In 1976 Ian Cunningham was a teacher at Mornington High School, located on the Mornington Peninsula outside of Melbourne.
Three of his students played in Fourth Reich, a garage rock band that morphed into the heavier Deathwish when Cunningham joined as bassist and “manager”.
Deathwish in turn morphed into The Chosen Few in late ’77, and in time became one of the most incendiary and powerful (if overlooked) Australian garage rock bands ever.
Heavily influenced by the power rock of the Stooges, Lobby Lloyd, and the Colored Balls as well as US hardcore punk, the Chosen Few practiced in a bungalow on a family farm in Moorooduc. Weekend trips into Melbourne had them playing gigs in a growing punk scene that included the Boys Next Door. Even so, they were outsiders in an already outsider music scene.
Though their recorded output was limited, the 1978 EP The Joke’s On US became a cult classic with the original record later fetching high prices and Eddy Current Suppression Ring covering the track “T.A.L.O.I.G.A.”
Two wild unreleased tracks including a cover of the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” have recently been released on Australian label Buttercup.
We caught up with Ian to find out what it was like down on the farm back in the day.
Noisey: What was it like down on the coast then? It must have seemed a long way from Melbourne punk scenes of Richmond and St Kilda.
Ian Cunningham: It was fucking light years away! Hastings was a small town that supplied labour for the steel works nearby and was a dormitory for the HMAS Cerberus naval base. It meant extensive travel to play. I was often away from my family until breakfast next day. It was OK for the boys, who were younger and single, but I found it hard at times. When you consider that members of bands like JAB lived almost within walking distance of most Melbourne venues, there was a real us and them thing at times.
What was a typical Friday night down on the farm?
We would assemble after work, get some "tubes" (of beer) in and get on with it. We played as though we were on stage and I often recorded the sets on a mono tape recorder. These tapes are the source of most of our CD and vinyl releases. Occasionally beer would overcome music and we'd go off on some weird bloody trip. Our roadie Stick had a series of old Holden panel vans that he lovingly restored. To relieve the monotony of rehearsal and when suitably pissed, we'd pile into the back of Stick's “Mighty Van” and go rabbit hunting.
How much of an impact did seeing Radio Birdman play in 1977 have on you?
It changed my life. I'd never seen a band so seriously good and original as Birdman. From the opening "Ramblin' Rose" until the end they just played flat out and unrelenting hard rock. They were awesome. They played a lot of similar material to us (Blue Oyster Cult, MC5, Stooges) and we started to play like them and act like them. We learned from them to leave our guitars leaning against the amps when we finished playing, causing humungous amounts of feedback!
I like how you polarized the Boys Next Door art school audience in Melbourne with your stripped back yob rock.
We played US-oriented garage rock while the others mostly played "punk" that derived from British glam bands and later on ‘Pommy punk’. Few of the other Melbourne bands were really punk—they were too pretty and were dandified fashion plates. We were just rude, crude, and unattractive beer-swilling wild men from out of town that just happened to play a vicious brand of fast, tight hard rock. Our attitude made us punk. We played incredibly, even painfully loud. We were beer drinkers, VFL fans, drove crappy old Holden’s, dressed like tradies, swore like sailors and had nothing in common with the pretty boys, whom we vilified at every opportunity.
What is an ARAB band?
Mostly, the boys hoped that playing would maybe result in getting a few free beers and meeting chicks, so what we were playing for was the prospect of "A Root and A Beer" (ARAB). Pretty simple, really. I was, of course, not part of this ARAB mentality because I was very happily married with a young family, in which case, in retrospect, I must really have loved the music 'cause I got fuck all else out of it.
The Chosen Few's "I Wanna Be Your Dog/Son of Sam" 7" is available now from Buttercup Records.