Meet The Upstarts

The Upstarts cover artwork


Australia first got to know about Rob Grosser in 1979 when he joined a couple of fellow Adelaide musicians, guitarist Greg Webster, drummer turned keyboards player Geoff Stapleton and singer Danny Johnson in a synth-pop band called The Aliens. Signing to Mushroom, The Aliens released a debut single, Confrontation, followed by an album, Translator, and scored the support on the UK band Squeeze’s Australian tour. By 1981, however, it was all over and Stapleton would next turn up in GANGgajang. As for Grosser, he eventually teamed up with guitarist Tim Gaze, which is how he came to meet bass player Bob Daisley, who is the other half of a new recording project the pair have just released – The Upstarts.

About this Daisley character…

When you hear the eponymous instrumental surf-guitar debut from The Upstarts, you might be surprised to learn that the bass runs that ring it to life come from the bass player who was there at the birth of Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz! But then, Daisley has also played in Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Gary Moore’s band, Uriah Heep and his own heavy rock combo, Widowmaker, which featured former Mott The Hoople guitarist Luther Grosvenor aka Ariel Bender. But that’s a whole other story.

In the beginning…

“The reason I got into playing guitar is The Shadows, The Ventures, the surfing bands like The Shantays, Pipeline, I loved all of that, the original guitar hero stuff,” Daisley remembers. “Then one day at the school of music – we used to have it in a scout hall with a class of about twenty or thirty kids – the teacher said, ‘I want you to see all the different roles in a band.’ So he had a drummer, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist and a bass player there so we could see it in the flesh, and as soon as I saw and heard the bass this guy had, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

Within two years, he was playing professionally with a band called Dennis Williams & The Delawares, though it only lasted about another six months after he joined. From there he joined The Gino Affair, fronted by singer Gino Cunico and featuring guitarist Jim Kelly. Cunico moved on to The Executives and was replaced by Kerrie Biddell, but by then Daisley had also left to join The Riddles, which featured guitarist Dennis Wilson. Over the next couple of years Daisley and Wilson worked together in a variety of line-ups until, towards the end of 1969, they decided to put together a three-piece with former Tamam Shud drummer Dannie Davidson. Wilson randomly picked two words out of a dictionary and they became Kahvas Jute. When Tamam Shud lead guitarist Tim Gaze followed Davidson into Kahvas Jute, the power four-piece started making serious waves among the “serious” hard-rock fans of the day and they were quickly signed up by Festival Records, releasing what turned out to be their only album, Wide Open, in January 1971. Gaze then returned to Tamam Shud.

And so, off to London…

For just a moment as Wilson, Daisley and Davidson sat across the desk from Led Zeppelin’s management, it really looked like the whole world was about to open up for them. Back before Kahvas Jute, Wilson and Daisley had been in a band together called Mecca, which had briefly been fronted by a New Zealander named Clive Coulson, who was then working with Led Zeppelin as a sound engineer. “We’d heard about Clive from Doug Rowe from The Flying Circus,” Dennis Wilson explains. “So Clive sang with us until he got a telegram from Peter Grant and Jimmy Page saying, ‘We’re going back on the road again soon and we’d like you to come back and work for us.’”

Coulson got hold of a copy of the Wide Open album and was soon playing it over the Zeppelin PA system before their concerts, which naturally piqued the interest of Zeppelin’s interest. Once the band was settled in London, they naturally caught up with Coulson.

“But first we went down to South London to do this audition in this big 2000-seater bingo hall that The Who used for their dress rehearsals. The management company, EG Management, who looked after Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson and Humble Pie, got King Crimson’s sound guy to come down, set up the PA and sound for us, and there’s the three of them sat in this 2000-seater hall saying, ‘Okay, do your set.’ They clapped after every song and at the end of it they said, ‘Bring what contracts you’ve got in, we want to sign you. We want to get you a record deal.’ We brought our Festival contracts in ‑ and we were screwed. Festival would not let us go. Festival wanted ten per cent off the top of gross for the world, and these guys said, ‘There’s not one record company will touch you. We couldn’t possibly get into a deal under those conditions.’ So that was that. We were stuffed.” EG Management opted to take on another emerging band – Roxy Music.

And that, effectively, was that for Kahvas Jute…

Wilson and Davidson soon returned to Australia, but Daisley scored himself a gig with a band called Chicken Shack, who’d just lost their keyboards player Christine Perfect to a band called Fleetwood Mac. From there he took an out-of-character gig with, of all bands, Mungo Jerry, moved on to Widowmaker, then Richie Blackmore, Ozzy, Gary Moore…

It’s 1997 and Bob comes back to Sydney…

On his return, Daisley reconnected with Tim Gaze, who was working with Rob Grosser in The Blues Doctors. That evolved into The Hoochie Coochie Men, who were then invited to record an album with founding Deep Purple keyboards player Jon Lord, recording two albums with him with the inescapable Jimmy Barnes on vocals.

And it’s back to The Upstarts…

A motorbike accident saw Grosser hurt his arm badly enough to see him off the road for a while, which saw him take up the guitar to keep him musically active – he’d set up a recording studio, Disgracelands, where he’d been recording and producing records for quite a few years – and he was soon coming up with melodies. So he played a few to Daisley, who thought they were worth developing and by the end of 2020, they’d recorded three album’s worth of material. Through his US contacts Daisley scored an international release for the first selection of those recordings with SSK Records, and hey presto, “Meet The Upstarts”.

Story: Michael George Smith, former Associate and Contributing editor at The Drum Media and The Music, freelance music journalist for RAM, Juke, On The Street, JAMM, Sonics and way more, freelance book reviewer for Overland, Island and Quadrant, author of What’s Been Did (And What’s Been Hid): A Narrative History of Australian Pop and Rock, three volumes completed to date, Volume I covering the artists and acts that emerged between 1955 and 1963, Volume II those between 1964 and 1969, and Volume III those between 1970 and 1976. Bass player with Mushroom signing Scandal 1976-78, and legendary instrumental surf guitar band The Atlantics 2006-12.




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