Scott’s tenure in the band ensured that Fraternity would at least gain some historic significance…
Music is the universal language, so they say. It transcends speech and cultural barriers and gives the whole human race a basis for communication. That being the case, it’s a peculiar phenomenon how some bands can become massive in one part of the world, but never really translate to another continent. Britain and the US were the epicentres of pop and rock in the 1960s, but Australian bands, for instance, struggled to gain tractions in Britain until the mid-70s, when AC/DC led the charge. DC’s charismatic front man, Bon Scott, had already fronted a couple of major Aussie bands by this time, The Valentines, which broke up in 1970, and Fraternity, who had massive success in Australia and lesser success in Europe, but still failed to make the jump into Britain or the US.
Scott’s tenure in the band ensured that Fraternity would at least gain some historic significance for AC/DC aficionados, but they are often still regarded as a footnote in the AC/DC story, despite their complex musical arrangements and huge domestic influence. Hopefully this will be rectified to some extent by the remastering and re-issuing of their two original albums and more, in the guise of a new 3-CD boxed set, Seasons Of Change – The Complete Recordings 1970-1974. Even this may never have come about, were it not for the efforts of a young enthusiast named Victor Marshall, who has also written an extensive biography of the band, simply named Fraternity, with the blessing and co-operation of several of the old firm.
Marshall has long been a fan of the band, despite their entire rise and fall being accomplished long before his birth. Nevertheless, his involvement with the music industry gave him an unexpected opportunity, as he explains: “Back in 2014, I was helping out at the South Australian Music Hall of Fame, and we did a night in celebration of Fraternity along with Glenn Shorrock from Little River Band. And I got to meet the guys that night, which was sort of a dream come true, because I had been a big fan of the band when I was in High School – I had followed Bon Scott’s story back into Fraternity. I had cut out old magazine and paper clippings of the band and collected what little was out there about them. So I got to meet Bruce Howe, John Freeman and Mauri Berg on their Hall of Fame induction night, and I found out that nothing I had read about them was correct!”
Marshall suggested they should write a book to put the record straight, but the guys weren’t convinced there would be a market, even if they had the time for such a project. So Marshall asked if they’d mind if he had a go, despite having no experience as an author. Thus began Marshall’s dive into a rabbit hole from which he wouldn’t emerge for a long time. “I spent four years interviewing them and everything, and that led me to find their original Manager Hamish Henry. He gave me his first interview in 50 years; we started working together and we resurrected the company that managed Fraternity, back in the ‘70s, Grape Music. He had all the unreleased recordings of them; an amazing treasure trove of unreleased Australian music. He also had the original tapes for the two original albums, Livestock and Flaming Galah, and it made sense to properly remaster them for the first time from the tapes and release them all as a complete collection.”
John Freeman, universally known as JF, was the drummer on those original albums, and he is fully on board with the project too. “No one else thought that Hamish would be very interested,” explains JF, “but he ended up not only being very interested; he’s released a whole lot of tapes that he had from years ago. They’ve picked out a lot of good stuff and made up an additional CD of live and unreleased material, so it’s a very comprehensive project.”
“In the meantime,” continues Marshall, “there have been all these people who made bootlegs and taped the band’s work and made money off them, and none of the band have ever received a cent of it. So they have been involved in this project, and for the first time ever, they’ll be getting the royalties that are due to them as well.”
The core of Fraternity was formed from a band named Levi Smith’s Clefs, a fairly loose collective led by Scottish expat Barrie McAskill. Keyboardist John Bisset, original drummer Tony Buettel, bassist Bruce Howe and Mick Jurd on lead guitar, left en masse to form the band that would become Fraternity. They started casting around for a lead singer, and Bon Scott from the recently-split Valentines popped up on their radar. The extraordinarily-talented young entrepreneur Hamish Henry, who already ran most of the night clubs in Adelaide and was looking for a top band to manage, set his sights on the newly-formed combo and moved them to Adelaide in South Australia, in opposition to the accepted wisdom of the time, which assumed that all the big bands were based on the east coast.
They started recording their debut album, but Freeman, not yet a member of the band, saw an opportunity. “In Adelaide I used to write a rock music column in the local paper and play in local bands; I used to go and see the Levi Smith’s Clefs whenever they’d come to town and I ended up being good friends with them. When they left Barrie McAskill and went to live in Sydney, they got a deal with [record label] Sweet Peach, and I left the newspaper and started as a professional musician. I had already been warned that they were going to sack Tony Buettel, the original drummer, so I went to Melbourne with Barrie and another member of the Clefs – we went up to Sydney also, and did a residency at the Whisky a Go Go. After about six months the boys sacked Tony and asked me to join, which of course I was all over – that’s why I was there! I made sure I was in the right place at the right time.”
The rest of their debut album, titled Livestock, was recorded with JF on drums. “We had three Johns in the band,” he explains regarding his nickname, “me who was JF, John Bissett who was JB and John Eyers who everyone called Uncle! People in the music business, some of whom have known me 30, 40, 50 years, have never called me anything but JF.”
Ron Scott, having been born in Scotland and also having Scott as a surname, had picked up the nickname ‘Bon’ quite early in life, short for ‘Bonny Scotland’ or ‘Bonny Scott’. Nevertheless, he epitomised the devil-may-care attitude that has come to be associated with Australians in some ways. The impressively comprehensive booklet that comes with the boxed set contains an alarming but amusing anecdote recited by several members of the band. On a tour of South Australia, Bon decides to go for a swim, but the calm, clear sea is awash with jellyfish. Not the deadly Australian boxed jellyfish fortunately, but still “Portuguese man o’ war stingers, with tentacles 10 feet long,” to quote Bruce Howe. Seeing he has an audience, Bon climbs a small tower at the end of the pier, leaps off into the swarm, and swims back, deep underwater, clambering out to a round of heroic applause.”
I suggest he must have been borderline insane, but JF is having none of it. “No, not at all. He was a really straight, down-to-earth guy, really easy get on with. Yes, he had a certain reputation, but we were all very good friends. He wasn’t difficult. I get sick of people trying to put something bad on him; he just wasn’t you know? He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
As someone who previously only knew Bon from AC/DC’s highly-charged, pounding rock, one thing that stunned me about the Fraternity recordings was just how good a singer he was. Fraternity’s highly complex and imaginative, prog-based country rock came to life via his vocal chords. Yes, there is power there, and that familiar twinkly-eyed mischievousness, but technically, he was superb. JF agrees: “He could really sing. He was a very, very good singer in his own way, and he had a very distinctive voice. If you hear Bon, you know it’s him straight away, you don’t have to be told; he’s got one of those distinctive voices, which is the main thing that a vocalist needs to have.”
‘Flaming Galah’ – it’s an amusing sort of insult; a particularly Australian term …
As their star continued to rise, they opened for Deep Purple, Free and Manfred Mann amongst others, and co-headlined the Myponga Music Festival with Black Sabbath in 1971. The festival itself is another tribute to Henry’s entrepreneurial genius, as Marshall elucidates: “Whatever he did, he would make it a success, and Fraternity wasn’t the only band he managed; then there was the Myponga Music Festival he put together, which is like Australia’s version of Woodstock. To bring Black Sabbath over, or to have other huge Australian bands on a bill like Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Spectrum and all those, a three-day festival. He just went out and bought a farm out at Myponga and made a festival happen! It’s an amazing story, and again the next year with The Meadows Technicolour Fair. He originally ran a car yard named City Motors in Adelaide. In the paperwork for the Myponga festival there are two cars written off to Black Sabbath. They all went for brand new MG sports cars and Bill Ward had driven his car too far into the surf at the beach. So Tony Iommi said don’t worry, I’ll get your car out with mine; they borrowed a piece of rope from somewhere, but his car ended up getting dragged in as well. So there were two brand new cars written off for that one!”
All of that served to raise Fraternity’s profile in Australia, but what really made 1971 a pivotal year in the band’s history, was winning the country’s premier musical competition at their first attempt, Hoadley’s Battle Of The Sounds, which effectively cemented their claim as Australia’s top band. By this time they had added ‘Uncle’ John Eyers on harmonica, and a week or so after the competition, they invited songwriter, pianist and slide guitarist Sam See to join the lineup. “They had reached the absolute top in Australia, and the only way to keep going was to go overseas and try and take over,” says Marshall. “So you’ve either got to go to America or England.”
Part of the prize money financed their second album, with the expanded lineup. The style moved slightly away from the psychedelic prog that had made their reputation as a technical tour de force, and more into rock territory, while retaining enough imaginative musicality to make it something of a masterpiece. The album’s title though, Flaming Galah, hit a perfect note of Aussie irreverence. For those readers unfamiliar with antipodean flora and fauna, a galah (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, like ga-LAA), is a type of Australian cockatoo. The word ‘Flaming’ carries the same crude meaning as in most of the English-speaking world, as a mild expletive. Or, as Freeman puts it: “A Flaming Galah is basically an Australian slang term for a dickhead! It’s an amusing sort of insult; a particularly Australian term which we thought might get some currency in the rest of the world!”
The prize also included a potentially career-making pilgrimage to LA, but there was a snag. “Bon just couldn’t get into America,” explains JF. “He had a very minor marijuana conviction with the band he was in before Fraternity, the Valentines, and that was enough to stop him getting into the States.”
Nevertheless, the big time beckoned, and Hamish Henry was not messing around. He cashed in their LA prize and put the money towards taking the band to London. “He even shipped the tour bus over,” says Marshall, “a big old Greyhound bus! Then the equipment, all the speakers and instruments, and of course the wives; Hamish said he would only pay for wives, not for girlfriends, so all the band got married in a hurry!”
It wasn’t just a case of exporting the band halfway round the planet though; he had to fund their existence while they were in the process of hopefully conquering the world. The band and their entourage moved into a four storey house in Finchley, and Marshall continues: “Hamish had the most wonderful art gallery in Adelaide, priceless pieces of art and things, and he sold all the art work and the gallery to help keep funding Fraternity; he believed in them that much.”
Sometimes we hear heartwarming tales of bands betting it all on one roll of the dice, and reaping the rewards of their gamble in a big way. Needless to say, it doesn’t always turn out that way; sometimes the band lose their shirts and end up relegated to a footnote in history. Tragically for our Aussie heroes, that’s the way it went this time. Fraternity were booked to open for Status Quo in Bournemouth on 17th August 1972, in one of the most unfortunately-timed gigs in history.
Quo had had a massive international hit back in 1968 with the cheesy, psychedelic Pictures of Matchstick Men, but had been steadily growing their fanbase and developing their rocking edge since then. Nevertheless, they hadn’t exactly set the charts alight, and you’d have to be following the band quite closely to see how far they had come with their fourth album, Dog Of Two Head, in November 1971. Quo were on the verge of becoming a huge, hard-rocking boogie sensation with the release of the Paper Plane single in November ’72, followed by their breakout album, Piledriver, the following month. This just wasn’t the Quo the Australians were expecting, as Marshall explains: “Hamish had set it up with all the PR people from the record companies and things, so that everything was sort of riding on that gig. And it didn’t go down as well as they thought it would. I suppose it was a mixture of underestimating Status Quo, because as far as Australians were concerned, the Status Quo they knew was Pictures of Matchstick Men, rather than the ‘Down down, deeper and down’ sort of Quo. This was mixed with maybe some failure of equipment.”
Indeed, Fraternity would have likely wiped the floor with the Quo they thought they knew, but it wasn’t going to happen at this time. Hamish Henry himself explains, in a quote from the sleeve notes of the boxed set: “Fraternity would have a London management company, of which I owned 50%, in place when they arrived. They had a committed booking agency, MAM, committed to their success before they arrived. They would have choice of a number of record deals if they proved successful in the first 6 months of their London adventure. Tony McArthur, my partner, together with MAM and myself had ensured that the first gig Fraternity did in London would be a Status Quo spectacular. Tour manager Bruce Packer went ahead, and by the time the band arrived in London and the equipment had followed them, we were ready for our international debut. Unfortunately, we flopped – and there begins the story of the British experience.”
JF puts a bit more meat on the bones, again taken from the sleeve notes: “The very first gig we did in England was with Status Quo. These guys rolled up in their Rolls Royces with their Afghan coats and their bell bottoms jeans. We thought ‘Ohh god, who are these poofters?’ and then we did our set. They got changed into their holey jeans and sleeveless denim jackets and bloody rocked us off the stage. Totally destroyed us!”
Needless to say, the record labels weren’t queueing round the block to get the band signed. Nevertheless, the journey wasn’t a dead loss, because of course they did gain some fans and some sales. “They went on the university circuit and ended up in Germany,” says Marshall, “where they are still very well loved. In fact a lot of the interviews I have been doing for the boxed set have been from Germany. Sweden too, but I think they may have an even greater following in Germany than they do in Australia. They even have a Bon Scott festival there every year, BonFest. I know AC/DC are big over there, but I’ve been surprised how much people know about Fraternity in Germany, and the people that saw them there back in 1972-73 and still remember them.”
Still, it was cold comfort. JF adds, “We were just doing provincial shows and Uni shows and things like that. There weren’t any huge opportunities that presented themselves; we just did the best we could. In a way it was bad timing because we were heading in a country rock direction, like The Band and The Eagles and that sort of music. And of course at that time, everything was Gary Glitter and Slade and Mud and everything was poppy-poppy-Top-of-the-Pops. If we’d have got on Top of the Pops it would have been a joke, you know! But if we had been there a couple of years later when The Eagles were really making it, we would have been in a different position altogether. It was the wrong music at the wrong time.”
Sadly, the impetus was lost and the band fizzled. The individual musicians found their way back to Oz and continued with various bands, as JF says, “I had to work for about six months selling hi-fi equipment to get the money to come home but yeah, I came back to Adelaide.”
It wasn’t quite the end for Fraternity; back in Australia a new band formed around Bruce Howe and ‘Uncle’ John Eyers. Marshall fills in the blanks: “Sam See the keyboardist had moved on to a band called Flying Circus, which was a well-known Australian band which had moved to Canada. John Bisset, the organist in the band, he worked with Mungo Jerry for a little while and then became a computer programmer; the rest of the band came back to Adelaide and sort of tried to regroup and messed around a little bit – they became the Mount Lofty Ranges, which was a bit of a get-together here and there; whoever was around would play in the band that particular night. But when Fraternity mk.II got together, it was almost a brand new band, with Mauri Berg from Headband, another band that Hamish managed; another brilliant guitarist from Australia. A violinist called Peter Bersee who ended up being the second chair in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra! And Jimmy Barnes and John Swan, who were two legendary singers in Australia; Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, one of Australia’s biggest bands. That band lasted for a little under a year; it wasn’t anything like the original Fraternity with Bon out the front there, but it had its own identity and it’s still well-loved.”
The boxed set doesn’t cover this second incarnation of the band, although an entire third album’s-worth of material has been gathered from the original band’s archives and given the title Second Chance, making this a three-album set. The new album consists of rareties and extra material not included on either of the two albums from the 1970s, plus some live recordings. A new album cover has been created by Vytas Serelis, the artist responsible for the Flaming Galah cover – and yes, it features a galah of course! One of the songs, itself named Second Chance, gave the third album its name, as Marshall explains: “Second Chance is literally the last song they recorded before Jimmy Barnes and John Swan joined, so that’s the closest recording to mk.II on there. It’s actually got Mauri Berg on it, who was in mk.II, but that complete band was never recorded in the studio. There are some live recordings, but I didn’t feel it right to put mk.II on the boxed set, because it’s a different band really.”
It’s a shame from a UK point of view that Fraternity never really got the recognition their virtuosity and influence deserved. Hopefully the new album of classic material and the new boxed set, with its comprehensive 18,000 word booklet insert, will go some way to redressing the balance. Marshall’s book, named simply Fraternity, is due out in March, and will tell the whole story straight from the horses’ mouths, as it were. Meanwhile, it would be wrong to leave the story without at least some mention of how it followed on into the AC/DC story, which would make Bon Scott one of the rock world’s iconic front men before his premature demise made him a legend. However much he was loved by his colleagues, his was always a ‘live fast, die young’ lifestyle. Marshall takes up the story.
“The members of the band told me something of their fears over his reckless nature, where he would go and do things and they would fear for his safety, whether it was for the thrill, or whether that’s just who he was. They nicknamed him ‘Road Test Ronnie’ because he would try something out before the rest of them, whether it be a dubious substance or something else. And if he was relatively OK after a couple of hours, then maybe it is OK to try this random mushroom we found out in the forest or whatever. It got to a point where all his friends were fearful for his safety, especially his motorbike riding. And he did have an awful crash that almost took his life. I found the guy that actually crashed into him! He showed me his diary from the crash; he had all the information, what type of bike Bon was riding, a Suzuki 250 etc. It seemed like his friends loved him so much that they couldn’t bear to see something happen to him. But maybe also, that crash is one of the reasons why he joined AC/DC. He was recovering and doing odd jobs; driving bands around in Adelaide, putting posters up with Vince Lovegrove, who he used to sing with in the Valentines. Bon even said in the movie Let There Be Rock, I was driving this band around and they said, do you want to be the singer? So maybe it took driving them around, and working for that agency in Adelaide, to have met them, who knows?”
There is so much to the story; Hamish Henry’s wide-ranging interests, the interlocking band family trees, the other personnel who came and went. For instance, Marshall drops another dangling carrot into the conversation surrounding Bon Scott: “He was actually supposed to be doing a musical around that time in Adelaide as well, Lofty. He had the crash, so they couldn’t stage the musical! So that is out there too, a musical he was supposed to play the lead in, that never ended up happening.” Still, at least we have closure on Fraternity’s contribution to history; the boxed set contains both of the original albums, each with a ton of bonus tracks, plus the new album of classic material – and a thick booklet packed with interviews and photos.
In addition, there is the book Fraternity, Marshall’s comprehensive history of the band. The last word goes to John Freeman: “We could go on all night. But the best thing is to try and get a copy of the book, it’s all in there. Victor Marshall has done an incredible job. There’s a complete background of every member, and then on the band as well, so he’s really pulled it together brilliantly. He’s an amazing young guy. He’s only in his 20s. It’s not like he was there at the time.”
JF was there though – and if he says it’s good, then it’s good.
The 3-CD boxed set, Seasons Of Change – The Complete Recordings 1970-1974, will be available via Cherry Red Records from the end of January 2021.