Blackfeather

Blackfeather was an Australian post-psychedelic hard-rock band that released the 1971 Infinity album At the Mountains of Madness. Amid multiple lineup changes, they cut two standalone singles and the 1972–74 live albums Boppin’ the Blues and Live! (Sunbury).

Members: John Robinson (guitar, 1970-71), Neale Johns (vocals, 1970-73, 1975-76, 1978, 1983), Leith Corbett (bass, 1970), Mike McCormack (drums, 1970), Robert Fortesque (bass, 1970-71), Steve Murphy (guitar, 1970-71), Alexander Kash (drums, 1970-71), Terry Gascoigne (drums, 1971), Harry Brus (bass, vocals, 1971), Steve Webb (drums, 1971), Warren Ward (bass, 1971-73, 1978), Jim Penson (drums, 1971-72), Alex “Zac” Zytnic (guitar, 1971), Paul Wylde (piano, 1971-72, 1978), Billy Taylor (guitar, 1972, 1975), Gil Matthews (drums, 1972), Paul Gray (1972), Trevor Young (drums, 1972, 1978), Tim Piper (guitar, 1972-73), Greg Sheehan (drums, 1972-73, 1978), Lindsay Wells (guitar, 1973), John Lee (drums, 1973), Ray Vanderby (keyboards, 1975), Billy Rylands (bass, 1975), Doug McDonald (drums, 1975), Ian Rilen (bass, 1975-?), Ian Winter (guitar, 1975), Lee Brossman (bass, 1976), Warwick Fraser (drums, 1976), Stuart Fraser (guitar, 1976), Rex Bullen (keyboards), John Swan [aka Swanee (vocals, 1976), Wayne Smith (guitar, 1976), Ray Oliver (guitar, 1978, 1983), Rick Rankin (guitar, 1978), Jeff Rosenberg (bass, 1978), Huk Treloar (drums, 1978), John Strangio (bass, 1978), Andy Cowan (keyboards, 1983), Phil Gordon (drums, 1983), Cleve Judge (bass, 1983), Phil Smith (drums), John Tucak (bass)


Background

Blackfeather formed in April 1970 as an offshoot of the original Dave Miller Set, an R&B–beat group that cut five singles between 1967 and 1969 on Spin Records, including the recent Top 5 cover of “Mr. Guy Fawkes,” a phased psych number originated by Irish rockers Eire Apparent. Dave’s backing band on that single — guitarist John Robinson, bassist Leith Corbett, and drummer Mike McCormack — constituted the Sydney-based DSM lineup, which Miller formed after his arrival from Christchurch, New Zealand.

As Miller eyed a solo career, the three musicians formed a post-psychedelic rock combo with singer Neale Johns. Flake drummer Wayne Thomas handed them a book with 500 possible names, of which they liked Heavyfeather and Whitefeather, the latter modified as Blackfeather.

They held a session in Hornsby, north shore of Sydney, where engineer John Zuliaka recorded a Blackfeather demo and sent the tape to EMI and Festival Records, which both offered contracts. Festival signed Blackfeather to the label’s new progressive division, Infinity.

Johns and Robinson booked studio time just as Miller summoned Corbett and McCormack for a new project: the 1970 Spin Records title Reflections of a Pioneer, released as a Dave Miller / Leith Corbett joint album. Neale found a new rhythm section — bassist Bob Fortesque and American drummer Alexander Kash — who both arrived from Perth to join Blackfeather.


At the Mountains of Madness

Blackfeather released their singular studio album, At the Mountains of Madness, in early 1971 on Infinity. The title comes from a 1931 sci-fi horror novella by American author H. P. Lovecraft.

John Robinson and Neale Johns co-wrote “Seasons of Change” and all of Side B, which features “The Rat,” a suite in five parts. Robinson lone-wrote the title track, “On This Day That I Die,” and “Mangos Theme,” an instrumental inspired by the Spaghetti Western trilogy of Italian director Sergio Leone.

In addition to Robinson, Johns, and the new Fortesque–Kash rhythm section, At the Mountains of Madness features two guest musicians from Sydney rockers Fraternity: keyboardist John Bisset and singer Ronald Belford Scott (aka Bon Scott), who plays recorder, timbales, and tambourine.

A1. “At the Mountains of Madness” (3:30)
A2. “On This Day That I Die” (4:00) features Bisset on electric piano.
A3. “Seasons of Change Part 1” (3:48) emerged from a jam during a late-stage Dave Miller Set show at Coffs Harbour. Scott, an early fan of the song, plays recorder through a Neumann U67 valve mic.
A4. “Mangos Theme Part 2” (8:03) is a quasi-Eastern jam with an improvised bolero middle and strings conducted by Lal Kuring.
B1. “Long Legged Lovely” (7:30)
B2. “The Rat (Suite)” (13:48)
       I. “Main Title (The Rat)”
       II. “The Trap”
       III. “Spanish Blues”
     IV. “Blazwaorden (Land of Dreams)” is a free-form section where Robinson breaks his whammy bar. Amid the drum solo, he overdubbed flanged backward tapes and half-speed dialogue.
       V. “Finale (The Rat)”

Sessions took place in late 1970 at Sydney’s Festival Studios, where Robinson co-produced the album with engineer Richard Batchens, a soundman on 1971 titles by the Aztecs, Chain, Cleves, Jeff St. John, Lobby Lloyd, and Tymepiece. By the time of recording, Robinson swapped his sitar (his secondary concert instrument) for a Watkins tape-echo unit with tube pre-amp.

The album’s cover depicts three erotes (pencil drawn), which encircle a mountainous backdrop with flaming red–purple surround. An earlier submission (favored by Robinson) showed the devil emerge from a mountain top.

At the Mountains of Madness reached No. 7 on the Australian albums chart.

With Blackfeather’s blessing, Fraternity covered “Seasons of Change” for release as a single on Sweet Peach Records. Blackfeather (with Festival’s verbal compliance) vowed not to compete with their original version. However, when Fraternity’s single topped the Adelaide chart, Festival broke the agreement and issued Blackfeather’s “Seasons of Change” as a single (b/w “On This Day That I Die”), which reached No. 15 on the national Go-Set chart.


Boppin’ the Blues

As rifts emerged in Blackfeather, Kash and Fortesque cleared for bassist Harry Brus and drummer Steve Webb. Tensions between Robinson and Johns provoked Neale’s split.

Johns retained rights to the Blackfeather name and formed a new lineup (Mark II) with bassist Warren Ward, pianist Paul Wylde, and ex-Tamam Shud guitarist Zac Zytnick, who soon cleared for ex-Flake guitarist Billy Taylor.

In July 1972, Blackfeather recorded a standalone single: “Boppin’ the Blues,” a Carl Perkins cover backed with “Find Somebody to Love,” a Wylde original. They cut both sides with temp drummer Gil Matthews, on loan from the Aztecs. “Boppin’ the Blues” reached No. 1 for two weeks on the Go-Set chart.

Blackfeather hired drummer Greg Sheehan and played notable September 1972 shows at the Melbourne Town Hall and Q Club, both taped for the December live release Boppin’ the Blues. The album features a lengthier (6:34) rendition of the recent hit and seven exclsuive setlist numbers, group-credited to the Mk II lineup (Johns, Sheehan, Wyld, Ward).


Live! (Sunbury)

By New Years 1973, Wylde exited Blackfeather, which hired two guitarists: Tim Piper and ex-Healing Force axman Lindsay Wells. They performed at the second Sunbury Pop Festival (Jan. 27–29), an event MC’d by comedian Paul Hogan with sets by Bakery, Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Carson, Coloured Balls, Band of Light, Coloured Balls, Flying Circus, MacKenzie Theory, Mississippi, Sid Rumpo, Spectrum, and fifties Aussie rock ‘n’ roll icon Johnny O’Keefe.

In February 1973, Blackfeather released their third and final single: “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” a Little Richard cover backed with “Fly On My Nose,” a group original by the final Mark II lineup (Johns, Sheehan, Wyld, Ward, Piper). Sheehan cleared for drummer John Lee. However, Blackfeather disbanded in April, at which point Lee co-founded The Dingoes.

Blackfeather’s 1973 Sunbury set appeared posthumously on the 1974 Infinity release Live! (Sunbury). It features renditions of the two recent a-sides and the Johns originals “Get It On” and “I’m Gonna’ Love You,” plus the Rick Derringer cover “Still Alive and Well.” Their performance of I’m Gonna Love You” also appears on The Great Australian Rock Festival, Sunbury 1973, a three-record document released in April 1973 as the inaugural title o Mushroom Records.

Neale Johns staged four Blackfeather revivals between 1975 and 1983, each short-lived with no new studio recordings.


Discography:

  • At the Mountains of Madness (1971)
  • Boppin’ the Blues (live, 1972)
  • Live! (Sunbury) (1974)

Sources:

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