The day I got Rose Tattoo to play my high school social

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The day I got Rose Tattoo to play my high school social

Rose Tattoo
Words by John Phillips

In about 1974 - no one, it seems, can recall the exact date - legendary Australian rock band Lobby Loyde and the Coloured Balls played a gig at the Alexandra Town Hall in north-east Victoria.

Most people in town knew something was happening because televisions, radios and record players were drowned out briefly by the sound of Lobby and the band tuning up. Lobby consequently became the unofficial holder of the title, “Loudest Band to Play in Alexandra” – but only for a few years. On Tuesday 13 December 1977, Lobby lost his title when Rose Tattoo played the Alexandra High School Senior Social at a volume so horrendous it set tea cups rattling in nearby kitchen dressers.

The “Rosies” were returning from a successful run of gigs in New South Wales, and were enjoying the success of their recently released single Bad Boy For Love, which would reach No. 19 on the national charts. They were en route to Melbourne after having played the Sydney Showgrounds Music Expo the previous Friday, and the Hordern Pavilion and the Hurstville Civic Centre in Sydney on the Saturday. So why the Alexandra High School Social?

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As the prefect in charge of organising the entertainment, I had originally booked an all-girl rock band called Sweet Jayne to play. At lunchtime on the day of the Social, I got a call from their agents, Premier Artists, saying the band couldn’t make it as their drummer had injured her hand in a truck door. After I nervously asked if they could organise a replacement – the Social was on that night! – the caller said he’d see what he could do. After a nerve-wracking twenty-minute wait, he rang back to tell me that Rose Tattoo would play instead. “Will that be ok”? he asked.

And so it came to pass that one of the loudest – no, THE loudest – and most popular blues-rock bands in Australia, and later the world, came to play at our Social, in the middle of a major tour to help promote their first single. They of course brought with them all the trappings of the full-on professional touring rock band: a tour manager, sound guys, roadies, trucks, mountains of equipment, and a bit of the grumpy attitude you might expect from a hard-working band whose rare night off had been whisked away.

Rose Tattoo were brilliant that night, and they were loud – so loud that they were heard across town and a fair way out of town as well. Cattle and sheep on outlying farms may well have nodded along to the Rosies’ pounding beat. Most punters danced outside in the quadrangle to save their ears. It was a memorable night.

Rose Tattoo had formed the previous year in Sydney, with Tony Lake on lead vocals, Leigh Johnston on rhythm guitar (replaced shortly after by Mike Cocks), Ian Rilen on bass, Michael Vandersluys on drums, and featured founder Peter Wells on slide guitar.  Later in 1976, former Buster Brown lead singer Gary ‘’Angry” Anderson replaced Lake and fellow Buster Brown member Dallas “Digger’’ Royall replaced Vandersluys.  The band quickly developed a big following on the busy Sydney live scene. Signed to Albert Productions on the recommendation of members of AC/DC, their first four albums were produced by the former Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young.

Rose Tattoo has split up and reformed several times over its long career, and has had more than two dozen members, including former Skyhooks lead guitarist Bob Spencer and the aforementioned Lobby Loyde of Coloured Balls fame, who filled in on bass from 1979-1980. Sadly, seven former members, including Lobby Loyde, have died since the band’s inception.  The current line-up comprises Angry Anderson on lead vocals, Paul De Marco (drums), Mark Evans (bass), Mick Arnold (slide guitar) and Ronnie Simmons (guitar).

The band has always played loud and uncompromising heavy blues-rock featuring distinctive slide guitar riffs and licks over pulsating rhythm guitar and tight, pounding bass and drums, coupled with Angry’s powerful, roaring voice. They have enjoyed chart success in Australia and overseas with the singles Bad Boy For Love, Rock And Roll Outlaw , We Can’t Be Beaten, Nice Boys and Scarred For Life, and have had songs covered by numerous bands including Guns N’ Roses and LA Guns. They have toured extensively for decades, and have supported major international acts such as Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Guns N’ Roses and Motorhead.

Rose Tattoo were inducted into ARIA Hall of Fame on 16 August 2006 along with The Divinyls, Daddy Cool, Icehouse, Helen Reddy and their old bandmate Lobby Loyde.

Rose Tattoo are currently touring the country on their Assault And Battery 2023 Tour. I recently saw them play a gig at the Sandbelt Hotel in Moorabbin– older readers may remember it as the South Side Six – and I can report that the “Rosies’’ are still as loud, tight and head-bangingly brilliant as ever.

You can catch them on Friday 14 April at the Sooki Lounge in Belgrave, Victoria, and at the Bundy Hall in Bundalaguah near Sale on Saturday 15 April. Tickets are available at