In the middle of that year, Paul heard a worse than shabby quality tape put together by a friend from University, Warwick Holt, of songs that he'd written recently. Warwick was a classically trained pianist who had hardly played for a number of years, but had begun writing songs as a cathartic process after ending a long relationship. The songs revolved around love and sex, and were principally straight pop/rock. Paul asked Wok to be in a band. And so the two barely competent singer/musicians joined forces due to a mutual admiration of each other's songwriting.
They linked up with a friend of Paul's, Warren O'Neill, a remarkable guitarist and all-round musician, at that time with the band Naked Soul, and more recently with Monkeystone. With him, they recorded 8-track demos of two songs, Paul's "I Understand" and Warwick's "What Else?" Warren played lead guitar, bass, and sampled drums on the recordings, which sounded pretty good actually; although what they were going to be used for was unknown. At this stage, Paul and Wok dubbed the "band" H2O (Holt/Haesler/O'Neill).
Figuring the next step was to get a bunch of people to play live with, Paul contacted an old friend of his, who was at the time drumming with a hardcore industrial band called Souls At Zero. This was Martin Evans, who agreed to have a bit of a drum with them, if only for friendship's sake. Wok got his brother Martin Holt along to play bass. This untitled band jammed a couple of times early in 1993; Warren being unable to make either session. In addition, Martin H. was soon drafted into local pop band Planet Max, and left the fledgling band to, hopefully, make it.
Down to a three piece, Paul and Wok enlisted the help of a mutual friend, a fledgling lead guitarist named Brett Harrington, heavily influenced by the sonics of Dave Gilmour and Jimmy Page. Still needing a bassist, they answered an advertisment at PBS-FM from a bass player wanting to play heavy psychedelia, which was roughly the way the band was beginning to head. This was Chris McLean. And so, by April 1993 the line-up had settled down to Evans, Haesler, Harrington, Holt (W.) and McLean.
The band began rehearsing as a five-piece on April 24 1993. The initial songs included "Satan Wears A Tie", "Spectre Of Doubt", "A Thing", "What Else?", "I Understand", "I Was With Her" and "Rolling Down The Hill", with "Ariadne's Thread" and Brett's "The Mayhem" (the first song not to be written by Paul or Wok) following soon after. In May they settled on a name - they almost became Horizontal Orange, but became instead Plastic Spacemen, a title taken from a spoof advert in an episode of "The Goodies".
It wasn't long before the Spacemen were ready to gig. And on June 26, 1993, they made their debut in front of circa 100 people at Brendan Hack's 21st Birthday. Here they played 11 original songs, along with cover versions of songs by the Grateful Dead, Faith No More, Jefferson Airplane, plus King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" and Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene"; these latter two remaining in their set lists for a long time.
Their "public" debut was on July 25, at the Evelyn Hotel, in a heat of the Melbourne University Battle of the Bands. Remarkably enough, they were one of two bands (out of eight) to qualify for the final a month later. Although they did not place in the final, they were able to find gigs starting to come their way. One notable gig was actually set up by the band themselves, and later dubbed "Chickenstock" - it took place in the car park of a half-built Red Rooster store in Flemington. Or did so until the police arrived.
By now all five band members were contributing to the songwriting, and the band was prolifically turning over new material. By early 1994, live favourites included Chris' "Love Is Fucked", Mardy's "Vacant A.D." and Wok's "Protest". The musical style on offer was now distinctly their own, as no-one seemed to be able to pin them down into a genre. With five songwriters, the music was definately eclectic. An eight-track recording overseen by Warren O'Neill occurred in late 1993 / early 1994, but suffered in quality due both to technical disasters which constantly beset the sessions, and trying to do too many songs (19 in total). The results were put on the "Post-Sharkey Fiddletest" tape.
By early 1994 Souls at Zero had broken up, but Mardy was still much in demand for his fantastic ability at hitting things in a pleasant, original fashion. In addition to the Spacemen, he was now involved in a hardcore outfit (along the lines of Jesus Lizard/Fugazi) known as Elmer, and an industrial groove band, gLOBALmINDFUCK (in the vein of Ministry/NIN, although a bit sillier). Elmer later (early 1995) evolved into Slopbox. Gigging around Melbourne continued throughout 1994 with increasing regularity. The Spacemen played the Tote frequently, as well as the Punters Club, the Evelyn, the Empress, the Arthouse, the Esplanade, the Central Club, the Great Britain, and numerous other pubs.
However, problems were on the horizon, although no-one was willing to admit it. Chris' playing was erratic, veering from inspired to sloppy, sometimes within the course of a song. In addition, there was the old euphemism musical differences. After a disastrous gig on October 10, 1994, the other members of the band finally spoke to each other about the problem that was brewing. Everyone thought they'd been alone in their opinion, but it was clear that Chris had to go. The news was broken the next day in a difficult meeting. Individually the other four remain friends with Chris, and in many ways were sorry to see him go. The band had played a total of 38 gigs with this initial line-up.
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This Central Club gig also saw the debut of the "Spacemen uniform" - striking bright orange one-piece coverall suits, which the band members customised to their own design. This has remained their on-stage gear for almost all subsequent gigs.
As well as many of the older songs, which underwent slight facelifts to accomodate the new bassist, the Spacemen started accumulating a few newies, with Phil's influence being felt quite strongly. The emphasis was, almost by neccessity, less on the swampy psychadelia of yore, and funked-up, a bit more modern in feel. Still, their unashamedly prog-rocky 9 minute instrumental, "Eye Of Autumn", became a showcase in many of their set-lists, as did a new tune "Urbia", alternating funky, trancey instrumental sections with stripped-back sections featuring Wok, Paul and Brett barking out short, sharp lyrics.
It was soon after Philsten joined that Mathew Nelson first became the band's sound engineer, and then, around February 1995, the Spacemen's manager, relieving some of the pressure off the overworked Wok. Partly due to this, gigs became even more frequent throughout 1995, to the point where they were virtually weekly (or better). Mardy joined yet another band (as well as the Spacemen, gLOBALmINDfUCK and Slopbox), known as B.J. Petroleum and the Swamp Rock Orchestra (soon to become simply "BJ Petroleum"), who played sort of swampy heavy blues, a la Led Zeppelin meets the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Ben from Three was on guitar and vocals, and Mardy's brother James ("Crock")(also in gLOBAL and Slopbox and eventually to join the Spacemen) was on bass. Getting jealous, Wok became involved in a side-project with his own brother (also called Martin - see Chapter One) on bass, mAT from gLOBAL on guitar, and a bunch of other folk, including two drummers. They called themselves L.U.M.P. (short for Lump Ump Mump Pump), hardly ever rehearsed, and played noisy, silly mess, to strangely satisfied audiences. But then again, the audience do get toast made for them.
In July, the Spacemen put out their first real release, a tape called "Smaller Than Elvis". While far from high fidelity, it received plaudits all around for its diversity and great value (a steal at just five dollars!) Tapes moved surprisingly quickly.
Mid-1995 gig highlights included a strange and amusing gig at the Bourke St. Mall to a confused crowd (although "Eye Of Autumn" went over spectacularly, and a lot of tapes were sold), and a sensationally vibed set at the Final of the Melbourne Uni Battle Of The Bands. How it was that we didn't win still bemuses me; I'm sure everyone there thought we were going to. Except the judges, I guess.
Throughout late 1995 and early 1996 gigs continued throughout Victoria at a steady rate. Several gigs were played as a four-piece, without Paul, and still others featured Mardy's brother James ("Crock") on bass when Philsten was indisposed. The band were becoming a pretty tight knit group by now, and in April recorded demos of 13 songs, some very old (e.g. Vacant A.D.,Simple) and some brand new (including L.C.D., Childhood Song and Clear). And in May, they entered Nelsonics studios in Kew with producer Dave Nelson to begin work on their debut album, Exhibit A, which they finished in October.
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Meanwhile, the Plastic Spacemen-gLOBALmINDFUCK incestousness had stepped up a notch, because Brett had joined gLOBAL on bass - Crock moving over onto guitar. (Did you follow that? Now which shell is the ball under?) The two bands now had three members in common. Mardy and Crock were also still playing in BJ Petroleum and Wok's LUMP had pretty much died in the arse.
The release of Exhibit A was postponed again and again as the Spacemen fretted over the cover-art and attempted to push the technology of compact discs to it's limit, whilst at the same time having absolutely no knowledge of the technology of compact discs.
While Exhibit A was being polished to nth degree, the Spacemen recorded four new songs and some tripped out jams in a weekend in the country. They overdubbed vocals, keyboards and sound effects back at Wok, Brett and Mardy's place (did we mention they lived together?). They took these new songs and edited highlights of the jams and added the four songs cut from Exhibit A for time reasons and they had a second album. Paul arranged the songs and jams into a bizarre pastiche science-fiction storyline to make the Spacemen's first and only concept album - Plastic Spacemen vs The Barbarian Invaders From Outer Space! They got a mate to do the artwork and printed it up on a colour printer, burnt the CDs round at Bendy's place and planned to give it free to buyers of Exhibit A - Sort of a Beauty and the Beast affair.
Back at the Plastic Planet, the Spacemen's 100th gig came and went and finally in September 1997, Exhibit A was released to public acclaim.
Moments later, on a geological timescale, Mardy and Crock announced that they were tired of the Spacemen sound and wanted to move on to new things. The other members made various attempts to make Plastic Spacemen more accomodating to the Evans' musical needs, but these came to nothing, and the band eventually ground to a halt.
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