Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Coloured Balls & Friends
Summer Jam


Released 1973 on Mushroom Anti-Rip Off
Reviewed by achuma, 09/02/2006ce


The Coloured Balls were a classic underground band in early 70’s Australian rock, based in Melbourne, who don’t get nearly the credit they deserve for their obscure role in being early progenitors of punk in their own hard rockin’ way. To get the early scoop on where these guys came from, see the separate review for Lobby Loyde and his ‘Plays With George Guitar’ album, for it was Loyde who created the Coloured Balls, and his work leading up this point is not only a logical progression, but the punky roots are to be found to some degree on that Lobby Loyde album, also.
Shortly after disbanding the last incarnation of the Wild Cherries, the band that played on Lobby’s solo album, he recorded a single – ‘Liberate Rock’/‘Slowest Guitar on Earth’ [both pretty much just straight forward hard rock’n’roll tracks] – in 1972 with three members of the Aztecs. This was released as a Coloured Balls single, although the group as such hadn’t been formed at the time of recording. When the group did emerge properly soon after, the other members were Andrew Fordham [guitar, vocals], Janis Miglans [bass] and Trevor Young [drums]. They recorded an album [‘Rock Your Arse Off’] intended for Havoc, but Havoc fell apart at the time; EMI had signed the group but didn’t want to release the album, reputedly due to the music, but probably solely because of the title and intended arse-shaped cover art, because the music isn’t that outrageous despite claims to the contrary. It eventually came out in 1976 as ‘First Supper Last (Or Scenes We Didn’t Get To See)’ [on Rainbird], and was more recently reissued as half of a 2CD set – ‘Lobby Loyde and the Coloured Balls’ [Fable/EMI, 1997]. It’s a shame, though, that this reissue set makes such a misleading package. Firstly, it’s not made clear anywhere on the liner notes what the actual albums enclosed are; secondly, the second disc is actually a later Lobby Loyde solo album called ‘Obsecration’ [Rainbow, 1976], which is a far cry from most of his earlier work and fairly irrelevant to the Balls sound; and thirdly, due to its appearance as a Coloured Balls compilation or collection it has put off numerous people from investigating the band further, because little of it resembles the Balls at their best, and half of it isn’t even a Balls record as I said before. Despite this, there are some good tracks on both albums, although ‘Rock Your Arse Off’ is perhaps slightly better, and consists of blues rock, hard boogie and snotty, punky hard rock in ‘Mean Mouth Lives’ and ‘Working Man’s Boogie’. The album as a whole hints in these latter parts at what the band were soon to sound like, although not as good.
Anyway, to get to the central point of this review, ‘Summer Jam’ contains recordings from the second Sunbury Festival in January 1973, including a slice of prime Balls on side 2 that there is no version of on any of their albums. This being ‘kind of’ (see below) a various artists album, it doesn’t really count as one of their albums, but that side 2 is central to the legend of the Coloured Balls and as such can’t fairly be ignored by anyone interested in the band.
All of the music on this record was performed between 3:30 and 4:45 a.m., and like the infamous early morning Glastonbury appearance of the Pink Fairies, must have been a bit of a rude awakening for anyone who actually needed some sleep. Note that the actual track lengths given below differ slightly from those printed on the back cover of the record – these are correct, those on the back cover are not. Mostly they’re inconsequential, but the record mistakenly lists ‘G.O.D.’ as going for 18:43, more than two minutes over its actual playing time.
‘Help Me/Rock Me Baby’ [11:38] opens side one and is a bit of a group jam, where the ‘and friends’ bit comes in. (The record isn’t actually credited to The Coloured Balls and friends, but to Lobby Loyde, Coloured Balls, Billy Thorpe and Leo de Castro, but I thought that’d be too much to fit into the heading, and I wanted it to be clear that this review focused on the Coloured Balls). Loyde, Miglans and Young from the Balls are joined by Billy Thorpe (from the Aztecs) on vocals, and Leo de Castro (from Friends) on rhythm guitar and vocals. Basically it’s a lengthy mid-tempo blues jam, fairly laid back though rocking a bit harder near the end, all perfectly competent but nothing interesting, no surprises. It may as well be the Aztecs themselves in one of their more generic and unoriginal moments. Personally I never understood why Australian audiences had so much tolerance for this sort of thing and it goes on for much longer than necessary.
‘Going Down’ [6:20] is performed by the Balls by themselves, and here the volume and hard edge first comes into play, although it’s hardly classic Balls and is of course a cover. Here they sound a bit like Rose Tattoo (who didn’t exist yet, but like the guys in AC/DC, Angry Anderson was a big fan of Lobby and the Balls and was forming his own band in their shadow, Buster Brown). It plods along with an amiable savageness, and I quite enjoy it really, but it you more or less know what to expect. Does that matter? It depends on if you like this kind of thing or not. They jam out a bit after the first few minutes, but without departing from the basic structure, and it starts to sound a bit like the MC5 jamming on old songs for fun but not quite breaking out to frenzied heights of ecstasy. Not to say they don’t whip it up quite well in the last few minutes, which they do. Nevertheless, another cover performed at the same Sunbury gig is to be found on the various artists 3-LP ‘The Great Australian Rock Festival Sunbury 1973’ – ‘Johnny B. Goode’ – and it rocks with frenzied gusto, as well as being more of a classic cut despite being a predictable cover version.
‘G.O.D.’ [16:12], taking up all of side two, is again just the Balls, though all instrumental, and this was apparently the number their set was opened with that morning. A fucking wake-up call, that’s for sure! Loyde previously performed this number with the latter-day Wild Cherries, and it became sonically to the Balls what ‘Black To Comm’ was to the MC5, here stretched to epic proportions and rocking out to the full. Indeed, this is the track that makes the whole record worthwhile, and it is the focus and purpose for this review. Beginning with a slow ascending guitar riff, simply and ham-fistedly played but with pretentions of malevolent grandeur. After a few runs through the drums start ticking in, cymbals vibrating in the background and tension and energy builds. ‘G.O.D.’ is ‘Guitar Over Dose’ and it is an energy mantra for guitars, bass and drums. Though, the bass only kicks in at about 2:40, as apparently the bass player was in the audience having fun when the band started playing without him, figuring if they couldn’t find him he’d soon figure out where he should be and get on stage!
This mother just builds and builds, settling on a plateau every now and then, but just getting straight up again and continuing to ever greater heights, then dropping down a few notes and starting again, but without once dropping the baton. The structure of this song is simplicity in itself, but it builds up such a sustained energy rush that it seems more complicated than it really is. At nearly six minutes they’re digging into a three-chord tunnel through the portal of the blazing sun, punching through the holes between air molecules like a rocket into your socket, sounding kinda like the 4-piece ‘Greasy Truckers’-era Man locked in a cro-magnon groove soaring on crank and channeling the spirit of the MC5, before collapsing at the near-7 minute mark and starting a downward inversion of the same riff, just one guitar with some weird wooshing sound rushing in and out of the speakers, probably the mixing guy having some fun screwing with the crashing cymbals, then the others kick in and compress all that released energy back down into the base of your spine, except this time the riff sounds almost like some galloping hard rock soundtrack to a western movie. Rawhide! Ride ‘em cowboys! Well, maybe not.
Just before the 12 minute mark they seem to be smashing it all into a delirious and frenzied climax, but it doesn’t end. The drums fade back but the guitars just keep going, howling and wailing with distortion and controlled feedback serpents twining around each other, sustained to the max, and for all you know you could be listening to Sonic Youth or something in one of their freeform noise moments. Occasionally the drums swell and crash in the background, the bass just feeding back on one note, and over four minutes later they end it on a single unified beat cut short. Man, what I’d give to hear the rest of the gig too!

Despite the fact that the ‘Best of Ball Power’ Lobby Loyde and Coloured Balls compilation CD features ‘G.O.D.’ from ‘Summer Jam’, it has had several minutes edited off of the end and an introductory snippet from the start. This is unnoticeable if you haven’t heard the full version, but very noticeable if you have. The missing chunk at the end was apparently taken out at the request of Loyde, partly to fit it on one CD (this was before 80-minute discs became commonly available) and partly because he seemed to think it extraneous. Despite what Loyde thought of it I’m sure many fans would have preferred the chance to get the full version on CD and have some of the non-Balls extras left off this CD, as the recording is a Balls highlight and the ‘Summer Jam’ LP is pretty scarce these days. Also, I believe the removed climax is the nasty icing on the cake and if made available on this CD would have gone further to cementing the Balls’ rockin’ reputation amongst folks who think they’re over-rated, judging them solely by the padded compilation CD just mentioned and the misleadingly packaged ‘Lobby Loyde & the Coloured Balls’ double CD also mentioned above. Well, some folks might still think the Balls are over-rated after hearing the full albums, but you can’t please everyone, and I reckon some people are just plain too fussy for their own good, constantly judging one thing against another... “yeah, but they’re not as good as The Stooges...”. Who cares? I don’t, I just listen to music that I like, and it’s not a competition. Personally, I just love these guys more and more each time I hear them, and I suspect some of you might, too. Ball Power to the people!


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