It All Began On 13th June 1976
John Bliss, drummer in early 70’s bands “The Ides Of Mann, The 25th Outlet and Acid Rat” returned to Dubbo in 1976 after playing in Sydney with bands like “Thundaband” and “Hot Cottage”. John met up with Paul Mason, Dave’s older brother, whom he had gone to school with and soon found Dave writing and singing original songs on an upright piano in the basement of John and Meg Mason’s home in Baird St, Dubbo.
John joined a 50/50 local band called “The Goldstars” that featured a young and very talented guitarist, 17 year old Craig Hooper. John soon recruited Craig and arranged for Dave, Craig, Tony Martin (bass player from such legendary local bands as “Warthog Wisdom and Swamp”) along with Keith Greig (Hammond organist from “The Limits” and later “Piranha”) to gather in a woolshed outside Dubbo for a jam. The date was Saturday the 13th June 1976, the day after John’s 23rd birthday.
“Native Sons” were born from this jam and began to assemble a wide repertoire of covers and originals.
Starting out in country towns meant playing music that appealed to a broad cross-section and this is where “The Brucelanders” were born in mid 1977. Keith Greig left and was replaced by Colin (Polly) Newham, organist, sax player from Orange band “Confederate” one time winner of the local and zone Hoadleys “Battle of the Sounds”.
The introduction of Polly created a fire of creativity that never really went out and “The Brucelanders” played every RSL and B&S ball from Nyngan to Lithgow in the next year, culminating in a gig at Newcastle UNI with a band called “Cold Chisel” fresh from Adelaide in mid 1978. The highlight of this period was being kicked out of North Dubbo Bowling Club in the middle of a show, due to Dave having a slight tear in the bum of his jeans.
A Fateful Meeting With Harry Vanda & George Young
Sometime during 1977 John Bliss and Dave Mason traveled down and hawked a cassette of their wool-shed practice sessions to Harry Vanda and George Young of “Easy Beats” fame, and Harry made a phone call to then Double J announcer Samantha Collins. “The Brucelanders” were invited to perform live to air on JJ and were introduced by a cacophony of sheep and cattle to the airwaves in August 1977.
The band decided to move to Sydney and Bass player Tony Marten left and auditions were held for a replacement. Along came a young and talented 19yo Paul Abrahams aka Billy Boy who had the enviable task of learning over 40 songs in 2 weeks to help fulfill the bands permanent engagement at the Rex Hotel Kings Cross.
Enter ‘The Reels’ Pogo Express…
After many gigs around Sydney, beginning with the Rex Hotel in Kings Cross and ending at The Arkaba in Adelaide, the band changed it’s name to “The Reels” after a cathartic afternoon in Adelaide, leaving two thirds of their equipment in the truck and building a new repertoire from scratch starting with Johnny Young’s hit “Carolyn” and ending with the dancification of every song in the list.
Now the audiences began to respond to this pared down, lean and mean pop sound complete with many songs that reached well over the 200 BPM mark and left audience members and band pogoing on the spot with no time to dance side to side. The band now decided to “be themselves”.
Their music took on a mix of the pop influences of the day – the eccentric pop of XTC, the rhythmic ska – and evolved a style which contrasted significantly with the rest of the rock Sydney was embracing from the likes of Cold Chisel and the Angels.
Recorded On A Farm Outside Dubbo
The Reels secured a contract with Polygram records for the 1979 debut single, ‘Love Will Find A Way’. It came from a first album produced by Angel’s producer Mark Opitz on a mobile recording unit (OBV-Outside Broadcasting Van from the ABC) on the verandah of a country property back in Dubbo. Just called ‘The Reels’ the album also contained the group’s first hit, ‘Prefab Hearts’.
The band toured endlessly to support the album and made appearances on Countdown, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, Rock Arena and were known for their quirky and innovative tours and built a large loyal following even while largely being ignored by commercial radio.
At this point in Australian Radio History stations were not required to play a certain percentage of home grown music, it also depended upon contacts within the music industry itself
…and Then There Were 6!
In February 1980 The Reels added a sixth member, Karen Ansell, another keyboard player, and recorded ‘After The News’. It was the first taste of a “new” approach. They dispensed with their guitars and became a synthesizer and drums group.
Karen Ansell created costumes for the bands tours during this period. Tours such as: Kitchen Man, Go Primitive, Reels by Rail.
They recorded a pre-Christmas EP ‘Five Great Gift Ideas From The Reels’ in 1980 which contained versions of Jim Reeves’ 1961 country song ‘According To My Heart’, and Freda Payne’s 1971 R&B/pop hit ‘Band Of Gold’. They were now in the hands of pop-oriented producers Bruce Brown and Russell Dunlop.
The second album ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’ represents this point of the band’s career, and contains ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’ ,’After The News’, those EP tracks mentioned, a new single ‘Shout And Deliver’, and the unusual album title track, ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’ ,which has become one of the classics of Australian music, even though when it was released as the next single at the time it “flopped”.
Too unusual! But it’s a recording that has stood the test of time, and as a song is one of the few Australian songs to see two very different cover versions, from Kate Ceberano and Jimmy Little.
The Reels delivered their second and most critically acclaimed album, ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’ in 1981.
The End Of An Era
John Bliss left and was replaced by Stephan Fidock just after the recording of the ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’ album. Before the album was released Colin Newman left, and it was a five-piece which recorded a new single, ‘No.3′ in Auckland N.Z. before both Paul Abrahams and Karen Ansell left.
A New Beginning
The trio of Dave Mason, Craig Hooper and new drummer Stephan Fidock carried on with the help of a tape recorder on stage for live performances.
In the studio they used Fairlight synthesizers for whatever else they needed musically. Along the way they had found their own niche in music, with a taste for having their own way with old songs.
A Radical New Change Of Sound
In November 1982 The band delivered a fairly straight version of Burt Bacharach’s ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ under a new record contract with RCA, and then made the highly unusual and novel move of recording an album for K-Tel, the TV marketers specializing in licensing golden oldies.
The album, ‘Beautiful’ flirted with synthesized middle of the road, and was filled with easy listening love songs, including ‘This Guy’. The album went on to sell in excess of 40,000 copies. No other band with such credibility had ever done this.
1983 saw several members of the band travel to Los Angeles and London, release a five track EP and their own new version of ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’ in December 1983, which turned out to be a fitting, unintended epilogue to this period of The Reels’ career.
Dave Mason Retires Due To Illness
Illness forced Dave Mason to retire from music. While he recovered Craig Hooper joined the Church as an extra player, and was an early member of the Mullanes, the group which became Crowded House.
Unique Cover of ‘A Bad Moon Rising’
By August 1985 Dave was back in shape, and John Bliss convinced Dave to put The Reels back together, completing their RCA commitments with a version of ‘It Must Be Love’, and starting their relationship with Regular Records with a radically reworked Creedence Clearwater Revival ‘Bad Moon Rising’, followed by ‘Love Grows’, formerly by Edison Lighthouse in 1886. No song was safe or sacred. This was now the Band’s tour de force.
In 1986 they embarked on a ‘Reels by Request’ tour, where the audience was provided with a flyer at the door containing twenty original songs on one side and twenty cover versions on the other They were then encouraged to call out for the songs they wanted to hear.
This was followed by an all-Australian version of the same concept, which ultimately inspired the Reels’ first studio album in six years. ‘Neighbors’ contained the Reels versions of thirteen Australian classics, and generated the singles ‘
Are You Old Enough’ (Dragon) and ‘Forever Now’ (Cold Chisel). In September 1991, The Reels issued their first original single in five years ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’, before dissolving the group completely with the release of a farewell best of called ‘Requiem’.
Dave Mason Returns With Reelsville
In May 2007, Dave Mason released his first album in more than 15 years, Reelsville through the Liberation Blue label. ‘Reelsville’ is – as are the other recordings released through this popular series – an acoustic celebration of hits re-recorded by the original artist. In August 2007 Liberation also released ‘Reel To Reel’ 1978 – 1992’: a compilation of The bands classic tracks with new liner notes as written by Dave.
Original Members Revive The Reels
In 2008, once again through the determination of John Bliss, The Reels have resurfaced to delight and bring to a new audience the rich sounds of the band. Come see us at one of our very rare live concerts.