From Kings Cross to the Largs Pier Hotel

In Sydney 2000 my mate Budgie was telling me a story of a band that he saw in Adelaide in 1980. Budgie recalls a harmonica player that played hard and a band that shook the foundations of the Arkabar Hotel in Adelaide.

Wayne Hall

TLC FM 100.3, Yamba

Mentor: Martin Walters (CBAA/CRN)

The years go past, and I’m trawling through 7 inch single records for a jukebox restoration, when I see one from a band called Mickey Finn. A quick phone call to Budgie confirms that this was the band that he saw New Year’s Eve 1980.

Researching on the internet, there was little about this band, and even less on the harp player called Uncle. One lead I did have was that well-known Aussie rocker John Swan (Swannee) had provided back-up vocals on their album.

When I was in Adelaide about 2 years ago (2012), Swannee was playing a gig, so I made contact with his agent and arranged to meet with him. Back then I didn’t ask him about the Mickey Finn band, we mainly discussed ideas for songwriting. Brief as it was.

But there was a singer I approached earlier that week in an Adelaide bar, and I asked if he knew of the band Mickey Finn, and more importantly, did he know ‘Uncle’ John Ayers the harp player. He said he thought that maybe Uncle was driving taxis, and had sort of disappeared from the music scene.

I always felt that someone should do a feature on finding this harp player. It’s all good hoping that someone someday will do the research, and to just wait for that day. That day might never come. Thanks to the CTMO and CBAA for providing the support and knowledge to undertake this journey, I took up the challenge, and during this time, numerous unplanned events unfolded.

Ron Alphabet, the promoter of bands at The Largs Pier Hotel during the 70s and 80s fell ill, and a set of bands was united to play a concert for him. In that line up, some of the Mickey Finn band would be performing in new separate groups. I got to meet Uncle in a chance meeting at the concert, and also a planned meeting with Mauri Berg, the guitar player from The Mickey Finn Band. It seems Adelaide is a massive breeding ground for the Australian pub rock sound that we know today.

This band has played and has supported household names like Jim Barnes, Swannee, Bon Scott, Barrie McAskill and Dutch Tilders. Jim Barnes recruited Bruce Howe (bass) and John Freeman ( drums) from the Mickey Finn band when he went out solo this time 30 years ago.

From this I have discovered old/new Australian music to follow up on, bands like Headband, Hush, Wendy Saddington, Fraternity, The Levi Smith Clefs, Billy Thorpe and Lobby Loyde, Kevin Borich, Gwyn Ashton, David Blight and the Flyers. Also international acts like The J Geils Band, and blues men Little Walter and James Cotton. These were bands that influenced Uncle in his style of playing.

A few of the members have been nominated to be inducted into the South Australian Hall of Fame later this year (2014). One day I’d like to sit down with Uncle and re-record an old tune, or even cut something new.

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