YEARS AGO – BILLY THORPE AT SUNBURY

 

 

Aztecs Mk 2

 

Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy) (B Thorpe) –  Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs 1972.

 

Rock and Pop festivals had mushroomed around the world in the 1960’s, in the UK at the Isle of Wight, Reading, Leeds and even Hyde Park and in the US at Newport, Monterey and most famously Woodstock and most disastrously at Altamont.

In 1970 the Pilgrimage of Pop at Ourimbah (NSW) was the first local rock festival, others followed at Myponga (SA), Launching Place (Vic), Wallacia (NSW) and A.N.U. (Canberra), and the inaugural Sunbury Festival was held over the Australia Day weekend in January 1972.

Sunbury is recognized as the archetypal Australian rock festival, it featured only local performers, attracted crowds of more than 35,000, and ran continuously between 1972-75, located in a picturesque natural amphitheatre, on farmland near Sunbury, just north of Melbourne, it became the nation’s premier pop festival destination.

The Aztecs shared billing with such blues/rock luminaries as Spectrum, the La De Das, Max Merritt & the Meteors, the Wild Cherries, Chain, Pirana, SCRA, Greg Quill’s Country Radio and many others. John Dixon filmed a documentary which captured all the performance highlights, the larrikin spirit, and excesses of the event and particularly the dynamic, turbo-fueled star turn of the show – Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs.

By 1972, rock chameleon Billy Thorpe probably thought that his era of Beatlemania-style teen adulation and pop chart-topping days of the early 1960’s were over. He no longer fronted a beat group who traded on covers of old songs in his distinctive vibrato, wore stylish suits, sported trendy collar-length hair, and delivered a highly polished stage routine which commanded a dedicated following from their mostly pre-pubescent female fans.

On arrival at Sunbury in 1972 the new Aztecs were Billy Thorpe (guitar/vocals), Bruce Howard (keyboards), Paul Wheeler (bass) and Gil Mathews (drums); Lobby Lloyd was no longer an Aztec, but in the period 1968-71 the guitar supremo had been a seminal influence on Thorpe, encouraging him to play guitar and in leading the band towards a more bluesy, heavy- rock repertoire.

At Sunbury Thorpe was reincarnated as a wild rock swashbuckler – sporting a ponytail, wearing jeans and T-shirt, slinging a guitar, vocal chords straining, neck veins dilating, fronting the loudest rock act in the country, with 35,000 like-minded fans urging him on during their two- hour set.

The Aztecs Sunbury set, issued as the album Aztecs Live at Sunbury, whose album cover was surely a candidate for the most boring and unimaginative ever, although the Beach Boys Pet Sounds artwork was equally boring and twee; included an eclectic mix of vintage blues and rock songs – C C Rider, Be Bop A Lula, Ooh Poo Pa Doo and Rock Me Baby and new original songs – Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy) and Time To Live.

 

Aztecs at Sunbury Mk 2

Gene Vincent’s Be Bop a Lula became 5.23 minutes of amped-up, turbo-fueled, primitive rock, guitar feedback included, given the Aztecs unique rumble treatment and energy boost of sound, it was perfectly in sync with the “suck more piss” chant of their hard-drinking, stoned-out, hell-raising audience. This track is relatively short, Thorpe’s version of Jessie Hill’s seminal R&B outing Ooh Poo Pa Doo clocked in at 15.17 minutes and alarmingly threatened to “create a disturbance in your mind”, while their take on B.B King’s Rock Me Baby came in at 9.46 minutes.

But it wasn’t all covers of songs, the Aztecs did debut a song that was to become an Australian classic at Sunbury, the hedonistic and self-indulgent Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy).  

While there was a new Aztecs, and a new gutsier attitude, Thorpie could never suppress his inherent commerciality and this song, which is decidedly more sedate and folksy, is not wholly representative of what the Aztecs were doing at the time. It’s a whimsical, self-effacing composition on the one hand, a beguiling slice of country rock, and yet it still reflected the highly personal and defiant stance of Billy Thorpe, while apparently proclaiming his re-born faith and spurning of the material life – “Most of my life I‘ve lived a delusion yes/ Material gain has caused me confusion but/ Slowly in time I learned that my place is to / Tell all that I meet the glory that God is…”

 

 

Few contemporary performers could get away with giving one of their album’s the title, More Arse Than Class, and having all the band members bare their collective backsides, on the inner gatefold of the cover, and dedicating one entire side of an album – The Hoax Is Overto one song of 24.35 minutes duration – Gangster of Love.

The new Aztecs were raw, lewd, and provocatively profane, their live concert playlist included a song entitled Fuck on Stage (“whaddaya mean I can’t say fuck on stage”) but Most People I Know was so disarming, engaging and ultimately anthemic, that it struck a responsive chord and peaked at #2 in March and went on to be the #12th biggest-selling record of the year. Billy Thorpe sadly passed away in 2007.

 

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