Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Birthday Party (band)
The Birthday Party was an Australian rock music group, active in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It launched the careers of the internationally renowned singer and songwriter Nick Cave and of the respected musicians and songwriters Mick Harvey and Rowland S. Howard . Their early music found them sometimes classed as goth rock, but they disliked the label, and in retrospect, sound very different from most goth rockers.
Despite being championed by John Peel, the Birthday Party found little success during their career. They've been called one of "the darkest and most challenging post-punk groups to emerge in the early '80s."  Though often indirect, their influence has been far-reaching.
The Boys Next Door
The nucleus of the band first met at the private boys school Caulfield Grammar (in suburban Melbourne) in the early seventies. A rock group was formed with Nick Cave (vocals), Mick Harvey (guitar), and Phill Calvert (drums), with other students on guitar, bass and saxophone. Most were also members of the school choir. The band played under various names at parties and school functions with a mixed pre-punk repertoire of Lou Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, among others.
After their final school year in 1975 the band decided to continue with friend Tracy Pew picking up the bass. Greatly affected by the punk explosion of 1976 which saw Australian bands The Saints and Radio Birdman making their first recordings and tours, The Boys Next Door, as they were now called, began performing fast original New Wave material in 1977. Rowland S Howard joined in 1978, bringing a chaotic feedback guitar style to the band.
London and beyond
After recordings and moderate success in Australia (including hundreds of live shows) they headed for London in 1980, changing their name to the Birthday Party and launching into a period of innovative and aggressive music-making. They resided in London, with trips back to Australia and tours through Europe and the U.S. before relocating to West Berlin in 1982.
Their sound drew upon punk, rockabilly and the rawest blues, but transcended concise categorisation. Many songs were driven by prominent, repetitive basslines and drumwork that sounded like an angry Gene Krupa; after two decades, Howard's stinging guitar remains distinctive. The instrumentalists often sounded as if they were on the verge of falling apart, emphasising the mania of Cave's singing. Harvey, Pew and Calvert were tightly rehearsed, if at times affected by alcohol and violent audiences.
Above the barely-controlled racket, Cave's vocals ranged from desperate to simply menacing and demented. Critics have written that "neither John Cale nor Alfred Hitchcock was ever this scary." ), and that Cave "doesn't so much sing his vocals as expel them from his gut". Though Cave drew on earlier rock and roll shriekers; especially Iggy Pop and Suicide's Alan Vega; his singing with the Birthday Party remains powerful.
Calvert was ejected in 1982; he was "unable to nail down the beats for 'Dead Joe' to everyone's satisfaction" , and Harvey moved to drums. When Pew was jailed for drunk driving, also in 1982, Barry Adamson and several others replaced him on records or live appearances.
The Birthday Party disbanded in 1984, due in part to creative tension between Cave and Howard.
Several groups rose from the Birthday Party's ashes: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (featuring Cave and Harvey), Crime and the City Solution (featuring Harvey and Howard, later just Harvey) and These Immortal Souls (featuring Howard). All of these bands shared a similar aesthetic, though perhaps they showed unequal deftness in expressing it.
- The Birthday Party /Boys Next Door (LP, 1980)
- Prayers On Fire (LP, 1981)
- Junkyard (LP, 1982)
- It's Still Living (LP, 1985)
- Best and Rarest (LP, 1985)
- The Bad Seed/Mutiny! (CD)
- Hits (CD, 1992)
- Live 1981–82 (CD, 1999)
- Peel Sessions (CD)
Singles and EPs
- "Mr Clarinet/Happy Birthday" (7" single, 1980)
- "Nick the Stripper/Blundertown/Kathys Kisses" (12" single, 1981)
- "Nick the Stripper/Blundertown" (7" single, 1981/82)
- "Release the Bats/Blast Off" (7" single, 1981)
- "Mr Clarinet/Happy Birthday" (7" single, 1981)
- "Drunk on the Pope's Blood/The Agony Is The Ecstacy" with Lydia Lunch (12" EP, 1982)
- "Dead Joe" (7" flexidisc, 1982)
- "The Bad Seed" (12" EP, 1983)
- "The Birthday Party" (12" EP, 1983)
- "Mutiny! "(12" EP, 1983)
- "The Peel Sessions" (12" EP, 1987)
- "The Peel Sessions" (12" EP, 1988)
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