A television current affairs show in March 2015 led with the story that Little River Band band members Glen Shorrock, Beeb Birtles and Glen Wheatley etc. don’t own the name any more. To say they are pissed off is to put mildly.
Baby boomers loved Melbourne-based LRB and the band was a feature act at Breakway’s Surfworld ’75 on the Yarra banks. Journalist and author Peter Ellingsen reviewed the band’s first self-titled first album for Breakway around the time we booked them for SurfWorld, along with Phil Manning and a host of other Melbourne talent.
Ellingsen, after a rant about commercialism in popular music, wrote: “… you may be relieved to discover there is reason to suspect life is still worth living. The encouragement comes in the form of an album from the local Little River Band.”
He continues: “Despite an unbelievably insensitive Mickey Mouse cover, the talent and quality of this six-piece group is established on first playing.
“In nine original songs the Melbourne-based band shows just what can be achieved when capable performers use the limits of the commercial market to make the rock idiom zing.
“Their first album is tight, professional and consistent. There are no fillers, few lapses and no detectable pretensions.
“With old Twilight’s vocalist Glen Shorrock out front, and Zoot bassman Beeb Birtles supplying drive the music becomes a joy to behold. Lyrics by the various members are all good, with occasional signs of brilliance.
Instance the rocky “Statue of Liberty” by Shorrock which sends up the American competitive ideal with cutting jibes at “values built on the dollar” and a beautiful turnabout … “if this is America/you’ll have to try a little harder”.
“Harmonies on this offering are in the CSN & Y class, and that’s saying something. Guitar work by Canadian Rick Formosa sparkles with rock appeal without getting self-indulgent.
“For those who find it hard to believe a local band can produce an entertaining record, without becoming facile, the Little River boys offer unlimited hope.
“To someone like me with obvious and decided prejudices against over loud and under talented groups, the attraction is overwhelming.
“The live thing is even better, particularly if you’ve been suffering the gimmickery grandstanders that abound the pub and dance circuit.”
In July, 1976, Greg Smith and our music writer, Rod Stone, of radio 3XY, interviewed Little River Band members after the release of their second album, which also went gold.
Glen Shorrock talks of “Man in Black” on the first LP: “It was a song I wrote in England, again I think all the songs on the album were written in England. I was just fooling around … .I used to try to spend a few hours each day on the piano regardless of what came out.
This was one of the lucky days where a good song came along.
Didn’t take too long to write … the lyrics did, though, because I couldn’t find a subject and I thought a Western type ballad with all the connotations of gunslingers and that type of thing … I’m very into Western things .. .I like Western clothes … and I figured guitars and guns go together … sound a bit like a redneck, don’t I . . . it came pretty easily.
“Statue of Liberty” was one of the first songs I ever wrote . . . the third, actually. . . written about five years ago just before Axiom split up and while I was thinking of things to do, I went to see Planet of the Apes which is a movie starring Charlton Heston and the last scene is the key to the whole thing whereby they find they’re on Earth rather than another planet.
He comes around a cliff and sees the Statue of Liberty sticking out, sort of rusted and on an odd angle .. .I got the idea from that … I went’ home and thought of the words on the bottom of the inscription and I wrote ‘give me a home/give me a wanderers … Statue of Liberty sinking in the harbour.’ I wrote the song on piano but the riff I had in my head . . . Chris Stockly (now in Dingoes) picked up on it … the song has been previously recorded over the years … with ‘Esperanto’ and now finally with thisband … the way it should have. Beeb Birtles steps in now to tell of Lil Rivers initial hit Curiosity: “I think we were in England around July-August ’74 when I was flatting with Graham Goble and his wife in Wochester Park and they’d gone out somewhere and I was playing around on acoustic guitar when these chords came to me … and I played them over andover kinda funky … we had a little ‘cat which I’d bought for Jane, Graham’swife’s 21st … Sparky … and being more into writing up songs rather than down, the melody just came and it turned into “curiosity killed the cat”.
“Emma” was a song that I admit I didn’t write from the heart, just from the head, just a song I wanted to fill in a demo session I was doing for a publishing company. We always had to do four or five songs … and I had three. I always muck around with open tuning on guitars and I think this was written on E-tuning.”
While reminiscing Beeb wanders back to Mississippi days and their trip to England . .. it wasn’t his scene at all, but out of it comes the beautiful “I’ll Always Call Your Name”.
Mississippi had seen a lot of changes in line-up, mainly due to conflict in ideas in music and personality clashes. We saw a lot of members come and go, but the three main members were Graham Goble, myself and Derek Pellicci, our drummer.
When the band went to England and saw how hard it was to survive and work, the band broke up over there and the same three people stayed together.
The way we met Glen Sharrock was when he came over to our house we played him some of our songs and he played us some of his. The music was very much on the same level so he came in on the whole thing as well. When we came back to Australia we virtually had a band as such, along with Glen Wheatly, our manager, and we set out to find a bass player and guitarist.
The first guy we found was Rick Formosa, who was a Canadian and in Australia for five months. He was recommended by Phil Manning. Later we found Roger McLachlan, who had been playing with the cast of Godspell and when he’d finished that he was playing at the Whiskey here in Melbourne and he came along to one of our rehearsals one day and there it was: The start of The Little River Band.
Graham Goble tells of the last song on the LP, I Know It: “Often when I write a song I pick a pattern that repeats over and over but takes weeks to come up with the right idea for the song, but with this particular song, as far as I can remember, it was an experience that I was going through at the time, a love affair if you like to call it that, something that I’m quite happy with now and a little different from, say, “It’s a long way there”. I ‘like’ love songs … I’m a bit of a romantic and we felt it had a place on the album. We wanted to show the extremes . . . it just adds a bit of a contrast.
Of course, the much-heralded After Hours album had to come into discussion and from side one track two, oddly enough another Beeb Birtles song, was selected as the A-side Every Day Of My Life.
“This song was actually about one of our band meetings … would you believe it .. I think it was Glen and I who were pushing to do some comedy stuff and to add a bit of theatrics to our concert appearances.
“Of course, at that stage it wasn’t feasible because we were doing a lot of pub gigs and I don’t think these things would’ve come off in pubs.
“I was being pushed down a bit with my ideas and it was really getting to me and at one of these meetings it got me so down that I went home and wrote this song which is about every day of my life “I can surely see where I am going .. . and with every day of this year I can see I haven’t wasted any time” etc. It just started out with this run down on the guitar then the melody just came. That was virtually it … Every Day of My Life.
Of interest only last week news was out that the first LP has been released in France and they’re already considering importing the new After Hours set. That should please Glen Shorrock as his love for Paris and women surround the song Seine City …
He tells: “I spent five years in England and a few weeks in Paris … and I wrote this song about my time there. I really loved the place. I think Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world … very expensive to live in, but it’s got such class and character and the women are marvellous. They’re all very elegant and polite and they know how to handle themselves properly and I mean handle themselves properly!
On talking of pretty tunes on the LP, Another Runway came to pass and, in fact, only too timely when it’s a good time to introduce guitarist Rick Formosa, who with Beeb Birtles co-wrote the 6 min. 28 sec. story of the Formosa family pride and problems … Problems in shifting from Italy originally to Canada for 13 years then back to Italy then back to Canada then out here. It was on Beeb’s suggestion that he should write about packing, shifting, unpacking, the lot. That’s what Another Runway is about.
Rick’s only other contribution to the LP is “Bourbon St.” which,’ not unlike the family highlights on “Runway”, seemingly giving rise to being on the road and getting the chance to rock down some nightlife avenue with having a good time in mind and leaving those petty problems behind.
Leaving things behind is probably a much used thought track on both Little River LPs, but then, as the guys have been around so long and through so many lineup changes in different bands that the stockpile of songs would tend to rely on tunes written some time ago and be relative to their experiences. The bands that we readily associate with the background to Little River (they’ve all been well respected locally) are: Mississippi, Twilights, Zoot, Axiom and a guiding hand from an old Master Apprentice. Let’s hope that if they do go big internationally, it won’t take too long.
BREAKWAY, JULY, 1976