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The Fi Sonics - A Brief History



Chris Wardle (a little blonde Pommie guy who ended up a cook with the Armoured Regt. No not Chris Pettifor – he came later) convinced me to buy a bass and join him playing a bit of old time stuff for some dances upstairs in the Jacka Club, 1 Armoured Regt, with an old civvy guy on piano, and a drummer from Prince of Wales Light Horse, (later 1 Cav Regt) Jimmy Fay. We called ourselves the “Off Beats”.

Gerry Stevenson joined up with us as Gerry and I used to practice together around the lines at 2 Fd .

We did a further few gigs in the Jacka Club and then Jim Fay was transferred somewhere and left us without a drummer (but we still had his drumkit for a while).

Gerry and I started to practice some of the latest stuff on the charts as well as a few old standards, with me doing bass and lead vocals. We had about 15 songs we could do reasonably well but we still had no drummer.

We were looking for a drummer to join us for a 2Fd Amb party we were asked to play for at the Kingsbury Club (between the Area Command and the Fire station - our first real gig together - this was the start of the group most people got to know), and some guy said he was an ace drummer - and he would do the job for us - he didn't need practice, he would show up on the night and blow us away!

Well the big night came, the organisers had the stage decorated with coloured lights. It looked like a silver cave with those milk bottle top punchings they used, half of 3 Camp Hospital was there, all the marriedies and stuff waited for us to crank up. The drummer took his place behind the kit and froze. He couldn't play a damned thing! Didn't even know how to hold the sticks!

Gerry and I cleared him off and asked around if there was a drummer in the house. Someone pointed out Dave Bowman and said that they thought he could play drums but wasn’t sure. We took about 15 minutes to convince Dave that he only had to look like he was playing, and hit the snare occasionally to be better than the other bloke. He finally accepted, and we were away. He was a brilliant drummer from the word go. We never found out how long he had been playing drums before he joined the army, but it must have been a while. We managed to stretch our few songs out for the night by saying someone had requested us to play some song again. We did our meager repertoire about six times over but that night really went off! l – except that I had arranged a date with my future wife Maureen that night and Stevo had set me up with another bird from Seymour who had a bit of a reputation - and they were both on the same table – I had to keep finding excuses for why I wasn’t sitting down with them during the breaks!

It was around this time that Robyn Birrell, a WRAAC from 3 Camp Hospital who worked at the recently formed 2RTB opposite us, heard we were looking for a name for the band and suggested that we call ourselves the “Fi Sonics” (Fidelity Sounds). The name stuck.

Gerry, Dave, Chris and myself developed a wide variety of numbers, and played at dances all around the region, as well as at all the shows in Pucka. We were at all the RAASC and Armoured corps Officers, Sergeants and OR’s mess shows, and nearly every second night at our own canteen until about 3 am or until Les, the Bar Manager fell asleep and we had to take him home to Seymour (these are another batch of stories)!

By this time Gerry had bought himself a Vadis amp, and a guitar chord encyclopedia about a foot thick and was starting to shine as a lead guitarist and backing vocalist. I had bought a 60 watt Goldentone piggyback bass amp and we were on our way.

Shorty Graham, Vin Coy and company started to organize weekend BBQ’s and stuff in and around the canteen, and every weekend we had at least one or two all night parties with nearly all the WRAAC and WRAANC members in Pucka regularly attending. Our parties were the envy of the whole area.

Around this time we lost Chris the guitarist and gained Chris Pettifor, the two and a half octave bass baritone who really made our back up vocal harmonies solid. He later shared lead vocals with me, and then Gerry even got into the lead vocals act. Jerry’s rendition of Dion’s “Ruby Baby”. Was a favourite with all. One of our sergeants, John Wallace offered to manage us and we accepted. John was responsible for us being paid a reasonable fee for a gig (I think it was about 50 pounds from 8 till 12 and after by negotiation).

At one stage we were in Sydney after an exercise – I think it was “Sky High”, or it might have been “Crusader” – anyway we ended up at the Civic Hotel and gravitated to where the band was playing. They were doing “House of the Rising Sun” as an instrumental and Gerry and Dave coaxed me up on stage to sing it for them. After that the band members were talking to us and when we said we were in a band and that we were in town for a couple of days they got us back the next night to do a couple of brackets for them. It must have looked strange as we all only had our bush gear to wear. But the crowd loved it.

Yes, we played in the Hoadly’s Battle of the Bands with the Masters Apprentices, Little Pattie, Normie Rowe The castaways and a number of other bands, and missed out winning by 1 point (a half point because Chris wore a pink shirt and white sportscoat which didn’t match our green white and black vertically striped shirts and our black flared trousers we had made by Fairway in Melbourne (Flares weren’t even out then – another first)!! And they took the other half point off because they said we were more of a cabaret band than a down and growling rock band (the Apprentices tore off their shirts – wow)!

- And we were on Graham Kennedy’s IMT – The night they did it at the area theatre -“In Pucka Tonight” – we played one number and were paid equal to three weeks Army wages for it!

Around about the same time, we were joined on a number of gigs by Kerry, a new medic in the unit, and an efficient guitarist/ vocalist from Geelong. He used to play with a band called the “Sneakers”. I remember one night in the canteen when Kerry was doing lead vocals on a Rolling Stones number and he yelled his top dental plate out - and it ended up hanging over the microphone like a small pink and white horseshoe!

From then on Gerry, Bowie, Chris and me – the Fi Sonics – remained together. Even after I was transferred from 2 Fd Amb for Southern Command Recruiting Unit in Vic Barracks, about 3 or 4 months before the unit left for SVN, we still played together at all the major bookings.

Chapter 2 begins at this point ………………….

Mal Hatwell

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