Bong-smoking skeleton rides motorbike

The magic and mystery of heavy metal is somewhat of a closed book to me. That the musicians are skilled is not in question, and their fans are models of admirable loyalty. But the merch? Not for me, that whole “black tee-shirt with a picture of a bong-smoking skeleton riding a motorbike across a desert which is also the body of a tanned Amazon warrior in a metal bikini” look.

Mens-Funny-T-Shirt-Darth-Vader-Heavy-Metal-Designer-T-Shirts-Short-Sleeve-Cotton-Tee-Shirts.jpg_640x640And a lot of metal lacks, to my ears, light and shade. Often enough it is just pitch-black, from screaming beginning to screaming end.

But I have met and chatted to pleasant and cultured people wearing the black tees, and they are not the perpetual adolescents the art-work might suggest. Their passion for and appreciation of the music is real. What is more, metal fans put their money where their pierced tongues are.

This record is a seriously obscure early release by a Melbourne, Australia, band Virgin Soldiers. It was put out by a label called Metal for Melbourne (their fourth, and last, release). It is also seriously metal: the two sides are labelled Metal A and Metal B. There are people who love it – enough that a Netherlands outfit put out a bootleg CD in 2008.

Someone in Japan bought it from me for A$50, plus postage. Looking at what the record is selling for now (A$130+) I let it go pretty cheaply, but that is fine. I am glad the record has gone to a home where it will be played and loved.

This is “Metal A”, track 1, a song which the same name as the band, “Virgin Soldiers”. (Which came first?) More than many metal tracks, there is light and shade. The band is tight, the production excellent. I won’t be buying the black tee with the skeleton anytime soon, but I can agree that for what it is, it is genuinely good.

Just listen.

  • Artist: Virgin Soldiers
  • Album: Watching The World
  • Track: Metal A, Track 1 “Virgin Soldiers”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Metal for Melbourne
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: M4MLP0004
  • Year: 1990

Played banjo, wore funny hats

He was, everyone agrees, “a Melbourne institution”. Perhaps because my day job is to teach criminology, the term institution has an ambivalent ring for mine. Her Majesty’s Prison Pentridge, where the hardest criminals in the land were incarcerated behind bluestone walls and razor wire until the 1990s, that too was “a Melbourne institution”.smacka sleeveGraham Francis Fitzgibbon, better known by the nickname “Smacka”, was an institution of a happier kind. He was a jazz musician, a singer and player of the banjo. He made a living doing disxieland and comedy. He established a successful jazz club and restaurant, the first of its kind in Melbourne. Smacka died quite young, in 1979, so I don’t remember him. So I asked some older friends for their recollections. “Played banjo, wore funny hats,” replied one, via an iPhone. Others recalled him as a genial entertainer, a legend in Australian jazz circles, appeared in some ads, a hard-working showman.

He appeared on television variety shows, and also on a peculiar thing called The Penthouse Club, which interspersed gags and music with coverage of the harness racing at Moonee Valley.

“The trots under lights at Moonee Valley” is another Melbourne institution. People flock on there Saturday nights to eat the sort of food they bring to you in hospital, and to lose money. Better than Pentridge, I admit, but I am not a fan of either gambling or horse racing.

But if hosting a TV show based around the trots, and doing ads and corporate gigs allowed Smacka Fitzgibbon to make a living from his banjo, good luck to him. He was an entrepreneurial spirit. This record seems to have been given away at a corporate function, sponsored by a long-defunct Australian tool manufacturer, Daniel Forge. Now that is something from another time – in Australia we no longer make even nuts and bolts, let alone the spanners to tighten them.

The thing is, forget the the silly hats and slapstick. The bloke could play. Have a listen to this recording, a version of “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas”. Smacka played well, sung smoothly, and led a tight band performing Dixieland jazz in fine style.

  • Artist: Smacka Fitzgibbon
  • Single Title: I’m a Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
  • Track: Side A “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Fable FB-236
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1975

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs