In 1993, me and my sisters in music, Monica and Justine, decided to start a trashy garage band and let it all hang out. We’d been entertaining on the upmarket nightclub circuit with our big good time country band Honky Tonk Angels, a reasonably polished and professional 12 piece outfit. We wore gingham and satin dresses, all smiles and pizazz, and now we wanted to throw it all away and explore something darker. Something real and raw.
We found it with White Trash Mamas, trading in our country gold for super short and tight zip up chemist uniforms with our stage names embroidered on them (Betty, Lolene & Dog), and played barefoot, bashing tambourines and pots and pans with wooden spoons while headbanging and throwing ourselves around. We screamed and shouted and got down on our knees and poured countless shots of vodka down our collective throats (we had free drinks in our deal). It was supposed to be some kind of subversive working-class feminist statement but I’m not sure exactly how that worked out for us. Our band bio said ‘The White Trash Mamas proudly wear their uniforms in celebration of the working class sisterhood and preach the relief that rock’n’roll offers from the tyranny of everyday life’.
We teamed up with Bones and Dean, a couple of rangy, grungy, dangerous looking punk-blues musicians who were deep into 70s punk and CBGBs culture and taiught us about Johnny Thunders and Television and we thrashed out a bunch of tunes and worked our way through an alarming number of drummers, including main drummer Barton Price (from The Choirboys), special guest drummers like Mick Harvey from the Bad Seeds who stepped in for our final show and lifted us to new horizons and Bill Bilson from the Sunnyboys who played a few shows with us before saying ‘Never, ever, EVER ask me to play with you again’ and longer term band members Tim Tebbutt (who says ‘with three singers on small stages…all I remember is vodka and bums’) and first drummer John McKay from the Rockmelons.
Bones played like he’d shook hands with the devil himself, conjuring up squalls of naked flame and dark fury, dressed in black leather. Dean was always high and laughing at his own private jokes, sporting fishnet vests or barechested, sometimes teamed with a skirt. We didn’t really fit anywhere in the current music scene, which was mainly still kind of post 80s arty funk stuff. Much to our amazement and delight, visionary nightclub entrepreneur David Milton listened to our extremely shitty demo tape and offered us a three month Wednesday night residency on the bottom floor of Kinselas. Three x forty five minute sets a night, 8.30 til 11.30. We plastered Darlinghurst with our photocopied posters that stole saucy images from pulp fiction and practiced as much as we could. We interspersed bratty original tunes with names like Psycho Homewrecker, Date Rape, Bed Bound, I Should Have Known He Was a C..nt and No One Came with darker more atmospheric stuff like Swamptown and Wild Wind, interspersed with Bowie, The Clash, The Runaways, The Ramones, AC/DC and Rolling Stones covers and upending 60s girl group songs like I Want You To Be My Boyfriend, which would see Justine thrilling unsuspecting patrons by getting up close and looking deep into their eyes before taking it somewhere more sinister and Monica professing undying devotion to her car in Ian Rilen’s 401, a weirdly evil/sexy love song to a Buick Electra. We would end the night with Estoy Foyalla, an anarchic, cathartic Latin psychotic flamenco blues, which translates from Spanish to English as ‘I’m so f..cked’. We billed ourselves as ‘White Trash Mamas – Comin’ Right At Ya!’ and offered something different in the nightclub scene; dirty and sweaty and raucous and messy. Our residency soon became a hotspot, gigs packed with curious and/or appreciative crowds. A few years later we made friends with Nigel who worked security there and he told us the door boys used to call us ‘Shoeless and tuneless’.
After midnight, we and whatever gig-going stragglers were left, would head a couple of blocks down Oxford Street to Goodbar, to let off some steam and post-gig adrenaline on the dancefloor, DJ Scott Wolfe working the dials. Good intentions for a singular nightcap would often turn into us being the last ones left on the dancefloor and 5am expeditions home, exhaustedly hauling our bruised limbs and bags of percussion and setlists and various band stuff, starving and ready to cook up a big breakfast. Often my daughter would be dropped back to me at 6am, after spending the night with her dad. I would manage to stay awake and do breakfast and make lunch and get her to pre-school before finally collapsing into bed at 9.30am to sleep the hard-earned sleep of the dead.
When the Kinselas residency ended, we started playing monthly 2am gigs downstairs at Goodbar. Lines would form down the street and the room would be heaving at the seams with anticipation by the time we hit the stage, which was often late, as Bones would arrive moments before we were due to go on, having spaced and calibrated his perfect concoction of psychedelics over days for maximum incendiary rock’n’roll . We played loud, and scream/shouted most songs til our throats were hoarse. We tried to look tough and not to smile. I once played an entire chaotic gig with my guitar amp still on standby, thinking I just couldn’t hear my guitar through the cacophony we were creating. It was probably for the best. My art director friend Lorenzo had turned up at my house one day with ten huge garbage bags bursting with silver tinsel that he thought we might like, left over from a film, and after that we lugged bags of the stuff to every show we did and draped every conceivable space on the stage including the drumkit and amplifiers and our microphones and our hair with it. Sodden tinsel would find its way into every crevice of the nightclub and our bodies. We’d shovel what beer and ash drenched silvery mess we could back into our garbage bags for the next show but the cleaners must still have cursed our names.
We dreamed about making an album called ‘Goin’ Nowhere Fast’ and tried and failed to record a couple of times but various members would forget to turn up to the sessions, which we would still have to pay for even thought there wasn’t a band to capture on tape. It felt impossible to move ahead. Eventually we recorded a few songs over five hours at a fancy studio courtesy of the Cruel Sea who had late night downtime and invited us to come use it after we finished an early-ish show. The session came complete with legendary engineer Tony Cohen (Birthday Party/Bad Seeds/Beasts of Bourbon/ Paul Kelly/Go Betweens/Kim Salmon & The Surrealists/Dave Graney!) at the controls – but it was just us girls at the recording, including virtual member photographer Kristyna, with Tex Perkins producing/conducting and playing and James Cruickshank and Noah Taylor providing added accompaniment. We sat on the floor in a circle to record. It sounded moody and spooky and pretty fantastic but it wasn’t our band or our usual sound and we couldn’t afford to get it mixed and we never really knew what to do with it, even though we were incredibly proud and grateful to have done it. We also supported the Cruel Sea over a couple of nights at the sold out Metro Theatre which felt like we’d really made it. We had one review that described us as ‘like throwing up in the back of the car’ and another one that called us ‘hell wenches’. We went on an ill-fated ten-date tour to Melbourne and Adelaide where the band booker had disappeared without a trace and all the gigs bar two were cancelled. On the way home our radiator burst and we had to pull over every thirty minutes to let it cool down enough to refill and crawl on. It took us twenty-eight hours.
After a while Justine wisely moved on to cleaner shores and Sorayah slipped her skinny frame into a frayed uniform and joined the gang, bringing a darker, bluesier edge to our vibe. All the drummers eventually left and we had to beg people to fill in every time we played. We stepped away from the inner city nightclub scene and did gigs around town in strange-to-us surroundings like groovy Bondi venues with tanned, beachy kids dressed in white and an ill-advised biker club party - story to follow:
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We did a Thursday night residency for a while at the Brittania Hotel on Cleveland St. opposite where Warren Lanfranchi was gunned down in broad daylight by Det. Sgt. Roger Rogerson) and had gathered quite a few regulars, including two very polite, softly spoken bikie business men types who were there from beginning to end of every show (all 3 sets) and had booked us to play the opening of their new nightclub, a little further down the Cleveland St dead zone. That was the last time that drummer Bill Bilson of Sunnyboys fame agreed to play with us. The gig before that he had helped us out at was supporting my brother’s very popular funk band Swoop at the Narrabeen Sands, to a couple of hundred drunk and belligerent surfers who truly hated us, and a drumkit that was slipping and sliding across the polished floor as Swoop's drummer refused to loan Bill his kit rug. It was not a lot of fun for any of us and I had promised Bill this show would be well paid, well organised and a great party. Hmmm. Bones, whose distinctive howling Spanish garage blues guitar sound really provided the heart and soul of the band, had recently declared himself 'unavailable’ and so somewhere we had found the very sweet Ashley, who had stepped into his shoes for a time. However, despite his excellent guitar skills, Ashley was deeply immersed in the techno scene, which he far preffered to the old rock’n’roll guff we peddled, and he turned up at this particular gig sporting furry lime green flares, shirtless, with an orange Mohawk. It was probably not a good fashion choice for this particular venue. Sorayah had accidentally double booked herself with some Important Family Event and couldn’t do the show, which we discovered about 4pm, at which point Monica and I convinced our photographer friend Kristyna to fill in by reassuring her all she had to do was don a while trash uniform, headbang a bit, bash a tambourine and pretend to sing along in the choruses. She knew all the words. Needless to say, this was not a band in its prime.
Soundcheck gave us a small indication of what we were in for. The address for the club led to what appeared to be a very run down ex-brothel side entrance on Cleveland with no sign at all that it was now a nightclub. Inside, a few stressed out ponytailed toughs were wandering around adding finishing touches to the room, which despite the exterior, was actually super modern and slick and lacking in any aesthetic vision or atmosphere, kind of like an upmarket Centrelink. It was one of those setups with the sound system on the side of the stage where the band had to mix themselves. They call these ‘set and forgets’. Despite no technical knowledge at all, we seemed to have to do this a lot and I had become reasonably adept at it. Except this was a brand new shiny system and no matter what I tried, everything sounded f..cking awful. Dean had a brand new bass super fuzz pedal he was loving, that combined with Ashley’s Tube Screamer just sounded like hell on earth. We couldn't get any pleasing effects on the vocals and our voices sounded tuneless, thin and naked. The few biker dudes milling around were regarding us with ice cold disdain and the guys who had hired us were nowhere to be seen. I was getting a bad feeling. They barely waited for us to leave the stage before blasting their George Thorogood CD again to oil themselves back into party mood. Upon our return at showtime, it was apparent our bad feeling was utterly justified. The side entrance driveway was crammed full of motorbikes. Our raggle taggle band, along with Noah who was opening the show solo as 'Cardboard Box Man'(a recent review had described his ‘surreal, discordant, droning sound’) and Tex, Kristyna's boyfriend, who had kindly come along for moral support, nervously giggled our way up the dilapidated stairs and entered a room that was rapidly filling up with bikers. Thorogood’s Bad To The Bone was still blaring.
There was not another woman in sight, not even behind the bar. In a futile attempt to not stand out, us girls tried to keep our now uncomfortably tight and short uniforms disguised behind cardigans and reading glasses. By 9pm the room was tightly packed with black leather and bandana badasses and so Noah set up and began to play his particular brand of fairly abrasive and experimental loud electrick rock. The crowd became stone silent and still. I looked around the room, and they did not seem mesmerised. My heart began to pound a little. We were all exchanging looks when Biker Dude 1 that had booked us arrived beside my chair and whispered tensely in my ear ‘Get him off ’. I reassured Biker Dude 1 that Noah was only gonna play a few songs and then we'd start. ‘No, you don't understand’ he hissed from between gritted teeth ‘Get him off NOW!’ .. . I understood, and I obeyed. Fast.
We took to the stage soon after. We awkwardly did what we could, while trying hard not to arouse any biker excitement by moving or wiggling too much, but the sound had not improved any since soundcheck and the atmosphere in the room was definitely NOT approving. Angry smoke seemed to curl from the bikers nostrils and emanate from their ears. Moustachioed lips curled in disgust. I've never seen Tex look so small and helpless as he and Noah valiantly waited for us at a little table in front of the stage. It was not going well and we were booked for two sets. Lucky Dean must have been on some really good drugs as he was just laughing uproariously and loving his crazy new pedal, Ashley looked confused and Bill refused to make eye contact. Kristyna was trying to disappear behind a long sheet of blonde hair. Things looked pretty grim for us. I'd tried to blooz it up and make the set biker friendly by including none of our weirder material but every ace we pulled out of the hole just met with sneers and blank stares.
It was getting mighty hot and uncomfortable up there so we cut the set extremely short and took a break. Biker Dude 2 immediately sidled up and thrust a big wad of cash in my hand before giving me a curt nod and a stern warning to pack up quick and get out fast. We didn't need to be told twice. Goin' nowhere fast was our motto and we were always into safety first. We stumbled down the stairs together into the forgiving safety of the night, somewhat hysterical with relief, past probably 200 motorbikes now gathered outside. Bill Bilson did not say goodnight. Techno Ashley may have lasted one more gig... and we never saw our biker fans again.
Soon after that gig we realised we actually were going nowhere fast and it was really exhausting, so we just stopped playing. We were only active between 1993 and 1995 but we burned hard and bright and it felt like a lifetime. I remember the joyous abandon of losing hours on dark nightclub dancefloors and the exhilaration and constant stress of the band fondly. I still have my white trash uniform. There is very little other evidence we ever existed. I might release our Tony Cohen session into the world one day soon.
If you ever saw us play, or you want to hear our weird little EP let me know in the comments below! I love it when you heart my stories too and more hearts helps the Substack algorithm share it wider and find me new readers …. for which I’m always grateful. Rock on kids.
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Kinselas residency was great. As were the WTM's .
You gals were scary, Wild & wonderful .
Goodbar was a gas . Paul Stenmark was onto it & seeing you guys downstairs late was a blast. The Cruel Sea residency was pretty great as well. Fun times & Zanzibar as well, when Kellet st was alive every night .