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OPINION: Why punk rock legends Hard-Ons have no case to answer for touring with Rose Tattoo

| 15 January 2019 | Reply

OPINION: Why punk rock legends Hard-Ons have no case to answer for touring with Rose Tattoo
By Shane Pinnegar

A national joint tour featuring two legendary Australian bands was teased last week, igniting armchair warriors around the world into apoplectic furor even ahead of this week’s official announcement.

“How dare Hard-Ons agree to hit the road with Rose Tattoo?” was the general feeling amongst a lot of self-appointed social media commentators.

The response comes because many can’t reconcile the two bands political beliefs.

Hard-Ons – now in their 35th year as a band, feature founding members Ray Anh, who was born in Korea, on bass, and frontman Keish De Silva, who is of Sri Lankan descent. Rose Tattoo – forty year veterans of the hard rock scene, are led by frontman Gary ‘Angry’ Anderson, who has been increasingly vocal over the past decade about his opposition to immigration policies and what he sees as the “Islamification” of Australian ways.

Is it possible for a multi-racial punk band to tour alongside someone whose controversial attitudes to immigration have alienated even many long-term fans?

The short answer is yes – and Anh, speaking to Double J this week, was adamant that it’s the music which should matter.

“There are two coloured guys and two white guys in [the Hard-Ons],” Ahn said, as reported by Dan Condon for the ABC this morning.

Click here to read Dan Condon’s article at ABC.net.au

“[Guitarist Peter Black and drummer Murray Ruse] said, ‘We want to play, but how do the coloured boys feel about it?’. We [De Silva and Ahn] were like, ‘What the hell are you talking about? If we didn’t play because of political beliefs of certain people in certain bands, we [only] would have done three gigs in 35 years!’

“We said we’d play, because we have a lot in common with that band.

“We don’t have anything in common with Angry Anderson in the way of political beliefs. But we didn’t really think about the political ramifications at all.”

Some fans seem to have missed the point of the musical teaming up, and taken the line-up personally.

Condon reports that comments on the Hard-Ons official Facebook page included:

“Can/should we suspend our fundamental rejection of the inarguably repugnant views of Gary Anderson?” and “I’d prefer people I respect stop turning a blind eye to racism.”

What they seem to have forgotten, though, is that Hard-Ons have never compromised for anyone or anything – musically, financially nor personally.

The band have continued to evolve, mostly through a cult fanbase. Musically they have extended from their teenage punk roots through metal and noise and remain uncompromising today. What success they have enjoyed has been hard-fought, well-deserved, and a case of the music industry coming to them rather than them compromising in an attempt to garner success.

For Hard-Ons, it has NEVER been about the money.

Double J asked Anh how the multi-racial band feels about touring with Anderson, considering his attitudes on immigration.

“You should ask Angry,” Ahn replied. “He’s the one who has to play with coloured people. If he had a problem, why did he ask the Hard-Ons?

“We got an invite to come on tour. Out of all the bands that Rose Tattoo could have picked, why did they pick a multi-racial band? They could have picked a white band. You’d have to ask them.

“We know the guys in the band, they’re fantastic people. Angry has been nothing but cordial to all of us and all the other guys have been unbelievable as well.”

To this reporter, it appears that Anh sees the tour not only as a chance to play the music he loves with the band he formed almost four decades ago, but also as an opportunity to educate, rather than perpetuate the negative attitudes currently being flung at him and the band.

“In a country like Australia that’s predominantly white, we’ve learned over the years to always try and unify,” said Ahn. “If someone sends you positive vibes and olive branches, you accept them. Because the moment you get outraged at the slightest turn, as a coloured person, you just won’t step outside the house.

“If you don’t find good in people, if you don’t walk around looking for things to unify you with the rest of the world, you are gonna be super upset.

“When we started in the [sic] punk rock bands back in 1984, we had no choice but to play with some bands who were a bit dodgy,” Ahn says. “Our friends didn’t come up and say, ‘You can’t play with them. The guy in that band is a bit of a right-wing so-and-so.’ No one ever said that. They said, ‘That guy who you’re playing with is a bit of a right-wing so-and-so, so just keep your wits about you’.

“They never said don’t play, because they knew we were gonna play regardless.”

That attitude continues, and Conson reports that “it frustrates Ahn to have people condemn his band’s decision to play these shows, given his first-hand experiences with extreme racism.”

“Me and Keish, we’re the ones that have to deal with racism every day,” Anh explained.

“White, middle-class people have to trust working class coloured people when it comes to this.

“We’re the ones that got dragged off the stage and beaten up by Nazi skins. We’re the ones who were in the middle of a neo-Nazi riot [in Germany] in 1989. We’re the ones who have to deal with it.

“If there are gonna be right-wing people in the crowd, then we should be there – a couple of coloured people should be there to confront them, don’t you think?” Anh continued.

“We’ve had people who were neo-Nazis come up and say they’ve changed their political outlook and outlook on the world in general,” he says. “We’ve had lots of those incidences.”

The response from not only irate fans, but even some friends, has been bewildering and upsetting for Anh.

“I’ve had some nasty emails,” he told Double J. “One of them said ‘It was the Japanese that collaborated with the Nazis, not the Koreans’. Another one was ‘Why don’t you play with [UK white supremacist punk band] Skrewdriver next?’.

“Lots of personal things like, ‘Your family’s gonna disown you’. That kind of stuff.

“One woman, who didn’t even know who the Hard-Ons were, said that if her boss was racist, she’d quit. But she can get another job, it’s not that easy for the Hard-Ons.”

Ahn also pointed out that the loudest critics of the tour are probably not those who count: the real fans who will be front and centre at the shows.

“The people who are getting really upset are not even people who are gonna come to this gig,” he opined. “The people who are most upset are the people least likely to understand hard rock or heavy metal or punk rock. “People who love heavy music understand 100 percent what this gig is about.”

And herein lies the point: Hard-Ons are a working band who have been offered a tour, and have decided that the tour will work for them, regardless of what a surprise it may be to some music fans.

Personally, the raw punk rock of their early albums makes for more of a confusing pairing with Rose Tattoo’s bogan-based hard rock than any attitudes about immigration.

Pivotally, Anh is adamant that the band know exactly what they’re getting into, and see it as an opportunity to show bigots that their attitudes are fundamentally stupid and wrong, no matter what Anderson may have ranted about on stage in a vain attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

I’ve interviewed Anderson a handful of times over the past decade and found him a thoughtful, intelligent man. I’ve never considered him an overt racist, more someone who occasionally becomes an obnoxious braggard after too much to drink.

Until a devastating show in Fremantle a year ago, where a drunk Anderson embarrassed the name of Rose Tattoo for many of those in attendance, half-emptying the venue well before their main set was finished. After that dire performance I had little interest in seeing them again any time soon.

But Rose Tattoo with Hard-Ons? I’ll definitely be there for that.

Perhaps it’s Anderson’s way of acknowledging past offence caused? Either way, you can be sure Hard-Ons are doing it for the right reasons, and have no case to answer to their critics or anyone else. If anyone feels the need to criticise anyone, it would be far better directed at educating those making stupid bigoted comments in the first place.

Rose Tattoo and Hard-Ons play the following shows:

Friday 29 March – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Saturday 30 March – Waves, Wollongong
Friday 5 April – Shoppingtown Hotel, Doncaster
Saturday 6 April – Chelsea Heights Hotel, Chelsea Heights
Friday 12 April – The Gov, Adelaide
Saturday 13 April – Capitol, Perth
Friday 26 April – The Triffid, Brisbane
Saturday 27 April – Coolangatta Hotel, Coolangatta
Friday 3 May – Diggers, Ettalong
Saturday 4 May – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle

Category: Opinion

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