Newcastle pub rock Heroes ready to rock again

LONG WAIT: Newcastle pub rock pioneers Armageddon performing in 1972 at the Newcastle Town Hall.

LONG WAIT: Newcastle pub rock pioneers Armageddon performing in 1972 at the Newcastle Town Hall.

THERE was a time when Newcastle’s smoky pubs breathed with rock’n’roll music. When bars across Newcastle’s CBD, the suburbs and Lake Macquarie rattled with electric guitars, bass and drums.

At the forefront of that ‘70s cultural scene were a handful of bands like Bluegrass, A Rabbit and Armageddon that would come to characterise the Newcastle sound.

Eventually those three bands would disintegrate and their strongest elements would unite to form The Heroes, arguably Newcastle’s greatest band outside of Silverchair and The Screaming Jets.

The Heroes would famously perform at Newcastle pub rock’s most defining moment, the 1979 Star Hotel Riot, when an estimated 4000 punters clashed with police following the closure of the iconic venue.

For the first time in more than 40 years the original line-ups of Maitland band Bluegrass (Phil Walker, Mark Tinson, Greg Lawler and Bob Hanley) and Toronto four-piece Armageddon (Peter de Jong, Les Gully, Greg Dawson and Steve Cowley) are reforming for an appearance at Lizotte’s.

The concert will also feature A Rabbit (Tinson, Phil Screen, Jim Porteus and Greg Douglas) and will chronicle the evolution of the three bands into The Heroes (Tinson, Screen, de Jong and Dawson).

The Heroes and A Rabbit have reunited in recent years for one-off shows, but Armageddon and Bluegrass last performed in 1976 and 1973 respectively.

“We’ve always been in each other’s orbit, even if we haven’t necessarily played together,” de Jong says. 

“Everyone has been playing for 40 years so the chops should be there. What will be interesting will be to see how the chemistry goes.

ARMAGEDDON: Greg Dawson, Peter de Jong, Les Gully and Steve Cowley in 1974.

ARMAGEDDON: Greg Dawson, Peter de Jong, Les Gully and Steve Cowley in 1974.

“I think most bands who have been together a while and have had some level of success will tell you that one of the reasons for the success is the chemistry between the players.

“I know for example, when the four of us get up as Heroes, even if we haven’t played for a couple of years, when we have the first rehearsal and get halfway through the first song, it’s like ‘hang on, there’s the beast’.

“Whatever noise we make together, happens. We don’t have to work too hard to find it.”

The idea for the history of Newcastle pub rock concert came about after the success of the nostalgic The Girls On The Radio shows at Lizotte’s which were organised by Tinson, with the help of de Jong and Porteus.

De Jong and Tinson’s musical relationship has been one of the most important in the history of Newcastle music.

The pair first met at the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds in 1971 at the old Hunter Theatre at The Junction when Armageddon and Bluegrass went head to head.

Armageddon prevailed and were then victorious in the regional final before falling short in the state decider. Adelaide band Fraternity, famous for boasting Bon Scott, Jimmy Barnes and John Swan as former frontmen, were eventually crowned Hoadley’s champions.

“Those bands, particularly A Rabbit, Armageddon and Heroes created a template for pub rock in this part of the world. I think we can lay claim to that,” de Jong says.

“There were a lot of really good bands around like Maya and Daniel, but we were a bit grittier and harder.

“Any number of bands from that time would say they were heavily influenced by us.”

Limited tickets are available for the History of Newcastle Pub Rock Show at Lizotte’s on October 27.