Unsolicited Endorsement: Australian proto punk


Certain bands hold an almost mystical cache, somehow falling into a crevice in collective consciousness between legend and obscurity.

The Saints, I feel confident, qualify in spades.

Thanks to musician Kyle Caudle, I made the acquaintance of Michael Slawter, owner of Heyday Guitars in Winston-Salem, as we were waiting for the final set at Test Pattern on the second night of Phuzz Phest. Slawter was wearing the band’s shirt, and I remarked, “I really like the Saints.”

The truth is that I really didn’t know the first thing about the Saints, other than having heard their impossibly frenetic rendition of the Ike & Tina Turner R&B classic “River Deep, Mountain High” on Pandora and gleaning that they blazed the punk-rock trail in Australia, tracing a path parallel to their contemporaries the Ramones in New York City.

As we were talking, a woman at the side of Tills bass player Tom Peters pointed at Slawter’s shirt, winked and gave him the A-OK hand sign. The Saints are like a secret handshake.

I haven’t succeeded in finding any corroboration on the internet, but I’ll take Slawter’s word for this. Explaining the band’s raw, loud and fast sound dating to 1975, well before punk became regimented into a uniform with mohawks and shirts held together with safety pins, he told me the Saints were influenced by Radio Birdman, another Australian band whose guitarist and principal songwriter came from Michigan and loved the MC5 and the Stooges. So the loud, angry sound of late ’60s Detroit rock was essentially transplanted to Australia and came into bloom roughly five years later.

Radio Birdman is another band that I kind of love and really don’t know much about. I don’t know where I was when I first heard their song “Murder City Nights,” but it boasts an unforgettable lyrical exposition: “Cruising down Woodward gotta find me some action/ Looking for a lover with a power reaction.”

The chorus of the song, which came out in 1977, features a virile howl that must have provided a blueprint for Glenn Danzig and the early Misfits.

The mystery deepened when I found myself walking across Woodward Avenue during the 2012 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in Detroit on my way to Greektown to look for a bar. “Hey, wait a minute,” I said to myself.

Thanks to the serendipity of meeting a new friend with a cool rock-and-roll T-shirt, another piece of the puzzle falls into place.