Anyone familiar with the excellent Do The Pop! compilation knows that, while London and New York slugged it out for bragging rights, Australia had its own thriving garage-punk scene in the mid-to-late 70s.
However, Radio Birdman’s pivotal role in that sonic uprising – their Funhouse nights in Sydney served as the movement’s de facto HQ – often overshadows the fact they were also an incendiary rock’n’roll band in their own right.
Boasting a quasi-military image, a Morrison-esque frontman in Rob Younger and some serious smarts – guitarist Deniz Tek and keyboardist Pip Hoyle were both medical students – they were simply too combustible to last, burning out in the summer of ’78, disillusioned and defeated.
As a consequence, their short-lived recording career (2006 re-formation album Zeno Beach is wisely ignored here) feels more like a Xeroxed pamphlet than a back catalogue; a fact this seven-disc, 104-track box struggles to compensate for. Accordingly, we get both versions of their debut, 1981 follow-up Living Eyes – all with additional tracks – plus a 40-page booklet, live CD and six-track DVD from 1977, seemingly filmed during a meteor storm.
Released in October ’76 – a month before Anarchy In The UK – their debut EP Burn My Eye still feels like an obnoxious wake-up call to a dozing planet, but it’s on 1977’s Radios Appear that their combustible mix of surf licks, punk spirit and garage aggression is at its most explosive. Musically it’s closer to The Flamin’ Groovies than the street polemics of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, but note-perfect nods to the New York Dolls (Murder City Nights), the Ramones (Do The Pop), and The Doors (a spellbinding Man With Golden Helmet) sizzle with the scorched-earth intensity of the MC5.
If follow up Living Eyes – recorded in ’78 but not released until three years later – is competent but lacks the same propulsive drive, the live set from Sydney’s Paddington Town Hall in December ’77 captures their ramalama boogie as it should be heard. Hearing Michigan exile Deniz Tek fire off the razor-wire riff of band anthem New Race using Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s guitar is a totemic passing of the rock’n’roll torch if ever there was one. Essential./o:p