Friday, 23 August 2013

Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs- Live At Sunbury

When you think of a seminal moment in Australian music you probably can't go past the famous Sunbury Music Festivals that occurred in the early 70's, and no one epitomises those concerts better than Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs. Their famous live at Sunbury album was recorded at the first festival which was held in 1972. The live set was released as a double live album and put the Aztecs back in the Australian Top 10, it was the culmination of four solid years of touring and experimenting. Billy Thorpe was a pop idol who emerged at the start of a real renaissance in Australian music as Beatlemania dominated the local music scene, Thorpe notched seven national number one singles but by the late 60's his career was beginning to slow. He was in the verge of heading overseas to the U.K at the invitiation of Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood when he decided to remain in Melbourne and form a new band. This time the focus was on balls to the floor boogie, with a very strong R&B focus, loud guitars and music played at a pounding volume. Whilst he may not have possessed the greatest vocal ability Thorpe made up for it in sheer power, same with his guitar work, just an ear splitting cascade of rhythm that was designed to get you on your feet. Thorpe and the newly configured Aztecs went from the local club scene to the pubs and barns of the suburbs and to bigger venues like the Myer Music Bowl and the Sydney Opera House.

The Live At Sunbury album had a pronounced influence on Australian rock and roll, it helped to create a thriving live music scene especially in the capital cities. The live set captured is basically the same that Thorpe and been playing for a few years with the addition of a few originals. Thorpe sounds like he is enjoying himself, especially when he makes his iconic call for the patrons from the Whitehorse Hotel to "suck more piss"! The opening track CC Rider has the band taking things at a heavy duty pace, rollicking and rolling along. Thorpe was fortunate enough to have a brilliant drummer in Gil Matthews on board and his drumming is exceptional, mixing jazz flourishes with raw rock drumming. He was a drummer capable of equal measures of finesse and sheer power, he was able anchored by bassist Paul Wheeler who possessed a solid rhythm style. They then tear into Gene Vincents Be Bop A Lula with a Thorpe bending and distorting that familiar refrain, the song is given the real boogie treatment. They then really crank it up a notch with the self penned Momma which is just brilliant, completely unrelenting and featuring some unbelievable drumming form Matthews. The B.B King Rock Me Baby was one of the first songs Billy Thorpe turned to when re-inventing himself, it was a staple of his live act. The band give it the appropriate tempo but with a solid gruffness, slow dirty blues delivered to thousands of adoring, blasted fans!

His signature tune Most People I Know had not yet been released as a single when it was played at the festival, the band give it a real powerful debut. The introduction from Thorpe is hilarious, he states that he wrote because people had thought he had gone made through too much acid, dope and booze. Another member of the band who perhaps more than anybody helped Thorpe reach his potential was guitarist Lobby Lloyde who passion for the blues and ability to play was virtually unmatched in Australia at the time. Time to Live was another original that was released as a B side, this song has a more prog rock feel, elongated and undulating with some nice keyboard work. The Aztecs finish off with a lengthy version of Ooo Poo Pa Doo, Thorpe has a backing chorus of about 30,000 people belting out the chorus alongside him. The Aztecs probably never reached the same heights again and by 1974 Billy was once again trying out for a solo career, he signed with Phil Waldens Capricorn label and recorded three albums for that label before they went broke. Gil Matthews runs the local reissue label Aztec Music which dutifully remasters and re-releases classic Australian rock albums, this reissue of the Live At Sunbury album was released on the label.

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