written by Stephen McParland
based on interviews with group member PETER HOOD and producer SVEN LIBAEK
As far as Australian instrumental rock music is concerned, The Atlantics had no equals. While a myriad of other young combos whirled around them, emulating The Shadows as best they could, The Atlantics consistently delivered original sounding and innovative material that rarely owed allegiance to any other group. Perhaps it was the combination of their predominately unusual upbringings (from Tanganyika to Egypt to Sydney) or just inbred musical talent, but whatever it was it worked. The group’s long list of achievements is testimony to that.
The seeds of what evolved into the quartet known as The Atlantics were sown in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, not far from the stomping grounds of Little Pattie, The Statesmen and The Denvermen, all fellow musical contemporaries. Also, the allure of beaches such as Maroubra, Bronte and Bondi (many immortalised in Australian surf music folklore) was close at hand and often quite seductive.
Initially The Atlantics underwent a number of personnel changes which by early 1961 had been constructive enough to form the basis of what would become a tight knit group with Peter Hood on drums, Theo Penglis on lead and rhythm guitar, Bosco Bosanac on bass and Eddy Matzenik on guitar. However Eddy’s star quickly dimmed and he was eventually replaced by Jim Skaithitis, another lead and rhythm guitarist. This line-up would remain intact throughout the group’s recording career.
Musically, The Shadows and The Ventures were the group’s early heroes and this blending of American and British influences undoubtedly provided a foundation on which to build an individual style. Although as Peter Hood remembered, “we were performing everything from Johnny and the Hurricanes onwards”, the group steadily developed a sound of its own. John Bogie, drummer with the Joy Boys, was another influence on Hood, as was his own father who had been a professional drummer for thirty years.
When it came time to choose a group name, The Atlantics was not as many suspect decided upon as a reflection of the group’s seaside interests. Rather, it was selected in a more offbeat manner.
“We were walking around one day trying to think up a group name. We went through names such as The Eagles, The Falcons, and The Jet Streams…you name it. Then we saw a sign…ATLANTIC PETROL…and we thought, “Well you can’t get more publicity than that.”
“A lot of people thought we were an American band which in one way was good. Over the years I’ve met a lot of deejays who have confessed that if they had known at the time that we were an Australian band then they would never have played our records.”
Throughout 1961 The Atlantics slowly but surely built up a local following even though at first, as Peter Hood confessed, “we must have played the same tune over and over about fifty time – in a different key of course!” The group pawned everything they had to buy their first amplifier. It cost an astounding £235. At this point in their career The Atlantics intended to make it B-I-G!
After securing some minor league play dates, the group soon graduated to more impressive venues and along the way picked up an additional member…a vocalist. First there was Harvey Foster, then Eddie Moses and finally Kenny Shane.
“Apart from being the image of Cliff Richard, Kenny also sounded a lot like him. On many songs you couldn’t tell the difference. He was a really good singer, but something happened and he left to pursue a solo career.”
Shane remained with the group until 1963 when he left and teamed up with another local group The Silhouettes, cutting one solo single with CBS and one with his new group. While with The Atlantics he recorded one vocal single Surfin’ Queen b/w Count Down Stomp.
As a fledgling group, The Atlantics may well have burned themselves out had it not been for agent Joan King. She took the group under her wing and soon persuaded them to turn professional. Up until then, all had been pursuing day jobs: Peter as a house painter and trainee electronics engineer; Bosco worked in a Government department; Theo dabbled in hairdressing and Jim was a processing chemist. An appearance on ATN (Sydney) Channel Seven’s NEW FACES television show was a good inducement. The group was voted “Most Promising Group of 1962”.
From the outset of their professional career The Atlantics were determined to produce a different sound – an “Atlantics” sound; something unique. Every spare moment was spent practising and fine-tuning their style and spurred on by Joan King, a number of demos were prepared. These were subsequently shopped around to all the major labels, but one disappointment followed another. To everyone’s surprise the reply most companies gave was that the group’s sound and material was just too different. “Come back in a year’s time” was the common answer.
These rejections only made The Atlantics more determined to succeed and continued perseverance soon paid off when Joan King managed to have Sven Libaek (the A&R manager at CBS Records) hear the now well worn demo tape.
Libaek: “I had already auditioned about fifty groups and I was sick and tired of them; three guitars and drums. (At first) I couldn’t see what this group had that was different from all the others and I told Joan so. But you can’t argue with a woman so I listened…I was amazed. These boys were different. They had a fresh sound and they were original…they had their own compositions.”
Peter Hood elaborated: “We auditioned live in Sven Libaek’s office and he went crazy. He said something like, ‘We gotta record you’ and so we were signed. I think that was our big break because without CBS and the chance to put our sound down on tape, I think we would have died. Sven was definitely the right guy for us. Out of all the record companies we approached he was the only producer to like what we had. This was probably because he was so different himself. His mind worked that way – towards something different and that’s what we were.”
Under the direction of Sven Libaek, The Atlantics worked up two tunes as their debut disc for the label – an original Moon Man (written by Peter Hood) and Dark Eyes, a traditional tune given a new arrangement.
Moon Man was nearly three minutes of frenzy that teamed a Shadows-Spotnicks feel with some interesting drumming and guitar work.
“There was a riff we had that had a spacey-type sound to it and so we called it Moon Man. There was no big story to it.”
Originally it was decided that the group would all yell “M-o-o-o-o-n Man” at the beginning of the tune, but this was eventually discarded.
“Dark Eyes was one of the songs we played live. It was one we got the most requests for, particularly from other musicians.”
Fellow Sydneysider Dave Bridge (another of Peter Hood’s “heroes” had introduced the song into “local” contemporary music, but The Atlantics’ waxing was not a direct copy although it was based on Bridge’s interpretation.
“Dave Bridge was an influence because he was one of the few guys in the world who tried to be pure technical at the time. He was so technical that you had to be a real virtuoso-type to be able to play like him”.
In February 1963 Moon Man was unleashed and although it created quite a deal of interest, it failed to gain a strong foothold on the majority of the local charts at the time. However it did managed to peak at the No.28 spot on the 2GB “Tune Table” chart in March, a precursor to the group winning the 2GB and Macquarie Broadcasting Network Tune Table Award as the Top Australian Instrumental Group of 1963-64.
Although not a hit in the true sense of the word, the apparent acceptance of the Moon Man single was encouraging enough to convince CBS that more material was needed. At this point the group was uncertain as to what course of action they should take, but a rainy day in April soon changed that.
“We were going to go to the (Sydney) Royal Easter Show, but it rained and instead Jim and I ended up writing a song. That song was eventually titled Bombora.”
The tune was written at Jim’s home as the two friends picked out the tune together.
“I played the first piece and that’s how we got it started. Then we realised we needed another piece and I introduced something I had written at least twelve months previously – which became the middle part. I never had been able to put it anywhere because it was a middle of a song; not a beginning or an end. So we put it all together and soon came to the conclusion that it was such a dynamic sounding piece of music that it needed an equally dynamic sounding title.”
The title of Bombora was soon settled upon (a mutual decision by the group, Joan King and CBS). It suited the sound of the recording – B-I-G and powerful – just like a bombora – an Australian aboriginal term for large waves breaking over submerged rock shelves. It also fitted into what appeared to be a new musical phenomenon that had taken America by storm – surfing music. March 1963 had seen the antipodean release of The Chantays’ Pipeline and so this new sound was beginning to make inroads downunder.
“We just sensed there was something new happening in music. We couldn’t quite categorise it and then all of a sudden we realised! We knew the Americans had just jumped onto this new musical form and we were the first Australian band to pick up on it. It was a powerful form of music and it suited our musical outlook. I wouldn’t say we cashed-in because I don’t remember any conversations where the idea of cashing-in was bought up. It just seemed a natural thing for us to do. Why associate ourselves with surf? Well heck, I used to hang off Maroubra Beach rocks and play chicken with the waves. We all liked the beach so it was a natural progression. It was simply a reflection of our lifestyles.”
An interesting statement by Peter Hood because this was exactly how surfing music evolved in California. It had not been a case of someone consciously contriving sounds to take advantage of the “surfing experience”; rather it was simply a matter of the local musicians developing their own regional style of music with the emergence of the new local surf culture. It was part of their lifestyle and they were simply reflecting it in their music and this music eventually became categorised as ‘SURF’ music.
Recorded at the same session that produced Bombora was Greensleeves, another traditional tune and an old favourite of Peter Hood.
“I’d always loved it and so we decided to record it. It also has a nice melody.”
Bombora b/w Greensleeves was issued in July 1963 and in the space of a few weeks was on its way to the top of virtually every Australian record chart. Not only was it a huge success downunder, but CBS also shipped it overseas where it received quite a deal of airplay. Countries such as America (where it was nominated “Record Of The Week” by CASHBOX magazine), England, Japan, Italy, Holland and New Zealand all saw releases of the tune. In addition, a number of foreign bands also recorded versions of the soon-to-be classic.
“Guys have travelled throughout Europe and have told me they found Bombora on juke boxes. There’s no language barrier with instrumentals. (In fact there was even an Italian VOCAL version of the tune). When groups cover your material (as they did with ‘Bombora’) that’s a real great feeling. It is a sign that you are truly successful. Every artist gets such a feeling when he realises other artists are doing his material”.
The success of Bombora propelled The Atlantics from minor league status into the majors and the months following the single’s release saw the group busy with both live appearances and in and out of the studio (with mentor Sven Libaek) putting down tracks for their first album – BOMBORA.
Libaek: “The Atlantics had a very definite idea of what they wanted to do. They wrote their own material so the important thing was to get it down on tape the way they envisioned it. This was my job as well as perhaps guiding them in terms of the sound, length, etc. One of the most interesting facets of our relationship was that we never seemed to disagree on much. The singles that were hits, we all thought were the right choices. The group knew what they were about at the time and they had a distinct sound, certainly something I could not take credit for creating. That was definitely THEIR doing, except to the point where it had to be recorded. That was MY job.”
The longplayer eventually appeared in October 1963 and was closely followed by The Atlantics’ next instrumental release The Crusher b/w Hootenanny Stomp.
However proceeding the single by little more than a month was Surfin’ Queen b/w Count Down Stomp by KENNY SHANE AND THE ATLANTICS.
“They were recorded at EMI’s studios with Sven Libaek producing. It was Joan’s idea to come up with something that could help launch Kenny. We were working together at the time, but all he had been doing was Cliff Richard covers and that was no way to get noticed. So Joan came up with the idea of these original songs. Naturally any success would have helped us too because we were one unit.”
Unfortunately both sides of the disc vanished without trace.
However such was not the case with The Crusher…simply credited to THE ATLANTICS. Although structured similarly to Bombora (which at one time nearly became titled The Crusher), The Crusher (denoting a huge collapsing wave usually unfit for surfing) was not (according to co-writer Hood) an attempt to capitalise on the earlier hit.
“It was more of a case of the group liking the style we had created with Bombora. It was a thundering style…believe me…to actually perform the material we were composing made the entire stage rock! We were just into that thundering, rolling sound. Believe it or not The Crusher was not written as a follow-up to Bombora. It became the follow-up!”
On the other hand Hootenanny Stomp was written by Theo Penglis as an attempt to try and diversify the group’s style even further. As a fan of Chet Atkins, the end product was a direct result of his taste in music.
“The Chet Atkins’ material we recorded later was also more of Theo’s influence”.
The Atlantics apparently enjoyed performing Hootenanny Stomp live because it was so different to their other material.
“In fact I actually thought I liked it better than The Crusher, but I soon realised it was just a mood I was in and it wore off!”
Unlike Bombora, The Crusher failed to reach the coveted Number One spot around Australia, but still adorned many Top Five charts. This success only helped increase the demand for more material and even while The Crusher was steadily gaining chart positions around the country, The Atlantics were again back in the studios recording material for yet another album. The finished project was titled NOW IT’S STOMPIN’ TIME and appeared in the stores just in time for Christmas 1963; two months after their debut longplayer. Things were done fast at CBS!
NOW IT’S STOMPIN’ TIME was designed to take advantage of the STOMP dance craze, then running rampant throughout Australia. Six of the twelve tunes had stomp in their title and apart from two tunes – Teddy Bear’s Picnic Stomp and Tequila Stomp – the longplayer contained all original material.
The liner notes for NOW IT’S STOMPIN’ TIME gave a brief description of each tune. Of particular interest was the comment attached to “Stompin’ Time…and on they went, until the boys, from sheer fatigue, slow down to the final chord”.
“I suppose that is a poetic description of what went on. We used to put a lot of energy into our recordings. Actually the toughest part about the recording sessions was having to lug our equipment up to the EMI studios which were on the ninth or tenth floor of the building. Plus we always had trouble trying to find a parking spot! By the time we got to the actual studio we were that tired we were ready to go back down. It was tiring and the studios weren’t the best to work in, but there was little choice. CBS used the EMI studios because they had none of their own and there just weren’t that many other studios available.
“In all honesty, the studio acoustics were terrible. You couldn’t hear anybody very well and that’s probably the real reason (rather than tiredness) why you can hear me yelling out “go on” during Stompin’ Time. I guess to sum it up, it was a combination of tiredness cutting the stuff; it was a tiring place to be in and thirdly, you had to yell out because they just couldn’t hear you otherwise. Even though the boys were in the same room, the sound just didn’t travel well.”
The Atlantics performing large & loud at Lane Cove
One month after THE EXPLOSIVE SOUND longplayer appeared (April), The Atlantics and CBS issued a follow-up to War Of The Worlds and surprisingly, the new disc – Rumble And Run b/w The Wild Ones – saw a return to The Atlantics’ sound.
“When The Beatles hit we tried to change to more vocals. It was just a case of being influenced by what was happening around you. Yet we still tried to inject some originality into whatever we did. We stuck with the sound we had developed, changing it slightly, but always keeping to the same basic framework.
Rumble And Run and The Wild Ones were fine examples of The Atlantics being The Atlantics and as Peter Hood admitted, both were more or less inspired by the 1953 Marlon Brando motion picture The Wild One.
“We were influenced by what I called Marlon Brando Music. Rumble And Run was our musical interpretation of the film The Wild One. You have a ‘rumble’ and then you jump on your bikes and “run”. The sound effects tell it all. It was basically a thematic tune.”
Although using similar ideas, The Wild Ones was not recorded at the same session:
“I think you’ll notice that the melody is much sweeter and more melodic. I think Rumble And Run is a much more violent-type sounding melody; like the battle in War Of The Worlds. It was supposed to represent a fight. On the other hand The Wild Ones (at least to me) projects the image of riding along the highway. Theo wrote The Wild Ones and we would often associate him with Marlon Brando because he used to wear the big leather jacket. I think he wrote the song as an offshoot of us sometimes calling him Marlon!”
Whereas Rumble And Run and The Wild Ones were both group originals, The Atlantics’ sixth instrumental single for CBS saw a complete about face. Issued in October 1964, it teamed two revivals of earlier Chet Atkins’ hits – Boo Boo Stick Beat (from 1959) and Teensville (from 1960) – as another attempt to project a more diversified image; in particular a shedding of their ‘SURF’ image in an era when “mods” and “rockers” ruled.
“The surfing image (we had) was starting to become a bit of a problem even though we had already been playing other forms of music before we became known for our ‘SURF’ tunes. In fact we continued to perform these all through the ‘SURF’ era, but because our big hits were ‘SURF’ tunes, I guess many people thought that was all we did.”
The reason for recording Boo Boo Stick Beat and Teensville (according to Peter Hood) was to try and revive some old tunes by injecting some new ideas into them. By adding their usual offbeat sound effects, what the group set out to achieve was attained.
“They were mainly recorded as something to entertain rather than for any other reason. We performed them on stage and Boo Boo Stick Beat in particular always went over well. The guys would come out with bottles and tin cans and all types of shakers. It was a good audience song, one that probably sounded better live than when we recorded it.”
In January 1965, the group counteracted claims that they were no longer capable of producing acceptable originals by releasing the under-rated Giant b/w Mirage. Written by the entire group, Giant saw a return to their former musical glory, Likewise Mirage also exuded some interesting originality, possibly reflecting the eastern origins of some of the group members.
“Giant was one of those amazing songs that you actually write in a matter of minutes. We were all sitting around at our rehearsal hall one day playing around with this melody when all of a sudden the song seemed to write itself. Within ten minutes we had a working model and the rest of the day was spent honing it up. We never had to work on that song ever again.”
At first the tune was given the title of Flight Of The Banshee because as Peter Hood admitted, “it sounded like it had this super power to it”. For those unfamiliar with the term “Banshee”, it is Irish for a female spectre/spirit known for her loud and powerful screams and wails. After also considering the idea of associating the song with a supersonic jet, the group eventually settled for the more descriptive title of Giant, a decision that was twofold in design. First of all CBS did not particularly care for Flight Of The Banshee and as the single was earmarked for a summer release, the company also felt that a title reflecting that time of year might be more appropriate. After some thought, the title Giant was agreed upon.
“It still retained the idea that it could refer to giant waves while also suiting us because the title still retained the sound and feel of what Flight Of The Banshee was in the first place.”
Two more releases followed, Goldfinger b/w Bumble Boogie and Peter Gunn b/w Chief Whooping Koff but after four albums (including one GREATEST HITS package issued in May 1965) and nine instrumental singles, The Atlantics sojourn at CBS was bought to a mutually acceptable end, even though their contract had not yet expired.
“In a sense CBS must have realised (or thought anyway) that we’d run our course with them. They couldn’t see the thousands of dollars rolling in anymore and also, we wanted to start spending more time in the studio and this they didn’t think was worthwhile. Therefore we had to break loose. We thought we still had a good sound and we wanted to develop it further. We were also getting into more vocals and so we asked CBS to let us go and they agreed.”
Thus ended a most productive and successful liaison that spanned some three years of a period that saw many musical changes. The years that followed were ones fraught with even greater artistic and musical achievements and true to form, The Atlantics would again be ready to do battle. For them change was essential & change they would. The next 5 years would be proof of that.
However that is another story…
© David McLean 1991, Canetoad Publications.