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Sherbet: Around Australia in 350,000 Girls

Denise is 12 years old. She is stamping her feet outside the 2GZ radio station in Orange, mostly to keep some circulation happening, for the late afternoon is wet and cold. But there’s some anger in the petulant stomp, stomp! STOMP! of thick school leather against wet concrete.

“Why isn’t Garth here,” she pouts. “Garth is the one I like … Daryl’s OK… I mean Daryl’s great!” she momentarily enthuses, “But I love Garth,” she explains, returning to the main theme.

“My friends like Daryl and Tony and they say Garth is stuck up, but he’s really sensitive I reckon. I reckon anyone who really knows Garth would say he’s sensitive.

“Do you know Garth?” she asks, giving me the glittering eye of a religious fanatic seeking a fellow testifier.

But before we can delve into the theme of Garth’s famed … sensitivity, Daryl Braithwaite and Ted Mulry walk out of 2GZ, into public view.

“Daryl!” screams the little twister. “Oh Daryl… DARYL!… Can I have your autograph, please… Is that …” she trills, pointing to a large, loveable, perpetually grinning German Shepherd by Daryl’s side, ” …is that Sebastian?… I’ve seen pictures of him with you… please pol-ease please PLEEEEZE canIhaveyourautograph?”

Denise is one of the lucky dozen who’ve managed to squeeze close to Daryl. Seventy or so others are banging fists, autograph books and school cases against those in front of them, trying to get into Daryl-zone.

Ted Mulry shudders slightly, starts the 4-autographs to-every-step, 10-metre trip to the waiting car. Somewhere behind him Daryl Braithwaite is making slower speed, inundated by a multiple choice of autograph books and pieces of paper and scrapbooks. (“This is for me and this is for Cheryl and now sign Sandra’s exercise book, please. Thank you, Daryl.”)


Sebastian whimpers as the girls crush into his space. I take his lead and we circumnavigate the melee, refusing all requests for paw-graphs.

“I don’t trust that Denise,” I tell Sebastian. “She only says she loves Daryl ‘cos Garth’s not here.” Sebastian wags the tail and laughs knowingly.

Maybe Denise in Orange will always regret she wasn’t born in Dubbo. For next day, in Dubbo, Garth does the local radio station. Ted Mulry again second bills. The station buzzes with excitement as 50 or so girls buzz against the guarded entry doors.

Inside, Garth ‘n’ Ted and entourage are herded into a side room where we are interrogated by the station’s janitor. “Ok now. So you’re Sherbet, alright? OK. You’ll be on air soon. What’s your names?”

Garth and Ted regard him with delight. This is the sort of Monty Python moment tour memories are made of. Tour manager David Woodward freezes the farce, ignores the janitor, motions the pop duo into the studio.

Meantime, a mob of girls outside have found an unguarded side door and poured down the stairs where their momentum is halted by a double-glazed studio window. The horde presses against the widow in an ever-expanding mass and they seem not at all overawed at being so close to two gold and platinum-certified pop stars – they exude the joy of boisterous hunters celebrating caged prey.

The interview is conducted by an early balding DJ with a comfortable slow voice who solemnly assures Garth he doesn’t very much like rock ‘n’ roll but he really enjoys Sherbet because they aren’t raucous.

Garth, equally sincere, explains Sherbet have always enjoyed playing all sorts of music, from ballads to high-energy rock ‘n’ roll.

“We wouldn’t want to be known for the same thing over and over again,” he says.

“You must be a very rich young man,” says the DJ, only half mock-enviously.

“Well the overheads are high, so you’re lucky if you end up in profit,” freezes Garth.

The girls miss the frisson. They hold up notes demanding SAY HELLO TO ME! They enthusiastically embellish and return Ted Mulry’s handwaves and ambiguous gestures.

“How much money do we earn Ted?” asks Garth. “Ere den squire,” double takes Mulry, “could yer lend me sixpence to get to the theatre tonight?”

The janitor plus two sweepers appear on the other side of the double-glazed studio window. The girls are cajoled, ordered, pushed up the stairs, out the door and into the street where they cluster and buzz like a jarful of flies waiting to be let at the meat.

Downstairs, at the back of the building, another station DJ offers tour manager David Woodward the back of a station wagon for a getaway. Just like The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. Woodward rolls his eyes and orders a taxi.

Garth Porter has disappeared into the basement labyrinth. He returns having made a call to manager Roger Davies in Sydney.

Heading back to the Country Club motel, a rambling fortress affair of dark orange brick and exposed stained wooden beams, he imparts Roger’s news – CBS England has agreed to Sherbet’s contractual wish list and MCA in America is poised to do the same.

Oh yes. And Howzat has just replaced ABBA‘s Fernando as #1 on the Countdown National Top 10.

Ted Mulry pummels Garth on the shoulder “Oi… that’s bloody fantastic you crazy bastard… knocking ABBA off eh?!? …that’s Fan-TAS-tic!! Mind you I’ve always wanted to knock ABBA off me-self …especially the blonde one.”

Garth stares into the dark grey of a mid-winter early twilight. “This is the happiest day of my life,” he says.

The Mid-West of NSW leg of Sherbet’s ‘Around Australia In 80 Days’ tour begins with a gathering of the clan at Sherbet’s Bondi Junction office at 8.45 sharp for tour bus departure at 9am.

By 10.30 most of the band has drifted into the office thence gone walkabout, checking out neighbourhood delights such as guitar shops, coffee bars and pastry kitchens.

By 11.30 am the cast has assembled. Except that is, for Daryl who has slept in and then leisurely consumed a big breakfast, on the assumption that when he was required, a taxi would be sent to collect him.

“Daryl!” says an exasperated Davies into the phone, “everyone can understand why you’re waiting for a taxi at half-past eleven when the bus was supposed to leave at nine-thirty.”

That’s when Alan Sandow grabs the phone. “Listen you lazy bastard, are you coming on this fucking tour or aren’t you. Get your lazy arse into a bloody taxi and get here!”

There is righteous anger in Sandow’s booming tones – he is always on time, Daryl rarely is. And the grumpier Alan’s reaction, the more Daryl just smiles and says ‘Sorry’ in a tone of voice that asks, ‘What’s the fuss?’

Sometimes, it’s muttered in Sherbet inner circles, Daryl turns up late just to push Alan’s buttons.

You never really get to gauge anyone with a fair degree of accuracy till you’ve been locked into an intensity cooker with them. A tour bus is definitely an intensity cooker, there’s no escape except to become completely catatonic.

And that’s a blessing really, for though touring is a helter-skelter of constant mobility and a thousand details repeated daily, for the band it’s mostly just waiting around, awaiting the nightly release of performing.

“You live for that hour on stage,” observes Garth Porter. “And it goes so fast. Every other hour of the day goes on and on and on forever.”

So you sit in the bus and listen and watch, observe who hangs with who and gradually work out the pecking order on stuff like who chooses what tape gets played next and who momentarily panics when the bus headlights pick out a roadblock with flashing blue lights and dark uniformed, pistol-packing policemen signalling ‘STOP’ with gleaming white gloves.

In the middle of the bus, Garth Porter and Ted Mulry sit together because Porter’s current relief from tour boredom is Mulry’s conversation, quips and Music Hall routines.

“Ted should be in movies,” enthuses Garth.

Up front, Tony Mitchell and Harvey James, fierce partiers both, can turn on a Bacchanalian revel or just limp out, taking bets on whose hangover dissolves first.

On rest stops, they haul out a huge target from the back of the bus (where it trips up everyone making the trip to the bus-loo).

Then they string Harvey’s 5-metre gleaming bow, grab a handful of arrows and make like Ted Nugent stalking lunch. THWAAAAAANG! Those are armour piercing arrows.

Up the back are Alan Sandow with his girlfriend and Daryl Braithwaite with his wife Micki and dog Sebastian. It’s generally understood without being stated that Alan and friend and Daryl and Micki are no-go zones.

The previously vetoed idea of taking partners on tour is to make slight amends for Sherbet’s all but confirmed, forthcoming international sortie which will keep the band away from home until Christmas or beyond.

For the next five days, Alan achieves near invisibility, turning up only for the bus and shows. Daryl, Micki and Sebastian settle in as relaxed tourists on a charter tour, an ambience accentuated by Daryl’s current fixation for recording everything that moves and most things that don’t, with his lavishly extra-ed Nikon-matic.

Micki is one very sensible lady, long immune to the devotion of fans who want to cherish, mother, marry, be best friends with or just plain fuck the personable Daryl.

You’d regard them as a couple who are comfortably wealthy and comfortably in love.

Let’s borrow Daryl’s Nikon and focus on them walking down the main drag of Tamworth in Northern NSW. Dazza is kicking a football for Sebastian to chase and maul. Micki is in jeans and a plain knit, expensively casual jumper. They hold hands, stroll along, rescue the football from Sebastian, a young couple stretching their legs, laughing in unison, checking out the local town.

But While Dazza and Micki and Sebastian check out the locals, they too are being checked. A few steps behind, Howard Freeman stalks the sauntering, relaxed and happy trio.

Howard Freeman is Sherbet’s stage manager, his job is to ensure the band make it onto the stage nightly. He shadows Daryl and Micki down the main drag of Tamworth, constantly looking up alleyways and around corners for girls.

Not just the three or four gigglers who asked Daryl for his autograph back at the café but mobs of girls girls girls.

Girls en masse, girls running with contagious fever, transformed from a gaggle of polite fan club members into nail clawing harpies at the sight of a satin vest or bomber jacket.

Daryl, of course, is not wearing satin, nor a bomber jacket while walking down the main drag of Tamworth. But Freeman is on the lookout for rampaging fans anyway.

Unfortunately, the pressures have sent him rock ‘n’ roll crazy, causing him to develop a routine know as King Slob in which he’ll dip tampons thrown on stage into orange juice and suck them dry with cries of “luverly…LUVERLY!!” or stuff chips in his ears and nose in public, or scratch his armpits then lick his fingers.

The band and Freeman have a routine that plays well in Country cafés. The band take a table, order coffees and tea, sip politely. Freeman enters, sits alone, slips a raw egg into his gob, bites down and shakes his head violently. Then he falls to the floor frothing yellow matter splatter. This is the cue for the band to shout and jeer and laugh as regular patrons blanch and near faint.

As a solo routine, at a civic reception for Sherbet in Perth, Freeman strips naked, inserts a rolled-up newspaper in the crack of his arse, lights the paper and casually strolls through the melee to shake the Mayor of Perth’s hand.

All good, rough, matey stuff. Every long-haul tour needs a Wildman to inspire the rest of the cast with a requisite dose of lunacy. Freeman often supplies the lunacy of two madmen.

“When all this is over,” he sighs, “I’m going back to the farm and get back to relaxation again.

The four shows I see on this Mid-West NSW leg of the tour play to capacity crowds. Three of them are record attendances.

The crowds get their money’s worth for, as it’s been said before, Sherbet have hard rock songs and big ballads and pure pop songs and funk songs and country jog-along songs and they play everything with heart.

Moreover, they are a precision-forged, high-octane, chrome-plated, concert machine; tuned to rev at maximum efficiency and every song they play extracts screams of recognition.

It’s a show that’s always failsafe and sometimes radiant. On a good night, Daryl’s communication with the audience has the feeling he’s chatting personally just with you.

Each and every night Garth Porter jog-trots to the beat around his semi-circle of keyboards, both feet tapping and two arms pumping, one set of fingers hammering the beat, the other pushing out spiralling melody.

On a good night, Tony Mitchell plays amazing bass, just amazing. Booming runs combining sinuous rhythms and melodies only the top echelon of bassists can replicate.

On a bad night, he sticks to the basic riffs, clutching his bass guitar as if he needs it to keep him grounded.

Harvey, he shoots clean pinball. He’s fast and intricate without being needlessly obscure. A technician with flash, he can pull out notes by the cluster or keep it simple and effective.

Mitchell and James can play Sherbet’s repertoire in most basic form with ease. The best concerts are when they stretch out musically and embellish.

On the other hand, drummer Alan Sandow plays only one way – hard and pushing.

He’s a strong man and, in concert, there’s always a roadie on hand for that inevitable moment when he bends tempered steel bass drum pedals out of shape, simply by stomping them so hard. Most drummers put small dents in drumskins, Alan Sandow hits his drums so hard they crater and split. He rides his drum kit like he rides his road hog, wrestling the power.

Sometimes while the band is constructing towering symphonic arrangements and layering sweet harmonies, I’ll go behind the stage just to watch Alan sweating and driving and bending bass pedals, providing the power and push. The front line shimmers and comes on pretty as a rainbow but Alan Sandow always pounds rock ‘n’ roll.

A concert crowd stuck inside a chairless Town Hall resolves into regular components.

Up the front, pressed against the stage are the truly dedicated fans of pop. They scream and call and throw all manner of streamers, pieces of paper scrawled with love messages, tampons, scarves, bracelets, necklaces, rings, panties, bras and burnt out but still hot Instamatic flashbulbs that raise nasty welts if they contact bare flesh.

At Sherbet shows in country towns, the fan gang stretches 10-15 rows, a sweltering, sweating melee of shuddering nubility that can change from good-natured to hysterical at the opening bars of a Big Hit. And a Sherbet show comprises many Big Hits.

Behind this pit of passion, but taking slightly less space is Section 2, otherwise known as “I Am Curious”.

Arms folded or jiggling loosely, they stare at the band, absorb the light show, check out possible dates, watch the girls up front go creamed bananas.

Behind them, let’s call this lot Section 3, a loose jangle of bodies who are using the music for what rock n roll was originally intended – dancing.

Very much a scoring area this one. Girls dance in pairs, accepting or refusing guys just like it happens at dances and discos everywhere, no matter who’s playing.

Section 4 is up the back, behind the sound desk, composed of coolies who have come to pass judgement and have already done so.

“So this is supposed to be the best band in Australia,” states one with distaste.

Manager Roger Davies should worry – he arrived this afternoon and is now in the back room counting the take, and the coolies’ begrudged money is no different from the dollar notes enthusiastically donated by rabid fans.

And moreover, the coolies are likely to be there next time Sherbet comes to town, just so they can whinge to each other, “How does this lot stay the Number One band in the land?”

And there’s yet another Group – Section 5. Not as cohesive as any other group, they’re most couples scattered through the crowd. They are aged early to mid-20s and they are here to listen to the music.

“Sherbet have been building audiences for five years in Australian country towns,” says tour manager David Woodward.

These fans faithful originally caught onto Sherbet through the pop flash of Slipstream but now they’re hooked on the ballads Dancer and Lady Of The Night (both on the new Howzat LP). These are the people who appreciate it if Tony and Harve are on form and stretch out. They love the criss-cross rhythms of Porter on keyboards, Mitchell on bass and Sandow belting the drums.

Howzat, the all over radio hit, is appreciated for its evident musical sophistication.

The people of Section 5 avow Sherbet are damn fine musically and getting more ‘adult’ every release.

“But we’d really like to see them without all these bloody kids screaming their heads off,” is the considered opinion.

As for Sherbet, they continue to deliver the same sort of relaxed, companionable show that will likely lump them with the image of Boys Next Door forevermore.

A country Town Hall containing a country-style diverse audience is actually the best environment to experience a Sherbet show as a swaying, cheerful party. Quite often in big city concerts the party ambience swings over the edge into a frenzy and they cart crushed celebrants out of the hall by the score.

Mind you, country towns can also turn on some chillers. In two of the five concerts I saw, in Armidale and Tamworth, two record attendances stood silent and sullen throughout Daryl’s good-humoured, lengthy audience addresses in the middle of the song Where Do We Go?.

It was a strange sight… those seething rows of screaming girls up the front (“No? … OK,” says Daryl, “I guess you’re NOT going to shut up.”), surrounded by thinner rows of arm-crossed, bored-looking observers. And the band trying to reach out across the divide.

Unsurprisingly, no one I spoke to from Section 5 went big on the Ted Mulry Gang. They thought them a bit . . . unnecessary.

True purveyors of lightweight hard rock, TMG would set up night after night to deliver the same stompy songs and risqué patter. The Gang are serving the last stages of a very long apprenticeship and weariness of their warm-up task often shows.

Some 50 Sherbet shows later, they know full well no matter how hot they play, the crowd is saving a goodly store of their enthusiasm (streamers, flashbulbs, underwear and tampons) for the headliners.

A sense of jaded déjà vu sometimes settles upon the Gang and David Woodward’s cry of UPVIBE! grows more shrill and frantic in every town.

In the end, it was always girls, girls, girls. More than any other section of the audience they were responsible for the attendance breaking, record gross of Sherbet’s ‘Around Australia in 80 Days’.

Daughters of the working class, middle class and upper middle class threw themselves en masse at Sherbet, as if obeying the siren call of an implanted subconscious imperative.

Why have Sherbet become the focus of this mono-mania? It would be too simplistic to suggest that every lemming rush has to have a cliff to run towards.

And it’s not as though Sherbet are just this year’s pop sensations. As David Woodward points out, Sherbet have built a five-year foundation of support through constant touring and that is reflected in the all-ages makeup of their audiences.

But in the girls, girls, girls section up the front, the whole damn young female population of entire towns has been directly or vicariously infected by the mania.

And my, how they spend their money and lavish streamers and notes and jewellery and hopes upon Sherbet.

A lasting memory of the tour is clambering into the tour bus jammed up against the stage door of the Newcastle Civic Theatre. The bus is backed sideways against the building and Howard Freeman and driver Ron Hancock have their feet against the wall, holding the bus door open against the crush of girls straining to push past it and reach Sherbet.

And the bloody bus door is BENDING. Actually in danger of being ripped off its hinges by the opposing forces of Freeman and Hancock asserting scientific force Vs the uncontrolled battering ram of girls on the other side.

“Thank heavens for little girls,” sang Maurice Chevalier. But Maurice didn’t tell the whole story. Little girls en masse are harpies from hell. And that’s a fact.

Anthony O’Grady, RAM, 24 September 1976