Living in the 70s - oh what a decade
In the mid-’70s, the Skyhooks shook and shaped Australian rock almost as much as The Beatles and Elvis Presley. They basically gave the Australian music Industry the enema it had been needing. For too long many Australian bands spent hours copying their American and English cousins and songs about local culture were unheard of.
When Skyhooks burst onto the scene, they were cheeky, brash, colourful and wore makeup and costumes (many years before Kiss were conceived). Their irreverence and catchy tunes spoke cynically of local people and places, and they lit the fuse that put Australian bands back on the front covers of newspapers and Australian music on the shelves of record shops. They appeared on Australian tv on the first day of colour transmission, shocking the parents and becoming the pin up heroes for a generation.
Makeup, costumes and platform shoes
With a lead singer named Shirley, guitarist Red Symons who wore red satin and flicked his tongue at the masses and bassist and songwriter, Greg Macainsh sporting silver hair and long drop earrings, theatrics were a key feature that added another level to the electricity of the music.
Skyhooks grabbed the 70s by the balls and wouldn't let go
When it comes to classic Aussie rock acts, none is more revered than legendary Melbourne ensemble SKYHOOKS. The glam rockers combined melodic guitar riffs and a pub rock sensibility with relatable lyrics addressing drugs, sex and everyday life in a changing Australia throughout the ‘70s. The band boasts a delectable cocktail of chart-topping singles. They did more in seven years than most rock acts achieve in a lifetime. SKYHOOKS helped change the face of rock’n’roll in the 1970s with a string of Number One and Top 10 singles to their credit, as well as two of Australia’s biggest selling albums, ‘Living in the 70s’, and ‘Ego is Not A Dirty Word’.
Cynicism and irreverence prove the perfect recipe
The band’s first album ‘Living in the 70s’ enjoyed a huge 16 weeks at number one. Skyhooks’ popularity continued to spread like a fever right across the nation. They went back into the studio to record their second album, ‘Ego is not a dirty Word’ the next year, and that one spent another 11 weeks at the top spot. They were two of the biggest selling Australian albums of all time. To their credit, the band put everything they had into the most elaborate stage settings the country had ever seen. It appeared there was just no stopping them. Greg McAinsh’s songs were full of cynicism and captured the hearts of an entire generation. But they weren’t so lucky when they tried their hand with American audiences. Neither the record company or management supported them well so they never got to tour extensively. Bongo tells me that wherever they played, however, the crowds loved them. Even in the deep south where fans were much more accustomed to the likes of Lynrd Skynrd (check https://abreathoffreshair.com.au/episodes/lynrd-skynrd-drummer-artimus-pyle-on-the-band-the-crash-and-the-music/ if you’re a fan).
The original band only stayed together for 7 years. There was growing tensions between Greg and Red and it subsequently fell apart. Bongo says that’s when a protege of Greg’s came in – a guitarist called Bob Spencer and with him, more hit records followed. The song, ‘Women in Uniform quickly climbed to the top position on the charts and when Freddie did that drum thing, audiences simply lost their minds. Bob says it was really exciting.
Shirley leaves the band and this earth
Shirley Strachan left the band to go solo in 1978 but in 2001, Graeme ‘Shirley’ Strachan died in a helicopter accident at the age of 49. He had become famous in Australia not only as a singer but as a songwriter and radio and TV presenter. He became known to a new generation as the host of children’s television series Shirl’s Neighbourhood in the early 1980s. Strachan had been a fixed-wing pilot for many years and had been undergoing training for a helicopter pilot’s licence, with a view to buying a helicopter and taking friends and family on surfing safaris. On a solo flight near Mount Archer, Queensland in clear weather and inexplicably off the course planned by his instructor, Strachan encountered mountain turbulence which caused the rotor of his Bell 47G to sever the tailboom, crashing the helicopter onto a mountain slope.A beachside funeral was attended by Strachan’s family and friends.
Bob 'Bongo' Starkie with all the goss
My special guest this week is Skyhooks’ guitarist Bob “Bongo” Starkie- a long time member of the band who still plays their songs today. He tells us about those heady days, what it felt like to be idolised by millions of teenagers and whether a much anticipated reunion could ever occur. Make sure you check out Bob’s website to catch one of his shows https://skyhooksshow.com.au/ and take a listen to his fascinating chat with me.