Thursday, 12 May 2016

Masters Apprentices - 1972 - Toast To Panama Red

Answer Lies Beyond/Beneath the Sun/Games We Play I/Games We Play II/The Lesson So Listen/Love Is/Melodies of St Kilda/Southern Cross/Thyme To Rhyme

The Master's Apprentices began life in Adelaide as The Mustangs, playing Shadows-styled instrumentals. The line-up consisted of Mick Bower, Gavin Webb, Rick Morrison and Brian Vaughton. At the start of 1965, the band recruited Jim Keays as singer, adopted a rawer R&B-derived sound and became The Master's Apprentices. The band members chose the name because they were as much influenced by the blues masters such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Jimmy Reed as they were by the current crop of British R&B bands like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Pretty Things and The Yardbirds. 

  In 1966, The Masters were placed third in the Adelaide heat of the Hoadley's National Battle of the Sounds. A year later, Astor issued the band's debut single, the compelling `Undecided', which had been written by Bower and Morrison. The flip featured Bower's extraordinary anti-war song, `Wars or Hands of Time'. That classic single hit the Top 10 in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney during April, and the band commenced a hectic schedule of touring. The sudden success was too much for Vaughton and Morrison, who were replaced by Steve Hopgood and Tony Sommers (ex-Johnny Young's Kompany) respectively. The band's second raucous R&B single, `Buried and Dead'/`She's My Girl', was a Top 20 hit in Sydney during June 1967, and coincided with the release of the debut album The Master's Apprentices. The band's next single was the blissful psychedelic pop of `Living in a Child's Dream' (another Bower original)/`Tired of Just Wandering' which peaked at #4 in Sydney and #9 in Melbourne during September. The song scored Go-Set's Song of the Year Award and Most Successful Australian Group of 1967 Award for the Masters. 

  The pressures of major success began to take its toll and Mick Bower left the band after suffering a nervous breakdown. He was replaced briefly by Rick Harrison before Peter Tilbrook (ex-Bentbeaks) came in as a permanent member. Without Bower's songwriting skills on which to call, the band had to search for suitable songs from outside sources. For their next single, The Masters chose a Brian Caine (later Cadd) song called `Silver People'. The band re-arranged the song and released it as `Elevator Driver'/`Theme for a Social Climber'. Before the single's release in February 1968, Sommers and Hopgood were replaced by Doug Ford (hot-shot guitarist from The Missing Links and The Running Jumping Standing Still) and Colin Burgess (ex-Untamed and Haze).

    In May 1968, Webb left to be replaced by Glenn Wheatley (bass; ex-Bay City Union). In June, the band issued the single `Brigette'/`Four Years of Five', which was the first Ford/Keays collaboration. This was another pleasant dose of flower power pop and became The Masters' fifth hit in a row. The new line-up contested the 1968 Hoadley's National Battle of The Sounds final in July. The band came such a close second to The Groove that they were awarded a complimentary prize of boat tickets to England. 1968 ended with Tilbrook leaving, Astor releasing the two-year-old `But One Day'/`My Girl' as a farewell single, the band signing on with influential manager Daryl Sambell and being voted Most Original Group and Second Most Popular Group (behind The Twilights) in the Go-Set Pop Polls. The Masters' first single for 1969 (on EMI/Columbia) was the vapid bubblegum song `Linda Linda' (the B-side `Merry-Go-Round' was tougher). 

 By the end of the year, the band had scored two Top 20 hits with the hard rock singles `5-10 Man'/`How I Love You' (July) and `Think About Tomorrow Today'/`A Dog, a Siren and Memories' (December). The Masters also issued their second album, Masterpiece, in 1969 and set up the Drum Agency (motivated by the business-minded Glenn Wheatley) to manage acts like Sect and The Expression and promote concerts. `Turn Up Your Radio'/`Jam It Up' became the band's biggest hit to date (peaking at #7 nationally in May 1970). `Turn Up Your Radio' has since become an Australian rock classic. Just as the single peaked, the band left for England. Once in London, The Masters began to absorb all the heavy trends of the English scene and the results were heard on the evocative `Because I Love You'/`I'm Your Satisfier' single (December 1970) and Choice Cuts album (May 1971).

 Recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Jeff Jarrett, the masterful Choice Cuts was brimming with complex, shifting arrangements. Powerful material like `Because I Love You', `Death of a King', `Rio De Camero', `Song for a Lost Gypsy' and `Michael' highlighted Doug Ford's exemplary guitar technique. Choice Cuts stood out like a diamond in the rough at the time, and it remains one of the finest Australian progressive hard rock albums ever issued. With the band's return to Australia in December, `Because I Love You' reached #12 and Choice Cuts #11 in July 1971. The album was issued in England (renamed The Master's Apprentices) and when news arrived that it had garnered positive reviews in NME and Melody Maker, The Masters set off again for the UK in May.

    One month later, the live Nickelodeon album and single `Future of Our Nation'/`New Day' came out in Australia. The album had been recorded at Perth's Nickelodeon Theatre in December 1970, on the first date of the band's national tour, and was one of the first live albums ever issued in Australia. In England, the band recorded a final album, A Toast to Panama Red, and single, `Love is'/`Southern Cross'. Like Choice Cuts before it, A Toast to Panama Red was a groundbreaking album of rarefied skill and tremendous scope yet, upon release in January 1972, it sank without trace. It was simply too musically advanced for the local industry of the day to comprehend. A Toast to Panama Red is one of the great lost treasures of the Australian progressive rock era. Reissue specialists Raven included the transcendent `Melodies of St Kilda'/`Southern Cross' on the essential Various Artists compilation Golden Miles: Australian Progressive Rock 1969-74 (1994). 

 Even before the album came out, The Masters had broken up. Keays and Wheatley returned to Australia but Ford and Burgess kept The Masters' name alive for another year as a three-piece (with Denny Burgess, ex-Throb on bass). The three-piece line-up's only studio recording, `Freedom Seekers', later appeared on the rarities compilation Jam It Up! (April 1987). Colin and Denny Burgess returned to Adelaide at the start of 1973. They attempted to form a new band, Hard Rock Theatre, with Keays (vocals), Peter Jesser (guitar) and Peter Staben (keyboards), but the venture never got off the ground. Colin moved to Sydney, where he joined the nascent AC/DC as its original drummer. 

 Jim Keays worked as a staff writer for Go-Set magazine before launching a successful solo career. Wheatley went into band management and proved his business acumen by becoming one of the most successful rock entrepreneurs in Australia during the 1980s. He formed the Wheatley Brothers Organisation and was instrumental in the local and international success of Little River Band and John Farnham. In 1974, EMI issued the Now that It's Over (Best of) compilation and a farewell single, `Rio De Camero'/`Thyme to Rhyme' (August). Raven Records kept interest in the band alive during the 1980s with the release of the essential Hands of Time  compilation and the Jam It Up! rarities collection. Raven reissued Choice Cuts in 1988 with the previously B-side only track `New Day' added.

    In 1983, Colin and Denny Burgess formed hard rock band His Majesty with Japanese singer Yukiko Davis and Spike Williams (guitar). His Majesty launched itself in a blaze of publicity, but neither the singles `Glory Boys'/`Champagne Cocaine' (November 1983) and `C Me Comin''/`Randy' (February 1985) on the Regal label nor the band's live shows attracted sufficient interest from the public. The band broke up in 1987.

 In March 1988, Keays, Ford, Webb and Colin Burgess re-formed The Master's Apprentices and set off on the successful Birth of the Beat national tour. Roger Faynes (guitar, keyboards; ex-Koo De Tah) joined in order to fill out the live sound. The band signed a new deal with Virgin Records and, to promote the tour, the label issued The Very Best of the Master's Apprentices. In November 1988, The Masters released their first new album in 17 years, Do What You Wanna Do, which featured one side of live cuts and another of studio tracks. A re-recorded and rearranged version of `Because I Love You'/`I'm Your Satisfier' (live) was issued as a single (October) and became a hit all over again to a whole new generation of fans. The Masters' last single was `The Birth of the Beat'/`Birth of the Beat' (November). 

 Although Keays and Ford recorded demos in 1990, no new records were forthcoming. The two songwriting partners collaborated on Keays' third solo album, Pressure Makes Diamonds, which came out in 1993. In April 1995, Keays re-recorded a version of `Turn Up Your Radio' with the aid of Australia's finest trash-pop exponents, Hoodoo Gurus. EMI issued the Greatest Hits compilation on CD with the new track added. Keays and Ford re-formed The Masters again in 1997 for several tours. The line-up also featured Peter Farnan (guitar, keyboards; on loan from Boom Crash Opera, John Favarro (bass; from The Badloves) and Tony Day (drums; ex-Girl Overboard).

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