in Glebe , they all met up and then Bloxom + Weiley moved out of their rented flat in Cammeray and moved into the squat in Glebe.
Craig has now left Mexico + is looking at living in southern Spain , Mike is still playing in the 'Spy's' , Cliff is in Sydney painting + playing in his reggae band DubWiseUp.

positive vibes to you.

Dikkii said...

Thanks for that, W. That's excellent stuff - inside info, is it?

And Grigg's playing reggae, you say? That doesn't surprise me.

Glad you enjoyed that. One of a Kind gave me loads of satisfaction when I was younger.

Anonymous said...

Not a problem.
Well I'm a walking fact book on the band , know them , followed them and still enjoy listening to them.
Yep Grigg is a reggae fanatic , there was an unoffcial cd put out by DWU called No Mod Gen and an earlier cd e.p called ragga ruff , if you want I can burn them for you if you like!?
Got a few gig's I taped as well ...yeah One of a Kind is GODHEAD , and the video is amazing all down to the Grigg tie dyed jump suits + ww2 gasmasks.

''One or another one of a kind , we're off our faces most of the time''

praise jah

Dikkii said...

Thanks W. Nice to know that there are fans out there who don't forget.

Does Grigg have a MySpace page?

Anonymous said...

Cliff doesn't have a myspace page , he's not really interested in the spy's/past , only his painting , reggae + son.

Dikkii said...

I'll have to keep an eye out, W. Thanks for the updating - most appreciated.