Photo Courtesy Philip Morris
Throughout the seventies, one band dominated the Australian music scene with a string of hit records, sell out concerts and a legion of utterly devoted, mostly female, fans. By 1975, Sherbet was the name on everyone’s lips. Their song ‘Summer Love’ was riding high on the charts and their stronghold on the Oz music scene was secure. But, by early 1976, rumours were quickly spreading of a rift in the Sherbet camp. In January, the band was on tour in Queensland and northern NSW when surprised fans saw a new guitarist, Gunther Gorman, taking the place of their beloved Clive Shakespeare. It was unclear exactly what Clive’s departure from the band would mean in the long term. For now, Gunther would fill his shoes but was he a permanent replacement for the man who was, after all, a founding member of the biggest band in the country? Would the band survive such a significant division in their ranks? Those questions were soon to be answered and all doubts laid to rest when news of the split reached guitarist Harvey James who, at the time, was in Perth, touring with his band, Ariel.
“Quite a few people who knew (about the split) were saying to me ‘Harvey, you should join Sherbet.’ And I thought ‘Yeah, that would be nice.’ And then a magazine at the time, I think it was Juke magazine, ran an article with a picture of me, saying ‘Harvey Joining Sherbet’ and I didn’t know a thing about it!” he laughs. “It was sort of like a freight train going downhill, if you know what I mean, and I had nothing to do with it.” But the seed had been planted and maybe it was not such a crazy idea after all. Harvey decided that, perhaps, it was worth taking a chance. “I thought ‘Well, what the hell!’ I was living in Melbourneat the time and I got (Sherbet manager) Roger Davies’ address and wrote a letter, saying ‘I think I would be fantastic for the band and blah, blah, blah.’” A week passed and, with no reply to his letter, Harvey was beginning to wonder if he had made a big mistake. “I was saying to my flatmate at the time, ‘I feel like a real idiot for writing that letter.’ And, I swear to God, about thirty seconds later, there was a knock on the front door and, when I opened the door, there was this guy with a telegram. And I had this telegram, saying ‘Harvey, you are booked on flight such and such to Sydney at seven thirty in the morning.’” SoHarvey was on that flight and, on arrival at Sydney airport, was promptly whisked away, straight to the rehearsal studio atAnnandale. “I walked in and I had my guitar and they had an amplifier there ready for me and, well, the majority of the Howzat album was already half recorded. I just did my thing and I was in the band by 11 o’clock.”
As history will attest, the decision was a good one, not only for Harvey but, ultimately, for Sherbet as well. It is a daunting experience for anyone to join a well established band, regardless of the group’s popularity, but Harvey James was stepping into some pretty big shoes here, replacing a much loved member in what was, arguably, the most loved band in the country. Such a move could prove to be disastrous and extremely short lived if he was not accepted by Sherbet’s legion of diehard fans. Harvey’s addition to the band, however, was met with instant approval. The guitarist fitted like a glove and so the next chapter of Sherbet’s rocket like success story was ready for take off.
“They were really, really exciting times,” he recalls. “because Sherbet were way ahead of their time and they were a damn big band! I mean, I’d just been playing pubs, pretty much, when I was in Ariel or Mississippi, or supporting The Jackson 5 or Gary Glitter or whoever at Festival Hall. And, all of a sudden, I was in a headline concert, which was a whole new experience.” While the public warmed to his new role without hesitation, Harvey admits to getting ‘a bit of a bagging’ from some of his peers for joining Sherbet. “But I thought, ‘What the hell! I’m here to see what the ride is like.’”
And what was it like? Harvey is lost for words. “I can’t describe to you what it was like!” he says. “I recall the very first gig that I did with them, which was in Brisbane. When we were walking on stage, six and a half thousand, mostly girls… I could not believe the noise they were making. Just thinking back, they were all stomping their feet on the floor and yelling. I thought the floor was going to give way. And I walked up on stage and I thought ‘Whoa!’ It was scary!”
As someone who had been at many of those Sherbet concerts, I can tell you he is not exaggerating. If it was scary, looking down from the stage, it was even more so in the audience. “Yes, it must have been,” he agrees. “I remember the crush down the front, girls getting hurt and stuff like that.”
The mayhem was not, however, limited to inside the venue. Outside, hundreds of female fans would lie in wait for a glimpse of their idols and the scenes outside the stage door were every bit as frenzied. “It got to the stage,” Harvey recalls, “where we used to have to go to our gigs in the Armaguard van. You know, the vans that pick up money from banks. There were just normal dining room chairs in the back and the Armaguard van used to back up as close to the door as possible and we’d be able to just open the back doors and jump into the gig. I recall one particular gig, it might have been Melbourne Festival Hall, the girls came close to actually pushing that van over. I remember getting caught a couple of times and getting mobbed. That’s really, really scary. There were girls all on top of you, trying to rip your hair out, trying to rip your shirt off, trying to rip your watch off,” he remembers. “You know, I played a bit of football in my younger years as well but it was nothing like that!” he laughs.
Then, when the band decided to pursue international success, a reluctant Harvey thought ‘Do we have to go overseas? Can’t we just stay here and enjoy this?’ But the band did head off overseas and ‘Howzat’ started climbing up the charts in the U.K. Harvey was surprised by the success of the single in his home country. “I never would have picked it,” he admits, remembering the thrill of being a star in his native England. “When we landed, we just watched it go from No. 45 up to No. 2 on the U.K. charts which was fantastic, especially being English and you’re going back home and having a hit record and being on Top of the Pops. People would say ‘Ooh, look at that! There’s our Harvey on Top of the Pops!’ It was just great!”
Harvey had been thrust into the surreal life of a rock star, part of Australia’s favourite band; a band adored by fans all around the country, performing to capacity crowds of screaming fans and churning out what seemed to be hit after hit after hit and, now, tasting international success. He concedes that being thrown in at the deep end like that was definitely a shock to the system. “But, realistically,” he admits, “I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Part 3 next week
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2010 [Sharyn Hamey] All Rights Reserved.