Remembering Things

'Follow The Sun' Compiles Gems From the Dusty Bins of 70s Australian Rock, Folk and Outsider Music

We caught up with co-curator Mikey Young to find out more about the cherry picked and semi-obscure gold.

by Tim Scott
28 April 2017, 2:05am

In an essay that comes as part of the liner notes of Follow the Sun, a new compilation that surveys the sound of Australia's lesser — and greater — known moments of 70s rock, folk, and their in-between offspring, co-curator Mikey Young says, "Maybe I inject some vision of a simpler more self-contained, innocent Australia in the way I hear this music. A 'pre-Crocodile Dundee, Koala Blue, Ken Done' Australia where in my yet-to-be-born head it seems that the rest of the world was less concerned about us and we were less aware of it."

Compiled by Young - best known for his guitar work in Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Total Control - and Keith Abrahamsson, founder and head of A&R at Anthology Recordings and Mexican Summer, the compilation charts some of the subversive music of the time.

Young and Abrahamsson discovered that they shared a love of obscure 70s Australian music when they worked together on Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Lace Curtain records for Mexican Summer and following Anthology's US reissue of the soundtrack from the 1971 Australian surf classic Morning of the Earth that featured music from Tamam Shud and Brian Cadd.

After six months of back-and-forth emails about records that they owned or wanted to own, Follow the Sun started to take shape.

"Half of it was stuff I had in my head that I wanted and the rest is more standard AM radio fodder that I like," explains Mikey. "People who know me well know that my music taste is quite dated and 'nice'."

Sourcing tracks proved easy enough but difficulties with licensing came not from obscure bedroom producers but the higher profile acts. "Say if a band released a single in 1973 with Polydor, who is now owned by Universal, it's difficult to contact them to see if they now own the rights", say Young. "The paperwork alone complicates it. We had to find some backdoors or the right person to contact to beg our case. Some of the major label case was quite hard, when you can just deal with the artist, it works out better."

And while some of the music was on the fringe, Young doesn't agree that all the acts on the compilation were long haired and weird hippy drop outs.

"I reckon bands like Autumn and Mata Hari probably wanted to make it as much as a regular big act in the 1970s. For every pub rock band, there was probably a million bands like Air Supply. I feel like half the comp is pretty on the fringe but the other half were just dudes in a band trying to make it."

Released in 1975, Tidewater's album Wild Horse Plains didn't make much of dent on release but has become a curious collectable over the years, in part because it was released on the small fringe Adelaide-based EMS label, which was a novel at the time.

Greg Champion met Brooke Mostyn Smith at the Adelaide University tennis club in 1973. After discovering that they shared an interest in folk, the two were soon playing country rock and Dylan covers at university gigs and folk clubs. Calling themselves Tidewater, the band organically grew over the following years, to one point having six members.

Champion, who after moving to Melbourne in the late 70s developed a successful music and broadcasting career through the long running Coodabeen Champions radio program, says his music journey was typical of the early 70s and reflects the stylistic shift in Australian music.

"By '74 the Eagles were the biggest thing and folkies like me went to the guitar store to buy a semi acoustic and we were switching over to the Eagles influenced country rock. Tidewater was without a doubt country rock. The folk scene clubs virtually shut down overnight and in a matter of three weeks the folk scene virtually died. The popularity of acts like Peter Paul and Mary had peaked and Australian rock was on the rise."

Though Tidewater's contribution to Follow the Sun offers insight into the music popular at the time, Champion says that it's difficult for him to listen to the early recording. "I cringe at the track "Wild Horse Plains", I'm very scared of if and slightly embarrassed by it. I was 20-years old and it was our first experience in the studio. Other people are kinda about the record than I am."

Another Adelaide act that appears on the comp is Andy Armstrong, a teenager who cut his first album At Last in 1969. His track "Riverboat" is taken from the great Perspective Works, an album of folk and acoustic blues that was originally released privately in 1972, that has been in demand by many collectors for decades and was reissued on CD by a South Korean label a few years ago.

"While we were compiling the album it was often the case of "do we need to use reissues or just stuff that's been untouched?", explains Young. "I was like, "fuck it". With stuff like that, music that's being reissued on a Korean CD, none of my friends have likely heard it so if you put it on a comp, maybe it will reach a new audience. Like when I was a teenager, if you had a compilation, you'd discover music and it would often branch out. I didn't want to stress if it had been used before and just worry about whether it's good or not."

Mention any compilation which examine a particular time and place in music history, and talk turns to Nuggets, the groundbreaking album of American psych and garage rock singles released in the mid-to-late 1960s. But Young says that the acts on Follow the Sun, like Nuggets are not as obscure as people may think. "There was a lot of major label stuff on Nuggets, like The Seeds, who were quite known. On our original lineup we had a Sherbet track. That's a record you can get for 10 bucks. I think we included songs that we think people should hear."

Young says that he enjoys the curatorial control that comes with putting together a hand selected compilation. "Not to offend anyone, but a lot of these tracks come from records that only have a few standouts. The idea of reissuing a whole album doesn't interest me because it's not solid enough. I guess that's the beauty of comps, you can sort and make a really good mixtape."

'Follow the Sun' is available May 5 through Anthology/Rocket.