Rose Tattoo were one of the pre-eminent Sydney pub rock bands in the country throughout the 1970’s, the suburban beer barns and inner-city corner hotels provided the sweaty, working class, blue-collar environment in which the Rosie Tatts thrived.
Once Garry “Angry” Anderson had been recruited from Melbourne’s sharpie skinhead faves Buster Brown as the group’s front man, and the additional requisite body art applied, the original lineup became, left to right above – Peter Wells (slide guitar), Dallas Royall (drums), Mick Cocks (rhythm guitar), Ian Rilen (bass, later replaced by Geordie Leach) and Angry Anderson front. They were aggressive, loud, and confrontational when they debuted at the Bondi Lifesaver in December 1976, a pub rock venue that boasted the combined architectural grace and style of a concrete bunker and a public toilet (below). At the time Angry Anderson described the band thus ” We play harder, faster, tighter, more aggressively, closer to rock’s original form…than anyone else in the country…we are obviously the most violent perpetrators of rock “n” roll music in Australia.”
But not everyone was convinced, Rebecca Batties described Anderson in 1977 as something less threatening “… with his chubby body, round face and shaved head he looks like an elongated bouncing bambino, I guess some would call him cute…” (R Batties Rose Tattoo), maybe his mother.
Angry Anderson was an unpredictable frontman, one moment wrapping the mic cord around his neck while performing his showstopper Suicide City, until he passed out, or headbutting the mic stand until he bled, and famously swapping saliva/chewing gum with guitarist Mick Cocks during a Countdown performance, for which the ABC banned them for life – Angry Anderson and the Rosie Tatts were morbidly intriguing
In Rilen (above) was doing a short stretch in Long Bay Goal (Syd) in 1970 when he made the life-changing decision to become a great bass player, Clinton Walker of Australian Rolling Stone recounted Rilen’s path on the way to rock and roll redemption “ When he was inside there was another young inmate there who wanted to be a drummer, and so the pair would run their exercise in the yard like a rhythm section, stamping out and mouthing their respective parts.” “Got out of goal,” Ian says “went to the Cross, had a coffee and a steak, it was beautiful, met these working girls, went back to their place, then this bloke comes along, selling pot or buying pot I dunno, we got talking, I said I wanted to play bass, and the next day he bought one around for me.”
The Tatts certainly epitomized the rebel bad boy image of disaffected, tattooed, desperadoes from the wrong side of the tracks, and disarmingly described themselves as a “hearty group of inner urban survivors.” (The Real Thing- Cresswell and Fabinyi 199), who identified with their audience – the dispossessed, alienated, urban working class, who populated the beer barns of the country.
So logically the band were also favored by the sharpies of Melbourne and Sydney (above), a tribal phenomenon, separated by train lines into suburban gangs, such as the Frankston or Thomastown Sharps in Melbourne, or the Blacktown or Rooty Hill Sharps in Sydney. There were provincial venues in each territory where sharpie-approved bands would play, but when gangs converged at concerts or at train stations, clashes sometimes turned ugly. The male sharpies were androgynous bovver boys who wore tight-fitting cardigans or V-neck jumpers nicknamed “connies” (after a Thornbury tailor called Conti who originally made them), hip-hugging jeans or flares, blunt-toed platform shoes (head beaters), three stars wrist tattoos, cropped haircuts, a pack of Viscount/Winfield Blues tucked into the shoulder of their tee shirt, and an unpredictable anti-social stance on most things.
Their female counterparts preferred tight denim mini-skirts, tight knitted tops, Doc Martins, treads, or platform shoes laced up or zippered, mullet hairstyles, and the obligatory pack of cigarettes tucked into their tops. The Sharpies’ taste in music was equally single-minded. It had to be rough, it had to be rocking, and for the most part it had to be local. They enjoyed imported glam such as Slade and Sweet, and didn’t mind a bit of Bowie and Bolan, but sharpies loved loud, riff-heavy Aussie boogie rock. The sharpie stomp, all flailing elbows and dragging knuckles, was performed en masse in front of Billy Thorpe’s Aztecs, Lobby Lloyd’s Colored Balls, Angry Anderson’s early band Buster Brown and subsequently Rose Tattoo, AC/DC., Hush, and The Purple Hearts (another early Lobby Lloyd band).
Bad Boy For Love was written by bass guitarist Ian Rilen, and produced by Harry Vanda and George Young at Alberts Studio, it was typical blue collar pub rock with heaps of attitude, anti-social sentiment, murder, mayhem and an anthemic chorus backed by a killer slide guitar riff from Peter Wells, which took the band into the top 20 for the first time.
“I went around just to see my chick/ I found her room and it was candle lit/ She’s makin’ love to another man/ I shot ‘em both and they locked me in the slam/ Cos’ I’m a bad boy, a bad boy for love…”, Bad Boy climbed into the top 20 in November 1977 and their debut self-titled album included such standout tracks as The Butcher and Fast Eddy (gang warfare), Remedy (a sharpie call to arms), and One of the Boys (working class anthem with punky slide guitar), it made the top 40. A year later Ian Rilen would depart before the band released their second album Assault and Battery to form the punk rock band X, and Rose Tattoo would continue to perform with an ever-changing line up issuing six albums between 1978- 86.
In 1981 the band would tour Europe and appear at the Marquee Club (London) and the Reading Festival, a year later they would tour the USA as support on the Aerosmith/ZZ Top Tour, win critical praise for their hard-edged version of pub rock, and establish a solid fanbase on the international heavy metal touring circuit.
Rock and Roll Outlaw was another serve of strident, sneering, muscular, blue-collar R&R, with the diminutive but demonic Angry Anderson’s gravelly, menacing lead vocals taking Rose Tattoo to a modest #68 nationally, but the song fared better globally – #2 France, #5 Germany, #60 UK, and they were also arousing interest in the USA where Guns and Roses had become early fans of their music.
The snarky slide guitar of Peter Wells and the hard-grinding riffs of Geordie Leach lead us to the band’s opening statement of intent – “I don’t need lots of people tellin’ me what to do / I don’t need a long-haired lady to love me true as true/ All I need is a rock and roll band, somewhere new to play/ And I’m on my way, I’m on my way.”
Rose Tattoo’s songs were lyrically so blokey and testosterone-fueled that at times they sounded like homoerotic hubris with a touch of machismo on the side, but there was no doubt that Rose Tattoo were the real deal, the group did live a dangerous and debilitating R&R lifestyle right to the end. Band members would become part of what is the most famous cancer cluster in Australian rock music history, when Lobby Lloyd (66 yrs), Ian Rilen (59 yrs), Mick Cocks (54 yrs), Dallas Royall (42 yrs), Peter Wells (59 yrs) , and Neil Smith (59 yrs) all succumbed to cancer at early ages.
The titles of their early albums were also a pointer to the band’s credo – Scarred For life and Assault and Battery – when they disbanded in 1987, they had taken six albums into the top forty with Scarred For Life being there biggest hit when it climbed to #11 and occupied the charts for 34 weeks. In 1985 Anderson would take time out to play the part of “Ironbar” Bassey in the local movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and in 1987 his debut solo album Beat From A Single Drum produced the hit single Suddenly when included in the Neighbours episode featuring the wedding of Charlene (Kylie Minogue) and Scott (Jason Donovan) – #2 Aust, #3 UK, and #11 NZ.
Rose Tattoo were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006 along with Midnight Oil. Helen Reddy, Divinyls, Daddy Cool, Icehouse and Lobby Lloyd.