It was one of my first nights in Newcastle, having braved a trip from the country to the ‘bigsmoke’ on my own for the first time. I was 18 and in awe of Newcastle – it seemed so huge at the time. It seemed the perfect place to chase the musical dream.
I had been lucky enough to see some live bands in my hometown. During the late 70’s some of the great Aussie bands of the time, AC/DC, Hush, Dragon and LRB toured regional areas and the delighted youth from each town, fuelled by what they had seen on Countdown, would turn out in their masses.
Venturing to Newcastle a few years later, I was keen to see what the city offered in terms of live acts. We had been exposed to some Newcastle bands who made the journey north to play at our school ‘socials’. Nodes Levity was the most memorable. It wasn’t until I arrived in the city though that I was to have my senses well and truly assaulted – in the most wonderful way!
It was a pub somewhere in or near what is now the Newcastle Mall. I had seen posters for this band called the Heroes and remembered seeing them on Countdown – now I wanted to see them live. By the time I found the hotel, the band had started and, within a matter of just minutes, I was a fan. They were wild, they were tight and they exuded the confidence only ‘real’ rock stars possessed. I couldn’t believe the monster sound that was coming from the giant speakers. And I wasn’t the only one – the place was packed to the brim. My love affair with Newcastle’s live music scene had begun.
Guitarist Mark Tinson, drummer Phil Screen and bass player Jim Porteous had emerged from the ashes of successful glam-rock outfit Rabbit, who boasted Dave Evans as lead singer. Yes, THAT Dave Evans – AC/DC’s original front man. They recruited a young Pete de Jong to take up vocal duties in the new band – and they took the name The Heroes.
It wasn’t long before the band were pulling big crowds in their home town. But they were among the first Newcastle bands to go beyond the region’s borders and make a name for themselves. They released a self-titled album that contained two hits, the classic “Baby’s Had A Taste’ and “Star and The Slaughter”. They appeared on Countdown which was a BIG deal in those days. They also gained notoriety as the band who was playing the night of the infamous Star Riot.
Much has been written about this night. Here’s an excerpt from a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, published in 2004 . . .
How the party turned into a riot remains unclear. Tinson says the “pivotal moment” occurred shortly before 10pm when police entered the bar and insisted they finish immediately. “I mean we’d 30 seconds to go. And everyone was, well, you’ve got to be kidding.”
In the ensuing chaos, the Heroes stopped playing. There were cries, Tinson says, of “kill the cops, from a couple of idiots”. As the mood turned ugly, the Heroes decided to play their final encore, as they had planned. “I mean we didn’t want to cause a riot.”
Their choice of song, The Star and the Slaughter, led later to singer Peter de Jong being charged with the incitement to riot. One verse runs: “I want action, And I want fighting in the streets. Gonna take this town by storm, Gonna burn the buildings down … ”
Prophetically, the chorus proclaimed, “They will remember the night of the Star and the Slaughter.” Within minutes, the band were interrupted again, Tinson says. “One of the crew came in and said, ‘you should see what’s happening out there’.” The infamous Star Hotel riot had begun.
Tinson, a lifelong teetotaller and still a respected member of the music industry, does not defend the behaviour of the rioters. “They behaved abominably,” he says. And he was reluctant to do or say anything that might prompt people to celebrate – or recreate – the riot. But he insists that by their action, the police inflamed the situation. “I think if they’d given us a few more minutes, the situation could have been avoided,” he says. (SMH)
Leap forward to the present day and I can say that I have been fortunate enough to not only meet but spend time with some of The Heroes. From sharing a radio show or two with Mark Tinson to a blurry night of DVD concerts with Pete de Jong to several nights of misbehaviour with Mr Screen, my experience of The Heroes, both on and off stage, has been great.
Since the heady days of TV appearances, hit songs and a riot, the various members have featured on Newcastle stages in new acts. Peter and Jim have paired up to form The Smarts (and before that Django Wrango and The Heartfelt Rodneys – one of my fave band names), Screeny was a member of another infamous outfit, The Funbusters and Tinno has been a member of the legendary Ted Mulry Gang as well as the Tex Pistols, as well as producing countless recordings. Tinson and Screen also played on the Swanee album “Ready For Action – Live In The Snow”.
This weekend, though, the four of them reform to play a rare show at Wests Cardiff. There is also a whisper that the band are set to record and release a new album later in the year. If it’s anywhere near as good as the first one, it will be worth the wait.
Joining The Heroes on the bill will be local Newcastle legends Dai Pritchard of Rose Tattoo and ex Billy Thorpe and The Angels and Screaming Jets founding member Grant Walmsley.
Get along and catch The Heroes live this Saturday night at Wests Cardiff.
Written by Steven Pickett. Steven is a contributor to Newcastle Live. If you would like to contribute an article please email email@example.com