THERE was a time in Newcastle when the smoky pubs regularly heaved with punters paying their respects to the local rock’n’roll gods.
Many bands germinated from the fertile late ‘70s and early ‘80s scene, but none reached the levels of popularity of DV8. Ask many a greying rock’n’roller around Newcastle and most will speak of DV8 with exalted praise.
For many they were the great Novocastrian band that never reached their potential. A band that should be listed among the city’s greatest rock exports, The Screaming Jets and Silverchair.
After all this was a band who regularly packed out Newcastle pubs like the infamous Star and Belair Hotels and the old Newcastle Workers Club, now Wests City, and toured with the likes of Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel.
Almost two decades after their initial break-up at the height of their popularity and 17 years since their last studio album of new material, DV8 are preparing to release their new record Like It On Top next Friday.
It features the band’s original bassist Mark Middleton and new drummer Travis Suprano.
It was produced by The Heroes’ Mark Tinson, who recorded DV8’s 1981 debut A Stab In The Dark live at the Belair Hotel, and later made demoes for The Screaming Jets and Silverchair.
Like It On Top captures that classic early ‘80s Aussie pub rock sound and features new versions of several DV8 songs like Back To Basics and 141, the never-released Moment To Moment, plus a host of newly-written material.
“Moment to Moment was on an old demo tape,” DV8 frontman and songwriter Greg Bryce tells Weekender. “I was listening through a couple of songs, that one and Standing On My Own, and I took a bunch of songs to the band and they were the two that stood out. We thought we could do something with this.
“There was a lot of good stuff back in the old days that never got released because I suddenly stopped doing the band and nobody would have even heard that song unless they had the demo tape.”
Moment To Moment is arguably the 10-track album’s highlight, reminiscent of The Sunny Boys at their most melodic.
"There’s still a lot of people, that for them, it was their glory days."
“We wanted to have up-to-date stuff, like we have on From My Mind and we also wanted to go back and create an album that was fresh and that also reminded people of that period,” Bryce says.
The song Back To Basics originally appeared on DV8’s 1986 album of the same name, which became their highest seller. The track sits alongside Dry Your Eyes as the band’s most well known. However, Bryce was never entirely satisfied with the recording.
“The original recording was good, it just was very much of its time,” he says. “The drum reverb and that kind of stuff that was on it. We just wanted to do a fresh version.”
Since reforming full-time in 2000, after several one-off gigs and a studio album Big Green Monsters in 1999, DV8 have been regularly entertaining Hunter audiences on the pub circuit.
Interest in DV8 has increased in recent months following the publication of local historian Gaye Sheather’s book Rock This City: Live Music in Newcastle, 1970s-1980s. DV8, and Bryce as the three-piece’s charismatic leader, feature front and centre in the book.
Bryce says he still regularly receives messages from people all over Australia who remain hardcore DV8 fans.
“There’s still a lot of people, that for them, it was their glory days,” he says. “When they were 15, 16, 17 getting into pubs underage and this was the music they grew up with and it was the soundtrack to their lives.
“You make it and put it out there and it has its own life or it doesn’t. You might get three people who like it and then it dies, but for some reason it has lived on and brought people joy.
“You’ve done a hard week’s work and you go out on Friday night, where do you go? You want to listen to some hard rock’n’roll music, have a beer and punch your fists in the air and maybe meet a nice girl or guy and have some fun.”
One of the great questions in Newcastle rock history has always been; would DV8 have cracked national success if Bryce did not prematurely pull the plug on the band in 1987 to embrace meditation and yoga in an Indian ashram?
“I was really happy we had achieved so much musically, but personally I was digging deeper into life’s mysteries and I wanted to find out a bit more about myself,” Bryce says.
“I had some really powerful experiences of meditation and yoga, which were so powerful for me that I wanted to go and do it 100 per cent. I didn’t want to do things half and half.”
Bryce says before leaving DV8 their management were in negotiations with several major record companies about signing the band. In hindsight does Bryce regret leaving when success was seemingly within reach?
“I have no regrets whatsoever because everything I did after that was really important for me in my life,” he says. “It didn’t mean the other guys could understand it. They were like ‘here we go’ and then I pulled the rug out from under their feet.
“It’s always pure speculation to how DV8 would have gone beyond that. In town if we played the Workers Club we could easily pull 1800 people, which is the same as Midnight Oil or Cold Chisel, but who knows how it could of gone beyond that to take it somewhere else.”
Following DV8 and his spiritual journey, Bryce returned to Australia and played in a number of other bands, including the successful Sydney-based folk three-piece Jigzag, who toured overseas.
Today he remains a full-time musician, playing up to four shows a week around the Hunter as well as teaching singing and yoga.
DV8 launch Like It On Top at the Wickham Park Hotel next Friday.