Radio Birdman Flying Again
The music industry loves to categorise bands. For Radio Birdman – who formed in the ‘70s – the label ‘punk’ has been both a curse and a blessing.
“We never identified ourselves as punk as a musical genre,” guitarist Deniz Tek says. “In the UK, we found it to be more a fashion than music. If you listen to The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Vibrators, there’s not a lot of common ground. We didn’t see where we fitted in, other than having a hard attitude and playing loud and fast.”
Deniz and vocalist Rob Younger formed the group in 1974 and found the musical landscape was theirs for the taking. Sort of. “The industry was straight laced,” Deniz says. “When we first started in Australia there wasn’t much going on. It was like a post-hippy malaise but nothing really compelling or exciting. So to us, it was like a blank page to write on. The only thing was, we couldn’t write on that page [via] any of the normal channels.”
Still, in every anti-establishment cloud there is a silver lining. “I have to admit that once they put a label on us, things became easier. Once punk became something you could read about in The Daily Mirror it was like, ‘oh ok, now you can play at our club’.”
In case you’re curious about the name, it’s taken from a misheard line in a Stooges song. “When you listen to ‘1970’, he sings it different every time. I loved that lyric the way I heard it and ‘radio burning’ works too, but it doesn’t mean anything.”
Punk was thriving in the UK in the late ‘70s. But when Radio Birdman landed there, scorn was heaped on them by the local press, but for different reasons. “The press was against the band, but from an anti-Australian music [perspective]. NME wrote that ‘they need to pack their Qantas kit bags and go back to kangaroo land’. It was very chauvinist. A lot of Australian bands got that when they went over there.
“The punters were cool. Once they realised we weren’t punk, we got more of a rock and roll crowd. We sold out shows. It wasn’t like we went over there and no one showed up like the press made out.”
Back on home turf, the lads were still having trouble getting airplay. “We were invited to go on ‘Countdown’. It was ridiculous. It was a matter of, if you go on ‘Countdown’ you do it their way or you don’t do it all. Finally, at two in the morning we packed up and went home. We just couldn’t agree on anything.”
Their first album, ‘Radios Appear’, was released in 1977. After much touring, they sold their music with a DIY attitude. “When we started, we were rejected by the system, so we formed our own parallel universe and sold our records out the back of our van. Nobody was doing that. There wasn’t any independent music or labels. By ‘80-‘81 there was a whole bunch of it.”
After disbanding in 1978 (reforming in 1996 and 1997 for Big Day Out appearances, then playing sporadically until 2008 including being inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame circa 2007) they were compelled to reform in 2014 after literally boxes of material was found, culminating in the release of a box set. “We thought it was lost. Boxes of tapes full of demos from the floor to the ceiling.”
These days, there is no common thread to the punters coming to see the band. “Sometimes we have three generations of the same family. The demographic is changing a bit. There’s more females now. Fifteen, twenty years ago it was all young males. It was that attraction to that raw energy.”
Finally, any advice for Radio Birdman virgins? “Bring high-quality hearing protection.”