James Michael Nugent Reyne was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1957, English father Rodney and Australian mother Judith had relocated from Australia to Africa to enable Rodney Reyne, formerly of the Royal Marines, to take up a management position with the British Petroleum Company there. A second son David arrived in 1959, and after the family returned to Australia later that year, a daughter Elisabeth was born, the family settled in the south-eastern Melbourne bayside suburb of Mt. Eliza, on the Mornington Peninsula, and both James and David attended the Peninsula School.Other Peninsula School alumni included future bandmates Bill (1953) and Guy (1955) McDonough, Brad Robinson (1958), and Simon Binks (1956) who were all Mornington Peninsula-raised, and befriended James through shared interests, in music, swimming and the Coast Guard Cadets. The area was comfortably upper middle class, a pseudo rural setting, within easy driving distance of Melbourne to the north and the surf and sand of the peninsula’s beaches to the south. As James Reyne has remarked, the lifestyle was relaxed, privileged, and indulgent, bored parents often attended cocktail parties, occasionally experimented with partner-swapping, and generally turned a blind eye to the casual sex and soft drug use of their offspring.James Reyne’s early musical influences included the country/rock/blues of The Dingos (above), surf rockers Taman Shud and Kavas Jute, the satirical witticisms of the Skyhooks, and the vocal style of the Sports front man Stephen Cummings. He commenced law at university but after two years switched to a drama course at the Vic College of the Arts, by this time his mother had segued from a teaching career to acting, under the stage name, Judith Graham, and she encouraged her eldest son to pursue an acting career. In 1976 he formed the rock band Spiff Rouch, two words that are colloquially apposite to the use of marijuana – spliff and roach – the band were James Reyne (vocals), Simon Binks (guitar), Mark Hudson (guitar), Guy McDonough (vocals, guitar), Brad Robinson (guitar), Robert Walker (bass) and Bill McDonough (drums). Rare video footage of Spiff Rouche performing their original song Wangaratta Bay in 1976 below, features Reyne on lead vocals with a porn star moustache.
In early 1978, Spiff Rouche split into two groups. Clutch Cargo (named after an early 1960’s cartoon series which featured synchro-vox animation) which consisted of James Reyne (vocals), Simon Binks (guitar), Brad Robinson (guitar), Paul Williams (bass) (born 1955) and David Reyne (drums).The other group arising from the ashes of Spiff Rouche was The Flatheads, comprising Guy McDonough (vocals, guitar), Robert Walker (bass), Sean Higgins (synthesisers), Nigel Spencer (bass, synthesisers) and Bill McDonough (drums), which existed from 1978 to 1980. When both bands dissolved, the embryonic line up for Australian Crawl emerged, named after the unique Australian swimming style, and the fact that band members all had backgrounds in swimming and surfing along the Mornington Peninsula, and had been playing gigs at surf clubs for several years. The Clutch Cargo lineup emerged in 1979 as virtually the original Australian Crawl, except for David Reyne who headed off to film school and was replaced by former Flatheads drummer Bill McDonough.The band‘s first song would be the semi-autobiographical Beautiful People, written by James Reyne and former Spiff Rouch band mate Mark Hudson in 1975, and pre-released in 1979, in advance of their debut album The Boys Light Up, that would break the band nationally and send them on a five year journey to dominate national charts, and ultimately to a solo career for front man James Reyne.