…Obscurity. Another overlooked Australian powerpop/punk record. If I had the insert I maybe would be able to present some more information. Ahhh that darn Rob Noxious forgotten it. Fatal Slip and Gee, Why? should’ve made a lot more talked about 7inch I guess. On the Doublethink label.
Great post. Looks like Mr. Noxious strikes again, what a cunt.
Even OZ Rock writers like Clinton Walker and Ian Mcfarlane seemed to of been content to leave people in the dark on this outfit in theyâ€™re written works, not to mention them being absent from Phil Turnbulls excellent Sydney post-punk site No-Night Sweats â€“ although none of them regarded Popular Mechanics too highly compared to other talent on the scene at the time so maybe thatâ€™s why.. maybe someday the story will be fully revealed if Roger G. ever gets a Doublethink Singles collection out!! Until then this is the random amount of info I can shareâ€¦
â€˜New Waveâ€™ pop band from Sydney (Darlinghurst to be more specific I believe) active from 79-82 at least.. Good friends with and supported to some degree by the Thought Criminals. The lineup at the time of their first release was:
Mark Foster ~ Vocals
Russell Handley ~ Farfisa/Vocals
Gary Doyle ~ Guitars
Garry Manley ~ Bass
Beck ~ Drums
(additional songwriting credits for Richard Sheehan, Craig Youden and Dave Lemon)
The EP â€˜From Here To Obscurityâ€™ was recorded/mixed during Sept.-Nov. 1979 and released in December on the Thought Criminals Doublethink label (dtdt-4) and came in a 7â€x7â€ foldover P/S which also included a nice 12â€x12â€ insert.
After Doublethink had folded the band underwent some line-up changes, but continued recording and produced one further 7â€ recorded in June of 1980 and released in Feb.81 on the Basilisk imprint (You Get The Picture b/w Furniture ~ BAZ-3). The line-up at that time was:
Russell Handley ~ Farfisa/Vocals
Garry Manley ~ Bass/Vocals/Guitars
Jim Heywood ~ Drums
Gary Dodd ~ Guitars
TO THE BLOGGER: The tracks on the 2nd 7â€ are (in my opinion at least) as good if not more solid than the debut so feel free to get in touch if you want to hear them.. email@example.com
Thanks for the info Mark! I’m definetly interested in hearing their second 7inch. You can contact us through the “Contact” link on the left.
I saw them perform infrequently between 79 and 81, often with other Doublethink acts–though the Pop Mechanics sound was distinctly different. Believe that R. Handley was the first person to die from HIV-AIDS in Australia. RIP. A great band.
I reply to sinister Russell was the 25th person in Australia to die of AIDS. We miss him still.
I can offer some light on Popular Mechics story. Sadly, Gary Doyle and Russel Handley are no longer with us. They both died in the 80s, Gary maybe ’81, before Russell in mid-decade. I won’t say how they died as it may offend the families.
Beck left first and was replaced by Jim Heywood (drummer from the legendary Sydney rhythm n blues band The Layabouts) just after the ‘From Here to Obscurity’ ep.
Then Gary decided he didn’t want to do it anymore and disappeared up to north west NSW. He was replaced by Gary Dodd. Around this time too, Mark Foster left; just after and probably because of Gary’s leaving. Before Dodd joined, the other 4 recorded the second release. It was rushed, and the production isn’t as raw as the first ep. I thought it a failure.
Pop Mex played a few gigs after that with the new Gary on gtr. After the band Tactics lost their bass player Geoff Marsh, Garry Manley joined Tactics, as two things were happening to PopMex.
1) NZ band Pop Mechanics came to Oz to tour and the Sydney PM’s manager (Russell’s brother) Mark Handley decided to sue, with help and cynical encouragement of PM’s producer/engineer/owner of Basilisk Studio, Martin Bishop (he of the co-production-ship of the remarkable My Houdini, by Tactics). So there was a court case, but it was obvious that Mark and Russel and Martin weren’t going to get anywhere as the NZ band were on Sony or something like that, so it got kind of sour. God, even Molly fcnk Meldrum was called to give evidence of ‘confusion’ in the names…
But Martin was thinking of ways to ‘get them’. Garry Manley left PM to join Tactics at this point, because apart from all that above, 2) PopMex was falling apart anyway. And Tactics was a big drawcard.
Beck teamed up with Mark Foster a bit later and joined Geoff Datson in a band called Samurai Trash. Funky punkpop.
Jim Heywood continued (and continues to play regualrly) in various blues, jazz and pop bands of his own, teaching, playing, improvising, recording, and running a corner shop to boot!
Garry Manley continues to play with dave Studdert in various incarnations and bands (spec. Tactics and their alter-ego The Inside Up) until this day.
Gary Dodd disappear from (my) view.
Though brief, this is solidly true.
I was there, knowing them all. I wish to remain anon.
who are you?
Close enough but there is detail there that you seem not to know which might account for some minor errors, and I think the “cynical” comment about Martin Bishop is grossly unfair.
Firstly, it was CBS not Sony who brought the NZ band over here and against whom the court case was run.
Secondly, it was Russel Handley that was furious about the NZ outfit being shifted to Oz – with good reason (and saw it as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the Oz PopMx brand and Basilisk), and Mark that proposed/insisted they should sue and they both asked Martin Bishop to back it – I was there when the request was made and I was there when the funding was approved (I was also there when Mark and Russel “fell out” for the final and most serious time which happened during a phone call from my house – but that is another story). Basilisk had no direct commercial interest or even ownership of the band – the name was actually owned by Handley – but it was Basilisk (and therefore Martin and his business partner) that was asked to pay for it. It is fair to say that Martin was equally enraged – but he was not the instigator. But as Russel had no significant cash they needed Basilisk to back the case financially and so with Martin on board it was funded by Martin’s father, who was the financial backer of (and partner in) the Basilisk Studios. Once the case was begun – with QC fees running at $1000 to $2000 per day for several months – climbing to 100k+, Martin was determined that they see it through to the end, or Basilisk and the family would have been wiped out. Martin was by far the better debater and arguer of the group (he had studied law at Uni, and was famous through his school days for presenting and winning seemingly impossible debates and successfully representing student interests) – so he was charged with handling most of the initial conversations with CBS . It is these issue that might have created the impression that he egged them on – but it was really that once they started they had promised each other not to cave in. In fact. he was fiercely defencive of the family and was determined that once they attacked CBS none of the team was going to back out.
Thirdly, they won the case. It cost CBS a couple of executives and they met most – but not all of Basilisks legal costs. Law students now study the case as part of Business Names law (Handley, et al V CBS). What they didn’t get was damages, because that was going to be another case and everyone had lost the will to fight anymore. The victory was Pyrrhic, because the energy required to fight the case destroyed Basilisk. Russel became really sick almost immediately at the end, and Martin was so stressed he couldn’t think properly, and Mark had split before it was all over. None of them had worked on the business during the period – which seemed to go forever but was probably just a year or two) as they had been so tied up in the case that they had done nothing else, and with every spare cent invested in the case there was nothing left for release of the other band recordings that had piled up, and the analogue equipment needed to be upgraded as it had been superseded by digital computerised studios. So one by one the bands were drifting away through 1983 to 1986.
Russel and Martin continued to record together, but never released the stuff they did, and PopMx (as a brand) did not release anything further, although there were plans to form a new band under the name and release.
But the real death of Basilisk and any prospect of PopMx rising again was with Russel’s death. Although Basilisk continued until the early 1990’s, Martin lost all his spirit when Russel died and really just went through the motions in the middle of the 1980’s (I still have a copy of the News paper announcing his death – it was on the front cover). Russel and Martin were very, very good friends and had worked together on both private recordings and as engineers for many years. Martin used to claim that they were a perfect match because he spread chaos and Russel would clean it up.
There were a number of valid reasons for launching the case – or at least it seemed so at the time. Firstly there was the straight issue of principle – a big guy was trying to squash the little guy because the little guy had refused to be bought out. Secondly the little guy had legal ownership of the name, and the big guy was trying to steal it. Thirdly Basilisk had invested a lot of money in building up not only PopMx, but also other bands on the label and allowing the CBS move was seen as a direct threat to all of the bands. Fourthly the CBS action was outrageous and obvious – the NZ outfit had a name change to Popular Mechanics right before they were brought over, and it seemed to be part of an on going and growing attack on multiple fronts against the Basilisk setup: Inner city live venues were being closed by the NSW Gov, EMI and CBS were constantly trying to poach the bands, EMI engineer/financiers on three separate occasions refused to allow the release of records recorded by bands they owned at Basilisk, and aggressive offers for buyout were being phoned through and then finally the CBS
PopMx move. They thought they were in a fight for survival.
Basilisk had grown dramatically over the previous 4 years and was consistently taking work from EMI-301 studios – Ice House (then the Flowers – but it was the Ice House album that was demoed at Basilisk) and Air Supply are just two of the names that recorded there in preference to the mainstream studios, along with a number of ABC TV productions, and even the Triple J station promo’s (which everyone would remember from the late 70’s and early 80’s).
Mark ran the live side of Basilisk which controlled/managed the bookings of a number of Sydney and Regional live venues, Martin and Russel were very good friends and collaborated on many recordings and productions over a number of years and, with Mark, had built up a large (for an independent label) stable of bands releasing under the Basilisk label. For a brief period in the early 80’s Basilisk was the largest independent label in Oz (given Mushroom had been acquired).
While Mark handled the venues, Russel looked after distribution and Martin looked after the studio – and the three arms were called Basilisk Live, Basilisk Records and Basilisk Studios (there was actually only one studio!). A lot of the more complex guitar work on a number of the recordings of various bands was actually done (uncredited) by Martin and similarly Russel handled anonymous keyboard enhancements.
The studio had a brief but significant edge at the end of the analogue days because it had a number effects and sound treatment capabilities not available elsewhere and Martin and Russel were fiercely independent of the mainstream recording industry which fitted the musical fashion of the time (records by musicians for musicians was there motto) and set up deals where the musicians got most of the money from their recordings and retained ownership of their work and brands – not something done by the main labels. Further the structure allowed Basilisk to arrange a working income for the bands by keeping them booked in live venues, backing the release and distribution of records and essentially just covering studio costs.
The concept was smart and effective but the execution, while commendable, was not an especially commercial practise and neither were really “businessmen” – they were both essentially musicians. It is possible that it was this non-financial structure that led CBS to think that they could get away with their PopMx move – but they did not count on the presence of a wealthy silent partner. Basilisk did an awful lot of work for studio time only fees, or even free. Mark supplied the commercial instinct the team needed and was much better at setting up commercially viable arrangements and striking sensible deals.
What is less obvious, and less well known, is the extent to which the Martin and Russel pop up on many of the Basilisk bands and the extent to which various Basilisk bands participated in each others work and helped each other. For a brief period it seemed that the worked stood at the feet of the entire “fleet of bands” – as a group they were, for a few years in the late 70’s and early ’80’s, a really fun, exciting and friendly crowd.
A word of warning though – Martin hated Aurotone speakers and never mixed for the radio, so you need almost studio quality monitors with really solid base and fast transient response to really hear the recordings they way they were meant to be heard. The Basilisk speaker system was two 13.5 cubic foot, tannoy speakers with piston tweeters mounted in the speaker core. Sitting in that studio four feet from the speakers with 2 1000 watt BGW amps driving them – that was how you were meant to hear them. The sound that came out of the studio, heard in that studio was pretty amazing.
And if you ever heard Steve Joyce, Handley and Bishop jamming together you knew you were listening to three absolutely incredible musicians.
This is great. I didn’t know any of this, and meant no harm.
I apologise to the family for inadvertantly passing on misinformation.
I didn’t know Martin very well.
Actually, i’ve been thinking about this. Martin Bishop was a jerk. Always willing to criticise someone’s playing (i saw all this as an outsider) without actually showing what he could do himself. And he wasn’t just a critic (who can generally get away with these things), he was in it with the rest of us strugglers at that time. Absolutely no sense of community or camraderie. Really, all that happened there that was of any lasting worth, was the Tactics album- the rest was passable (but as what?). He should have been happy with that, but no, he wanted to destroy the tapes – and this was because Studdert was able to dominate him. What a dummy spit that was. Delusions of being the punk Spector. I thought at the time that he was out of his depth, but his intelligence (misused entirely as cynical disgust at anything he couldn’t understand) kept him going, until he discovered the drug that would destroy him (apart from his rampant ego). I know he had another side, but he destroyed that too. For him to be associate with Russell Handley who was a bright and sunny guy, perplexes me.
Okay, i’m raving here, but nothing will change my mind about Martin.
You saying that i was ‘grossly unfair’ in my comments now makes me laugh, because i know i’m not lying, even though i don’t know what happened in the latter stages of Basilisk. My experience was different from yours. I spoke with him at Russell’s funeral; nothing had changed – except his teeth. Little brown stubs reminiscent of the crumbling empire he was trying to build.
That should read “north-east NSW” – up Lismore etc way
Jim Heywood here yeah i remember those days well even though brief i started a family although after a few years i got back into it and havent stopped since 1986 believe it or not i make most of living playing music.
The thing that drove me up the wall in those days was if you weren’t in clique and pretended to cool and hip forget about being accepted as a popular band the musical dexterity and energy we gave out went over many heads and we weren’t given much of a go not to worry i enjoy a good life and i’m able to perform with many fine artists at the ripe old age of 54 i have always tried to be true to myself and bypass all the bullshit.
My name is Donna Black, and I am the ex-partner of Mark Handley (now deceased 2004 from cancer), who was brother to Russell.
I am very interested in any more information in relation to Popular Mechanics. My two boys (who would be Russell’s nephews) are now in their own band and are looking for more information on Russell and Popular Mechanics.
I also believe that there should be a myspace or website or something dedicated to the band.
I can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing from anyone who may be able to help.
I don’t believe it! A site that features Popular Mechanics! I reckon ruahri(?who’s this?an insider?) got it pretty right. And also Jim (whom i see occasionally, living in different towns).
I don’t know where we fitted in – but that suited me. It wasn’t really extreme anything – just a pop group. But it was all over so soon. I didn’t like MBishop – who did? – so that’s why i left and joined a group that was a little more intense.
Pop Mex were floundering a bit tho’, which was a shame, because i dug Russell who was the main energy. Mark was cool too, but he left after Gary Doyle. Gary was the mate i saw mostly outside the band. But everything, sadly, ended just too soon.
A tragedy really – so much wasted talent caught up the rigmarole of the days.
Contact welcome: email@example.com – gz
Read the above with great interest, particularly about Russell Handley.
Shared a house with Russell in Townsville 1973 when he had just finished high school and was working as a clerk with Qld Railway. He was also doing lots of keyboard playing around the Townsville music scene.
I really liked Russell, as it seems did most people who knew him. Fondly remembered.
Keyboards in Fatal Slip reminded me of a Split Enz track – might be the sound of the Farfisa..
Sadly Martin Bishop died in 1992. He was committed to both writing and recording his own music and recording the work of others. He had a critical mind in his pursuit of excellence both as a musician and an audio engineer. He is deeply missed.
I knew Martin Bishop – I stayed with Martin and his partner, my sister, Fiona, when I visited Sydney through the early to mid 80s. I was just out of high school and at the start of what has become a life-long interest in music. I remember Martin as an exceptional person; generous with his time and experience (one night he and I sat in his Hurstville studio almost til dawn as he played me track after track of his recordings – hours seemed like minutes to me that night). In the later 80s as a law student in Brisbane I had lengthy phone conversations with Martin as he effectively tutored me on some subjects. Martin passed away far too young, as did Russell, whom I never met but about whom I have heard many good things. By all means have your blogs or sites recording your thoughts or histories of these important pieces of the story of independent Australian music. Please, however, take care in the way you write about those who have passed. Robert Walker
Here is a link to the original copy and a transcript, with a couple of pages missing, of a story and interview I did with The Popular Mechanics. At this distance in time I am unsure of the exact date or the publication, I am guessing 1980 and perhaps RAM (Rock Australia Magazine):
Or perhaps this article, in Roadrunner in 1979, was all that ever made it into print.