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The scorching adventures of The Screaming Jets, Australia's nearly men

The Screaming Jets
(Image credit: Cherry Red)

"We’ve been around so long that people’s kids are coming to see us now. Unfortunately, if a young pretty girl comes up to ask for an autograph, I know it’s for her mum or her dad.” 

Screaming Jets frontman Dave Gleeson grins his irrepressible grin, which doesn’t leave his face for all of the hour or so that Classic Rock is chatting with him and guitarist Paul Woseen, and seems about as chipper as one can be, given that Australia has only recently been plunged back into a national lockdown as new Covid strains wreak havoc. 

“We live on a property near Adelaide, so there’s plenty of places to roam around and stuff like that,” the singer continues. “We’re not stuck in an apartment or an inner-city place. But it’s shitty. It’s killing everything. You get ready to do a gig and it happens again. It’s like a kick in the nuts.” 

Yet despite the shadow of the pandemic that continues to hang over the world, there are cheerier things to discuss, all of which makes Gleeson’s grin grow bigger, while the more laconic Woseen plays with his dog and nurses a vodka at his home in Melbourne. 

The Australian quintet have celebrated the 30th anniversary of their debut album All For One by re-recording the entire thing. At the time, the album breezed into the rock scene chock-full of the Jets’ natural bonhomie and with a healthy dose of front and cheek. On an album originally released in 1991, the good-time groove of Better, the big single from the album, C’mon and Stop The World, not to mention the tongue-in-cheek riposte of F.R.C. (an acronym for Fat Rich C**ts), served as a perfect antidote to the more dour and austere approach taken by many of the grunge bands who were beginning to command the front covers of rock magazines at the time. 

Unsurprisingly, to British ears, like most bands from down under, The Screaming Jets sounded a bit like AC/DC and Rose Tattoo; to the more naturalised Australian ear they sounded more like national Aussie heroes The Angels, who were less well known outside their native Oz. Throw in some Van Halen-esque flash, and had the likes of Pearl Jam and Nirvana not turned the rock world on its head at the same time, we would probably be looking at one of the biggest bands in the world right now.

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Of course, revisiting and re-recording such a loved album does not come without one or two drawbacks. Most re-recordings tend to lose something in the new translation. It’s very doubtful that anyone reading this feature would reach for some new re-recordings by their favourite band when the originals that served so well for so long are sitting right next to them. 

Added to that, of the line-up that wrote and played on All For One, only Gleeson and bassist Woseen are in the current band. Original guitarist Grant Walmsley finally bade the band farewell in 2007, while fellow guitarist Richard Lara and drummer Brad Heaney both left back in 1993. Guitarist Jimi Hocking first joined The Screaming Jets in 1993, and along with second guitarist Scott Kingman and drummer Cam McGlinchey, plus the two founding members, they’ve managed the admirable feat of making the new All For One sound as fresh, exhilarating and exciting as the All For One these ears first heard 30 years ago.

We are blessed, I think, with a very youthful approach to what we do,” states Gleeson. “That state of arrested development that I think me and Paul were doing in 1990 or whenever it was. We were playing, and the fun we had on the road and all the stuff we do together. We were all trying to impress each other and make sure we hold our own and make sure we’re bringing our essential beat to the table. It’s so much fun to do.” 

“When I was doing the tracks here, if you came to my place and saw my little studio you’d think: ‘There’s a mental patient,’” Woseen says, laughing. “I’m not sitting there, I’m standing up and smashing my head because I’m getting into it just like I’m playing a concert. That’s how I record. You want to approach it the same way.” 

“Yeah, and the music that you make with the people that you love is evident,” Gleeson continues. “There’s all kinds of recordings where you can kind of think back and go back to the situation you’re in. We had a great time recording that first album, obviously myself and Paul and Richie and Grant and Brad. We just ran amok. 

"We were in King’s Cross, the decadent heart of Australia. We were playing shows and turning up and hanging out with the chicks upstairs at the record company. It was all mad. When we did this re-recording, the fact we all love each other and enjoy each other’s company and enjoy playing with each other so much I think shines through. Unfortunately, we didn’t have half as much fun recording it this time as we did the first time, because we’re all in different states."

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Although The Screaming Jets officially formed in 1989, Gleeson and original guitarist Walsmey had met at school in Newcastle in New South Wales (roughly 100 miles up the coast from Sydney) in the very early 80s, and had formed a band together, Sudden Impact, in 1985. They became Aspect, by which time Woseen had joined in 1988, followed by Lara and Heaney. 

“Myself and Paul were in kind of diametrically opposed bands,” Gleeson says with a laugh. “We were playing The Angels and Radiators and Acca Dacca and stuff, and they were playing this mad 60s stuff. Paul was in this three-piece band The Embers. They were legendary. 

"The first time I ever saw them was at a party, and at the end of a song their singing guitar player, who had drunk a bottle of bourbon during the show, just fell over on to his guitar and started throwing up on the stage. And I thought this was the greatest rock thing I’ve ever seen. I was 17 at the time. But yeah, we came from different sides but we all played heaps and heaps before the Jets got together.” 

The Screaming Jets got off to a raucous flying start. Early gigs were populated by a boisterous, sometimes overzealous audience. Within six months of their first gig, the band had won a prestigious Battle Of The Bands competition with Sydney rock radio station Triple J. It wasn’t long before they upped sticks and moved to the NSW capital, landed a deal with Australian label rooART, founded by INXS’s manager, and headed out on the road with their heroes The Angels – the kind of patronage most young bands could only dream of.

It didn’t hurt,” says a smiling Woseen. “It put us in front of a very similar demographic that we were about. And I guess they were such a big band, The Angels. Always have been. To get a couple of tours with them, playing in front of them, just meant we were in people’s faces constantly, again and again and again. And those sort of music fans and punters, it’s sort of like a pat on the back from the big band saying: “These guys are alright.” 

“We’re also lucky because the 80s was a massive period for Australian music in Australia,” adds Gleeson. “Radio stations couldn’t wait for the new record from Cold Chisel or Ice House or Split Enz or Australian Crawl or INXS. We got to kick off a tour with the Divinyls. We toured subsequently with The Radiators, The Choir Boys, The Angels. And as Paul was saying, we’re lucky that all those bands took us under their wing. They weren’t there to put some pussy band up so they’d sound mega after it, they wanted a band that would blow the crowd away.”

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The Screaming Jets released their first EP, The Scorching Adventures Of The Screaming Jets, in December 1990. The opening track, C’mon, earned them a nomination for Best New Talent at the ARIA Music Awards, while the single Better found itself nestling at No.4 in the Australian chart. 

In April 1991 All For One was released, and reached No.2 in the album chart. With those successes the Jets had taken off with some serious propulsion. Next stop: London. There are Classic Rock writers who well recall the Screaming Jets hitting London in 1991 like a proverbial tornado… 

“With no shirts on,” Woseen says, laughing. “Take off your shirts, we’re in London!” 

For a while the band, especially the affable Gleeson, seemed to be everywhere. With his perma-grin and (at the time) mohawk haircut he would appear at all kinds of record company functions, immediately making friends with all and sundry, and disappearing off to whichever late-night haunt would serve them booze until the early hours. For a while, at least, it all helped the Jets to maintain their upwards trajectory. 

“We played Hammersmith Odeon, we played Nottingham Rock City, we played some amazing shows all around,” recalls a beaming Gleeson. “We did the Rock Am Ring in Nuremburg. We played with Def Leppard and INXS and all sorts of stuff. So we did okay on some shows, that’s for sure.” 

“I remember once after a show, at the hotel in New York looking out the window and pinching myself, going: ‘Fuck. I’m this useless prick from Newcastle, and look at that – that’s New York fucking City,’” Woseen muses. “How the hell is this going on? That’s great! But you’re right, not many acts from here do get out offshore.” 

Needless to say, it couldn’t last. And unfortunately it didn’t. The band maintained their momentum with 1992’s Living In England EP and second album Tear Of Thought. But in the middle of a 1993 tour with Ugly Kid Joe, drummer Brad Heaney was fired, replaced for a short time by former Judas Priest drummer Dave Holland. 

After a US support slot with Def Leppard, Jimi Hocking replaced Richard Lara. The band’s self-titled third album was released in 1995. But although the Jets were still a big draw back home, record label issues and media attention shifting to nu metal elsewhere stymied their progress.

The biggest setback for us came on our second time around where we’d gone around the world,” Gleeson says. “We’d gone through Polydor, and they’d been fantastic throughout Europe. Everyone was so on board and loved it. 

"We came back, and Chris Murphy, who owned rooARt, had moved INXS over to Warners, and he did some deal that didn’t sit well with the Polydor people, and he did a deal that moved all our records over to Warners worldwide. I remember ringing up some people from the first trip from all the record companies. They didn’t want to talk to me. I’m like: ‘We’re in town.’ And they’re like: ‘Who cares?’ So that cost us pretty heavily. 

“I think as far as the follow-up, we did some great work and got in a little bit of trouble, which is a good thing going around. But all the work we’d done on that first trip was suddenly all wiped away. Not so much the fans, but the record company people. By the time we got to the second record company we were tainted goods.”

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But that’s not the end of the story. Gleeson and Woseen continued to lead the Screaming Jets, now with eight studio albums under the belt prior to the new recording of All For One, the last of which, Gotcha Covered, appearing in 2018. And in a quirk of fate, the irrepressible Gleeson has also fronted the band’s beloved band The Angels since 2011.

“We continue,” the singer surmises. “The only reason we’re still in the game is to stay in the game. And keep writing music. I think our next mission is to write a song that gets there. And that’s the only reason I do it. If I thought we’d got as far as we’re going to go and we’re just going round and round, I’d probably knock it on the head. But the fact we’ve still got the fire in us and when we play together is magic…" 

For the first time during our conversation, Gleeson’s smile fades momentarily, as if he’s deep in thought. But then it’s back. 

“You know what?” he says, beaming again. “We’d love to get back all around the world and reclaim our crown.”

The re-recorded All For One is out now via Cherry Red.

Jerry Ewing

Founder and Editor of Prog Magazine. Enjoys almost all progressive music in its many guises, but is especially partial to a slice of post rock.