With a new football season mere days away, the anticipation that swells inside all of us at the thought of our own teams’ inevitable and glorious victories are hard to suppress. Sure, we’re cautiously optimistic and well aware that there will be some tough games ahead, but in the gentle pre-dawn light of possibility that characterises every seasons’ beginnings, somehow we just KNOW that our beloved 22 man bands will end most of their games linking arms to belt out our club song. We’ll join them from the stands, from the lounge room or the pub. Along with our heroes, we’ll figuratively shower the first-gamers with energy drinks, playfully ruffle our teammates’ hair and humorously raise our eyebrows at the camera. If ever the cheerful directive to ‘sing when you’re winning’ was followed to the letter, it’s in the bellowed concerto that gives voice to our joy immediately following a win. It’s one of the rare times when we really are all singing from the same hymn book, if only for a moment.
For some fans however, just simply singing along with their team song isn’t enough. For the curious, the talented, and those constantly striving for perfection, the song that their team runs out to each week could always do with a little tweak. Maybe the chorus isn’t quite right. Perhaps the lyrics lack the kind of call to arms that they feel will push their team towards certain victory. In the Brill Building of their minds these songsmiths sit in a simply furnished room armed with only a notepad, a piano and burning ambition to consider how things could be improved. These people are, of course, light entertainers.
‘Ugly’ Dave Gray and Barry Crocker are two light entertainment luminaries to have turned their hands to improving their beloved teams’ anthems. Theirs are names that suggest albums released on Hammard Records (and Tapes), the itch of polyester and the sting of Ardarth smoke in your eyes. Just like us, these men follow their football teams with a passion that can barely be contained. In spite of appearances to the contrary, they’re only human after all.
Yet as human as they are, one of the crucial differences between light entertainers and the hoi polloi is their access to recording studios and people in positions of power at football clubs. The suggestion from a decorated crooner that a perfectly serviceable and generally accepted team song needs a bit of a spruce-up is a lot easier to swallow coming from them than if it were delivered by a registered accountant or sheet metal worker for example.
These days we’d call introducing a new club song a ‘re-brand’, but at the time Ugly Dave and Barry were getting involved in the theme song caper (the 1980’s to be precise) I suspect the idea was simply labeled ‘a bloody good idea’ that would ‘inject a bit of life into the place’.
Ugly Dave Gray – ‘Come On Fitzroy’
The ‘Come On Fitzroy’ episode is so far up the Presentation Night alley it feels like a gift wrapped in golden paper, and secured with a bow woven from strawberries and cream dipped in a very classy liqueur. Cast your eyes over the footage here and we think you’ll agree that it raises the bar to a level that even the most ambitious theme-penning high jumper would struggle to clear, even with a strong breeze at their back and the Geoff Harvey Show Band behind them.
“Ugly” Dave Gray was a ubiquitous presence on Australian television screens throughout the seventies and ‘eighties, a light entertainer par excellence. He was a regular panelist on the popular (and double entendre-laden) ‘Blankety Blanks’ (hosted by The King of television himself Graham Kennedy). At one point Dave advertised a nasal spray that allegedly cured impotence (apparently it didn’t…or so a friend tells us). In addition, in 2011 Ugly Dave stated his intention to be cryogenically frozen upon his death.
For reasons that we don’t need to know or understand, at the height of his fame, Dave decided that his team, the Fitzroy FC was in need of a bit of a theme song spruce up. Like anyone with a bit of sense, he decided that if a job was with doing, it was worth doing it oneself and got to work. He penned the lyrics and laid down the track ‘Come On Fitzroy’ in a couple short weeks before unveiling it to the wider public.
There’s a lot going on in this footage that has sadly been lost in the modern era of professionalism that pervades the AFL and indeed the music industry.
At the very least it’s probably been a while since anyone broke through a cheer squad banner smoking a cigar. There is also a certain charm in seeing a billboard paying tribute to that deliciously sweet and sophisticated tipple, Tia Maria, sitting behind the behind the goals. Quite how long this new theme lasted, or how many copies of the single were sold are minor details lost to the winds of time, and frankly, not important. What’s important is that Dave got in and did it, and Peter Landy filed a story about it.
Barry Crocker – ‘Come On The Cats’
A Geelong boy born and bred, the man famous for his portrayal of Barry McKenzie was almost certainly the first man picked when then Geelong coach Billy Goggin (allegedly) decided to commission a new imagining of the Cats’ theme song in 1982. Football’s gain may well have been the music industry’s loss when you consider that at the time Goggin anointed Barry to increase the musical spark at Kardinia Park, Crocker was still several years away from recording the theme to Australia’s longest running soap (and certainly longest running theme song), ‘Neighbours’. In a sliding doors universe it’s not entirely ludicrous to think that the nickname ‘Golden Ears Goggin’ may well have been bestowed upon the Geelong legend had he continued down the talent-spotting path.
Crocker’s ‘Come On The Cats’ not only shared a titular similarity with Ugly Dave’s ode to the Lions (and in fairness to Baz, he actually recorded his track first) but also a certain sense of pomp and occasion in the vocal delivery. It’s a style that has long gone the way of the drop kick, but Barry’s rich baritone sets the scene beautifully in the opening stanza:
There were the times we won the big one
There were the times when we came close
The times that we were in there at the ennnnnd
The happiness of winning
The sadness of defeat
But even then our spirit would not bennnnnnnd…
The track goes on to mention a parade of former champions, notably Polly Farmer and Goggin, reflects upon past glories and how great it will be to one day win another flag. Ultimately I think it’s this sense of fragility, this brave acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes the team might lose that ultimately led the downfall of ‘Come On The Cats’ after a couple of years. When you consider the opening lines of the current theme song, there is absolutely no self-doubt or room for quiet reflection:
We are Geelong, the greatest team of all
In the same way that Mick Jagger puts forward an extremely convincing case that he was born in an actual crossfire hurricane, Geelong simply state that they’re the greatest team of all. Case closed. You can’t beat a simple message, and in fairness to them, the past decade or so suggests that kind of confidence hasn’t been entirely misplaced.
Although Ugly Dave and Barry’s attempts to ‘improve’ their clubs’ theme songs ultimately failed to take hold, there’s something deeply admirable about the way they took matters into their own hands. Their songs might have been cheesy, but they were written from the heart. Dave and Barry gave it a red-hot go. I’d hazard a guess that for a short time at least, the thrill of hearing their own compositions blaring through Tannoys as their boys ran onto mud soaked grounds surrounded by a fug of cigarette smoke was equal to the warmest applause they’d ever received performing at the Twin Towns Services Club or on the set of the Don Lane Show. It’s often said by players and fans alike that there’s no better moment than the one after a game when we all link arms to join together in the team song. It’s the sense of community and belonging that footy and music bring out when everything is humming along perfectly. These are the moments we live for, and to have penned a tune that brings people together…well, there’s no greater achievement in music. It’s nice to sing when you’re winning.
Happily, these two examples are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of attempts to ‘improve’ upon existing club themes. Next time we convene we’ll take a look at some serious efforts to ‘contemporise’ club songs with a rockier twist.
You can (and probably should) avail yourself of Barry Crockers’ ‘Come On The Cats’ courtesy of iTunes