Monday, 27 January 2014

East Doncaster High School 'The Labyrinth' (1981)

 The way in which the post-1960's quality of 'freedom' filtered out from the counter culture into wider Australian culture cropped up in a variety of strange ways, one of which was in the world of high school musicals. School records and musical theatre records from the 1960's and earlier were usually awkward music hall, or religiously inclined mass choral workouts (and confined to the WASPiest of institutions), but from the early 1970's a new type of school musical began to emerge, the 'rock opera'.

The popularity of 'rock operas' (which often had roots, one way or another, in the alternative theatre scene of the 1960's) such as Hair, Joseph & His Technicolor Dreamcoat, Grease, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber, provided a dynamic source of inspiration for High School drama students and teachers. Though overlooked by many 'collectors' of Australian private press records they are an interesting reflection of the trends taking place in popular musical culture, and a hidden source of local psychedelia and low budget but imaginative narratives - high school students letting their hair out. Some examples include Footscray Colleges 'There's An Elf In My Pocket', 'Cult: A Musical', Chris Neals' 'Man Child', 'The Boy Who Dared to Dream' (featuring arrangements by synthesist Andrew Thomas Wilson) and this record, 'The Labyrinth' by the East Doncaster High School HSC Drama class of 1981.

 (Newspaper clipping from The Age, 19 June, 1981, in the 'Amateur Theater' listings, the only reference I could find of the play)

The Labyrinth' is a mystical, science fiction drama;

"A reflective journey in music, voice and movement, through the maze of patterns of human aggression"….

"Five travellers convicted by 'The Leaders', of crimes of aggression, are sentenced to The Labyrinth - A maze in which people who have shown different types of aggression are trapped - people from different times, places and strange situations. The five travellers may only gain freedom, if they find the exit from the maze - guarding this exit is the legendary 'Minotaur', half man, half bull, a creature believed to be the cause of all human aggression. The legend states that if the 'Minotaur' is found and destroyed, the way to freedom will be revealed. At dawn, the search began…"

 A group effort by the students ("all lyrics written and sung by the cast,"), the instrumental line up includes a full rock band (dual guitars, bass, drums) filled out with synthesizers piano and clarinet, and dual male and female vocals. I presume this was printed in very small quantities, perhaps about 100 (?), for cast, crew, family, and friends who attended the drama.

One of the most curious aspects, as a 'Melbournian', is the fact this is from East Doncaster. For those outside of Melbourne, Doncaster is/was a relatively far flung suburban centre not famous for producing music. Though the urban sprawl in Melbourne has now extended far out beyond the limits of Doncaster, between the 1950's and 1980's Doncaster transformed from a green belt dominated by apple orchards, pioneered by German settlers, into the suburban fringe, the populated hinterland of Melbourne. That may go someway to explaining why this record sounds so….out of date.

Doncaster in 1980, like today, was isolated from the city centre by a lack of comprehensive public transport infrastructure - there is still no Doncaster train line in 2014 - and would have had its own network of discos, nightclubs and bars disconnected from the inner city trends/trendies. The record sounds somewhere about '72 - I am not sure exactly what they were going for, but some tracks are amateur progressive rock, others have a Laurel Canyon vibe, or a scrappy garage rock approach. The only track with any concession to the trends of the day is ‘Bad Habits’, which sounds like their attempt a ‘punk’ song. In the realm of private press progressive rock records in Australia it may not be as accomplished as Rob Thomsett's Yaraandoo or Simon Jones's Melanie and Me, though it is definitely one of the more interesting examples.

Download here.


Jay Dahl said...

how about a link for Rob Thomsett - yaraandoo?

Unknown said...

If you look on the back you'll see that Vince and Glenn from The Underground Lovers play on this.