Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band "Smoke Dreams" 1973 Australia Jazz Rock,Ragtime

The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band  "Smoke Dreams" 1973 Australia Jazz Rock,Ragtime
The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band was an Australian band, active throughout the 1970s. It was based in Melbourne and centred on singer and multi-instrumentalist Mic Conway ("Captain Matchbox") and his brother Jim Conway, who is widely regarded as one of Australia's finest exponents of the blues harmonica.

Inspired by early jazz recordings and the jug band music they heard on reel-to-reel tapes as teenagers, they formed a band which grew within a couple of years from an underground art school band to a national icon, with film and television appearances and regular appearances in the charts. Their debut LP Smoke Dreams (1972) was released in the USA in the DynaQuad quadraphonic format.Their second LP Wangaratta Wahine featured a cover illustration by noted Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig.

The brothers continued the group through many lineup changes until a tragic truck crash while on tour in 1979 which ruined the band financially and emotionally, and after paying off their debts they disbanded.

Mic Conway continues to record and perform regularly, both as a solo artist and with his National Junk Band. Jim Conway has also worked on many musical projects and remains a sought-after soloist, although in recent years his health (but not his playing) has been significantly affected by the onset of multiple sclerosis. He now uses a wheelchair and has formed his dream band Jim Conway's Big Wheel.

The band reformed in 1996 for the Port Fairy Folk Festival, and again in 2010 under the name "Captain Matchbox Re-Ignited" for the Woodford Folk Festival, with shows at Bluesfest and Sydney and Melbourne. Members: Mic Conway, Jim Conway, Jeremy Cook, Don Hopkins, Phil Donnison, Cazzbo Johns, Jess Green and George Washingmachine. In October 2010, Smoke Dreams (1973) was listed in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums................

Recorded in Melbourne Australia in 1973, Smoke Dreams was the first 12" long-playing record issued by the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, a homespun musical menagerie consisting of between seven and nine wild and wooly harmonica, washboard, jug, kazoo, and string players. Formed and led by brothers Mic and Jim Conway, this frowsy little group specialized in popular novelty, jazz and blues songs dating from the 1920s and '30s, whipping themselves into a frenzy over vintage delights such as "Mobile Line," "Nagasaki" and "I Can't Dance (I Got Ants in My Pants)." Smoke Dreams would be the only one of five eventual Captain Matchbox albums to be released in the U.S., where it came out in a Quadraphonic ESP edition and was immediately seized upon and prized by young North Americans whose temperaments and personal habits were similar in part to those depicted in the music, the album photos, and the perceptive liner notes by David Bland, which are worth quoting at length: "Coming down in time the group have developed more into a mirror of a certain lifestyle rather than just musicians playing together for fun and profit. The lifestyle is one many people would vehemently disapprove of whereas others might find it both exhilarating and delightfully decadent." The most obvious example of this brashly hedonistic approach is of course "That Cat Is High," written by J. Mayo Williams of Ink Spots fame. "My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes" was first recorded in 1930 by British bandleader Debroy Somers and in 1931 by Al Bowlly, Sophie Tucker and a young Lawrence Welk. Although "Sophisticated Mama" begins with an amazing jug/harmonica duet, the song's incipient misogyny detracts from the fun and might foster resentment among those who dislike the bossy sexist vulgarity of the lyrics. Beginning with "Hotsy Totsy" the progression of songs tell a tale of romance sullied by infidelity as "Who Walks in When I Walk Out?" opens with the sounds of a lusty twosome caught in flagrante delicto. The tunes then speak of loneliness and despair ("I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" and "After You've Gone") the inevitable self-medication ("That Cat Is High") and "Smoke Dreams," once a sentimental reverie for Fats Waller at the theater organ, here transformed into a heartbroken (and somewhat self-pitying) lament laced with latter-day lyrics that refer to high potency hashish. David Bland again: "Looking at the songs on the album the message becomes apparent. It is that even when things are going bad and you are down and out there is still a good side to life -- the best way to find it is to forget tomorrow or what happened today and live for the present by making 'whoopee'." arwulf arwulf ......allmusic..........

If asked to name the most entertaining and best-loved Australian band of the early '70s, it's a fair bet that most young people who lived through that period would nominate The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. This crazily brilliant Melbourne-based ensemble played a uniquely Aussie brand of jug-band blues, spiced with jazz, swing, popular standards, cabaret, sideshow alley schtick and vaudeville routines including slapstick, tap dancing, juggling, magic and even fire-eating.

An obvious and common comparison would be England's Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, but it would be quite wrong to label Matchbox as mere copyists -- in fact Mic Conway has said that didn't hear the Bonzos until long after Captain Matchbox had been formed. The Conway brothers were born into a family with strong background in music and popular entertainment, particularly vaudeville theatre and opera -- their grandfather was an original vaudevillean, and their Aunt Lyla was a dancer on the famed Tivoli circuit.

As related in the documentary film The Jim Conway Blues, Mic and Jims father (a wool buyer) tried to dissuade his children from the uncertainty of a musical career, to no avail. The greasepaint obviously ran in the veins of his illustrious scions; as well as Mic and Jims well-known exploits, their sister Janie is also a noted musician whose credits including the late '70s Melbourne new wave band Stiletto with Jane Clifton.

As teenagers at Melbournes Camberwell High School, Mic and Jim formed the forerunner to Matchbox, The Jellybean Jug Band and entered the school's annual talent quest "for a laugh" but they annihilated the competition, as this former CHS student recalls:

"I remember standing in the packed gym, watching the Jelly Bean Jug Band -- with Mic on ukelele, washboard and the whisky keg (filled with jelly beans which were thrown at the audience after the performance! Jim played the kazoo and harmonica (and later became Australia's best proponent of that instrument) The whole gym erupted into cheers when they won the event ... we all knew they were talented and SO different. Jug band music in 1969 was a new sound to us. When they evolved later into Captain Matchbox, their first album, Wangaratta Wahine was the most popular LP around. It was everywhere. I still treasure my copy.

After high school Mic and Jim founded their first professional band, The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, which centred throughout its life on the Conway brothers. Their inspirations came from their family background in vaudeville, and in particular from Mics fascination with the family collection of vintage 78rpm records of music by Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton and other classics of jazz, swing and hot music. In a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Mic also named American satirical composer Tom Lehrer as one of his musical idols.

Probably the very first film of the band's in its earliest days (which was featured in the Jim Conway documentary) was captured on film by their neighbour and fellow CHS student Chris Lofven, who went on to be a pioneer of Australian music video. Chris is well known for the classic film-clips he made for Spectrums "I'll Be Gone" and Daddy Cool's "Eagle Rock " in 1971, and directed the cult road 1976 movie Oz. These wonderful images of the original Captain Matchbox were taken from Chris Lofven's experimental short film 806, which also includes priceless footage of Sons of the Vegetal Mother, Myriad and Quinn. Happily, this long-unseen short is now available as a bonus feature on the DVD edition of Oz.

Captain Matchbox emerged at a time when there was a vogue for these styles and they were contemporary with similar local acts such as The 69-ers, Starving Wild Dogs, The Original Battersea Heroes, The Gutbucket Blues Band, The Stovepipe Spasm Band and The Moonshine Jug and String Band (which later evolved into The Angels). Billed as Australias loudest jug band, the unique, irreverent Matchbox style was a hit on the theatrically inclined Melbourne underground scene and they became a regular attraction at venues like the TF Much Ballroom and the Thumpin' Tum, alongside acts such as Spectrum, Daddy Cool and Jeff Crozier.

Their popularity with so-called head audiences was doubtless enhanced by their repertoire, which was liberally spiked with covers of classic jazz and blues numbers that contained thinly-veiled dope references -- songs like "Smoke Dreams", "If Youse A Viper", "That Cat Is High" and "My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes".

Captain Matchbox on stage at Melbournes Thumpin Tum disco ca 1971, possibly prior to the arrival of Jim Niven and Peter Scott. The violinist at left is unknown. (Photo © 2001 Harley Parker, used by permission)

Their first mainstream exposure came through an appearance in Tim Burstall's 1971 film Stork, starring Bruce Spence and Jackie Weaver. During the year they also performed in Sydney at The Yellow House, the famous multimedia gallery/performance space set up by artist Martin Sharp, which operated during 1970-71.

The band signed to Image Records in 1972 and issued their debut single "My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes", which was a Top 40 hit in Melbourne in November. During the year a brief snippet of their TF Much Ballroom act (performing "Who Walks Out When I Walk In") was captured (in colour) by film maker Peter Weir in his short documentary Three Directions In Australian Pop Music, which also featured performances by Spectrum and Wendy Saddington & Teardrop. Matchbox also featured in an episode of GTK, where they were interviewed by reporter Jeune Pritchard and gave a live-in-the-studio performance of "Mobile Line".

In June-July of 1972 Captain Matchbox supported folk legend Phil Ochs on his first tour of Australia. Their next single "I Can't Dance (Got Ants in My Pants)" / "Jungle Dance" was released in April 1973 and their debut album Smoke Dreams was released in June. The album was comprised entirely of 1930s and 1940s jazz, blues and jug-band standards. The lineup for these recordings was Mic (vocals, washboard, ukelele), Jim (harmonica, kazoo, vocals), Dave Hubbard (guitar), Peter Inglis (guitar, vocals), Peter Scott (tea chest bass), Mick Fleming (banjo, mandolin, guitar, vocals) and Jim Niven (piano, pedal organ).

Image also arranged a reciprocal deal with the American ESP label, whereby ESP released Smoke Dreams in the USA, while Image released the LP Godzundheit by American band The Godz. The ESP version of Smoke Dreams was also remixed and released in the then newfangled Quadraphonic audio format, and this version of this LP is evidently now something of a collector's item for Quad fanatics.

Sometime during 1973 Image also released an Captain Matchbox EP, entitled Matchbox Madness. By this time the EP had all but died out as a viable format for pop-rock releases, and the paucity of information about it suggests that it is now quite rare, and probably a valuable collector's item. If anyone can tell us more about it, or provide a tracklisting and/or a photo of the cover, we'd love to hear from you!

By November 1973 the line-up had changed to the Conway brothers, Jimmy Niven and Mick Fleming with new members Geoff Hales, Fred Olbrei and Dave Flett (ex-Lipp and The Double Dekker Brothers, Armadillo). Jon Snyder (guitar) joined at the beginning of 1974, and their next single, a cove of the Fats Waller classic "Your Feets Too Big" came out in February 1974, followed in July by their inimitable reading of the tango classic "Hernando's Hideaway", a tribute to another of Mic's idols, Spike Jones . The B-side "Wait For Me Juanita", written by Mic and Dave Flett, was one of the first original Matchbox compositions to be released.

Another Conway-Flett original, "Wangaratta Wahine", became the title track to and first single from the band's breakthrough second album, which came out at the end of 1974. The LP featured the classic cover design by cartoonist Michael Leunig which won the award for Album Cover of the Year in 1974. Assisted by their memorable first appearance on Countdown, performing "Wangaratta Wahine", the album became their biggest success, peaking at #4 on the national charts by August 1975.

During 1975, Fleming and Hales left to be replaced by Chris Worral (ex-Pelaco Brothers) and Manny Paterakis (a former member of Armadillo with Dave Flett and The Ferrets Bill Miller). Mushroom signed the band after their Image contract expired and issued the satirical single "Australia" in October 1975 and the album Australia. Another entertaining mix of originals and covers the album included songs like "Cocaine Habit", "Sweeny Todd the Barber", Noel Coward's classic "20th Century Blues" and the Matchbox fan favourite "Masochism Tango". In keeping with the band's loopy sense of humour, the album credits listed Mic as "Microphone" Conway and Worral as "Christmas" Worral.

There were more line-up changes in 1976 with Jack Sara replacing Olbrei, Graeme Isaac replacing Paterakis, Gordon McLean replacing Worral, and Jimmy Niven leaving to join the newly formed Sports. The band's old label, Image, issued the perennial compilation album Making Whoopee (October 1976), which featured alternate versions of some of the best tracks from the first two LPs.

Captain Matchbox had a long association with Melbourne's alternative theatrical scene, notably Melbournes La Mama and Pram Factory theatres, and in late 1976 this led to the creation of a new performing entity dubbed Soapbox Circus, which combined the talents of Matchbox and the Australian Performing Group. By this time Flett had left (he went on to a stint in Redgum in 1980s) and two new members, Peter Mulheisen (bass) and Rick Ludbrook (guitar, sax) had joined. The new group recorded the live album The Great Stumble Forward at the Pram Factory, the single "If I Can't Hav-Anna in Cuba" / "Chiropodist Shop", and appeared in the play Smackin' The Dacks. In 1978 Soapbox Circus evolved into the now world-famous Circus Oz, of which Mic was a founding member.

By 1978 the band was known simply as Matchbox with the line-up now comprising Mic, Jim, Ludbrook, Mulheisen, McLean, Tony Burkys (guitar, ex-Original Battersea Heroes) and Stephen Cooney (guitar, later of Redgum), who was replaced by Louis McManus (ex-Bushwackers). Matchbox released the Slightly Troppo album, and the delightful single "Sleep" (June 1978), followed by "Love Is Like A Rainbow" (January 1979), as well as making an appearance in Tim Burstall's 1979 feature film version of the Jack Hibberd play Dimboola.

By mid-1979, the line-up of the Conways, McManus and Mulheissen had been augmented by Robert Ross (drums, ex-Manning), Eric McCusker (guitar) and Chris Coyne (sax, flute). That version of the band introduced a more rock-oriented sound, but it lasted only about a year; McCusker left to join Ross Wilson's Mondo Rock and was replaced briefly by Peter Martin. IN itsw final incarnation as The Matchbox Band, the group released one last recording, an independent single, "Juggling Time" / "Dirty Money", before breaking up in September 1980....milesago.......

Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – Peter Inglis
Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Noises [Canary] – David Hubbard
Artwork [Back Cover Art] – Jean Roche (2)
Banjo, Mandolin, Vocals, Guitar, Noises [Bear] – Mick Fleming
Bass [Tea Chest Bass], Jug – Peter Scott
Design [Front & Inside Cover Design] – Phil Lukies
Engineer – Ern Rose
Harmonica, Kazoo, Vocals – Jim Conway
Liner Notes – David Bland (2)
Photography By – David Porter (6)
Piano, Organ [Pedal Organ], Noises [Bomb] – Jim Niven
Producer – Rhett H. Walker
Recorded By [Location Sound Effects] – Ross Cockle
Vocals, Washboard, Horn [Phonogram Horn] – Mick Conway

Jim Conway (harmonica,kazoo, vocals)
Mic Conway (vocals, washboard, ukelele)
Tony Burkys (guitar) 1978-79
Stephen Cooney (guitar) 1978-80?
Chris Coyne (sax, flute) 1979-80
Mick Fleming (banjo, mandolin, guitar, vocals) 1969-73
Dave Flett (electric bass, slide dobro, backing vocals, ukelele) Nov 1973 Nov? 1976
Geoff Hales (drums, washboard) Nov 1973 - 1975
Dave Hubbard (guitar) 1969-73
Peter Inglis (guitar, vocals) 1969-73
Graeme Isaac (drums, washboard) 1976-77
Rick Ludbrook (guitar, sax) 1976-78
Eric McCusker (guitar) 1979-80
Gordon McLean (banjo, mandolin, guitar, vocals) 1976-
Louis McManus (guitars, fiddle,mandolin, banjo etc ) 1978-80
Peter Martin (guitar) 1980
Peter Muhleisen (bass) 1976-1980
Jim Niven (piano, pedal organ) 1969-76
Fred Olbrei (violin, vocals) Nov 1973-1976
Manny Paterakis (drums, washboard) 1974-76
Robert Ross (drums) 1979-80
Jack Sara (violin, vocals) 1976
Peter Scott (tea chest bass) 1969-73
Jon Snyder (guitar) Jan? 1974-?
Colin Stevens (mandolin, blues harp) 1976-7
Chris Worral (banjo, mandolin, guitar, vocals) 1975-76


"I Can't Dance (I Got Ants In My Pants)"
"My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes"
"Sophisticated Mama"
"Mobile Line"
"France Blues
Side 2:
"Hotsy Totsy (Everything Is)"
"Who Walks In When I Walk Out"
"I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter"
"After You've Gone"
"That Cat Is High"
"Smoke Dreams Of You"



as Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band:

Nov. 1972
"My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes" / "Nagasaki" (Image IS-119)

Apr. 1973
"I Can't Dance (Got Ants in My Pants)" / "Jungle Dance" (Image IS-129)

Feb. 1974
"Your Feets Too Big" / "Wait for Me Juanita" (Image IS-144)

Jul. 1974
"Hernando's Hideaway" / "Down Undergroundsville" (Image IS-153)

"Wangaratta Wahine" / (unknown) (Image)

Oct. 1975
"Australia" / "Christopher Columbus" (Mushroom K-6158)

as Soapbox Circus:

"If I Can't Hav-Anna in Cuba" / "Chiropodist Shop" (Mushroom)

as Matchbox

Jun. 1978
"Sleep" / "Victims of Circumstance" (Mushroom)

Jan. 1979
"Love is Like a Rainbow" / (unknown)

1980 (as The Matchbox Band)
"Juggling Time" / "Dirty Money" (Independent release, no catalogue number)
Lineup: Mic Conway, Jim Conway, Chris Coyne, Eric McCusker, Louis McManus, Peter Muhleisen and Robert Ross.


Matchbox Madness (Image LEP 4)
(no track listing available)


as The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band:

Smoke Dreams (Image ILP 724)
Also released on the ESP label (ESP-3009) in the USA in "Dynaquad" quadraphonic sound 

Wangaratta Wahine (Image ILP-744) gatefold cover;
Reissued on LP 1983; re-issued on CD by Sony Music Australia July 2002

1976 (as Soapbox Circus)
The Great Stumble Forward: Matchbox and the APG Live At The Pram (APG/Festival L 36245) gatefold cover 

1978 (as Matchbox)
Slightly Troppo (Festival L 36579) 


The Mushroom Story: The Hits Of The Seventies (Mushroom 33092.2) CD
- various artists compilation including one Captain Matchbox track, "Australia"

Aussie Come On: Australian Essential Classics Vol. 1 (Dan Rose Music)
- various artists compilation including one Captain Matchbox track, "Wangaratta Wahine"

Making Whoopee (Avenue / EMI 7243 814858 2 8) 2CD 
Wangaratta Wahine (Sony Music R0087) CD
- re-release of Image ILP-744

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“A Revolutionary New Triumph in Tape” 1958

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