ANGRY ANDERSON - BOUND FOR GLORY
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INTERVIEW – ANGRY ANDERSON, Rose Tattoo – June 2015
Shane Pinnegar
July 06, 2015

 

Angry Anderson is a garrulous fellow, and has never been shy of voicing his opinions. An ardent supporter of freedom and the Australian way of life, he’s helmed Rose Tattoo since the mid-‘70s, been a daytime television star, a tireless defender of the underprivileged and a charity worker (he was awarded a Member Of The Order Of Australia gong in 1993 for his work with troubled and homeless youths), raised four kids, and even run for parliament.

I scored ten minutes with the diminutive yet imposing singer to talk about the excellent ABC TV documentary, Blood + Thunder: The Sound Of Alberts, on the eve of its debut screening… and no-one was more surprised than me when that blew out to thirty-five minutes, covering a huge variety of bases along the way.

Anderson talks at length about the spirit of The legendary Alberts Studios, and founder Ted Albert – the only man bold enough to give Rose Tattoo a recording contract. There’s a mini-masterclass on songwriting, and the craft that ex-Easybeats Vanda & Young brought to Rose Tattoo and their.

We digress and talk about the early days of the band, including Anderson’s arrest in Perth in 1982 for “inciting a riot” at The Old Melbourne Hotel, and uncover some bad news for Rose Tattoo fans about the future of the band.
Angry: Right, shoot.

100% ROCK: Thanks for your time today, Angry. I watched Blood + Thunder yesterday. It’s really well put together, I thought.

Angry: Well, you’re one up on me – I haven’t seen it yet!

100% ROCK: Oh, really? Okay, well let’s start with an obvious question. How important do you rate Alberts [Studios] to the evolution of Australian music?

Angry: What has been exported to the rest of the world [musically] from Australia, one of the first bands that actually made an international mark, obviously, was The Easybeats. They brought back invaluable knowledge about not only how audiences work, so to speak, overseas, because they are different from Australians – every country has an identity, if you like, as far as audiences go. They brought back a working knowledge of how complicated and how advantageous or disadvantageous record deals, publishing deals, all that kind of stuff, [can be].

That’s a wealth of information, but what they brought back [from] that wonderful experience of being overseas, was that they recognised very, very quickly how fundamentally important pop music is as a culture. It really grew up during the ’60s and it’s funny because I think most people acknowledge the fact that America created pop music or popular music, but it took the English to take it as far as it [could go] – further than it had ever been taken before.

The simple answer is without Alberts, the Australian rock sound – which has now proved to be our most successful export – would not have reached [those heights]. It’s curious, is it not, that all the great bands that have made an international mark have all been Alberts bands.

We’re not talking about success, per se – so Men At Work, now I don’t think Men At Work musically influenced anybody because they were too quirky. I don’t think Midnight Oil, even though they had [great success], their success in America was largely university-driven. INXS were pop, Savage Garden were pop, and I think they’ve never been huge monster rock bands. But you talk to anybody – [like] Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters, [you talk to] Metallica, you talk to the guys that were Gunners, Guns N’ Roses, [or] Skid Row, Motley Crue – the list goes on.

[These are] some of the greatest rock bands, popularity-wise, and inevitably the trail of their influences comes back to four bands: AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo, Choirboys. It’s the Alberts sound.

Australian rock music – and pop, because [Alberts, and songwriter/producers Harry Vanda & George Young] had quite significant success with people in the pop field. William Shakespeare, well, he isn’t my cup of tea, but, it was it’s own worth because it worked. You’ve got John Paul Young, who’s known internationally as the guy who sang Love Is In The Air.

And you’ve got Ted Mulry and other great pop acts, so their credentials are impeccable, but the thing that really [had] the biggest influence overseas is definitely the Alberts rock sound and it was down to those two guitar, driven, chord-based sound. Those guys understood what rock and roll was about, what was possible. What was attainable. Where could you take it. Well, we took it there.

AC/DC took it somewhere. Tatts took it somewhere. The Angels took it somewhere. Choirboys took it somewhere. We took it to the rest of the world because those four bands toured [and] they’ve actually influenced other bands that went on to become very successful, great rock bands. It’s amazing to hear someone like the guys out of Metallica because although I don’t hear the Alberts sound in Metallica, they turned around and go, ‘well, in our early days, our early influences were AC/DC, the Tatts, The Angels, and Choirboys.’ The Alberts bands, in other words. [Without Alberts and Vanda & Young] there couldn’t have been the success that Australian music has enjoyed, not only here at home, which is huge, but, more importantly, the impact and the influence that we’ve had, our bands, the Alberts bands, have had on overseas bands.

It’s quite a significant thing.

100% ROCK: It’s a really good point to make, actually, because if you say there was no Alberts, if you say there was no Vanda & Young, that doesn’t just mean the Australian sound is different, it means that Guns N’ Roses sound different. It means Motley Crue sound different and Metallica and whoever else all sound different.

Angry: Yeah, well, see that’s the point. Going back to the Foo Fighters, I remember [Grohl] talking – and this is going back a few tours now to earlier tours – and he was saying he loved the idea of coming to Australia because it was the home of the [biggest] influences that those young American players [had]. When they were looking for the most extravagant rock bands or the rock bands that were the toughest, that were the most masculine, that were rock bands that stood apart because they didn’t play, they didn’t look, and they didn’t write like mainstream rock bands. We stood out.

Someone once described Rose Tatts as ‘standing out like a pie in a vegetarian restaurant’, or a raw steak!

100% ROCK: I’ve not heard that one. That’s a good one.

Angry: That was Alberts. You have a look at those, particularly those four bands and you’ve got some of the toughest rock ever recorded.

Still to this day, not a month goes by that I don’t get fan mail from all around the world for the Tatts – they always say, ‘love the Tatts, love the Tatts’ and ‘my favourite band is Rose Tattoo.’ And then The Angels, and then AC/DC or the Choirboys – it’s always the Alberts bands.

We used to do festivals – we were still touring [Europe] up until a few years ago, and we’d be over there every summer playing with some of the greatest rock bands around and they would just want to come and stand side of stage and they’d want to meet you and they’d want to talk to you about when they were kids, how the Alberts sound, the Alberts bands, influenced them. You see, it’s one thing to go over to America and sell some records and that influence has to be acknowledged.

That’s a great thing too, but it’s another thing to go to a country and then years later have those kids come up or grown men by that stage and say, ‘I remember I was 19 and saw you and my life changed and I became obsessed with emulating what you do.’ And you’re talking to Slash who played in Guns N’ Roses, one of the biggest selling rock bands in the last 20 years.

100% ROCK: Well, that’s it. That’s the point, that record sales don’t necessarily equal influence. Rose Tatts – you were the first band I ever saw in a pub, when I was aged a very, very, very young 16. That’s sticks with you. That’s important.

Angry: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s what I mean. I remember Bill Thorpe once said – another act associated with Alberts – I remember Bill, it was his going away party. I remember before we all got so horribly out of it we couldn’t remember our own names, but I remember we were sitting around the table having lunch at his girl’s place and it was the prelude to the party and we kicked off early.

Some of us, the inner circle, so to speak, we had lunch together and I remember him telling about all these plans he had for America and he said, ‘you know, the one thing you got to remember, if you’re one of the best in this country, you’re one of the best in the world. Because I’ve been there and I looked at and I’ve seen it.’ And I remember he turned to me and said, ‘mate, don’t you ever fucking change.’ And I said, ‘well, no, [he laughs heartily], like – change into WHAT?!’ And he said, ‘just fucking be Angry Anderson – your name will fucking be up in lights the world around.’

And we laughed. We just thought that was hilarious. But, I don’t know if you ever had the pleasure or the pain of meeting Bill…?

100% ROCK: No, unfortunately, not. I wish.

Angry: No, he is a fucking… He’s a piece work, Bill. But then he holds so much belief, not only in himself, but our industry. He said, ‘mate, we’re some of the best fucking musos in the world. No-one plays like us.’ And it wasn’t just us rock bands, it was all of our fucking artists.

This backward country produces this amazing talent and there are some people that deserve to be huge – the business is not fair or unfair, it just is. But there’s some talent in this country… Megan Washington. She’s an Alberts act. A little more recent one, obviously. She’s extraordinary, fucking extraordinary. I go and see her perform and I always leave in tears. She just fucking knocks me out. Just an extraordinary talent.

100% ROCK: What did Vanda & Young bring to Rose Tattoo that first time you went into the studio to do the debut album?

Angry: [laughs] Melody. Melody. We’d done all our demos and shit like that, all that sort of stuff. We thought we had the songs and – that was the other thing they brought to Rose Tattoo, the idea of structure and, like, ‘that doesn’t need to be as long as it was the last time you played it. Instead, we’ll cut that in half.’ And you go, ‘well, what do even you mean? You play it four times.’ ‘No, no, no. This time we’ll play it twice and then later we’ll play it again four times.’ It was arrangements and structure and how to craft [a song].

You take a song like Bad Boy For Love, which was just a dirge, and they tell Mick to come up with some guitar part and he goes home and he listens to a few blues records and he comes back and goes… Instead of it being [mimics guitar riff], ‘junka, junka, junka, junka, junka, junka, junka, junka’, it turns into ‘bamp, bamp, bamp, da-da. Bamp, bamp, bamp’ – all of a sudden you’ve got a fucking pop song.

100% ROCK: They were such amazing songwriters. I guess that it was like a masterclass for you guys.

Angry: Well, maybe it was for all of us. You talk to anybody out of that clutch of bands… none of those four bands that I’ve mentioned, and the other artists, but, predominantly, AC/DC, us, The Angels, and the Choirboys, none of us would have turned out to be the songwriters that we became without George & Harry [Vanda & Young]. It just wouldn’t have happened because they taught us how to craft, they taught us how to take a blues stomping, dirgey, bluesy thing, like Rock & Roll Outlaw – which wasn’t called Rock & Roll Outlaw in those days – and turn it into a pop song and still retain its authenticity as a blues song. It still retained its identity, its character, its personality, its depth and its breadth. And it didn’t lose anything in the translation or the transition and, in fact, what it gained from being an atypical blues song was, it suddenly became accessible – so they made the music accessible. It took the beauty of the raw… they didn’t want to chain the beast, they just wanted to be able to saddle it and bridle it.

100% ROCK: You mention in the TV show that you were a bit surprised when Ted heard what he heard in Rose Tattoo’s music. The guy’s standing there in a suit, very clean cut, immaculate hair cut, and everything…

Angry: [laughs another hearty laugh] Yeah!! God bless his socks – we all loved Ted for that. For the polka-dot ties and the fucking neat suits and that really… he was so unassuming and he just stood there with this sly… I wouldn’t even call it a smirk. It was a grin. You didn’t expect someone who looked like Ted [to be into this rock music] He was interested in people, see, and that’s a mark of a great record producer or a great publisher, as Ted was.

100% ROCK: He sounds like a very open-minded and visionary man.

Angry: Yeah, well, see the thing about it was he was interested in people and he was interested in people because of the music they made. He knew, instinctively – his musical credentials were impeccable as well and he came from a wonderful family understanding of the business that they were actually in. Years later we learnt that they made musical instruments, harmonicas. That they published music all around the world. All sorts of things.

Now, he says, ‘what are your early influences?’ and I suspect very, very strongly that he suspected what my influences were, which is why he asked the question. I said, ‘well, my earliest influence was when my mother arrived here from Mauritius, pregnant with me and I was born into my grandfather’s – her father-in-law’s – house and the youngest of the Anderson boys was still living at home and he was a drummer in a swing band and, so, my earliest influence was swing music.’ And he just smiled and said, ‘one day let me show you our catalogue.’ [Alberts Music made their fortune originally by selling sheet music] Which, of course, he did and they had some amazing swing music in their catalogue.

Now, I quickly moved on – because the first time I ever heard blues singers or jazz singers they were were singing in front of bands now, like your Bessie Smith’s and all those kind of people. Then I discovered the blues singers – the Bill Broonzys and the Lightnin’ Hopkins and all those. The really old, cool guys that were singing the blues. That was my early years. He was interested, but not only was he interested, he was knowledgeable.

He knew all that stuff because when I started using those names. He’d go, ‘oh, yeah. Well, my favourite record of Howlin’ Wolf or Bill Broonzy, whatever, was… I loved his blah, blah, blah. You should sing [that song]’ Well, this guy knows his fucking music!

100% ROCK: In the program, there’s repeated references over and over to the Alberts organisation being a family and here you are some 36 or 37 years after recording the first Rose Tattoo album with them, talking them up. Do you still feel part of that family?

Angry: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It’s like so many things. It’s like any great love affair. It enriches, like red wine, with time. You tend to recall more than you did in the immediate sense, so I can remember these days actual conversations I had with Ted or conversations I had with George & Harry or with Fifa [Riccobono, a key member of the Alberts team] or anybody that was involved heavily hands-on Alberts-wise in those days. They’re memories that weren’t fully appreciated in those days because they were being made in those days, but then now with the passing of time you get time to reflect – and the memories are amazing, they’re beautiful. They’re warm, they keep you comforted. I wouldn’t have missed it for quids.

100% ROCK: Was there a fraternal aspect to being on the same label with other guys as well?

Angry: We always [laughs a laugh which could well have been accompanied by a blush]… I have to say the mutual admiration thing that was going on between the bands was quite amazing. It’s funny because as the years have rolled over we all learned to love one another in a real sense because we have become… we became, from those days, extremely close. We’ve endured. We’ve endured the friendships and you can’t use any other word except love, but the friendships, the love that we shared, not just about music, but we really learned… we became the best of friends, dearest of friends. Some of us closer to others than others, but [it] was a real tribal thing, really. Even in those days I remember we used to refer to ourselves as the Alberts stable.

But, later on it became far more affectionate than that… we used to refer to ourselves as the Alberts family because we realised, as time went by, that’s what we really were. We were like the mafiosa. We were a family.

The other thing, too, is that even though we were all [different, we were seen as being] similar, particularly overseas. You can’t get mentioned in a rock mag without being mentioned alongside of AC/DC or The Angels or the Choirboys.

It always ‘the Alberts bands’ and I don’t know why they ever thought any of us were like one another because we really weren’t. Each of us had a very distinctive sound and a distinctive approach. The other thing, too, when you think about it, each of us had this great… because all great rock bands need a great rhythm section, a great middle line, guitars, and everyone… all those bands had a charismatic, if you like, and I’m using other people’s words, charismatic singers. None of us were similar.

People say, ‘well, you guys, you’re all pretty much the same.’ And you think, ‘really?!?’

100% ROCK: Yeah, they’re not listening closely enough at all. Angry, I’ve kept you far too long anyway. I’ve just got one quick one for you [I will be proven wrong on this point!] What is your favourite Vanda & Young moment?

Angry: Oh, gee… my favourite Vanda & Young moment. I just don’t… I can’t think of any one story…

100% ROCK: I was thinking more of a song, actually, but whatever suits you.

Angry: There’s two songs which… well, there’s actually three. One song is The Butcher [And Fast Eddy]. When they heard that demo we were sitting in the studio and we’re listening to our demos, and they were making notes and critiquing, and once we’d listened to them a couple times we would then go back and one by one we would look at them and they would say, ‘what do you think you can do with that song that’ll make it blah, blah, blah…’ They’d make suggestions and whatever. I remember they came to Butcher, and Butcher was written pretty much the way it appears on the album. And George… I said, ‘well, I’m not sure we can do anything with The Butcher, George.’ I thought, maybe, a treatment like The Killing Of Georgie, the Rod Stewart thing, and I was trying to think of things that would, I suppose, please them.

George was sitting at the desk – he always sat at the desk and Harry always sat on the couch – and he turned around and he had his hands behind his head. I can see him like it was yesterday. He swung around on the chair with his hands behind the back of his head and looked at Harry and Harry just, the way Harry does, he does this thing with his mouth where he nods. It’s like… he’s got that expression on his face, and he was rolling a cigarette – as Harry did most of the time – and then George swung around and he said to me, ‘don’t want to change anything on that one, Ango.’ And I look at Harry, and Harry’s just [sitting there] with that look on his face, [and] I looked at George and I thought, ‘fuck!’ because that was… I expected them not to like that song at all.

100% ROCK: They were proud of you. You’d done good. You’d learned well.

Angry: Well, no. It’s just that they liked it in the original form. Bad Boy would have started off, ‘junk-a, junk-a, junk-a, junk-a, junk’, whereas Butcher is ‘bamp, bamp, baa.’ It was that and then [We] Can’t Be Beaten. I remember when I first presented Can’t Be Beaten and Scarred For Life. I remember Scarred – I said, ‘you know, that’s a pretty brutal song.’ George loved it and he said, ‘well, we’ll make some changes just to make it more acceptable to the Americans,’ because, you know, they’re a bit skittish about certain things in a song as brutal as Scarred For Life. But, Can’t Be Beaten, we brought that one in and they said, ‘well, how do you want to do that?’ I said, ‘really, I just like it the way it is.’ And he said, ‘yeah, so do I.’

But we did make an arrangement change later on because the solo was too long and, so, they did that part where it breaks down into a half solo and then there’s the drum fill thing and then the count, 1-2-3-4, and then you come back into a half a solo and then it goes into the chorus, but that was the only change they made in there. But, yeah, I just remember with… The Butcher really stuck out because I really didn’t think they were going to like that song.

100% ROCK: Yeah, right on. Cool, man. Look, thanks so much for your time. I’ve kept you for far too long, so I really appreciate that from you.

Angry: No, no. That’s cool. That’s cool. I actually got through most of what I’m supposed to get through today anyway. But anyway – it does me good to talk about the old times.

100% ROCK: As I said, Rose Tattoo were my first band, man, when I was 16. Back in – you remember the two-nighter at The Old Melbourne in Perth? The Friday night where there was the big riot, I went the night after – the Saturday night, and my parents almost didn’t let me go after that happened on the Friday and was all over the paper the next morning.

Angry: Yeah, That was a big one, that one. I can say this – and I remember saying it in court, because I went to court for that. I was charged with fucking affray and inciting a riot…

100% ROCK: Inciting a riot. I remember you saying that when you came back on for the encore on the Saturday night. Yeah.

Angry: Fuck me dead. The arrested me for obscenity in a public place.

100% ROCK: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. They arrested a lot of people in Perth back then for that – including me! Yeah.

Angry: They really did. Because Bill Thorpe said to me, he said, ‘mate, you want get yourself some publicity in fucking Perth, just say ‘fuck’ onstage.’ Or in Brisbane. And I said, ‘fuck,’ onstage in Brisbane and got arrested. And I did it in Perth as well. Before I went to court and then they read out the additional charges and how we got around it was, we were halfway through a tour, so there was a lot people expecting to see the band. But the other one, too, was the Crown prosecutor was a good bloke and he just said ‘look, just plead guilty because you know you’re guilty as sin.’

I said, ‘yeah, yeah. I know. I did what I did – I did swear on stage.’ He said ‘yeah, but you have additional charges.’ I said ‘well, I can’t plead guilty to that.’ He said, ‘no, no, no. I’ve spoken to your lawyer and there was no time to prepare a brief for him.’

[So] they presented that to the judge and said that the defence lawyer had not been told of the extra charges… and the judge sort of said the same thing. He said, ‘what if I put it to you this way, Mr. Anderson?’ I was like, oh, ha ha, yeah, that’s nice. [very sarcastically] [But] it definitely wasn’t our fault. It really wasn’t. I’ve said that numerous times since then and that’s true. It wasn’t our fault, per se. We didn’t set out to incite people to do that.

100% ROCK: Well, why would you?!? It’s a ridiculous charge!

Angry: Exactly! Yeah. After the gig was over – and it didn’t end well from what I was told from kids, and even the coppers, [I was told] that they were sent there to, not aggravate the situation, but they certainly were sent there to make a point.

The kids reacted badly and it got a bit out of hand. Now you think, ‘okay, that’s what happens.’ You start pushing a bunch of drunk kids around there’s a chance that they might react badly.

100% ROCK: Absolutely. Look, they were very, very heavy handed back in those days and I was on the receiving end of it half a dozen times and I ended up in jail for saying the ‘F word’ in the mall once. What do you do? It wasn’t just rock n’ roll singers! What’s happening with Rose Tattoo, anyway? Are you going to get out and about a bit more?

Angry: No. I’m out. It’s over now, mate.

100% ROCK: Oh no – that’s a shame.

Angry: Yeah. Well, you know – you never say never, but DeMarco [Paul DeMarco, Rose Tattoo drummer since the early ‘90s, is currently serving time after being involved in illegal gun sales with underworld figure Sam Ibrahim] is in jail and he’ll never tour again with us out of Australia. Apart from myself he’s the longest serving member.

Dai Pritchard, who took over from Pete [Wells, guitarist], he’s still around, but there’s just the three of us. Robin Riley – he’s up and down. He’s fighting cancer and his diabetes is not helping. One minute he’s in very poor health, the next minute he’s okay, sort of. I think it would be very, very difficult to put together another authentically credible line-up that would do justice to Rose Tatts. Maybe the writing is on the wall. Maybe the time has come and gone.

100% ROCK: Fair enough. It’s a shame, but look, you’ve made a lot of influence out there. You’ve made a lot of friends, I guess is another way to put it.

Angry: Yeah, absolutely. If the band never plays again, I can still… I’ll die a happy man.

100% ROCK: My life is better for having known your music, that’s for sure man. That’s much appreciated from this end.

Angry: No worries, bro.

100% ROCK: Thanks again for your time. I’ll talk to you another time.