KINGS OF THE SUN: Cultural Cringe (1988)

By STEVE MASCORD

KINGS of the Sun say they’re not bitter. Last Thursday night, over a thousand punters packed the Kardomah Cafe to see the “new sensations” who had “made it big” in the US. Two years ago the same group had decided to disband because of lack of public support, particularly in Sydney. Despite a charting single, there was no record contract. They were ready to give up.

A couple of overseas trips, suddenly they’re the flavour of the month back home.

“1 think if we had spent as much time in Melbourne as we did in Sydney, we’d have been much better off,’ says drummer Clifford Hoad pointedly at Mushroom Records’ Sydney office.

“Melbourne crowds are loyal and support bands, whereas Sydney is so fickle. Look what Sydney did to the Sunnyboys….”

Clifford and brother, blonde-maned  lead prancer Jeffrey, are just back from a short time at home on the Gold Coast and are shocked at what they saw. ‘It’ss full of Japanese tourists,” says Jeffrey. “It’s been one year and the whole place is full of Japanese signs and Japanese tourists,’

It was on the sun-soaked tourist strip that the Kings rose, partially from discontent with the slow but hedonistic lifestyle. Jeffrey Hoad says his school was a tough one, with “suicide, and drug busts and people going crazy’. The paradox between their music’s southern feel and the northern coastline lifestyle that inspired their name, name is not lost on them, “I wear leather boardshorts,”’ chortles Jeffrey.

But the grass was no greener down south. With the early ‘80s music scene being dominated by Duran Duran  and Culture Club,  prime gigs were hard to come by.  They toured, broke up, surfed and tried it again.

The Kings were playing their second last show in 1986 when a record company executive approached them backstage and bluntly offered them a trip to the US. After two years of playing loud, entertaining shows and coming up with zilch, they accepted.

Jeffrey is at first diplomatic on the point of bitterness: “When you’re playing, playing, playing and you get no reaction, you just have to go where the interest is. That was two years ago. Now we come back here and there’s a real market for us.”

But there’s more there. Neither, of the Hoads seem to be in love with America and the fact they had to go there to be noticed clearly irks them.

Jeffrey announces: “Australia has produced some of the greatest bands ever in the world, and it’s also destroyed some of the greatest bands in the world. Rose Tattoo should have been one of the biggest.

“And you go over to Ike LA:’ says Clifford’, and you see Guns N’Roses  and Motley Crue doing the whole  tattoo business, ripping them off completely. They (Guns N’Roses) even do one of their songs in their set, “Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock’n’Roll).

‘We were just scared it was going to happen to us, because we were around for two years doing the hotel scene with no money. It’s pretty disheartening. This is a band that knows its got something to offer and full of positive energy and when you’re around that atmosphere and no-one gives you a write-up or anything, you get to the point where you think you’re just going down with the rest of them.”

Kings of the Sun are the Hoad brothers, bassist Anthony Ragg and guitarist Glen Morris, They play a raucous brand of southern influenced hard rock that so many American hands have been striving for this decade.

That fact alone provides the ultimate irony of their story. Having been virtually forced out overseas, they now return to accusations of selling out.

“They take a good time fun band from America, but they won’t take it from Australia,” said Jeffrey. “We try not to worry about people saying stuff like that. The people we get flak off are really the people who don’t like heavy guitar  music anyway. They’re the people who think it’s all trivial and it’s all sexist.”

Yet there is more here than meets the eye too. They do worry — they guard and foster an Australian image ferociously, The Kings fought tooth and nail with their record company against what they called the ‘glossy album cover syndrome’, They insisted on an Australian cover and Jenolan Caves now adorn the cover of the Eddie Kramer-produced opus. And when an American photographer asked them to pose in a cadillac for an Australian press shot, they blew up. ‘Can you Imagine what ihe Ausiralian public would think?’ said Clifford.

Years of bashing the skins in vain brought Clifford to the conclusion some Australians just don’t know how to enjoy themselves.  ‘It;s cool l to enjoy it. Before they know it they’re 40 and they think  ‘fuck., what’ve I done’ and up bitter old men.”

Clifford reckons the Kings’ critics are “threatened by sexuality and volume, I think, which are two things you really shouldn’t be scared of”.

Says Jeffrey: “We’ve had complaints from feminists and and moralists and goodness knows who else.

‘The whole thing is just so tongue-in –cheek  and fun, We’re not crusaders in the sex and depravity stakes. There’s people who make child porn and stuff like that.”

He taunts, teases and tricks the audience into falling for him like the best American showmen but remains enough of a larrikin not to alienate anyone. , “People know it’s bullshit but they don’t care – they love it. You see bands on stage performing all the rock’n’roll clichés, like stumbling around on stage. “Hey man, what  town are we in’ and they’re local bands! That’s what Adolph Hitler said: “: You get a crowd together, you can say he most banal things, stupid things, and people will respond

“I think people are turning more towards characters in bands There’s so many pretty faces out there like Bros who are just being sold like popcorn and there’s nothing really behind it. People can sense chat its not a real band”

Despite a clearly developing live pulling power and their popularity with music television, the Kings are yet so realise their lull chart potential. But after two years’ sweat for nothing, that’s hardly a problem.

‘It’s only our first album – give us a break,” Clifford implores. “We’ve done better than most groups on our first album. I think people expect too much from this record. INXS, Midnight Oil, they broke five or six albums later.

‘That album — you mark my words — that album is a classic and it will be picked up on  more when the second album does well.

Who’s going to argue? We’ve all been made fools of once.

Filed for: ON THE STREET

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