By Greg Brooker
Before beginning what can only be a fairly inadequate summary of musical genius, I must preface with the disclaimer: “Too much to say, too little time to say it in” (and all apologies to Willy Wonker). Kim Salmon is an Australian musical legend, and he should be to the rest of the world. From humble beginnings in Perth, here is a man who has made and continues to make uncompromising music, has been at the forefront of independent music in Australia for decades, created musical trends (remember ‘grunge?’), and boldly continues to release music that he wants without fear of a fickle population. It’s 1976 when punk arrives in Perth. The Cheap Nasties, Kim Salmons’ group fueled on The New York Dolls, The Stooges, and Jonathon Richmond &The Modern Lovers records are the first punk act in Perth, soon to be joined by other like minded groups such as the Dave Faulkner’s Victims. Perth, and Australian music will never be the same.
When the Cheap Nasties fell apart in late 1977, and Salmon joined the bones of another act (The Exterminators) to form The Invaders, while the remainder of the band were integral in Faulkner’s later band The Mannikins. The Invaders featured the first conjunction of Boris Sujdovic and Salmon. Other members were John Rawlings on drums (replaced in 1978 by Victims time-keeper James Baker) and Rod Radalj (later in an early incarnation of The Hoodoo Gurus). A name change resulted in the Scientists.
The Scientists Mark I, were made up of Kim Salmon (Guitar/Vocals),Rod Radalj (Guitar), James Baker (Drums), Dennis Byrne (Bass – Sujdovic having left after a couple of months to join the Rockets). In mid-1979, this line up released the classic debut single ‘Frantic Romantic’ b/w ‘Shake (Together Tonight).’ Twin blasts of teen angst and overactive hormones with great pop sensibility [Almost impossible to find, this single and the subsequent 7 inch EP were later released as a 12 inch mini LP 'The Sweetcorn Sessions' on the Timberyard label, although this was also a limited release and is also as rare as hen's teeth. Thankfully, over the last 12 months, several CD compilations have been released ('Do The Pop,' 'Tales From The Australian Underground' and 'Born Out of Time') that contain many of these rare independent single releases from Australian bands and are well worth tracking down].
With the first vinyl released, Radalj and Byrne soon jumped ship, and were replaced by Ian Sharples (Bass) and Ben Juniper (Guitar), although Juniper had left the Scientists by 1980 after a four track EP had been released, which contained great tracks like ‘Last Night’ and ‘Pissed On Another Planet.’ ‘Last Night’ even managed to get featured on ‘Countdown,’ ‘the’ music program on the national broadcaster – required Sunday night viewing along with the Aussie Rules show ‘The Winners.’ The Scientists continued as a three piece, and it was a three piece that recorded the self-titled (and funded through the EMI custom label) debut LP, although this is better known as the ‘Pink Album.’ Only 1000 copies were produced (however, another 1000 copies exist with a yellow and purple cover through the Easter label), and although Salmon tends to dismiss this record as not really sounding like them live at the time and being badly produced, it is a great disc, full of killer punk-pop tracks that stand well against anything that the Undertones or Buzzcocks put out … Lyrically, James Baker, a huge Troggs fan had a heavy hand with at least half of the tracks having either ‘Girl’ in the title or chorus with standouts ‘High Noon,’ ‘Teenage Dreamer,’ ‘Walking The Plank,’ ‘That Girl,’ ‘Sorry, Sorry, Sorry’ and the brilliant ‘Larry.’
Unfortunately, this LP remains an artifact of what could have been, as Scientists Mk 1 had decided to call it a day before recording began.
A short lived combo, Louie, Louie rose from the ashes with Salmon, Brett Rixon (Drums) and Kim Williams (Bass). Bass heavy, with primal drum lines punctuated by slashing chords, Louie Louie were a mud map for the soon-to-be reanimated Scientists. The band’s signature track ‘Swampland’ was written during this period. Salmon and Rixon left Perth for the bright lights of Sydney in late 1981 (home to Radio Birdman), to exhume the Scientists in their next incarnation.
The Scientists Mk II were the musical equivalent of the classic line from Marlon Brando in the ‘Wild One’:
“What are you rebelling against?”
“What’ve you got?”
They were loud, proud and didn’t seem to give a goddamn. Salmon and Rixon recruited Sujdovic on bass and later Tony Thewlis on guitar. They played the Devil’s music long and strong – the rhythmic (and at time arrhythmic), pulsating, twisted sludge they dispensed was a rusty icepick into the brains of the onlookers. Building up a solid following through 1982, their uncompromising style made friends and enemies (bottled off stage supporting pub rockers the Angels or bickering amongst themselves on stage).
Melbourne’s Au Go Go records released the staggering ‘This Is My Happy Hour/Swampland’ single in late 1982 and followed this up with the excellent ‘Blood Red River’ mini-LP (A compilation of Scientists material from 82 to 84 was released in 2000 with the same title) containing such gems as ‘Revhead,’ ‘Set It On Fire’ and ‘Blood Red River.’ A film clip was released for the title track which showed the group in their sartorial splendour.
The Scientists moved to Melbourne as a base of operation (then also home to the Birthday Party and art-rockers the Moodists) and at the end of 1983 released another Au Go Go single ‘We Had Love/Clear Spot.’ Melbourne was, however, just a jumping point, with the Scientists later relocating to London, again attracting a small but ardent following, and even scoring support slots on UK tours with the likes of The Gun Club, Sisters Of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Not satisfied with just the Scientists, Kim Salmon was a critical part of Australia’s great underground rock supergroup formed in late 1983, The Beasts Of Bourbon (The rest of the band was initially comprised of Ex-Victim, Ex-Scientist, Ex-Hoodoo Guru drummer James Baker, Ex-Scientist Boris Sudjovic on Bass, Ex-Johnny Spencer P. Jones and the Legendary Tex Perkins on Vocals). Kim Salmon was involved in the first three Beasts records, the legendary ‘Axeman’s Jazz,’ ‘Sour Mash’ and ‘Black Milk.’ Live or recorded, the Beasts of Bourbon were extraordinary. Salmon could also be found working with Tex Perkins in Salamander Jim, providing material for the oddly titled ‘Lorne Greene Shares His Precious Fluids’ EP. By mid-1984, Au Go Go had released the mini-LP ‘This Heart Doesn’t Run On Blood, This Heart Doesn’t Run On Love’ containing ‘Nitro,’ ‘Solid Gold Hell’ and the classic ‘I Cried No Tears.’ Again the tracks were bass-driven, feedback washed slices of madness.
Like so many other indie bands from the 1980′s, record company issues reared their ugly head, and contractual arguments, a myriad of odd releases in multiple countries ensued, but thankfully this did not seem to impact on the creative output.
Soundworks released the Demolition Derby EP (containing ‘Demolition Derby’, ‘Temple of Love’ and ‘Murderess In A Purple Dress’ amongst others), Au Go Go the Atom Bomb Baby EP (containing ‘Travis’ later to be renamed ‘If It’s The Last Thing That I Do’, ‘Bad Priest’ and ‘Hell Beach’), while the Karbon album ‘You Get What You Deserve’ came out in the UK. There was also the Au Go Go compilation ‘Heading For A Trauma’ which contained the two early Au Go Go singles and oddities like ‘Fire Escape’ and covers of ‘Raver’ (Vega) and ‘The Wall’ (Van Vliet). Disaster struck in early 1985 (before a support slot on a Sisters Of Mercy tour) when Rixon left, leading to the decline of the band over the ensuing two years. Drummers came and went (Richard Hertz and Leanne Chock ), records were still released (1985′s ‘You Only Live Twice’ single, 1986′s US released ‘Weird Love’ on Bigtime and the final ‘Human Jukebox’ released by Karbon). ‘Weird Love’ was a best-of that were re-recordings of classic tracks – a legacy of the contractual issues regarding the back catalogue.
By the time ‘Human Jukebox’ (a disturbing record even by Scientists standards) was released, Sujdovic had left (due to an expired Visa), Salmon was the only original member left and was playing bass and it was time to return to Perth. A few sporadic gigs were played upon their antipodean return, but life for the Scientists was apparently over.
The legacy of the Scientists grew when Sub Pop released a Scientists compilation ‘Absolute’ in 1991, and there was even a tribute record released later ‘Set It On Fire’ which featured bands like Mudhoney. Citadel released a second compilation, ‘The Human Jukebox 85 to 86 ‘in 2002 which covered the later half of Scientists Mk II recorded output. Over the years, there have been a few reformation gigs of the Scientists, both incarnations and these have been memorable according to all accounts.
Kim Salmon & The Surrealists formed back in Australia around the time a second Beasts album was released, although Salmon had started using this moniker while still in London. The three piece released ‘Hit Me With The Surreal Feel’ in 1988/89, a lo-fi affair that cost 60 dollars of studio time. Initial copies were released in a vile clear blue vinyl, and the very ‘fishy’ cover is guaranteed to get a few laughs. Salmon, Tony Pola (Drums) and Brian Hooper (Bass) had put together a very odd record with covers ‘Devil In Disguise,’ ‘Blue Velvet’ and originals ‘Torture,’ ‘Feel’ and the multipart ‘Hit Me With The Surreal Feel.’
1990 saw the release of ‘Just Because You Can’t See It? Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t There,’ a polished affair featuring a live favorite ‘Je T’aime’ and originals ‘Melt,’ ‘You’re Gonna Die’ and ‘Sunday Drive.’ (If my memory serves me correct, Salmon could also be found around this time moonlighting as hired gun with the Black Eyed Susans, at least for gigs in Perth).
Turning a little heavier for 1992′s ‘Essence,’ Kim Salmon & The Surrealists released singles with a semi-rap edge, the excellent ‘Lightning Scary’ and ‘Zero Blank.’ Other tracks, like ‘A Pox On You’ and ‘The Cockroach’ were more traditional fare.
Also in 1992, Salmon’s first solo release (although he had a little help from people like Warren Ellis under the name STM) ‘Hey Believer’ is a masterpiece. Containing a great cover of ‘Rambling’ Man’ and original tracks like ‘Hey Believer,’ ‘Obvious Is Obvious,’ ‘Reach Out’ and the raucous ‘Pass It On’ it is work of subtlety and skill.
1993′s brilliant ‘Sin Factory’ saw Salmon and Co get funky, with ‘Listen To Your Brother’ and ‘Something To Lean On’ being prime examples. They still rocked out with ‘I Fell’ and ‘Come On Baby’ but it was the brooding ‘Rose Coloured Windscreen’ that is the killer track. At the completion of ‘Sin Factory,’ Tony Pola was replaced with Greg Bainbridge on drums, and the band toured continuously, making it to Europe and supporting U2 in Australia.
The last two Surrealists records were released in 1995 (‘Kim Salmon & The Surrealists’) and 1998 (‘Ya Gotta Let Me Do My Thing’). Both are good records, the self-titled album containing a Scientists cover ‘Frantic Romantic’ and rock tracks like ‘Redemption For Sale,’ ‘Dragging Out The Truth’ and the classic ‘What’s Inside Your Box?,’ while ‘Ya Gotta Let Me Do My Thing’ weighed in with ‘You’re Such A Freak’ and ‘Space 1999.’
Antenna, a conglomeration rock/dance crossover featuring the first partnership of former Perth punk rivals, Salmon and Dave Faulkner (the other culprits were Stuart McCarthy and Justin Frew from Southend) released the clever ‘Installation’ album in 1999, leading off with the superb Salmon penned single ‘Come On Spring’ (which I have heard Salmon calls his ‘Frozen Orange Juice’ song). Other tracks include the Chrissie Amphlett sung ‘Divine’ and ‘All Rise.’
Kim Salmon released an album in 2001 called ‘Record’ with The Business. ‘Record’ is a stunning surprise, guitar, drums, bass and a full horn section! One of my favorite Salmon records, each track excellent with stand-outs being ‘I’ll Be Around,’ ‘Saving Me From Me,’ ‘Disconnected,’ and ‘Nothing Can Go Wrong’. Having seen the record played live (even following the track listing) at the Perth festival, Salmon showed that he and the Business were not just a studio only proposition. Sadly, to date there have been no other KS and The Business releases.
The most recent release from Kim Salmon was 2002′s solo ‘E(a)rnest,’ a quiet acoustic based record featuring ‘Lord Of Darkness,’ ‘Independent Rock,’ a reworked ‘Cool Fire,’ and ‘Hey There Little Lightbulb.’ This record sees an introspective and sombre Salmon, but the sound is fresh and heartfelt. Looking back over his career, either recorded or live, the output and quality is amazing. The outline above does not really cover all of his work, there are numerous guest spots on other artists work (Summer Suns, Deadstar, Mach Pelican to name a few) or split releases. Having seen him live with the Scientists (both Mk II and the reformed Mk I), solo or with the Business, the Surrealists or as part of the Human Jukebox, he never disappoints.
As always, I await the next release, whenever that will be, with anticipation. Kim Salmon is a great talent, under appreciated in his own country, and not really well known outside of it, but for those who know his work there is a great respect. His long musical history and collected output, not to mention impassioned live outings are staggering in scope and one can only hope that more people seek his music out and experience the world according to Kim Salmon.