This year has seen a plethora of books written on the Australian music scene, and now, with Stuart Lloyd’s Started Out Just Drinking Beer about the rise and fall of Mental as Anything, we have a tome on one of the most loved bands in Oz rock.
Mentals may not have been the biggest band in Australian music, but during their long run from playing at a mate’s sister’s birthday party in 1976 to their demise with the shocking death of front man Greedy Smith in 2019, they put a smile on faces across Australia and around the globe.
In that time the band clocked up 154 recorded tracks and played 6,500 gigs, a record hard to eclipse.
“I was at Pennant Hills High School and Mentals played an all-ages gig, and that would have been in 1979,” Stuart Lloyd, author said.
“I just loved the way that they looked on stage and they were very engaging, and I was hooked.”
Lloyd was hooked to the point to writing a 253-page book that chronicles the band with forensic detail as the band evolves from its suburban origins and onto art school before taking the plunge into the professional world of becoming a writing, recording and touring band.
Their ascendancy was marked with fan loyalty and their relationship with their fans, plus their determination that everyone who came to their gigs was going to go home with a smile on their faces.
Along the way firm relationships were formed, most that are still maintained today, but as with any band, there is also a litany of carnage and a hankering for what could have been.
“I think that they are in the pantheon of the great Oz rock bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s, along with Chisel, Midnight Oil, The Angels and INXS, but I think history has been a little unkind to them,” Lloyd said.
“Their legacy is that they were at the vanguard of reversing the cultural cringe, and we have video clips of Victa lawnmowers and Hills Hoists and people drinking beer at the beach, and they were holding Australia up to a mirror, and in particular, suburban Australia,” Lloyd said.
“In Reg’s words, ‘We were the aristocracy of the normal celebrating what it is to be an everyday Aussie’.”
From the moment that 2JJ picked up “Nips Are Getting Bigger” to the international impact of “Live it Up” the band kept producing hits at a blistering rate, that should have translated into greater success.
“INXS went to the top of the stratosphere and were single minded on achieving that, and were prepared to do what ever it took to achieving that,” Lloyd said.
“Mentals, by contrast, toured the US in a broken down van for 70 days on their first tour in ’82, and while it was a great adventure it was way too long away from their families for most of them.”
After brothers Peter O’Dougherty and Reg Mombassa left in 2000, the band underwent numerous lineup changes involving up to 11 musicians.
“The later lineups also had their followings and there were some terrific musicians in there,” Lloyd said.
Further changes to the group occurred in 2004 when foundation drummer, Dave Twohill was dismissed, and again in 2013 when charismatic co-frontman and writer Martin Plaza was diagnosed with cancer and quit touring, leaving Greedy Smith with sole frontman duties.
Lloyd has gone the hard yards to ensure that recollections over many years from numerous interviewees are as accurate as possible.
“There were a few instances where there were three or four different versions of the same story and I had to sit in the middle as the referee, and there are a few instances where I weed out the mythology and go with the most probable version,” Lloyd said.
“Bird (Dave Twohill) has a good memory for a lot of stuff, and he is a good raconteur.”
During the relentless rounds of publicity that Lloyd and various band members have been doing, he has been buoyed by the way in which the band has come together, despite the fractures that occurred along the long journey.
“Having been at the launches, it is just nice to see the reconnection of the creative eco-system of Mental as Anything,” Lloyd said.
“People have re-engaged with the energy that helped create Mental as Anything.”
Started Out Just Drinking Beer by Stuart Lloyd
Publishers: Puncher and Wattman