The instrumental boom of the early 1960s gripped Australia as fiercely as any nation. While it was principally allied to the surf culture that is an intrinsic part of coastal life downunder, the Aussie scene was as varied as anywhere else. But rather than meekly imitate the Yanks (and Poms), local musicians took the instrumental form one step further, pushing the boundaries of fretboard excess to a level matched only by the Japanese in those years. Australian youth surfed and stomped to a soundtrack of frenetically twanged, strummed and reverberating Stratocasters, underpinned by rolling drums and a frequently urgent atmosphere. It is a piercing, diamond-hard sound, personified by local heroes the Atlantics and their 1963 worldwide surf hit Bombora. There are other textures too - a touch of country, a lugubrious, quasi-Polynesian lilt - but the end result has a consistent and uniquely Australian flavour.
Until now, much of this music has remained an antipodean secret, but with Board Boogie we are proud to present some of its best examples, drawn from the impeccably-maintained master tape vault of Australia's first and largest independent label, Festival Records. Quite apart from gaining their first-ever release outside Australia, many of the vintage recordings on Board Boogie have not even been reissued in their native land, and only the most fastidious and well-heeled of Aussie collectors will have heard them. These rare performances often showcase excellent musicianship and imaginative arrangements, and while the production work is occasionally crude, it merely adds to the overall effect (such as the downright terrifying atmosphere of Laurie Wade's The Phantom Guitarist).
Instrumental outfits were a basic constituent of the country's fledgling rock'n'roll scene right from the start, even if initially they were merely adjuncts to well-known singers like Col Joye and Johnny O'Keefe, but thanks to the tremendous and pervasive influence of the Shadows, from 1960 onwards Australia became the land of the electric guitar. It should be mentioned however that many local groups were also to become inspired by the Atlantics' example, particularly in regard to that aggregate's apparent self-sufficiency. Some Aussie-recorded instrumental hits like Bombora and the Denvermen's Surfside did get issued in the US at the time, and the Surfaris even picked up on the Joy Boys' Murphy The Surfie (a novelty based on Surfing mag's cartoon character) when they toured Australia in early 1964, quickly covering the number for single release. Later, as the pure surf sound withered in the face of the Beatles, combos were content to continue recording instrumentals, merely throwing a punchier, mod feel into the brew (typified here by the Blue Jays' Jaywalker and The Mean One by the Playboys). Conversely, the definite surf-inspired groove of the Sunsets' Windansea dates from as late as 1967.
The focus in Board Boogie is upon self-penned material indigenous to Australia, although we also feature unique, rip-roaring takes on standards such as Sabre Dance and Theme From Dr No. But it's instantly apparent that original tunes like Midnite Surfer, Cloudburst, Sandy The Surfin' Sandfly and Riptide are the equal of anything that US and UK combos were capable of offering up at the time - a fact their enthusiastic homegrown audience would have confirmed in a second. The lengthy note includes band histories from Oz surf expert Stephen McParland, detailing the stories behind the music and providing a much needed overview upon this long-neglected pocket of instrumental music history, completing a package that will appeal to fans of any nationality.
(Board Boogie is the first of four volumes on Big Beat International devoted to the amazing Australian 1960s scene - watch for shortly forthcoming discs devoted to beat, punk and pop-psych, packed with both acknowledged classics and stupefying rarities, all in the very best fidelity.)
by Alec Palao