Sunday, December 27, 2015

Then and now: Wolfgang Sievers' Collins Street

Happy holidaze, everyone! I hope your festive season has been fab so far. Santa was kind enough to bring me Angus O’Callaghan’s long-awaited opus, Melbourne, which is almost blinding in its beauty—but also quite poignant in its portrayal of an era long-since past. Let’s face it: Melbourne may still be the best city in Australia, but it ain’t what it used to be, and O’Callaghan’s book is a stunning reminder of that.

But it’s not just O’Callaghan’s photos that have this effect on me. The photography of Wolfgang Sievers—subject of today’s post—can evoke a similar sense of longing for times gone by. I wonder if there’s a psychological term to describe nostalgia for a decade you never experienced in the first place? I know I’m not the only one afflicted by the condition.

But moving right along to Mr Sievers: and specifically, his photos of Collins Street, one of the CBD's main thoroughfares which was, as we will see, extremely photogenic in its 1960s heyday.

Collins Street. Photo by Wolfgang Sievers, courtesy National Libray of Australia; vn-3334045-v

An eye for style

As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, Wolfgang Sievers was a German-born photographer who immigrated to Australia and settled in Melbourne in 1938, setting up a studio in South Yarra. After WWII broke out, he volunteered for the Australian Army – just like his countryman Henry Talbot – and served between 1942 and 1946. (Actually, the Gestapo had their sights set on him for aerial photography duties with the Luftwaffe just before he fled Europe!). 

Once back in civilian society, Sievers moved his base of operations to Grosvenor Chambers, a suite of artists’ studios at the Parliament end of Collins Street that had once housed Aussie Impressionists Charles Condor, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, among other luminaries. And when he wasn’t off taking eerily epic architectural photos and pics of menacing-looking industrial machinery, Sievers was outside snapping the local streetlife. 

Photo by Wolfgang Sievers, 1964; courtesy National Library of Australia; WS 2523-Na

I love the dappled shade on the footpath, and the shop signage: particularly the neon ‘Spectacle Makers’ sign. I mean, do optometrists even call glasses ‘spectacles’ these days? And judging by the trio of women strolling together in the foreground, and the lady going into a shop behind them, white was obviously a là mode.

Here's another one taken from a similar vantage point: 

Photo by Wolfgang Sievers, 1964, courtesy National Library of Australia, vn-3353435-v
Note the partially obscured sign for ‘La Caprice’. From the little I’ve been able to uncover, La Caprice was a café, the interior of which Sievers actually photographed in 1956. Now, I know it falls outside this blog's chronological remit, but get a load of this for some schmick mid-century style: 
La Caprice. Photo by Wolfgang Sievers, 1956; copyright holder unknown. I bet they made a mean espresso.

....And here’s how that particular stretch of Collins Street looks now: spot the difference! 
No caption required.

Admittedly, my amateur photographics don’t exactly enhance the aesthetics, but honestly, can anyone tell me what the hell’s happened to women’s fashion in the last 51 years? Not to mention trends in street umbrellas. 

Meanwhile, a spot of research prompted by the following photo of the Oriental Hotel yielded some interesting history. It turns out that this hotel, once located at 17 Collins Street, was quite the local legend once upon a time....
Photo by Wolfgang Sievers, copyright holder unknown
Not only did the Oriental establish Melbourne’s first side-walk café in 1958, it was also responsible for the city's first American-style cocktail bar (whatever that means), its first steak restaurant and its first discotheque. A favourite with the sophisticated set, the Oriental’s consciously Continental style was the impetus for the top end of Collins Street becoming known as the ‘Paris end’, a label which, as we all know, endures even now.

Mind you, not all those who frequented its public spaces were frocked-up in their Friday-night finest. A group of journalists from the Herald, who liked to call themselves the ‘Morning Tea Club’, used to meet at Oriental bar at 11am every day for their morning, ahem, heart-starter. I can only imagine how lively those sessions got...

Sadly, like the historic Southern Cross hotel, the Oriental was sacrificed in the name of ‘progress’, being demolished in 1971 to make way for Collins Place. These days, you’d never even guess it’d been there….

But we don't want to end on a sad note, right? 

So here's one final, fond farewell to Collins Street as seen through Sievers' keen eyes...
Photo by Wolfgang Sievers, courtesy National Library of Australia, vn-3353472-v

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Coburg never had it so good

The Thumpin’ Tum, Sebastians, Catcher, Berties, Garrison, The Biting Eye, Opus… when I read about the legendary live music venues of 1960s Melbourne and the boss-bitchin’ bands they hosted, I can’t help thinking that the city’s current claim to be some kind of live-music paradise is a tad delusional. Yeah, so we may have more venues per capita than Austin, Texas – and we’ve sure got a surplus of bands -- but how many of them (venues or bands) will be remembered in 50 years time?

But while information about most of the aforementioned venues is easily available with the most cursory of Google searches (and they’ll no doubt find their way into this blog at some point), there is one Saturday-night dance about which I simply cannot find any details, save what I posted earlier this year. Yep, we’re talking ‘Swinger’ at the Coburg City Hall: home to those bodacious Batgirls.

Go-Set, August 20 1967: the Batgirls seen around the scene (Adam West would flip his wig)
Now before you get any inappropriate ideas, let me clarify: it’s not the name of the night that's piqued my interest so much (which is a shame, really, because Google spits out plenty of search results of that nature).

What originally began as curiosity about Swinger's Batgirls has since cranked up several notches thanks to the following series of advertisements I came across in old, microfiched copies of Go-Set magazine at the State Library of Victoria when I was researching an article I was writing. They're just so evocative of the damn hyperbolic!

Amazing to think that wild nights like this….
From Go-Set, early August, 1967. So we can at least establish that the night started on August 12. of that year

...and this....
Go-Set, early August 1967

…were going down every Saturday evening here, in the stately surrounds of Coburg City Hall!

Of course, these days, instead of embracing the ‘Batman fantasy of gigantic sounds’ (oh how my mind is boggling!), the neighbours would complain about the noise.

Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs and the Chants? Wowsers
Northside was where it was at, baby!
Apologies for the wonky scans -- I was caught up in the fantastic mind-bending moment!

Although all the adverts featured here are from 1967, I believe Swinger lasted a good few years -- until at least 1969, when it played host to US band The Platters on one particular night, and The Easybeats on another. The Easybeats in 1969? That would have been a weird one, right at the tail-end of their career, when disillusionment and debt were dogging them, undermining all the brilliance that had gone before. 

From Go-Set, October 1967. 
From Go-Set, November 1967

Which brings me to the end of the small amount I know about Saturday nights at Swinger. By the way...anyone else agree that the two ads above look like lurid psychotronic movie posters?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The wigged-out world of The Mystrys part 2

It’s been a loooong time between posts (life has a way of getting in the way sometimes) but finally, I’m back with Part 2 of my ‘mini-series’ about the wigged-out world of Melbourne’s most enigmatic one-hit wonders, The Mystrys. 

Since writing Part 1, I’ve spoken to a punter who was actually present at one of the band’s shows in Mildura in 1966, and discovered an old article about them — plus a review of “Witch Girl” — in the legendary, long-defunct Aussie music fanzine, The Livin’ End. For a group that was around for such a short time, The Mystrys made their mark where it mattered.

NB: First you’ve seen of this? Check out Part 1 here

Once again, the rogue’s gallery consists of Charles Bayliss (singer/bass-player), Ziggy Zapata (lead guitarist) and Bob ‘King’ Crawford (songwriter, PR guru). Now, strap yourselves in and let’s pick up where we left off last time: The Mystrys about to set off on tour…


For reasons nobody seems to understand, manager Michael Kopp packed The Mystrys off on a tour of regional Victoria and South Australia before they’d played more than a handful of gigs in Melbourne. Accompanying them was all-girl band The Kontacts, whose gimmick was a male singer known as Tony Satan.
Aren't they gorgeous? The Kontacts. Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata
“I’m not sure how we got onto The Kontacts,” Bob reflects.  “They sort of came out of the blue – one day they were there. I only wrote two songs for them.” 

Charles fills in the gaps. “They [Kopp and his sidekick Valek] were looking for a girl band. And they saw these girls playing at a dance… As they did with us, they approached them. The whole band was excited with the concept and they took it on.”

Until then, The Kontacts had been known as The Mojettes. They’d been gigging around Melbourne for awhile and already had a following of sorts (although their lead guitarist Davida was quoted at the time saying their early popularity was “more because we were novel rather than for ability.”)
So groovy! The Mojettes. Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata.
She was right about one thing: girl groups were rare as rocking horse poop in 1966 Melbourne, particularly girl groups that played their own instruments. That old hustler Michael Kopp must’ve thought he was on the fast-track to fortune!

And Tony Satan? Oddly enough, that wasn’t the name his mum gave him. Rather, it was an alias created by Bob King Crawford for local singer, Nic Gazzana. How he came to join The Mystrys’ tour as The Kontacts’ front man is not entirely clear.

“I’m not sure how Nic Gazzana got into the picture with the Kontacts — I assume that either Michael Kopp or Charlie Bayliss dug him up from somewhere and asked him to front the band,” Ziggy speculates. Bob recalls that “he got on side with Kopp, and that’s why I had to come up with a name and a persona for him.” (Gazzana would later go on to a successful acting career, including a role in the original Mad Max.) 
Tantalising...exciting...terrific: just a typical tour gig. 
“It was funny,” recalls Charles. “Nic wasn’t part of our band or part of the girl band. He was a separate entity. What Kopp and Valek wanted to do was build up a stable of entertainers.”

“And we had to clean up the stable afterwards!” Bob laughs. 

On the road

By all accounts, The Mystrys were a hit with country punters. “The tour was terrific,” says Ziggy, “We worked to sell-out rooms and the audiences really loved what we did.” 

Amazing, really, when you think about some of the hairy situations encountered by bands such as Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs or The Creatures in regional Australia. Rock’n’rollers from the big smoke weren’t always warmly received, suffice it to say: their long hair and flamboyant clothes being inexplicably offensive to some sensitive rural types. 

But then, with their matching tailored suits and green velvet hoods, The Mystrys looked less like a threat to public decency and more like a bunch of well-mannered extra-terrestrials anyway! Of course, their musical ability didn’t hurt: “You have to remember that all the guys in the band were very accomplished musicians,” explains Ziggy. “I don’t want to sound arrogant but the musicianship of the Mystrys was probably better than 99% of the bands that were around at the time.”
A spine-tingling line-up indeed - although what a 'blood bubbler' is, I couldn't say...
Among the towns on their lengthy itinerary were Renmark, Shepparton and Mildura, where young music fan Ben Rogers (now a muso in Melbourne) saw them play at a venue called the Ballerina Ballroom. While his memories are sketchy after almost half a century, he recalls that they “played with attitude, had a great light show and didn’t reveal their identities.” 

What happens on tour stays on tour…or not

Charles’ memories of Renmark, on the other hand, are rather vivid, for reasons other than the music. “I remember … getting up in the morning and just standing on the balcony, looking at the lake across from our hotel. There’d be ducks on the water and mist above the lake – it was just fantastic. By this time, the bassplayer, being me, decided to crack onto the guitarist from The Kontacts, Joy. We actually got together in Renmark.” 

And fair enough! If The Mystrys’ masks made it difficult to ‘connect’ with their female fans, being on tour with an all-girl band certainly offered a way out of that dilemma.  
On the road and unmasked...Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata
The young sweethearts’ rock’n’roll romance took an unusual turn when they found themselves stranded in the back of beyond, near the outback military testing range at Woomera. “At the time it was a rocket site,” Charles says. “One of our Kombi vans broke down so they actually had to go to Andamooka for a mechanic and bring him back. It was going to be a whole day, stuck in the middle of the desert.” 

Hell, what’s a bunch of bored musos to do? “We were stuck there, so Joy and I decided to get married.” Ummmm – come again? “It was a fake wedding.” Well, that’s one way to pass the time in the red centre. 

As it happens, Charles and Joy did get engaged later, but never made it to a wedding. But that’s a chapter for Charles’s memoirs… 
An outback wedding party? Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata.

Wild times in Andamooka

In typically bizarre fashion, The Mystrys’ tour took them to the opal mining outpost of Andamooka. “We got paid in opals,” Charles recalls, “and were staying in different accommodation to what we’d been used to – it was quite unusual, like mud huts.” (Hmmm. I wonder what The Kontacts made of that?)

Not surprisingly, the Andamooka locals were a special breed. “There was a German guy by the name of Dag Johnson — he was the richest person in Andamooka. So much so that he had his own compound, his own guards with submachine guns. It was unbelievable.” Dag’s security measures were justified: he was sitting on quite a stash, as Charles and Ziggy discovered.

“He took Ziggy and I down to his bedroom: I want to show you something, he said. We thought: Uh oh. It’s a bedroom. But he opened this safe and took something out, and said, Put your hand out… he put an opal in my hand that was like a fist. I asked how much he’d get for it, and he said, I’ve got a choice: I can sell it as it is, and let’s say I get $300,000 for it. But if I split it, and it’s good, I could get double that. So he split it — and he didn’t get double for it!”

Then there was the bloke who invited Charles to stay in Andamooka and work the mine with him, sharing whatever they found. “So we went down the next day, and you literally had to lay down on your back to dig. I said, Nope I don’t think so. My bass-playing is a whole lot easier than this. Three weeks later he found an opal that was worth $270,000.”

The bubble bursts

The final stop on the South Australian leg of their tour was Adelaide. After a successful concert there, the touring party was flown back to Melbourne for a week’s break. 

“The plan was we were going to fly back to Adelaide and start again, to work up to Queensland and end up in Brisbane,” Charles says. (A rather circuitous route, considering they could’ve got to Brisvegas via the New South Wales coast and gained exposure to a whole bunch of new audiences along the way — but then, Michael Kopp moved in mysterious ways…)

“The day after we arrived in Melbourne, I went to the rehearsal studio, and Bob King Crawford was there.” After Charles filled Bob in on how the tour had been, Bob proceeded to give Charles an update of his own.

“He opened up a draw, pulled out a wad of paperwork and threw it on the desk. Do you know what that is? he asked. That’s bounced cheques from everywhere you guys have been…. from venues you’ve played at, accommodation, where you’ve eaten. There are a lot of problems.” 

Starting with the fact that Kopp and Valek had gone AWOL. 
The minute the dodgy cheques started bouncing back, they dematerialised in a vanishing act the Invisible Man would have been proud of. “They opened their account with $10 and paid for the tour out of the $10,” Bob says ruefully. “So then we get this knock on the door and the Federal Police arrive. 
Do you know Mr Smith? 
James So-and-so? 
They went through this list of names until they got to Michael Kopp.”

Kopp and his dastardly sidekick had left a nation-wide trail of criminal alibis and ripped-off people behind them. He was “a well-known con-man,” says Ziggy, “The Mystrys and Kontacts were duped, like all of Kopp’s other victims.” 
The band contemplating a return to their home planet. Clipping courtesy of Ziggy Zapata
Charles adds, “We were just collateral damage.”

“We believed in the concept so much; we overlooked a lot of things,” Bob reflects, whose faith in the band was so great he’d even overlooked the fact he hadn’t been paid in months. 

But now, as the unofficial ‘guardian’ of the boys, he had their parents to contend with. “I had all the parents on my doorstep, wondering where’s my child? What’s going on? I had no answers.”

Broke, disillusioned and totally knocked for six, The Mystrys saw no alternative than to call it quits. “It all fell apart really quickly,” remarks Charles. 

So quickly that his bass was repossessed before he’d had a chance to come to terms with what had happened. Prior to the tour, he’d told Kopp his bass was on hire-purchase and that he couldn’t make his repayments unless Kopp paid him. Like that was ever going to happen! Instead, “[Kopp] said, Don’t worry about that, we’ll pay it out of the money you’re going to get.” 

Michael Kopp and Gerry Valek were never seen again, and remain one of the universe’s unsolved mysteries. Speculates Charles about Kopp: “My theory is…he left the state, and then from wherever he went, he left the country. Because he was in real serious trouble; he would’ve ended up in jail for years if he’d been caught. The problem was, he was using so many fictitious names, you didn’t know who he was.”

If only….

With the benefit of almost 50 years’ hindsight and experience, Charles reckons the band could have handled the whole situation differently.

Review in The Livin' End fanzine, number 1 (Sept 1983)
“When I think about it now, I think: If I only knew then what I know now. I could’ve just taken over and done it. Bob could’ve taken over and done it. But we didn’t. The pin was pulled, we all got shell-shocked, and we all backed away from it.” 

Bob agrees: “Nothing wrong with the concept. Nothing wrong with the plan – the plan was perfect. And the musicians were perfect. Everything was perfect.”

Never the biggest fan of the concept himself, Ziggy simply reckons they “should have ripped off the masks and kept going.” 

Still, Charles is philosophical. “I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. I would’ve liked to have made money out of it but the truth of the matter is I lost money. Was it the right decision? Yeah. It was at the time. If we hadn’t done it, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it. I’m a very big believer in destiny.”

What could have been

As I mentioned in my original post about “Witch Girl”, this is one one-hit wonder that makes you wonder what might have been. 

“All those sounds Roger Savage recorded with, and all the sentiments behind it, the video – it was all stuff that hadn’t been done before. The problem was, the reason it wasn’t bigger than it was, was because it was probably 15 years before its time.” Charles reflects.

“It could work again,” Bob suggests.
Practising their comedy routine: Bob and Charles today
“I’d love to release it today, I really would,” Charles says. “I think it should be reworked but not far away from what it is because all the background of that particular record is so close to what we’ve got today. It maybe doesn’t fit into the mainstream trend but it certainly fits in, just because it’s got a lot of gimmicky sounds behind it.”

Personally, I don’t think it should be touched. How do you improve on perfection, after all? Even with all its wigged-out sound-effects, “Witch Girl” is anything but a disposable gimmick record — it’s got soul, spirit, energy! Which is more than can be said of most of today’s popular music. But with original copies of the single now fetching well over $300, it’d be sensational if someone would reissue it at least. Bob King Crawford doesn’t even have a copy, and he wrote the damn thing.

Life after The Mystrys

Following the demise of The Mystrys, all involved went their separate ways. 

Despite his phenomenal talent as a bass-player and singer, Charles was so burnt by the experience he withdrew from the music scene for a few years. Eventually, he started playing again and became a sought-after performer around Melbourne… until he discovered martial arts and took that up fulltime. He’s now a big-wig in the city’s karate scene, teaching and practising it, and showing no sign of slowing down at the age of 71. “People say why do you work so hard? And I say wash your mouth out!” he scoffs. “I see guys ten-15 years younger than me where I live, and they just walk down to the local strip shops and sit on a bench, crapping on to each other and they look 90.” (Charles looks like he’s in his 50s!) 

Ziggy these days. Pic from his website
And Ziggy? “I played around the Melbourne traps for a while, did some session work, then formed a concert act called Joe and Ziggy with Melbourne guitarist Joe Paparone. We worked the act for four years very successfully, performing all over Australia as headliners, as well as supporting famous celebrities such as Harry Secombe and others.”

When Joe’s family commitments became too much, the duo folded and Ziggy moved to Sydney, where he performs on the club circuit to this day, as well as running an entertainment booking agency, a charter flight company (he’s a licensed commercial pilot) and a computer consultancy.

Bob, meanwhile, continued to move, shake and create like only he could, with a multi-faceted and illustrious career that included a long stint as the Superintendent of the Arts of the City of Melbourne between 1972 and 1986. During this time he introduced the revolutionary ‘Free Entertainment in the Parks’ concept, staging theatre, ballet and concerts in parks around Melbourne so that people who weren’t part of the cashed-up ‘cultural establishment’ could experience it for themselves, free of charge, in the democratic surrounds of the great outdoors. 

Then there’s the small matter of starting his own artistic movement — “Mesmeratic art: the more you look, the more you see,” he explains — plus authoring several books, running for Mayor of Melbourne in 2008, and designing (and campaigning for) a new Australian flag. Prolific, much? (Check out his website for the full story)
Bob King Crawford's Australian flag design. Find out what it all means here
Rhythm guitarist Kevin Thomas teaches flute in Melbourne, and second drummer John Lake now lives in Canada. (Sadly, nobody seems to know what became of original drummer Malcolm McPhee.)

And that's all, folks. I hope you've enjoyed reading this rock'n'roll saga as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Thanks a billion to Ziggy, Bob and Charles for being so incredibly generous with their time and memories.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Up, up and away!

Greetings, Batmaniacs!

I'm not sure how many of you have noticed how long it's been between posts, but for those who have -- I'm sorry. Particularly as I left you hanging on the edge of your seats waiting for the second instalment in my Mystrys mini-series.

Things have been even crazier than usual over the past couple of months, and I haven't been able to devote much time to this blog. And now I'm about to jet off overseas for a much-needed holiday so will be AWOL for a few weeks longer. Hence this photo of a QANTAS air stewardess! (Obviously, they don't look quite as groovy these days....)

Despite my best efforts to complete part 2 of "The wigged-out world of The Mystrys" before lift-off, I've had to admit defeat. But trust me: it's going to be a corker, and will be worth the wait...

Adios for now, amigos!

Monday, July 20, 2015

The wigged-out world of The Mystrys: part 1

Holy masked marauders, Batman! Some of you may have read my post last year about The Mystrys, Australia’s most mysterious one-hit wonders; their 1966 supernatural scorcher, 'Witch Girl' and the dodgy manager whose fraudulent ways caused their premature demise. Since then, I’ve met the band’s singing bassplayer Charles Bayliss and their songwriter/PR dynamo Bob ‘King’ Crawford, spoken to their lead guitarist Ziggy Zapata, and learnt loads more about the band’s fascinating story. Seriously, you couldn't dream this stuff up.

To coincide with my article about the group in the latest issue of Shindig! magazine, this is the first of two posts delving deeper into the wigged-out world of The Mystrys. Be warned: it's long, but hell -- what a rollicking ride it is!

For a quick recap, check out the original post
I’ll try not to repeat too much here (or replicate the Shindig! piece, for that matter) 


Before The Mystrys were even a twinkle in manager Michael Kopp’s eye, Charles, Ziggy and Bob were already involved in Melbourne’s music scene. 

Young Charlie Bayliss played bass in Isy and the Dynamics, the first rock’n’roll band in Australia with a female drummer. 

Charles: "There was another group in England who had a girl on drums [The Honeycombs], and as far as I know we were the only two bands in the world at the time with girl drummers. Her name was Isabelle so we called the group Isy and the Dynamics. The only problem was that she had to fix her make-up and wipe off the sweat and all that sort of thing between songs! But Isy was a good drummer."
Isy and the Dynamics: Charles Bayliss is on the right (photo courtesy Ziggy Zapata)
Always on the look-out for musical opportunities, Charles saw an ad in the paper seeking musos for a “gimmicky group”, and rang up about it. He explained he was a working musician, and told them where they could come and see him play. 

Charles: "At the time, we had a regular gig in the basement of a place at the top of Little Lonsdale Street. They came down to see us – the backer [Buff Parry], the manager [Michael Kopp] and his offsider [Gerry Valek] – and they approached me afterwards and said, We love the band, can you come and see us at the Southern Cross Hotel and we’ll tell you all about it. So I went – I hadn’t told all the others what was going on yet – and sat down with them, and they outlined … what they were looking for."

What they were looking for was a killer Aussie combo that’d give pasty Poms like The Beatles and Stones a run for their money. But when Charles told his bandmates about it, none of them were interested. (And this was before green velvet hoods came up in conversation!) Determined to make a go of it, he set about recruiting other members from around the local scene, encouraged by Kopp, Valek and the team’s songwriter Bob ‘King’ Crawford. 


Several years older than Charles and Ziggy, Bob 'King' Crawford was already a local legend through his work as a jazz crooner, comedian, concert promoter, composer and head of Planet Records, a ground-breaking record label which did more for Australian music in the 1950s and early 60s than this post could even hint at. (But here’s a hint all the same: not only did Planet Records release the first ever all-Australian rock’n’roll album, Rock’n’Roll Party in 1958, it was the first label in the world to use full-colour album covers. And just for good measure, how’s this for a stat: Bob ‘King’ Crawford was the most recorded Australian composer of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s! Clearly writer’s block was never an issue…)

Three Planet releases: Bob King Crawford is the bloke holding the pint glass above!
Kopp had brought Crawford on board to write songs for his enigmatic new supergroup. Although only the 'Witch Girl' single was ever recorded, Crawford wrote almost 30 numbers in total – all suitably weird and wonderful in theme. The list below was provided by the writer himself, and casts some light on the gems now lost to history…
Mystrys song list, courtesy Bob King Crawford
'The Divisible, Miserable, Invisible Man' – love it! 'The Devil Bitin’ in My Soul' – oh, to hear the lyrics to that! 'March of the Zombies' – the mind boggles! 

To be honest, it’s a mystery (no pun intended) to me why Kopp chose a sci-fi vibe for a band he’d devised to cash in on the success of the British invasion. I mean, there was nothing spacey about The Beatles, Stones et al in those days: songs like '2000 Light Years from Home' and 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' were still a year off. 


The first member Charles recruited was teenage guitar sensation Ziggy Zapata, from a group called The Untouchables. Just 19 at the time, Ziggy had only been playing guitar for two years but had learnt classical piano from the age of five. “I fell in love with Ziggy right away – he was a really nice guy,” Charles says. “Then the other guitarist, Kevin Thomas, came over and we clicked straight away. Very quiet guy, very timid, but loved his guitar playing, which was important.”

Ziggy, Charles and Bob all agree that The Mystrys’ first drummer was sensational. Says Charles, “I’d known this drummer for a few years: I hadn’t worked much with him, however, every time I played with him I was very impressed. His name was Malcolm McPhee; he was a genius out of his own time. He used to sit and practise for six hours at a time; he’d work on his drums alongside Gene Krupa albums. He was a really mad drummer.” 

Bob adds, “He was amazing. Like nobody since or before. And I worked with Gene Krupa.” (Indeed he did: managing press and publicity for the famous American drummer’s 1954 Aussie tour. To welcome Krupa to Melbourne, Bob rustled up a bunch of students from Billy Hyde’s drumming school and lined them up on the airport tarmac with their kits, pounding out a greeting as he stepped off the plane. This talent for publicity stunts was not wasted on The Mystrys, as we shall see…)

(NB: It’s worth noting that Ziggy’s account of how the band’s line-up was finalised differs slightly from that of Charles, and can be found on his website here).


Bob King Crawford also met Michael Kopp via a newspaper ad. 
Planet Records had been defunct for a few years by this point, and he was working at Births, Deaths & Marriages, where “the money was so bad, I was going backwards.” 

“Then I saw this ad in the paper: Composer wanted. I’d never seen an ad like that! So I turned up at the place, a very posh office in the Southern Cross Hotel, with a secretary and the whole thing, and thought This is alright. They wanted songs written and they wanted them written fast." 

Having once composed 24 marches in one night, Bob was a shoo-in for the job. 

"They said, We’re going to put a group together and we’ll do recordings, we’ll have them rehearse, we’ll dress them, and we’ll pay them 20 dollars a week. Which it turned out they didn’t. There was Michael Kopp and this other giant person.” (The “giant person” was Gerry Valek. “He was a really big fella, carrying a lot of weight,” adds Charles of Kopp’s right-hand man.)
The band larking about with Bob King Crawford (top), Michael Kopp (carefully keeping his face obscured, middle) and Buff Parry (right) Photo courtesy Ziggy Zapata
When asked whether Kopp came across as legitimate at that fateful meeting, Bob recalls that “He knew what he was doing. He was a good conman.”

“He was convincing,” agrees Charles. Ziggy, too, was fooled. “He set up an office and hired a cute blonde babe to field calls for him. It was all façade, but we naïve musicians didn’t know that at the time.”

The suspicions didn’t come til later. Bob recalls one instance when Kopp rang him and invited him over to his place. On arriving at Kopp’s apartment, Bob noticed there were lots of cameras around the place but didn’t think too much of it. Kopp said he had a present for him, something special for Bob to do whatever he wanted with for the day… A door opened…. and out came two naked girls – a blonde and a brunette. Some present!

Being a married man, Bob declined the offer. It only occurred to him later that the whole scenario was a set-up. Those cameras weren’t there by accident – Kopp was hoping to get something over him. How very clichéd.


As part of his master plan, and before he’d even enlisted the band’s members, Kopp decided that The Mystrys’ identities would remain a secret. To ensure their anonymity, he had brainwave of making them wear tight-fitting, green velvet hoods. 

Charles recalls being told, “We want to promote you, but you’ll all have to sign declarations that you won’t divulge who you are because it must remain a secret.” Charles loved the idea, and even Ziggy, whose dislike of the masks is well documented on his website, was momentarily intrigued. “The name was OK — it was different and catchy, especially since we wore bags over our heads and that was the mystery of it all.”

As time wore on, the guys came to realise the hoods had their downsides. For one thing, they were extremely hot and uncomfortable. “You could hardly bloody move in the masks! It was horrendous, it really was,” chuckles Charles. “You basically only had eyes and a mouth. And of course, you’d look down at your instrument and you couldn’t see it properly.” 

What’s more, the hoods prevented them from forming any kind of relationship with their teenybopper fans, ruining “any chance of rock fans being attracted by the looks of the band members, which was the most important factor for anybody wishing to achieve pop stardom,” as Ziggy writes on his website. 
'Handsome lot aren't they?' - photo (and caption) provided by Bob King Crawford
Preceding masked acts like Los Straitjackets, The Mummies and TISM by decades, The Mystrys (and Michael Kopp) were well ahead of their time, distinguishing themselves from the pack in this way. But of course, the gimmick would’ve bombed if there hadn’t been genuine musical talent to support it.


In the beginning, things went well for The Mystrys. Caught up in the excitement and fun of being part of such an unusual project, they rehearsed solidly (and in secret) at a studio in Acland Street, St Kilda, working up their set and preparing for recording. The manic and mind-bending 'Witch Girl' was an obvious choice for the single; with the slower, more reflective 'Land of the Green Sun' slated for the B-side. 

“We recorded these two numbers at Armstrong’s with Roger Savage,” Charles recalls. Where else? Everyone from The Easybeats to MPD Ltd recorded at Armstrong’s during the 1960s: the cutting-edge South Melbourne studio was one of the country’s best. As was Roger Savage, the sound engineer. A recent arrival from England, Savage had worked with The Rolling Stones at Olympic Studios and was “a fantastic technician,” according to Charles — just the man to capture The Mystrys’ unique sound. (Savage later went on to forge an illustrious film career, doing sound for movies like Mad Max, Babe and Shine, and being nominated for an Oscar for his work on Moulin Rouge)

“The sound just wasn’t available in those days, nobody was doing it. And Roger Savage…he had an eight-track recorder – the first eight-track that came into Australia.  Or was it a 16-tracker? It was the first one that came into Australia, and we were about the first ones to record on it.”

Ziggy elaborates: “We just recorded both tracks, first the instruments, then the voice tracks, more or less like it is done these days. The strange sounds on ‘Witch Girl’ were concocted by Roger Savage and added to the track.”

Having detailed the single’s finer points in my original Mystrys post, as well as in the Shindig! article, I won’t describe it here. Suffice it to say, there was nothing on the Australian charts at the time that sounded even remotely like it. (In fact, the song I think 'Witch Girl' most resembles — or, more to the point, which most resembles 'Witch Girl' — came two years later: “Journey to the Center of the Mind” by The Amboy Dukes.)

Bob had big plans for the band’s recording career. “My idea was that we’d do what the Beatles did: we’d do an EP of four songs. Not the songs that were recorded — these were better and more commercial. We’d get the money from that and do two more straight afterwards … have all the stuff ready to go. Of course, the next thing I find was that Michael Kopp had chosen two other songs.” 

Although The Mystrys hadn’t yet played live and were an unknown quantity on the Melbourne scene, their single climbed the charts, first as a promo copy on Kopp’s own flash-in-the-pan label Orbit, then on the Festival-owned subsidiary Leedon. (Curiously, radio stations wouldn’t play its flipside, “because they said it was a protest song and the Vietnam War was on,” explains Charles. With its idealistic lyrics about food for nations to share, freedom being more than a word, and war not existing, it’s easy to see how broadcasters arrived at this conclusion. A shame, really, as this otherworldly number is quite a technicolour trip.)

Meanwhile, the hype surrounding the band was building, helped along by appearances on teen music programs such as The Go!! Show and Kommotion, some hilarious media write-ups, and even a promotional music video dreamed up by Michael Kopp. 


“That film he made of The Mystrys was brilliant,” remembers Bob. Charles agrees. “It was just so innovative. Nobody was making videos in conjunction with their numbers in those days.”

Frustratingly, a copy of the 'Witch Girl' video cannot be found. It's not on Youtube, and a search of the National Film and Sound Archive meets with a dead end. (One article from the time mentions it was sold to the BBC and CBS in Canada, although whether that’s truth or spin is anyone’s guess.)

If Charles’s description is anything to go by, the clip was fab!

“So we had this girl in a sports car behind a screen, and they had lights behind her, throwing an image onto the movie screen, and the cameras were actually shooting from the other side. And we were there playing 'Witch Girl'. She had a scarf around her neck, and a fan in the front was blowing the scarf, [making it look like] the scarf was wavering in the wind, you see. Then they went up on the ICI Building, and they dropped the scarf, and filmed it just floating away. And that was the end of the video."

Of course, being almost 50 years ago, some details are a bit foggy. “I can’t remember where we filmed it — I’m sure it wasn’t at Acland St.”

Ziggy’s memories are vaguer still. “I don’t even remember doing a video of 'Witch Girl'. I’d even forgotten about the Mystrys until I was reminded of the band 40 years later!”


Michael Kopp may have come up with the masks, but besides this, he and Gerry “really had no idea what they wanted to do. It turned out I had to come up with the ideas,” Bob says. 

Taking the extraterrestrial concept and running with it, Bob spun a weird and wacky web of intrigue around the band, captivating and irritating journalists in equal measure. “It was just amazing. I mean, the media – anything I told them, they printed it. It was crazy!” he laughs.
Among his more creative stories are the following:
  • The Mystrys performed two inches off the ground, and didn’t have any shadows
  • The members were aliens from a planet outside the reach of Earth’s telescopes, whose journey to Earth took several years in a faster-than-the-speed-of-light spaceship (check out the previous post for details of their intergalactic pseudonyms)
  • The members were aged anywhere between 643 and 850 years old
  • They played 35 instruments between them
  • Due to contractual obligations, they ate, slept, showered and played with their hoods on, and didn’t even know what each other looked like
  • There was a fifth, invisible member, Finstar.

Another Crawford-generated rumour that fuelled much speculation was the one about The Mystrys being The Beatles on holiday in Australia! 
Scrapbook clipping courtesy Ziggy Zapata
This excerpt from an interview with Bob and the band in TV Times (8 June 1966) gives an inkling of the snarkier journalistic reactions they provoked:
Mr King-Crawford broke in. “It may interest you to know,” he said, “that the boys have five bodyguards – to protect them from any fans who might want to tear off their face-pieces and discover their true identities.”“Aren’t the boys afraid,” I asked him, “that no-one will really CARE what their true identity is? What a let-down it would be for a mob of screaming teenage girls to rip off those masks and find five complete unknowns underneath.”
And then there were the publicity stunts. Pointing out a photo (below) in one of Bob’s scrapbooks, Charles comments: “See this one here? We’re in a pool at a motel named The California in Armadale. We turned up, obviously all dressed in masks and everything else –”

“— I wanted to get a shot of the heads all just above the water –” explains Bob.

“But somebody saw us walking in and they thought it was a hold-up. So they called the police.” says Charles. “Two divvie vans and a station wagon turned up with all these police in them.” 

Bob: “And they weren’t joking; they weren’t at all amused about it. I kept saying ‘they can’t take the masks off, their identities are a deadly secret!’”

“That was funny,” laughs Charles. “It was just a little bit short of World War II,” Bob observes wryly.
In the pool at the California: I think I'd be mildly disturbed to come across this scene too! Courtesy Ziggy Zapata
Another time they were walking through the Southern Cross Hotel with their guitars, only for a guest to call the cops, convinced some kind of criminal act was unfolding. After all, felons always wander around in green velvet hoods while carrying musical instruments, right?
Salad, sir? The Mystrys having lunch at the Southern Cross, Courtesy Ziggy Zapata


By the time the band made their live debut at one of Brian de Courcy’s popular suburban ‘Mentone Mod’ dances, Mystrys mania was at fever pitch. “It took off,” Charles recalls. “Everyone wanted to know who we were, girls were trying to take the masks off … going crazy trying to find out who we were. It was really an exciting time.”

Ziggy remembers another gig at Malvern Town Hall, where the group hid in a caravan organised by Michael Kopp to protect their anonymity while “groupies banged on the door” outside. “Michael wouldn’t let them near,” he says.  
Scrapbook clipping courtesy Ziggy Zapata
“The whole concept worked so well, and they were choreographed,” Bob adds. 
That's right: not only did they wear masks and matching tailored suits, tell hilarious porkies about their identity and play pounding paranormal pop, but The Mystrys had choreographed stage moves into the bargain! It’s almost too much fabulosity for this brain to process!

Curiously, before the band could consolidate on their popularity in Melbourne, Michael Kopp sent them on a tour of regional Victoria and South Australia. 

“We weren’t around long enough to say ‘OK we’re going to play regular gigs in Melbourne,’” Charles reflects. “And I’ve gotta be honest: the so-called management didn’t want to expose us too much. We were on The Go!! Show so we had that kind of exposure; we were interviewed; we played at a couple of places here but then we went on tour. And the tour lasted about four months. We were away for a long time.”

In part 2: on tour with The Mystrys; the truth comes out; what happened next…
Photo courtesy Ziggy Zapata