IZZYS LIFE STORY I started out in this realm as Peter Knox. I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney, in a place called Old Guildford (well, it was called that at the top of my street, and Yennora at the bottom end. My house was right in the middle, so we could choose our address at random). We had a huge area of ‘bush’ (that’s western-suburban for forest) behind our back fence, where we used to go to make forts, tree-houses and play rudies. I liked making forts best, but rudies came in a close second. I learned all about secret places, be they made of old bits of wood or flesh. I was a skinny weakling sort of growing up person, and I extracted great pleasure and mirth from making stupid noises and cracking ridiculous jokes that only I seemed to get – so much so that my old man genuinely believed me to be insane (though he would more than likely have used ‘underprivileged’ to describe my alienness). My ears were too big for my head and my legs were (and still are to this day) the wrong size for the rest of me, as if some DNA carpenter had mixed up the bits from two different kit bodies. It all made for a rough, torture-ridden, ‘come here you skinny bastard I want to beat you up just because I know I can do so without too much opposition, aren’t I a expletive deleted brave mongrel’ childhood, but hey, didn’t it make me into some weird-arsed genius of a funny bastard later on? (Just kidding about the ‘bastard’ bit).
It wasn’t until I was about thirteen years old that I got my hands on a real musical instrument – well, that’s a loose description of a ‘Hawaiian’ acoustic-electric slide guitar my old man bought with wild dreams of becoming talented. He left the thing on top of his wardrobe for so long without touching it, it could have been heritage listed by the time I discovered its whereabouts. By sheer luck and the mysteries of chronology, I discovered The Beatles on the old radiogram in my bedroom at the same time I came upon the guitar. The radiogram, like a ‘loaded gun’ prop in some B-grade soap opera, was (kidnapped) and reinvented as an amplifier – I somehow worked out (by some osmotic process) that the bared cables from the end of the guitar lead could be joined to the cables where the record player needle plugged in – Tada! Presto! Electric guitaro! Trouble was, I didn’t know how to tune the expletive deleted, but my school mate Bob Daisley (who has gone on to become somebody world-famous, or at least a rock music celebrity) soon taught me how. Not content with crude but effective lessons from a famous-in-the-future bass player, I sent away for the twenty Melody School of Music guitar lessons advertised on the back of the New Idea magazine. I got to pay the program off at one dollar a week, which allowed me access to one lesson each payment. I had to play the guitar behind my closed bedroom door, because it was unwritten household knowledge (and secret suburban business) that the old man would have gone ballistic if he’d discovered the family nut case soiling one of his possessions. When I’d learnt my first four chords, I wrote my first song (He Don’t Look Like Me). I never got as good as Bob Daisley (well, not as rich anyway) but I nearly electrocuted myself a couple of times by connecting the wires from the guitar to the radiogram back the front (or something) and I left home at sixteen because people in my house kept trying to cut my hair off – none of which Bob Daisley got to do. I doubt that he regrets those early omissions, any more than I don’t regret having his incredible luck (yeah, right).
Whatever I just said, it all boils down to the fact that I moved into a flat in Burwood with a school friend, Glynn Williams, who had emigrated from the Isle of Man a couple of years earlier and spoke just like The Beatles. Glynn and I started growing our hair as fast and as long as human anatomy would allow, and my big brother Ray had to keep an eye on me because the Law said I was too young to move out of home without some sort of mature supervision. I’d made it clear to my parents that I didn’t want them anywhere near my shared flat in Burwood, so my brother ended up as the compromise situation. Mature supervision my arse! He nearly got us chucked out of the flat when the landlord caught him in the shared kitchen bonking his girlfriend on the table! No wonder I’m such an expletive deleted human being!
So, besides being free to go into Sydney Town on the weekends to long-hair hangouts like Beatle Village and Rhubarbs, where live bands played music that seemed to hang halfway down their backs, we formed a duo called The Twain (clever, or what?) and wrote songs and dreamt about doing gigs and stuff. We played at a party in a hall at (D?), with me playing guitar (not the old man’s, not over his dead body!) and Glynn singing like a cross between Stevie Wright from the Easybeats and Mick Jagger (perhaps nothing to brag about these days, but then it was spiffy indeed!).
Glynn went on to be lead singer with that unforgettable sixties band The Soul Survivors, playing the big gigs like The Oxford Hotel in Taylor Square, which in those days allowed heterosexual social engagement. I went on to play with Waldo Hayes in that equally unforgettable Dylanesque outfit from Kings Cross, Sylvester Quincy Barker’s Music Box, who got to play lots of times at the Wayside Chapel, and, eventually, also The Oxford Hotel in Taylor Square! The sixties sure was a small world! Glynn gave up music some time later, by which time I’d bounced around the Sydney wine bar scene in numerous iconic and legendary outfits with names like Fluke (a pisstake of Flake, who were the pop flavour of the moment). Eventually (and here the order of things gets a bit tangled in the loose ends of memory) I became the resident bass-player at a little coffee lounge in Brougham Lane, Kings Cross, called The Ball Pants (truth-I couldn’t make shit like this up if I tried). I got to sit on one of my Overeem (I think that was the brand) quad boxes and play bass with whoever could bring a guitar in and whack out a tune or two. Hey, I got to perform He Don’t Look Like Me in public and everything!