Sherbet and the sound that is ever sweet
When the present is so precarious and the future is uncertain, there is one thing that is sure and true – the past. It can’t be altered, and if we are lucky it’s a trip back to some of the happiest times of our lives and culture. For me, the past is a preferable place to dwell compared with the harsh realities of the present, so over the past few months I’ve gone back, thinking about people that have meant so much to me, reminiscing on joyful adventures and grand achievements, about unfulfilled hopes and loves, thinking about what brought me to be where I am now, in Los Angeles amid a life-threatening pandemic and a civil rights uprising based on events that have plummeted me into the depths of distress and fear.
I never imagined I would start a piece of writing about my favourite Australian music group with a paragraph like that, but the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere means my mind is playing and replaying the best summer pop song I know, Sherbet’s “Summer Love”, and wishing life was like that song instead of what it currently is. I’ve barely ventured out over this time, but a couple of months ago I did take my first tentative excursion during quarantine, a drive to see the poppy fields just outside of LA, and in the car I decided to listen to Sherbet Anthology, the 2008 double CD collection of choice hits and album cuts, which I happened to write the liner notes for. As soon as the first track started, “Can You Feel It Baby?”, that was that, I was off into the slipstream of my past, contemplating first love. My first music love.
It was a long journey from “Cassandra”, the 1973 Sherbet song that kicked off this love story, to writing the Anthology liners, and beyond that to working with the band as publicist for the bittersweet tribute concert that was their final hurrah in 2011. And there was other stuff, personal and professional, between and since, that kept me connected to Sherbet and their music. But in particular, putting my feelings into words in a CD jacket, my heart on my sleeve, seemed like a choice opportunity to fuse passion with professionalism in a way not even my in-depth interviews with songwriter, keyboard player and vocalist Garth Porter – in my book Songwriters Speak and in a feature story years before in The Australian – had been able to. Writing the notes for Anthology gave a Sherbet fan permission to write about fan love, like no other love, for other fans to see and validate, and what’s more, in an official capacity.
Until then, Sherbet was always written about in liner notes, tour books and Australian music chronicles by the blokiest blokes of Australian music prose. Good guys, knowledgeable guys, but guys who couldn’t stop themselves from writing in a cynical, sometimes derisive, even mocking way about the band’s appeal, couldn’t resist flamboyantly using elaborate language, words simultaneously bombastic and flippant, to describe hysterical female fans and bare chested handsome musicians (“princes of pop” – please, such nonsense!), whatever those writers perceived the Sherbet phenomenon was, without having truly lived in the midst of the maelstrom. Either they were already journalists back in the seventies, observing from a privileged position on the tour bus, side stage, backstage, as one of the boys, or they never even experienced the band first-hand and just wrote about it from a later era with tongue in sarcastic cheek. Australian male music writers often fall over themselves to be erudite while sardonic and detached, or just write like they’re talking over a beer at the pub.
I wanted to say, from my heart: I love Sherbet, their musical legacy is significant, and it’s a lifelong thing, not just a moment in time, nor just a matter of time, and it matters.
While still providing the mandatory historical points, my aim was to write a personal account, as a woman who had lived that fandom in her teenage years and beyond, whose entire life had been impacted by the music and by the cultural effect of the band. “What you guys did was so much more than just what you did” was something I had written to Garth when Sherbet had reconvened in 2006 to headline the first Countdown Spectacular tour, and it’s a line I then inserted into the Anthology notes, and which I still consider every time I communicate with my friend Leanne, who has been a mainstay for me since 1976 when she wrote me our first pen pal letter with a note exclaiming “Sherbet 4 Ever!”, or when I am in touch with other people that I’ve connected with because of the band. Or when I am driving around Southern California listening to songs from my youth in Australia 45 years ago because that is the most normal thing in the world. Because my past is my present is my future.
What they did was far beyond what they did – and that’s true for any artist, band, filmmaker, photographer, painter or other creator whose legacy is greater than the actual individual works they created, work that touches and unites people across the years and various divides. (Witness: my Eagles life.) There are no real divides when it comes to loving a band like Sherbet, unless it’s a Clive versus Harvey kind of discussion, or a long hair versus short hair debate, or maybe, just maybe a Sherbet versus The Sherbs conversation. Truth is, Sherbet fans embrace every part of it. The only issue we have is whether they should ever have broken up at all.
For all my readers and friends who never lived in Australia in the seventies and eighties, never even heard of Sherbet or The Sherbs, the minimum required background is offered in my liner notes essay, which I include at the end of this epistle. All I really need to point out is that for every Easybeats, Bee Gees, The Seekers, Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton-John, Little River Band, AC/DC, Air Supply, Men At Work, Rick Springfield, INXS, Midnight Oil, Crowded House, Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave or Savage Garden, just to name a handful – and I am referencing acts whose work has had longevity, whose songs have resonated deeply – there are many more Australian bands and artists that didn’t break through in a major way internationally, but who made a mark at home, in the hearts of fans, that is every bit as powerful and life determining, maybe even more so because they have been ours, all ours. I was going to go on a tangent here about some of those artists, but that is yet another story to write another day. Suffice it to say, we were lucky to have all the American, British and European music on top of an already plenteous and diverse local scene, and while I had been soaking up all kinds of pop from when I could first turn on a radio, my true awakening to Australian music was at age ten, with Jesus Christ Superstar, which I wrote of here recently, and with Sherbet, whose songs were all over radio, TV and on K-Tel compilation albums, which were my first foray into record buying as a kid.
“Cassandra” was on Rock Explosion, which is still in my vinyl collection. The song is a glorious mini masterpiece with a perfect opening line (“One day I met a girl who never said a word”), a song that many of the harshest critics consider to be among Sherbet’s very best. It was recorded for On With The Show, their second album, but I wasn’t yet in the realm of owning a whole album by a band. (Bowie Pinups was my first artist album, very soon after.)
As lauded as “Cassandra” has always been, it was 1974’s Slipstream album that the band considered their breakthrough work, their first effort using a 24-track desk, with a title song that still dazzles from the opening blast of the synthesizer. (FYI, “Slipstream” is currently my iPhone ringtone.)
When I listen to Sherbet now, particularly the songs founding guitarist and songwriter Clive Shakespeare wrote with Garth on the first four studio albums, I think about time and timing, and consider that had they popped up a few years earlier and headed straight to the Sunset Strip, they might have been supporting Cream or The Doors at the Whisky A Go Go.
But emerging when they did, specifically in Australia, when music on television was a big thing, they landed in the glam rock/pop domain even as their sound was more soulful and harmonic and progressive than that. Their sensibility was more Bowie than Sweet, their sound more Procol Harum than Hush. Clive was a beautifully understated guitarist, a songwriter who confessed that writing songs could make him cry, and Garth was the guy who brought keyboards to the forefront of Australian popular music, master of the Hammond organ, Mellotron and Clavinet. Tony Mitchell was as funky as a bass player could be; Alan Sandow was a devilish motorbike riding rock and roll drummer; and Daryl Braithwaite’s charm, stage presence and that voice… well, Daryl is in my mind in the top three male vocalists Australia has ever produced (the other two being John Farnham and Jon English), so you put that all together and you had a seriously talented outfit.
It’s just they were so darn good looking, and their clothes were so gorgeous, and their manager saw a way to connect them with the heaving hormonal teen masses, and so they unwittingly became pop poster idols, and omnipresent across the media.
I did not put Sherbet posters up on my bedroom walls, especially not the infamous nude centrefold they did, although I was and still am partial to the photo of them taking afternoon tea at Vaucluse House that graced the inner sleeve of the Life… is for Living album, a photo that is pure perfection.
They weren’t on my wall but I loved seeing them on television. In the seventies in Australia we were lucky to have possibly the world’s most fertile music television programming, with a plethora of highly addictive shows including GTK, Sound Unlimited (later Sounds), Flashez, Right On, Night Moves, Rockarena and of course Countdown. Between hours of music TV and life enhancing radio (my place on the dial being 2SM), music was everywhere. Significantly – and this really is so important – pop was rock was country was soul – it was all music, without being rigidly categorised. Sherbet was the epitome of a band that wore all its influences proudly on its sleeve. Yes, often an ornate floral printed satin bell sleeve designed by Richard Tyler, but if the intention of the music was more earnest than how it was received by the screaming fans, it shouldn’t be forgotten that when the Beatles played their music live they were also drowned out by hysterical audiences (and ultimately quit live performing because of it), and it never detracted from the potency of their songs.
Sherbet’s members were hugely turned on by the Beatles, as well as a confluence of blues, soul, progressive rock, country and harmony-soaked songwriterly bands. One of the highlights of their live shows was the acoustic performance of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man”, and if you listen to their 1974 hit “Silvery Moon” with your eyes closed you know that, schmaltz aside, Clive was channelling the Beach Boys and maybe some Crosby Stills & Nash as well. If you want to talk about harmony bands in Australia, well, Little River Band was by far the leader and in fact was my favourite live band in the seventies – their concerts were truly stupendous note perfect musical experiences. Sherbet’s songs weren’t quite as sleek and pristine but they went straight to my heart, and a Sherbet concert, even when I was frustrated by the screaming and the craziness of the audiences, was a genuinely thrilling experience and very much calculated to be so. Everything was strategised, artistically designed, beautifully produced with the very best road crew available (those James P Murrie lights… forever memorable), and thematically tied in with their latest album. Their manager, Roger Davies, cut his teeth on Sherbet before heading off to manage the resurgence of Tina Turner, Cher and, among many others, the mega stardom of P!nk.
Thanks to Clive and Roger’s shrewd thinking, Daryl had a profile carefully cultivated to give him a King of Pop-worthy solo career that – unusual for the time when bands worldwide usually tried to rein in attempts by the lead singer to stretch out independently – only further enhanced Sherbet’s success and dominance. A string of solo singles (“Cavalry” was my favourite) were really just an extension of the Sherbet machine, and were even included on the second greatest hits compilation, The Sherbet Collection, in 1976. The photo from the rear cover of that album, taken by Philip Morris, and featured at the top of this story, is my second favourite band photo. Soft shirts, airy light and a pastel palette. Swoon.
I was going to live concerts from the age of thirteen in Sydney, yet even with a relatively early start, I missed the first four years of Sherbet’s performing life, being way too young for their career-shaping residency at Jonathon’s Disco or the early tour supporting Creedence Clearwater Revival, never getting to see them in their Slipstream glam-rock-makeup-on-stage period, or over the summer of 1974-75 when that most evocative, gorgeous blast of summer pop, “Summer Love”, was atop the charts and they took newborn rockers AC/DC on tour as their opening act. The saddest part of being too young for live shows then was that I missed the “Life” tour in 1975. That was the year Sherbet brought out the prodigious albums Sherbet – Greatest Hits, with the most fascinating, treasure-hunting gatefold collage that ever graced a 12 x 24 inch piece of cardboard, and Life… is for Living, my favourite Australian album of all time.
I’m pretty sure I bought these two records at the same time – they are still in their original Grace Bros plastic covers – and I sat on my bedroom floor poring over the liners and photos day after day after school while I listened, transfixed. Life… is for Living was a concept album, musically and thematically ambitious. Garth marvelled, years later, at the sound effects montage on the opening track, “Arrival”, that took less than two minutes to depict the evolution of man (take that, Stanley Kubrick), but musically I thought the second track, “Survival”, and its reprise at the end of side 2, had more impact. I loved every moment on this album that I always felt was about two tracks too short, and even at thirteen years old I related totally to Clive’s ultimate conundrum: Where do we go? And boy, did I study and ponder those back cover credits. Who was Lisa with the damp shoulders? Did making the Life album induce so many tears? (Apparently so.)
When I played the album to the ultra wry music writer Iain Shedden one day in 2003 – he who wrote for the country’s national newspaper and played drums in an occasional band with Garth Porter around that time, but, being an immigrant, had absolutely no knowledge of Sherbet’s music – he exclaimed in shock and amusement, “It’s prog rock!”
Of course Iain had no idea just how swoony the film clip of “Only One You” was, didn’t listen intently enough to hear the overt influence of Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” in the melody as Daryl’s effortless falsetto soared. “Only One You” was my second favourite film clip of a Sherbet song. My first favourite, their best, was “Child’s Play”.
Clive had come from an advertising background so he was all about marketing and positioning. As “Summer Love” had been so huge the previous summer, he planned another summer hit for 1975-76 and he and Garth wrote “Child’s Play”, originally intended as a TV show theme but a runaway summer hit in its own right. I provide a list of Sherbet clips to view at the end of this piece, but if you only watch one, watch the clip of “Child’s Play”. The director was in a Monkees frame of mind; the guys played their parts brilliantly. I can watch that clip over and over and never get tired of it.
“Child’s Play” was a song so alluring in its pop mastery that even Cold Chisel’s Don Walker thought highly of it. In fact, many an Australian male musician has greatly admired Sherbet, from Tim Freedman to members of the Hoodoo Gurus, and the band had many teen male fans, now adults who still love them. But back in the seventies, it seemed to be all about girls, and when Clive suddenly left the band in the new year of 1976 (yes, making the Life album really was that tear inducing), hearts were broken, fans bereft… And then when highly respected guitarist Harvey James joined, instantly winning his own share of devoted fans, it was on with the show. The Howzat! album was recorded with its landmark title track, with one of the most recognisable, albeit too brief, guitar solos in Australian music history (Harvey and that yellow Strat, legendary…). It was the biggest hit the band ever had, the only single that could knock ABBA off the top of the charts that year, and overseas chart success ensued. But before they headed off to try to capitalise on that success, there was the “Around Australia in 80 Days” tour with Ted Mulry Gang, and that’s when I finally got to see them live for the first time.
Sherbet was my third concert experience (Bay City Rollers supported by Andy Gibb, and Queen with the “A Night At The Opera” tour being my first and second), on 27 June 1976 when they played at the Hordern Pavilion. I remember being overwhelmed because I wanted really badly to listen to the music and look intently at the guys, but the girls in the audience were so frenzied it bordered on frightening. By their Christmas show that year I was better prepared, had a closer seat, snapped a few pics, and at the tender age of fourteen was ready to be the expert concert attendee moving forward. The band had just returned from their first foray overseas and we’d missed them terribly, such was their prominence in the public gaze.
In February 1977, as they were about to go into the studio to record a new album (Photoplay, so lovely), they headlined a 2SM free concert in Sydney’s Victoria Park, which also featured new bands Dragon and Air Supply. I was there in the crowd of 40,000; it was where I learned to navigate my way around a huge outdoor concert, how to get to the portaloos and back in time for the headline band, how to cope with drunk and stoned yobbos (yes, even at a Sherbet gig), and how to appreciate Sherbet in a huge setting. They absolutely revelled in those kinds of shows. A year later, when they returned home for a short summer visit in the midst of their long hard slog trying to really break into the US market, they did another big free concert at Victoria Park for 2SM, supported by John Paul Young and Cold Chisel. It was one of the most monumental experiences of my concert going life. It was scheduled for January 8, and my friend and I were walking through the long tunnel at Central Station when crowds of kids came at us from the other direction telling us the show was off due to pouring rain. A week later, on the rescheduled date of January 15, the temperature hit 44 degrees Celsius. I remember what I wore – a black and yellow batik wrap around skirt as a dress – and I remember being very close to the stage, regularly hosed down by the roadies as we sweltered through the day waiting for the show to start. Victoria Park Heatwave (as I have always referred to it) was a rite of passage. And my god, Sherbet was incredible.
In between these massive outdoor free extravaganzas were the regular theatre gigs, and when the band returned from America and played at the Regent Theatre in Sydney in September 1978 promoting their simply titled Sherbet album – which contained the absolutely beautiful song “(Feels Like It’s) Slippin’ Away” as well as some slick tunes written and recorded in LA with an LA producer and peopled with LA session players including David Foster, Steve Forman and Jim Horn – gone were all the satin clothes; the guys looked all grown up and serious. I loved it, I thought the whole look and sound were really classy, but the audience was still screaming and the incongruity was palpable and irksome.
It must have irked the guys, too, because not long after that tour they just decided they’d had enough and they quit. Daryl flew back to LA with manager Roger, Garth doodled around writing on his own, and I was too busy doing my final year of high school to pay much heed until the 2SM Concert of the Decade brought Daryl back and reunited the guys for one headlining performance on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in front of 180,000 people. It was in the middle of my Higher School Certificate exams, but hell yeah, I was there. If I look closely enough I am sure I will find myself in that photo on the left. I inevitably find myself in those Bob King photos from the seventies.
My Sherbet love affair took a backseat for the next few years as I lived in London for a stint and then returned to start my university studies. I don’t know why I wasn’t paying attention when they decided to keep going after all and turned themselves into a completely new band, The Sherbs. They were out there slogging away with new songs and a commitment to play small pub gigs until they earned the respect of older audiences or just wore themselves out trying, and they were eschewing their Sherbet catalogue entirely.
The Beatles had solved their problem of how to get their music listened to more intently by ceasing live concerts altogether to focus on recording. Perhaps Sherbet could have done that to be taken more seriously but in Australia in those long-before-digital years, if you didn’t play live you didn’t have an audience. So the band created some of its more artistically satisfying work writing and recording The Sherbs albums and playing in small venues with pride and integrity, but it didn’t work for them commercially. It was, as Garth described, a struggle “in the void of indifference”. I like to think that if they’d remained as Sherbet, released those albums and kept going, they might well have evolved as other bands who stayed the distance did. But the tall poppy syndrome in Australia had torn them down and they felt reinvention was their best option. When they decided enough really was enough, reverted to the name Sherbet, and embarked on their final tour, “Tonight Will Last Forever” in early 1984, I was ready to reconnect to the love.
Unlike so many other Sherbet fans through the seventies, I had never met the band. I’d never joined the fan club. I’d never tried to get into a Countdown audience, never hung around whatever hotel they were staying at. (And granted, in Sydney, they were just in their own homes and never – ever – did I hang around their homes. I didn’t even have their addresses.) Even as a youngster collecting autographs, I was never the kind that wanted a fleeting inconsequential moment (although of course those happened with other pop stars, and radio DJs, and actors… I still have those autograph books!). I don’t think the teenage me ever wanted to be perceived as just another rampant fanatic. And being a dreamer, and able to live inside my rich, fertile imagination (a skill I still possess), I was content with the music, the photos, and the live concerts. My time would come.
So when, during my third year at university studying Drama and English at Honours level and being immersed in Shakespeare and Racine, I started following Sherbet around the Sydney suburban clubs and got to meet them and have many lengthy conversations, the experience wasn’t just about hearing the songs again and being up close without the chaos of crazy teenagers (although there were still crazy fans, believe me), it was about finally having a more personal experience, connecting the music to the actual people, and being part of something that seemed to be ending forever.
There was a sweet resignation that I felt from the band, who brought their founder Clive back on stage to play with them alongside Harvey for some of the shows, that was like, okay, we wanted to be a grown up band for grownups, and we tried, and we were great, but the essence of what we gave to Australian culture was in those glorious seventies hits, so let’s just get out there and play them and be proud of them and leave it at that. They played Sherbet and The Sherbs songs, and they played really well – I have a desk tape that is still in immaculate condition (and now digitised) that I listened to just last week, and it’s sensational.
During that tour I ended up on stage singing with them a few times and playing tambourine, which was a strange and funny running gag that I detailed in a couple of epic letters to Leanne, still my dear friend and pen pal, and which I made copies of before sending so they would serve as a journal of the time. “Most people have a lot of trouble understanding my current mentality; even I’ve been asking myself what the hell I’ve been doing – but I have gotten totally carried away by this farewell tour to the point where it’s been taking over my life!” So I wrote at the start of dozens of pages of moment-by-moment descriptions of what I said to them, what they said to me, what they sung, what I wore, what I felt, what I wondered. Three months of surrendering to insanity ended with a final show at a suburban soccer club in Newcastle, some riotous partying afterwards, and a band and crew dinner at a Malaysian restaurant in Sydney the next night that I was invited to. They did some added shows on Great Keppel Island the following month, and I have some treasured photos from there given to me by Ian, the head of the road crew, who I stayed friends with for years afterwards.
When I ran into Daryl four years later, me a full-time journalist with Variety, he launching his new solo career with the Edge album at a swish record company party, he recognised me and joked about me getting up on stage again for a sing. I assured him I wouldn’t. When I ran into Tony at the end of 1988 at the premiere of a theatre show called Living in the Seventies, whose producers cannily invited whichever musicians from that era they could track down, his sharp as a tack memory recalled my crazy stage moments fondly. But it wasn’t until a long time had passed before the fan me and the professional me finally merged, and my writing and PR work could incorporate this love and knowledge for legitimate means. When I interviewed Garth the first time in 1996 he seemed not to remember me, and I was fine with that. Years went on, and running communications for Australasia’s PRO, APRA, and then writing Songwriters Speak, meant paths crossed, and I was sometimes privy to plans in the works, all the while observing the growing regard for Sherbet’s stature in the pantheon of Australian music greats.
Over the years Sherbet nostalgia came and went with very rare reunions for benefit shows (Ted Mulry, Wane Jarvis) and TV reunions (bless that crazy Libby Gore aka Elle McFeast). And then when the Countdown Spectacular tour happened in 2006, with a few warm up shows prior, Sherbet was back, with both guitarists, on big arena stages, showcasing their legacy proudly as the headliner alongside a legion of acts from the seventies and eighties. It was a beautiful reunion and a much-deserved appreciation from fans, critics and industry alike.
They’d recorded a couple of new songs and there was talk of mounting a full tour, but the idea went away. Anthology came out a couple of years later, and I loved the compilation and the sequence of songs that I was so lucky to be involved in bringing to fruition, and I often listened to it, or just played the Life… is for Living album over and over, because that kind of intense love doesn’t die. Sherbet was never going to fade from my conscience, even as I dealt with life’s ebbs and flows – parents dying, faraway travels beckoning – and, as it turned out, the band was not quite done yet.
In late 2010, when word came out about how ill Harvey James was, and a small benefit show had been staged in Melbourne, I learned that plans were afoot for a bigger benefit gig in Sydney starring Sherbet, and I offered my services for the PR. I became part of a small core team putting the event together, wrangling talent, getting out the story of why the band was coming together one more time, and bringing with them on stage an array of top Australian rock legends. It was an emotionally charged time, but exchanging emails with Harvey as we pulled it together was both entertaining and poignant. Two days after we announced the Gimme That Guitar show, in January 2011, we sold out. The day after that, Harvey died. This is what I wrote to Garth:
I wanted Sherbet to be untouchable,
its members immortal,
my Summer Love to be eternal
and Life to always be for Living.
Some of the best things I have ever worked on have been unpaid gigs, and working on the tribute show for Harvey with the remaining guys from Sherbet was about as good as it was ever going to get. Rightly or wrongly, I felt there was nothing left for me to achieve in Australia. Not long after that I sold my beloved house in Byron Bay and went travelling, and after a strange transitional year back in Sydney I finally moved to LA. I love the Australian music I was raised on, it’s such an intrinsic part of everything I am, but California and the music I write about so much here on this blog are part of me, too, and I needed to come here to be a part of it all.
But as life here has turned into something that doesn’t feel in any way comfortable, as my Eagles concerts are rescheduled to late 2021 and I wonder if even that is going to be feasible, if it will ever again be feasible to sit in that kind of crowd and feel safe, as I visit my best friend and client, iconic rock photographer Henry Diltz, at a safe distance and otherwise spend nearly all my time alone, it’s so very lovely to sit in my car and listen to Sherbet. So I do that when I can right now.
And I consider all kinds of things about Sherbet that over their 50-year history, as it now tallies, are there to be considered. I think about how quite sophisticated their songs were, especially knowing a lot about the mechanics of the way they were written, about the pressure under which they were often conceived and created – having done such lengthy interviews on that subject – and how they’ve stood the test of time much better than the band could have anticipated when they were just riding the crest of the wave of popularity. I think about why Sherbet had brief experiences of overseas attention – record contracts, headlining shows, friends in high places, so much goodwill – but never cracked it, when other bands that came right after them, particularly Little River Band, Air Supply, Men At Work and INXS, did.
I’m not even convinced Sherbet really truly wanted the grand overseas success, even though they put the best part of three years into trying for it. Even after they broke up the first time, and Daryl went back to LA with Roger, who started managing Daryl’s old school friend Olivia, nothing happened for him. It wasn’t for lack of talent or connections. As laid back as California might have been, seemingly a perfect match for someone as laid back as Daryl always will be – truly the most easy going, affable and kind artist I’ve ever worked with in my PR guise – the American dream wasn’t really for him, nor the game playing and BS that goes with that dream. Daryl is too down to earth. The icon status he has earned through his many years of recording and performing in the top echelon of Australian entertainers suits him well; it’s been a mostly happy ride through the decades. (And his performance at the Fire Fight concert a few months ago, I mean, wow.) He’s a hard worker, no doubt, but I think he is also at his best when things happen organically, when he can surf his way through.
Here’s a favourite Daryl story of mine, from when we were working on Gimme That Guitar. It was the day after we had announced the show, and Daryl was booked to do many interviews, including a live ABC Radio interview. But at the appointed time, Daryl was not by either of his phones. I called and woke up Tony, arranged for him to do it instead, and then just as Tony was about to go to air, Daryl called into the station and ended up doing the interview. When he called me soon after to apologise, he said, “Oh, I went to the bay for a swim, then went to a cafe and I left my phone in the car… got back at ten to nine and saw there were twelve missed calls and wondered why.” I said, “Daryl, you asked them to call you at your home number. At 8.30am.” He replied, “Oh, no, I wasn’t at home then so that wouldn’t have worked.”
Daryl is a legend. Garth is too, in his chosen field of producing and songwriting for other artists and in his charitable work supporting war veterans. Tony is still one of the most electrifying, rhythmic bass players in Australia. Alan is living a quieter, non-public life, but his work is immortalised and I hope he appears behind a drum kit somewhere, sometime again. Clive died a year after Harvey, and I will forever be grateful to him for his songwriting and his concept for Sherbet way back when he formed the band in 1969, four years before “Cassandra” set the course for my music life. I’ve been fortunate to spend many hours interviewing Garth, Tony, Daryl, Roger Davies and producer/engineer Richard Lush, heard so many amazing stories, and yet it’s never enough. There are so many stories still to tell, but the one I’m telling here, now, is primarily my story, and it’s a love story.
A beautiful and wise friend said to me recently, “You are the most sentimental person I know. The past is where your heart lives.” She’s in Texas and has no Sherbet references, but her comprehension of the struggle I have at times to be fully present and to look ahead when things are so bleak, touches me deeply. We actually met through her love for another Australian music legend, so there is some symmetry there, in music and friendship, love and song, which I am always mindful of and appreciate completely.
So I’ll end with some lyrics from “Summer Love”, and for any of my readers who have not had the pleasure of hearing Sherbet before, I will provide some links to a few of their classic songs below, both live (or semi-live) and lip-synced, where you can also see them in all their glory as YouTube is teeming with Sherbet clips.
And onward I shall go in this mad time we are in, hanging on to the hope that life will soon come easy.
Cloudy skies are blown by with the breeze
And when that sun shines
Life comes easy
Bye bye troubles goodbye
I’m walkin’ with my head in the sky
Sea birds sailing in and out of blue
Oh when that sun shines
I’ll be there with you…
Summer love is like no other love.
What lures you into the musical world of a band with such a strong force that your bloodstream is infused with their sound? Is it just one song? If so, which song?
For me with Sherbet it was “Cassandra” in 1973, a romantic, dramatic, swirling arrangement of words and melody that to this day transports me to another realm. For those a year or two older it might have been the soulful, slightly mysterious “You’ve Got The Gun”, or the rollicking fervour of “Free The People”. For some a little younger it could have been the irresistible force of “Slipstream” or the exhilarating pop intensity of “Summer Love” – like no other love.
For many it was in 1976 with “Howzat”, one of the most captivating pieces of Australian pop music ever to top the national charts. That was the year I started writing to my pen pal, Leanne. She lived in Geelong, I in Sydney. We each went to many Sherbet concerts in our respective cities, but never together. Yet we connected because of our love for that band and forged a friendship that’s lasted to this day. (She says “Silvery Moon” was the one that got her.)
There were others who came to the band through its later, less commercially successful work, enticed by the absolute integrity and determination, along with the early ‘80s-style sharp musical edge, of “Never Surrender” and “I Have The Skill”.
These are just some of the songs that made us stop, take notice, and become entranced by the pop sensation that was Sherbet and, for a few years, The Sherbs.
Commentators who were disparaging of the ‘70s, and anything too popular in that decade, liked to dismiss Sherbet as a moment in pop history. But it was a moment that actually lasted 15 years, longer than the shelf life of a many a pop band. And for so many fans, it was a moment that still hasn’t ended. To love Sherbet is to love them for life.
Founded in 1969 by guitarist Clive Shakespeare, Sherbet went through a series of early members before the first two hits in 1971 – “Can You Feel It Baby” and “Free The People” – announced their arrival. By 1972 the classic Sherbet line-up of Clive, Garth Porter on keyboards, Tony Mitchell on bass, Alan Sandow on drums, and Daryl Braithwaite on lead vocals, was complete.
Their collective influences took in the Beatles, Cream, Otis Redding, Crosby Stills & Nash, Yes, Genesis, the Jackson Five and more. Sherbet’s first single was a cover of Badfinger’s “Crimson Ships”. Later on, original songs like “Silvery Moon” and “Only One You” were pretty homages to the Beach Boys and Minnie Riperton. Sherbet’s knack was for soaking up a wide range of styles and then creating highly original pop songs that became intrinsic to the soundtrack of 1970s Australia.
Clive was the band’s strategist and chief songwriter, with Garth honing his songwriting skills alongside him to the point where, when Clive dramatically exited the band in January 1976, a smooth transition was made. Garth began collaborating with Tony to great effect, and seasoned guitarist Harvey James joined and put his own stamp on the band’s sound.
With Australia’s first truly entrepreneurial band manager, Roger Davies, behind them, Sherbet made every attempt to break through overseas, but other than a brief sojourn to the top of the UK charts with “Howzat”, despite a record deal in the US and a temporary name change to Highway, the big breakthrough was not to be. By the end of the ‘70s Sherbet’s star had faded. They transformed into a no-frills rock band, The Sherbs, in 1980 and worked hard to achieve credibility, playing tiny pub gigs and struggling for recognition that never came. In 1984 they quit, each member going his separate way.
From a critical perspective, Sherbet was unfairly underrated in its heyday. Had the band not been so popular (the hysteria from teenage girls overshadowed the band’s live prowess), had the band members not been so pretty (a nude magazine centrefold did not endear them to the serious music press), then maybe their music would have stood on its own merits. Over time, the acknowledgment they deserved came their way. Sherbet was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1990. Since then the cynics have been re-evaluating.
This anthology, the most comprehensive collection of Sherbet tracks yet assembled in one package, delves deeper than just the chart hits. The hits are all there – the auspicious debut album Time Change – A Natural Progression contained four hit singles and another that became a live favourite – but so too are some of the more popular and musically interesting album tracks. It’s interesting to note that the Howzat! album only produced one hit – the outstanding title song – but the album itself was such a huge success that most of the tracks became concert favourites, and more than 30 years later “Hollywood Dreaming” and “If I Had My Way” are as familiar as any hit single could be.
This collection also marks the first time that The Sherbs songs can be heard in remastered versions, and in the historical context in which they deserve to be placed. The Sherbs tried to shake off the Sherbet mantle and forge a new identity, but they were the same people – the same musicians, singers, songwriters. And to hear The Sherbs now side by side with Sherbet gives their songs added resonance.
Sherbet didn’t set out to be pop idols and even though the fans grew up, and the threat of having clothes torn off and hair torn out was no longer there, it took a long time and a lot of persuading before they were willing to reunite and play all those songs on stage again. A few low-key one-off performances in the late ‘90s and early part of this decade created a buzz. Would they reunite?
When the 2006 Countdown Spectacular tour finally provided them with the impetus, it gave me and my old pen pal Leanne a chance to share that one special thing we’d never done – seeing our boys in concert together. She flew up to Sydney and we watched from the front row, loving the music, the experience, the togetherness.
Around that time I told Garth, “What you guys did was so much more than just what you did.” The comment moved him. It moves me still. Sherbet is more than a moment in time. Sherbet is music, memories, friendship, life. I am so glad that my life includes Sherbet, not merely as an affectionate nostalgia trip, but as a continuous presence in my psyche. Hopefully this anthology speaks to the many thousands of other people who never truly left Sherbet behind and who will move joyfully forward in the slipstream.
Life is for living. Long live Sherbet!
Debbie Kruger, 2008
Music writer and Sherbet fan
Thank you to Philip Morris and Bob King, my great friends whose treasured photo archives tell so much of the Sherbet story, especially as I wasn’t yet doing concert photography myself back then (snapshots on a 110mm camera did not make for publication-worthy images). Fortunately Bob was photographing all the Sydney shows I was at, so I can relive some of those experiences through his pictures, and Philip was responsible for a lot of the gorgeous album and publicity photography and has many hitherto unseen treasures that I love getting a peek at. There are a zillion photos of Sherbet out there in the public domain, but just for the heck of it a small gallery of images is below. Click each image to enlarge.
There is also much about Sherbet on the internet, and here are a couple links on my own website:
And those must-see select Sherbet clips:
11 thoughts on “My first music love… like no other love”
Hey Debbie i have to tell you that the Sherbet article was simply amazing. So well written that i read it twice. Sometimes we take bands for granted and Sherbet sure deserve to be immortalized in print. When i moved to Baltimore from Sydney i had to go through my cds deciding what to bring and what to dump. Sherbet greatest hits made the Suitcase.
Your Sherbet story brought back memories. Girls climbing on stage at the Horden Pavillion and almost getting close before being dragged off. I remember how Darl used to hold the mic and there was always that whistle he would do. There were so many great songs.
Then there was Tony on bass with that little walk forward and little walk backwards as he played.
Thanks for sharing your Sherbet story and making me remember those great songs again.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much Joseph! I love hearing from the guys who also loved our guys.
Great article. I’ve just had a book published of photographs taken by myself of Sherbet/The Sherbs. Seems to go hand in hand, the revival of interest in Sherbet. https://au.blurb.com/b/10186863-sherbet-the-sherbs
Wonderful article Debbie. Brought back so many memories! I have loved Sherbet most of my life!
Hi Debbie, great article and brought back some fantastic memories of my teenage days growing up in Coogee, waking on Saturdays and having trouble deciding if I’d go for a surf or just hang at home and watch Sounds with Donnie Sutherland. I still remember trying to decide if I wanted to be a footy player or Alan Sandow on drums. Agree with the words of your wise friend “The past is where your heart lives.”
Well, Michael, you definitely should have become Alan Sandow on drums. Especially as he is now retired from playing!!
My mother always said I should have done my PhD on Sherbet. How I wish I had. Thanks for a great article. Simply the best.
What a beautifully written love letter, not only to the band, but also to the soundtrack of your life ..
LikeLiked by 1 person
Just stumbled on this wonderful story of your life with Sherbet, so well written and just the thing I needed at the moment with a few monumental things happening in my life right now, brought me right back to times when life came easy and cloudy skies were blown by with the breeze, thank you for the sunshine.
What a great read with lovely memories of the best band ever !!!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
The first 10 lp albums i ever bought were you guessed it sherbet…i’m nearly 60 now and i’m just importing a playlist with about 10 of their albums…some of their albums mixes with more unknown songs i like the best…The life, album is great, slipstream, OWTS, photoplay, howzat (blueswalkin/motor of love). Only one you was my song at my wedding! Peter Aussie…