The 70s was an exciting time in Australian music. There was a whole new generation of bands emerging from the pubs and clubs around the country. A band called Supernaut was a part of that new generation. Formed in Perth in 1974, Supernaut was singer Gary Twinn and brothers Joe and Chris Burnham on drums and guitar respectively. Later, they would be joined by bass player Philip Foxman. Forty two years after putting the band together, the guys are back to do it again. On the eve of their Australian tour, I spoke with Gary and Philip about the early days of the band and how it feels to be back on the road together again after all these years.
Gary’s family migrated to Australia from England when he was young, just at the age when he started getting into music. The move didn’t sit well with him initially as all the music he loved was coming out of England at the time. But things changed when he met two other English guys in school in Perth where he lived. “We found that we had the same musical tastes and ideas and we started a band there within the city of Perth and we just played and played and played every chance we could possibly get and we learned how to play together and we learned our craft. Joe and Chris had a band called Moby Dick. That’s what they were doing already but when I joined, we became Supernaut.”
Bass player Philip Foxman says he joined the band about a week or two after ‘I like It Both Ways’ came out. “I was still in high school at the time. It’s funny because I saw the band on Countdown and I thought ‘My God! That’s exactly the kind of band I want to be in’ and then funnily enough, two days later, I saw an article in a magazine that they were looking for a bass player and the next day I was down in Melbourne auditioning and I got the job.”
Molly Meldrum took an interest in the band when he and Paul McCartney saw them playing at a club in Perth. As Gary recalls, “Molly came to Perth with Paul McCartney and then they happened to come down to a club where we were playing and McCartney said to Molly, ‘This is the best band I’ve seen in Australia.’; not necessarily that we were great musically but that we reminded him of the Beatles when they were first starting and they were just giving it everything they had. Not being great musicians but really trying hard to entertain people and make it work and working really hard. That was what we did, you know. We thought nothing about getting up and playing for four or five hours, covers and everything to entertain people. That’s the way it was then. Bands played in pubs. You didn’t just play a big set and then leave. You played all night. And that’s exactly what they (The Beatles) used to do.”
The boys decided to make the big move from Perth to Melbourne. “We packed up our bags and moved to Melbourne initially just on a whim trying to make it,” Gary explains. “That’s a long way to go for a bunch of kids. But it was because of Molly’s thumbs up. He didn’t sponsor us or anything but because he believed in us, other people did too and they gave us a chance but we paid for the recording of ‘I Like it Both Ways’ ourselves. We saved up from our gigs and we lived in a shit apartment while we were doing that so nobody paid for us to do anything but Molly produced the song. He came in and directed the whole performance and told the engineer what to do and that created a big vibe in the Melbourne scene and record companies were interested in us because of that.” The band then signed with Polydor but when the record was finally released, they faced a hurdle. “The powers that be decided they were going to ban it because the lyrics were not acceptable but once again because of Molly being influential on Countdown and the fact that the whole Countdown crew loved us and the fact that the Bandstand people really liked us and they loved our song as well and the fact that we were great on TV and we had a big following, it made the record break through.”
Not only did Supernaut score a big hit with their song, the video was also a great success. “It won the Best Video of the Year Award,” Gary tells me. “That’s a cool story too. I guess they were trying to do this whole green screen thing where they had us flying around on rocket ships. Somebody accidentally pointed a camera at one of the TV monitors and it caused this kind of vision feedback where the image is reflected over and over again. It was a total accident and then they’re like ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ So that became the theme for the video which is quite neat.” They also won another award for Best New Band at the King of Pop Awards. Gary says that the award is still at his mum’s house in Perth. “I’ll go and polish it up when I visit,” he laughs.
All four members of Supernaut continue to work in music or the arts. These days, Gary lives in L.A. and has a band called International Swingers with drummer Clem Burke (Blondie), bass player Glenn Matlock (Sex Pistols) and guitarist James Stevenson (Generation X, The Cult). Philip has worked on various projects including films and plays and is currently a composer for a rock musical called Atomic which has had rave reviews in America. Chris writes, develops and directs movies and Joe has released two solo albums and continues to write and produce music.
They are obviously all kept busy with their individual projects so what was it that led to the band reuniting for another tour all these years later?
“In 2007 when we did the Countdown Spectacular tour,” explains Philip, “It was a pretty amazing feeling to be on stage, let’s say in Sydney at the Acer Arena or in Melbourne at Rod Laver and looking across at thousands of people. Over 30 years ago, we used to play together and here we are in front of a packed stadium full of people. That’s a pretty amazing experience. We really enjoyed playing together a lot and we realised that we really had a serious sort of energy between all of us.” He says that they have just been waiting for the right time to get the band back together again “This is the 40th anniversary of ‘I Like it Both Ways’, and it also coincided with the release of the Molly TV show and we were approached by Liberation Records to licence our catalogue so it all kind of came together quickly. It just seems like the right time to do it. It just feels really good to put everybody back together again and we’re really looking forward to it. We were hoping it would happen and this is the right time for it to happen.”
The guys are amazed but thrilled with the response that their reunion has had from Australian fans that have been posting old photos and reminiscing about their experiences relating to the band on social media, particularly as part of a competition run on the band’s Facebook page in the lead up to their tour. “It’s pretty amazing,” says Philip. “These are men and women in their 40s and 50s and they have these real poignant experiences in their life that they had with Supernaut. I’m really glad and I know the other guys are really glad to have a part in so many people’s lives. You don’t realise it as you go through your life, the impact you have but that’s what a great song should do; it should bring back emotional memories in a person’s life and that’s what ‘I Like it Both Ways’ and the band, does. We walked into a really great time in Australian music history. It was just an incredible accomplishment and we’re really proud to be part of that whole 1970s Australian music community.”
He cites the first North West Tour of Western Australia as a memory that stands out in his mind. “We were asked by a promoter to open up a whole tour frontier for them so we were the first band to go to some of these towns and then at that stage there weren’t even a lot of roads. So we would go to these towns where you would really play to these audiences on the back of a truck bed and the entire town would come out. All the miners would come out and you’d play to audiences that were so appreciative of music coming to them and you just saw the reach of Countdown. You just saw that you were a part of Australian music coming to all parts of the country and it was a fantastic experience.”
As well as the upcoming live shows, fans can look forward to a new song from the band, written by drummer Joe Burnham. It’s called ‘Fading Star’ and is due for release this month. There is also a compilation album which will include tracks from the first Supernaut album through to the Nauts album.
So what can fans expect from this tour?
“Everyone can expect a fun night out hearing some songs that helped shape their lives,” promises Philip. “And being with a bunch of guys who are having a lot of fun playing for them and we’re really looking forward to seeing our friends on this tour.”
“I hope everybody has a great time,” adds Gary. “I’m looking forward to getting together with the guys and doing it one more time.”
Supernaut will be doing two shows in Sydney and one in Melbourne this week and a final show has been added in Perth, as Gary says, to “Finish it where it all began.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2016. All rights reserved
SUPERNAUT AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Thursday 16th June – The Basement, Sydney
Friday 17th June – Bridge Hotel, Rozelle (Sydney)
Saturday 18th June – Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne
Saturday 25th June – Charles Hotel, Perth