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Did the Stray Cats ever play in your town?
As you may know, I grew up in Perth, Western Australia. In the days without internet, without any easy way to communicate with anyone outside your immediate group of friends. It wasn’t really a great place to live. We were so isolated, not just from the rest of the world, but from the rest of Australia, too.
It’s 4000km from Perth to Sydney. It’s 2700km from Perth to the next big city (Adelaide). Long distance phone calls were so expensive that we couldn’t have any contact with the outside world. Local TV was the only entertainment for teenagers. Being a 14 year old in Perth in 1981 really sucked.
But there was the TV program, Countdown, which was on every Sunday at 6.00pm. A repeat of the Sunday program was shown the following Saturday at the same time. It was your typical music program, plenty of videos (still a relatively new thing at that time), interviews, bands singing ‘live’ in the studio and lots of fun for the lucky kids who lived close enough to the studio to attend the live recording of the show (Melbourne).
I don’t know what my teenage life would have been like without Countdown. It was almost like my oxygen.
Countdown introduced us to all the latest bands coming out of England and America. There wasn’t a lot of focus on American bands at the time, or maybe I just don’t remember them. British music seemed much more popular at that time (at least in Perth).
There was Adam and The Ants, Duran Duran, Suzi Quatro, Kiss, a lot of Australian singers and bands were featured too. Countdown was open to all music styles and tastes. I think it was one of the most popular TV shows in Australia until it was taken off the air in 1987.
Countdown introduced us to many, many great bands and singers.
And, the Stray Cats was one of them.
The Stray Cats
Who couldn’t resist the Stray Cats? They were young, vibrant, energetic guys, who played music that everybody (almost) loved. Parents couldn’t fault them. They were relatively ‘clean cut’, despite their tattoos. They played music you could dance and sing to.
And the singer was incredibly attractive to young teenage girls. We dreamt of meeting them, marrying them and having their babies. Yes, we did. Well, at least I did, I don’t know about my friends.
Remember, we lived in Perth, Western Australia. There was nothing else to do.
So, we watched Countdown religiously every weekend, sometimes twice, just to catch a glimpse of the Stray Cats (and not only them!). If they were in the top 10, you were guaranteed to see at least a few seconds of them for the ‘countdown’ at the end of the program. If they were number one that week, you’d see the whole song!
We bought their records, singles and albums and played them constantly. We learnt the words, singing aloud with the records in our bedrooms. Often alone, but it was so much fun!
As you might have read in my post about concerts, Perth didn’t get a lot of visits by international bands. It was just too expensive to go there. The population in Perth was small, and Perth was too far from other Australian cities. They lost money if they came to Perth. All the other Australian cities are on the east coast – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, even Adelaide isn’t that far. But Perth was (is) the ugly duckling and missed out on a lot of visiting international acts.
Stray Cats in Perth
But, sometimes we got a great surprise. Sometimes famous groups would come and grace our stages with their presence and their music. How grateful we were when that happened! It was the talk of the town for months and months. It’s all we talked about – who’s going, whose mum won’t let them, who has tickets already, how expensive they were etc.
So, the Stray Cats were coming to Perth for a concert! My chance to see them live! Woohoo!
They still weren’t very popular, so they couldn’t play in the Perth Entertainment Centre, which is where all the bigger, more famous bands played. So they had to play in a smaller venue. They chose the Embassy Ballroom.
It was a licensed venue.
That meant alcohol would be served.
That meant that entry was restricted to people over the age of 18.
I was 14.
I couldn’t go to the concert.
There was no way I could get into the Embassy Ballroom at 14 years old. Under 18s were not allowed in, even if they were with an adult.
So, what did I do instead? I decided I would try to meet them at their hotel with my friend Maggie, who always knew in which hotels the stars were staying (she had some contact who shared this top secret information with her – I introduced her to you in my article about Ian Dury).
Then we met them
The Stray Cats concert in Perth was on 11th October 1981. I don’t remember the exact date Maggie and I headed out to the Kings Hotel in East Perth. It was either the day of the concert or the day before. The weather was beautiful. It was spring in Australia.
We stood opposite the hotel, on the footpath, and waited for something to happen. I don’t want to say that it’s stalking, because really it’s not (it’s not!). But we put ourselves in a position where we could see them if they entered or left the hotel through either the main entrance or the car park.
To our surprise, after waiting not very long at all, they appeared! Well, 2 of them appeared, anyway. Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker were walking towards us!
How does a 14 year old star struck girl react in this situation? As cool as a cucumber, apparently, if you’re to believe what you see in the photos.
That’s me in the yellow top. Not even smiling! Not even jumping up and down (like the 2 unknown girls behind us!). Looking like it’s just another boring day in Perth.
I don’t remember my emotions as I asked them both for autographs (because that’s what 14 year old Australian girls did back in 1981). I don’t know why I have a photo only with Brian Setzer and not Lee Rocker.
After the all too quick exchange with the Stray Cats guys, they walked away from us, into the nearest chemist (pharmacy). We waited in the street. They came out, and walked past us again and went back into the hotel they’d come out of not more than a 5 minutes earlier.
We ran into the chemist. The shop assistant was an old woman (in reality, she probably wasn’t that old, maybe 40). We asked her what the 2 guys had bought.
She said how polite they were, the 2 nice young men, very polite. They bought some toothpaste. Colgate. That’s all.
Guess who used Colgate toothpaste, and only Colgate, for the next few years of her life? Who says that celebrities don’t have selling power?!
I still love listening to the Stray Cats. Their music is fun and gets everyone up and dancing. The guys are older now, but aren’t we all?
Unfortunately, I won’t be going to any of their concerts this year for their 40th Anniversary Tour. Although I’d like to, it’s just not going to be possible. I’ll just have to be content listening to them at home, dancing in the living room, singing my heart out like I did when I was 14.
Some things never change.
Have you seen the Stray Cats in concert? What were they like? Are you going to their anniversary concerts this year (2019)? Leave your comments below!
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