About The Magnificent Compañeros

A story that changed the world.

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IT START WITH

An endless passion for music, for voices,
for discovery, for people, for life.

The Magnificent Compañeros are an Australian rock band from Sydney. With core members Will Berryman and Chuck Smeeton, and a wide variety of collaborators, they became widely regarded as the foremost and most influential act of the rock era. Rooted in 1950s rock and roll, skiffle, beat, glam rock and 1980s punk, The Magnificent Compañeros later experimented with several musical styles, ranging from pop ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock, often incorporating classical elements in innovative ways. Their enormous popularity first emerged as “Compañeromania”, but as the group’s music grew in sophistication, led by primary songwriters Berryman and Smeeton, they came to be perceived as an embodiment of the ideals shared by the counterculture. Sadly, none of this early work is available today.

The next phase of their career featured record labels attempting to exercise complete control over their early recordings, and the band went through a period where they spent significant time tied up in legal disputes. To complete label obligations they worked on the album Frown (occasionally typeset as FRoWN). Controversially Berryman and Smeeton abandoned large portions of music recorded over a 10-month period, and the label substituted its release with Frowny Frown, an album containing stripped-down remakes of some Frown material. As fans learned of the project’s origins, details of its recordings acquired considerable mystique, and it was later acknowledged as the most legendary unreleased album in the history of popular music. Unfortunately, original copies of Frown or Frowny Frown are no longer in existence.

Later, in spring of the same year, Berryman began renting a villa on the Côte d’Azur. The British government was threatening to confiscate the bands’ funds if they did not leave the country by April 5th of that year as part of the Labour government’s punitive 93% tax on high earners. The Magnificent Compañeros were tax exiles from England and shacked up at Villa Nellcôte, a 16-room mansion of the Belle Epoque that had previously been occupied by the local Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of France in the 1940s. A French photographer documented the six month-long “house party” that ensued; a summer of sex, drugs and most certainly, rock and roll…

By the time the next year rolled around The Magnificent Compañeros had achieved the status of the leading songwriters of the American folk music revival. The response to their album The Freewheelin’ Compañeros (remarkably no longer available) led to them being labelled as the “spokesmen of a generation” by the media. That summer, Berryman and Smeeton performed with a rock band at the Newport Folk Festival. Some sections of the audience booed their performance. Leading members of the folk movement criticised Berryman and Smeeton for moving away from political songwriting, and performing with an electric band.

Two months later they released their classic psychedelia-influenced album Wintergreen’s Copenhagen Long Cut. It is widely regarded as a classic album, and featured an innovative round cover, the first of its kind, designed to resemble an antique tobacco tin.

The two-act concept album consisted of six original songs on side one and a whimsical psychedelic fairy tale on side two. Critics raved, and the album sold well, but the band were confronted by the practical problem that they had created a studio masterpiece which was virtually impossible to recreate on the road. Sadly, the recordings are no longer available.

The following summer, Berryman and Smeeton set up camp in Laurel Canyon, featuring as studio musicians and songwriters for the many bands in the area. However, they soon moved on after a number of mysterious and unexplained deaths unsettled them.

The most interesting piece of work from this period was Timmy, a double album mostly composed as a rock opera that tells the story about a highly intelligent boy with excellent hearing and eyesight, including his experiences with life and his relationship with his family. Berryman came up with the concept of Timmy after being introduced to the work of Meher Baba, and attempted to translate Baba’s teachings into music. Recording on the album took six months to complete as material needed to be arranged and re-recorded in the studio. Timmy was acclaimed upon its pre-release by critics, who hailed it as The Magnificent Compañeros finest moment, and several writers view it as an important and influential album in the history of rock music. Unfortunately, just prior to its public release the warehouse containing all pressings and the original tapes was burnt to the ground. Over the years rumours that link the incident to a Laurel Canyon arsonist have regularly emerged.

The next move was north to Seattle. Berryman and Smeeton befriended many local musicians and gave impromptu performances at local clubs. A bootleg cassette entitled We Care began to circulate and garnered praise in the national media. One critic wrote that, “alternative music was consigned to specialty sections of record stores, and major labels considered it to be, at the very most, a tax write-off”. Following the circulation of We Care, “nothing was ever quite the same, for better and for worse”. The success of the bootleg not only popularised grunge, but also established “the cultural and commercial viability of alternative rock in general”. While other alternative bands had hits before, The Magnificent Compañeros “broke down the doors forever”. Unfortunately, no copies of We Care are known to exist anymore.

While their fame grew, television appearances were limited after an infamous episode on Yesterday, a regional news programme. During an interview with The Magnificent Compañeros, Smeeton unloaded with a barrage of profanity. The interview further elevated the band’s notoriety, and signaled the arrival of mainstream punk rock. In another widely reported incident, Smeeton bit the head off a cat he thought was rubber while performing at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa. Rolling Stone magazine ranked this incident number two on its list of “Rock’s Wildest Myths”.

This was also a period where The Magnificent Compañeros were known to demolish hotel rooms and were incredibly destructive. They would often throw furniture from high buildings and set objects on fire. However, their favorite hobby was blowing up toilets with explosives. The blasts would destroy the toilet and often times disrupt plumbing to the hotel. It has been estimated that The Magnificent Compañeros’s destruction of toilets and plumbing ran as high as A$750,000, and they were banned from several hotel chains including all Holiday Inn, all Sheraton, all Hilton Hotels, and the Waldorf Astoria.

Throughout these years The Magnificent Compañeros were famous for a life of luxury and excess, as exemplified by the time they spent at their estate, Compañeroland. They owned a number of expensive cars, including three pink EH Holdens, immortalised in their version of the song “Baby, Let’s Play House”, in which Smeeton replaced the line “you may get religion” with “you may have a Pink EH”. A number of stories, both real and exaggerated, also detailed their appetite for rich or heavy food. They were said to enjoy Southern cuisine, including chicken-fried steak and biscuits and gravy, and are commonly associated with rich sandwiches, especially peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches, now commonly called a “Compañero sandwich”.

Following a long period – sometimes referred to as “the missing years” – Berryman and Smeeton reconnected in mid 2015, driven by their increasing studio prowess. Times had changed but their desire to create had never waned. In 2016 they headed back into the studio to commence work on an album.

The Magnificent Compañeros
A project of collaboration

The Compañero Nine

Nine questions that give you a glimpse into the world of The Magnificent Compañeros…

 

AARON CLIFF

Name of the first band you were in?aaron-cliff-cropped
My first band – in Primary School – was called “Star Wars”. Copyright be damned…

First musical influence?
Weekend rehearsals of my father’s band in our garage, the childhood memory of a house party where Manhattan Transfer’s Twilight Zone was repeatedly performed (I may have been “accompanying” on recorder) and listening The Beatles’ albums back to back to back in my bedroom.

Three albums you can’t do without?
Disintegration – The Cure
Blue Train – John Coltrane
Small Change – Tom Waits
Oh, and Heaven or Los Vegas by the Cocteau Twins, Not only… but also… by Peter Cook & Dudley Moore. Oh, and Dawnrazor by Fields of The Nephilim. And…

The three most influential musicians in your life?
I heard David Lee Roth’s album Eat ’Em And Smile on a friend’s Walkman in year 10 – I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could play guitar like that. I had discovered Steve Vai.

At the other end of the spectrum, Robert Smith had a huge influence on my playing and song writing. I learnt that melody was just as important as histrionics. And that Doom and gloom was totally my cup of tea.

Paul (brother of Eric) – the guitar teacher who wrote “You are not Joe Satriani. Yet.” On the cover of my workbook.

Most valued piece of musical equipment?
I still the guitar strap that I had to have on my very first ¾ classical guitar. I was 6.

Got any rock memorabilia?
You mean my concert t-shirts, the signed CDs that I waited patiently in line for, the Ibanez signed by Fear Factory, the prized “After Show” pass to meet Steve Vai, the “Keep it safe for me…” Les Paul copy that (still) belongs to Jimmy Lee Foxx of legendary glam/punk outfit XXSEX. Or did you mean something else?

Musical pilgrimages you’ve done?
aaron-pilgrimage

When you’re not doing something musical, what are your favourite pursuits?
The ‘am-I-doing-this-right?-am-I-doing-this-right?-am-I-doing-this-right?’ anxiety-roundabout of modern parenting, waking in the small hours of the morning to hike to a remote location and then carefully photograph a sunrise with a “proper” DSLR (someone will get the same result with their iPhone), and staying up until the small hours with a controller in hand, saving the universe from invading alien hordes – again.

Last words?
Yes, I know the production of my “solo” album started 20 years ago, but some of it STILL isn’t right.


STEPHEN MOREL

Name of the first band you were in?stephen-morel
Alice and the Wonderlands

First musical influence?
Ben Folds – Whatever and Ever Amen

I spent three months in Germany bored out of my brain. Fortunately, a friend gave me this album before I left and I spent hours studying, memorising and savouring every detail. I owe a debt of gratitude to this masterpiece.

Three albums you can’t do without?
Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
Age of Adz Sufjan Stevens
Everything In Transit Jack’s Mannequin

The three most influential musicians in your life?
Andrew McMahon is the single biggest influence in my life (followed closely by Scott Adams of Dilbert fame). His lyrics have been a constant crutch through the highs and lows one experiences as they grow through teenage years and young adulthood. Always happens to have the turn of phrase, melody or rhythm that I’m looking for.

Ben Folds taught me the musical tones, timbres and attitudes that I cherish. Ben Folds is at the root of the sounds I make.

Brad Mehldau and Radiohead are tied for third. They both opened my ears to a world of music complexity that impacted me deeply. Given I can’t split them listen to Brad Mehldau covering Radiohead.

Most valued piece of musical equipment?
Yamaha S90 ES – The perfect workhorse for any gig. Doesn’t matter if I’m working a jazz gig, a pop show, gospel, rock or funk, I know I have the sound palettes to make the music sparkle.

Got any rock memorabilia?
Most cherished are signed Andrew McMahon albums because of the impact on my life and playing.

Musical pilgrimages you’ve done?
None of note but many on the list. Need to get to the 55Bar, Abbey Road, The Village Vanguard, RCA studios (Studio A in particular), Coachella and Glastonbury at a minimum.

When you’re not doing something musical, what are your favourite pursuits?
Curled up reading a book, creating a culinary masterpiece or destressing with a computer game.

Last words?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pPRacG_fz0


WILL BERRYMAN

Name of the first band you were in?will-cropped
Hard to tell. I was in a band for 2 weeks called Cold Fusion – We never played a note, nor wrote any songs but we sat about (age 15 I think) and wrote down a lot of song titles and planned costume changes for performance. It was very vivid. So vivid that we didn’t need to achieve any more in this band and we disbanded on a high note.

First musical influence?
I bought a Sam Cooke record when I was about 10, followed up a year later by AC/DC Back In Black. Two years later my granny bought me The Byrds greatest hits. My musical spectrum was complete. I found a cassette tape of ABBA at home and listened to SOS from about the ages of 10 to 14 until the tape wore out. I don’t recall any other tunes on the album.

Three albums you can’t do without?
Jack Bruce – Songs For a Tailor
Miles Davis  – Bitches Brew
Nick Drake – Bryter Layer
I have to add a fourth: Stones – Exile on main Street

The three most influential musicians in your life?
Jack Bruce, Jack Bruce, Jack Bruce

Most valued piece of musical equipment?
My Gibson RD Artist Bass. It’s like an old mate. I talk to it in the evening. I also own a black tee shirt with a white exclamation mark on it. It’s 26 years old. I wear it when I play live (or keep in on top of my amp). I’m very superstitious. It’s bad luck to play live without it.

Got any rock memorabilia?
Moderate progressive hearing loss at 500 and 4000 Hz. It’s also known as industrial deafness…

Musical pilgrimages you’ve done?
I went to CBGB in New York once about 21 years ago and saw a horrible band who I can’t remember their name and left after 15 minutes. I did buy a CBGB tee shirt but accidentally left it on the subway on the way back to my hotel.

I used to ride my bike past Abbey Road Studios most sunday mornings when I lived in London. I always got off the bike and knelt for a moment in quiet reflection outside. I never crossed at the crossing.

I went to Ronnie Scotts in Soho one evening after arriving in London in the morning. There was a great band playing but I nodded off after 10 mins with jet lag and woke up fresh as a daisy when it was all finished

When you’re not doing something musical, what are your favourite pursuits?
Sleeping, maybe eating. Probably sleeping

Last words?
But hey, enough of my yakkin’. What do you say? Let’s boogie!


CHUCK SMEETON

Name of the first band you were in?
The legendary Mad Max And The Anarks – covers of Sham 69, Pistols and Clash songs. All very basic and never performed in front of anyone…

chuck-blurry-bassFirst musical influence?
The first album I ever got was The Slider by T.Rex (I must have thought there were dinosaurs involved), but The Jam were the first band I really feel in love with. It was Bruce Foxton’s bass playing that really drew me in and from that point on I just had to get a bass…

Three albums you can’t do without?
King Of America by Elvis Costello
Under The Wishing Tree by Charlie Sexton
The Real Thing by Faith No More
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Force Of Nature II bootleg
Stanley Road by Paul Weller
…oh, that’s five.

The three most influential musicians in your life?
The aforementioned Bruce Foxton from a musical standpoint (with Damon Minchella a close second), and Paul Weller and Elvis Costello from a songwriting perspective.

Most valued piece of musical equipment?
An almost 30 year old Maton TE1 acoustic, Fender 62 reissue jazz bass, SWR baby blue amp and the all instruments I’ve made myself…

Got any rock memorabilia?
A bass bridge signed by Paul Weller and a pair of cowboy boots from the same place in Austin, Texas, that Stevie Ray Vaughan used to get his from.

Musical pilgrimages you’ve done?
The biggest one was a trip to Austin, TX to get a photo in front of the SRV statue (and visit all his old haunts).

When you’re not doing something musical, what are your favourite pursuits?
Building stuff, surfing, riding motorcycles

Last words?
Creativity doesn’t need inspiration, it needs a deadline.


DAN GOLDSWORTHY

Name of the first band you were in?
A nameless Deep Purple tribute band in high school and another band that didn’t go anywhere called Planet F (“F” for dan-goldsworthy-cropped“Funk”). I also had a 12-month stint in the S.A Police Band – I had just turned 18 and they gave me a badge, uniforms, no training and basically just said “behave yourself”.

First musical influence?
Branford Marsalis – my uncle gave me his album Trio Jeepy when I was about 12 and I listened to it over and over. Just drums, double bass and tenor.

Three albums you can’t do without?
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Jeff Buckley – Grace
The Pat Metheny Group – The Way Up

The three most influential musicians in your life?
Branford Marsalis
Michael Brecker
Joshua Redman

Most valued piece of musical equipment?
My Selmer Paris Tenor Sax MK VII 1975 – almost the same vintage as me…

Got any rock memorabilia?
Not really. I do have a leather motorcycle jacket given to me by my next door neighbour for some reason that was signed by Chris Isaak – does this count?

Musical pilgrimages you’ve done?
Ronnie Scotts in London to see Randy Brecker (and a Brecker Brothers tribute brand)

When you’re not doing something musical, what are your favourite pursuits?
Child-rearing, reading, and dreaming about living in a remote and quiet location

Last words?
“If you want people to believe your lies, set them to music”


BEN COLES

Name of the first band you were in?ben-coles
Edible Starch and the Yam Yams

First musical influence?
Slade

Three albums you can’t do without?
Exodus – Bob Marley
Sticky Fingers – Stones
Headhunters – Herbie Hancock

The three most influential musicians in your life?
Stefan Grappelli
Phil Collins (Genesis days)
Bob Marley

Most valued piece of musical equipment?
My violin. My dad bought it at a junk shop for 5 pounds in 1978. When he got it valued it turns out its around 200 years old and possibly worth several grand!

Got any rock memorabilia?
Nope 😄

Musical pilgrimages you’ve done?
Albert Hall to see George Benson, and Gil Scott Heron in New York

When you’re not doing something musical, what are your favourite pursuits?
Cooking
Socialising
Reading

Last words?
I love you (not you, obviously).

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IT NEVER ENDS

Passion never dies. It grows
stronger every day.

LISTEN TO THE MAGNIFICENT COMPAÑEROS NOW