MILESAGO - Features

KEITH GLASS: A Life In Music

Part 3: Cam-Pact, 1967-69

There it was on the wall of the men’s public toilet at Her Majesty’s hotel in Toorak Road, South Yarra. "Be modern, be camp" some-one had scrawled and in a flash we had our group name. John Pugh, Bob Tregilgus, Mark Barnes, Chris Stockley and myself had been rehearsing, for a solid month or so, sans moniker, our "soul group with teen appeal". In a moment of idiocy and after a few drinks at the trendiest pub in the trendiest stretch of Melbourne we had it, for better or for worse.

"The Camp Act" (as it was initially) was fairly fitting in the sense we were all extremely heterosexual but also fairly fey. Of course some were more fey than others. Barnes in particular cultivated the sweet little boy act but underneath was a cuttingly cruel tease of both sexes with an acid tongue and a razor sharp mind. A few months later he and Stockley would perform a lingering mouth to mouth kiss in our first film clip to accompany the song "Something Easy" just outside in Toorak Rd. It only just made the cut as they came out of the clinch but the intention was clear. We wanted to get somewhere by shock tactics mild for today but wild for the time. Our first publicity shots included all five of us seemingly naked in the one bed and when we couldn’t get it published it was pinned to the wall of The Thumping Tum disco, which became our "nerve centre" of operations; until some shocked patron objected to it and our manager and Tum operator David Flint took it down.

John Pugh and I were over reacting to our previous year and a half as one half of The Eighteenth Century Quartet, a band originally built around the songs of Hans Poulsen we had been lured into with visions of overnight/overseas fame and fortune. So what had we done? Kicked Hans out of his own band just because he was personally unbearable and turned the remainder into a pseudo soul group anyway. This was the music we loved. Southern soul specifically. Others wanted to go to London or Los Angeles we wanted to go to Memphis and Muscle Shoals.

Winchester, England born Chris Stockley was a kindred spirit from John’s old group The Roadrunners and Mark and Bob came from that source too. These guys were among the first to play the blues in Melbourne and Max Merritt had shown us that Soul, a derivative of blues/gospel and country could be even more potent and alluring.

Our mission was to grab ourselves a solid repertoire of soul classics and after some intensive rehearsals at a space across town in Carlton we had about 60 songs down with the emphasis on Otis, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett and a smattering of Detroit stuff if it was hard edged enough, from the Four Tops, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. We had the records so no-one had a better set list. In the months that followed, except for a few must keep classics, if another band started playing any of the songs we did, we dropped them. The Chelsea Set and The Groove caused us a few heartaches in that department.

Trouble is, for a while there John and I thought we were Sam & Dave instead of two extremely white boys from suburban Melbourne. In the 18CQ we’d seriously started writing songs inspired by Hans truly great pop efforts, many of which remain unheard. Now we wanted to be soul men. Pugh even pushed himself to rasp up and after hearing Max drank a lot of whiskey he took to it with vengeance, as he has many things prior and since.

Our first gig was at The Queensbury Hotel on March 4th 1967, followed later that night by a spot at The Thumping Tum. We were working pretty solid almost immediately.

After a few months live work, John wanted out to start his own band (first called Flowerpower then The News). We’d always had trouble with Bob (now going under the surname Lloyd) and his jazz leanings leaving the backbeat too light. He moved on too. So that first version of the band went unrecorded. In came another soul freak, Trevor Courtney on drums, (previously of New Zealand band Chants R&B) and the young Greg Cook on guitar and organ. Greg leaned more to English melodic pop­read Beatles. He was sort of the odd man out and we led him wildly astray.

With me concentrating on being a front man this was the group that first recorded. Dr Geoffrey Edelston was funding recordings all over town and had a deal with Festival by that stage as ‘Hit Productions’. We were playing four nights and some days a week while juggling day jobs or in my case and Mark’s, tertiary study. The infamous Doctor rubber stamped a deal one night at The Thumping Tum and into the studio we went. I think the pure soul thing in me had diluted enough by then to realise we should record an original if possible. Together with Greg I concocted "Something Easy" with some cringe inducing lyrics over a solid beat group approximation of an uptempo soul groove and a horn section we gathered from members of the Ram Jam Big Band and my ex-girlfriends twin brother on trombone (Peter Thoms ­ a professional musician in London to this day).

With the work we’d been doing and a certain teen appeal we had, the record made the Melbourne charts, peaking in the 20’s. One of our hot spots was the lunchtime gig at Tenth Avenue in Bourke Street. Play for the extremely young just teenage girls who skipped school to be there and get ‘em to go across the road to Coles and buy our single. Trev especially used to sit one on each knee during breaks and as I walked past would say "Just doing some promotion, man".
The second single "I’m Your Puppet" was the sort of stuff we should have stuck at. Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham were better writers than I was ever going to be and the James & Bobby Purify version I owned was obscure enough that we could cut it and win. The string arrangement by BEA studio arranger Geoff Kitchen was whitebread but probably made it more poppy and really more us, as deep we really were not. It charted higher than the first single and also got some action interstate although still not in hard-to-crack Sydney.

The flip Drawing Room (previously done by the 18CQ) has become a bit of an Australian psychedelic classic ­ we simply threw everything at it as a frustrated reaction to never getting the studio sound we wanted. At last Chris could turn his amp up, up, up. It also signifies we’d become caught up in the early prog-rock mania. The pure soul time was gone, the rules were out the window and we hadn’t even taken any serious drugs yet.
We were sort of bad boys in sheep’s clothing however. We wanted it both ways teen appeal and musical credibility ­- this caused us to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the fans. There was one obsessed fan who paid the ultimate price. After lurking around outside a group member's house all night she was in a fairly delirious state. Deciding to go to the local milk bar for nourishment she was hit by a bus and after lingering for a few days died in the hospital without, to our eternal shame, a visit from her idols. In fact we did arrive just in time to find her parents leaving, crying but not apportioning blame to the snotty nosed bastards who had in effect caused her demise. I’d like to say it affected our behaviour after that but it probably didn’t.

We started to blow it as far as recording was concerned. Mark was becoming a bit unreliable and I’d switched over to bass and the idea was to share vocals around the remaining four piece. I think we’d been listening to the Fifth Dimension and Jim Webb songs specifically. So needless tempo changes, over the top vocal arrangements and puerile pop replaced all we had learnt. "And It Won’t Be Long", for which we also did a film clip, sank without trace.

It was crunch time. We decided to go to Sydney and enlist the ears of the then chart topping producer Pat Aulton. "Potion Of Love" was an obscure soul song in the breezy Philly Soul style Trevor was particularly fond of. (It was actually originally recorded by The Ambers who hailed from New Jersey). By this stage, through constant gigging the band had become extremely tight, so there were just the four of us in the studio on the track and I think we nailed it but perhaps fashion and trends beat us because this, to my ears sounds like the best single we ever did. It caused not a flutter. The B side "Cry My Heart Out" gave Chris a chance to show off some newly acquired jazz chops and Trev to sing like Georgie Fame.

Time for me to leave. On a whim ( and while still officially attending RMIT) I went to audition for the stage production of "Hair" and was offered a lead role. I would be earning many times what I was (not) making in the band. On the last week in Melbourne with Cam-Pact we did 11 gigs, then I flew at my own expense to back to Sydney for rehearsals. I remember Trev falling off the drums with exhaustion final song of the last gig. All of the money from that final weekend went in "expenses" I apparently owed the band. Hmmm.

Chris jumped ship almost at the same time and running into Glen Shorrock and Brian Cadd while I was rehearsing for the opening of "Hair", I suggested him for the group they were planning called Axiom.

Cam-Pact with Trevor and Greg played on, they came up to Sydney to record the blatant bubble-gum "Zoom Zoom Zoom" with new boys Bill Blisset on keyboards and our old mate (and still my close friend) Chris Lofven on bass. I went down to the studio and may have played tambourine on the session. It was commercial but failed to revive the bands fortunes. Soon Trevor went to The Vibrants, Greg to The Mixtures and the rest of the latter Cam-Pact weirdly enough mutated into Company Caine.

Cam-Pact was a pretty tight little outfit most of the time with a lot of talent in it. It stretched in too many directions however. Soul/pop/psychedelic and more. It was a sign of the times. Those times were between the pure ‘beat’ days when it was exciting just to pick up an instrument and the emerging big Australian rock sound of the seventies which really got going with outdoor festivals and licensed premises. Cam-Pact wouldn’t have been at home there. We really belonged in the so-called ‘disco’s’ such as The Thumping Tum, The Catcher, Berties, Sebastians and the list goes on. The Rococo period of the swinging 60’s, complete with frilly shirts, tight pink trousers and ambivalent sexuality.

Keith Glass

(These notes in revised form will be featured in the forthcoming 19 track CamPact CD titled "Psychedelic pop ‘n’ soul 1967-69)