Coloured Balls: Ball Power

[30 November 2006]

By Doug Sheppard

While there’s plenty of debate about whether the first wave of 1977 punk started in England or the United States, one country that often gets left out of the equation is Australia. Down under, bands like the Saints and Radio Birdman were playing hyper-amphetamine rock ’n’ roll before they ever heard the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, let alone the term punk. And what reinforces the notion that there was a global unfolding of parallel movements in the mid-1970s is the work of Coloured Balls, an Aussie band from several years earlier.

To be sure, Coloured Balls were not punk rock or even the kind of protopunk associated with the Stooges–MC5–New York Dolls triumvirate. But their supercharged, full-throttle boogie rock ’n’ roll knew no peers in the early 1970s, and when one lets a Balls long-player rip and unleashes the beast of searing guitar and jabbing rhythms—the parallels to punk rock are simply stunning. Similar to their spiritual brothers from across the pond, Coloured Balls took the vehicle of early rock ’n’ roll like Elvis Presley and Little Richard and remodeled it into a dragster.

But unlike how, for example, the Stooges and Dolls used amateurism to their advantage, Coloured Balls were led by the two-headed dog of lead guitarist extraordinaire Lobby Loyde and rhythm guitarist Bobsy Millar. Loyde had a legacy dating all the way back to the early 1960s, most notably with R&B punks the Purple Hearts and psych-punkers the Wild Cherries, while Millar likewise had been kicking around the scene since the late 1960s. Combine them with a fierce bottom of bassist John Miglans and drummer Trevor Young, and you have one of the most potent rock ’n’ roll combos Australia ever produced—symbolized by the title of their first album, 1973’s Ball Power.

Once described by Loyde as “our way of saying ‘fuck you’ to the music industry” and a “revenge band”, Coloured Balls back up the bluster of their leader and more on Ball Power, a nonstop guitar onslaught. Fueled by their desire to burn the pomp and pap threatening music the world over, the album dabbles in not only bluesy hard rock like “Something New” and “Mama Don’t You Get Me Wrong”, but furious boogie like “Human Being” and “Flash”. In their quest for speed, they even hit a three-years-ahead-of-themselves time warp with the razor-edged rush of “Won’t You Make Up Your Mind”, replete with blazing buzzsaw guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on the first Vibrators album. And on “That’s What Mama Said”, the band unconsciously usurps the ragged experimentalism of “Sister Ray” and “LA Blues” and transforms it into a channeled rage where Loyde’s hot leads do battle with a crazed theremin.

Even at 12 minutes, “That’s What Mama Said” (later covered by Stephen Malkmus on 2001’s Jenny & the Ess-Dog) doesn’t seem too long, nor does the 16-minute boogie-and-feedback excursion of “G.O.D.” (“Guitar Overdose”), a Loyde-enhanced freakout recorded live at the Sunbury Festival in 1973 and included among the bonus tracks. Among the other highlights in the bonus portion (basically pre-LP singles from 1972 and 1973) are the ironically titled “Slowest Guitar on Earth” (anything but that) and the typically burning Balls-out rocker and tongue-in-cheek antiestablishment statement, “Devil’s Disciple”.

Following up an album as grand as Ball Power would be hard for any band, and for Coloured Balls, the situation was compounded by another ironic parallel to punk: Violence at gigs. Neither incited nor encouraged by the band, the fighting instead reflected the growing dissatisfaction of Aussie youth with the boring, conservative lifestyle set in front of them. But even if the band had no part, their matching sharpie haircuts (basically skinhead with tails) and aggressive style made them the perfect target for muckrakers.

Amid the controversy, the band recorded 1974’s Heavy Metal Kid, a lesser though credible follow-up. The title track romps like anything on the debut, but elsewhere Coloured Balls settle into a more rocking sound owing more to their love of early rock ’n’ roll. Some songs like the melodic “Just Because” (dig Loyde’s chiming guitar sound) and the boogie rocking “Back to You” work in this regard, while others are less successful. But if you think they lost their fire, then witness the non-LP single, “Shake Me Babe,” a subtly funky, killer sexy hard-rock riff romping and stomping more proudly than even the best of Ball Power. Interestingly, there are also two solid previously unreleased cuts from an aborted live-in-the-studio album, “Flying” and “Around and Around”, recorded in 1975 just before controversy did the band in.

Other than a now hard-to-find Raven comp, Coloured Balls became a collectors’ band, their albums trading for hundreds on the market (this author shelled out $150 for an original Ball Power, actually) if you were lucky enough to find them. But as they’ve done for Buffalo, Kahvas Jute, the Twilights, and others, Aztec has brought the music back to the people with incredible sound direct from master tapes, Ian McFarlane’s detailed liners, and meticulous packaging (Ball Power even replicates the textured original cover). Let this mark the beginning of a great band getting some long overdue recognition—and Aztec, please also reissue the lost 1972 Coloured Balls album (issued after the band broke up), The First Supper Last.

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