The Atlantics were the most prominent group of the surf rock genre in the country, their song writing and musicianship were unmatched, the double Strat attack of Skiathitis and Penglis was unique, and they comfortably rated with such international contemporaries as the Surfaris, the Chantays, the Ventures and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. While other local bands such as the Strangers, the Thunderbirds, the Phantoms, the Joy Boys, and the Denvermen were excellent, the Atlantics were without reservation, Australia’s greatest instrumental rock band.
The Atlantics formed in 1961 as a high school garage band from the Randwick (Syd) area, they were strongly influenced by the Shadows and the Ventures, and after considering the names The Eagles, The Falcons and The Jet Streams, they chose The Atlantics, after the Atlantic brand of petrol stations dotted around the country, as they saw this as a convenient and highly cost-effective promotional strategy. It would also prove to be useful when promoting their records in the US, where they were initially thought to be an America band, and got onto radio playlists there, when they might have otherwise been excluded.
The band comprised two Greek migrants, Theo Englis (guitar), and Jim Skiathitis (guitar), Yugoslavian migrant Bosco Bosonac (bass) and Peter Hood (drums). Bosco and Peter were employed as clerks, Theo as a painter and decorator, and Jim as a process chemist. They invested heavily in Fender Stratocaster guitars and amplifiers as well as a Klempf Echolette tape-echo machine which gave the band a distinctive thundering guitar sound. They became popular working the Sydney surf circuit of Bronte, Maroubra, Avalon and North Steyne, and quickly emerged as a highly competent band with a unique sound. Englis and Skiathitis were both extremely talented guitarists and either could play lead guitar. Below Atlantics L-R Rear Bosonac and Hood, Front Skiathitis, Penglis; In Performance, “Popline” article.
Their career trajectory rocketed after they hooked up with Joan King, one of the few female agent- managers in the country at the time, she encouraged the band to become professionals, dress identically in sharp suits and thin ties, and arranged for them to appear on ATN-7’s New Faces TV talent quest which brought them to public notice.
Sven Libaek (above) of CBS Records, was a highly experienced musician and producer from Oslo (Norway) who had recorded and performed in the States, and after touring Australia with his group The Windjammers, ultimately settled down in Sydney, where he became the A&R manager for CBS Records. He invited the band to record several demos and they eventually signed a recording contract with CBS, their first single Moon Man, a Peter Hood composition, was a Shadows-style instrumental that flopped, but the Atlantics were about to really find their groove.
By 1963 the surfing music craze had reached Australia’s shores, the Beach boys had even namechecked our own Narrabeen Beach in their hit song Surfin’ USA, and a host of local bands enjoyed chart success in this year – The Statesmen (Beachcomber #44), The Dave Bridge Trio (Bondi Stomp #39), The Joy Boys (Murphie The Surfie #14), The Delltones (Hangin’ Five #5), and The Denvermen (Surfside #17, Avalon Stomp #25, and Stomp Fever #39). Non-surfing types like Jimmy Hannan had scored with the surf party hit Beach Ball, while even classical dancer Robert Helpmann had swapped his ballet tights for board shorts, and released the quaint minor surf pop hit Surfer Doll in 1964 – his mimed performance of the song on Bandstand indicated that Bobby was more familiar with the pirouette and the pas de deux, than the pipeline and the point break.
In April 1963 Peter Hood joined Jim Skiathitis at his house on a rainy Royal Easter Show weekend, Skiathitis had written the middle segment of an unnamed song a year earlier but hadn’t developed the intro and outro. Hood had his Dandy Floor Tom-Tom with him and Skiathitis his red Fender Stratocaster guitar. On that day in April, the two band buddies, completed the composition of what would become their most famous song – Bombora. The unlikely combination of three immigrants , two Greeks, one Yugoslav, and one Anglo-Saxon, would then record what would become the most famous Australian surf rock song ever, and in the process virtually invent speed metal music years before anyone else.
The record featured the trademark Atlantics high speed “machine gun” guitar licks, thundering rhythm section and echo sound effects, it was a #1 hit locally and held down the top spot for eight weeks, it was top 20 in the US where the DJs thought that a group called the Atlantics must be American. Sales of over half a million for a record that charted locally for 26 weeks confirmed the universal appeal of this unique and timeless surf rock classic. Bombora rates up there with other famous surf rock classics of the era – Pipeline by the Chantays, Wipeout by the Surfaris, and Miserlou by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. Below L-R The Chantays, The Beach Boys, The Ventures
The promo video was shot at Newport Beach (Syd) in the 1960’s when no one wore sunscreen or sun hats, the legendary Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku made an appearance beside his monstrous pine longboard. Bombora was an Aboriginal word which described waves breaking over submerged rocks and the Atlantics and their stunning song, embedded this phrase in surfing folklore.
The band followed up in November 1963 with The Crusher, another Hood/Skiathitis composition, whose title refers to a huge collapsing wave. This was an equally dynamic record which again featured the thunderous rhythms and rapid-fire guitar licks for which the band was justly famous, it charted #7 nationally. The video was an appearance on the Johnny O’Keefe Show, don’t adjust your set, the special effects just look like annoying interference.
Guitarist Theo Englis (above), working under the stage name Thaao Penghlis, would later enjoy success in Hollywood throughout the 1980’s, after he landed roles in the long-running TV series General Hospital in which he co-starred with another Aussie in Rick Springfield in 1981, and Days of Our Lives as well as the re-boot of Mission Impossible. The band reformed in the 1990’s with guitarist Martin Cilia replacing Theo Englis, and the band went on to support the Beach Boys and Chris Isaak (2004) on their tours of Australia.