There was a time when Wollongong’s CBD didn’t look like something out of Paris Hilton’s handbag—a time when getting off at the train station still had a 50/50 chance of getting rolled. When Mother & Son reigned supreme and Yours & Owls was still a café madhouse. It was in this rank pubescent/post-pubescent squalor that I discovered anyone can make music and it’s here that one of my favourite bands emerged from the muck—The Pinheads.
I was 18 the first time I went to Yours & Owls. Beneath the radiant plumes of carbon dioxide, I strode the streets of a steel city on the brink of an artistic and social renaissance. This was of course unbeknownst to all of us, I doubt even the orchestrators knew the effect they’d have on our insular little city.
My mates Jez and Luke Player had taken me to see Sydney band No Art. It was cramped, stunk like shit and was nothing like seeing Hilltop Hoods. Under the high ceilings of that café we saw the early breaths of Client Liason, Sticky Fingers and Kirin J Callinan—an education of the most thorough to say the least.
Behind the bar stood the proprietors and purveyors of cool in a city depleted of a staple resource. Ben Tillman, Balunn Jones and Adam Smith were seasoned, suave and yes, pretty bloody intimidating. I’d later go on to know them—fantastic blokes—but back then I was so far from Doc Martens it wasn’t funny. From that point of vantage, the three, together with local legend Jeb Taylor, saw the potential for a cultural overthrow. Scheming, planning, drinking, they got to work.
That night after No Art, it was clear that a new obsession had taken hold—one that still has its gnawed hands wrapped tightly around my wallet. My head spun with ideas and plans. I needed a band, I needed new shoes and I needed in. I quietly thanked my lucky stars for friends like these and the fact we weren’t getting the train home at 11.30pm. Like a fire-laced gauntlet of drunken arseholes, Crown Street Mall on a weekend was a very scary place to be.
To give you some idea of how gnarly the walk home used to be, YouTube Wollongong alcohol violence. Although I’m usually the first to criticise our bland new exterior, the introduction of CCTV definitely saved lives—for that we thank you Wollongong Council.
Amongst us a few bands popped up—my friend and I made Laugh Riot, we were shit. Actually, the mention in this article is probably the most recognition we ever got, but we supported Tumbleweed so whatever.
I kind of felt hacky jumping into this world so suddenly while Jez and Luke stood and watched—and they were always there. Like at every gig ever in Wollongong. If they were there, you knew it was going to be good. While the rest of us bumbled along playing solos for way too long and using delay and fuzz peddles for vocals (what the hell was I doing?)—they stood an audience, scheming and planning the day they were to unleash hell.
Long before The Pinheads started, I saw Jez, boozed as hell, singing Station to Station at Yours & Owls after all the acts had finished. And then another time I saw him rip the mic off a hardcore singer, deep throat it and howl like some Lux Interior ghoul. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when.
That day eventually came. At the old Music Farmers in Wollongong, The Pinheads took to the stage a six piece—Jez (vocals), Luke (guitar), Al (other guitar), Tanya (bass), Z (percussion) & Jimbo (drums). As is the Wollongong creative community, the Pinheads are a collective hive. Its colony shares that of Shining Bird, the Boog scene (DRAG) and the fine arts. I can only imagine their plan was to go crazy, because decked out in drag they went absolutely ballistic.
The reserved oddballs I knew growing up, the ones that pushed around on skateboards and drank too much Vanilla Coke were now assaulting a packed record shop with very loud rock n roll. The band kicked around on the floor while Jez hung upside down from a precarious wooden-beam like a bat out of hell. It was hilarious, dangerous and sick, so so sick.
I, we, everyone, had to take a second to reflect. What just happened? We milled around outside laughing, they were just so much better than all of us. I also may have cried, maybe.
They then returned from whence they came—The Shed (a make shift recording studio in Stanwell Park) and got hard at work on a debut record. They learnt to sing, they made it raw, they made it themselves and it’s real as hell. Their self-titled debut is one of the best to have come from our humble city and I don’t care what you have to say about that.
After that first show I heard some chin-stroker say, “They were good, but I doubt they’ll be able to keep that up.” Well that was 4 years ago, so guess what knob head? They did and still are.
Since then the little café that could has swapped hands and now faces the might of progress. I hear whispers, a most sad and dire message that the block that, now Rad Bar, exists within is to be gutted—torn down, reshaped and rendered. Yes, it’s upsetting. And frustrating and maybe I want to strangle something. But I can guarantee you another will replace those hallowed halls. With a community as fresh and musically hungry as Wollongong’s, something will rise from the ashes. Oh please, oh please let something rise from the ashes!
So, I guess the whole point of this waffle is to ask, were our outcomes the product of an environment repressed of creative outlets? Was the gritty as shit, bastard rock n roll of The Pinheads a direct response to being social outcasts in a city devoid of artistic nurture? One thing’s for sure, those that came before the support of Yours and Owls had to work friggin’ hard to garner a reputation in Wollongong. Let alone the impenetrable ‘cool’ of Sydney. Now with nightly platforms exhibiting art and line ups like next year’s Farmer and Owl Festival (are you kidding me?!), the ‘Gong is a Goddamn mainstay for music and culture in a state strangled of opportunity.
And The Pinheads? Well they just released a new single; called Not Like You and it’s great. I can also tell you that I’ve heard the album it’s coming off and that’s also incredibly great. For me everything about The Pinheads encapsulates our fair city. From the surf, the smoke stacks, graffitied bricks and changing face, that little band of ragamuffins are produce of a city emerging.
Of late, I can go watch The Pinheads at bigger venues and they usually get me in for free, but I’ll never forget that beam nearly breaking at Music Farmers and the looks on everyone’s faces that said—“It’s over before it began.”.
Have you been to a gig put on by The Pinheads? Let us know how that went in the comments!