The Screaming Tribesmen

The Screaming Tribesmen have undergone a significant evolution since their early days. Mick Medew's roots go back to a band called the 31st, which formed in Brisbane in November 1979 with future Died Pretty members Ron Peno and Chris Welsh singing and drumming, respectively, and Tony Robertson (future New Christs and Hitmen, among others) on bass. The 31st lasted until July of 1981 with only one significant change...the brief addition of former Fun Things guitarist Brad Shepherd. Their 60s garage punk sound was a fixture on the Brisbane scene for quite a while, and they played a lot of gigs with Brett Myers' band, the End. The group played covers of songs like Roky's "You're Gonna Miss Me" and songs by the Haunted or the Chocolate Watchband.

In August of 1981, Robertson left to join the Hitmen, and was replaced by Michael O'Connor. The 31st began playing gigs under the name Died Pretty at this point, but after two months Chris and Michael left and were replaced by former Fun Things rhythm section John Hartley and Murray Shepherd. This was the first line-up of the Screaming Tribesmen...Ron Peno handling vocals and Mick Medew on guitar.

By January 1982 Peno had left and the band was down to a 3 piece with Mick singing. In the spring they recorded the first Screaming Tribesmen 45, a four track do-it-yourself ep with a photocopied black and white sleeve that now fetches over $200 a copy. It had four songs, and they pressed 500 copies. The production has a rough and ready punk style and the songs vary from the 60's R&B of "Turn On Your Love Light" to the fairly straight punk of "Trans 43". Mick says there's not much chance they'll ever reissue this record because, as he puts it himself, "the sound isn't very good". He wasn't aware that "Trans 43" had been bootlegged (on a compilation of Aussie rarities), but he's not displeased by it: "you can't do anything to stop them from bootlegging, anyway".

In December of 1982 they recorded their second single, and this time the production was first rate. "Igloo"/"My True Love's Blood" was produced by former Radio Birdman guitarist Chris Masuak...his first try as a producer, but a good one. The band circulated tapes of the recording to major labels and were shot down by all, and Sydney indie Phantom Records rejected it, too, but Citadel finally picked it up and it ended up being a strong seller for them later in 1983. It turned out to be an excellent single for both the band and the label, as it was one of a handful of releases that helped create the Citadel legend.

In March 1983 things came to a halt as Murray Shepherd moved to another Brisbane band called the Myth. Mick formed a new band called Wolfgang with former Lipstick Killer drummer Michael Charles and his girlfriend, Janine Hall, who had played bass briefly with the Saints. This band never was very well received, though Mick felt they were quite good. For a while, both Wolfgang and the Screaming Tribesmen were dribbling along simultaneously, and in May 1983 the Tribesmen recorded their second Citadel single "A Stand Alone"/"Move A Little Closer"; the first song being an old 31st number. This one was also produced by Masuak, but it's nowhere near as good as the "Igloo" single.

In September of 1983 there was a series of benefit gigs in Sydney for Hitmen lead singer Johnny Kannis, who had been injured in a serious auto wreck and had huge hospital bills to pay. The Screaming Tribesmen reformed to play at some of these gigs, and the timing coincided well with the "Igloo" single hitting the indie charts. Wolfgang broke up, and Mick began to focus on the Tribesmen again. But the situation was pretty difficult; Mick was now based in Sydney, and that's where all the gigs were, but Murray Shepherd was still in Brisbane. On the strength of the single, the Screaming Tribesmen were pulling good enough money to afford to fly Murray down for gigs, but practices were a problem. They struggled on for a while in this fashion, but in June of 1984 Medew finally decided that the situation with Murray and John was untenable. When he began to rebuild the band, it was natural for him to ask Chris Masuak to join up after the friendship they had developed through recording together.

Despite the fact that many people felt when Chris joined that he would eventually take over the band, he seems to be content to play a lower key role, contributing heavily to song writing but leaving the spotlight to Mick, who has nothing but good things to say about the way they work together. For a rhythm section they got the New Christs' Mark Kingsmill (drums) and Tony Robertson again. In October, Kingsmill left to join the Hoodoo Gurus for the first US tour, and Chris Welsh sat in. This only held up until December, when Welsh and Robertson left and were replaced by Michael Charles (once again) and Bob Wackley (formerly of Brisbane punk group, Razar) on bass. With this line up the Screaming Tribesmen finally stabilized and subsquently created their best recordings.

The finest of these was their classic Citadel 4 track mini-lp A Date With A Vampyre. The title track of this record features a crunching riff that hooks hard over the top of a stuttering drumbeat and is one of the great songs of the mid 80s. The other 3 tracks aren't quite as strong, but the overall effect is good enough to make this record one of the indisposable classics of the period along with things like the Eastern Dark's Long Live The New Flesh, Died Pretty's Next To Nothing, or the Lime Spider's Slave Girl. A Date With A Vampyre was licensed overseas as well, and in France the band was popular enough for the Sonics label to release the first two Citadel 7" singles (with different sleeves), although I have heard it alleged that these are not legitimate licences, but are instead high quality bootlegs.

In 1986 the band broke from Citadel and released the 6 track Top Of The Town mini-lp, which moved them strongly toward a mainstream pop-rock sound. The production of this record took some amount of heat in Australia for being too soft, but Medew stands by the record and says he wouldn't change anything about it.

The band is now touring on the strength of their current lp, Bones and Flowers, which at this writing has been out in Australia for almost exactly a year. If you've heard the single "I Got A Feeling", you are likely to have been put off by the arena-rock treatment they give the song, but if you listen closely, you can hear the usual brilliant guitar line basis that the Tribesmen use for most of their best songs. Medew insists that this is not done by design; he doesn't try to work out a great riff and build a song around it. "The songs just happen". Much the same explanation he has for the development of the band's sound. The way they sound today is not a sound they've been trying to achieve for years, it just happened to turn out this way, and they like it.

Published by permission from Steve Gardner - http://www.nkvdrecords.com/ Winter 1989 edition of Noise for Heroes.