Christmas Hills, Victoria, 16 December 1979
You get to a stage where the memory falters.
Was there a music festival in Christmas Hills, just north of Melbourne, in the late 1970s?
Were Skyhooks, one of Australia’s greatest bands, on the bill?
Did they play Wild In The Streets, a 1973 hit for Garland Jeffreys?
I remember a high school mate, Colin, driving the two of us from Geelong to Christmas Hills in his olive green Holden ute.
Colin, known to all his mates but not to his mother as ‘Grub’, could play. Piano, cornet, guitar. He lived in Hamlyn Heights with his war-widowed mum and his two older sisters.
Grub could play music and he could fix things – bikes, lawn mowers, motorbike engines, the donks of old cars. Give him a spanner and he was right at home.
It took two hot hours to get to Christmas Hills but Grub didn’t mind. He loved driving and he loved music. He could hear music in the hum of an engine. He’d lean forward in the driver’s seat, listening for anything amiss under the bonnet.
I can only remember two bands from that day-trip to the hills. Skyhooks had been massively popular in the mid- to-late 1970s but by 1979 were facing major changes. The charismatic duo of lead singer Shirley (Graham) Strachan and flamboyant guitarist Red Symons had left, replaced by Tony Williams and Bob Spencer.
I presume they played some of their hits on that hot night but what my memory hears is just one song. Wild In The Streets. And I’d probably never heard it before. It’s a simple three-minute rock song about anger and defiance. At times it whispers like a threat before kicking like an angry mob.
Garland Jeffreys describes the song as his ‘pride and joy’.
Tell me how is your favourite son
Do you really care
What he has done
Runnin’ wild in the streets
Wild in the streets…
‘The song has a beautiful slashing Stones feel with big open chords set against an insistent drum beat,’ wrote Toby Creswell in 1001 Songs. ‘…The song resides in the vitriol of the riff that drives it like a battle anthem’.
I heard something like that while standing amongst the gum trees and a year or two later bought the 1977 Garland Jeffreys album Ghost Writer from a second-hand record shop down the Windsor end of Chapel St. I bought the album for Wild In The Streets but then discovered a few more fine songs too, especially the slow-burning seven-minute Spanish Town.
By then I was studying in Melbourne and Grub, after playing covers in Geelong pubs, had headed north to Queensland. He met a girl, a singer, and they played clubs and cabarets and cruise ships for quite a while. Last I heard, a few years back now, he was working as a postie.
The second band I recall from that day was playing as we were leaving, sometime around midnight. As we walked up the paddock to find Grub’s olive green Holden ute I heard a man playing a flute. And another man singing. Something about eating a Vegemite sandwich…
The memory lingers, but maybe it falters too.
The Skyhooks website tells me Skyhooks played at Christmas Hills on 16 December 1979.
It also says that the 1978 album Live! Be In It includes Wild In The Streets.
I buy a copy and relish the ‘Hooks’ six-minute version, with bass player and songwriter Greg Macainsh on lead vocals. Three-and-a-half minutes into the song Macainsh delivers a one-minute monologue about witnessing violence in Kings Cross.
“One night I was walking through Kings Cross. There were police cars and ambulances stopped by the footpath. I stopped. A man had jumped from a 15 storey building. I kept walking and then a taxi pulled up – a girl fell out of the taxi into the gutter and OD’d right in front of my eyes. Later, on Darlinghurst Road, a man in a suit asked me about the Venus Room. Now, the Venus Room is not a place you admit to knowing about, especially to strangers. I went back to my hotel room, locked the door and said to myself, ‘I could be a lot safer in New York’. It’s a lot wilder there, but at least it’s not full of crazy Australians.”