Sunday, May 8, 2016

Song of the month: "By My Side"/ The Elois (April 1967)

Sitting somewhere alongside ‘I Want, Need, Love You’ by The Black Diamonds and The Missing Links’ ‘You’re Driving Me Insane’* on the wigged-out wild-o-meter of Aussie garage punk, ‘By My Side’ by The Elois is the subject of today’s Melbourne song of the month segment. Over and out in under two-and-a-quarter minutes, this radioactive scorcher of a track leaves a trail of aural destruction in its wake that even repeated listens can’t diminish. The fact that it’s the work of a bunch of clean-cut country teenagers simply defies all logic. 

Blasting off with a stinging, sustained guitar note that’s soon joined by bass and drums in one of the most raucous intros ever to be committed to tape, the song gets even more intense when the snarling vocals of Alan Rowe kick in. Belting out the repetitive lyrics like some kind of desperate mantra, he sounds like a man possessed: howling, growling, a slave to his hormones as he informs the object of his affections in no uncertain terms how badly he wants her. There’s a similar sense of, ahem, urgency about the backing vocals.

(This is not the original music video, but it's super-cool nonetheless!)

About 30 seconds in, a series of drum rolls signal a change of pace, and the band flips from full-throttle into thumping, grinding mode (punctuated by some cool sliding bass), gradually building up into a cacophony of voices that’s almost unbearable – then bam! That fuzzed-out guitar is back, even more blistering than before. And just when you think things can’t get any more insane…they do. 

The song ends with an extended rave-up that makes The Yardbirds seem refined, all unhinged drums, guitar as deadly feedback weapon, relentless bass and an almost chanted refrain, ‘I can’t get enough from you, girl’. (Ah, so the truth is out: she’s not putting out as much as he’d like.) And suddenly it’s all over. 
Holy wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, Batman!  

No country bumpkins

So who the hell were The Elois, to release this one dynamite 45 (‘By My Side’ is on the B-side; a hum-dingin’ take of ‘I’m a Man’ is the A-side) and then slip into obscurity?

Formed in 1964 by school friends Michael Dzuriek (bass) Dennis Fiorini (lead guitar, vocals), Doug Blair (rhythm guitar, vocals) and drummer Ian Chettle (who was replaced a few months later by Bill Van Berkel), The Elois were from the small historic gold-rush town of Maryborough. Wondering how to say the name? I always thought it was pronounced ‘Eloyze’ but while researching this post, I discovered that it’s ‘Eel-eye’ (with a silent ‘s’, no less). 
The Elois: no idea which members these are!
Photo taken from The Livin' End, issue 3 (which wasn't captioned)
As most readers would know, Elois were the dainty little peace-loving peeps preyed upon by the creepy subterranean Morlochs in HG Wells’s sci-fi classic, The Time Machine. Intriguingly, the rock’n’roll Elois were called The Morlochs for a short while – which, to me, seems a more fitting name, given the savagery of ‘By My Side’. But then, maybe they were going for some kind of cognitive dissonance effect?

Like so many bands of the era, The Elois started out playing mainly instrumentals such as The Thunderbirds’ version of ‘Wild Weekend’, before adding some early Beatles-style numbers to the mix. In their matching grey suits and pink shirts, they built up a following (their fan club numbered in the thousands, apparently) by playing at big dances in the region, prompting the decision to recruit a dedicated singer.  

Downtown Maryborough, Photo: copyright Peter Maltezos (2013)
Enter Alan Rowe, another buddy from school. “He had a good voice, a bit like Eric Burdon,” Fiorini remarked decades later in that bible of 60s Antipodean garage and beat music Wild About You! by Ian D. Marks and Iain McIntyre. (Indeed, the interview with Fiorini in that book covers The Elois’ career in more detail than I could hope to here, and is well worth reading.)

Relieved of his vocal duties, Fiorini was free to concentrate on lead guitar, and gradually, the group developed a tougher sound, influenced by wilder proponents of the British invasion such as The Who, The Yardbirds and The Stones, which earned them the title of the ‘feedback kings of north-east Victoria’.
List of Victorian Battle of the Sounds heats, 1965,
taken from this informative downloadable booklet

Word gets around

Around this time The Elois caught the attention of one Graham Lever, a flashy, smooth-talking 3AK radio DJ who’d moved to the area. He became their manager, not only encouraging their penchant for distortion and raw r’n’b sounds, but trying to persuade them to relocate to the Big Smoke. 

Not yet ready for the Melbourne move, they entered a Maryborough heat of Hoadley’s famous Battle of the Sounds (coming second to Bendigo combo, The Emeralds), before trying again in the Ballarat round – and winning. This qualified them to compete in Melbourne against other heat-winners, but as far as I can tell, they didn’t get anywhere. 

Still, they must have enjoyed the change of scene, because it was after this that they decided to move to Melbourne with Lever. Unfortunately, Dzuriek couldn’t join them, having been conscripted for the Vietnam War (he was replaced by Greg Heenan), although they’d managed to lay down some demos with him before parting ways. In an article about the band published in Dean Mittelhauser's legendary fanzine The Livin’ End back in 1984, mention is made of some eight hours’ worth of recording, spanning ‘original material and covers, all absolutely dripping with their fuzz-laden style.’ Sadly, the master tapes have long since vanished. 

It seems that Blair had dropped out at some point before the Melbourne move too, being unwilling to buy his own amp, but I don’t think he was replaced. To be honest, information about The Elois is scarce (and photos even more so), making it hard to ascertain the chronology of their career and line-up changes. 
Article about The Elois in The Livin' End, issue 3


So anyway, off they went to Batmania, where they ended up at the newly opened Armstrong Studios in South Melbourne. Under the expert guidance of sound engineer Roger Savage (who else?) they recorded their one-and-only single, 'I’m A Man/By My Side'. With 80 minutes at their disposal (at the princely rate of a dollar per minute), they knocked the two tracks out with just a couple of takes each. 
Bill Armstrong outside his Albert Rd studio soon after opening.
The results, as we know, were magic: rough, ready, undiluted, and positively crackling with energy. No wonder local label W & G were quick to sign The Elois to their subsidiary In Records, best known for being The Loved Ones’ label. In fact, the one time The Elois appeared on popular teen TV show, Kommotion (performing/miming ‘I’m a Man’), their illustrious label mates also featured.

While the single wasn’t a hit, it did make the lower echelons of the Melbourne charts, helped along no doubt by the band’s growing reputation as a killer live act. Playing venues such as Pinocchio’s, 5-4-3-2-1 and the Thumpin’ Tum, they blew audiences’ minds (and ear drums) with their fast, loud and feedback-heavy shows. So much so that they ended up blacklisted by the Tum! 

‘I remember I used to have my amp full-chat and my distortion pedal full-packet and just go right off,’ Fiorini recounts in Wild About You. ‘We must’ve blown the whole place apart! I suppose it was loud in those days. I upset somebody, but it went over pretty well’. 
Exterior of the Thumpin' Tum, photo courtesy Miles Ago.
Although they were signed for a three-year contract, The Elois only lasted a year in Melbourne. ‘We’d just about had enough by then,’ Fiorini continues. ‘We were battling. And the biggest problem was, our sound was too radical. You had Johnny Young [singing] “Step back a little, you’re falling in love” – tutty-tutty-tut stuff – and then we’d come along and just blow things away.’ 

They may have been square-lookin' short-hairs from rural Victoria, but it sure sounds like they showed the city slickers a thing or two about rock’n’roll.
Another pic taken from The Livin' End article (without which, this post would've been a bit screwed!):
L-R Greg Heenan, Alan Rowe (crouching), Bill Van Berkel, Dennis Fiorini
* Footnote: funnily enough, when I wrote that first line, I had forgotten that ‘By My Side’ follows ‘You’re Driving Me Insane’ and ‘I Want, Need, Love You’ on Side A of seminal Aussie 60s punk comp, Ugly Things.

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