This is an extract from I’ll Be Gone; Mike Rudd, Spectrum and How One Song Captured A Generation by Craig Horne. (Published by Melbourne Books.)
Pink Floyd. Traffic. This was where it was at. These bands were making music you could think about, be drawn into and absorb. That’s what Mike Rudd wanted to do, he wanted to turn music on its head; like an abstract artist he wanted to create a new tonal reality, a blueprint for Melbourne’s live music scene to follow. This wouldn’t be music designed to bop along to in small, inner city clubs. This would be music designed for listening, in concerts staged in town halls or theatres, at festivals or in large venues. It was music calling for visual representation. Flashing red lights just didn’t cut it anymore. Mike’s new progressive music demanded an evocative presentation; it wasn’t trivial disco fare; it was a serious form of avant-garde expressionism and at the butt end of the sixties it was knocking at the door of the Melbourne rock scene. By January 1970 that door busted wide open and in stormed progressive rock’s most unique and arguably greatest exponent: Mike Rudd’s Spectrum.
Through the latter half of 1969, Mike was secure in the knowledge that the new songs he was writing were coming together, especially their sound; a sound that was eclectic, rich in colour and imagination; one that incorporated rock and improvisational jazz, even classical elements. This was a vision that covered the full musical spectrum. It was Mike’s wife Helen who suggested ‘Spectrum’ should be the name of the band. Mike said, ‘I readily agreed, naming bands is always difficult.’ He had a band name so all he needed now was to find musicians.
Mike wanted the keyboard to be a feature instrument in this new line-up and found someone who could play one in David Skewes, who just happened to live over Mike’s back fence. Next, was to find a suitable drummer. That was a bit harder.
In an interview with Margot Huxley, Mike is quoted saying:
The first thing I had to find was a drummer. I’d say a drummer is the biggest hang-up of any group. Universally it seems, that anyone can hit the drums, so all these idiots become drummers, really bad, incredibly dopey and stupid. They might even be able to keep time but that’s not the point. They’ve got to be able to interpret as well … I got in touch with this guy … who put me on to eighteen-year-old Mark [Kennedy] … almost immediately I knew Mark was going to be the guy … he tuned into whatever we were doing just like that.
And Mark Kennedy was certainly the right drummer for Mike; he could follow anything Mike threw at him.
At first Spectrum were going to be a three-piece, with Mike moving between guitar and bass.
The basic concept was that it was going to be a very quiet group. We put down some song ideas on tape and started to work up the set, but then David got married and he couldn’t survive much longer doing nothing. He had an offer to go to Perth playing rubbish for $80 a week and he took it because he had to.
Luckily for Mike he quickly found the classically trained Lee Neale who had played organ in the band, 1987:
When I first met Lee Neale, (actual first name Leo), he was in a band called 1987 (futuristic in 1969), and was playing a green plastic Farfisa organ with brown trim that he continued to play for at least the first year of Spectrum’s career.
Meantime Mike decided he wanted to play guitar and forget about the bass, so the search was on. Mark Kennedy suggested a guitarist he used to play with, a fellow called Bill Putt, ‘I didn’t know how he was going to work out, but he seemed a pleasant enough sort of guy…so that’s how we got started.’
With a settled line-up the band spent the next three or four weeks rehearsing hard. Their repertoire consisted of fifty percent original material and the rest were Traffic and Party Machine songs:
The Traffic stuff was very helpful; it gave us a good loose sort of group feel. We played well together … then very slowly we started getting work … I spent about a dollar a day on public phones, ringing and ringing people, bugging them for gigs.
The band started to fly. Performances became multidimensional. This wasn’t pop music, there was an energy to what Spectrum were doing, not like Chants R&B energy with guitars nailed to the floor. This was an energy that Bob Dylan would describe as, derived from melodies formed out of triplets that were axiomatic to the rhythm and chord changes of the songs. Key to all this was the virtuosic drumming of Mark Kennedy:
We didn’t have a lot of material, so it helped that we had a maestro percussionist sitting on the drum stool. He was extraordinary, he became a feature instrumentalist in the band, so if we were running out of material we just threw to Mark and he’d unleash an amazing drum solo; he got us out of a lot of jams that way.
In September of 1969, Spectrum landed a residency at Michael Gudinski‘s Lucifer’s in Degraves Street in central Melbourne.
Lucifer’s was a sharpie hangout and we had long hair. Luckily for us, the biggest, ugliest and meanest looking sharpie came up to me and said, ‘Hey mate, youse boys are grouse, if youse have any trouble just see me.’ Needless to say we never had any trouble! Freshwater was also on the bill as was The Valentines with Bon Scott on vocals and recorder.
Spectrum also played some free shows at the Thumpin’ Tum and Michael Browning’s Sebastian’s to try and get their foot in the door—a very slow, frustrating build. But, like Spectrum’s predecessor, Party Machine:
We were getting seen by other groups … this was our biggest help, more than anything else. [It was other musicians] who saw something different, something they liked, and it was other musicians who were our greatest allies. They talked about us in the press and some might mention something to their managers … eventually the word spread.
So much so that Sebastian’s Michael Browning became Spectrum’s manager, ‘He took us on an agency basis and got us work … the group gradually became better known and I kept writing songs like ‘I’ll Be Gone’.
I’ll Be Gone; Mike Rudd, Spectrum and How One Song Captured A Generation by Craig Horne. (Published by Melbourne Books.)
Craig Horne is a Melbourne based writer and musician who has been part of the fabric of the local blues and roots scene for many, many years, most recently as the singer songwriter for The Hornets. As well as the book I’ll Be Gone, he is the author of Daddy Who? and Roots: How Melbourne Became the Live Music Capital of the World
Stereo Story #565