Sunday, November 1, 2015

The wigged-out world of The Mystrys part 2

It’s been a loooong time between posts (life has a way of getting in the way sometimes) but finally, I’m back with Part 2 of my ‘mini-series’ about the wigged-out world of Melbourne’s most enigmatic one-hit wonders, The Mystrys. 

Since writing Part 1, I’ve spoken to a punter who was actually present at one of the band’s shows in Mildura in 1966, and discovered an old article about them — plus a review of “Witch Girl” — in the legendary, long-defunct Aussie music fanzine, The Livin’ End. For a group that was around for such a short time, The Mystrys made their mark where it mattered.

NB: First you’ve seen of this? Check out Part 1 here

Once again, the rogue’s gallery consists of Charles Bayliss (singer/bass-player), Ziggy Zapata (lead guitarist) and Bob ‘King’ Crawford (songwriter, PR guru). Now, strap yourselves in and let’s pick up where we left off last time: The Mystrys about to set off on tour…


For reasons nobody seems to understand, manager Michael Kopp packed The Mystrys off on a tour of regional Victoria and South Australia before they’d played more than a handful of gigs in Melbourne. Accompanying them was all-girl band The Kontacts, whose gimmick was a male singer known as Tony Satan.
Aren't they gorgeous? The Kontacts. Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata
“I’m not sure how we got onto The Kontacts,” Bob reflects.  “They sort of came out of the blue – one day they were there. I only wrote two songs for them.” 

Charles fills in the gaps. “They [Kopp and his sidekick Valek] were looking for a girl band. And they saw these girls playing at a dance… As they did with us, they approached them. The whole band was excited with the concept and they took it on.”

Until then, The Kontacts had been known as The Mojettes. They’d been gigging around Melbourne for awhile and already had a following of sorts (although their lead guitarist Davida was quoted at the time saying their early popularity was “more because we were novel rather than for ability.”)
So groovy! The Mojettes. Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata.
She was right about one thing: girl groups were rare as rocking horse poop in 1966 Melbourne, particularly girl groups that played their own instruments. That old hustler Michael Kopp must’ve thought he was on the fast-track to fortune!

And Tony Satan? Oddly enough, that wasn’t the name his mum gave him. Rather, it was an alias created by Bob King Crawford for local singer, Nic Gazzana. How he came to join The Mystrys’ tour as The Kontacts’ front man is not entirely clear.

“I’m not sure how Nic Gazzana got into the picture with the Kontacts — I assume that either Michael Kopp or Charlie Bayliss dug him up from somewhere and asked him to front the band,” Ziggy speculates. Bob recalls that “he got on side with Kopp, and that’s why I had to come up with a name and a persona for him.” (Gazzana would later go on to a successful acting career, including a role in the original Mad Max.) 
Tantalising...exciting...terrific: just a typical tour gig. 
“It was funny,” recalls Charles. “Nic wasn’t part of our band or part of the girl band. He was a separate entity. What Kopp and Valek wanted to do was build up a stable of entertainers.”

“And we had to clean up the stable afterwards!” Bob laughs. 

On the road

By all accounts, The Mystrys were a hit with country punters. “The tour was terrific,” says Ziggy, “We worked to sell-out rooms and the audiences really loved what we did.” 

Amazing, really, when you think about some of the hairy situations encountered by bands such as Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs or The Creatures in regional Australia. Rock’n’rollers from the big smoke weren’t always warmly received, suffice it to say: their long hair and flamboyant clothes being inexplicably offensive to some sensitive rural types. 

But then, with their matching tailored suits and green velvet hoods, The Mystrys looked less like a threat to public decency and more like a bunch of well-mannered extra-terrestrials anyway! Of course, their musical ability didn’t hurt: “You have to remember that all the guys in the band were very accomplished musicians,” explains Ziggy. “I don’t want to sound arrogant but the musicianship of the Mystrys was probably better than 99% of the bands that were around at the time.”
A spine-tingling line-up indeed - although what a 'blood bubbler' is, I couldn't say...
Among the towns on their lengthy itinerary were Renmark, Shepparton and Mildura, where young music fan Ben Rogers (now a muso in Melbourne) saw them play at a venue called the Ballerina Ballroom. While his memories are sketchy after almost half a century, he recalls that they “played with attitude, had a great light show and didn’t reveal their identities.” 

What happens on tour stays on tour…or not

Charles’ memories of Renmark, on the other hand, are rather vivid, for reasons other than the music. “I remember … getting up in the morning and just standing on the balcony, looking at the lake across from our hotel. There’d be ducks on the water and mist above the lake – it was just fantastic. By this time, the bassplayer, being me, decided to crack onto the guitarist from The Kontacts, Joy. We actually got together in Renmark.” 

And fair enough! If The Mystrys’ masks made it difficult to ‘connect’ with their female fans, being on tour with an all-girl band certainly offered a way out of that dilemma.  
On the road and unmasked...Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata
The young sweethearts’ rock’n’roll romance took an unusual turn when they found themselves stranded in the back of beyond, near the outback military testing range at Woomera. “At the time it was a rocket site,” Charles says. “One of our Kombi vans broke down so they actually had to go to Andamooka for a mechanic and bring him back. It was going to be a whole day, stuck in the middle of the desert.” 

Hell, what’s a bunch of bored musos to do? “We were stuck there, so Joy and I decided to get married.” Ummmm – come again? “It was a fake wedding.” Well, that’s one way to pass the time in the red centre. 

As it happens, Charles and Joy did get engaged later, but never made it to a wedding. But that’s a chapter for Charles’s memoirs… 
An outback wedding party? Photo courtesy of Ziggy Zapata.

Wild times in Andamooka

In typically bizarre fashion, The Mystrys’ tour took them to the opal mining outpost of Andamooka. “We got paid in opals,” Charles recalls, “and were staying in different accommodation to what we’d been used to – it was quite unusual, like mud huts.” (Hmmm. I wonder what The Kontacts made of that?)

Not surprisingly, the Andamooka locals were a special breed. “There was a German guy by the name of Dag Johnson — he was the richest person in Andamooka. So much so that he had his own compound, his own guards with submachine guns. It was unbelievable.” Dag’s security measures were justified: he was sitting on quite a stash, as Charles and Ziggy discovered.

“He took Ziggy and I down to his bedroom: I want to show you something, he said. We thought: Uh oh. It’s a bedroom. But he opened this safe and took something out, and said, Put your hand out… he put an opal in my hand that was like a fist. I asked how much he’d get for it, and he said, I’ve got a choice: I can sell it as it is, and let’s say I get $300,000 for it. But if I split it, and it’s good, I could get double that. So he split it — and he didn’t get double for it!”

Then there was the bloke who invited Charles to stay in Andamooka and work the mine with him, sharing whatever they found. “So we went down the next day, and you literally had to lay down on your back to dig. I said, Nope I don’t think so. My bass-playing is a whole lot easier than this. Three weeks later he found an opal that was worth $270,000.”

The bubble bursts

The final stop on the South Australian leg of their tour was Adelaide. After a successful concert there, the touring party was flown back to Melbourne for a week’s break. 

“The plan was we were going to fly back to Adelaide and start again, to work up to Queensland and end up in Brisbane,” Charles says. (A rather circuitous route, considering they could’ve got to Brisvegas via the New South Wales coast and gained exposure to a whole bunch of new audiences along the way — but then, Michael Kopp moved in mysterious ways…)

“The day after we arrived in Melbourne, I went to the rehearsal studio, and Bob King Crawford was there.” After Charles filled Bob in on how the tour had been, Bob proceeded to give Charles an update of his own.

“He opened up a draw, pulled out a wad of paperwork and threw it on the desk. Do you know what that is? he asked. That’s bounced cheques from everywhere you guys have been…. from venues you’ve played at, accommodation, where you’ve eaten. There are a lot of problems.” 

Starting with the fact that Kopp and Valek had gone AWOL. 
The minute the dodgy cheques started bouncing back, they dematerialised in a vanishing act the Invisible Man would have been proud of. “They opened their account with $10 and paid for the tour out of the $10,” Bob says ruefully. “So then we get this knock on the door and the Federal Police arrive. 
Do you know Mr Smith? 
James So-and-so? 
They went through this list of names until they got to Michael Kopp.”

Kopp and his dastardly sidekick had left a nation-wide trail of criminal alibis and ripped-off people behind them. He was “a well-known con-man,” says Ziggy, “The Mystrys and Kontacts were duped, like all of Kopp’s other victims.” 
The band contemplating a return to their home planet. Clipping courtesy of Ziggy Zapata
Charles adds, “We were just collateral damage.”

“We believed in the concept so much; we overlooked a lot of things,” Bob reflects, whose faith in the band was so great he’d even overlooked the fact he hadn’t been paid in months. 

But now, as the unofficial ‘guardian’ of the boys, he had their parents to contend with. “I had all the parents on my doorstep, wondering where’s my child? What’s going on? I had no answers.”

Broke, disillusioned and totally knocked for six, The Mystrys saw no alternative than to call it quits. “It all fell apart really quickly,” remarks Charles. 

So quickly that his bass was repossessed before he’d had a chance to come to terms with what had happened. Prior to the tour, he’d told Kopp his bass was on hire-purchase and that he couldn’t make his repayments unless Kopp paid him. Like that was ever going to happen! Instead, “[Kopp] said, Don’t worry about that, we’ll pay it out of the money you’re going to get.” 

Michael Kopp and Gerry Valek were never seen again, and remain one of the universe’s unsolved mysteries. Speculates Charles about Kopp: “My theory is…he left the state, and then from wherever he went, he left the country. Because he was in real serious trouble; he would’ve ended up in jail for years if he’d been caught. The problem was, he was using so many fictitious names, you didn’t know who he was.”

If only….

With the benefit of almost 50 years’ hindsight and experience, Charles reckons the band could have handled the whole situation differently.

Review in The Livin' End fanzine, number 1 (Sept 1983)
“When I think about it now, I think: If I only knew then what I know now. I could’ve just taken over and done it. Bob could’ve taken over and done it. But we didn’t. The pin was pulled, we all got shell-shocked, and we all backed away from it.” 

Bob agrees: “Nothing wrong with the concept. Nothing wrong with the plan – the plan was perfect. And the musicians were perfect. Everything was perfect.”

Never the biggest fan of the concept himself, Ziggy simply reckons they “should have ripped off the masks and kept going.” 

Still, Charles is philosophical. “I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. I would’ve liked to have made money out of it but the truth of the matter is I lost money. Was it the right decision? Yeah. It was at the time. If we hadn’t done it, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it. I’m a very big believer in destiny.”

What could have been

As I mentioned in my original post about “Witch Girl”, this is one one-hit wonder that makes you wonder what might have been. 

“All those sounds Roger Savage recorded with, and all the sentiments behind it, the video – it was all stuff that hadn’t been done before. The problem was, the reason it wasn’t bigger than it was, was because it was probably 15 years before its time.” Charles reflects.

“It could work again,” Bob suggests.
Practising their comedy routine: Bob and Charles today
“I’d love to release it today, I really would,” Charles says. “I think it should be reworked but not far away from what it is because all the background of that particular record is so close to what we’ve got today. It maybe doesn’t fit into the mainstream trend but it certainly fits in, just because it’s got a lot of gimmicky sounds behind it.”

Personally, I don’t think it should be touched. How do you improve on perfection, after all? Even with all its wigged-out sound-effects, “Witch Girl” is anything but a disposable gimmick record — it’s got soul, spirit, energy! Which is more than can be said of most of today’s popular music. But with original copies of the single now fetching well over $300, it’d be sensational if someone would reissue it at least. Bob King Crawford doesn’t even have a copy, and he wrote the damn thing.

Life after The Mystrys

Following the demise of The Mystrys, all involved went their separate ways. 

Despite his phenomenal talent as a bass-player and singer, Charles was so burnt by the experience he withdrew from the music scene for a few years. Eventually, he started playing again and became a sought-after performer around Melbourne… until he discovered martial arts and took that up fulltime. He’s now a big-wig in the city’s karate scene, teaching and practising it, and showing no sign of slowing down at the age of 71. “People say why do you work so hard? And I say wash your mouth out!” he scoffs. “I see guys ten-15 years younger than me where I live, and they just walk down to the local strip shops and sit on a bench, crapping on to each other and they look 90.” (Charles looks like he’s in his 50s!) 

Ziggy these days. Pic from his website
And Ziggy? “I played around the Melbourne traps for a while, did some session work, then formed a concert act called Joe and Ziggy with Melbourne guitarist Joe Paparone. We worked the act for four years very successfully, performing all over Australia as headliners, as well as supporting famous celebrities such as Harry Secombe and others.”

When Joe’s family commitments became too much, the duo folded and Ziggy moved to Sydney, where he performs on the club circuit to this day, as well as running an entertainment booking agency, a charter flight company (he’s a licensed commercial pilot) and a computer consultancy.

Bob, meanwhile, continued to move, shake and create like only he could, with a multi-faceted and illustrious career that included a long stint as the Superintendent of the Arts of the City of Melbourne between 1972 and 1986. During this time he introduced the revolutionary ‘Free Entertainment in the Parks’ concept, staging theatre, ballet and concerts in parks around Melbourne so that people who weren’t part of the cashed-up ‘cultural establishment’ could experience it for themselves, free of charge, in the democratic surrounds of the great outdoors. 

Then there’s the small matter of starting his own artistic movement — “Mesmeratic art: the more you look, the more you see,” he explains — plus authoring several books, running for Mayor of Melbourne in 2008, and designing (and campaigning for) a new Australian flag. Prolific, much? (Check out his website for the full story)
Bob King Crawford's Australian flag design. Find out what it all means here
Rhythm guitarist Kevin Thomas teaches flute in Melbourne, and second drummer John Lake now lives in Canada. (Sadly, nobody seems to know what became of original drummer Malcolm McPhee.)

And that's all, folks. I hope you've enjoyed reading this rock'n'roll saga as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Thanks a billion to Ziggy, Bob and Charles for being so incredibly generous with their time and memories.

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