A Subjective History of Flywheel

It all began on a Friday afternoon in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Chippendale. I was running late for my first audition, my speed slowed by the fact that I was pushing an amplifier the size of a donkey through the alley ways, crushing the daisies that grew between the cobblestones and spraying used syringes to the four winds. When I was accosted by a knife-wielding lout demanding money I simply ran the scoundrel over.
I arrived at the house designated as our place of practice and was greeted by two gentlemen of contrary appearance. One chap was tall and swarthy with dark shifty eyes and a polite but reserved manner. His name, he informed me, was James and upon further investigation I discovered his full name to be James Phillip Richard Andrew Anglo Saxon Charles Edward Dutton, son of Bob Dutton, the illustrious patriarch of Hazelmere, Sussex.
It became apparent to me that James was the guitarist in this merry band when he fell to his knees, threw back his head, and with a windmilling arm crashed out the open chord of E major. Not, gentle reader, as it transpired, for the last time.
On the drum(s) on that fateful day was Neil Wallace, and though he played his drum(s) with great aplomb I could sense that there was something not quite right in that young man’s head. Let me say for now that a crazed glint came into his eye every time Dutton’s nimble fingers danced across the fretboard of his axe*.
Although my bass playing lacked both rhythmic endeavour and melodic invention when I pulled my $175 Cimax axe from its sheaf, and their covetous eyes lit up, I knew the job was mine. With goggling eyes and dropped jaws they surveyed the chipped mat paint work, the sweat-encrusted strings, the tuning pegs, the frets and the knobs. Nice one.**
I plugged a lead from my mammoth amplifier into the loose connection on the axe and a wall of subsonic feedback filled the room. I jiggled manically with the connection, stood facing south with the neck at a 45 degree angle, faced west with the neck at 70 degrees and finally faced north with the neck at an obtuse angle of 115 degrees to bring the sound under control. I stood completely still knowing even the slightest movement could bring the hellish noise back.
With a one and a two and one, two, three, four we began playing. Our souls fused as one and the joyous noise poured out into the streets of Chippendale. The children laughed, the old folk smiled and young couples broke out into spontaneous jives and crazy jitterbugs. It truly was a magical Summer day. When we were finished for the day I was initiated into the group. What this entailed, dear reader, I cannot divulge, but needless to say there was candle wax, leather straps, shoe horns, toads, goats, manacles, spells, Gregorian chants and myriad axes. Tired but sore I went home and slept the sleep of the righteous.
The next time I turned up for rehearsal I was in for the shock of my life. Neil was no longer sitting behind the kit but was standing upright cradling an axe. This, as I’m sure you know dear and tender reader, is the equivalent of cro-magnum man waking up in his cave one day, putting on a suit and driving his Celica into town to work in the menswear department at Myer. It is possible – but it is highly unlikely.
To add to the surrealistic nature of this tableaux, sitting on the drum stool vacated by Neil was a young ginger****. This fellow had a rather nervous disposition and when not playing the drum paced around the room smoking tightly rolled cigarettes. He seemed rather shy but I was to discover over the years that this was a façade used to cover a searching, curious mind with a touch of cunning and a hint of duplicity. His life was something caught out of the corner of an eye through smoke and mirrors.
He may have been a master criminal or a stripper, he may have been a spy or a library officer. He may have gone to Japan to teach English, he may have gone to the hills of Afghanistan to infiltrate and destroy the last of the Taliban or he may have gone to Camberwell Junction to teach Barry Humphries how to dance to unusual percussion. But what was the name of this drumming ginger? His name: Ivor Moulds.
So now Flywheel was two guitars, one bass and one drum(s). The sound this line-up of the Wheel made was quite cacophonous and at a volume quite unsafe to mammals. Neil was the main culprit. Unleashed from the skins he found an avenue to self-expression through transcendentally loud axe solos. One day when Neil went off to the kitchen for an ‘erbal tea I checked his amplifier. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the volume knobs went up to eleven. That night when all were sleeping I snuck into Neil’s house and replaced the knobs with new ones that only went to ten. Things were a little easier on the aural front after that.
The next time Neil went out for an ‘erbal tea – some months after this incident – he did not return. That’s right, gentle and trusting reader, he simply wandered off into the sunset sipping his tea and taking photos of ‘interesting things’ along the way.
Well, we were a three piece again or, if you will, a ‘power trio’ like The Jam and The Cream. Perhaps at this point in time in our ‘career’ we should have changed our name to The Scone.
Around this time our first LP was released on the Spit-and-a-half label in the US. It was the perfect label for us: it was tiny, it had minimal distribution and it was located on the other side of the world. Smokin’! This, I hasten to add, was no fault of label proprietor, John Porcelino, whose hand-written contract remains one of Flywheel’s most treasured possessions.
Spit-and-a-half was also the first label to suffer from the curse of Flywheel. Cursed were those small labels that reached out to Flywheel. Soon they were pursued by the hounds of hell; black cats criss-crossed their paths; mirrors cracked as they stared at their reflections; the dice were rolled and they came up snake eyes. Their first-born babies were ours, dragged into the jaws of corruption, the cradle of evil that is Flywheel.
Dear gentle reader, please don’t be frightened. Only those innocent small label owners are threatened with the curse of the Wheel.
Now lift the veil of darkness. Who is this charming man walking down the street? He gets the funniest looks from everyone he meets. Hey, hey, it’s a monkey. Well, perhaps not a monkey, but definitely one of the higher primates. His previous owners had given him a name, Hairy, on account of his hair which gave him the appearance of being hairy. Long unkempt hair is often a sign of an artistic temperament and so it was with Hairy aka Stephen O’Neil or H or The H Man or Bubba or Tootsie. Hairy had great skills in the visual arts but had pursued music with a single-minded determination since leaving art school disillusioned with ‘The Man’. ‘The Man’ tried to tell him what to do and that wasn’t cool. ‘The Man’ could jam it, man. Hairy was gonna kick out the jams but he wasn’t gonna kick out the creams, man, coz he could use the creams to make delicious cocktails with lots of white spirits and green ones and blue ones. Groovy.*****
At our first rehearsal Hairy gave out small pieces of paper with salient advice. Some examples follow:
Play with feeling.
The guitar is not a toy.
The singer not the song.
Give.
Fire.
Good grooming is not antithetical to good rock’n’roll.
Be prepared.
God told me to kill you.
Music sooths the savage beast. Growl.
Come and get your love.
Eat fish.
The band began to rock and did so for several years with this line-up. Some of Hairy’s fine axe work with Flywheel has been preserved on album number two, ‘Wrong way round the buffet’. You may also investigate two decades of Hairy’s work on the collected recordings of The Cannanes.
Have I mentioned album number one? That was called ‘Dirty on the shovel’ and was considered ‘quite good’ by several listeners. Some tracks on Wrong way round the buffet were recorded with Ben Porteous on axe. Before and during his stint with Flywheel, Ben also played with Dusted Eye who you may not have heard of as they were far too good to make much of a dint in the dull and worthless world of Aussie rock’n’roll.
On one singularly excellent occasion Flywheel and Dusted Eye joined together for a grand tour of the Southern Highlands of NSW where they played to a stunned (mullet) audience in the cosy hamlet of Braidwood. The in-breeding which had been taking place for over a century in the secluded town had resulted in the creation of some strange beings who, on hearing the sound of rock’n’roll, threw their left legs out in front of them and began banging their heels rhythmically on the wooden floorboards while staring at the musicians – or magic men as they called us - creating the sounds. It was a marvellous occasion and when local ‘character’, Pumpkin Head, compared the sound of Flywheel to ‘goats shitting on a tin roof’, all present nodded their heads in solemn agreement. It was the best compliment the band ever received.
Some time around the turn of the millennium James moved to Melbourne, Ivor went to Japan, Ben went to England and I, charmed by the colourful natives, stayed in the Braidwood district for some years until the charm wore off and I too moved to Melbourne where I wandered the streets in a ten dollar suit looking for work.
In 2004 a new version of Flywheel was formed with Toby Dutton, Greg Wadley and Miranda Picton-Warlow filling up the empty spaces. At the end of the year some recordings were made. One day their story will be told but that is the story of my life with Flywheel.
Gus ‘Gavin’ Butler

*Henceforth, any stringed instrument will be known as an ‘axe’; i.e. guitar, bass, banjo, lute, mandolin, violin, viola, cello, piccolo.
**That fine axe is no longer in my possession due to the sheer incompetence of a member of the Flywheel consortium who will remain nameless (at this point). After playing a particularly ferocious gig*** at the Bat and Ball Hotel in Surry Hills I placed my axe in its sheaf and put it down – somewhere. I knew if sheafed and placed somewhere it would find its way into the back of someone’s vehicle from where it would be taken somewhere and stored in an appropriate manner.
Some months later I became curious as to its whereabouts as I had a fancy to pluck those infamous strings again but much to my consternation I could not locate it. It soon became apparent that the person responsible for the axe’s safe keeping had simply put it down somewhere at the Bat and Ball and never bothered to pick it up again.
Now we have reached a further point in the narrative I feel I should disclose the name of this insouciant ninny but something deep inside tells me no, spare this fool the public humiliation he so richly deserves.
***performance; show
****The g sounds in ginger are as in golf not as in gin.
*****Interestingly enough, like a lot of highly creative, intuitive artistic people, Hairy has enjoyed a parallel career in the Library Sciences.