The Black Assassins – Greatest Hits

Sometimes you need a release like this to remind you that punk rock use to be ugly, insurgent, offensive, churlish, righteous and sloppy. The Black Assassins well and truly tick all the boxes. Face it, class of ‘05: can you imagine Rise Against, Anberlin or Matchbook Romance chanting “Fuck me, fuck my dog”? Or maybe it is the larrikin Australian streak cos, you know, if it hadn’t already been done The Twits might have just done it on their album.

And the generous booklet that pads out this reissue (can you reissue a ‘lost tapes’ collection?) from 1982 ensures Greatest Hits remains a vital source of Australian music history for years to come. Chances are that most involved have grown up, thinned out up top and managed to get a decent job, so as usual this type of musical excavation will be fingerprinted more than played.

So, who were The Black Assassins? Active for a few years at the kick-start of the eighties during the notoriously (right of) right wing Bjelke-Petersen government, they mostly dressed in black or camouflage gear, wearing balaclavas and ridiculously witty non de plumes. Lee Harvey Hinkley, Ruby Oswald, Mohammed El Jackal, Sirham Chapman – trainspotters and students of famed assassins may like to tie up the loose ends of these charming, tasteless monikers.

The thirteen songs (‘tunes’ would be too misleading a term for some of this) are mostly concerned with political struggle – from ASIO to SWAPO and back again via Death Comes To Townsville. Of course, the highlight was always gonna be their version of Gloria, rewrit to the far more relevant and touching Azaria (yes, Chamberlain). Sing it yourself – A-Z-A-R-I-A – and you will see all the poor taste potential therein.

Now, I know you’re thinking yeah yeah yeah another obscure bunch o’brats. I’ll forget about these guys before I need to next drop my drawers, you say. In a way there is nothing wrong with that. I am under no illusion that anyone will rush out and order up a copy of this (though if you are a TISM fan then you may want to see where they copped all their moves). But just so you don’t miss out on the liner notes fun, here are some of the highlights of their story.

First gig: a celebration of the Charles and Diana wedding. While the rest of us were glued to channel nine, an audience member was dragged from the floor and found guilty of adultery. Thereafter, their dick was ‘bitten off’ before they were thrown back into the crowd. The Black Assassins were banned from the venue (Q.I.T) forever.

Second gig: Drunk before going on. Beat each other up on stage. Life-size dummy of Bjelke-Petersen macheted on stage.

Third gig: El Jackal begins gig dressed as Jesus nailed to the cross, fake blood and all.

Sixth gig: Christmas Nativity show. A baby Jesus is delivered by caesarean with a machete (again with the blade!). He turns out to be a seven pund rump steak and is dragged off stage by a hungry dog during, yes, Azaria.

Ninth gig: return to Q.I.T. under the band pseudonym Young Butchers/Blood Doctors. They dress in white coats and perform open heart surgery on a life-size dummy of Russ Hinze (the then QLD Police Minister). Young Butchers/Blood Doctors now banned from Q.I.T.

Fifteenth gig: support to Dead Kennedys. Yeah, just another bunch o’brats, right? To get away with these kinds of antics during the (almost) police state of QLD during this era took some balls, no doubt (even if they had to clothe them in fake names and camo). Testimony to the intensity of their outrage, perhaps. But never so po-faced and Biafra’d that they couldn’t take the piss. Unique as they were in their theatrics (they never made much money, spending it all on props) they were just one of an army of bands that crashed through the era with dissent and dysentery as their agenda.

Times’ve changed. Today’s teenagers are – by, and large – a 4WD short of being the children of Bjelke-Petersen. And today’s punks seem to worry more about their eyeliner than their audience (for evidence, check the title of the My American Heart album). My totally unfounded theory is that they are the younger brothers and sisters of my generation; we now in our early thirties and still without mortgage, marriage and elevated social status. These are the kids who throw shit at ‘people of middle eastern appearance’ because they are on Our Land, they describe things as ‘gay’ when what they really mean is that it is shit, and they happily buy land in the middle of fucking nowhere to prove that they are going somewhere. And aren’t mum and dad proud! The Black Assassins album, released during such a sad time in the history of youth, is not only a vital reminder that life is far darker and uglier than their simple equation but also a depressing symbol of the fact that you will never change the status quo.