The Reels is an Australian rock/indie pop group which formed in DubboNew South Wales in 1976 and initially disbanded in 1991. They eventually reformed in 2007. Their 1981 song, "Quasimodo's Dream", was voted one of the Top 10 Australian songs of all time by a 100-member panel from Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) in 2001. The Reels had top 10 Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart success with covers of Herb Alpert's "This Guy's in Love With You" (No. 7, 1982) and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" (No. 11, 1986). Rock music historianIan McFarlane described them as "one of the most original and invigorating pop bands to emerge from the Australian New Wave movement of the late 1970s".

Early years[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Native Sons, consisting of John Bliss on drums, Craig Hooper on lead guitar and synthesiser, and Dave Mason on vocals, formed in the country town of Dubbo, New South Wales in 1976.[1] Mason is the son ofNSW parliamentarianJohn Mason, who was the state's Liberal Party leader during 1978–1981.

Native Sons played in the Dubbo area for two years, mainly covers of current and classic hits. After moving to Sydney in 1978, the band added Paul Abrahams on bass guitar and changed their name to The Brucelanders.[2] They developed an original repertoire of fast-paced, quirky pop and ska, and their energetic performances gained them a following on the east coast live music scene. They were given support in Sydney by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)'s rock radio station Double J—which moved to the FM band and became Triple J in 1980.

By 1979, The Brucelanders had secured a recording contract with the Australian branch of Mercury Records, changed their name to The Reels with the line-up of Abrahams, Bliss, Hooper, Mason, and Colin Newham on keyboards, saxophone and guitar. They released their debut single, "Love Will Find a Way" in October, which peaked into the top 40 of the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart.[3] Their self-titled debut album, The Reels, produced by Mark Opitz (The AngelsCold Chisel) had appeared in November. With the follow-up single, "Prefab Heart" also appearing in November, combined with the band's distinctive image, they gained increasing attention with their music videos featured on the influential national ABC TV pop show Countdown from early 1980.[4][5]

In February, The Reels added a sixth member, also a synthesiser player, Karen Ansel (ex-Romantics), and released their third single, "After the News" in July. It marked a transition in their music—their songs took on a more serious lyrical tone—they dispensed with guitars, by using synthesisers as their main instruments,[4] and were one of the first groups to use wireless headsets instead of traditional microphones.

During late July, the group undertook the innovative Reels By Rail Tour—using rail transport to destinations in the eastern states. At the end of the year, returning to their origins as a covers band, they released a five-track Christmas EP, Five Great Gift Ideas from The Reels, produced by Bruce Brown and Russell Dunlop, which included Jim Reeves' "According to My Heart", and Freda Payne's "Band of Gold".[4] "According to My Heart" featured a folksy music video filmed at the farm of Australian country music star Smokey Dawson.

Quasimodo's Dream[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In May 1981 they released the album considered by many to be their best work, Quasimodo's Dream, which saw the band displaying an impressive maturity in song writing, backed with strong performances, inventive arrangements and top-class production. The album's title track, "Quasimodo's Dream", was released as a single and, although widely considered to be one of the best Australian singles of that period, it peaked at No. 27 in June. The band undertook the Kitchen Man Tour, which saw the stage dressed as a fully equipped Australian kitchen.

The Reels' lack of top 10 mainstream commercial success was at odds with their strong live following, but it was due in part to the restrictive programming on commercial radio at that time, which gave little exposure to local "new wave" acts. The group's deteriorating relationship with Mercury was also a factor, as evidenced by the album's track listing—it included the earlier hit "According to My Heart", but a disclaimer printed on the sleeve noted that it had been included at the insistence of the record company (i.e. against the band's wishes).

Internal tensions were also a factor in the group's career vicissitudes—Bliss left just after the recording of the album, and Newham had quit by the time it was released. The new five-piece lineup (with Fidock) cut a new single, "No. 3", which was not successful; soon after this, both Abrahams and Ansel left. Now reduced to a trio (Mason, Hooper and Fidock) they continued performing by augmenting their live sound with taped backing tracks, and used the new Fairlight synthesiser for studio recordings.

Beautiful[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In late 1982, having signed a new contract with the RCA Records label, The Reels scored an unexpected hit with a wry, languid cover of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, originally recorded by Herb Alpert, "This Guy's In Love With You", which reached No. 7. They followed this with a one-off album for K-tel, which was known for its licensed pop hit compilations and budget 'golden oldie'. Although the tracks onBeautiful walked a fine line between sincere tribute and gentle parody, it proved to be the biggest success of their career, selling in excess of 40,000 copies and reaching No. 32 on the album chart. The album was later released through RCA.

In 1983 the band travelled to the United States and United Kingdom, released another five track EP, Pitt Street Farmers (the title is an old Sydney satirical expression referring to wealthy rural landowners who never leave the city). This was followed by a new version of "Quasimodo's Dream" in December 1983, which demonstrated the band's faith in the song, although it failed to chart on its second release. At this point Mason was forced to give up performing after contracting hepatitis, which effectively ended the group. Hooper joined The Church as keyboard player, and later joined The Mullanes, the original incarnation of what became Crowded House.

By late 1985 Mason had recovered and The Reels was revived (with the line-up of Mason, Hooper, Bliss and Newham) and completed their commitments to RCA with a single, a cover version of Etta James's "It Must Be Love".

Neighbors[edit source | editbeta]Edit

They then signed with Regular Records and released a radically slowed-down, synthesiser-driven version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising". It proved to be another surprise hit, reaching No. 11 (October 1986); the arrangement featuring prominent use of the Vocoder voice synthesiser, which the band also used extensively on stage to augment Mason's vocals. Bliss left the band again at the end of 1986.

Their next single (Jan. 1987) was a cover of the old Edison Lighthouse hit "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" . During the year they embarked on the popular "Reels By Request" tour, where the audience was allowed to call out for the songs they wanted to hear. This was followed by an 'all Australian songs' version of the same concept, and this in turn led to the Reels' next studio album, Neighbors - the name of which, for reasons best known to the band, excluded the 'u' which would normally be contained in the Australian English spelling. This LP contained their idiosyncratic versions of thirteen Australian rock classics, including the singles "Are You Old Enough" (originally a hit for Dragon) and "Forever Now" (by Cold Chisel). Steve Prestwich, who wrote "Forever Now", played on The Reels' version.

The end...[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In 1989 Mason appeared in the acclaimed Australian feature film Ghosts... of the Civil Dead, in which he co-starred with Nick Cave. In September 1991 the Reels issued their first original single in five years, "I Don't Love You Anymore", followed by what proved to be their last single, a remix by Filthy Lucre of "Bad Moon Rising" . The group officially disbanded to coincide with the release of the compilation CD Requiem. In 1999, Rock music historianIan McFarlane described them as "one of the most original and invigorating pop bands to emerge from the Australian new wave movement of the late 1970s" in his Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop.[4] The Reels never got to reunite as a six-piece group.

The comeback[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In May 2007, Dave Mason released his first album in more than 15 years, Reelsville, an acoustic celebration of The Reels hits re-recorded by the original artist. In August 2007 Reel To Reel was also released, a compilation of The Reels classic tracks with new liner notes as written by Mason.

Dave Mason, John Bliss and Colin Newham have resurrected themselves in their former guise ‘The Reels’ and played shows in May 2008.

At a subsequent show (the Gaelic Club, Surry Hills; 27 September 2008), Mason announced that Newham was retiring from the band. It wasn't obvious whether this was a serious or joke announcement, though. Since Newham retired, original bassist Abrahams has rejoined the band after twenty-three years.

After The Reels[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Hooper was also a member of The ChurchThe Mullanes (the original incarnation of Crowded House), and also recorded with The Rockmelons and Ross Wilson.

Karen Ansel retired from the music business and became a noted film and TV computer graphics specialist in the US (IMDb).

Paul Abrahams also played bass in a band with Colin Newham called 'The Company of Strangers' and was also a member of Peter Blakeley's band 'The Resurrection'. In addition, he played bass for Wendy Matthews, plus drums for Ya Ya Choral, Rat Tat Tat (Peter Blakeley and Jeff Stapleton) and The Bonerattlers who were regular buskers at Paddington Markets.

Nick Cave in 1994 and Dirty Three in 1998 as guest programmers selected Quasimodo's Dream for TV show Rage.

John Bliss co-authored the book The A to Zen of Lawn Bowls with John Salter in 1997.

David Mason appeared in the Countdown Spectacular 2 concert series in Australia between late-August and early-September 2007 as a solo performer. He sang only one song- "Quasimodo's Dream".

In 2007, Dave Mason released a new album - "Reelsville" - on Liberation Blue. Dave performed one gig to launch the album at 'the Basement' in Sydney on 16 May 2007. A further gig is booked for 'the Factory Enmore Theatre' in Sydney on 24 May 2008. This show became a local cause celebre when police with sniffer dogs arrested two 60 year old punters for smoking illegals.

Dave Mason appeared on Episode 114 of 'RocKwiz' on Australian SBS TV, broadcast on Saturday 26 March 2011. Dave performed The Reels' 'Quasimodo's Dream' and ended the show in a duet with Sally Seltmann doing the Conway Twitty song 'As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone.'

Members[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • David Mason – lead vocals, keyboards
  • Colin 'Polly' Newham — keyboards
  • Craig Hooper – guitars, keyboards, vocals
  • Paul Abrahams – bass
  • John Bliss – drums
  • Karen Ansel – keyboards, vocals
  • Stefan Fidock – drums, vocals
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