Aside from Midnight Oil, vSpy vSpy are arguably one of Australia’s most politically-oriented rock bands. While Midnight Oil’s politics were those of conscience, vSpy vSpy were outspoken representatives of The Street. Primarily they started out as the voice of the homeless squatters of early eighties Sydney, but their songs spoke for everyone who felt under the thumb of The System. They told true stories of common struggle that polite Australia didn’t necessarily want to be hear. The original group came from separate corners of the world. Guitarist Mike Weiley arrived in Sydney from London and almost immediately found a soul-mate at Nelson Bay High School in would-be bassist/singer Craig Bloxom. American Craig had studied in Alaska for a time, but arrived in NSW in his teens via WA. The group’s token Australian, drummer Cliff Grigg arrived in Sydney from the Armidale NSW, and settled in an inner suburban squat in Glebe that didn’t even have a roof when he first moved in.
From the day they met at high school Mike and Craig had talked about music and in around 1980 started talking about forming a band together. Cliff heard about it though mutual friends and vSpy vSpy was born. To save on rent and keep from having to find day jobs Mike and Craig moved into Cliff’s squat. They took the name from a regular strip in Mad magazine. Living in a squat had other advantages. They were able to rehearse almost every day. One day they received a call from the Sussex Hotel asking them to fill in for a band who couldn’t make it, and vSpy vSpy performed their first gig. In the beginning their music style was dominated by the ska sound popular in inner Sydney pubs at the time.
A year into their life the band recorded its first single. Michael Hutchence of INXS offered to produce, but they turned him down. The single ‘Do What You Say’ was followed by an EP, ‘Four Fresh Lemons’, both recorded for friends on an independent label, Green. The EP’s original pressing was a limited release of 1000 copies. They sold out in 5 days. But the band expected something else to happen, and broke up shortly afterwards. It took just a few months to realize that vSpy vSpy was more fun than the bands they were now playing with, so the Spy’s reconvened in July 1983 with second guitarist Marcus Phelan. The ska had been dropped for a more straight-ahead rock attack.
In 1983 Weiley became sick with hepatitis and confined to a hospital bed for a considerable time. Their equipment was stolen. Phelan left. Things changed with the help of Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett, who’d become a fan and would attend every performance he could. Now called vSpy vSpy to avoid legal action from Mad magazine (they were previously Spy vs Spy), the group acquired Midnight Oil’s manager Gary Morris and released the mini-album ‘Meat Us Inside’ and its single ‘One Of A Kind’. Their first album ‘Harry’s Reasons’ contained the singles ‘Injustice’ (about the Aboriginal struggle) ‘Something’ (directed at the media) and the title track, dealing with a friend’s misuse of heroin. Harry was a euphemism for the drug.
For their next album vSpy vSpy moved from Midnight Oil’s Powderworks label to WEA. This album, ‘A.O. Mod. TV Vers.’ (standing for Adult Oriented Modified TV Version), contained their “hit” record ‘Don’t Tear It Down’, a plea to the developers bulldozing historic Sydney, and a ode to the scourge of the day, ‘Credit Cards’. ‘A.O. Mod. TV Vers.’ earned vSpy vSpy a platinum record. Without warning, the record company demanded a new album, and within six weeks the band wrote and recorded ‘Xenophobia (Why?)’. The title was inspired by the mood around Australia’s Bicentennial year, but the messages in the songs were universal enough to see the album released in 14 other countries. 1989’s ‘Trash The Planet’ was recorded in England at Richard Branson’s Manor House studios. Branson kept Irish Wolfhounds as pets at the Manor, one of which savagely attacked Craig.
Cliff Grigg was desperately unhappy with his drums sound on that album. His departure from the band at the end of 1991 led to a year’s absence from live performances. Mike and Craig took the opportunity to move to Queensland and went through a period of search and trial of new drummers until their support of a best of collection in June 1992 saw the group’s return, with Mark Cuffe on drums. In 1983 the vSpy vSpy signed a new contract with Sony, and released ‘Fossil’, written in the studio in 1994.
In 1995 the band traveled to Brazil to follow-up on a strong fan base established there through the surfing community. Mike stayed behind, while back in Australia, Cliff Bloxom and Mark Cuffe teamed up with Icehouse house Paul Wheeler to form a new group, the Shock Poets, allowing Cuffe to leave the drums for the microphone. More Brazil tours followed, and the two groups existed concurrently. In 1997 Mark left to dedicate himself to Shock Poets (he’d never quite fit in) while Craig left that group to dedicate himself to vSpy vSpy. Paul Wheeler was named as vSpy vSpy’s new drummer.
Mike Weiley & Mark Cuffe (on lead vocals) keep touring as “Spys Inc.” playing all the old hits and some new material with a new Australian rhythm section. Craig Bloxom has left the band and is living in Mexico, working as a professional chef. Spys music lives on through these albums, mostly unavailable except online through fans and the magic of the internet.
FEITA NO PRAIA
vSpy vSpy mini-album of live material recorded on the beaches of Brazil late last century. You can even hear me speaking Portugués between the songs! The Spys toured Brasil 10 times and found success there with the surf-crowd known as “surfistas” who embraced our music like never before. Mikes song: “Clarity of Mind” is still a big favourite over in beautiful Brasil! Saudades pra todos Brasileiros! Obrigado & Abraços!
vSpy vSpy’s first album recorded at the old Albert’s Studios on King St Sydney with Lezsek Karski producing. It was our first experience making an album, and we had no idea what we were doing so thank God Lezsek was there to guide us along. As rough as it is, many Spy supporters consider it their favourite Spy album of all time. There’s “something about” a bands first album isn’t there? That seminal experience of a bands first recording.
DEMOLITION 2: ROUGH HEADS
vSpy vSpy demos which were painstakingly put together on cd by Ian Marshall of Tronador records in Brasil. These are original recordings which never made it onto our albums in the format they appear here. Rough and ready, but indicative of the bands influences & origins, many of these demos were re-worked into songs which finally appeared on our commercial releases. Ian, an ex-pat Aussie in Brasil came to Newcastle and took a big box of old Spy cassettes back with him to explore and find the best versions of the bands demos. Eternal thanks to Ian for his perseverance & dedication to vSpy vSpy.
vSpy vSpy’s timely release during the Australian Bicentenary year of white-mans habitation of the island: Terra Australis. This album contains some poignant tunes that were relevant to the changing times in Australia & the world. This album was recorded at Rhinoceros studios in Surry Hills, Sydney, with Les Karski & David Hemmings on the control board. The band was at it’s height in popularity in Australia and the strong themes in this record were taken on the road internationally for the first time after it’s release. The night of it’s final mix at the studio, Les and I went on an infamous all-night drinking session with took us to the Balmain “early openers” for breakfast of eggs, beer & vodka. We eventually found ourselves at the British Lion in Glebe about 11 am still drinking, and Les fell asleep on the bar. This was back in the days where sleeping on the bar was tolerated so to avoid his beer from getting warm while he dozed, I helped him out by drinking it down. Les awoke not long afterwards and accusing me of stealing his beer: tried to punch me in the head. As luck would have it, my girlfriend at the time entered the pub at that very moment after searching for us all night long and saved me from Les’ fists buy pulling me safely into the street. Once outside, she berated me with justifiable abuse for being a dirty, drunken goose until I sat down, pissed & despondent in the gutter whereupon I decided to lay down and sleep where it was “nice and cool”. So there I lay in the gutter, drunk & incoherent at the completion of our poignant and challenging 3rd vSpy vSpy album Xenophobia Why?. And that’s the truth so help me God. Craig Bloxom.
AO MOD TV VERS
vSpy vSpy second album recorded again with Lezsek Karski, the Golden Pole (that’s a joke: he’s Polish). This was our first ever Gold Record and brought great success to the band. The cover shot was taken in the old Sydney Powerhouse, which is a museum now of course. We went on tour with 11 television sets on-stage & the road-crew were very loyal in lugging them on & off-stage every night. When “World Cup” soccer was on, Mike would have them all tuned to the game so he could watch soccer while we played our set. Sometimes he’d make mistakes on his guitar when Arsenal scored a goal!
DEMOLITION: THE HOTTEST PLACE IN TOWN
Spy V Spy live performance recordings from the very early years. These songs were recorded at various gigs around Australia on cassette and then thrown into a box in a corner to gather dust. This bloke named Ian Marshall came along and painstakingly went through them & pulled out songs & arranged them on a CD for release in Brasil where we have a strong fan base. Without Ian, all this live Aussie musical history would be lost forever because the box is still in the corner where the Spys left it. Many thanks, Ian Marshall from Tronador music!
TRASH THE PLANET
Trash the Planet recorded at the Manor studios in Oxfordshire UK with Craig Leon producing. It was the hottest summer in English history and I got viciously bitten by “Bowser”, one of Richard Branson’s Irish Wolfhounds while doing the mix-down. I couldn’t walk for 3 weeks after that, because the huge hound of hell took a chunk out of my leg the size of a small volkswagen. I still walk with a limp and have a fear of small puppies. We spent more money on this album than any other and lived the life of rock stars by the pool out the back of the Manor while we worked on the album. Our manager at the time (he fleeced us, big time) brought his wife & child and enjoyed our money while it lasted. We grossed $960,000 from live shows in 1989 and where did all the money go? Up in smoke, thanks to management by sharks, the timeless story of rock bands the world over. Oh, by the way we spent 2 thousand English pounds on alcohol while making Trash the Planet. Well done boys.
THE EARLY CASES
This cd is another musical compilation from Ian Marshall at Tronador Music in Brasil. This cd is a combination of our first independent EP “Four Fresh Lemons” and “Meet Us Inside” the first mini-album for a major label. We were just emerging from the squats and had no idea what a recording studio was all about. Playing along to a “click-track” drove Cliff insane and was the start of a hatred of studio work. It seemed we were great players in the “live” environment, but we took years to translate that to the studio. This music is indicative of that time period and brings back memories of living in the squats of Glebe and living on the dole. If your cheque was late (there were no ATM’s in those days) you had to go all weekend without any money. We learned to scab and steal where needed to survive.
DEMOLITION 1: SQUAT
vSpy vSpy demo tapes from the very early years of the bands existence recorded in rehearsal rooms & gigs, then painstakingly put together by Ian Marshall from Tronador records in Brasil. Ian has contributed more than we can ever thank him for in terms of preserving our history in the digital medium. Without Ian, these recordings would be lost forever. These recordings were made on cassette tapes in Sydney in the early ‘80’s in various studios & rehearsal rooms and collected to be thrown into a corner, in an old brown cardboard box. Ian dug them out and made sense where no sense could be made from all the analogue music and turned it into digital cds. Ian Marshall, you’re a legend. Thank you.
Edited by kanto_sho on 20 May 2011, 17:48
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I am the singer/bassplayer of vSpy vSpy the Australian group.
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