SPECIAL FEATURE

Boys In Town (C Amphlett/M McEntee) – Divinyls 1981 

 The Divinyls formed in 1980 after Chrissy Amphlett met Mark McEntee, at the time she was fronting the covers band Baton Rouge and although only 21 had been performing since she was 14 with such groups as Daisy Clover and One Ton Gypsy, and in a starring role as Linda Lips the Porn Queen in the sex musical Let My People Come. She had travelled the world, lived as a homeless person, and done gaol time for illegally busking in Spain.

Amphlett and McEntee were mutually attracted, their personal chemistry was a volatile mix which was expressed via their creative musical relationship, and in their personal life, after McEntee left his wife Linda for Amphlett.

As the creative dynamo of the band, the pair charted the future course of the Divinyls from the pub rock circuit, to creation of the soundtrack and performing roles in Helen Garner’s 1982 movie Monkey Grip, then onto arena rock fame and ultimately international chart success.

The book and movie eerily reflected the personal experiences of a wayward young Chrissy, who would hitchhike with her girlfriends from Geelong to Torquay beach on the Great Ocean Road to hang out with surfer guys, listen to music and smoke dope, she was a beautiful, self-possessed intimidating young girl, who was also an uncomfortable fit within the mysognistic surf culture of the 1970’s, and it was this experience that moved her to write Boys in Town.

In her book Pleasure and Pain – My Life, Amphlett recalls returning to Geelong for a gig as frontwoman for the Divinyls, when their first hit record, Boys In Town was charting. In the audience were Fledge, Boong and Brew, three of the Torquay surfer guys who had treated her like “jail-bait”, gobsmacked, a little intimidated by Chrissy’s performance, and dumbstruck by the transformation of the young girl they had known, at the end of the set Chrissy was determined to have the last word, when she looked down at them and yelled from the stage “Now you go and get fucked.”

Monkey Grip was an intimate drama portraying a complex female protagonist, and this was the way Amphlett was presented in the promo video for the song.

Shot from below to accentuate the dominance and threatening persona of Chrissy and through a metal grille to evoke the atmosphere of a caged animal, Amphlett writhed and pranced about in fishnet stockings and a schoolgirl uniform, sneeringly delivering this sultry stomper in her trademark husky vocals.

Although she was the cousin of the demure Little Pattie (Patricia Amphlett), Amphlett made no pretence to project the traditional female pop image of shy innocence or virginity, she was a confusing and yet mesmerizing mix of feral and carnal attitudes and poses and she totally dominated the public image of the band. The song charted #8 and was a foretaste of things to come from this unpredictable but always fascinating frontwoman.

 

 

 Pleasure and Pain (H Knight/M Chapman) – Divinyls 1985

 In the period 1983-85 immediately after the success of Science Fiction, the band struggled to complete their next album What a Life, producer Mark Opitz was sacked and Englishman Gary Langan came on board but Chrissy judged him to be too arty and pretentious, after eighteen months and a major budget blowout, there was still no album.

The band needed to generate some cash from the material developed thus far, Chrysalis issued four underwhelming singles – Siren (Never Let You Go) #45, Casual Encounter #91, Good Die Young #32 and In My Life #47, their last major top 5 chart success had been the album Desperate in 1983, the band were overdue for a creative reboot and a re-imagining of their live performances.

The Divinyls live performances in the past had been strangely disconnected from their audience, Chrissy lurked unobtrusively at the rear of the stage near the drummer, a fringe covering her eyes, and occasionally completing turning her back on the audience.

The top local bands of the era all had charismatic front-men – Peter Garrett, Bon Scott, Doc Neeson , Angry Anderson, Michael Hutchence, and Jimmy Barnes set the benchmark for success, Chrissy knew that the band’s future success would depend largely on whether she could project a more animated, provocative, confronting persona on stage, and expose the emotional abandon that came so naturally to her when she was off stage.

After attending an AC/DC concert with manager Vince Lovegrove, Chrissy donned the schoolgirl tunic and blouse, and combined them with fishnet stockings and an exposed suspender belt, she debuted her new stage persona one night at the Astra Hotel, near Bondi Beach, the scowling, screaming, headbanging banshee entranced the crowd and brought the house down.

Divinyls live performances became much-anticipated, Amphlett prowled the stage provocatively, pouting, prancing, arms akimbo, leaping onto the back of band members or cuffing them as she swept by, crouching, and squatting at the edge of the stage, knicker-flashing the mosh pit and doing for the girl’s school tunic and blouse, what Angus Young could never have done for the school blazer and shorts. The heady and confusing mix of aggression and confrontation on the one hand and schoolgirl vulnerability and innocence on the other, was often too much for fans and promoters to take in, and while Amphlett may have offended some, there was no way you could ignore her.

By 1985 the Divinyls were touring extensively here and overseas and working with Mike Chapman of “Chinnichap” fame who co-wrote Pleasure and Pain with Holly Knight, a multi-award-winning US songwriter who had teamed with Chapman on several huge international hits including, Pat Benatar’s  Love Is a Battlefield and Tina Turner’s Better Be Good To Me. Chrissy didn’t like Holly Knight but she knew her stuff, and this song became one of the Divinyls best records,

Chapman produced the Divinyls What a Life! Album at Paradise Studios (Syd) which yielded the hit song Pleasure and Pain, which peaked at #11 nationally although it failed to crack the US market where it only charted at #76.

The song opines the fine line between experiencing pleasure and pain and although not written by Amphlett and McEntee, it was an apt description of the tempestuous relationship between the members of the Divinyls.

Chrissy was a mercurial and demanding leader, she was obsessed with achieving success, unrelenting in her pursuit of excellence, hypercritical and irrational, even more so when high on adrenaline and under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The band formed alliances within the group, the brilliant rhythm section of Richard Harvey and Rick Grossman were tight and took turns at antagonising McEntee, who was talented but remote and eccentric. McEntee and Amphlett were fused contractually, musically, and romantically but fought with each other over most things, except when they combined to attack their long-suffering manager Vince Lovegrove, while Amphlett singled out guitarist/keyboardist Bjarn Ohlin for special attention, accusing him of just acting out the role of a rock star, he responded at Selinas (Syd) one night by jabbing Amphlett in the stomach with his guitar.

The promo video for Pleasure and Pain, was shot in a power station in Sydney, Amphlett was the focus of the cameras, it was as usual edgy, confronting and completely original, Amphlett dramatically underscored the whole pleasure and pain theme by subsequently confirming that she had an abortion the day after filming this video.

Chrysalis wanted Amphlett to decamp to Los Angeles to write songs there with music industry insiders, Mark McEntee was not included, and with Chrissy heading for the States the other band members took on either session work or locum jobs with other bands. Richard Harvey wanted to do a six-week tour with Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, Chrissy disapproved, and he was sacked, and replaced by JJ Harris.

Two years later when interviewed for the Australian Made Tour documentary in 1987, Amphlett would reveal in an interview, rather confessionally, whilst she sat next to Michael Hutchence, that she never masturbated, yet the Divinyls biggest international hit in 1990, would be a memorable anthem to the art of self-arousal.

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