GANGgajang was formed in 1984 when Kayellen Bee, Mark Callaghan (previously of The Riptides), and Buzz Bidstrup and Chris Bailey (formerly of The Angels) were commissioned to write songs for the ABC TV program Sweet & Sour.
The songs became a debut album, the self-titled GANGgajang, with sales I excess of 130,000 with the hit singles Gimme Some Lovin, House of Cards, Give of Life and the classic Sounds of Then (This is Australia). The rest, as they say, is Oz music history.
The band are getting ready to tour the nation. Here’s Buzz Bidstrup chats with Cream about all things GANGa.
Hi Buzz. I’m going to start with the band’s name and your play on typography. GANGgajang were playing with upper- and lowercase lettering way before it was a trendy thing to do. On an aesthetic note, would you say you were ahead of the times?
Nice question to start with… We set the band up in 1984 as a collective of creative types who had a life outside ‘the band’. Hence the emphasis on the word GANG – who made the gajang (ie: noise).
Did you get upset if you read an article in which the journo didn’t have the GANG part all in uppercase?Always a battle to get the name printed right but usually its ‘gangajang’, or ‘ganjagang’. Always have to remind people there are four ‘G’s in the name and a real bonus when someone gets it right. Because that’s how we wanted it to look. And in American typewriter font, if you can!
Enough of the semantics. Let’s get to the GANGgajang sound… With a combination of band members from The Riptides and The Angels, did you find the band attracted a diverse crowd to its gigs?
In our first interview, we described the band’s sound as ‘pre world beat, post heavy metal folk funk’. The great thing about this combo is that it brought all our audiences together. Both Chris and I as the rhythm section brought as much soul and funk to the party as we did rock, something that is not that evident in many Angels recordings. Mark’s Riptides crew were also lovers of surf, punk, indie and classic pop. The sound of GANGgajang also included elements of jazz and blues from Robert James’s and Geoffrey Stapleton whose earlier band The Aliens purveyed experimental pop. And Kayellen Bee sang great backing vocals and shook a mean tambourine!
While GANGgajang enjoyed chart success, the band still managed to maintain a high level of indie cred. What aspects of the band do you think have helped keep that cred intact?
We always make music and release it because we like it, and we never chased a trend. We are true to ourselves and it feels great to still have a dedicated following, no matter where they might sit on the commercial / indie spectrum.
One of your most famous songs is Sounds of Then (This is Australia) which has got to be right up there alongside Icehouse’s Great Southern Land as a postmodern anthem for the nation. Do you like hearing the song used in ad campaigns and at events such as sky-shows to this day?
Every artist appreciates hearing their work used in different ways. It’s a great compliment when people say the song means something to them and that the music we make evokes a strong memory in their life. We don’t license that song to to many straight ad campaigns and the events like sky-show only help keep the song and music peoples’ hearts, really.
I think the genius of that song is that its music is as alliterative as the lyrics. When the bit about ‘lighting crack over canefields’ you can almost hear the crack – in the instrumentation and in the singing. Was that kind of alliteration intentional?
Mark wrote the lyrics as a poem along with ‘Ambulance Men’ and ‘The bigger they are’. His turn of phrase is sublime and I’m sure he had a few alliterative intentions.
I trust you play all the hits and some rarities at your gigs these days. Do you like to change the songs up a bit or is it more a case of keeping them close to the original recordings so as to appease fans?
We still enjoy playing all of the songs from the self-titled debut, and for this concert we will play the entire album as it was released. The rest of the set will be made up of singles and popular tracks from other albums. We’re lucky because our music and releases span three decades, so we have a few different age groups who have gotten into the band over the last 30 years, and there are always a few surprises. Recently we did a tribute to Chris Bailey and Doc Neeson, with me on ukulele.
Nice one. Who are three contemporary Australian artists you’re loving right now?
Hiatus Coyote, The Preatures and Sia are doing it for me, but there are so many great artists it’s not fair to single out just three.
Sorry, three’s the limit. Hey, if GANGgajang were to feature in a music museum alongside just two other Aussie bands, who would they be and why?
Okay, a hard one to answer without knowing the ‘parameters’ but museum implies we might be seen with other bands of a similar age or perhaps acts who brought something to the Australian culture with their music. I’ll go with artists with connotations of Australian sentiment within their music – and so Icehouse and Men At Work.
I would have, too. See you on tour!
GANGgajang play The Astor in Perth on Sunday 06 August.
Tickets are available through www.astortheatreperth.theticketgroup.com.au.