Masked mavericks The Mystrys burst onto the Australian pop scene in 1966 with a spaced-out single, Witch Girl, and some downright intergalactic hype, before vanishing almost as quickly.
Singer Charles Bayliss was in a Melbourne band called Isy & The Dynamics (pictured at right) – who were notable for having a female drummer a la The Honeycombs – when he was approached by middle-aged businessman, Michael Kopp, accompanied by his sidekick Gerry Valek and financial backer Buff Parry.
The trio invited Bayliss and The Dynamics’ lead guitarist, John Farrugia, to join a new band they were putting together – an Antipodean supergroup to rival the likes of The Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Always open to fresh musical adventures, Bayliss was keen. Farrugia declined.
Bayliss subsequently recruited the other members, guys he had crossed paths with around the rock ‘n’ roll traps; guitarists Ziggy Zapata and Kevin Thomas, and drummer Malcolm McPhee (later replaced by John Lake).
And so The Mystrys were born.
Kopp told the band members they would be wearing tight-fitting green velvet hoods whenever they appeared in public and had to sign declarations that they wouldn’t divulge who they were.
Like some kind of showbiz L Ron Hubbard, Kopp’s ambitions for The Mystrys were intergalactic. He encouraged Bayliss, Zapata, McPhee and Thomas to pose as ancient aliens from a distant galaxy, and they adopted silly aliases accordingly: Ankharr, Kuff (read it backwards), Zoarg and GMX. There was a fifth member called Finnstar but he was invisible (of course).
A well-known local musical identity called Bob King Crawford was enlisted to write songs for the group, though of the 20-plus numbers he penned, only Witch Girl and its B-side Land Of The Green Sun survive.
Sadly, other luridly named gems such as The Mummy Walked and My Name Is Dracula are lost in the mists of time.
After rehearsing in secret for three months, The Mystrys were ready to record at South Melbourne’s state-of-the-art Armstrong Studios.
Witch Girl was unlike anything else on the Aussie charts at the time. Two manic minutes of supernaturally-themed garage madness with a grab-bag of novelty hallmarks, including eerie female backing vocals, bubbling cauldron effects, Hammer Horror lyrics (“which girl is the witch girl/look out when the moon is full/’cause you will see her shadow/and you will feel her pull”) – but without descending into kitsch.
Joe Meek would have been proud.
Ostensibly a song about The Mystrys’ home planet, the less-frenetic Land Of The Green Sun painted a technicolour picture of an outer-space utopia where jealousy doesn’t exist and “tangerines mix with the coloured folks”. All accompanied by guitar that sounds like a NASA transmission and intermittent cymbal flourishes.
Radio stations gave the single a wide berth when it was released in June 1966, although Witch Girl climbed the local charts (despite the fact that The Mystrys hadn’t even played a gig yet) surrounded by outrageous hype that amused some sections of the media and irritated others – the members had never seen each other unmasked, they didn’t have shadows, they were The Beatles on holiday . . .
Bob King Crawford oversaw the publicity. A fixture on the Melbourne music scene since the 50s, Crawford was not only an established composer but a record label maven, PR consultant and all-round creative powerhouse.
His media connections and ability to spin a wild story served The Mystrys well. “We have the gimmick to end all gimmicks,” he boasted at the time.
Appearances on teen TV programmes The Go Show and Kommotion followed and soon after, the band made their live debut at the popular Mentone mod night. After a few more local Melbourne shows, The Mystrys set off on an extensive regional tour, supported by all-girl group The Kontacts (another of Kopp’s projects).
Playing in remote mining towns and far-flung towns in Victoria and South Australia, they were surprisingly well-received for a bunch of near-unknowns wearing bizarre green velvet hoods.
Back in Melbourne for a brief break before resuming the tour, Bayliss ran into Crawford, who updated him on recent developments: Kopp (just one of several names he went by, as it happens) had skipped town with Valek when his habit of using dodgy cheques to pay for band expenses finally caught up with him.
Along with several furious creditors, the Federal Police were closing in. It seems he was a prolific con man wanted for offences all over Australia. He was never caught.
Broke and disillusioned, The Mystrys saw no alternative than to call it quits.