❉ Best known as the band that Bon Scott fronted prior to joining AC/DC, Fraternity are more than a footnote in rock history.
“This in-depth compilation, with commentary from surviving band members and archive contextual quotes from Bon Scott amongst others, tells the band’s complete story and gives depth and insight into probably the best band you’ve never heard of.”
Released on January 22 on Cherry Red imprint Lemon, this jam-packed three-disc boxed set collects the two released albums by Australian blues rockers Fraternity (1971’s Livestock, 1972’s Flaming Galah) together with associated A & B-sides and a third disc, Second Chance, consisting of previously unreleased material, all remastered from the master tapes. Complete with a huge 48 page booklet with indepth sleeve notes from band biographer Victor Marshall, Seasons of Change: The Complete Recordings 1970-1974 has been produced in full consultation with all surviving members (and the estates of those no longer with us) to present the definitive Fraternity collection.
Only known in the UK now for the fact that they were the band that Bon Scott fronted prior to joining AC/DC, there’s far more to Fraternity than that connection; after all a band that at their peak co-headlined the Myponga Music Festival with Black Sabbath, became festival favourites across Australia, supported acts like Status Quo and relocated to the UK to try to make the big time, should hardly be a footnote in musical history.
Formed in 1970 by bassist Bruce Howe and guitarist Mick Jurd, the line up soon included Bon Scott on vocals, John Bisset on organ, John Freeman on bass and Tony Buethel on drums. The original line-up was an evolution from the band Levi Smiths Clefs, with Howe, Jurd, Buethel and Bisset having been in the Clefs. Performing vocals themselves, the band approached Bon Scott, then with pop band the Valentines, aware that the Valentines were splitting up. Once Bon completed the farewell tour, he made his way from Melbourne to Sydney to form the original line-up.
Recording a couple of singles included as bonus tracks on disc 1, the first released in October 1970 was a spirited cover of fellow Aussie Doug Ashdown’s Why Did It Have To Be Me? backed with a cracking cover of the Moody Blues’ Question. It was obvious from this single that the band had the right ingredients, and a great loose blues sound that slowly evolved as their debut album would prove.
After Tony Buethel left the band for medical reasons, they recruited John Freeman on drums (again a refugee from the Clefs) and this line up recorded the debut album Livestock, released in June 1971. This eight-song collection of original material shows how the band honed their sound live before recording it, and it’s a confident and assured debut, the band playing with a taut swagger, and topped off by the recognisable vocals of Bon Scott, opening up with the title track, which has a really country rock feel to it and some great tongue in cheek lyrics inspired by John Bisset’s days growing up in the farming community of New Zealand.
Meanwhile Somerville (also included as a bonus track in its single edit) is a real slow building epic, telling the story of a small town over a lifetime, as the band build a real groove around the track, giving it a The Band style feel to it, and an organic musical vision. Despite the fact this is their debut the album is filled with gems like Raglan’s Folly, about the charge of the Light Brigade, the epic Grand Canyon Suite and the grand finale of You Have a God, which, despite misconceptions, is actually an atheist’s song about religion.
Mixing blues rock, country rock and elements of what would become prog, Livestock is an absolute cracker of a record, and with the accompanying singles, including the live favourite The Race, which was released as single split into two parts, this rounds up the developing years of the band as they found their feet as songwriters and performers in style and has a wonderful groove and sound to it.
After signing with Australian promotor Hamish Henry’s Grape Organisation in late 1970, Hamish brought the band to Adelaide to live and record in 1971, and headline Hamish’ Woodstock inspired Myponga Musical Festival in January 1971. That same year, after becoming a renowned live act, Fraternity won the national Battle of the Sounds competition (the prize was to record an album and travel to the UK) after which Australia’s Channel 9 commissioned a half-hour documentary on the band.
Having recruited both Uncle John Eyres on harmonica and Sam See on piano and guitar, the band moved away from the psychedelic sound and more into the country rock arena.
Second album, Flaming Galah appeared on RCA in June 1972, and saw the band’s sound get a little looser, emulating bands like The Band or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young more than the heavier sound that influenced them earlier. The emphasis here was clearly on the musicianship, and the addition of the piano and harmonica added that country blues sound to the band’s sonic palette.
To reflect the change in sound and the fact this was their first major label release, several tracks on here were re-recorded versions of tracks from Livestock: Annabelle (previously known as Cool Spot) takes the original version and slows it down, giving it a heavier and markedly different feel to the original, whilst both You Have a God and Canyon Suite are amended to reflect the expanded line up and give a slightly different feel to the original. Somerville RIP was also included as rerecorded version, and the RIP was added by songwriter Sam See who saw this as the last version of the song.
Of the album’s originals, the brilliantly funky Hemmings Farm tells the story of a drunken night out in Perth, and life on the farm that the band were living in at the time.
The re-recorded tracks on here show the evolution of Fraternity over the year since the debut was recorded and are different enough to be considered songs in their own right, whilst the new material reflects the confidence within the band, and the really fluid country groove that flows through the album, with the blend of piano, organ and harmonica really lifting the sound above the other country blues merchants recording at the time.
Of course, the vocals were important as well, and Bon’s relaxed and confident sound is an integral part as to why this album works so well.
Complemented by the related singles released in that period it includes, in homage to The Band, the Shape I’m In which had been a concert staple since 1970, and this arrangement expands on the original and gives it plenty of room to breathe, whilst the single versions of Raglan’s Folly and You Have a God are included here for completists, and the tracks from the 1971 Battle of the Band final (Seasons Of Change and If You Got It) showcase the band live at their finest.
By 1973 the band had relocated to England and this is where the story ends, having failed to hit the big time, they changed their name to Fang, recorded some aborted sessions in England and then split with members joining bands like Mungo Jerry, whilst the remainder returned to Australia having run out of money.
Several aborted attempts were made to reform the band, and the last recording the band made opens up the third disc, containing unreleased material including the aborted 1972 UK recording sessions. Second Chance, the last track recorded as Fraternity featured guitarist Mauri Berg and the rump of Fraternity, Bruce Howe, John Freeman and Uncle John Eyers and features Bruce on vocals. It was a lovely sentiment but the band split and fragmented joining bands like The Jimmy Barnes Band, Some Dream and the Mickey Finn Band.
The rest of the unreleased material dates from their time in England and is the same line-up as the Flaming Galah line up, and it’s an absolute gem of a collection; twelve unreleased tracks from the band at their peak, remastered and compiled from the original masters.
It’s rare to find pretty much a complete unreleased album of recordings from any band, and, for those Bon Scott fans out there, an unreleased album with Bon on vocals has to be a real treat for you.
These unreleased tracks are an obvious evolution of the band’s sound and feature such gems as the John Bisset original Patch of Land, a tighter re-recording of Cool Spot as well as great covers of the Chuck Berry songs Little Queenie and No Place to Go, alongside originals like The Memory and Hogwash as well as a return to The Band’s back catalogue with a great version of Chest Fever.
Had these been released at the time, the Fraternity story could have been so different, and they could have made a real impact on record not just in concert in the UK.
With the final tracks being four songs recorded with Vince Lovegrove who was an early champion of the band, it shows slightly different interpretations of the bands early material, with Vince approaching Livestock in a different style to Bon whilst the final two, Getting Off (from Flaming Galah – renamed Get Myself Out Of This Place) and That’s Alright Mamma see Bon and Vince reunited from their dual vocal role in the Valentines and Fraternity kicking back and having fun with the material.
This in-depth compilation, with commentary from surviving band members and archive contextual quotes from Bon Scott amongst others, tells the band’s complete story and gives depth and insight into probably the best band you’ve never heard of.
Of course we know how Bon’s story ended, working in manual roles after Fraternity finished he was recommended to the fledgling AC/DC who were looking for a vocalist, and all the stagecraft and performance skills he honed as a hard touring member of Fraternity were put to good use in the band, and whilst it seemed like he appeared from nowhere fully-formed as a front man, he’d actually paid his dues, and having had a big break fall apart like Fraternity did, he wasn’t going to let this next opportunity slip through his fingers.
Of interest and an aside in the story is that when they were (briefly) Fang, they supported Geordie, whose lead singer Brian Johnson replaced Bon in AC/DC after Bon’s untimely death.
This is a fantastic collection and is of interest to far more music lovers than the inevitable AC/Dc fans who’ll be tempted to give it a try, and it’s great to see that such an acclaimed Australian band who never got the dues they deserved in the UK, finally get a great quality boxed set rather than any substandard re-issue. You can tell the love and care that’s been put into making this the best it can be, and it’s a testament to how they were so highly regarded that this boxed set is finally here. For any fan of the genre-fluid music scene of the early ‘70s this is an essential purchase.
❉ Fraternity: Seasons Of Change – The Complete Recordings 1970-1974 (Lemon CDLEMBOX240) released by Cherry Red Records, January 22, 2021. RRP £19.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.