POP GOES THE 1970’s – CHAIN AND MATT TAYLOR.

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Black and Blue (M Taylor/P Manning/B Sullivan/B Harvey) – Chain 1971 and I Remember When I Was Young (M Taylor) – Matt Taylor 1973

Matt Taylor was born in Brisbane (Qld) Queensland in 1948 and grew up in a working-class family in the suburb of Spring Hill, his father, who had emigrated from Liverpool, UK, was a tram-driver. Taylor’s early musical influences were Cream, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones which took him back to the blues roots of the British Invasion bands of the 1960’s. He became inspired by the blues records of Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry in high school, and taught himself the guitar and harmonica. Below – Brisbane’s Bay City Union in the late 1960’s L-R Tony Buetell, Glenn Wheatley, Trevor Bagnall, Matt Taylor, and seated far right Jimmy Berelsford.

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The early career of Taylor would be closely linked with two notable blues bands, The Bay City Union which formed in Brisbane in 1966 and included future Masters Apprentice bass man Glen Wheatley  blues wailer Matt Taylor himself, and after relocating to Melbourne in 1967, master guitarist Phil Manning, but they ultimately broke up in May 1968. Taylor briefly joined the Wild Cherries and throughout 1969 and 1970 he played with such progressive heavy rock/blues bands as Horse and Genesis (not the UK band), until he was recruited by Phil Manning to join Chain in late 1970. Below the various incarnations of Chain – 1969 L-R Glyn Mason (guitar), Warren Morgan (keyboards), Phil Manning (guitar), Barry Sullivan (bass), and Barry Harvey (drums), centre shot includes Wendy Sadington as lead singer, last shot is the classic 4-piece lineup of the band.

 Chain was originally formed in Perth in 1967 as the Beaten Tracks and included Dave Hole (guitar), Ace Follington (drums), Murray Wilkins (bass), and Ross Partington (vocals), they won the Perth heat of the 1968 Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds and relocated to Melbourne to record and perform in that year. The departure of Hole and Partington ushered in their replacements, Phil Manning and Wendy Sadington who renamed the band Chain, in honour of the Aretha Franklin classic Chain of Fools; and for a time this version of Chain joined fellow blues travelers Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Genesis, Carson, Bulldog, Cam-pact, Tully, and In Focus, as the premier blues exponents on the dance, music festival, and recording scene.

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The departure of Sadington to Copperwine and her replacement by Matt Taylor (vocals/harmonica) now in company with Phil Manning (guitar), Barry Harvey (drums) and Barry Sullivan (bass), became the classic four-piece Chain line up which recorded the peerless, pioneering blues album, Toward the Blues from which their seminal blues classic Black and Blue was lifted and hit the charts in 1971. Matt Taylor performs solo at the Melbourne Myer Music Bowl 1974.

Taylor performs at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, 1974.

Chain’s reputation as a great blues/rock band grew with each legendary performance at such Melbourne pub venues as the Village Green and Whitehorse Hotels, they did not sound or look like their pop star contemporaries, Taylor was a skinny, balding, unprepossessing blues-wailing front man who took the delta blues in which he was steeped, and imbued it with an Australian wit and vocal resonance. They gained further attention with appearances at the many music festivals springing up around the country at Ourimbah, Wallacia and Myponga, and were recognized as the premier progressive blues unit in the country. Below- Blues brothers in arms – Taylor and Manning.

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They recorded the original version of Black and Blue in the Festival Studios in Sydney in early 1971, at their first rehearsal the song emerged from a jam session started by Phil Manning strumming some opening chords and Taylor picked up on the work song feel of the intro, which was originally called We’re Groanin’ the backing chant that would be heard throughout the song.

The grunting, grinding chain gang persona of Black and Blue, was graphically captured in the work song chant of the backing singers, rattling chains, crunching pickaxes, the keening vocals of Matt Taylor, bluesy guitars of Phil Manning and Barry Sullivan and pounding percussion of Barry Harvey –  “You broke my back cos I spat on a guard (we’re groanin’) /Don’t make me no better you just make me harder (we’re groanin’) Your water stinks cos it comes from a bog (we’re groanin’)/ And the slop you feed us ain’t fit for a dog (we’re groanin’)”.

A mimed TV performance of this song by Chain indicated that Matt was not entirely comfortable in that environment, as he took the harmonica out of his jacket pocket to play, he forgot that it was still in its case, he casually carried on though, until later in the song when he neglects/forgets to mime playing the harmonica at all. 

Originally inspired by the convict chain gangs of colonial Australia there is a stirring verisimilitude and menacing sensibility about the record that was unique for its time and stirred the hearts of suburbanites like few other blues records had been able to do. It exploded onto the charts in Melbourne where it hit #1 very quickly and #12 nationally, Chain’s seminal blues album Toward the Blues hit #6 later the same year, recorded in Melbourne at the TCS Studios with co-producer/engineer John Sayers in just three days. It contained a re-recording of Black and Blue, and remains to this day the definitive Australian blues album of all time, the Manfred Mann Earth band covered Black and Blue on their 1973 album Messin’. Six months later in August ’71 Chain’s follow up single Judgement was lifted from their album and climbed to #32 nationally, the bluesy fusion of Taylor’s harmonica and Manning’s wah-wah -inflected lead guitar was memorable, and the lyrics “ Well here I stand before you Lord/ My life’s work in my hands/ The only sin I committed Lord/ Was to join a four-piece band…”, and the accompanying train wreck of a video, pitted the poor but earnest bluesmen against the exploitive, manipulative, fascists of the music industry, shot in the Mushroom Records offices and featured a young, heavily disguised Michael Gudinski.

Within months of their chart success, and after becoming the first group signed to Mushroom Records, the famously restless Chain had splintered and headed in different directions, however Chain and Matt Taylor continued to evolve and remained synonymous with quality blues rock in various incarnations to this day.

Taylor was a complex and uncompromising bluesman who left Chain just as they hit the charts and before the release of their album Towards the Blues, in November 1972 he then quit the music industry and went to live on a Universal Brotherhood  commune led by Fred and Mary Robinson at Beechworth (Vic) and later Balingup (WA), which focused on cultish New Age alternative lifestyles, and it was here after Taylor had emerged from a two-week period of fasting, that he wrote I Remember When I Was Young.

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In 1973 he returned to the music scene and hooked up with Michael Gudinski and his Mushroom Records label, he then recorded three solo albums for Mushroom Records between 1973-75, one of which, Straight as A Die, (#16 in ’73) sold almost as well as his earlier Chain album Toward the Blues (#6 in ’71). From the former album he lifted the sprightly and disarmingly honest, rites-of-passage composition, I Remember When I Was Young which charted #26.

This song amply reflects the blues roots of Taylor which he acknowledged in the lyrics ‘I heard the blackman’s blues, it really blew a fuse inside my head/ with some friends we made a stand, and formed our first blues band, it was a real good thing’. The delta blues was the music of his youth and those black bluesmen had helped to shape his own version of the blues, by teaching him about the ‘bombadomba,’ the intrinsic rumbling, churning beat that drove the great early prototypical R&B songs and was the template for I Remember When I Was Young. There was no promo clip for the song but there is a great live recording of the band performing this song at the Myer Music Bowl (Melb) in 1982 as part of the Mushroom Evolution Concert, Phil Manning’s guitar solo was exemplary. 

A memorable live version of this song, Phil Manning’s Hendrix-style guitar pyrotechnics were stunning.

When Michael Gudinski tracked Matt Taylor down in 1973 to record this song, the eco-warrior had retreated to another commune and was feeling disillusioned about the recording industry, but he agreed to do the album with Mushroom on the condition that the recording equipment was set up in his farmhouse outside of Frankston (Vic). Old Chain bandmates Phil Manning (guitar), Barry Harvey (drums) and Barry Sullivan (bass) and ex-Carson guitarist Greg Lawrie joined Taylor to record the song, the loud music attracted the local constabulary after complaints were received about a disturbance of the peace in the area. But the boys in blue were ultimately placated with herbal tea and the teachings of the Hindu god Krishna by the enlightened bluesman. The narrative of the song is confessionally honest, unpretentious, unvarnished, and musically it is bluesy, in an Australian way, that was unique to Matt Taylor.

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Matt has lived in Perth WA) since 1976, and continued to tour and record with various reincarnations of Chain, and the country rock group Western Flyer, he has also played support on local tours by such esteemed US bluesmen as Muddy Waters, BB King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, and Albert Collins. Below Chain’s blues road warriors- Barry Sullivan, Phil Manning, Matt Taylor, and Barry Harvey

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